Green Living

  • Solar and the Holidays

    17 November 2017

    The holiday season is quickly approaching, and Sunnova would like to remind you to keep in mind what we call around here the “seasonal spike.” Just what exactly is seasonal spike? It’s pretty simple—it’s a temporary spike associated with your household consumption around the holidays.

    There are a number of reasons why electricity usage spikes during the holidays. You have unexpected guests staying at your house. You’re cooking the traditional Thanksgiving meal. You’re decorating for the holidays. You might be thinking “what in the world do all of these things have to do with electricity?” Well, a lot.

    Adding more people to your home increases the use of every resource in your home, from hot water to food preparation. Electric appliances like hot water heaters and electric ovens consume a ton of electricity, and are typically in overdrive during the holiday season.

    Simply changing some of your energy consumption habits during the holidays can make a difference. First, shift as much electricity use to the daytime as possible. That includes everything from charging your laptops and mobile devices to doing the laundry and preparing meals before nighttime.

    Keep nighttime energy usage as low as you can

    Simply knowing where energy is used in the home will help you better manage it. It’s as simple as turning off lights in unoccupied rooms and setting thermostats to moderate temperatures when you go to bed.

    Educate your temporary houseguests

    Adding more people to your household will inevitably increase the usage in your home, but educating your houseguests about how your solar system works can go a long way toward curbing energy usage. Remind your houseguests that taking showers, washing clothes and cooking during the daytime can greatly decrease your usage. Think about asking them to charge their laptops, cell phones, Kindles and iPads during the day when it’s sunny, and to unplug their chargers from the walls at night.

    Maximize your appliance energy

    Try using your toaster oven or your microwave for smaller cooking tasks. Save your oven for your biggest cooking tasks, and make the most of your oven’s energy by baking or cooking several dishes at once. Keep in mind that it takes the same amount of energy to heat a full oven as it does a nearly empty one.

    The same goes for the washer and dryer. It takes the same amount of energy to run a partial load of laundry as it takes to run a full load, so consider doing laundry only once or twice a week, fill your loads to capacity and select low heat for drying.

    Also, fill your dishwater to its full capacity before you run it, and pick a wash cycle that uses low or no heat.

    Holiday lights: Just the facts

    Did you know that switching holiday lights to LED can save a huge amount of energy? It’s true. According to U.S. Department of Energy, LED holiday lights use roughly 75 percent less energy, and can last 25 times as long as incandescent bulbs. They also don't require a ton of maintenance and they never burn out (they’ll just get dimmer over time).

    So before you start your holiday decorating, invest in LED lights. You’ll save yourself a lot of energy!

    Just keep in mind that a little planning goes a long way. And on behalf of Sunnova, we wish you a happy and safe holiday season.

  • Sunnova’s Guide to Diagnosing High Summer Utility Bills

    04 August 2017

    Your utility power bill, unlike a credit card bill, can sometimes feel like a huge mystery. It’s just a couple of numbers—the amount of power you’ve used in the prior 30 days and a price per kilowatt hour—so why exactly does it seem like it gets so high, and what can you do about it? Here are a few things to know about your utility bill.

    Look Closely: Your Utility Bill Might Actually Answer Your Questions!

    In order to figure out why your electric bill seems high, the first thing you need to do is figure out what's normal. If your bill has spiked recently, just look at your old bills and see how much your usage has gone up.

    Look only at the amount of electricity you used in kilowatt hours (kWh). Have you consumed a lot more electricity over the past several months? If your kWh usage is similar but the cost is now higher, then the answer as to why your bill seems higher is right there on your bill. It’s possible that the price of electricity went up, which will account for the change in your bill. Your utility company also might have demand charges if you have a very large home or small business, or perhaps you're being charged for other city services besides electricity.

    Remember, you will continue getting two bills—one for your solar usage and one from your utility.

    During the Summer, Consumption Jumps Up!

    Did you know that a home’s air conditioning unit can account for up to 48 percent of your monthly energy consumption? That percentage jumps even higher during the summer months!

    Sunny summer days will give you a boost in your production. After all, that’s what solar is all about! Remember you’re still getting savings through your solar system, and this may offset part of your energy consumption, but homeowners often consume much more energy during the summer months because we need to stay cooler; that coolness comes during hours of lower production, like on those warm summer nights.

    If there’s a noticeable difference in how many kWh you’re using in the summer months, running your air conditioning unit more often might be the cause of your higher electricity bill.

    Is Balanced or “Budget” Billing a Good Idea?

    Are you on a balanced billing or budget billing program with your utility company? If the answer is plan. Balanced billing is generally promoted as a good service. But remember, balanced billing is based on your home’s prior year’s entire energy consumption including energy your solar system now provides.

     

    Things You Can Do Around the House

    Energy Vamps Are Bleeding Your Dry!

    Just a couple of decades ago, everything that used electricity had an on/off button. That meant "off" really meant off, but today, it’s a lot more complicated. Devices are in a constantly ready-to-use mode. We call that “standby.” Almost 10 percent of your home’s electricity is used to power standby mode, and though these energy vampires might make some of your daily tasks a couple seconds faster every day, it's likely costing you major cash along the way.

    Anything with a clock, such as microwave ovens and coffee makers need power to keep time while turned off. What’s the solution? Start saving yourself some energy today by connecting these devices to power strips and turning off the power strips when you’re not using them. That way, off REALLY means off as you’ve effectively disconnected the device from the power source.

    Dinosaur Appliances Cost Your Greens

    Does your appliance look awfully retro? We know not everyone can go out and buy new appliances. But the fact is that dinosaur appliances use so more energy than new energy-efficient models. For some perspective, Energy Star didn’t begin rating those appliances until after 1997.

    What’s the solution? This one’s easy. Upgrade your appliances with new energy-efficient models. A new energy-efficient refrigerator, for example, uses about four times less electricity than an older model.

    Run Through a Home Inventory

    Stop and ask yourself. How frequently do you use your inkjet printer? Once a month? Once a year? Practically never? Remember that little red light on top is a reminder that it’s sipping down pricey power every second of every minute of every day. So what else can you unplug?

    You can find more resources on energy efficiency from the Department of Energy. Additionally, check our other summer tips on the Watts Up blog. Follow us on Twitter Instagram and Facebook for more information about solar!

  • Sizzling Summer Energy Conservation Tips

    26 July 2017

    Summer is the season for lots of sunshine and longer days. Of course, we’re big fans of the sun here at Sunnova. But when those sunbeams are heating up your home, you’ll probably need extra air conditioning to cool off. And cooling that air uses a lot more energy than you would think. As things continue to heat up, here are some smart summer tips to keep you cooler for the summer in part two of our four-part Energy Efficiency series.

    Around the home

    Seal up air leaks. Sealing air leaks can result in up to 30% energy savings, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    Unplug your battery chargers when the batteries are fully charged or the chargers are not in use. Many chargers draw power continuously, even when the device is not plugged into the charger.

    Ceiling fans are great investment you can make, particularly for rooms you use a lot, like bedrooms and your family room. Ceiling fans can make you more comfortable after you set your thermostat higher. But remember to turn them off when no one’s in the room.

    Consider adding window screens, shades, blinds or window tinting to reduce the amount of sun coming into your home.

    Gently wipe or vacuum your refrigerator and freezer coils (they’re usually located in the back of your refrigerator). Also, make certain there’s nothing obstructing the coils. Coils need air space to work properly.

    Above your head

    Keep your light bulbs clean. Dust reduces light output by as much as 25 percent.

    Turn off incandescent lights when you are not in the room. Incandescent bulbs only use about 10-15% of their energy for light and the rest is given off as heat.

    Replace a few of your most-used light fixtures and/or bulbs with LED lights. LED lights can be up to 80% more efficient than traditional lighting such as fluorescent and incandescent lights. In fact, LEDs convert 95% of the energy, and only 5% is wasted as heat. LED also draws far much less power than traditional lighting. For example, a typical 84 watt fluorescent can be replaced by a 36 watt LED to give the same level of light.

    In the kitchen

    When you preheat your oven, don't let it sit empty for longer than necessary. Don't open the door to check on food. Every time you do that, you lose 25% of the heat and it has to work to heat back up.

    Also, avoid using the conventional oven when you’re trying to heat up or cook leftovers. Use microwaves and toaster ovens instead.

    Let your food cool down before putting it in the refrigerator. Not only does it ensure your food tastes okay, it also means your refrigerator will use less energy to cool it down.

    Pack your freezer. A full freezer is more efficient than an empty freezer. Fill up space with plastic containers of water if you have a lot of empty space.

    Use glass or ceramic pans in ovens; they tend to heat much faster than metal pans.

    Between the sheets

    Wash and dry full loads, and don't over-dry clothes.

    Avoid adding wet garments to a dryer load that has already been started. It’s a similar concept to not opening your oven before it’s through cooking your food.

    Keep your dryer lint trap clean. Keeping those traps clean—the dryer lint filter clean after every load of laundry.

    Consider washing your clothes with cold water. Most laundry detergents made these days work just as well in cold water.

    Check back next week for part three of more tips for how to stay cool. Can’t wait for more tips. We recommend you visit www.energy.gov for more information.

  • How Cool Are You?

    13 July 2017

    Summertime is upon us, so whether you've recently installed a solar system on your home or are considering adding one, now is the perfect time to think about energy efficiency. Beginning this week, we’re kicking off a series of home cooling tips. Here are just a few fast and easy ways to help offset more of your energy bills. We’ll be sharing more as the dog days of summer press on, so follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more information about solar!

    Power: Reduce Menacing Phantom Loads

    You’ve dropped the shades. You’ve cranked up the thermostat. And still, your energy bill is running higher than you expected. It might just be what’s called a “phantom load”. What in the world is a phantom load? Well, it’s a clever phrase used to identify just about everything in your home that has a switch and a power cord, and anything that has a power cord and plugs into a wall keeps using power even when it’s turned off. In fact, many items draw close to full power in standby or sleep mode — 24 hours a day. Here’s a quick tip to remember how to manage those phantoms in your home — if it’s plugged in, it’s drawing power.

    Don’t have time to unplug every appliance in your house? Here’s a solution! Plug your TVs, espresso machines, gaming consoles and small appliances into a power strip, and turn the power strip off when you aren’t using these items.

    Water: Drop It Like It’s Hot

    Did you know that washing your clothes in cold water and running full loads when using your dishwasher, washer and dryer can make a huge difference in lowering power bills? According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 90 percent of the energy associated with washing clothes is actually related to heating the water.

    Here’s another tip: run your dishwasher using cold water, and air dry your dishes.

    Air Conditioners: It’s Getting Hot in Here (No Seriously, It’s…Hot)

    According to the U.S. Department of Energy, air conditioners use nearly six percent of all electricity produced in the United States. This costs homeowners nearly $29 billion annually!

    What can you do to make your air conditioner run more efficiently? First, replace your air conditioning filters every month. If your air conditioning unit is on the ground, keep the area around it clean and free of debris or obstructions that might decrease airflow. Set your thermostat at 78 or higher, especially when you’re not home, and use floor and ceiling fans whenever possible. And finally, have your air conditioning unit serviced at least once a year. Ask your air conditioning specialist to install a smart thermostat. They’re inexpensive, and you’ll be surprised at how this simple piece of technology can help you stay cool for the summer!

    We’ll be sharing more tips until it gets cooler which we all hope is soon!

  • Driving Halfway Around the World in a Solar Power Car

    18 November 2016

    Even though solar energy is becoming more popular than ever, many people around the world are still unaware of the revolutionary power of the sun. To raise awareness about the immense capabilities of solar power, an engineer recently outfitted his vehicle with solar panels and drove it from India to England using nothing but energy from the sun.

    A solar-powered trek

    In a journey that lasted seven months and covered more than 6,000 miles, Naveen Rabelli drove from India to Britain in a solar-powered tuk-tuk - a vehicle that is essentially an automotive rickshaw with three wheels. The expedition took him through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and France before he crossed the English Channel from Calais, India Times reported.

    "The highlights have been the way people have helped me out along the way and supported me,” Naveen told The Guardian. "People love the tuk-tuk, particularly in Iran and many other countries. They come forward and take selfies. And the moment I tell them it doesn't require petrol, their minds are blown."

    Naveen outfitted the tuk-tuk with a bed, a seat for a co-passenger, a cupboard for food and a solar-powered cooker.

    This journey halfway around the world resulted in zero carbon emissions produced by his solar power vehicle and highlights the revolutionary potential to power automobiles with nothing more than sunlight.

    The spread of sun-fueled cars

    Although the solar-powered tuk-tuk Naveen drove halfway around the world was a prototype he mostly designed and built himself, several auto manufacturers are jumping on the solar-powered bandwagon.

    Hanergy Holding Group, a Chinese solar panel manufacturer, recently released four different models of solar power cars. Constructed of lightweight material and covered in thin-film solar cells, a five to six-hour charge of sunlight will generate eight to 10 kilowatt-hours of energy for the cars. This translates to a conversion rate of 31.6 percent and a 50-mile range.

    In addition, Sono Motors, a German startup, recently raised more than $200,000 in a crowdfunding effort to produce prototypes of an electric car powered by solar energy through integrated solar panels.

    While Hanergy and Sono Motors are just two auto manufacturer leading the way in delivering solar power cars to the mass market,  university students from the around continue to tinker with new ways to combine this clean, renewable energy source with the traditional driving experience that's familiar to everyone. For instance, in Nigeria, an engineering student added solar panels and a wind turbine to a classic Volkswagen Beetle for just $6,000, using mostly scrap parts. Not only do the solar panels provide free energy to power the car during the day time, but the turbine also allows air to flow through the grill, which is then used to charge the vehicle's battery, overcoming some of the limitations of driving at night that a purely solar-powered automobile might face.

    With so many people and companies around the world working diligently to perfect a car that runs on sunlight, it should only be a matter of time before solar power cars become the new reality.

  • Four Energy-Saving Tips for the Summer

    20 July 2016

    Whether you've recently installed a solar system on your home or are considering adding one, it's important to give some thought to your energy efficiency. An energy-efficient home will be less demanding in its electricity use, which means you can help offset more of your utility bill with solar.

    However, summer can be one of the most challenging seasons for homeowners who want to limit their energy use. According to the U.S. Energy Department, air conditioners alone account for 5% of all the electricity consumed in the U.S., costing homeowners an average of $11 billion and generating roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.

    For much of the U.S., the summer months are the hottest of the year, increasing the burden on the home's electrical system. Luckily, following these four tips will help to make your home more energy efficient and save electricity.

    1). Take advantage of natural ventilation

    If you live in a climate where temperatures cool down at night and you enjoy regular breezes, you can use your windows for home cooling. Once the temperature drops, open your windows and turn on any ceiling or portable fans. This will help the cooler outside air circulate through the house and push warmer air out.

    You can make natural ventilation more effective by controlling heat buildup during the day. Window coverings can block direct sunlight from entering the home and insulated shades will reduce the conduction of heat through the windows.

    2). Upgrade or maintain your cooling system

    If you're running an older air conditioner in your home, you may want to consider upgrading to an energy-efficient model. The Energy Department estimates high-efficiency air conditioners can lower your home cooling costs by 20-50%.

    Regular air conditioner maintenance is also important. Change your filters at least every three months. A clogged filter can disrupt the airflow of your unit and make it pull more electricity. Replacing a clogged filter alone can reduce your air conditioner's energy consumption by 5 to 15%. You should also keep the coils and coil fins clear of debris, as this can also impede airflow and make your air conditioner less efficient.

    3). Eliminate air leaks

    In addition to operating your cooling system efficiently, you need to ensure cooled air isn't escaping your home while hot air creeps in from outside. EnergyStar estimates that homeowners can reduce their heating and cooling costs by as much as 15% simply by air sealing their homes and adding insulation to attics and crawl spaces. Beyond increasing the insulation in your home, you can also add caulk or weather stripping around leaky doors and windows to prevent air from escaping.

    4). Avoid adding heat to your house

    Many of the large appliances in the typical American home add to its heat load and make the air conditioner work harder. These include your dishwasher, stove and dryer. Take advantage of the sun and warm air of summer to hang your clothes on an outside line as often as possible. You can also try letting your dishes air dry or cook on an outside grill instead of using your stove.

    Your home's lighting can also make your rooms warmer if you're using incandescent bulbs. These lightbulbs use 10-15% of their energy to generate light and give the rest off as heat. Using cooler LED bulbs will reduce the heat generated in the home and require less energy to provide light.

    Following these steps will make your home more energy efficient – reducing your energy costs and helping contribute more clean energy to the electrical grid when you have a solar system.

  • The World’s Brightest Lights

    15 April 2016

    According to National Geographic, more power from the sun reaches the Earth in a single hour than can be used in an entire year.

    Clearly, the star at the center of our solar system is also a star at the center of our solar power systems.

    Solar energy is potentially a worldwide endeavor -- and some countries are on fire when it comes to harnessing that power.

    Below, the top 4 countries currently in the game … and one to watch.

    China

    China is currently the world leader in renewable energy, and as of 2015 is the largest producer of solar panels.1 Most panels are installed in remote locations as part of huge solar farms that sell solar power to local utilities. China is currently building the world’s largest solar plant2 in the Gobi Desert. It is expected to produce enough solar energy for up to 1 million households. China currently has 43 GW cumulative installed PV capacity and plans to add another 15 GW in 2016.3 To put this into perspective, 1 GW provides enough energy for approximately 750,000 homes.

    Germany

    Germany is not exactly known for an abundance of sunny days, yet is still one of the world’s top solar installers. In fact, it was in first place until China took over in 2015. In June 2014, Germany broke three national solar records4 in two weeks, most notably meeting more than 50% of electricity demand for the first time. Germany currently has 40 GW of installed PV capacity.5

    USA

    2015 was a notable year for solar power in the United States, with residential installations increasing each quarter. Check this out -- the first quarter of 2015 increased 76%6 from the first quarter of 2014, despite crazy weather that included one of the worst winters ever recorded in the northeast. Overall, the U.S. market grew by 56% in 2015,7 adding an additional 9.8 GW.

    Japan

    After the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in 2011, Japan embraced solar energy and is now a major market for solar cells. Japan has been imaginative in the creation of solar plants --abandoned golf courses are now photovoltaic fields, and, as an island nation, Japan has also created floating solar islands8 with water-resistant panels.

    One to watch: India

    With an estimated 300 sunny days a year, India is embracing solar energy more than ever with the goal of producing 25% of energy from solar sources by 2030. Another goal is to raise solar capacity to 100 GW by 2022,9 which is 20 times its current production.

     

    1 China is Utterly and Totally Dominating Solar Panels
    By Katie Fehrenbacher, Fortune

    2 China Builds Huge Solar Power Station Which Could Power a Million Homes
    By Alexandra Sims, Independent

    3 China to Increase Wind, Solar Power Capacity by 21% in 2016
    By Feifei Shen, Bloomberg

    4 Germany Breaks 3 Solar Power Records in 2 Weeks
    By Zachary Shahan, Tree Hugger

    5 China Overtakes Germany as World’s Leader in Solar Power Capacity
    Agencia EFE

    6 U.S. Residential Solar Market Grew 76% in First Quarter
    By Joshua S. Hill, CleanTechnica

    7 PV Market Alliance Estimates Global Photovoltaic Installations of at Least 51 GW in 2015
    Solar Server

    8 Giant Floating Solar Power Stations are Japan’s Newest Power Source
    By Joseph Erbentraut, Huffington Post

    9 The Future Looks Bright for Solar Power in India
    By Nimisha Jaiswal, USA Today

  • Surprisingly Solar: On the Move, In your Closet and On the Horizon

    07 March 2016

    Solar energy is as old as sin, dating back to when cavemen utilized the sun’s rays to make fires and burn ants. Today, we have astronauts living 200 miles above Earth in the solar-powered International Space Station – and cutting-edge uses continue to blaze new paths.

    Planes, trains, automobiles … and boats

    • Solar Impulse completed a record-breaking 7,200 km (4,400 miles) 5-day, 5-night flight from Japan to Hawaii – without a drop of fuel. Reaching an altitude of more than 28,000 feet, the solar-powered aircraft has a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747. Solar Impulse is currently in Hawaii undergoing a battery overhaul. Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg will resume the round-the-world solar flight in April.
    • Indian Railways, said to be the world’s fourth largest railway system, recently installed solar panels on the roofs of passenger trains and is now eyeing solar panels on rooftops of railway stations.
    • Stella Lux, a four-passenger solar-powered sedan, took first place in the 2015 World Solar Challenge Cruiser Class. Forty teams from 20 countries traveled 3,000 km (1,800 miles) through Australia. Stella Lux is the progeny of Stella, the world’s first solar-powered family car. Stella also won the World Solar Challenge Cruiser Class in 2013 and subsequently hit the road on a global tour of four continents.
    • PlanetSolar, the largest solar boat ever built, has sailed more than 20,000 km (12,000 miles) around the world. It is now in the hands of Race for Water, shining a light on plastic pollution in the oceans.

    A flare for fashion

    Tommy Hilfiger jackets. Pauline van Dongen shirts. Tzukuri sunglasses. Project Solaire backpacks.

    Photovoltaic has never been so sexy.

    Designers are riding the wave of wearable solar garments and accessories as a way to keep our gadgets charged – or, in the case of the sunglasses, from being left behind.

    You might be surprised at the various ways solar panels have been incorporated into design aesthetics. These items are chic and, in some cases, washable. Check it out here.

    What’s next

    • Farming: The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $63 million infusion into clean energy for the farming industry. Some $16,000 of that is going to a Georgia-based company to install solar arrays on the roofs of its poultry houses, and a fruit farm in Ohio will receive $18,000 for solar panels.
    • Medicine: The industry has been leveraging solar energy to sterilize medical and dental equipment, refrigerate medications, and deliver lighting and power for mobile and medical devices in areas without consistent electricity. The medical science behind solar continues to evolve, including a recent breakthrough that may restore sight to the blind, and utlitizing solar cells as a testing method for certain cancers.
    • Internet: Electronics superstar Samsung has opened Solar Powered Internet Schools across 15 African countries, and Google and Facebook are exploring solar-powered drones and huge balloons in a quest to provide internet access around the world.