Renewable energy is derived from sources that are virtually unlimited in supply, such as the sun, the wind, and the movement of water. These energy sources are also cleaner than fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas, which produce greenhouse gases and other pollution.
With the general trend toward higher fossil fuel prices and a growing list of incentives for renewables, technologies such as solar, geothermal and wind can help businesses not only reduce their carbon footprint, but actually reduce costs!
Before investing in renewable energy, you should always look for ways to reduce your present consumption and improve your energy efficiency. Once you have eliminated as much waste as possible, installation of renewable energy systems may make sense for your business.
Pennsylvania has passed legislation requiring that renewable energy use be increased over the next few decades; both state and federal incentives are available to advance this goal, making renewable energy much more competitive than only a few years ago. Impending electric rate deregulation will make these technologies even more cost-effective.
For information on renewable energy, review the information and links below. To find ways to save energy and determine if renewable energy is right for your business, consult EMAP's Building Block pages.
There are currently two practical applications of solar energy available to businesses: photovoltaic (PV) cells, which use the sun's energy to generate electricity, and thermal systems, which use the sun's energy to heat water directly for use in a building. Businesses that install PV panels on their roof or property become electric generation facilities and can be linked to the commercial electric utility grid. PV panels will typically offset a percentage of the electricity needed by a facility, with the remainder drawn from the grid. In instances where PV panels may generate more electricity than the facility needs (e.g. on weekends), the excess power flows into the grid and provides power for other electric customers. Another feature of PV is that it generates solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), which may have substantial market value as renewable energy standards for utilities ramp up over the next decade. The primary drawback to solar PV is the high initial cost of these systems, though recently approved state and federal subsidies have made PV much more affordable.
If your facility uses hot water, a solar thermal system can often save a comparable amount of energy at a far lower initial cost. Thermal collectors use solar energy more efficiently than PV because the sunlight is not converted to electricity; it is simply used to heat water. Solar thermal currently enjoys many of the same federal and state subsidies, and can often pay for itself through energy cost savings in less than 10 years.
For more information visit the following links or contact EMAP for a no-cost energy assessment:
Geothermal (Ground Source)
The term "geothermal" more accurately describes the use of underground thermal features to provide heat in volcanic areas. For our area, the technology available is best called a ground source heat pump. These devices function just like ordinary (air source) heat pumps, providing heat during the winter and cooling during the summer. The difference is that the heat exchange loop is placed underground, where temperatures remain a constant 55-60 degrees year-round. Thus, the heat pump can draw heat from the ground in winter and release heat into the ground in summer, using far less electricity in both seasons. Ground source heat pumps also produce waste heat that can be used to heat hot water. Like solar PV, ground source heat pumps require a large initial investment, but the payback time can be surprisingly short, and there are grants and tax credits available.
For more information, contact EMAP or visit the Department of Energy's Geothermal Technologies Office.
Wind power has enjoyed tremendous growth at the utility scale. Small wind turbine installations may make sense for some small businesses that meet specific criteria for physical location, prevailing winds, favorable local ordinances, and affordable connectivity to the utility grid. For businesses that cannot install their own wind turbines, most utilities offer the opportunity to purchase power generated from wind and other renewable sources. Generally, this translates into a small premium above the standard rate. For more information, contact EMAP or visit the following links:
DOE's Small Wind Guidebook