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Solar PV
Mon, 04/08/2013 - 10:16am
Reposted from Cleantechnica and Greentech Media with permission. Article by Shayle Kann. Last month GTM Research published a report on the U.S. residential solar financing landscape. We undertook that research partly because we perceived a general lack of understanding of both who the residential third-party ownership (TPO) companies are and how they are differentiated. This article describes the key areas in which we classify those vendors and updates our ever-growing vendor taxonomy. Prior to 2010, there were few residential TPO vendors. SolarCity and Sunrun pioneered the residential third-party financing...
Classroom in North Carolina goes 100% solar through hard work and Kickstarter backers
Kristi Loobeek
Tue, 04/02/2013 - 3:05pm
“We believe in the power of the sun” was the slogan for the small, Durham, North Carolina 4th grade class that together succeed in making their classroom 100% solar photovoltaic (PV)-powered. When the class, taught by Aaron Sebens, started a Kickstarter campaign, Our Solar Powered Classroom, they could not have imagined how far the project would exceed their expectations. Originally setting their goal at raising $800, the total amount raised topped $5,800. In a short video created by the 4th graders and their teacher, the class explained why they wanted to start the project: “We believe in the sun and would like to fundraise to get enough money to buy solar panels for our classroom so we do...
Eagan family upgrades their home to 100% solar power
Joel Haskard
Tue, 03/26/2013 - 11:43am
Eagan, Minnesota residents, Don and Pat Vasatka, struggled with a problem many Minnesotans face: ice dam build ups and leaks. However, unlike most residents, the Vasatka’s decided to take an innovative and energy efficient approach that would do more than put a Band-Aid on the problem, it would heal it completely. The family fixed all insulation and air pathway problems and also installed a solar PV system. The Vasatka’s worked closely with Applied Energy Innovations (AEI) to get all of the renovations done. After all weatherization and insulation was installed, the efficiency of the home increased by up to 30%. But the family didn’t stop there; when it came time to replace their old minivan, the Vasatka’s chose the Electic Vehicle (EV) Nissan Leaf. Read more about their story in the interview below: Joel Haskard: How did you prioritize projects? Don...
CFLs in the bathroom (left) and ice damming on our roof (right)
Jeff Vetsch
Thu, 03/07/2013 - 3:00pm
Hi. I’m Jeff Vetsch and my family (the Mill Pond Minimizers) is going head to head with another Minnesota family (the Prairie Penny Pinchers) to see who can save more energy in the CERTs Family Energy FACE-OFF — and we need your help! I recently sat down and added up our household energy bills for 2012. Turns out we spent just over $1,400 last year to heat, cool (a little, we let the shade trees do most of the work) light and otherwise power our house. I figure that’s not too shabby for a house that’s over 100 years old and has to put up with our cold Minnesota winters and hot Minnesota summers.* But what I was really pleased with was the savings. We cut our energy costs over $400 from what we had spent in 2011. Now, I know $400 isn’t exactly striking it rich, but—like the Prairie Penny Pinchers—we’re saving for college too...
Small wind turbines provide electricity, and work for net metering
Annette Fiedler
Wed, 12/19/2012 - 11:06am
Gary Cernohous of Ihlen grinned about last month’s electric bill: $22. Cernohous and his wife, Cindy, began using wind-generated electricity two years ago as a way to lower their monthly $180 bill. He said his goal is to receive a check from Xcel for the electricity he generates. According to Mary Thoen, Xcel Energy’s community relations representative, Minnesota residents who own wind turbines that produce less than 40 kilowatts of power can receive a “net metering” rate. “Net metering is a meter that records energy flow in both directions,” Thoen indicated in an email. “At the end of the month the customer is billed for the net energy used.” Customers receive retail price credit for the generation they sell back to Xcel Energy, Thoen said. The net metering system allows Cernohous to see his energy usage and whether or not he is using his wind-generated electricity or selling...
Low-flow faucet aerator installed in a bathroom
Carl Samuelson
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 12:00am
Businesses and homeowners pay for water three times—once to buy it from a utility, once to heat it using natural gas or electricity, and once to dispose of it as wastewater. That’s why high-efficiency faucet aerators can save business owners and homeowners a lot of money. But not every situation is a good fit, so it’s important to keep a few things in mind. Keep reading to learn the basics! Flow Rate: If you already have a low-flow aerator, it may not be effective to replace it. Check this by reading the side of the aerator (the metal ring where the water comes out). If your flow rate is more than 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm), you should replace it. Maintenance: Aerators occasionally need to be rinsed out since sand and particulate can build up, restricting the flow. Plan to replace them periodically to maintain good performance. Task: Aerators may or may not be a...
Replacing an old furnace with a new efficient one is an investment that will pay back in energy savings
Jeff Vetsch
Thu, 09/20/2012 - 12:52pm
If you’re anything like my family, this cool weather gets you thinking about what you can do to save energy heating your home this fall and winter. Here are some things you can do in the next couple months (if you haven’t already): Things you should do now to save on heating costs: Change your furnace filter every 1-2 months, unless it is filter specifically designed for longer life. Switch furnace fan setting from continuous to auto * Hire a professional to do a Home Performance Audit of your home Install weather-stripping or caulk leaky doors and windows and install gaskets behind outlet covers Air seal and insulate your house to recommended levels When your fireplace is not in use, be sure the damper is closed Install a programmable thermostat (and program it—see notes below) If you have an old,...
Installing my new programmable thermostat before the weather gets colder!
Jeff Vetsch
Wed, 09/19/2012 - 9:56am
As summer winds down, and the nights start to take on a little chill, I’ve started thinking about the winter heating season again. We have a geothermal heating system in our house which is fairly efficient, but I’m always looking for more ways to save energy and money. To that end, I went out and purchased a programmable thermostat last weekend. We were told when we installed our heat pump that we shouldn’t use a programmable thermostat. The installer said that when a heat pump is in heating mode, setting back its thermostat can actually make it run less efficiently, in effect cancelling out any savings gained by lowering the temperature. However, some companies have recently begun selling specially designed programmable thermostats for heat pumps, and they now say that using one of these can make setting the thermostat back cost effective. We’ll give it a try this year and see...
CERTs participants take a tour of the WCROC campus
Joel Haskard
Thu, 08/30/2012 - 6:55pm
Big things can happen with small-scale renewable energy systems. We caught up with Eric Buchanan at the U of M West Central Research & Outreach Center in Morris to learn more about what these systems have to offer residents and businesses. Joel Haskard: What do you hope to accomplish with this guidebook? Eric Buchanan: About 40% of total energy use in the U.S. is in buildings. Small-scale renewable energy systems are well suited to address this area of energy use, but there is a lack of unbiased performance and cost data for such systems. Most people that install renewable energy systems do not invest in monitoring equipment due to the extra cost, and information about how the systems work is usually either very technical for researchers or too general to be of much use when making purchase decisions. The main objective of...
Are energy dollars leaking out of your compressed air system?
Joel Haskard
Thu, 08/16/2012 - 12:09pm
Are energy dollars leaking out of your compressed air system? Utilities across Minnesota are finding innovative ways to increase energy efficiency and reduce costs for their customers. In part two of our series about compressed air leaks, we spoke with Paul Twite, the Energy Services Account Manager at Delano Municipal Utilities, about the savings potential of identifying and fixing compressed air leaks. Joel Haskard: I was amazed to learn that a typical compressed air system may sometimes only use 50% of its air supply for production. Where do you see the greatest opportunity to reduce compressed air leaks? Paul Twite: Conservation opportunities are divided into no-cost, low-cost and capital expense categories. Detecting and repairing leaks are definitely low-cost options. Most leaks occur at threaded pipe joints, quick-disconnect fittings, and generally where a connection...
Fixing compressed air leaks can lead to major energy savings
Joel Haskard
Fri, 08/10/2012 - 11:59am
Is money flying out of your compressed air system? Utilities across Minnesota are finding innovative ways to increase energy efficiency and reduce costs for their customers. We spoke with John O’Neil, Manager of Energy Efficiency & Member Support Programs with Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA), about the savings potential of identifying and fixing compressed air leaks. Joel Haskard: Tell us a little bit about this project. John O’Neil: According to the US Department of Energy, compressed air is one of the most costly utilities in plants today. Leaks are the largest waste of compressed air. Industrial customers waste about 20% to 30% of their compressed air to leaks. By routinely detecting and fixing air leaks, most companies can reduce leakage to 10% or less and realize large cost savings and almost immediate payback. Minimizing air leaks also...
The Right Light Recycler
Dan Thiede
Wed, 06/13/2012 - 8:32am
Wanting to switch to new, efficient lightbulbs, but unsure where to recycle old compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) and other lights? Now you can keep old lighting out of landfills by finding convenient recycling locations near you in Minnesota! CERTs is pleased to launch the new Right Light Recycler today in partnership with Earth911, a company that helps consumers find local recycling information through the largest and most accurate recycling directory in the U.S. The tool features locations in Minnesota where you can recycle CFLs, fluorescent tubes, string lights (seasonal), ballasts, neon lights, and fixtures. The Right Light Recycler automatically determines your location (or you can tell it where you want to look), then you just pick a material you want to recycle and it delivers drop-off locations on a...
View of the house from the prairie | Photo by Mike Larsen
Mike Larsen
Tue, 06/05/2012 - 4:27pm
A year ago, Mike Larsen and Linda Nelson left their beloved urban Minneapolis home and moved to the prairie in southeast Minnesota near Altura to live in a way more connected to the land. In this story, Mike writes about how they came to the decision to build their off-the-grid home. Off-grid or not off-grid—that is the question. Indeed, that was a HUGE question Locus architect Paul Neseth posed to Linda and I as we sat down to yet another design session. Like “paper or plastic,” but a lot lot harder. We’d still be designing if not for our one guiding principle, the principle by which all our design decisions were judged. Though on paper, our house was turning out to be “green, sustainable, earth-hugged, solar powered, masonry heated, humanure composting, rainwater harvesting,” we never told Paul that’s what we wanted. Instead,...
One of the MN DNR's Chevy Volts
Joel Haskard
Wed, 05/30/2012 - 3:37pm
Electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular as fleet vehicles in Minnesota. Joel Haskard with CERTs recently chatted with Aaron Van De Bogart, an electrical Engineer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to learn more about how they’re using electric vehicles, and why. Joel Haskard: Why is the DNR interested in electric vehicles? Aaron Van De Bogart: Electric vehicles reduce our annual fleet costs and emissions, and provide an opportunity to educate visitors about renewable energy and conservation. In 2010, fleet fuel represented 65% of DNR energy costs and 42% of CO2e emissions. The DNR’s goal is a 20% reduction in total energy from 2010 to 2015 and a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Joel: How many electric vehicles and charging stations does the DNR currently have? Aaron: Here’s the breakdown: 2 Plug-in Hybrid...
Family Energy FACE-OFF
Dan Thiede
Wed, 05/09/2012 - 2:00pm
From Earth Day 2012 to Earth Day 2013, two Minnesota families and hundreds of their teammates are competing in the Family Energy FACE-OFF to see who can save more energy. This new community-based energy competition has been launched in a partnership between the Minnesota-based, Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) and the University of Minnesota, Morris, Office of Sustainability. The two teams are the Mill Pond Minimizers, led by Jeff Vetsch, Anne Dybsetter, and their children Henry (5) and Hazel (2) from New London, MN; and the Prairie Penny Pinchers, led by Troy, Jenn, and Ely (4) Goodnough from Morris, MN. The families are pitted against each other, taking actions to conserve energy and resources in their homes, and extending the competition to their communities and networks. Anyone can take action, earn...
Joe Deden's off-the-grid home | Photo: Joe Deden
Susan Waughtal
Fri, 05/04/2012 - 11:59am
There are more people than you’d think living off the grid in the Southeast CERT Region, and we’re happy to share their awesome stories! Adrienne Tryan and Adam Kidney live off the grid in a small cabin they built from reclaimed materials The Huelskamps live in a solar- and wind-powered geodesic dome on an organic farm that is off the grid and power their car and tractor with biodiesel fuel The Dedens retrofitted their woodland home to achieve a carbon-neutral lifestyle through major energy efficiency improvements and a grid-tied solar array We are proud to note that Rich Huelskamp and Joe Deden have also been long-time members of the Southeast CERT steering committee! Read about the motivations and challenges for these three southeast Minnesota families striving to live more...
Tim Gulden of Winona Renewable Energy and farmer Nathan Gibbs a panel for the cow barn | Photo S. Waughtal
Susan Waughtal
Wed, 05/02/2012 - 1:23pm
Dairy farmer Nathan Gibbs is in a sunny frame of mind. He just installed a 39,840 watt PV solar system on the south-facing roof of his cow shed, which will supply 30% of the farm’s electricity needs annually. Gibbs milks 100 Holsteins on his dairy farm in southeast Minnesota near Altura. He has been farming for 10 years, but this year, with a 30% federal tax rebate, accelerated depreciation, and a rebate incentive from Xcel Energy, the time and financing was right to invest in renewable energy. Winona Renewable Energy installed the 166 panels on the cow shed during February and March 2012, a winter in which the weather cooperated with construction work. The system is tied to the grid and provides power to both the home and farm buildings. Each of the 166 modules has its own Enphase micro-...
Young cow on a Rice County dairy farm during energy audit
Shaun Daniel
Thu, 04/26/2012 - 1:16pm
Direct energy use accounts for between 5 and 7 percent of farm expenditures. In terms of electricity used, Minnesota dairies show the largest energy costs, followed by corn growers (for grain drying especially), swine, soybeans, and other agricultural crops. According to Barry Ryan and Douglas G. Tiffany, “dairy farmers used 376 million kWh of electricity, or 600 kWh per year for a typical cow producing 15,000 pounds of milk annually.” For dairy farmers, electricity is the single biggest energy cost. The Minnesota Project, a key CERTs partner, highlights ways that farmers can save energy by becoming more energy efficient, and thus save money. As such, I’d like to draw your attention to a number of new resources on The Minnesota Project’s website....
So many choices! Photo by Michelle Vigen
Michelle Vigen
Mon, 03/26/2012 - 8:41am
There are a lot of considerations these days when buying a new light bulb, all captured in a recent article from Leslie Brooks Suzukamo at the Pioneer Press that features the CERTs Right Light Guide. Keep reading for a preview, or click here for the full article. Excerpt: Brian James needed a light bulb. Just one little bulb to replace a 40-watt light that burned out in his stairwell. How hard can that be? Pretty hard, it turns out. “I’m balancing the expense versus the efficiency of the bulb,” the 51-year-old Bloomington resident said after spending long minutes scrutinizing an array of incandescents, compact flurorescents and LED bulbs ranging in price from $2.50 to $20 at Lowe’s in West St. Paul. “I would prefer more energy efficiency, but is it worth paying such an expensive price for...
Broccoli at the Willmar High School greenhouse
Jenna Lewein
Tue, 03/20/2012 - 12:20pm
Many places in Minnesota have found a way to extend the warm growing season into the colder winter months. This isn’t that surprising, greenhouses have been around, by some accounts, since the time of the Roman Emperors, and their objective remains the same: providing fresh, local produce for people to enjoy at any time of the year. Originally constructed to serve the wealthy and powerful, today, anyone with the proper space and tools can construct a greenhouse. Through several greenhouse projects the Clean Energy Resource Teams have had the pleasure of working with people passionate about incorporating energy efficiency and renewable energy into their operations, ranging from local commercial endeavors to school projects. Below are introductions and links to several case studies for greenhouse projects found in...
Kerry Smith stands proudly with his solar system | Photo by AEI
Jessica Ward-Denison
Fri, 02/24/2012 - 5:08pm
Kerry Smith and his wife Julie, moved to Minnesota from Texas in November 2010 in the midst of a snowstorm. Julie had taken a job at 3M and they quickly found a house (they looked at 23 houses in 1 day!) and settled into a new life in Woodbury. Kerry is a retired “ee” (electrical engineer) who had worked previously in the Telecom Industry. He had always been interested in solar, and had even taken a class in 1970 at the University of Texas. Now in their new home, “it seemed time to jump off the deep end and add solar,” remarked Kerry. Kerry found Applied Energy Innovations on Service Magic and intended to start with a small system—two panels. But after working with Steve Haslach and working out all the rebates and incentives, the Smiths now have eleven panels and a tracker in their yard (the way things worked out, Kerry figures he got two panels for free.) For...
Custom solar thermal collectors installed by local contractor John Duevel
Jeff Vetsch
Wed, 02/08/2012 - 10:30am
It all began with a pellet stove. Or more accurately it all began with a pellet stove and some conservation measures. In 2011 Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center (PWELC) reached their goal of having a campus that is powered by 100% renewable energy. Along the way they have been seeking ways to conserve energy while keeping an eye out for opportunities to incorporate renewable energy into their campus and curriculum. So I guess we could really say that it all began by paying attention. Back in 2003 when Dave Pederson moved into the role of Executive Director at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center (PWELC) he saw some opportunities to change the way the campus used electricity and heated their buildings. At that time, the propane truck was coming out to fill the tank once a week during the winter and nobody had yet gotten a handle...


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