Cultivating Green Jobs in Solar Energy

GridSTAR_SolarThe Navy Yard in Philadelphia has evolved as an economic development powerhouse, attracting more than 10,000 jobs since the former Navy base began its transformation some 20 years ago. However, did you also know the campus is playing a critical role in supporting the development of green jobs?

For the past two years, I’ve been heavily involved with the GridSTAR Renewable Energy Training Structure, which includes a first-of-its-kind solar training facility. Slated for completion next month, the facility features our Apollo photovoltaic roofing system along with advanced battery solutions from Solar Grid Storage and off-grid power distribution equipment developed by Eaton. Penn State University as well as other project partners will use the facility as a hands-on classroom and research laboratory.

The facility is filling an important void in furthering the adoption of solar technologies. It’s estimated that 40 to 45 percent of power and energy professionals and educators may retire within the next five years. While at the same time, 92 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should develop and use more solar energy. To help fill this gap, projects such as the GridSTAR Renewable Energy Training Structure, will help ensure that roofing contractors, linemen, electricians, power system technicians and engineers are primed and ready to support this demand.

Most importantly, the facility is an excellent example of how public-private collaboration is driving workforce development, innovation and a more energy independent future. Is your community prepared for the next generation of green jobs?

A Case for the Return to DC Power

Lucas Hamilton

As we have seen many times, tides change and we return to previous processes because they are actually more efficient.  So why shouldn’t this be true of electric current?

If we look at onsite power generation for buildings like photovoltaics (PV) we see that they are generating Direct Current (DC). In order to move toward more sustainable solutions like photovoltaics there will need to be a return to Direct Current (DC) for our power.

We are seeing a resurgence of DC into our lives through items like lighting, with the switch to LEDs, and computers. These are two of the biggest power consumers in our commercial buildings and they run on DC.  When we convert Alternating Current (AC) to DC power 20 percent of the power is lost in that transference.  Feel the heat coming off your computer power plug. That heat is energy loss. Now imagine you have a building with PV on the exterior generating a fixed amount of DC current. If you invert the DC to AC in order to put it into the grid (-20 percent) and then plug your computer power cord into an outlet to get that power back, you loose 20 percent again. With the technological limitations we have with PV efficiencies, limited surfaces upon which to install the cells, and ever increasing demands for power within our buildings, how can we afford to keep loosing power to these inversions?

It is time to reevaluate DC in our lives! As we move toward more renewable energy, like photovoltaics (and they will play a larger part in our lives moving forward) we should consider how many of the appliances we use could be run on DC.  At the same time, if you are planning a new home or building and will be employing photovoltaics, consider keeping more DC current available throughout the building. Keeping things that are DC as DC and not plugging them to AC circuits makes sense.  Maybe it’s time for a second plug in the room.  A DC plug.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

What is the Future of Solar Roof Technology – Part 1

(Left to right) Rob Fleming; Dennis Wilde; Alain Garnier; Mark Stancroff; Jeff Wolfe

At Greenbuild, CertainTeed sponsored a luncheon and panel discussion on The Future of Solar Roof Technology.  The panel was very diverse, representing manufacturers of solar materials and end users. The panel included Dennis Wilde, Principal and Development Advisor, Gerding Edlen Development;  Alain Garnier, General Manager, Saint-Gobain Solar U.S.;  Jeff Wolfe, Co-founder and CEO of groSolar; and Mark Stancroff, Business Manager, CertainTeed Solar.  Because of the amount of good information discussed at the event, I am breaking it down into more than one Blog.

The event was moderated by Rob Fleming and Chris Pastore from Philadelphia University who are also known as Ecoman and the Skeptic on their Philadelphia radio show. Rob is an architect by trade and Chris is an engineer.  Both are professors and on the faculty at Philadelphia University. They represented the real world, both the advocates and the skeptics, and created a perfect atmosphere for the audience by challenging the panel and encouraging the audience to do the same, which they did.

The audience was a mix of users and makers as well so the discussion was very robust.  I find when I travel to talk to groups about sustainability this is exactly what you find – skeptics and believers.

According to the end users on the panel, Jeff Wolfe and Dennis Wilde, the adoption of solar and photovoltaics in the U.S. continues to be slow.  Consumers are skeptical and are concerned about the return on investment.  They are waiting for their neighbors to invest.  Homeowner associations are also challenging this initiative based on aesthetics.

Dennis Wilde has been involved in building with photovoltaics and his firm supports initiatives like the Living Building Initiative. He had some interesting insights into the benefits of photovoltaics compared to integrated wind technology.  Referring to a specific project, Dennis stated that the return for solar will be three to five years on that project and the return on the integrated wind technology will be about 104 years.  It is clear that integrated wind technology will not give the return as quickly on that project but it still has merit as a renewable energy source. The issue may be one of a matter of scale. Dennis also discussed the success they are having using photovoltaics on the façade of the building as opposed to the roof.  With Living Building, you have to maximize the power generation to meet the benchmarks and they have seen success with this technique.

Stay tuned for more on The Future of Solar Roof Technology.

I would love to hear your thoughts if you are using photovoltaics in the field. 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Sustainability Sprint – The Dash to Keep Up

Lucas Hamilton

The days of not keeping up with trends is over. Like it or not sustainability is here to stay and you don’t want to get left behind.

The race is on to keep up with the ever-changing world of sustainability and it is causing manufacturers and building professionals to scramble to catch up. It’s a subject matter with a great deal to learn. There are outside influences like building codes and socio-economic influences driving sustainability into the mainstream, and people may feel like they are out of step and that their vocabulary is insufficient to accurately communicate about sustainability. 

Training is the key. We, at CertainTeed are in the midst of a continuing education initiative for our sales force, our customers and others on sustainability. We are addressing what programs have changed, what requirements have changed and what new technologies are available. Sustainability is influencing our trends, in terms of types of products we use. There is increased use of vegetative roofs, photovoltaics and other, much needed, energy efficiency methods being incorporated into buildings to improve performance. 

In addition to these “outbound” activities, we have a significant internal focus on our manufacturing facilities and CertainTeed employees. First you have to “green” your products, then your facilities, and then your people and practices. It is an on-going “organic” process which never stops.

Urban areas outpace rural areas with regard to sustainability, which was discussed in a previous blog, indicating that there is still a long way to go with regard to education and training on sustainability.

I am finding that people are a little afraid of sustainability because the practice is still new and it’s catching them off guard.  The trick is to get into it, stay into it, have conversations with people and learn from each other about sustainability. 

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation.