Simple Energy Works Blog Simple Energy Works Blog Simple Energy Works Blog Tue, 06 Sep 2016 16:12:33 +0000 en hourly 1 Portable/Premade Solar Energy Buildings…. NOW AVAILABLE! Tue, 17 Dec 2013 23:42:17 +0000 Randy Velker Continue reading ]]> We have recently formed an agreement with the patent holder as an exclusive supplier of portable premade solar buildings.    These buildings are made in a factory setting so that we can control all of the quality and construction issues.   We can benefit from assembly line work and volumes of scale.








These buildings are easily transported to remote locations.

These systems have many different options to choose from including:  Double buildings (for classrooms, renewable energy demonstration labs), BiFacial Modules (for a sun shade pavilion feel), water proof pavilion system,  multiple sizes of PV, multiple battery banks, incorporated windmills, Grid tied solar option, car charging option…. and many others.

All of these systems are mounted on your pre-existing slab (we give you the plans and dimensions) and are functioning in less than a day.   No sweat at all.   Perfect for an instant office or Get-A-Way that needs it’s own PV power source.   These systems are designed to meet the  90 mph wind speed specifications (which is the same standard that your house is built too).

Give us a call (931)287-9288 for pricing or details.   We are happy to be delivering these complete solar systems with the same exacting standards that we have been delivering stand alone grid tied and off grid systems for the past 5 years.   Now these PV systems  are incorporated right into a prefabricated delivered building.

These systems qualify for the 30% tax credit and for many other local, state and federal incentives.   The other thing about this building and the complete solar system included is that every part of the whole package is designed and built right here in the USA.    There are no foreign modules or inverters in the whole package.    So… all of the money for this system is used to support businesses here in the States.    Just an added benefit.





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Simple Energy Works LED bulbs deliver more light for less energy Tue, 29 Oct 2013 23:09:53 +0000 Randy Velker Continue reading ]]> These bulbs are LED’s (Light Emitting Diodes) which means that they are a fully wired system and have no elements (which are the part of the bulb that burns out).    These LED bulbs have soldered diodes that give off the light, so they are very vibration resistant and shock proof.     They can be used in fans and in other applications that normally have required “heavy duty” type bulbs.


Producing 615 lumens of light with an input of only 7 watts of energy, these bulbs are extremely efficient.    The measurement of lumens per watt is comparable to miles per gallon on the car, it tells us which bulb  is most efficient.   A normal incandescent bulb produces 600 lumens using about 50 watts.     Using division we can see that each watt of energy produces about 12 lumens ( 12 lumens per watt).      The new SEW LED bulbs on the other hand are producing about 88 lumens per watt of energy.       This is over 700% more light for the same amount of energy.


This energy reduction is significant.   If you monthly light bill is $100 using incandescent bulbs…. you would be paying $14 after replacing with SEW LED bulbs.    This will be a monthly savings of  $86.


Another huge advantage for the SEW LED bulbs are that they are rated to last 30,000 hours of use.    Compare that to the rated lifespan of an incandescent bulb… below 2000 hours (most are rated at 1000 hours).    It will take at least 15, and probably closer to 30 incandescent bulbs to last as long as ONE of our LED bulbs.   The savings in maintenance and replacement costs are simply icing on the cake.



The details of the 7w LED bulb

The spec sheets for these LED bulbs can be found here.    You can find much more technical information about the bulbs on the spec sheets, and you can purchase the bulbs directly from AMAZON.


These bulbs are UL listed (in the US and in Canada) so they are safe and legal.    By the way, be very careful installing any bulbs or electrical appliances that are NOT  UL listed.    The UL listing is legally required for installation on all new homes and is the safety standard for electrical appliances (including light bulbs).     Any bulb not UL listed may not be safe (we are talking about fire hazards and electrocution hazards).


These bulbs fit common normal bulbs sockets here in the US and Canada (e27/e28 socket) and are small and light weight (unlike the first generation of LED bulbs on the market).  The first generation was a good start, but they tended to be heavy and large.    We have managed to minimize the size of the bulb so that the dimensions are 2″ x 4″ and the weight is just 3.5 ounces.    It will easily fit into any socket and will not stress or overload the weight capacity of small lamps.     (For instance, many small lamps would simply fall over with a first generation LED light bulb).


These bulbs do not have any of the hazardous Mercury that are included in the compact fluorescent bulbs.   Also, the lifespan of these bulbs are not reduced when turned on and off rapidly.    (A major problem with compact fluorescent bulbs is that they fail prematurely…. This is normally due to turning them on and then off before their 15 minute “warm up time” has passed.     If they are turned off before 15 minutes then their lifespan is dramatically reduced- typically down to the lifespan of an incandescent bulb 1000-2000 hours).    If you are going to use compact fluorescent bulbs in spite of the Mercury content then make sure that you leave them on for at least 15 minutes each time they are switched on…. then the bulbs may reach their estimated life span.


Why continue to hand money to the utilities simply by using outdated and inefficient bulbs?   This bulb is a perfect reason to start moving to LED.


By the way, we are offering 10% off these LED bulbs if you purchase 2 or more.   This offer is only good with the coupon code  ”BRRB7SDX”, so put that in when you order the bulbs.    This offer is a  limited time coupon, so go to AMAZON and pick up some of these LED bulbs before the coupon expires.


Take care,






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TVA: Killing Solar with 3 Easy Steps: Fri, 17 May 2013 15:47:10 +0000 Randy Velker Continue reading ]]> 1.  Step one. Develop and publicize a “beneficial” solar program. Accept accolades for being a “solar proponent.”

TVA has for the past few years been fine tuning and running a solar program in the Tennessee Valley. This program started small, but has grown very popular as solar installers have moved into the area and began providing good service at competitive prices.

This solar program has changed names over the past couple of years and is currently called the Green Power Providers (GPP) Program. This program started out allowing people to install solar systems with 2 primary incentives. The first is a $1000 rebate that is sent to the customer once the system has been installed. The second incentive is that ALL of the electricity that the solar system produces will be purchased by TVA for 10 years at a premium. The premium rate for the first few years was $.12/kwh above the retail rate of electricity. So…. if your solar system produced 100kwh of electricity in one month all of that would be sold to TVA at the retail rate ($.10/kwh) plus the incentive ($.12/kwh) for a total credit of $.22/kwh and a monthly total of 100kwh x $.22/kwh = $22 credit.

This premium rate is guaranteed contractually for 10 years. The only way for this type of a system to work is for the solar systems to be installed with two separate meters. One meter (your existing electricity meter) still works and charges you for all of your usage. The second meter is the dedicated solar meter that only records electricity being sold to TVA and sent out to the grid. On the monthly statement you would get two readings… one is the amount you used as a debit, and the other as the amount of electricity you produced as a credit. With a large solar system it is fairly easy to end up with a credit at the end of the month. You could be making money with solar! At the end of the year TVA would settle up with you and send you a check if they ended up owing you money.

This program has been dramatically modified over the years. The caps on the size of the system were cut by 80% in 2010 (from 1 MW to 200kW) and then reduced again by 75% (from 200kw to 50kw). Currently new installations are limited to 10kw unless the site can show annual usage of more than a 10kw PV system would produce. The only real way that this program works is with two separate meters (in order to document the exact amount of solar produced by the PV system and purchased by TVA).

2.  Step Two. Make “Net Metering” illegal & interconnection Difficult

Net Metering is a method of connecting a PV solar system to the “Grid” that allows the single meter to spin forward when using electricity (like at night) and to spin backwards when a PV system is producing more energy than you are currently using and “sells” it to the grid (like possibly during the middle of the day).

Net Metering is legal and used in 36 states and is a “fair” way of allowing interconnections to the grid. When you generate solar electricity your meter will be spinning backwards. When you use grid electricity your meter will be spinning forward. Your final bill will be based on the “Net” of the final number on the meter and could either be a credit or a debit. It is a one to one correlation between energy used and energy sold… you can buy or sell at the same rate.

TVA has decided that “Net” metering is illegal in their service area. They do this by forbidding all of their distributors from purchasing any electricity from any other source than TVA. All distributors must sign a contract agreeing to only purchase electricity from TVA. And this includes purchasing any electricity from a small power producer (like a home solar system).

So no customers in the TVA region can connect a solar system and then just buy and sell at the retail rate. To connect to the grid a solar customer must connect according to TVA’s rules (either GPP or as a “dispersed power producer”) and have 2 meters (one dedicated to usage, the other dedicated to production).

The Dispersed Power Producer  (DPP) is TVA’s unofficial program for everyone who wants to connect a solar system to the grid outside of GPP. They  released the latest guidelines for this program in April 2013.  This program applies to small residential as well as large commercial solar PV installations. TVA requires a dual metering system and  is willing to pay only the avoided cost of electricity.      So…. the daily peak rates are $.03461/kwh or $.03415/kwh.  TVA is willing to pay under 3.5 cents for solar energy, yet charge that same customer 10 cents for all of the coal produced energy that they use. How very generous.

Under the DPP program one must also pay a monthly “meter charge” and pay for any upgrades or modifications necessary to connect the solar system to the grid. Also, there is no way to use any of the generated electricity in your own house… on a dual metered system, TVA takes it ALL at their ridiculously low purchasing price.

So… solar is technically still legally possible in the TVA area, but only a simpleton would ever sign their ridiculous contract. After the monthly meter fee, the owner of a small solar systems would end up paying money to TVA each month in order to provide solar energy to TVA’s grid.  There would be absolutely no benefit to the system owner.

TVA has only two legal ways to connect a solar system to the grid. One is the GPP and is pretty good. The other is the DPP and is very bad…. practically worthless.

3.   Step Three. Put an Arbitrarily low cap on the GPP solar program.

TVA announced that they will be putting a cap on Green Power providers. They earnestly proclaimed that they want to keep renewable energy costs “in balance,” so they have decided to tie the amount of money available for solar directly to the amount of money raised by their consistently unsuccessful program entitled “Green Power Switch.” So TVA put the 2013 cap on their GPP solar program at 7.5 MW.

Green Power Switch for years has been under-subscribed. It allows people to pay extra for electricity in 150kWh blocks so that the extra money goes towards renewable energy. The subscribers pay $4 extra per 150kWh block per month and get to feel good for their “donation.” This program was started in 2000 and has been under-performing, but steadily growing for years. The program itself was started as a way to get “environmentalists” to pocket the cost of cleaner energy on the TVA grid. Rather than TVA simply cleaning their power production, they opened a program so that customers could pay extra to “help green the grid.”

So, rather than choosing a “cap” to the program based on public demand, or based on the benefits that solar adds to the grid, or from some other logical criteria, they have publicly tied the GPP Solar program to their under-performing Green Power switch Program. This cap was recently reached after less than 4 months… by the end of April 2013. No further solar installations may be made in the TVA region under the Green Power Producer (GPP) until 2014.  

To put this 7.5 MW cap for the whole TVA region into perspective here are some comparisons:

An average installed PV kw in Tennessee produces around 1250 kwh/year (per PVWatts). So the 7.5 MW will annually produce about 9,375,000 kwh of electricity. The premium rate paid for this electricity is $.09/kwh, so the annual cost of this program to TVA will be $843,750. Add in the $1000 bonus for each of the 250 systems that made it in under the deadline ($250k) and TVA has  invested $1,093,750 into the whole GPP program. Of course this doesn’t count TVA’s administrative costs, but you can see that TVA’s investment in actual solar is mind bogglingly miniscule.

Compare this to TVA’s $2.5 billion annual budget for capital items and you see that TVA has no real interest in anything solar. Most of that 2.5 billion budget is going to retrofit outdated coal powered generation plants or to make unending payments to the two nuclear power plants TVA is trying to complete (Both are over budget and behind schedule). These capital funds go to contractors at Bellefonte (the “zombie reactor” which has already cost over $6 Billion and is still nowhere near completion) or Watts Bar II (the reactor that was supposed to be operational in 2012 at a cost of $2.5 Billion, but recently announced it wouldn’t be ready for operation until 2015.. at a cost of $4.5 Billion). TVA’s investment in this years GPP solar program is 4/100th of a single percent of TVA’s total annual capital budget.

Also, compare this meager investment in solar with the Kingston Fly Ash spill Cleanup. This one “mistake” by TVA back in 2008 is costing every TVA rate payer $.67 EXTRA on EACH monthly utility bill. This added expense (to clean up TVA’s coal mess) has been added since October of 2009 and will continue until at least 2022. So, TVA serves over 9 million people in their service area. That is roughly 3 million monthly bills every month. The amount that TVA is collecting (from ratepayers) for this ONE mistake back in 2008 is approximately $2 million PER MONTH. Twice as much as TVA budgeted for their GPP solar program for ALL of calendar year 2013.

Again, compare this microscopic investment in solar with TVA’s investments of rate payer money into their company pension fund. TVA has added $1.3 Billion to the fund since 2009. The investment in the 2013 GPP program is about 8/100th of  ONE  percent of this pension addition.

To add insult to injury it appears that TVA does not actually invest ANY of it’s own money into the GPP solar program at all.

TVA’s GPS (Green Power Switch) program is supposed to be the program that “balances” the GPP solar program. As of February 2013 the GPS newsletter (the latest issue) states that there are 24,130 residential blocks subscribed and 13,086 commercial blocks currently subscribed. That income totals $1,786,368 over a 12 month period.  (This is not including any of the Renewable Energy Credits that TVA is also selling).

So… TVA puts a cap of just over $1.1 million in the total 2013  GPP solar program, and the GPS program that is supposed to be funding it generates  about $1.8 million of voluntarily DONATED money to TVA for solar or renewable energy.  TVA invests none of its own  money in solar at all. ALL of the money going into solar comes from ratepayers donating extra money for renewable energy. Beyond that, TVA actually is taking a cut of $.7 million from the “balanced” solar program. Probably for administrative expenses.

Solar is the one energy source that is completely funded by the system owner (not by TVA’s debt), it always offsets the most expensive peak power (the middle of the day), helps strengthen the grid (through distributed power production), does not lose energy to line losses (7% of TVA’s energy simply leaks out or is lost to heat). Solar is an energy production source that causes no pollution, and the cost of installing solar has fallen over 50% in the past few years. One would think TVA would be all about promoting solar and using it in it’s portfolio. One would be flat dead wrong.

In fact, if you look at the latest IRP (Integraged Resouce Plan) that TVA published you can easily see the emphasis that TVA puts on renewable energy and solar in particular. This plan lays out TVA’s “goals” for the next 20 years. This is clear sky thinking about where TVA wants to be that informs all of the daily decisions at TVA. Well their goal for all renewable energy by 2029 is a staggering total of “1500 to 2500 megawatts.” These numbers are in Chapter 8, but are published on the first page of the IRP webpage. It is clear for everyone to see. By 2029 TVA plans to have built up their renewable energy portfolio to between 1500 Megawatts and 2500 Megawatts. Of course in footnote #2 you see that these numbers INCLUDE 1600 Megawatts of Wind contracts that are ALREADY written.

So…. TVA’s ambitious plans for clean renewable energy from today until 2029 (the next 16 years) is to actually cut renewable energy by over 100 Megawatts.    A Net reduction in renewable energy over the next 16 years.     Nuclear plants are scheduled to expand (increasing TVA’s debt and liability), coal plants are scheduled to expand (increasing TVA’s debt and liability). But renewable energy is planned to be reduced by 100 megawatts.

I am pretty sure TVA can hit their goal of cutting these Megawatts of renewable energy  by simply following their current action plan. It all makes perfect sense. For TVA to even talk about promoting clean energy in their media or published documents is pure hypocrisy. A simple reading of their IRP spells it out for all to see.

There is no question that TVA has no interest whatsoever in solar power. If TVA could make solar power illegal…. they would. And with this latest cap on the GPP program they have essentially done just that in Tennessee and the whole TVA region. By not allowing Net Metering they require any potential solar customers into a DPP program that basically steals their solar power…. Even after that PV customer has invested his own capital to install the system. That PV energy is actually greening TVA’s grid and adding peak energy(along with the other benefits of PV solar previously mentioned).

No customer will install solar knowing TVA will simply steal it….. so TVA has succeeded in making PV solar de facto illegal in Tennessee at this moment (and potentially until the first few months of 2014). At the same time the publicity folks at TVA are breaking their arms patting themselves on the back about what a wonderful solar program they have (GPP) and about how clean and green they are.   The proof TVA has a “valuable solar program”  is how quickly  it “filled up.”

So, while TVA pats itself on the back for promoting “sustainable solar,” the solar industry in the TVA area is actively trying to figure our how to keep their doors open. All solar companies will be affected, and most will simply evaporate. 8 months is a long time for any company to be forbidden from making any sales.   

TVA has a website dedicated to showing how they promote economic development.   Well… the 182 companies in the solar value chain here in Tennessee can easily see that TVA has no interest whatsoever in their well being…

TVA certainly isn’t tilting the playing field in favor of solar or renewable energies. TVA is intentionally killing them.  


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Waste is how we “do” energy Thu, 28 Feb 2013 23:13:28 +0000 Randy Velker Continue reading ]]> Lawrence Livermore Laboratory released it’s 2011 energy usage flow chart graphic… And it is amazing. It looks overwhelmingly complicated at first, but once you have looked at it for a while and figured out what the image is portraying it is very easy to read.  To see a full sized version of the chart click here.  To find previous years charts you can click here.

And it is eye opening.

This chart  compares all of the energy sources that we used in America in 2011. The way  they can make this type of a comparison chart between energy types is by coming up with comparative quantities of energy. The chart shows that we used 97 “Quads” of energy over the whole year. This is for electricity, for heating, for transportation, … basically everything.

1 Quad of energy represents:

One quadrillion BTU’s of heat (10 to the 15th power)
8,007,000,000 – Gallons (US) of gasoline
293,083,000,000 – Kilowatt-hours of electricity (kWh)
36,000,000 – Tonnes of coal
970,434,000,000 – Cubic feet of natural gas
25,200,000 – Tonnes of oil

The left side of the graphic shows all of the fuel sources from which we get our energy and how much energy we get from each source. Comparing the different fuel sources we can see that even though solar energy production has been increasing by over 100% a year for the past 5 years it is still almost insignificant in the big picture. It is almost a rounding error when compared to other energy sources. There is nowhere to go but up with solar, wind and geothermal energy. The largest truly “renewable” energy source that we use is hydro at about 3% of the total, and “biomass” which produces about 4% of the energy in the USA. Biomass is basically burning wood, chips, waste, refuse etc. So… it is technically renewable, but certainly it is the “dirtiest” of the renewable energy sources.

The center of the graphic shows where that produced energy gets used. A large portion of that energy goes to produce electricity. Other energy goes towards mechanical uses, for heating purposes, and for transportation. The center right of the graphic splits out the end uses of electricity between Residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation usage.

The far right of the graphic shows how much energy gets “rejected” or “wasted” versus how much energy actually goes towards “useful purposes.” The numbers on the left (energy production) exactly equal the numbers on the right (energy usage).

A fascinating graphic no doubt. The deeper one looks the more interesting it becomes.

Now let’s talk about the elephant in the living room… Notice the top section of the graphic dedicated to the electricity generation. There are 39.2 quads of energy invested (from all sources combined). As we follow the usage of electricity we see that combining everything together there are only 12 quads eventually used. Now this is unbelievable. The delivered energy is only 32% of the produced energy. In other words apporximately 68% of the energy is wasted BEFORE it gets to your meter.

This is not something that you can fix on your end by being more efficient in your house and burning CFL’s or LED light bulbs. Turning down your thermostat won’t change these numbers by one iota. Efficiency measures inside your house may help save YOU money, but it won’t change the energy being wasted before it gets to your house. This is energy that is simply lost or wasted on the way to your meter.

What is happening here? Where is all that energy going?

Digging into the charts and reports upon which the graphic is based gives some insight. We find that about 7-8% of the energy is lost to “line losses” or transmission inefficiencies. In other words, the electricity leaks out of the lines. We have a “leaky grid” wasting electricity. There seems to be another 5% of electricity that is used inside the actual power generation plant itself that is counted in this wasted energy.

The primary waste of energy comes from the way that we generate electricity. The electrical generation plants (ie coal generators) are notoriously inefficient. Many are over 50 years old and it is common knowledge that changing coal into electricity wastes massive amounts of heat. Almost 70% of the energy input into a coal generation plant doesn’t come out the other end as useful electricity. It normally dissapates as “wasted heat” and is completely lost.

Because of this huge inefficiency in coal generation plants, many new generation plants are being designed and built as “Co-generation” plants. They take that “wasted” energy and put it to a useful purpose. For instance, if a co-generation plant is located near an industrial park, then the extra heat can be used for heating the water and or the buildings (in the winter) in that industrial park. The heat can be used rather than wasted. Some of these  CHP (combined heat and power ) co-generation plants can be up to 70% efficient (rather than the current 30% efficiency average).   See a report on the efficiency of CHP plants here.

CHP Energy Report here.  Co-generation is a good start, but many of the coal power plants in the country are already paid for, so the utilities believe that it makes sense to run them for just “one more year.” The extra energy they produce is all “profit” for the utility. These old plants should be retired, but they are so much cheaper to run than to build a new power plant (up to the current environmental standards). It’s better to keep on running the old dogs than to upgrade the power plants (which would make them more efficient and generate much less pollution).

This level of wastefullness is staggering.

This scale of wastefulness reminds me of the story of early western explorers who came upon “oceans” of buffalo. They would shoot the buffalo until they were out of ammo and just leave the carcasses in the field. I recently read “The Oregon Trail” by Francis Parkman, and they talked about going out to shoot the buffalo and killing as many “old bulls” as possible (because they were cranky and protective of the female buffalo). Though buffalo weighed in the thousands of pounds, they would shoot a good female buffalo and then take only 20 pounds of the choicest meat.   You can see the mountain of buffalo skulls in the photo.

All around us we can see destruction by people who never bothered to conserve. What is the point of conserving or being “sustainable” in a land with such obvious “overproduction” and “abundance?” This mindset is one of taking and has led to the logging of the sequoia’s, the clear cutting of the East coast and the Midwest (and the West for that matter).  South American’s rain forest is next. Why conserve and be efficient when we don’t have too with the obvious abundance all around us just ready for our (use/abuse)?

Mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia is the current way to exploit the natural resources (to make it cheaper to mine the coal).    This practice pollutes streams, levels the  mountains, kills watersheds and destroys communities.   The latest “efficient” way to collect coal.   Remember,   If we had efficient energy production plants we would be able to use 68% less input.

Rather than “exploiting” these cheap/easy resources, we need to have a mindset of “stewardship.” We must care for the land, and hand it over in good shape to the next generation. We must not foul our nest as we live. It makes no sense.

Wastefullness is not a virtue, and it costs tremendously. The problem is we don’t see the costs or problems immediately. These costs will be paid by our children and our children’s children.

This wastefulness is theft and vandalism of the earth’s resources…. and we don’t think twice about our lifestyle (at least until those resources are not so plentiful).

Hopefully we can reign in our appetite for easy energy before we exploit our non-renewable resources down to sustenance levels ( how many buffalo have you seen lately?).

Keep moving forward,


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TVA has pulled the plug! Mon, 03 Dec 2012 17:18:31 +0000 Randy Velker Continue reading ]]> When TVA transitioned over from their previous “pilot” solar program (which has been running for the past 4 years) on October 1st, 2012 they made some significant changes. The primary ones having to do with the allowable sizes of PV systems AND the number of PV systems allowed.

The current TVA solar program is an actual program (no longer simply a “pilot” program) that has actual quota’s. In other words, there are only a certain number of MegaWatts that TVA will allow to be installed in the program….. and then they will shut the door each year. Once their annual target number has been reached they will no longer review any applications in that current year. What TVA has done is to introduce scarcity into the mix. Customers now need to apply early in the year to guarantee that they will be able to be accepted into the solar Program.    It’s kind of like taking a number at the supermarket.   Once you get your number you are in line so that you can eventually “purchase”.

The name of their new program is the Green Power Providers Program. Here are some of the main points to their “revised” program.

  • Everyone is eligible for up to a 10kW PV system installed at an exisiting meter location.
  • If your kWh usage over the past year is large enough, you can install an even larger PV system (up to the 50 kW maximum).
  • TVA will still pay a one time “bonus” of $1000 just for hooking up a PV system to the grid.
  • TVA will still be paying a premium for each kWh that your PV system sends back into the grid. The 2013 premium will probably be $.09/kWh ABOVE retail. So…. since the retail rate for used electricity per kWh is $.10, then the rate TVA will purchase all of the kWh’s from your PV system will be $.19/kWh. Whatever premium rate that you contract with TVA will be good for 10 years. The contract will actually continue for 20 years, but for the second 10 years TVA will only pay the retail rate of electricity.
  • TVA is planning on every year reducing the premium so that in 3 to 4 years they no longer pay a premium and the program will no longer accept new applications.
  • TVA has a certian number of MegaWatts that they will accept into the program. After that they simply shut the door (for that calendar year) on any new applications.
  • The program is voluntary, and many utilities have NOT signed up to be participants. Basically that means that your utility company potentially may not allow any of it’s customers to benefit from TVA’s solar program. You would still be able to connect to the grid with a solar system, but you would not be participating in TVA’s program, so you would basically just be sending electricity back into the grid and offsetting your own electrical usage. To find out if your utility is participating in TVA’s program you can see the list of participating providers here.

TVA initiated this new iteration of their solar program on October 1st, 2012. By October 20th or so they had reached their “quota” on capacity and would no longer accept any new solar applications. So in November and December of 2012 nobody can be accepted to install a PV system in Tennessee (under TVA’s program). This “dead period” will occur in 2013 as well, as soon as TVA has reached it’s quota of MW’s in the program they will stop reviewing or accepting PV applications. This image is from TVA’s dashboard website showing that the 2012 program is filled to capacity and therefore not accepting any new applications.

TVA has specifically designed this program to keep people from installing a PV system that generates more electricity than they use at the meter location. It is no longer possible to get a meter and install a 50kW system in order to financially benefit from TVA’s generous buyback premium. Under the current program you are eligible to offset your electrical usage, but not to set up a “solar farm.” Under this program we will probably not be able to continue to offer the “third party financing” model for 50 kW solar systems.  TVA’s guidelines have succeeded in taking that option away from Tennessee customers.

So…. one should get their solar applications in early. Many are estimating that the TVA Green Power Provider program will reach it’s “quota” in the first or second quarter of 2013. Anyone desiring to install a PV system after that deadline will be watching others enjoy their solar systems, while they have to wait for the next years program (and the corresponding lower premium that will be paid).

Remember, once you get a contract with TVA locked in at a certain premium, that contract is good for 20 years! The idea is to lock in the contract with the best possible terms, before TVA shuts the doors again (and before they lower the premium). Once you have a contract in your hand you actually have a 6 month window in which to complete the PV installation.

In this game he who hesitates is lost. To be enjoying solar power one must now pull the trigger quickly, or TVA will shut the door right in your face!

Research the prices of a solar system today! You will probably find that solar’s time has come! You will find that the prices for solar systems have dropped dramatically in the past couple of years, the Federal Tax credit (30%) is still available, AND TVA’s program is still paying a premium (if you can get in).

AND solar is a renewable energy that doesn’t “foul our nest.”

Keep on learning!


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TVA’s solar program phasing out Incentives… Thu, 27 Sep 2012 19:38:49 +0000 Randy Velker Continue reading ]]> All good things must come to an end. And TVA has again changed their Generation Partner Program. They have publicly stated that they are making the change over from a “pilot program” to a “regular program”.

I have previously explained that TVA is not really interested in actually using solar power. They are interested in appearing to be “pro-solar” at least with a bunch of small solar installations. These motivations are easy to see when you look at the actions of TVA over the past few years.

The current iteration of the generation partner program puts a 10 kW limit on the size of the PV system anyone can install. This 10kW limit is almost large enough to offset a large home’s electrical usage, so it will still be beneficial for almost all residential PV installs. So far so good.

The way TVA will now limit the size of PV systems is by requiring a minimum usage amount. No longer can a maximally sized solar system (50 kW) be paired up with a “new” (or barely used) meter. The size of PV system that one will be allowed to install is dependent upon how much electricity they are using on that meter (on average).

Here is TVA’s (secret) formula for deciding how large a solar system you can install on your house or business by knowing your electrical usage:

  1. Take your previous annual kWh usage (lets assume it is 24,000 kWh).
  2. Divide that by 1312.50.
  3. The answer (18.29 kW) is the maximum size of PV solar system that TVA will allow you to install at that house or business (up to the 50kW absolute maximum).

You ask: where do you get that 1312.5 number from? Well it is the number of hours per year (8750) times the percentage of time that a solar system normally generates (15%).

These limitations will function to keep solar “prospectors” from setting up 50 kW solar “farms” and actually making money off the TVA program. Heaven forbid.

The good news is that large energy users can still install a PV system up to the same maximum size (50 kW). Those businesses with large energy bills can still benefit by installing a PV system that will be able to offset (at least partially) a good portion of their electrical bill.

TVA has publicly declared repeatedly that they will be keeping the $.12/kWh premium ABOVE retail the same through the end of this calendar year (2012). They have also said that they will definitely be LOWERING the premium on January 1st of 2013. If you can lock in the higher premium rates by this December you will continue to get those premium rates for the next 10 years.

Now is the time to get a solar proposal and make sure that you can  lock in your electrical rates. Don’t wait too long. Because TVA is already scheduling to lower the solar premium. Apparently TVA will be slowly lowering their premium so that it approaches zero in the next 3 to 4 years.

The slickest trick is to enter the solar playing field BEFORE the incentives disappear, but AFTER the prices have been dramatically reduced. Well…. get in quick because that’s just where we are!

Prices have never been lower… and the incentives are on their way out!


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We’ve Broken the Code- Solar that pays YOU! Fri, 17 Aug 2012 17:45:08 +0000 Randy Velker Continue reading ]]> For the past few years those of us in the solar industry in Tennessee  (make that all of TVA’s area) have been trying to figure out how to provide third party financing for the solar systems that we install.  With few incentives it has been frankly…. impossible.

Until now….We finally cracked the code!   At Simple Energy Works we have partnered with Solar Smart Inc. in order to be able to offer 50kW solar systems at no cost PERIOD.

This is a brand  new financing model that works great for businesses, municipalities, Non-Profits, Property Owners Associations, school boards, even homeowners.    We already have the money in hand and are starting to install these 50kW PV systems.

It works like this:     The 50 kW PV system is owned by Solar Smart Inc and installed by Simple Energy Works on your property or rooftop.     This property is leased from you by Solar Smart for 20 years (think of leasing a cell tower on your land).    You will receive $1000 to initially install this system, then annually you will receive a portion of the electricity that is produced by the system (about $.02/kWh)- it normally works out to be around $1000 per year or so.

So, you have no up front costs, you have initial income and annual income from the PV system, and then you have the option of purchasing the PV system (at radically reduced rates) at 10 years/15 years/20 years.

At the end of the lease term you can purchase the system for a dramatically reduced rate (10% of installed cost), or we will simply remove it.

This opportunity may not work for everyone, because there are a few things that are required.   You need unshaded area of about 10,000 sq feet of open ground ( about 1/4 acre)  or on a structurally sound roof.  You also may only have one PV system per address and per electrical meter.

There is no capitol costs to you as the host at all.   You get a PV system on your land (or roof), and it even starts to bring in a little income.    All of the electricity that the system produces will be sold to TVA in the Generation Partner Program, and the bulk of the financial return will go to the owner of the system to pay off the initial cost of installing and maintaining the system.

Some utilities require 3 phase power to be available (ie VEC), but others allow these systems to be connected directly to your regular house electrical meter.

Remember:  TVA has made it increasingly difficult to make money with solar systems.   They have twice simply stepped in and changed their Generation Partner Program.

Initially the Generation Partner program allowed systems up to 1 megawatt (1000 kilowatts).    Now that is a pretty big system, it is large enough for investors to gather around and start to pool their money to see if they can make a profit.

TVA saw that investors would flock to those large systems so they announced that the program only will pay for systems under 200kW (a decrease of 4/5ths or 80%).   That should solve the problem.

Investors were still interested in installing the 200kW systems (especially as these coincided with the 30% 1603 Treasury grant).    Many of these systems were installed but TVA acted quickly and put a new limit on the size of a system- 50kW (a decrease of 3/4 or 75% more).     So today the current size of any system that can be in the TVA Generation Partner Program is 50kW.

Contact us quickly, because once these PV systems start popping up, TVA may be tempted to step in again and reduce the size of the system allowed.

It’s kind of a cat and mouse game with TVA.   They want to incentivize certain small solar systems, but they don’t want people to be able to make money off of the solar systems. So here’s your chance ….. don’t wait too long.    TVA never does.




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Happy Birthday- Old Girl!! July 4th in America Fri, 06 Jul 2012 20:52:21 +0000 Randy Velker Continue reading ]]> I can’t really stand politics. It is like the ultimate “reality TV” show ever invented. There is no way that I could even make up some of the stuff that routinely passes for news in our politically charged country.

But then, I think about it and realize that “it has always been thus.”

Our country was carved out of the wilderness by a bunch of ornery roughnecks, explorers and treasure hunters. These folks were not about to be told what to do (or what to think) by any “authority” from on high- especially if it smelled like King George.

Our founders could barely agree on anything, other than that they shouldn’t have to obey some “edict from above.” They only thing they really agreed upon was their ability to disagree.

To be honest with you, that is one thing that I really like about America. We can all disagree. And disagree we do.

I try to not discuss politics very often, especially with friends. And I have some friends coming from every direction.

Some of my friends are die hard “eco-whacko’s” of the Portlandia type. Other friends are preparing for the apocalypse by stocking up on tuna and ammo. Some good friends are ready to see the whole system (“the man”) come down as in the “fight club”, while other good friends think that our whole system is being ruined by the bankers and “the fed.”

Some friends love Obama as a saint, others apparently would not respond if he stuck out his hand for a handshake.

All I know is that I try to avoid talking politics with almost all of these friends. I don’t think I will every change any of their minds. There is no way that any argument will cause any of them to change their viewpoints. They enjoy their political position and will not change it because I finally explained to them the “missing piece of the puzzle.”

Of course, these disagreements are contentious. But have they ever been anything else? Weren’t their massive disagreements over whether to even split from the British? Weren’t their disagreements over tariffs, sovereignty, states rights, property rights, slavery that eventually ended in a flat out war?

Haven’t we had political schemes throughout our whole history?  It  was H. L. Menken who noted that “I confess I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing.

It has always been thus.

One thing I really like about America is that we can totally disagree and still be friends. We don’t have to line up side by side politically in order to hang out. We can agree to disagree politically, and yet still work together, play together and be prepared to defend each other.

Though I do not agree with all of these friends, I totally defend their right to believe differently (and passionately).

America is still strong because of our ability to passionately disagree and still cooperate with each other. We have the freedom to communicate, to teach, to preach, to write any old way that we desire. Everyone can try to tell me what to believe or think, but none of them have the power to make me think in a certain way. I decide that. Just as the founders of this country decided for themselves who they would “obey.”

Another thing that I like about America is that it rocks.

What a time to be alive!

Think about it. What other time in history is so cool. We have so much going on. Change is happening faster than it has every happened in the past.

Actually it makes me breathless when I think of how “blessed” or “lucky” we are to be living right here, right now.

Here are a few things that make me think that we are fortunate:

  • We can communicate with individuals or with “the masses” instantly from almost any phone, email, text, internet connection.   (compare that to trying to communicate up until the mid 1800′s, before which urgent messages had to go by horse and/or ship and would take weeks, months and sometimes years for a reply)
  • We can enjoy grapefruit, oranges, plums or any other of the 38,719 or so items at the average grocery store.    (compare that to eating bread for breakfast, bread for lunch, and bread for dinner- as most of the population of the world has had to do throughout history).
  • We can get repaired from minor injuries and actually wear out as an old guy (compare that to dying from a toothache or having an average lifespan of around 30 as most folks have had throughout the centuries)
  • We spend each day and  sleep every night with an AC or a heater to control the climate (compare that to the kings of old who were sleeping on bug infested hay in a castle with stone walls that were freezing in the winter and hot during the summer with open sewage in the rooms and the moat)
  • We can chose our “occupation.” In other words we can decide how we want to spend our time earning a living.      (compare that to the vast majority of folks throughout the history of the world that worked their asses of day and night to grow enough food so that they wouldn’t starve- and even then starvation was a very real possibility)
  • We can turn on the lights, use electricity, have cold (& safe) food, control the climate, communicate instantly and broadly, travel quickly and safely.
  • We can generate energy simply from the sun. (compare that to the historical ways of getting and generating energy- digging/cutting/burning)


Right here and right now in America we have a lot going for us. And the rest of the world also has many of these same benefits.    We’re not perfect by any means, but come on, we certainly have much to celebrate!

Happy birthday old girl.

We may not be doing everything right, but we are doing some things right… and I am glad that we have another year to celebrate.


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The Levelized Cost of Energy- Bargains can Break You! Mon, 11 Jun 2012 22:33:51 +0000 Randy Velker Continue reading ]]> How can one compare the available renewable energy technologies with the current energy mix?

It’s not that easy.

After honing our skills as “bargain hunters” we learn that some bargains are not at all what they appear to be!

An example of this is the low cost of ink jet printers. They seem like such a “bargain” if you only look at the initial price tag. You can’t help but be happy with yourself for getting such a great deal!

Unfortunately, as soon as you begin to print  you realize that the ink cartridges wear out at a rate of about one per month. One can easily be reduced to bankruptcy trying to keep the ink jet printer supplied with “filled” cartridges.  (which by the way, are usually only half empty, but the printer forces you to replace the cartridge anyway).

On the other hand, a laser printer is much more expensive initially, and the toner cartridges are also more expensive, but in the long term they actually save you money (if you do enough printing).

 So it is with solar energy.  The initial cost is not the only thing that needs to be considered.

This all-in way of looking at an expense is used by businesses all the time. For instance, if a business is researching which vehicle to use in their fleet they will make a spreadsheet and compare a few different metrics. These will include…

  • the initial cost of the vehicle,
  • fuel economy of the vehicle,
  • maintenance/repair expenses of the vehicle,
  • reliability, dependability of the vehicle,
  • public perception of the vehicle,
  • depreciation of the vehicle,
  • life span of the vehicle,
  • resale value of the vehicle,

Once ALL of these expenses are factored in then you can compare between different vehicles. It makes no sense to compare vehicles on simply one factor (initial expense). There are in fact other factors that enter into the purchasing decision as well- Style, speed, image. Why else would the sales of “sports cars” continue at such a high rate?

In the very same way we must compare energy production sources. We should include…

  1. Material (fuel) sourcing- ie scarcity, price of coal, uranium, petroleum, solar, hydro, geo-thermal, etc.
  2. transportation (fuel)- trucking costs, pipeline costs, accident costs, infrastructure costs, etc.
  3. Investment (long term projections, supply/demand,
  4. Operations and Maintenance- (political stability, locations, security, risks, lifespan, damage caused by the system to individuals, to the environment, health risks to workers & bystanders, regulatory uncertainty, intermittent properties, time of generation, etc.)
  5. Distribution (grid)- costs, upgrades, efficiency, transportation problems
  6. Disposal (fly ash, nuclear waste, solar panels, lifespan)
  7. Dismantling (recycling solar panels, de-contaminating nuclear reactors, etc.)

 Our energy production systems must be analyzed in a matrix that includes ALL of these factors. The current price per kWh on the wholesale level is almost a distraction from the whole lifecycle cost of energy.

 Let us not allow ourselves to think that solar is expensive simply because we must pay our one time fee on the front end rather than paying it over our whole lives.

 As banks and finance companies realize the incredible savings that can be realized with solar energy there will be many more financing options available for you and I to install solar. Once solar financing offers the the same types of loans that are offered for cars then the tide will turn. Think about it… If everyone had to pay cash up front for every car… there would be many fewer cars on the road!

 A solar system is a “slightly” depreciating asset (warrantied at 25 years, but the useful lifespan is more like 40 years)- which may in fact be appreciating (when you factor in the continually rising cost of energy).

 I would not be buying stock in traditional utilities at the moment. Clean, decentralized energy systems are quietly revolutionizing how we get our energy.  

 Solar energy makes sense, and with the dropping prices of solar systems the current “solar trickle” is threatening to become a “solar flood.”

The utility company would love to keep you “on the tit” for the rest of your life!  Just as the ink jet printer manufacturers make all of their money by selling you the damn cartridges.

 Keep moving forward,





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Sustainability Fair- 5th graders and solar energy! Mon, 21 May 2012 15:32:56 +0000 Randy Velker Continue reading ]]> This past Thursday we did a short presentation on Clean Renewable energy to all of the 5th graders in Cumberland County. It is a pretty short presentation, so I have compiled the photos and will take you on a short walk through the presentation…

This is the energy mix that TVA uses to provide electricity in the Tennessee Valley region. Notice that 66% of our electrical energy is produced by burning coal. 21% is from Nuclear, and so on down the line until you finally get to “renewable energy” (which is less than 1%).

Does anyone here know why do they call “renewable energy renewable?” — Well, because if managed correctly it does not ever run out. You can use it over and over.

That’s a good thing because: Fuel costs for consumable energies keep going up. We have had a 5% rate increase each year historically in the TVA region. The costs go up because we have to keep mining more coal, we have to keep transporting more coal. As the coal gets more scarce the price will naturally increase. As the safety and pollution guidelines no longer allow unsafe and dirty procedures the prices will also continue to increase.

So…. consumable energy strategies will continue to get more expensive, while renewable energy technologies will only become less expensive (comparatively)… as we are seeing today with the dropping prices of solar energy systems.

Does anyone know what is done with the stuff left over after they burn coal? (It’s called coal ash) They put it in a pile…. good! What happens when that pile gets too big? They make another pile… good answer. What happens if they accidentally allow the pile to get too big?

Does anyone know what this picture is? Yeah, it’s a house that was washed away by a whole mudslide of left over coal ash. TVA had been storing their leftover fly ash in a huge open air pit, and the retaining wall broke open and spilled out and destroyed a whole neighborhood.

What happened to all that ash after it wrecked the neighborhood? Yes…. It washed down into the river. Where do we get our drinking water from? Yes….that very river. This is what happened about 30 miles from here at the TVA Kinsgton Fly Ash Spill about 3 years ago.

Does anyone know what this picture is? Yeah, it is pollution, but more specific than that…    Yes, it is a picture of a nuclear power plant over in Japan. You all remember the earthquake that happened a couple of years ago over in Japan and then the Tsunami? You probably saw all of the videos of cars being washed away by that tidal wave. Well– that Tsunami washed away the backup diesel power generators at the Nuclear reactor straight out into the ocean, they had no power to pump water into the reactors. They need to continue to pump water into the reactors to keep them cool or they get too hot and eventually —- meltdown (or explode). This is what happened at Fukushima.

They have been cleaning up the mess over there for the past 2 years. Do you know how they are doing that? No, not with shovels; No, not with their hands – if they did that they would die!; No, not with helicopters. They are using remote controlled bulldozers, backhoes and heavy equipment to start to clean up the mess over there. They can’t even get close to the area because it is all radioactive… very deadly. The whole town has been dislocated.

Do you know when they will be done cleaning up that mess over there? No…, not in 2 years. No, not 5 years from now. They estimate that they will be done cleaning up that mess when all of you guys are about 42 years old! It will take over 30 more years to clean up this one mess. Do you know how much that will cost? Yeah, a lot. They can’t even begin to estimate the real cost of the clean up! Of course any number they put on it will be way less than what it will actually cost. They won’t even be able to approach the one reactor for over 10 years! It is a mess of monumental proportions.

Actually, we aren’t totally against Nuclear energy. In fact we are pretty big fans of nuclear energy!

Does anyone here know what this picture is? Yes… the sun! It is a huge nuclear reaction that we have learned how to harness. We can capture the rays of that (far away) nuclear reaction and generate electricity here and now. Nuclear energy is great – as long as it is 93 million miles away. Nice and safe- and we don’t need to worry about radioactive nuclear fuel, or transporting fuel or disposing of waste. It will still be shining tomorrow and the rays of the sun will not cost any more next year than they did last year! The perfect renewable energy!

Now that the costs of these solar systems are about that of a used car, (a small 2 kW system for under $10k) everyone can use solar energy and stop worrying about the rising cost of “consumable energy.”

Here is a small solar panel. We have it hooked up to the train set. The train is being totally powered by the rays from the sun. Everyone come up here and put your hands over the solar panel to shade it and see if you can slow that train down so that it is just creeping around the track! Good job!

Any questions about solar energy?

…No, it doesn’t work at night, but the solar panels on the other side of the world are working! We normally stay connected to the grid so that we can use energy even in the evenings. Of course we can store the electricity in batteries if we want too, but that is still pretty expensive…

….No, normally we stay connected to the Grid, so that you can use energy even on a cloudy day (or at night). So when the grid goes down, these types of solar systems are NOT a back up system. Think about it…. if your system kept on producing power even though the grid was down when they came out trying to repair the grid your system will be live and generating power. You could blow the poor utility worker right off the pole as they were trying to fix any broken wires. You don’t want that on your conscience… do you?

….No this is just a small demonstration solar panel. The kind that we install on houses and office buildings are about twice as big as this one and much stronger. Also, we normally put 10-20 of them up on the roof.

….We started installing these systems about 4 years ago, and in that short period of time the prices have dropped almost in half. The prices are dropping very fast for solar energy systems! You will probably all have them on your houses (when you have houses) because they make so much financial sense even today! Only more so in the years to come.

….Yes, I do have one of these solar systems on the roof of our house. It is a small system, but we are making almost $45 per month from the utility company.

….Of course I would be happy to hire you when you get a little bit older. Officially I can’t hire you until you are over 18. But I’ll certainly keep you in mind!

….Well, I am wearing these sunglasses because the sun is powerful and has to be respected even at 93 million miles away. Would any of you look directly at the sun? No way…. your eyes can get damaged. I have been out here all morning in the direct sunlight, so I wanted to protect my eyes. Also, this “danger” that the sun provides is the exact reason that we can harness it’s energy- without the danger we would not be able to harness the sun using  solar modules.

Here is a short outline of the presentation as a “MindMap.”

Enjoy the sun,


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