Piuma | Articles

Powering Music with the Sun

December 4, 2019 | Los Angeles, California

After Making an Environmentally Friendly Vinyl Record and Building and Eco-Friendly Recording Studio, I wanted to take the sustainability behind my music to the next level, by generating power from the sun. This article is for musicians and recording studio owners. It is also for anyone who wants to stop powering their art, creative work, home, and business with polluting fossil fuels. In this article, I go into the hidden benefits of solar, highlighting the best panels, installers, and practices for generating your own clean energy—to power your music. If you have a studio in an apartment or condo, you might jump to the section on utilizing shared solar, other green power options, and offsetting with trees.

Watch Piuma's Powering Music with the Sun, featuring our new song FLOW (due out January 8, 2020), SunPower solar panels, and installation by Urban Energy Solar and Immaculate Roofing.

Solar is the Most Effective Way you can Combat Climate Change

The EPA reports that the two biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions are from fossil fuel based electricity production (28%), e.g. coal, and transportation (29%). The average home in the US uses about 10,000 kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricity a year1. That also equates to around 10,000 lbs of carbon emitted throughout the year, if you are using fossil fuel (coal) based power, such as in Los Angeles through the LADWP2. Interestingly, the average car emits about the same amount3. Getting a 50 MPG hybrid can help cut your transportation emissions down in half, but getting solar can cut down your household power emissions to zero. If you have an electric vehicle, that is great, but if you are charging it with dirty energy, it is still a source of pollution4. But if you have solar and charge your electric vehicle, you are at zero, being truly carbon neutral.

SunPower Equinox System - Solar Panels

Getting solar is the single most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint.

The Benefits of Purchasing Solar

At this point in time, purchasing solar can actually make you money in the long run.

30% Federal Tax Credit

Currently, you are able to get a 30% credit on the total cost of your solar panel system, on your next federal tax return5. That is dollar for dollar, 30% of what you pay. This credit percentage is being reduced in future years and might not be around at all in the future. If you lease a system, the company you work with takes this tax benefit, but if you purchase your solar panels, you receive the 30% credit directly. I personally think buying is the better option.

Solar Replaces Your Electricity Costs

Once you have solar installed, almost all of your electricity costs can be eliminated, over the course of a year. As your system produces more energy than you are using, in winter and spring, credits are given by the utility company e.g. LADWP. These credits offset summer and fall months, when power usage is typically higher than solar production. If you finance your system, the monthly payments are not an additional expense, but can rather replace your normal electricity costs. Also, over time, the costs for fossil fuel generated electricity go up, whereas your payments remain the same until the loan is paid off. The payments are also stable, whereas in summer electric payments can be really high without solar.

Homes with Solar Panels Sell for 4.1% More

Zillow recently published an article showing that properties with solar typically sell for around 4% more than comparable properties without solar. Even if the real estate market declines, your property would still have a higher value comparatively. Clearly, having solar already installed is a huge selling point, since the buyer will not have to pay for power. Buying solar vs. leasing is more appealing to me, since the buyer of your home does not have to assume your lease, but rather just inherits the fully paid for system. Related, the costs of solar could be deducted as a cost basis tax deduction when you sell, providing an additional tax break.

Fans and Artists Support Eco-Friendly Music

Many fans want to support artists that are making efforts to protect the environment. And many artists want to use recording studios that do the same. You can authentically say that your records are powered by the sun, being recorded with true clean energy.

Common Solar Misconceptions

In talking with people about solar, I found a few common misconceptions. Installing solar will not cause power outages. Also, you don't need to get a battery. If you live in an area where you already have power outages, then getting a battery will prevent these outages, since you are storing your own energy—as opposed to getting credits for putting the power into your utility's grid. It is possible to power your business with the sun; just take a tip from Apple and Microsoft, which are both carbon neutral. Apple went as far as building their own solar fields to power their data centers—so that they are in control of their own power.

Solar Purchase Hypothetical

Sometimes it is easier to see the benefits in a hypothetical. Let's say you purchase a system that costs $20K, finance with a 4% APR loan, and then in five years sell your home/studio for (what would have normally been) $350K (before the 4.1% home price increase). You can make potentially a 72% ROI of over $11K:

DESCRIPTION AMOUNT
SOLAR INVESTMENT $20,000
30% TAX CREDIT -$6,000
SUNPOWER/SIERRA CLUB REBATE (READ ON BELOW) -$1,000
NET INVESTMENT $13,000
LOAN INTEREST FOR 10 YEAR LOAN, PAID OVER 5 YEARS (AT 4% APR) $2,600
TOTAL COST OVER 5 YEARS $15,600
HOME SALE PRICE INCREASE W SOLAR (4% OF $350K HOME) $14,000
COST BASIS TAX SAVINGS (25% OF TOTAL COST) $3,900
ENERGY BILL SAVINGS OVER 5 YEARS ($150/MO) $9,000
TOTAL SAVINGS $26,900
NET EARNINGS AFTER 5 YEARS (72% ROI) $11,300

I was surprised to find out that purchasing solar can not only benefit the planet, but also payout as a financial investment. Even if you are not planning on selling anytime soon, your solar panels will still provide a strong ROI in the long run. On my system, it is estimated that it will save around $38K of electrical costs over the next 25 years.

Solar Keeps Your Home Modern

Starting in 2020 in California, all new homes will have solar already installed; so old homes without solar will get outdated.

The Best Solar Panels

When searching for a new product or vendor, I do a lot of research and try to find the highest quality and most qualified option, that is also the most cost-effective. I found that SunPower stands far above the rest.

SunPower

Since running a recording studio can require a lot of power with DAWs, preamps, ADDA converters, outboard gear, guitar amps, etc., we need panels with a high power output. SunPower solar panels have the highest power output, are beautifully designed, and headquartered right here in California—in the Silicon Valley, USA. With such a high power output, you don't need as many panels. If you have limited roof space, SunPower allows you to have a greater total power output. I also like that SunPower, as a company, is solely focused on solar—as opposed to many different technologies where solar is just one of many.

Beautifully Designed
SunPower Equinox System - Solar Panels - peak

SunPower has a beautiful design where panels are low profile and almost float on roof peaks, with their Invisimount system.

SunPower Solar Panels have the Highest Power Output
Solar panel comparison chart

SunPower solar panels have the highest power output compared to every other solar panel available. They deliver efficiency ratings above 22%, producing more energy in the same space; their Maxeon solar cells produce up to 60% more energy in the same space over the first 25 years6.

Cost Effective, No Maintenance, and Top Warranty

Investment-wise, I found SunPower to be very cost effective compared to other solar panel providers. They also provide highly competitive financing, which makes the process easy. The system requires no maintenance and SunPower provides a 25 year warranty on the entire system, not just the panels (including labor, which no other manufacturer can claim). They also test the panels by shooting golf balls at over 50 MPH, to ensure durability.

SunPower flat solar panels

On the flat roof section, panels are mounted and angled for maximum sun coverage. SunPower panels are made to generate the highest output in every climate.

EnergyLink Monitoring Software

What is also rad is that you can monitor your energy generation, in real-time, with their EnergyLink software/app. Additionally the system comes with a 10 year warranty on the monitoring hardware.

SunPower EnergyLink Monitoring Software

SunPower systems come with EnergyLink monitoring hardware and software, so you can see the output efficiency over time. Once installed, you can directly confirm that the production output matches what was proposed. In the first week of production, in October (which is a lower energy producing month), the system produced 157kWh.

Sierra Club Rebate

One thing that I also look for, is a company that is purpose-driven. SunPower's foundation helps support and fund nonprofit organization, schools, and programs that educate about climate change, power usage, and solar benefits. Currently, they are teaming up with The Sierra Club, to offer a rebate to members—where Sierra Club gets a $1,000 donation from SunPower, and you get $1,000 back. Makes sense to join Sierra Club before you buy!

Power Your Music with the Sun

I found a top solar expert/consultant who can provide a free proposal detailing how solar would work on your home or commercial property. You just send your annual kWh (kilowatt hours) from your electric bills, and your address. A map-based design tool (that accounts for tree shading, obstructions, sun direction, etc.) is used to determine your potential solar panel layout, annual production, and expected savings. I found Keith to be extremely knowledgable and responsive—as he guided the entire project from start to finish.

Just send me an email at solar@piumamusic.com and I'll connect you with the solar expert/consultant I worked with (Keith)!



POWER YOUR MUSIC WITH THE SUN

Solar Installation Tips

Top quality solar panels are only half the equation; you need expert solar installers to do the job right.

Urban Energy Solar

Urban Energy Solar is a SunPower Elite certified installer, based in LA, with extensive roofing experience. They provide full solar service and weatherproofing—and are highly qualified. To become an Elite dealer, they must complete SunPower's advanced training, consistently achieve exceptionally high levels of customer satisfaction, and exceed a stringent set of performance benchmarks for covering design, quality, and service. Only work with the best to ensure long term results.

Urban Energy solar installation

Urban Energy Solar installing SunPower panels on the flat roof. Work with top solar installers, such as SunPower Elite certified, like Urban Energy.

Immaculate Roofing & Solar

Re-roofing is a perfect time to install solar. Immaculate Roofing & Solar, based in LA, first tore off the old roof and prepared the new roof for solar with carpentry—replacing old/damaged boards. Then Urban Energy came in and installed the flat solar mounts, directly into the wood, without having to drill through shingles. Immaculate then installed the new roof, peak solar mounts, flashings, and weatherproofed. Finally, Urban Energy came back and installed the SunPower panels, wiring, and system. The ideal method for installing solar, is like a sandwich, but this is not required. Solar installers with extensive roofing experience will be able to fully weatherproof your roof—during the solar install.

Flat roof installation

Here are the stages of the flat roof install, showing the roof prep, mount installs, roof installation / flashings / weatherproofing, then rack installation.


Flat roof installation

Peak roof install stages, showing the roof prep, mount installs with shingles, and panel installation.

Recording Studio Energy Efficiency

Studio Lighting

One factor that can't be left out is energy efficiency; solar power is great, but it can't be wasted due to inefficient power usage. Check out a few tips in my Building an Eco-Friendly Recording Studio article's Energy Efficient Lighting section, such as utilizing smart LED lights, like ilumi.

Solar Attic Fans

Solar attic fan

If you have a peak roof with an attic space, Immaculate Roofing & Solar recommends installing solar-powered attic fans. They are a great way to pull heat out of the attic space, keep the inside of the building cool, and save electricity.

What if I rent an apartment or have a condo? How do I power my recording studio with clean energy?

If you live in an apartment or condo, you could still power your recording studio using special programs that (hopefully) your city's utility company offers.

LADWP - Green Energy Program

Before I had solar, I utilized LADWP's Green Power program. You can select a percentage of your energy consumption to come from green power, being charged at a slightly higher kWh charge e.g. 3 cents. I choose 100% and the differences in the bill were nominal. After some research, I found that LADWP purchases their green power from a biomass facility in Canada.

LADWP - Shared Solar Program

Recently, LADWP started offering the Shared Solar Program, which allows a portion of your monthly kWh to be sourced from new solar power plants in the LA basin.

If you don't live in Los Angeles

Check your local utility provider and see what programs are available. If there aren't, you could send an email or make a call and ask for it. Or even better yet, talk with your landlord or HOA and get a solar proposal to see the benefits of adding solar to the building. If they go for it, that could make a big difference for everyone!

Power Offset Your Music with the Trees

In the meantime, you can carbon offset over a year's worth of your power usage by purchasing our eco-friendly vinyl record, Piuma (py-ooma)—since $5 from each album sale is donated to The Arbor Day Foundation. The Arbor Day Foundation will then plant enough trees to take roughly 6 tons (+13,000 lbs) of your carbon production out of the atmosphere. Support a fellow musician, get a rad vinyl record, and power offset your music by planting trees! POWER OFFSET YOUR MUSIC

Conclusion

Many of us write music about our love of the earth and its diverse peoples. Taking action to protect the planet is an integral part of that expression. When we do what is in our control, like powering our music with the sun, through installing solar, we are each doing our part. And that step can inspire others to do the same, as we share our experience. And as that impact grows, through our collective efforts, a difference is truly made—like Ripples on the Water.

Questions or want to connect with Keith, the solar expert/consultant I worked with, to get a free proposal? Just send me an email at solar@piumamusic.com.

Related Articles

Piuma

Making an Environmentally Friendly Vinyl Record
December 17, 2015

Piuma

Building an Eco-Friendly Recording Studio
July 27, 2016

Sources & Footnotes

1. EIA FAQ - How much electricity does an American home use? |
2. EIA FAQ - How much carbon dioxide is produced per kilowatt-hour of U.S. electricity generation? |
3. EPA Green Vehicle Guide - Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle |
4. US Department of Energy - Emissions from Hybrid and Plug-In Electric Vehicles |
5. Check out the DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. Just plug in your zip code and check out your benefits. Specifically, here is info on the 30% federal solar tax credit. And you can take the credit over multiple years (if needed). |
6. SunPower General Presentation 2019 |