In today’s interview we have Ken Riead, president of Heartland Renewable Energy Society.
| Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your history?
I’m Ken Riead and I’ve been in the solar and renewable energy game and energy conservation for over 40 years.
When I got out of college and finished with my military service, I moved to Colorado and got involved with the solar industry. At that time, Jimmy Carter was president and the Solar Energy Research Institute had just started being in business, funded by the government. I was the only instructor certified to teach both solar and energy conservation for the Red Rocks Solar Program back from 1979 to 1981, which had combined energy conservation and solar energy certification to train for college level.
When Jimmy Carter left office, a lot of the programs that were funded under the Carter Administration fell by the wayside. So, I moved back with my family to Kansas City. At that point in time, I got together with a fellow who wanted to start either the first or one of the very first energy rating providerships outside of California, because at that time, California was the only state doing energy ratings.
Energy raters have signatory authority to be able to give people energy tax credits, incentives, and can sign off on energy star homes or green homes. They also can sign off on energy mortgages, and several other things. Back in 1981, there was no national raters or rating providerships outside of California. I helped write the founding documents for what was later called Energy Rated Homes of Arkansas.
During the Bill Clinton administration, Energy Rated Homes of Arkansas became Energy Rated Homes of America. ERHA was later purchased by a gentleman named Steve Baden, who turned it into Residential Energy Systems Network aka RESNET. A lot of the structure for these energy programs and solar programs came from the founding documents that I helped write.
Then a little later on, Steve Baden himself contacted me and said he needed someone to put the documents together for US Department of Labor for labor specs, for energy auditors, energy raters, and residential energy professionals who do that kind of work, which of course is also a prelude to the solar labor requirements. And I wrote those too. So, I’ve got quite the background and list on all these areas.
Fast forward to today, I’m the current president of Heartland Renewable Energy Society. It’s an offshoot or a chapter of the American Solar Energy Society. But before HRES existed, there was the Missouri Solar Energy Association, which started in 1979 or 1980, and lasted for a few years. The name changed to Heartland Renewable Energy Society in 2000.
| Can you maybe talk about what’s the goal of the society?
Well, our main goal is education. We do workshops, try to also bring in other experts and basically answer some of the most important questions people in the solar world need answering.
When Covid showed up, we decided we didn’t want to get exposed so we moved into virtual workshops. And I think this year, we’re going to start doing in-person workshops again in a very careful manner.
Some future workshop ideas we’ve been thinking about are:
- Solar ovens, that you can do on your own
- How to do your own solar siting, to teach people how to figure out if they have a good site to put a solar system
We will most likely cover the Investment Reduction Act because it has tons and tons of incentives and rebates for solar or clean energy and energy efficiency.
Like I said, we don’t stick to a specific plan and curriculum, we just poke around, see what people are interested in and then try to turn it into a workshop.
| Can you maybe talk a little about these rebates and taxes?
The government is offering tax incentives and rebates for residential solar systems, heat pump water heaters, heat pump clothes dryers, electric induction cook stoves, and heat pumps for homes. The rebates will be given at the store or through taxes, and each state may have different amounts for different items.
For example, I have some data for New York. NY offers various incentives for homeowners to switch to all-electric homes and cars. These include discounts and tax credits for weatherization, rewiring homes, rooftop solar, battery storage systems, electric vehicles, electric panel upgrades, charging stations, heat pump water heaters, heat pump closed dryers, and induction stoves. These incentives add up to significant savings.
| Can we maybe talk about solar in general? Obviously, with these incentives, people are more inclined to go solar. What does this look like “in the field”?
Things still haven’t changed that much. Of course, we’re having a continual increase in solar installations, not just in America but all around the world.
But, I think once these incentives get in place, we’re going to see a massive increase in interest because, even though we’ve had rebates for solar systems, now we’re also getting assistance with battery storage. Which is a huge deal since the cost of storing solar energy can also get fairly high.
Of course, this is not something that’s going to happen overnight. It’s important for both the installer as well as the end user, to educate themselves, gain some idea of how the system works and how to maintain it properly once it’s installed.
One of the bigger problems nowadays is that solar installers just don’t install them properly, particularly when it comes to grounding. This is a common issue that has been observed by technicians who check solar systems regularly.
| Yes, I talked to more seasoned installers and a lot of them say that as much as 40% of their entire business is fixing other people’s mistakes.
The solar industry has had its ups and downs, with tax credits and rebates causing a rush for solar installations in the 80s. However, many people didn’t maintain their systems properly and ended up having them removed. Some solar companies have also oversold and disappeared, making it important for people to find ethical and reliable solar installers. The solar industry is like any other business and requires proper management to stay afloat.
| Do you have some tips for people who plan to install solar in future?
If you put in a solar system and you don’t do much about your home, especially if you’re hoping for it to cut your energy bill for things like your cooling bill or whatever, you’re not going to see a lot of change if your house leaks like a sieve.
So, the first thing is to try and get people to do an energy analysis on your home. I normally recommend they get a rater because a rater can help you with the analysis, tax credits as well as an energy mortgage that most people are not using.
| Do solar-installed homes bring higher value to homeowners at the time of selling? How do appraisers assess a solar-installed home’s value?
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The problem with adding solar systems, geothermal heat pumps, and energy-efficient features to homes is that they often don’t increase the home’s value when it’s time to sell. This is because comparables are used to determine a home’s value, and most homes in the neighborhood don’t have these features. The bump offered for solar is very low compared to the expense incurred by the homeowner in solar installation.
I hope more and more people try to understand and start utilizing energy mortgages because energy mortgages take into account the value of these features and can help make homes more valuable, thus giving homeowners a return on their investment. These mortgages are approved by the IRS and the federal government.
Investing in features like bamboo floors and permeable pavement driveways may not increase the value of a home, as most people don’t understand or care about them. However, investing in energy-efficient features like solar systems, geothermal heat pumps, insulation, heating, cooling, and water heating can increase a home’s value. Energy mortgages assign value to these features and run them through an IRS and federally approved program to assign a new value for the home.
| Are energy mortgages favorable for homeowners? How do appraisers react to it?
Appraisers may not always give proper value to homes with solar systems and energy-efficient features due to their conservative nature and fear of breaking regulations. Energy mortgages, which have a government-assigned value for these features, can take the onus off of appraisers and give homeowners a return on their investment. Appraisers may still not give proper credit for these features, but energy mortgages provide a more reliable solution.
| How do you predict the future of energy mortgages in the solar world? Where do you see things going?
I think that they’re going to make energy mortgages even more marketable, making them more accessible and easier to understand for people. Going through FHA may provide a better deal than going through Freddie Mac, but the primary lender (bank) probably will sell the paperwork to whoever they work with.
So, one of the things that needs to be worked out is making sure you get the program that you want and that it gives you the benefits that you’re after. But I think that’s going to be cleared up now because the government’s new programs, if they survive upcoming budget fights, may help make improvements to energy mortgages.
| Is there something you’d like to say to people looking to get a solar system installed, or to those who already have it?
Well, most people (would) like the idea of using solar energy in their homes, you just need to motivate them to do the first step. You can emphasize savings, comfort.. even health – does their kid have asthma and they want to make a healthier environment for them? And there is, of course, the environmental movement because some people really do care about saving our environment.
Once they commit to installing a solar system, you also need to help guide them through the entire process, help them with the rebates and taxes, and really make the entire process as easy on them as possible.
Of course, the job doesn’t stop with the solar system being up on their roof. You need to help them with the maintenance, make sure they know what they can do themselves and when to call someone.
But, the most important thing is we are moving towards a more eco-friendly future! Not as fast as we’d like, but at least we are moving in the right direction.