Start A Renewable Energy Project | Saint Francis University
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Start A Renewable Energy Project

  • Helping you get started

    Interested in using renewable energy?  Consider the tips on this page to save you time and money and to help you decide what energy source might be right for you:

    1. Know Your Energy Situation
    Calculate your energy usage in the three energy areas: heating, electricity, and transportation. Chart it on paper. Involve staff members or members of your family. How much does your business or your home spend monthly and annually on space heating, electricity and fuel for your vehicles? How much do you spend per kilowatt-hour, gallon, and mcf (natural gas)? Which energy do you spend the most on? The least? 

    2. Start with Efficiency
    Don’t forget the simple steps you can do now.  We know they are not as exciting as solar panels or making your own fuel.  We know insulation isn't nearly as easy to brag about as a geothermal heat pump. . .but it is the place to start without a doubt.  The Department of Energy claims you can knock 20% off your usage with simple no cost/low cost solutions. 

    3. Choose an Energy Source
    After you know your energy usage and expenses and have reduced your demand, you need to decide what you want to accomplish.  What is your end goal? Are you looking to heat your building, produce electricity, or fuel your vehicle? Learn more about each energy source below, along with a few key points to consider when assessing the feasibility of each resource.  

  • Biomass

    Biomass is organic material and can provide heat, electricity and/or power transportation. A fireplace, pellet stove or boiler can be used for heating. Large facilities may find that electricity production is also financially viable with a boiler or anaerobic digester.  Biofuels can power vehicles. The sources available will vary by region and ultimately dictate the financial viability of using this type of energy.


    Geothermal heating and cooling systems utilize underground thermal energy to provide constant humidity and comfortable temperatures while using only enough electricity to power a blower to move the warm or cool air throughout a building. Correctly sizing the system to the space it will be heating/cooling is crucial for efficient operation. Climate, soil conditions, and available outdoor space will dictate the the layout of system. Retrofitting an existing building is possible. 


     Hydroelectric is often cost effective but requires running water on your property. The height the water drops (head) and the flow of water are used to determine the amount of electricity that can be produced and will dictate system design. Permitting can be a long multi-step process.  


    Solar energy can be utilized in many different ways, from passive space heating to water heating to electricity generation. Incorporating passive heating design is easiest in new buildings, but steps can be taken to also utilize it in established buildings. A south facing location that is shade-free is the key factor in determining whether solar water heating and electric generation are possible.   


    Wind energy can be an efficient way to generate electricity, when a resource is available. Proper siting of a turbine (including being in a windy location and well above obstacles, like trees and buildings) is essential for maximum power production. Wind maps can help determine whether advanced site analysis would be worthwhile.

  • Also take note of the following questions:

  • Will You Be Generating Electricity?

    If you are planning to generate your own electricity with solar panels or a wind or small hydro turbine, will you be using a battery-less grid-tied system, grid-tied with battery-back-up, or an off-grid system?  Most common is the battery-less grid-tied system.  When selecting to connect to the grid, you will have to notify your utility, because any electricity you generate impacts the grid.  We recommend contacting your utility very early in the process and building a good relationship with them.  Go to Homepower Magazine to learn more.

    What Permits Will You Need?

    Depending on the type, size, and location of your project, you will probably need to seek approval before beginning.  Be sure to check with your local municipality to see if  there are any  regulations regarding your technology. You may also need to contact other organizations, such as state and federal government agencies to ensure all proper approvals are met.

  • 4. Determine Costs and Secure Financing
    Knowing where to find financing is one of the most important elements of developing a renewable energy project. Financing for a renewable energy improvement or to add it to new construction is similar to financing any other home improvement or capital project. However, there are some important differences, challenges, and resources you should be aware of. These systems are not cheap and typically you will need to make a significant investment on your own plus have some help from incentives to make it pay. Installers should also be knowledgeable of available opportunities related to your project (see step 5).

  • Federal Resources

    Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)
    Administered by USDA—Rural Development

    The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides assistance to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to complete a variety of projects. Offering both loan guarantees and grants, REAP helps eligible applicants install renewable energy systems, make energy efficiency improvements, and conduct energy audits and feasibility studies.

    REAP Website

    EQIP On-Farm Energy Initiative
    This program, through the UDSA NRCS, provides funding for an energy audit (Agricultural Energy Management Plan, or AgEMP) or energy efficiency improvements on the farm.

    EQIP Website

    Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)

    ARC, a joint program of federal, state, and local governments in the Appalachians, provides a range of assistance to help communities develop clean energy programs, a well as support to help new energy businesses expand and create local jobs.

    ARC Website


    Federal Tax Credit
    Administrated by the US Internal Revenue Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy

    This program allows a tax credit on fuel cells, small wind turbines, geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters and photovoltaic systems (with a gradual step down over time, before being phased out). Homes, businesses, farms, industrial facilities and other organizations may qualify.


    Modified Accelerated Cost-Recovery System (MACRS)

    This tax strategy can be used by businesses to recover the cost of various renewable energy technologies.

    State Resources

    Alternative and Clean Energy Program (ACE)
    Administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority - Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)

    The Alternative and Clean Energy Program provides financial assistance in the form of grant and loan funds that will be used by eligible applicants for the utilization, development and construction of alternative and clean energy projects in PA.

    ACE Website


    Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority (PEDA)

    The authority finances advanced energy projects in Pennsylvania through grants, loans, and loan guarantees.

    PEDA Website


    PA DEP Small Business Advantage Grant 
    This program offers a 50% match of up to $7,000 to enable Pennsylvania small businesses to purchase energy efficient or pollution prevention equipment, or adopt waste reduction processes.

    PA DEP Website

    Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE)

    Commercial and agricultural property owners may develop a clean energy project and secure a capital provider to finance the project (including equipment, labor and soft costs). A low-cost, long-term loan payment that repays the costs of the upgrades is added to the property tax bill and collected as an assessment by the county/municipality. Available in participating locations.



    Utility/Utility Related Resources

    ACT 129 and other energy efficiency/conservation initiatives 
    Many electric utilities offer rebates and other incentives to reduce electricity consumption and peak demand.


    Sustainable Energy Funds (SEF)
    Created through the restructuring of electric companies, these funds promote sustainability and renewable energy in PA.

    Metropolitan Edison Region Sustainable Energy Fund, Administered by the Berks County Community Foundation
    Penelec Region Sustainable Energy Fund, Administered by the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies
    Met-Ed/Penelec SEF Website

    Sustainable Development Fund, Administered by The Reinvestment Fund
    TRF SEF Website

    West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund
    WPPSEF Website

    Sustainable Energy Fund of Central Eastern Pennsylvania
    SEF Website

    Other Sources

    Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE)
    Maintained by the Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center
    Funded through the U.S. Department of Energy

    DSIRE is a comprehensive source of information on state, federal, local, and utility incentives and policies.

    DSIRE Website

  • 5. Choose an Installer Wisely
    Now that you know what energy you will be using, you need to determine how your system will be installed.  We recommend you learn the basics of each technology before calling installers.  Renewable energy systems are significant investments, somewhere between buying a car and buying a house.  Take your time to shop around, compare suppliers and find the one you feel comfortable with.  See our business directory for questions you should be prepared to ask installers and questions they will ask you as well as for a listing of renewable energy installers.

  • Next steps

    So you've reviewed your situation, but you are still not sure what to do? Contact us and we would be glad to point you in the right direction.  Email or phone 814-472-2872.

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