Solar News You Can Use

(#314) — The White House recently announced for a second time that solar thermal panels and solar electric panels would be installed on the building.  This same installation was expected to be completed in 2011 but is now certain to actually begin operating in 2013. The symbolic and practical benefits are obvious.  Presidents Carter and Bush #1 ordered solar panels on the Executive Office Building during their administrations as well.

Solar thermal has been for many years the best buy per dollar.  In the past few years it has been included in the energy efficiency retrofit menu, which has given this hot water heating system a tremendous push.  Unlike solar electric, it requires no special training for installers.  It is really just a matter of good plumbing and can be attached to any pre-existing system as the first provider of hot water.  Most solar electric installers can also provide solar thermal systems and the two solar technologies are a very cost effective combination for lower total cost of heating, ventilating, air conditioning and domestic hot water as well as reducing air pollution and fossil fuel consumption.

There are several substantial solar electric systems already installed in Sullivan County and new multi-million watt systems under design.  Notable among solar electric or photovoltaic systems are those on farms.  One large producer has 400kw that produces nearly 500,000 kwh/year.  Several farms have 10 to 25 kv systems.

The Center for Discovery has several large solar electric systems as well as geothermal and solar thermal installations.  Sullivan County Community College is committed to a 3mw solar electric system, which will require almost 9 acres of panels. This installation joins a much earlier installation of geothermal technology throughout the campus and a small wind power initiative.  An estimate of total solar electric installations in the county is 180.  The number could be significantly greater.

This proliferation of solar electric systems by many home owners and small businesses is beginning to create the momentum for what is definitely the best solution to climate change and air pollution.

Solar electric systems are more popular than wind power, which is the other main source of electricity.  Wind power is more cost effective when produced from large turbines but confronts many obstacles in permitting and the reality that wind speeds capable of powering large electric generation are limited to only a few locations in Sullivan County.  Mapping of our hydro-electric resources is yet to be done.

Acquisition of a solar electric system is available through a combination of NYS state incentives including grants and tax credits, federal tax credits, with the system purchaser covering the balance or through a lease agreement in which the building owner leases the roof or adjacent land for the installation and receives a reduced cost of the electricity generated from the site.  A solar electric lease agreement may not require any up-front cost or a small initial payment.  My recommendation for even those with very limited funds is to avoid the lease agreement if at all possible in order to gain the very significantly greater return on investment as owner of the solar system.

Local demand for solar electric installation exceeds both small residential and commercial systems.  There is a business opportunity here.