Aug. 12-13 Energy Fair offers solar electricity workshops

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114970580130296.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl’, ‘1.6-kW Siemens panels are mounted on the roof of an old hog house, making use of an existing historic building.’);

&s-bull: State rebate, federal tax credit for solar installations covers 51 percent of a system’s cost

The Earth receives about 15,000 times as much energy from the sun as is currently used as electricity. With so much clean energy available to us, it is shocking we do not make more use of it. If we build very energy-efficient buildings, we can heat our homes and water, and provide our electricity, with power from the sun. With climate change, oil wars, ecosystem destruction and pollution resulting from existing patterns of energy use, our lifestyles and use of energy must change now.

At the Illinois Renewable Energy Association’s (IREA) latest PV workshop, a dozen people spent about six hours learning about solar electric possibilities. They examined a 60-watt, 12-volt direct current system with a charge controller and battery used to power two small 12-volt D.C. light fixtures. The system is designed to serve lighting and radio needs of a home in the developing world, and could also meet lighting needs of a small vacation cabin.

They also examined a 48-volt, 3,200-watt system that includes a 4,000-watt inverter and backup battery pack. This household system involves alternating current and higher voltage, so it requires more advanced electrical skills than the small D.C. system.

The panels are mounted on the roofs of an old hog house and corn crib, which also houses the inverter and battery backup. The inverter converts direct current from the solar panels into alternating current to match the electricity provided by ComEd. It also determines whether the electrical output is needed in the house or if the batteries need charging, and sends the surplus back to ComEd to purchase at avoided cost.

The battery backup provides about eight hours of power to the house if there is a utility power failure. The system cost was about $9 per watt, but at the time of installation, a 60 percent state rebate was available.

When funds are available, the state rebate plus the federal tax credit for solar installations now covers 51 percent of a system’s cost. If the solar system is included in the home mortgage, the interest is tax deductible.

The solar electric industry has been growing at a rate of about 30 percent annually for the past five years*. Anticipated growth is only about 10 percent for 2006 and 20 percent for 2007, since a shortage of pure silicon has developed. Silicon supplies have failed to keep up with market demand, but new facilities are being built, and the shortage should be eliminated by 2008.

The solar electric market grew to more than $11 billion in 2005. With new silicon supplies in place, the market could top $50 billion by 2015. The industry is still dependent on government subsidies. Japan and Germany are the world’s leaders in solar electricity, due to long-term government support. New federal tax credits are stimulating installations in this country as well, with California and New Jersey leading the way.

For those who missed this workshop, another will be offered in September. Until then, plan to attend the Fifth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 12-13 at Ogle County Fairgrounds. Several workshops about solar electricity will be presented.

Dave Merrill will discuss installing a good, safe, economical system that will meet city and electrical codes, and how a homeowner can install his own solar PV system with the proper workmanship and equipment.

Mark Burger will provide an overview about the growth of local, national and global solar photovoltaic markets, including the impact of silicon supply and new commercialized applications.

John Root will discuss the history of PV, the PV effect and cell manufacturing technology, compare system output to utility demand and discuss how PV is a value-added product for utilities. He will also cover marketing PV systems, market challenges, customer interests and product attributes, and solutions for overcoming barriers.

Major sponsors for this year’s fair include The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and ComEd, An Exelon Company.

*Source: PV growth figures appeared in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

From the June 7-13, 2006, issue

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