Solar pioneers

Solar pioneers

By Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl, President and Vice President Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The owners of local solar electric and small wind generating systems in previous articles are clearly early adopters of the technologies. They are willing to take on additional costs to enjoy the systems and establish their reliability.

Other potential users are on the sidelines waiting for prices to fall further.

Californians are not waiting. Stung by market manipulations, which caused summer blackouts and sky-high prices, many homeowners, businesses and factories are taking advantage of government subsidies to gain a measure of energy independence.

With a 75 percent subsidy, some applications in California will pay for themselves within six years. While home installations are up dramatically, commercial and industrial users are now adding solar installations to their facilities. A produce processing facility has a roof mounted unit that provides enough power for 230 homes. An auto sales facility’s unit produces power sufficient for 500 homes.

In Illinois, the government will pick up the 60 percent of the costs of approved projects. With that level of subsidy and Illinois sun conditions, industry sources claim that the payback period is around 12 years.

John Root of Muscatine Power in Iowa will speak on solar electricity at this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy Fair. He provides a cost estimate of $18,393 for an installed 2,500-watt grid connected pv system. The cost per watt is $7.25. With a 25-year warranted life, the system produces electricity at $0.21 per kilowatt hour. While the price still exceeds local peak power prices for homeowners, our prices will be controlled for only a few more years. Californians already pay peak power rates of $0.21 cents per kilowatt hour. In many locations, commercial rates are higher, which improves the economic return on solar electricity.

Another fair speaker will describe a green tag market that allows owners to sell avoided pollution from their systems to those who need to symbolically lessen their pollution loads. Buying green tags from clean energy producers lowers the cost of systems and theoretically cuts overall air pollution levels at a lower cost than installing pollution controls on another facility. As a business investment, the systems are also eligible for federal tax deductions.

Relying on technological improvements and government subsidies are incremental and successful ways to expand the market for solar electricity and renewable energy.

A more dramatic way to lower the costs of pv systems would be to build a mass manufacturing facility now. One choice involves building a 100 MW manufacturing facility utilizing thin film technologies. The second involves the production of crystalline or polycrystalline solar cells in a 500 MW production facility.

Of course, the large increase in production would call for a guaranteed annual market for the solar panels. If placed on public buildings, taxpayers would reap some return on reduced electrical bills.

For those not willing to wait and willing to make both a personal and social investment, it is time to consider a solar electric system. Join the growing ranks of solar pioneers.

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