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Solar electricity — doing the right thing

April 16, 2014
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By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Solar panels can be installed on building roofs and provide electricity to be consumed where we live and work. It is safe, reliable, affordable, sustainable and provides a measure of personal energy security.

Rooftop solar, along with energy efficiency and other renewable energy options, is changing the energy infrastructure in the 29 states with renewable energy standards. Leading the way is California, set to exceed its 33 percent renewable target by 2020.

At the end of 2012, there was 42 MW of grid-connected solar electricity in Illinois. The numbers have grown dramatically over the last few years. Efficiency and renewable energy standards, along with state rebates, federal tax credits and net metering, have facilitated growth. In our immediate area, there are numerous solar installations at schools, homes, parks and nature centers.

Citigroup reports that solar and wind energy are becoming competitive with natural gas peaking plants and baseload coal and nuclear plants. Given the increased demand for natural gas, its prices are expected to continue to rise, while solar costs continue to fall. If the trends continue as expected, the prospects for solar remain bright.

A recent study released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) concludes that 80 percent of our overall energy needs could be met by renewable energy by 2050 at modest costs. Our existing energy system has been described by Dan Arvizu as unsustainable. While it has served us well over the past 100 years, it now fails to meet our energy security, carbon and economic needs.

David Crane, CEO of NRG, wants his firm to redirect their energy business to empower energy consumers. He envisions developing a distributed clean-energy future based on individual choice for the energy consumer. It would be driven by renewables, incorporating energy storage and localized automation to balance production and load.

The rise of renewables has Exelon concerned and has led to lobbying efforts that contributed to killing the wind production tax credit and is now focused on killing the production tax credits for solar energy. Exelon’s opposition to the wind production tax credit rests with the fact that wind is driving out nuclear power in the Midwest and other wind resource areas. Exelon is experiencing off-peak pricing situations in which prices go negative, but wind farms keep production to secure production tax credits.

Wind industry advocates counter that such events will decrease when the grid is expanded to ship excess electricity to new markets. They also point out that low demand and cheap natural gas are the real challenges for Exelon.

Many consider the challenges faced by utilities similar to that which occurred when the monopoly power of AT&T over phone service was broken. It has given us the cell phone and its many innovations, but has not totally ended land-line service. The grid will remain integral to electrical service, although some interests envision a time when it may no longer be essential.

In support of citizen interest in solar energy, the Illinois Renewable Energy Association will offer a class April 26 designed to help those interested in sustainable solar power integrate it into their own lives. It will cover the basics of PV and will include a hands-on component that should boost the confidence of those interested in working on their own installations. Advanced registration is essential. For information or to register, call (815) 732-7332.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the April 16-22, 2014, issue

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