Solar Energy in America

by : Hamza Naeem

Across the U.S., both consumers and industry have called on the government to build out an infrastructure for renewable energy sources following the latest run-up in gas prices. Part 1 of this two-part series on renewable energy reviews some of the plans industry participants have outlined to support various "green" power initiatives, along with some approaches to achieve success.

With the introduction of the California Solar Initiative -- due to go into effect January 1 -- solar photovoltaic (PV) industry firms are scrambling to adjust to changes in application processes, rebate pricing, and energy efficiency and metering requirements.

Some are using California as a test bed for new renewable energy projects, including solar-powered suburban communities and a large job involving California public schools.

California's commercial and residential housing developers form one of the industry's long-term linchpins. They can consistently provide the demand needed for the development of a sustainable solar PV systems industry comprised of polysilicon and solar PV cell manufacturers, distributors, and large and small scale commercial and residential solar systems sales and installation companies.

Along with a growing number of state governments, the federal government is likewise increasing its support of the renewable energy industry.

More than 610 renewable energy projects will receive over US$800 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds recently issued by the IRS. Of that group, 401 are for solar power facilities and a state-high total of 231 are for proposed projects in California. Public Sector Solar Projects

Though the schools are allowed to produce as much electricity as they can, utility credits are capped at 100 percent of their annual electricity needs.

"Overproduction is typically not an issue. We typically run into area and space limitations before we run into an over generation limit," Jaramillo noted -- which also makes an accurate electrical power needs assessment critical to any solar PV installation.

It takes a range of skills, knowledge and abilities to successfully implement any large scale, on-the-grid solar PV systems project, he added.

Especially in the public sector, solar PV projects involve working with many different and diverse entities -- the local utility company, authorities, architects, manufacturers of PV modules and equipment, local and state rebate programs, financing interests, and, often in the case of public schools, the DSA (Division of State Architecture), which is the permitting authority for California public schools.

Commenting on the California Solar Initiative, Jaramillo noted, "Most people don't realize that California actually introduced much more aggressive rebate legislation over four years ago. However, back then there were very few large commercial or residential solar PV installations, so the public didn't know much about it."

"Since then, solar PV has become much more understood and widely accepted as a viable solution to our ongoing energy issues. All that said, we applaud California for continuing to be a leader in the development of renewable energy solutions," Jaramillo remarked. Solar-Powered Communities

Focusing on the planned residential community market, home builder and developer Edenbridge Homes joined with solar PV systems provider Power Light to include the latter's Sun Tile Solar Electric System in homes being built in its Vacaville, Calif., residential community project.

Each home features a Power Light Sun Tile (2.3 kilowatt) roof-integrated solar PV system, which is expected to reduce homeowners' electricity bills by up to 50 percent, as well as provide a $2,000 tax credit and a 25-year product guarantee.

"There is a significant amount of interest in deploying solar power at residential communities being built around the State of California," Power Light's Susan DeVico told TechNewsWorld.

Edenbridge Homes is not passing the cost of the solar PV systems to buyers; rather, it anticipates that the included solar PV systems will be a differentiating factor that prompts buyers to purchase a solar-powered home over comparably priced non-solar homes in the area.

"Few new home builders offer solar and no one in Vacaville had pursued the opportunity. Our research led us to Power Light and, after several conversations with other builders, we determined that the Power Light folks had come up with the most integrated and turnkey solution," explained Chris Gatley, Edenbridge Homes' vice president of construction.

The project's "paseo style" three- and four-bedroom model homes were completed recently and are now open to the public, while the development's initial nine homes are under construction and currently available for sale.

Home prices are expected to range from the high $400,000s to the mid-$500,000s, according to an Edenbridge Homes press announcement. "We expect the entire community of 47 homes to be completed by the end of 2007," Gatley said.