Solar Energy Projects Heat Up Across the Country
Large commercial and industrial facilities, as well as municipalities, face soaring utility costs every year, a figure that is only rising, solar experts say. To stay in business, or not raise taxes, owners and leaders search for ways to reduce their utility costs.
Sometimes that answer is a solar energy project. Once thought to implement only in sunny states, like California, some states, like Illinois and Pennsylvania, have incentive programs that make a solar project a smart way to save money, solar experts explain.
But does a solar project make sense for your business or organization?
That depends, said Jeff Kilmer, a renowned expert on solar energy a member of the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.
The most important factor is location, location, location, Kilmer said.
“Solar array needs to be accommodated, whether it be on land or on a roof of a building or carport structure,,” he said. “You should also factor in whether your state has solar energy friendly legislation that offers sustainability incentives through the utility companies or government subsidies.”
Another thing to think about is whether your organization has sustainability goals that it needs to meet, solar experts say.
“Installing solar PV is a great way to produce clean energy and achieve sustainability goals through carbon reduction,” Kilmer said.
But before getting too far ahead of oneself, Kilmer said there are three things that must be kept in mind to ensure the success of a project.
Efficiency measures need to be implemented to reduce energy use in a building prior to a new solar PV system being installed.
“Reducing a facility’s energy usage through implementation or energy efficiency measures assures ‘right sizing’ of the solar PV system and maximizes the return on investment,” Kilmer said, “By upgrading other systems, it reduces the amount of energy needed and lowers the overall cost of the solar PV system.”
Solar panels are installed in an area — usually an open space, like a roof — to collect sunlight that it then converts into energy. With optimal tilt and orientation of the panels, anywhere from 5 to 40 degrees depending on location, the solar panels then send the energy to a service panel that feeds the loads within the building. When designing a solar PV system our energy engineers take into account location, weather data, shading and other factors that affect performance. Some energy services companies may offer a service contract (O&M) to maintain the system, cleaning the panels from dirt and conducting performance tests to maintain the PV system integrity. If the panels are shadowed by trees, buildings or even a chimney, it can affect the amount of energy produced and prolong the return on investment (ROI).
Once the clean energy is produced, it is then sent to the service panel within the facility that services the loads within the building. Any excess energy that is not used by the loads is sent back onto the grid and the utility provides the facility a credit. The energy credit is recognized through legislation known as“net metering.”
Energy Storage System (ESS) offer a reliable way to reduce a facility’s demand charges and operates in parallel with the PV system and utility grid. Intelligent software within the ESS dispatches power to the loads thus reducing the facilities demand charges. The ESS is recharged daily from the solar PV system and the cycle repeats itself.
“Reduce, produce and store is the name of the game,” Kilmer said. “When designing the best project for each customer, those words are always top of mind.”
While solar panels can be expensive to install, solar experts explained, payoff is usually fairly fast and remains steady over time, providing money that was once spent on utility bills to be spent elsewhere. But there are funding mechanisms — incentives, performance contracting, tax credits and rebates — that make it more affordable.
“Solar projects are often creative and there are creative ways to pay for them,” Kilmer said. “The key is to hire solar experts that are certified and experienced in designing and installing solar PV systems, and are well-versed in the funding mechanisms available.”