Abundant sunshine makes western Colorado an ideal place for solar power and this is a great time to harness that energy.
Current rebates and incentives make 2011 a very auspicious year for installing an on-site solar generation system.
You can also savor the irony of using the sun to power your swamp cooler or air conditioner.
Solar systems which are tied into the power grid can actually generate more electricity than you consume making the electric meter spin backward as electricity is sent into the grid.
Net metering measures production and consumption allowing the utility company to calculate charges. You get a dollar for dollar credit for electricity generated by your system that offsets usage and any excess generation is credited at the wholesale rate.
Through the end of the year there are some very attractive incentives to install solar at your home or business. The federal government is offering a 30 percent tax credit for the cost of materials and installation of residential solar systems. These funds are actually refundable within 60 days of installation.
Businesses also get a break by going solar in 2011. Costs for a new solar system qualify for one-year depreciation providing a major tax break.
Xcel Energy still offers rebates through the Solar Rewards program, although the amount of these rebates is decreasing as costs for solar systems decline.
Don’t count on Recharge Colorado, the state’s energy rebate effort, since a relatively small budget and extremely high demand have depleted program funds.
Scott Wegs, vice president of business development for Syndicated Solar, Inc., said the biggest hurdle to installing a solar system is the upfront costs and solar panels are the most expensive part of any installation. “The cost is coming down rapidly,” he added.
Most systems rely on tried and true silicon-based solar electric panels. Silicon wafers, which are also used in microchips, start out as compressed sand. Although silicon is the most common meatalloid, solar panels still require aluminum, copper and other metals for production.
Wegs said panels produced by reputable manufacturers recover the energy used for production in two years. These panels are guaranteed for 25 years, some panels installed more than 50 years ago are still in use.
Advances in storage batteries have been slow. Most homeowners opt for old fashioned lead acid, deep cycle marine batteries. Newer lithium ion batteries are more efficient, but very expensive.
Wegs hopes in five years power from solar generation will be competitive, watt to watt, with other forms of power. As rebates and subsidies expire solar power should be able to stand on its own financially.
Local electric providers Xcel Energy and Grand Valley Power have specific regulations and applications for installing solar systems at your home or business. The expertise of your solar contractor can simplify this somewhat arduous process.
Wegs views solar energy as just one component in a blend of resources we will need to slake our increasing energy appetite. Rooftop solar generation is a much quicker fix than the time-consuming process of building new coal or nuclear plants.
Next week we will look at some local solar projects and the impact of state regulation on the industry.