Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sun Shines on Solar Energy Movement

For home and business owners considering solar energy, you're in the right place.

Florida isn't known as the Sunshine State for nothing, and the abundance of sunlight that reaches the state daily could power it for a year, estimates say.

The Florida Solar Energy Center, a research institute of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, is working to develop energy technologies that enhance not only Florida's but the nation's economy, says Sherri Shields, assistant director of communications for the center.

Created by the Florida Legislature, the center's main responsibilities are conducting research, testing and certifying solar systems and developing education programs.

"As Florida's energy research institute, we are leading research and development efforts to bring our vision of energy independence to fruition," Shield says.

We've all heard of solar panels and solar water heating systems, but solar energy is being used in many innovative ways.

An innovation in Tampa's downtown is solar energy trash compactors. The self-powered receptacles from Waste Management can hold up to five times more trash than traditional trash receptacles. A receptacle for recyclables can be placed alongside the compactor as well. An electronic message alerts city workers when the compactor is full, helping cut gas costs and emissions because workers don't have to check to see if the bins are full.

It's a service that provides greener solutions to cities across the nation, says Amy Boyson, community affairs manager for Waste Management. The compactors are great for public areas, including parks. The enclosed design keeps scavenging animals out and litter in, she adds.

Matching the city's green efforts may not be easy, though. One of the obstacles to greening your home is the cost. It can cost thousands to purchase and install solar equipment in your home or business.

However, there are companies making it more affordable to harness the sun's energy.

Citizenre REnU offers a rental program to consumers. It works similar to having satellite television. Citizenre installs the equipment and you pay a monthly fee for rental. The best part is that the company also maintains the equipment.

Tim Converse, owner of Solar Solutions in Tampa for the past 14 years, has seen interest in green solutions grow in the past few years.

"With homes worth less, many people are staying put and looking at long-term solutions for saving money and enjoying their home."

For the average person, full solar electricity is not affordable, Converse says. "The first step to going green is a solar hot water system."

Converse says it costs $6,000 to $8,000 to install the system, but homeowners should remember that they will save on utility costs as well as become eligible for a tax credit.

Solar energy systems also are exempt from Florida's sales and use tax as long as you purchase eligible equipment. The FSEC website provides a list of qualified systems.

Shields cites the quick depletion of solar rebates and incentives offered by the state of Florida during the past several years as proof that consumer interest in solar energy is growing.

"Unstable fuel prices have people's attention and there is a growing desire for energy independence."

This year, Progress Energy Florida expanded its Solar Water Heating with EnergyWise Program, which encourages homeowners to install a solar water-heating system. Benefits include a $550 credit on your electric bill to offset the purchase of a solar water-heating system installed since March 15.

No matter whether you choose to try solar solutions, Shields advises that homeowners work to make their homes more energy efficient. "Once that is accomplished, then install solar water heating and then solar electricity or photovoltaics."


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