Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Solar Energy Users Switch on the Savings

Business owner Dave Kenney used to pay about $400 per month to Choptank Electric Cooperative, and nearly double that in the summer when he was running air conditioning. Now, 168 solar panels that were installed last year are making a noticeable difference in his bottom line.

Dave Kenney, left, owner of The Hardware Store on Route 50 in Mardela Springs
talks with Marty Clemmer, a sales person with Paradise Energy Solutions of Salisbury

Kenney is producing enough electricity to power The Hardware Store on Route 50 and is also selling some back to the grid.

"I've not had a bill from Choptank since June, and that was the plan," he said.

Kenney first looked into installing solar last year and was able to get a combination of federal and state grants that covered about 64 percent of the cost.

After four or five years, the system -- which is designed to last 25 years -- will have paid for itself.

"If we can get 20 years of free power, that's great," he said.

In addition to eliminating his utility bill, the new solar energy system allows Kenney to accumulate solar energy credits, which he can sell.

Kenney also can write off the costs on his taxes.

Eventually, Kenney said he plans to double the size of the store. When he does, he plans to change his heating system from propane to electric so the heat it produces will be free, too.

"We're an old line hardware store, but we try to keep up with the times," he said.

The numbers

The cost of solar energy equipment has dropped significantly -- as much as 50 percent -- from a few years ago, said Marty Clemmer of Paradise Energy Solutions, the company that installed Kenney's system.

Even in the last four months, prices of solar panels have dropped even further, Clemmer said.

For an average ranch house with a monthly electric bill of $100, a new solar system with 42 panels on the roof would cost about $43,000, but it would pay for itself in about seven years if the homeowner takes advantage of available grants and tax credits, Clemmer said.

The Maryland Energy Administration has $1,000 grants for homeowners installing solar panels, and the federal government offers 30 percent tax credits.

For solar energy systems that overproduce electricity, the power can be sold back to the grid, resulting in another financial benefit to the owner.

The systems can also earn one solar renewable energy credit -- or SREC -- for every 1,000 kilowatt-hours they produce, which can be sold back to utility companies, Clemmer said.

In Maryland, electric companies must have 2 percent of their power generated by solar, but it's too costly to build the systems themselves. Instead, they buy the credits, now at about $210 each, from other sources, Clemmer said.

The credits are bought and sold through SRECTrade, which offers them at a monthly auction.

Clemmer said he and other installers crunch the numbers for their customers to show how the numerous government incentives can help reduce the overall cost.

"This is a significant way to help them pay off their solar systems," he said.

Pennsylvania-based Paradise Energy Solutions now has a Snow Hill Road office that has been busy installing solar electric and hot water systems on farms and at commercial and residential properties across the Eastern Shore and Delaware.

"It's an emerging business," Clemmer said.

Advancing tech

At the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, where SunEdison installed a 2.2-megawatt solar farm a year ago, the campus is realizing savings, said Ron Forsythe, vice president of Technology and Commercialization.

Officials looked into solar after the campus electric bill increased by 50 percent almost overnight, Forsythe said.

SunEdison financed and built the solar farm at no cost to UMES or the state of Maryland. In return, UMES purchases the power at long-term predictable rates.

The campus also is in discussions with other companies producing solar and wind energy systems, he said.

By promoting technology and research in renewable energy, UMES is fulfilling its role as a land grant institution, Forsythe said.

"We put the technology out there and let people kick the tires," he said.

Universities and other big consumers of energy have led the way with solar, which has resulted in increased demand and lower prices.

But while solar is catching on in the United States, it still lags far behind other countries, Forsythe said.

"The rest of the world is eating our lunch in terms of renewable technology," he said.

SOURCE: http://www.delmarvanow.com/article/20120128/NEWS01/201280331/Solar-energy-users-switch-savings?odyssey=nav|head

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