Posts Tagged ‘solar panels’

A new technology – solar roadways – has emerged that has the potential for powering the entire United States 3 times over for each year it is in service, along with reducing 75% of greenhouse gases the US produces. With over 31,000 sq miles of roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and bike paths connecting the US, converting the surface areas into solar roadways is the ambitious and creative solution that creators Julie and Scott Brunsaw have proposed to solve the energy problems we face today and ahead of us.

solar roadways

Julie and Scott Brunsaw, creators of the Solar Roadways

Scott Brunsaw is an electrical engineer based in Idaho with his wife and solar roadway partner, Julie. Scott thought of this idea when he was younger and dreamed of a world that was futuristic and sustainable. First hand experience working in an oil company grew his drive to build a practical solar road.  Now, he and his wife have made the technology a reality.

The solar roadway panel itself is in a hexagonal shape that is designed to last a minimum of 20 years. It is covered in a snow and ice resistant, durable glass that is capable of supporting 250,000 lbs of weight and is equipped with programmable LED lights to easily light up the road. A parking lot-size prototype has been built with funding from the Federal Highway Administration and through a public funding initiative that has raised close to $150,000,000 through Indigogo.com.

solar roadwaysInside each of the solar panels are hi-tech microprocessing chips covered in a tempered glass that is capable of heating the panels to a few degrees above freezing to keep snow and ice off of the roads, making them safer and eliminating the need for snow plows. The microprocessing chips can also detect weight and can be programmed to illuminate the LED lights in the panels to show road lines, animals crossing, hazards on the road and more. The panels themselves are made up of mostly recycled material and are attached to a cable corridor that lines up alongside the road which is where the power lines and fiber optics are stored. More about the specs and benefits of solar roadways can be found watching this entertaining video.

solar roadwaysWhy this is so important to the US and the world can be seen in multiple statistics of our current energy situation. In 2011, the United States’ energy sources for electricity were made up of 91% non renewable resources such as coal, petroleum, natural gas, and nuclear, with only 9% made up of renewable resources. With energy production contributing to 79% of greenhouse gas emissions, the US is in dire need of a new energy source to not only lower its contribution to global pollution, but also to act as an example to developing countries who are building their infrastructure. If an idea like solar roads were to be adopted by the most powerful country in the world, it would have a tremendously positive effect on the globe including cutting a significant amount of transportation emissions, creating new jobs to build the new infrastructure, help reduce dependence on foreign oil, and provide access to a  large renewable energy resource.

The positive potential for this project is very high, but it comes with great costs including an investment of up to $56 trillion to cover 29,000 sq miles of US roadways, electrical grid updates that allow for a greater electricity capacity, along with much more research and testing that needs to be done. Although the upfront costs are significant, solar roadways would pay for themselves as well as generate excess revenue. With more support and research, solar roadways could turn into the next big thing that could solve the energy crisis for the US.



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Solar Jobs StatsA recent report by the Solar Foundation shows that employment in the solar industry is booming. Over the past four years, employment in the nation’s solar companies has grown by about 53%. The number of solar jobs grew by an astonishing 20% between 2012 and 2013 alone. By contrast, the overall economy created only 1.9% more jobs over the same period of time. Texas has 4,100 employees in the solar industry, and experienced a 28% growth in solar jobs from 2012 to 2013. Texas is in 6th place for total number of solar employees.

Of the jobs created in the solar industry, sales and installations are leading the way. Within the next year, jobs installing panels are expected to grow by 21.4%, while sales jobs are expected to grow by 14.1%. However, jobs in the solar manufacturing sector are projected to grow only by 8.6%, as U.S manufacturers struggle to compete with cheap panels from China and other developing markets. In response the U.S has imposed a 31% tariff on imported Chinese solar panels. Still, even the slowest growing sector in the solar industry is creating jobs four times faster than the overall economy. The solar industry is truly one of the great success stories of the economic recovery.

Solar panel installationIt’s important to note that one thing driving panel prices down so rapidly, and creating a ton of jobs in the process, is the increased demand being created from the solar subsidies at the various levels of government. If these subsidies are ended prematurely, solar panels would be out of reach for many consumers, resulting in a reduction in demand. If this happens, the reduced demand could slow jobs growth.

In order to keep the solar industry going strong and creating jobs, clear guidance on the federal level surrounding renewable energy subsidies is needed. For example, the solar investment tax credit, which has helped spark the economic boom in solar, is set to expire at the end of 2016. This tax credit has played a key role in fostering the 1,600% increase in solar installations since 2006. In fact subsidized solar power has already reached grid parity in some states. That means that on a kilowatt-hour (kwh) basis, solar can be as cheap as or cheaper than coal, natural gas, or any other conventional form of energy. In states or cities where solar reaches grid parity, observers are expecting an even further surge in solar energy, yielding even more jobs growth. But if the solar investment tax credit completely expires for residential customers and is reduced to 10% for commercial customers, as scheduled, in 2016, jobs growth in the solar industry could slow unless soft cost are reduced . Any reduction in subsides should be offset with a reduction in the required permitting and paper work for solar installation. These soft costs related to regulatory compliance cause solar installation to cost nearly twice as much as they do in other countries. In Germany, where the solar instillation process is stream lined, a 4kw system costs only $10,000 to install, where the same system costs nearly $20,000 in the United States.

As of right now, solar appears to be entering a period of nearly exponential growth thanks to falling panel prices, and effective subsidies at the various levels of government. While every industry should aspire to be able to stand on its own two feet, ending the subsidies for solar in 2016 would be premature and would put the industry at a disadvantage among the many energy industries, including coal, natural gas and nuclear, that receive other subsidies. Any reduction in subsidies should be offset by making the regulatory process simpler, and cheaper. The solar industry is one of the fastest growing industries around, and until solar can consistently reach grid parity, subsidies should kept in place to ensure strong jobs growth, and a bright future for the green U.S economy.

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Recently there’s been a lot of talk about all the great energy and cost saving benefits that come from installing rooftop solar. In cities that have generous rebate programs, such as Austin and San Antonio, customers can expect to see their utility bills fall by 50% or more, and to break even on their solar investment within 7 years. These systems can produce electricity for 25 to 40 years, and can net up to tens of thousands of dollars in energy savings throughout their lifetime.

photo from RenewableEnergyWorld.com

photo from RenewableEnergyWorld.com

These benefits alone have been enough to spark a bustling solar industry in solar-friendly cities, but new research has shown that solar may be good for more than just saving on electric bills. A study conducted by the Berkeley National Laboratory shows that solar can add thousands to home resale value. Although the study is limited to California, researchers concluded that solar adds approximately $5,900 to the value of a home per kW installed.

The study found that the premium commanded by solar falls by about 9% per year. Still, this is slower than the depreciation of other major purchases, such as new cars, which loss value at a rate of nearly 15% per year. And unlike cars, solar panels actually pay the owner to use them. The premium added to home value from panels is just an extra bonus to the already substantial energy savings.

Case studies of single-family homes in the Denver metro area seem to also show that, in most circumstances, a monetary benefit is seen when selling a home with solar panels installed. One of the takeaways from this study was that the monetary benefit will vary by market area, over time and on a house-by-house basis. It will therefore be important to ensure that the appraiser and the realtor understands the value solar panels add.

In addition to increasing home values, another study done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden Co. found that homes with solar sold 20% faster, and for 17% more than a typical comparable home. This study was also limited to California markets, but homeowners in solar friendly cities might consider installing panels as a way to stand out from the crowd. As more homeowners choose to install solar on their homes in a given city or neighborhood, valuing solar homes is likely to become easier in those markets.  All in all, the future of solar is looking bright.

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The most famous residence in America plans to install solar panels. The solar panels are to be installed by spring 2011 atop the White House’s living quarters and will heat water and supply some electricity for the first family.

President Jimmy Carter speaks against a backdrop of solar panels at the White House Washington on June 21, 1979.

President Jimmy Carter speaks against a backdrop of solar panels at the White House Washington on June 21, 1979. Photo by Harvey Georges / AP

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both tapped the sun during their days in the White House.

Carter in the late 1970s spent $30,000 on a solar water-heating system for West Wing offices. Bush’s solar systems powered a maintenance building, some of the mansion, and heated water for the pool.

Obama has championed renewable energy and will now lead by example by installing solar at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Something which has been under consideration since he first took office.

Putting solar on the roof of the nation’s most important piece of real estate is a powerful symbol.  Perhaps Americans will start to rethink how we generate electricity.

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This editorial from the Dallas Morning News is a little bit old news, responding to Governor Perry’s lawsuit against the EPA’s endangerment finding about carbon dioxide, BUT I really like the message that clean air vs. jobs is a false choice.  Because everything we would have to do to create a new clean economy, is a JOB. Windmills don’t manufacture themselves, solar panels aren’t going to get up on the roof unless someone bolts them there, and weatherstripping isn’t going to take it off without an audience protect your house from air conditioning leaks unless someone gets in there and give you an energy audit. So, better late than never: read on!

Editorial: Clean air vs. jobs is a false choice

Sure, it buttresses his campaign theme, casting him as the protector of Texas jobs against employment-crippling federal environmental mandates. And Perry is right when he says Texas has a lot a stake.

But his approach is troublingly shortsighted. The lawsuit relies on thinking about the state’s past, not its future, and it falsely pits jobs against clean air. Instead of opposing the tougher air quality rules, Austin would be wise to focus instead on how best to be a leader in a less carbon-dependent economy.

Our state emits up to 35 percent of all greenhouse gases released by industrial sources in the United States, and the state’s energy sector remains a prominent generator of jobs. So it’s vital that Texas work on two tracks simultaneously – clean air and clean jobs.

Efforts to buck the shift won’t save jobs, but rather will tether Texas to 20th-century jobs in the 21st century and, thus, have considerable negative consequences on the state’s long-term economic health. Dirty air endangers health and also kills jobs, as California learned the hard way.

Texas’ legal gymnastics also are odd because the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases has already been decided. (more…)

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Reports are beginning to roll in as to how funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka “the stimulus”) are being used in various communities, and as promised, many of the projects are an economically friendly shade of green.

Just yesterday, the EPA announced that it would dole out $10.7 million to Texas to clean up leaks from underground petroleum tanks.  That’s good news for our soil and groundwater, which become contaminated by petrol and other hazardous substances when these tanks leak.  Don’t want that in your morning coffee.

This next one isn’t a direct result of the stimulus bill, but still represents how we can transition to a cleaner, greener economy even as we lift people out of economic hardship.  Earlier this week, we heard that the U.S. Labor Department’s Veterans Workforce Investment Program is passing on $7.5 million to veterans organizations in several states (including Texas) for green jobs training programs. Programs to train vets to install solar panels and repair solar hot water heaters can provide well paying, in-demand jobs to a segment of the population that well deserves a place in the new green economy.

Anybody heard of any other examples of great green investments or your stimulus dollars at work?

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Kudos and many thanks to San Antonio’s outgoing Mayor Hardberger and council members Justin Rodriguez, Jennifer Ramos, Lourdes Galvan, and Phillip Cortez for signing on to a letter urging Congressman Charlie Gonzalez to get with the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act program.

The letter reads:

We have an unprecedented opportunity to put San Antonians to work in new green jobs — building wind turbines, installing solar panels, weatherizing homes, and laying a smarter electric grid that will power our new energy economy.  We also believe it is of the utmost important that we rescue our children, our grandchildren, and the world they’ll inherit from the ravages of global warming.

According to Greg Harman at the San Antonio Current’s QueQue blog,

The cadre adds the weight of local elected leadership to an ongoing campaign working to ensure San Antonio’s representative in Congress (serving on the influential House Committee on Energy & Commerce) pushes for binding commitments to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions quickly while transitioning the economy into a more sustainable direction.

Hopefully Charlie is feeling the pressure and will back away from the polluter giveaways he’s been flirting with as of late.  That’s because, everybody with me now, Giving Away Allowances is a Terrible Way to Write This Bill.  EPA’s most recent analysis says that giving away pollution credits is “highly regressive”, meaning it hurts low-income families the most. At best, this is a bailout and a free ride for the polluters. At worst it will create windfall profits for huge energy companies at the expense of every lower and middle income family in Texas.

Just listen to that broken record spin. No shame here, I’ll say it as many times as it takes for it sink in.

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Sun MoneyThanks to Luke Metzger at the Environment Texas blog for this take on pending net metering legislation (read: making sure folks with solar panels get paid back for the excess energy they produce):

On Monday, the Texas House will decide whether to promote solar energy by requiring utilities to pay consumers fair prices for surplus solar power or to codify anti-consumer practices in order to benefit big utilities like TXU. Here’s the story.

Sick of riding the rollercoaster of high electric rates and concerned over pollution and dependence on foreign oil, many Texans are turning to solar power to get more choices than their electric company provides. More than 40 states help consumers do this by requiring electric companies to pay a fair price for the surplus electricity solar panels put back on the grid (known as net metering). In return, the electric grid benefits from a supply of pollution-free electricity during peak-demand time periods, such as hot summer afternoons, avoiding congestion costs and dampening real-time on-peak wholesale energy prices. The more renewable generation that is located at customer’s houses and businesses, the less will need to be charged in the future to all customers’ electric bills for wires, fuel and pollution costs. Incentivizing solar will also help create jobs and attract manufacturers to the state.

In addition to consumer rebates and tax credits, net metering is a key financial driver making solar power a cost-effective investment for consumers. Texas had such a policy in place in the 1980s, but with the restructuring of the electric market, old definitions of electric utilities no longer applied and net metering was inadvertently ended. (more…)

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Representative Mark Strama has crafted a genius amendment to HB 3405. The bill, co-authored bypicture-1 Representative Swinford and Representative Anchia, calls for an incentive program for solar power generation through surcharges on utility bills, and Mark Strama is looking at how Texas Schools specifically could benefit from the construction of solar panels on their rooftops.

Strama pointed out that schools are already architecturally perfect for laying out photovoltaic panels. School’s roofs are almost completely flat and in direct sunlight — So why not blanket them with solar panels?

And talk about two birds with one stone—Strama’s plan would also help out with that ever-present issue of funding for Texas education. Not only would schools save on utility bills, but they could actually generate revenue. Energy usage is cut back during the summer months when school is out of session, and that extra energy could be sold right back into the grid at a profit.

Some schools already have some solar panels in place, but these systems are paltry in comparison to Strama’s vision. With over 8,000 schools in Texas, can you imagine how that would affect Texas’ distributed solar production?

Of course, the price tag is the only factor that could hold this plan back. Still, with so much energy savings in the future, this one looks like it will be tough to shove under the table.

Watch KXAN’s news coverage here.

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pearl-breweryWe held a press conference yesterday in San Antonio at the Pearl Brewery, which is currently being renovated and, upon its completion, will have the largest solar array panel in the state of Texas.  Installed by Austin’s own Meridian Solar, the new system is expected to generate 25% of the energy needs for the new building, which will hold condos, an Aveda hair salon, and an art gallery.

San Antonio is not the first to take on a solar power “experiment” — Houston turned a parking lot into an eco-park that has topped all of its park buildings with solar paneling, and is attempting pull all of its energy usage from solar panels.

With all the advancements of the solar industry, it is a wonder why everyone isn’t just as excited about all the possibilities solar energy systems can offer.

Our past concerns about the reliability of solar energy—“But what will we do if it’s raining?”—now seem archaic.  Over the past decade leading companies have been making sweeping advancements, and now solar technology is more reliable, affordable, and efficient than ever.

pv-solar-panels1What we have developed now is far from the sea of reflective solar panels in that unforgettable scene from Gattaca. New technology consists of a flexible sheet-like material that can simply be laid on top of already existing structures, such as the roofs of buildings. This particular type of solar technology is a branch of material called Photovoltaics (“PV”) that was actually first used to power satellites back in the 1950’s.   The thin-film PV works the same way to convert energy derived from light into electricity, is only a few millionths of a meter thick, and now can be readily and easily installed onto almost any building.

A more familiar type of PV is silicon-based, which can also be made into flexible rolls that can top any surface.  And as technology keeps getting better, the production costs keep on dropping.  It is now even possible for solar conductors to be constructed directly into building materials, called Building Integrated Solar.   Consider this: Thin-Film PV could cover all eastern and western facing windows, or on your car windshield, providing clean, beautiful energy with no visible interference.

In response to “rainy day concerns,” our new solar report, Texas Solar Roadmap, demonstrates that it isn’t as big of a concern as we think.  (more…)

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An op-ed in the New York Times yesterday by O. Glenn Smith, a former NASA employee, suggests what is certainly a “thinking outside the box” kind of solution to our nation’s energy woes: solar panels…in outer space.

Smith recommends building large solar panels that would orbit the earth and send energy back to us via wireless radio waves. Apparently, the technology already exists, and the pro column reads something like this:

  • not hampered by weather
  • works 24 hours a day (the sun never sets in space)
  • environmentally friendly
  • cost-competitive with other renewables
  • makes use of the United States’ hefty investment in space travel

While I’m always glad to hear about innovations that will help our globe move toward a sustainable energy schema, I’m a little skeptical about the way Smith holds up this technology as the way of the immediate future. He opens his piece with this:

As we face $4.50 a gallon gas, we also know that alternative energy sources — coal, oil shale, ethanol, wind and ground-based solar — are either of limited potential, very expensive, require huge energy storage systems or harm the environment.

This quick dismissal of the alternative energy sources we know and love (except…how is coal alternative?) is questionable. For starters, I have a hard time believing that any energy system that must be installed and maintained outside our atmosphere will be less expensive than one based here on the earth’s surface.

Smith also ignores the benefits that energy sources like wind and ground-based solar provide that space-based solar does not. One of the great benefits of investing in wind and solar power is the creation of thousands of jobs, especially in rural areas. The fact that the handymen for these solar panels in space would have to also be astronauts prevents space-based solar from becoming a solution to the dearth of quality manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs in this country.

Some day, I hope we will see space-to-earth solar energy. But for now, let’s focus on all the untapped renewable energy potential here on terra firma before we pull a Buy N’ Large* and run to outer space in search of the answers.

But if the idea of space-based solar intrigues you, you can read more about it on this blog dedicated to the topic.

*obligitory (in my opinion anyway) Wall-E reference

-Natalie Messer

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An intern brigade (Adrien, Melissa, and I) traveled out to South Austin earlier this month to show Public Citizen support at the San Francisco de Asis Episcopal Church’s ribbon cutting ceremony for their solar panel installation. On top of the good work of this church’s affiliated mission, El Buen Samaritano, which provides health care and education for the church community, San Francisco de Asis is now doing good for the wider community as a producer of clean energy. And Reverend Jose Palma says the solar panels will save the church $10,000 a year (!!) in electric bills.

The church has also made this installation their own—the solar panels on the roof form the shape of a cross.

Adrien and I with Reverend Jose Palma--if you look closely you can see the solar panels forming a cross on the roof of the church building behind us

Adrien and I with Reverend Jose Palma--if you look closely you can see the solar panels forming a cross on the roof of the church building behind us

Laura from Austin Energy told us that the City of Austin’s funding of solar rebates is what makes these kind of installations possible. Although Austin Energy and CPS Energy in San Antonio offer good rebate programs and all Texas residents are eligible for a small federal rebate, the state of Texas has yet to establish a comprehensive rebate program so that all Texans can take advantage of the abundant sun here.

The More You Know:

CBS News recently aired this report on the future of solar energy:


If you are interested in installing your own solar panels you can check out the websites for the Texas Solar Power Company (who installed San Francisco de Asis’ panels) or Mehr Solar’s Texas page.

Related links:

– Natalie Messer

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