Solar Energy industry starts to shine
Article as it appeared on bradenton.com
March 07, 2009
By Carl Mario Nudi
MANATEE — Solar energy contractors are aggressively promoting their product these days with the help of generous government rebates and incentives.
And homeowners are lining up to get off the power grid — at least as much as they can.
There are up to $20,000 in state rebates and a 30 percent federal tax credit for the cost of a solar photovoltaic energy system, which uses a chemical reaction in silicon cells to convert sunlight into electricity. More than $8.7 million in state solar rebates were granted since the 2006-07 fiscal year for more than 7,600 solar energy systems, of which 400 were for photovoltaic systems, according to figures from the Florida Energy & Climate Commission in Tallahassee.
The majority of rebates granted were for solar hot water heaters for the home or swimming pools. Fifteen were for commercial applications.
Sarah Williams, a spokeswoman for the commission, said more than 150 applications for rebates on the photovoltaic systems have already been approved since June and are waiting for funding.
Local contractors have been touting those numbers when they are out selling their systems to homeowners.
Rex James, vice president of market development for energy system contractor Solar Direct Inc., said homeowners can see a return on their investments for a photovoltaic system in 7-10 years with the rebates and tax credits.
The return is even shorter for solar thermal systems — two years for a swimming pool system and about five for a hot water heater system, James said.
For Larry Lillie, who installed a photovoltaic system in his Key Royale home about a year ago, it was a matter of saving money and doing what is right for the environment.
Lillie had Tom Harriman from Harrimans Inc. Solar Energy Solutions out to his home to discuss installing a solar hot water heater for his swimming pool.
“We started talking (about the incentives of installing a photovoltaic system) and with all the rebates, decided that it would be more economical,” he said. “Also, I know it helps keep the use of electricity (from the power company) down and that’s good for everyone,”
Electric bills for the 5,000 kilowatt system on the Lillies’ 2,500-square-foot home have drastically dropped.
When the days are long and the sun is out, his bills are about $5 a month without his air conditioning.
During the winter months and shorter days, he pays Florida Power & Light about $20 a month.
Saving money and the environment were important motivators for Lizzie and Mike Thrasher, owners of Beach Bums in Anna Maria, when they decided to in- stall a solar system on their business building.
“We’ve been involved with a lot of environmental issues over the years,” said Lizzie Thrasher. “We owned an organic farm in Britain.”
She said when she moved to Anna Maria Island she wondered why more people were not using solar energy and thought they should would lead by example.
Solar Direct should begin installing the system some- time in April and the Thrashers hope their beach and bicycle rental store will be a place where people can learn about saving energy and money.
“We’re going to put a monitor on the counter so people can see how much energy we’re saving,” Lizzie Thrasher said. “People will see it could be very affordable.”
Harriman, who was past president and serves on the Florida Solar Energy Industry Association board,said reducing dependence on electric power makes sense.
But even with the increase in solar power usage, everyone is not taking advantage of all the incentives.
Only 12 FPL customers in Manatee County have connected their system to sell electricity back to the power company, according to Sharon Bennett, a spokeswoman for FPL.
That compares with 28 in the city of Sarasota and 275 in 35 counties in Florida.
Also, only Holmes Beach has issued permits for solar systems on Anna Maria Island in recent years, four last year and one so far this year.
“It doesn’t seem to have caught on big time yet,” said Joe Duennes, superintendent of the Holmes Beach Public Works Department.
The up-front cash outlay for a system may be discouraging to some homeowners, but University of South Florida professor Yogi Goswami said solar energy will be the norm and affordable in the near future.
“It’s hard to say when,” said Goswami, co-director of the Clean Energy Research Center at USF in Tampa.
“But based on what I see in the research and development, some technologies will be ready in five years, others will take longer.”