While solar panel installation is just beginning to catch on as a renewable energy source with significant cost benefits for homes and businesses, it’s clearly on the rise.
For Clarksville, having Hemlock Semiconductor LLC here â€” a future manufacturer of polysilicon, which is a base ingredient in solar â€” is helping to raise the profile of this alternative energy sector. On Thursday a regional industry expert talked about the processes and cost/benefit analysis of switching from traditional energy sources to solar.
Jason Campbell spoke to a Clarksville Area Chamber of Commerce Lunch and Learn session at the Hilton Garden Inn. Campbell represents Nashville-based LightWave Solar Electric LLC, which designs and installs turn-key solar electric systems throughout Tennessee. In business since July 2006, and founded and based in Nashville, LightWave Solar is a system integrator from design through installation and grid interconnection.
Campbell noted that the U.S. is now a growing player in the world market for solar energy generation and consumption. But Germany is the world leader, he said, accounting for 50 percent of the world’s solar use.
A gigawatt of solar power generation is roughly the scope of that energy produced by a typical coal-fired electrical power plant â€” enough to power about 2,500 homes. In 2010, the world installed about 12 gigawatts of solar energy.
“In the U.S., there are now about 100,000 solar systems installed,” Campbell said. Tennessee ranks 22nd among the 50 states for the amount of solar that’s generated. California is the national leader, owning about 50 percent of the entire U.S. market.
“That’s mainly because California has some of the highest energy rates in the country,” Campbell said.
“Overall, solar is seeing good growth. It’s a good industry and in Tennessee it is doing better and better. Businesses, in particular, are starting to realize there is good incentive for going solar,” he said, citing such bonuses for solar users as federal tax credits, TVA vouchers and additional TVA paybacks based on solar consumption per kilowatt hour.
Locally, the Clarksville Association of Realtors has become a leader in the solar movement. Its new office building on Center Pointe Drive features a “solar garden,” partly out of respect for Clarksville’s distinction as the new home of HSC LLC. Lyle Cook Martin Architects designed it, and B.R. Miller and Co. built it.
“If we can harness this technology and use it more, it’s really unlimited,” Campbell said.
It’s still relatively miniscule, however, compared to power suppliers on the whole. For the entire, seven-state Tennessee Valley Authority region, there are currently just 619 solar installations.
Part of that relates to the lack of government subsidy for solar, according to Campbell’s statistics. Over the last 50 years, the federal government has provided $725 billion in energy subsidies but renewable sources such as solar have only received about 6 percent of the pie.
Rooftop solar panels are warrantied for 25 years. “There are very few things you can buy in the world that last this long and have this long of a warranty. With the price of energy rapidly escalating, there are definitely benefits to be had. It is a hedge against rising utility rates,” Campbell said.
Installing solar panels hinges on several factors including roof space and pitch, direction facing the sun, shading, and availability of space for mounting related equipment.
Jimmy Settle, 245-0247