Energy efficiency is an important issue to everyone these days. Thankfully, at a time when most energy-related headlines concern rising costs or dwindling supplies, solar energy goes against the grain: Its role as an affordable renewable resource—essentially, “green” energy—continues to grow in the United States and elsewhere.
Commercial and residential applications of solar power have been blooming since the late 1970s, and have steadily gained traction in the decades since. In fact, solar-power usage today is climbing at an impressive rate of 60 percent per year, according to research provided by Wayne-based solar integrator Aztec Solar Power LLC. This number will only increase in light of the escalating costs of petroleum and grid-produced electricity. Furthermore, solar power’s many pluses help make quick converts; if one’s neighbor has installed solar panels to power his home or business, one is 222 percent more likely to follow suit, Aztec Solar Power executives suggest.
Lucky for those living in the Philadelphia suburbs, South Jersey remains one of the most ideal locations in the country—and perhaps the world—for farming and reaping the benefits of solar power, according to Joe McKeever, executive vice president of Aztec Solar Power. “In this general region,” he says, “we calculate solar on how many hours a day it would get peak performance, and we’re getting about four and a half hours of peak performance a day [on a year-round basis].”
The Garden State’s four and a half hours of peak solar performance may not be as good as the more sun-bleached states—say, Arizona, California and Florida—but this region’s seasonality actually works in its favor, McKeever says: “On the coldest, darkest day of December, you’re probably still going to get about four hours of peak performance, whereas in the middle of June or July you’re probably going to get upwards of six to eight hours of peak performance. Even if today was a cloudy day … that system [of solar panels] is still producing something.”
Reasons beyond weather make South Jersey a prime solar candidate: its vastness of beautiful farmlands, rolling hillsides and other tracts of open space. This creates an opportunity for landowners with excess acreage, who could benefit by devoting a portion of their land to solar arrays—either to produce power for their own consumption or to find an “off-taker” who can handle however much power the system yields.
Although homeowners remain a core part of its business, Aztec Solar Power’s installation base has evolved to the point where it now spends more than 80 percent of its time and energy on commercial properties and government applications. It has also expanded to accommodate rapid growth, having added offices in New Jersey and Florida to complement its headquarters in Wayne, Pa. In essence, Aztec Solar Power’s business continues to balloon because solar energy is a revolutionary, Earth-friendly idea that also has the potential to be a moneymaker: A solar-panel system can reduce monthly electrical-energy costs by 50 to 60 percent, according to company executives.
In addition, through tax rebates, users can expect to recover as much as 20 to 30 percent of the entire cost of installing a solar-panel system, and integrators such as Aztec Solar Power are hoping that New Jersey and other states provide additional future incentives to increase solar power’s appeal. New Jersey is providing a Solar Financing Incentive program for residential, public and nonprofit projects. Currently, residential projects of 10 kilowatts or less are eligible to receive incentive payments on the first 7.5 kilowatts of capacity, for a maximum payment amount of $3,750.
“Overall, solar energy is not just a way to create electricity but also a way to generate income,” says Dave Rarrick, Aztec Solar Power’s executive vice president. “You’re hedging your bet against inflation and rising electricity costs. With solar, the cost is constant, and the fact is that between the incentives and the SREC (Solar Renewable Energy Certificate) program, a person can make a monthly income by putting in solar panels on their home or business.”
In other words, consumers have to pay their electric bills anyway, so they might as well save—or even make—some money in the process.
“The reality is that the system is always producing power, regardless of time of year,” says McKeever. “[Solar-power users] are doing something good for the environment; it’s lowering their energy costs and putting money back in their pockets; and it’s something that’s going to have a [return on investment] of five to seven years in today’s markets, on a system that’s guaranteed for 25 years through warranties. … It’s going to pay for itself three or four times over.”
Aztec Solar Power LLC | 877-SUN-6066, AztecSolarPower.com
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 3 (May, 2011).
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