Desires to reduce carbon footprints, as well as to save money, have many people and organizations looking at renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.
“Solar right now is a sustainable option, a smart option to invest money in that will give back to you,” said Janae Rowe, marketing manager of SimpleRay in Fairfield.
Rowe explained that a solar technology is sustainable because light and heat from the sun that is collected and used to provide power for a home.
Rowe explained that a solar panel, made up of a collection of photovoltaic cells. The cells are made of layers of crystalline silicon, covered with a very hard, protective layer of non-reflective glass. The two layers of silicon that are treated to let electricity flow through them when exposed to sunlight. One layer is positively charged, the other negatively charged. As photons enter the layers, they give up their energy to the atoms in the silicon in the form of electrons. When photons hit the layers of silicon, electrons pass through the junction between the positive and negative layers, generating electric current.
An inverter converts the collected energy so it can be used in a home or building, she continued.
Rowe said the energy produced during the day, if not used, is stored in batteries on the property, or more common, the property owner used net metering. For net metering, the owner stays connected with the local utility provider and the access energy is fed back into the grid, where it can be used by others. Feeding it back into the grid also gives the owner a credit so that he can use the utility company’s power at night or on cloudy, rainy or snowy days, she added.
Investor-owned utilities, such as Alliant Energy and Mid-American Energy in Iowa are mandated by the Iowa Utilities Board to offer net metering. Rural electric co-ops and municipal utilities do not fall under the same IUB mandates so their policies vary from utility to utility.
Installing solar panels in not “totally cheap,” said Rowe, but an owner could pay off the initial cost in three, five or seven years and then see a payback during the remaining 20 to 30 year life span of the solar panels.
“The pay back is different for everybody,” she added.
Tax incentives from the federal government also are available for installing solar technology.
“We have been trying to educate people and get this message out all year,” said Rowe. “This year you can receive credit of 30 percent the value of a solar array. Next year, it will drop to 26 percent. In 2021, it will be 22 percent, and in 2022, it will drop all the way to 10 percent and it will be for businesses only. Four percent can translate to thousands of dollars in savings. So it’s really a good time right now to install solar.”
Installing solar panel technology probably isn’t a do-it-yourself project even though the panels can be purchased online.
“It’s not recommended unless you’re an electrician or have worked with solar panels before,” said Rowe. “It can get quite technical, and if panels aren’t anchored properly, they could blow away. Doing-it-yourself is possible, but it’s not for everyone.”
Rowe said a consultant can help interested people figure out how many solar panels they need, where and at what angles panels should be placed and much more.
She explained that one of the biggest factors in deciding how many solar panels are needed is a home, farm or business’s electrical usage. “Businesses and farmers need bigger systems because they use a lot of electricity,” she said, pointing out that can be determined by studying electric bills for the past year.
Panama Transfer, a family-owned freight company headquartered in Panama, Iowa, is an example of a business using solar energy.
Co-owner Dean Kloewer said Panama Transfer has solar arrays at three of its facilities, including the one in Richland.
Kloewer said the solar technology was installed there about two years, partly to help lower the electrical bill, and he is very happy with it.
The electricity the 219 modules produce is enough to charge the facility’s half-dozen or so forklifts and leave some to spare.
That extra power goes back into the local electric company’s grid — an example of the net metering that Rowe described — and Kloewer gets credit against what electricity is used during times — like winter — when the facility’s electrical use could exceeded the solar system’s output.
Kloewer highly suggests other businesses look into the possibility of installing solar panels.
“Being green is very good,” he said. “We need to save the environment the best we can.”
He, like Rowe, also pointed out “the great tax advantages out there.”
WACO Community School District Superintendent Chris Armstrong said there are quite a few solar panels throughout the district.
The solar panels helps the district save money in various ways, he said.
One way is that purchasing the solar panels is paid for from the district’s SAVE fund. The Secure in Advanced Vision for Education Extension fund is the one-penny sales tax that is collected and distributed to Iowa school districts for school infrastructure needs or school district property tax relief.
Armstrong also explained that by producing its own power, the district’s electrical bill, which is paid out of its General Fund budget, is lower.
Wind energy also is a free, renewable resource — no matter how much is used today, there will still be the same supply in the future, according to the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management.
The New London Municipal Utilities erected a wind turbine in 2011 to supplement the electricity it sells to its customers.
“That way, we can be somewhat self-sustainable,” said Kasi Howard, New London city clerk/treasurer.
The utility board for the community has historically purchased electric energy from a co-op, The Resell Power Group of Iowa. In the early 2000, electrical costs were expected to rise 50 percent in the next 10 years, and the board wanted to get ahead of the price hike. The board felt the installation of a wind turbine could help to reduce its long-term costs by selling the energy produced by the turbine.
After a few years of research, grant writing and discussions, the board voted to erect the 430-foot tall wind turbine in a field just outside of town on Racine Avenue.
According to Howard, the 430-foot measurement is from the base to the top tip of a blade. The tower is 269 feet tall from the base to the blade hub, and each of the three blades is 148 feet long.
Howard said the project was expensive at $4.45 million.
The project was funded through revenue bonds issued by the New London Municipal Utilities. A $100,000 grant was used to purchase a five-year warranty, and although the wind turbine had hundreds of lightning strikes, the turbine didn’t have any major problems.
The turbine was expected to provide about 25 percent of the town’s power, but sometimes it does even better and the extra is sold to Danville.
Last year, the wind turbine generated 3.9 million kilowatt-hours.
“That wasn’t one of the better years,” said Howard. “It has been in the high 4 or 5 million.”
Although the wind turbine is generating power for New London, the expense to construct it has not yet been paid off, and future repair costs are unknown.