Tuesday, Nov 25, 2014
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The Green Column: Renewable energy’s potential explored


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What is the potential and what are the hurdles to using more renewable energy?

That was the message at the 2014 Go Solar Fest held last week at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale. The festival had exhibits and panel discussions open to the public.

One session highlighted renewable-energy success stories at local businesses, including IKEA’s 4,368-panel solar array in Sunrise, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort’s six wind turbines and PNC Bank’s solar-enhanced branch in Fort Lauderdale that can make more energy than it uses.

Executives involved said those projects bloomed because they offered companies savings on energy costs plus other business benefits, such as bringing eco-friendly groups to stay at the beachside Hilton, according to a story in the Sun-Sentinel.

“I promise if you can show cost-effectiveness, you will get the naysayers on board,” Erik T. Jacobsen told reporter Doreen Hemlock. Jacobsen is regional director of facilities for Deerfield-based auto company JM Family Enterprises, which has installed solar arrays on several buildings and is installing more at its headquarters.

Solar panels now cost about one-third of what they did five years ago, but local installations have lagged for various reasons, including limited state incentives and scant financing options, attendees said.

Solar is flourishing in states that let consumers lease installations and pay the owner for the power they use. But that arrangement, called a third-party power-purchase agreement, is not allowed in Florida. Consumers here only can buy electricity from regulated utilities.

“We need to allow people to buy energy from anyone you want,” said Ray Johnson, president of US Solar, an Oakland Park-based firm active in solar training and installations.

More banks now offer loans to finance renewable energy projects at homes or businesses. Some South Florida areas are beginning to develop programs that let owners pay project costs over time with property taxes, but financing remains a hurdle, attendees said.

Florida, “the Sunshine State,” ranks third in the nation for solar potential, but 11th for cumulative solar capacity installed.

“Florida’s solar policies lag behind many other states in the nation: it has no renewable portfolio standard and does not allow power purchase agreements, two policies that have driven investments in solar in other states,” reported the Solar Energy Industries Administration.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the country’s use of solar photovoltaic-generated power increased from 6,000 megawatt hours to 8,327,000 MWh in the 10-year period from 2004 through 2013.

During that same period, power generated from wind increased from 14,144,000 MWh of electricity to 167,665,000 MWh.

Solar net generation from March 2013 to March 2014 in Florida, however, rose only 6.5 percent.

NASA is working on developing turbines powered by ocean and river currents, using technology from their underwater robotic vehicles. Florida is bordered by the Gulf Stream on its eastern coast and the Gulf of Mexico Loop, a very fast-moving current, on the west.

Using ocean currents creates unlimited potential for the state, but the concept is very expensive on the front end. Predicted damage from hurricanes must be overcome. As America learned with Tennessee Valley Authority dams, however, hydroelectric power is the cheapest, and the long-range savings would be great.

Floridians, second in the nation in the amount of electricity they consume, use 27 percent of all household energy consumed for air conditioning. That’s more than four times the national average. Half the energy consumed by Florida households is for appliances, electronics and lighting, compared to an average of 35 percent used nationally.

The organization Solarbuzz, which researches uses and potential use of solar energy, reports that every day more solar energy falls to the Earth than the total amount of energy the planet’s 5.9 billion inhabitants would consume in 27 years.

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