How federal, state and local agencies save money through solar energy
From the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Energy, to soldiers in Iraq and school districts, solar technology is rapidly growing beyond residential and commercial use. Federal, state and local government agencies across the country are finding ways to employ solar panel installations to save money on electricity bills.
The growth of solar in the public sector stems in part from policies such as the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act that require federal agencies to reduce energy consumption and increase energy efficiency. Many federal agencies have turned to solar electricity because it offers a clean and reliable means for helping save money and meet their energy-savings goals.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) agreement to allow a solar generating facility on underused Kennedy Space Center land is just one example of how agencies are employing solar to cut costs. Annually, the facility will produce 1,803 megawatt hours (mWh) of electricity, saving NASA $187,000 each year. The U.S. Geological Survey’s energy costs dropped 23 percent over a 20-year period after installing a solar thermal tiling system, among other measures, in its Reston, Va., headquarters.
Within the federal sector, the Department of Defense (DoD) has been the most aggressive agency pursuing solar and other forms of renewable energy. It is saving the department money, improving operations in the U.S. and abroad, and providing portable energy to soldiers in the field. The projects are designed to help the DoD meet its goal of generating 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
The Army had thousands of solar panels installed on its largest base, Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Instead of using rooftops, the Army installed the panels on one of the base’s parking lots, allowing the base to take advantage of both solar’s cost-saving benefits and unused structures.
Given the budget crisis hitting most states, many state and local governments are following suit and increasingly turning to solar as a way to save money. These facilities can achieve immediate savings through power purchase agreements (PPAs).
PPAs allow end users to buy the energy supplied by a solar installation that is paid for by an outside party, similar to a lease. Just like paying an electricity bill to the local utility, customers pay the solar owner, but at a double-digit percentage savings for the life of the contract. The outside party assumes the cost of the system, and the end user pays little or no upfront cost. In that way, customers can immediately lower their energy costs without having to make a large initial investment. Many cash-strapped municipalities have entered into PPAs to take advantage of the cost-saving benefits of solar, allowing them to divert resources from energy costs and into mission-focused expenditures.
The Antelope Valley Union High School District in Lancaster, Calif., had more than 40,000 solar panels installed on 11 district buildings as means to cut down on utility costs. As a result, the school will save $2 million per year that can instead be spent on school programs. The systems came at no cost to the school district because the panels were bought through a PPA.
Whether the goal is to save money, reduce reliance on traditional energy sources or to increase our energy security, federal and municipal use of solar and other renewables is on the rise. Government officials should not only tout the savings from investing in solar technology, they should promote the innovation behind the technology to encourage consumers to find the panel that is right for them.
Mike Grunow is
Trina Solar’s marketing director. The company’s headquarters is in Changzhou, Jiangsu, China. Trina Solar (U.S.) is based in San Jose, Calif.