Across the United States, solar energy is growing, with experts showing a bright forecast. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the renewable energy generated from solar photovoltaic (PV) systems is expected to triple over the next five years. It’s no surprise then that CORE is seeing dramatic growth locally, with a greater number of systems and larger systems in the pipeline.
CORE has worked to increase local renewable energy for years, offering support to homeowners and business owners who want to generate their own solar power. More and more, larger organizations have begun looking to power their entire operations.
To see this in action, you only have to look to this year’s batch of Randy Udall Energy Pioneer grant applications*. The 2017 grant portfolio includes requests for seven projects that have the potential to churn out over 750 kilowatts of carbon-free energy. This is a lot of energy! It equates to powering over 140 average Colorado homes. What’s more, just three applications are responsible for the lion’s share of proposed solar capacity at 666 kilowatts or 88%.
The trend towards mid-sized systems (50 kilowatts to two megawatts) has potentially transformative ramifications: turning sunlight into power, solar installations help to green the entire region’s power supply.
What accounts for the increase? Experts point to a lot of factors: falling prices for solar panels, supportive tax breaks and incentives, favorable utility pricing policies, among other reasons. Katharine Rushton, commercial sales manager at Sunsense Solar, sums it up succinctly: “The desire has been there, and now it is economically viable on a bigger scale.” But falling solar prices and a strong environmental ethic are only part of the equation. Rushton notes that this local surge of solar did not happen in a vacuum, it is the result of coordinated efforts.
The urgency of climate solutions drove CORE to accelerate efforts, and leverage the host of energy champions who just needed help getting started. “We knew it was time to ramp up efforts and drive bigger projects, said CORE’s executive director, Mona Newton. “We hear all the time: ‘Does solar make sense from an economic standpoint?’ ‘Is my roof suitable for solar panels?’” To answer these questions, Pitkin County enlisted the help of Sunsense Solar.
With CORE’s support, the local solar company performed a solar feasibility analysis for Pitkin County and the City of Aspen. This study demonstrated that not only are there options for solar, but these very mid-sized systems are cost-effective and just plain smart.
G.R. Fielding, engineer at Pitkin County Public Works, attributed this feasibility analysis as a key driver in getting solar panels on the Public Works office. The 104-kilowatt system is designed to cover the entire facility’s electricity use.
Using solar energy to power buildings was not a new idea for the County, but, why now? For Fielding, “It is more a question of why not.” The project presented a winning combination of partnership, environment, and economics. “The County has a great partner in the project, CORE. The project fits our values and it is also a sound financial decision.”
Despite the upfront costs to install the system, solar PV is a good investment. To sweeten the deal even more, CORE awarded the County a $125,000 grant. Estimates show that this array will be a money-saver over time.
The SoL Energy crew is hard at work so that the solar array at Public Works can go live later this month. They will soon be joined by others. More solar PV installations are underway, and show no signs of slowing, with the amount of solar energy that has been supported by CORE slated to exceed two megawatts. This momentum is giving experts a sunny outlook.
*The 2017 Randy Udall Grants are currently under review and winners will be announced in September.
CORE is committed to helping you save energy. If you would like to free technical or financial advising for your renewable energy project, call us at 970.925.9775. Learn more about CORE’s Randy Udall grant program here.