Let the sun shine in . . .
That’s exactly what Bob Chew (on right), president of SolarWrights Inc., of Bristol RI, is doing. When I called Bob I caught him on a rooftop measuring for a 500-kilowatt photovoltaic system on a high school in Connecticut. SolarWrights has 238 installations in the tri-state area of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, with over 100 of those in Rhode Island alone.
SolarWrights’ installations are a mix of photovoltaic installations along with solar hot-water systems for homes, schools and businesses.
Active on Cape Cod
They have recently completed a 17-kilowatt photovoltaic system for a condominium complex in Provincetown and a 19-kilowatt photovoltaic system for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island headquarters in Smithfield.
In Rhode Island, the most popular solar project right now is a domestic solar hot-water system that provides preheated water to your existing water heater. Rhode Island incentives for solar hot-water heating are the best in New England at this time. This type system can provide about 70 percent of a family’s hot-water needs.
Today’s grid-connected photovoltaic systems, properly sized, can typically provide all or most of the electricity to run your home. The photocells absorb the sunlight and produce electricity, which is delivered to the electrical grid. This works much like that photocell calculator you have that doesn’t need batteries, albeit on a much larger scale. The photovoltaic-cell array can be mounted on your roof or pole-mounted on the ground.
Rhode Island is a “net-metered” state, which requires the electric company to buy at full retail rates any surplus electricity that you send back to the grid. Typically, you will be selling electricity to the grid when the sun is shining and buying it from the grid at night. An added benefit of grid-connected photovoltaic systems is that they are always generating electricity during the hot summer days when the demand for electricity is at its greatest.
Question we all want answered
So I put those questions to Bob Chew for which everyone wants answers: 1) How is this done? 2) What will it cost? 3) How soon will I recoup my investment?
Technically, the solar-cell array should be pointed at “solar south,” which is 194 degrees on the compass, and should be tilted at a 35-degree slope for this latitude. For a 4-kilowatt installation, for example, twenty 200-watt modules are used in the roof- or pole-mounted array, which is connected to the grid.
As for cost and payback, those figures change as renewable-energy tax credits and incentives are changed by the state and the federal government.
Bob was candid enough to give me the figures on his own house. He has a 4-kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof of his 100-year-old colonial home in downtown Bristol. Since Bob installed it, he has had no electrical bill. The recent addition of a solar hot-water system provides over 90 percent of his hot-water needs as well as supplemental heat for the home.
A system such as his would cost about $32,000 before any tax credits. When is payback? That depends on many factors, the first being on what tax credits or other incentives are offered by state and federal governments. The next factor would involve the cost of electricity from your local utility company over the years you will own the house. The third is, if you sell, the added value to your sale price if you could tell your prospective buyer, “I have never had an electric bill,” or state a particular percentage savings.
Efficient solar energy is already here. With wind energy, solar energy, tidal and wave energy and geothermal energy being viable technologies, it is time for the government, both state and federal, to seriously step in with substantial tax breaks and incentives to ensure that we move swiftly away from our addiction to fossil fuels.
A good start would be to first decrease our use of fossil fuels to those we produce ourselves so that we can tell the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russian President Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and those other thugs what to do with the oil with which they’ve been holding our foreign policy hostage.
Then we can work on the rest and really let the sun shine in.