Solar Power – Change is Good!

The City of Austin has had one of the most aggressive solar rebate programs in the nation up until recently. In 2008, the city received about 150 solar rebate applications, but in 2009 that number was tripled in just the first 3 quarters. This is more than the available budget so the rebate program is being revised to be more in line with decreasing solar costs and greater federal tax incentives.

Austin’s rebate program, which began in 2004, lead to 20 new solar installers and helped fund more than 900 roof top installations. So, why would Popular Mechanics Magazine, November 2009 issue, say that Austin is behind in solar innovations?

Lloyd Lee of Hill Country Ecopower has insight into this question. The energy costs in Texas are lower at .10 per KWH than 1.5 – 2 times that in other parts of the country. Therefore, we are not as motivated to go with renewable energy. While San Antonio, Dallas and Houston now have solar rebate programs, 90% of Texas’s solar installations are in Austin because of the rebate. Since Texas is behind many other states in terms of a statewide rebate program, Texans must rely on their local electrical utility’s level of motivation to offset energy production through a solar rebate program.

The change in the rebates may lead to another option to replace the existing program such as House Bill 1937. This bill relates to the voluntary assessment of property owners by a municipality to finance certain energy conservation improvements. HB 1937 is essentially a municipal loan program that enables homeowners to receive solar installations with no up front expense and pay this loan back via an increase in their property taxes. The amount of the property tax premium is expected to be equal to the annual energy savings recognized by the solar installation.

With the Austin rebates changing, installers will survive by being competitive and diverse. Lower cost equipment and new manufactures and technologies are on the horizon for better ways of getting solar power. Lloyd and other solar installers are in discussions with Austin Energy to help guide the direction of the solar rebate program. The goal of the solar rebate program is to provide enough assistance to make solar affordable for the largest number of people. The key is finding the correct motivating rebate amount which accounts for fluctuations in solar equipment pricing, conventional energy rate increases, and other financial factors. Contact Lloyd at to find out more about his company’s options for energy in your home.

In looking at other options, understanding the science is helpful. The photovoltaic process works by converting the photons in sunlight into electricity with a semiconductor, similar to those found in our computers and mobile phones, in the photo cell.

In conventional panels, the semiconductor is made with silicon but in some newer technologies, the semiconductor is made with gallium arsenide or copper indium gallium diselenide which can be made into thinner more flexible modules. These thin film modules are gaining popularity because they are cheaper to produce, more durable and less bulky than the conventional solar panels.

One advantage is that the installed angle of film in relationship to the sun angle is not important like in silicon panels for maximum efficiency and if part of a film module is shaded it does not affect the efficiency of the entire module.

At this time the technical process of film is slightly less efficient in power generation than panels, but factor in the other advantages, film is becoming a better way to collect solar energy.

Green Living Tips!

I welcome inspirations from your home to put into future newsletters. Email them to me; Cammi Klier. Thanks!!

Have you heard of “phantom load”? When you have an appliance or devise plugged in but not turned on, it can still draw power from the outlet. Yes, your clock radio and microwave have a clock so those will draw some power but I am talking about hair dryers and lamps not in use! In some cases, the devise can draw as much power as if it was turned on. Invest in an Electricity Usage Monitor to find out how much power you are using. “Kill-a-watt” is a brand name that you can find at Fry’s or on line at Amazon.

This would make a great Christmas gift for your family and share it with others when you are done!!