Solar is soaring!

Photo by Chris Kantose is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo by Chris Kantose is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Thousands of home owners have solar panels on their residences. Cities throughout the United States are building solar farms filled with photovoltaic panels that harness power from the sun and provide electricity. Military bases use solar power and solar panels are now becoming common on the roofs of school buildings. Of all new electricity generating capacity added last year, 32 percent was from solar, which ranked second only to natural gas.

Solar power capacity in the United States has increased 20-fold since 2008. Just last year, solar capacity grew by 30 percent to more than 20 gigawatts, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That capacity is expected to more than double by the end of 2016 and that could power up to 7.6 million homes. Texas is one of the states that will have the biggest gains.

In the Big Bend region of Texas, where sunlight is abundant, solar panels are common. Presidio ISD has solar panels installed at both its elementary and high school. Officials say the system saves the school district 25 percent on electric costs. About 4,000 public schools in the United States have solar power according to a Solar Foundation report.

Fort Bliss in El Paso may soon be the site of the largest renewable solar energy military project in the United States. The $46 million project is a partnership between Fort Bliss and a regional electric utility. Fort Bliss will provide 200 acres of land for the project and the utility will build a solar farm. Pending approval of the project from the Public Utility Commission, the 20-megawatt solar project will be completed by November of next year. It will produce enough electricity to power 7,600 homes across the city.

Cities are adding solar panels to government buildings and benefitting from reduced cost as well as energy efficiency. In New York, 17 Westchester cities, towns and villages are part of a group that recently issued a request for proposals for a private-sector partner to install solar panels that will lead to lower energy costs for each entity. The private partner will be allowed to recoup its infrastructure costs because the municipalities will agree to purchase the lower-cost power.

Other solar energy projects are being built on open space at either closed or capped landfills. Prince William County in Virginia plans to develop a solar energy generation project at the county landfill. The project is planned as a public-private partnership with the private partner responsible for designing, building and operating the solar farm. The project will provide power to county facilities at the landfill.  It will also save $13,000 per year and reduce the county’s carbon footprint by 1,400 tons each year.

Similarly, an old landfill in the Bay Area of California will be converted to a solar farm. This project is part of what is billed as the nation’s largest government collaboration for creating solar energy. It involves nearly 20 agencies in four counties. Together, the group will build 186 projects and the economies will reduce the cost of all projects by $100 million. Alameda County alone should save more than a half-million dollars in energy costs in its first year. The sites will generate enough energy to power more than 6,000 homes and 800 jobs will be created. That’s a lot of benefit…and true innovative leadership by public officials.

For ways to get involved in an upcoming solar energy project contact one of our procurement specialists for the latest information.