Hello Sun

Renewable Energy in Abundant Supply

By Michelle Kodis

Something unusual and wonderful is happening on the roof of the Jagged Edge store in downtown Telluride. The locally founded, and now internationally known, clothing and gear retailer has expanded its innovative mindset some 93 million miles—all the way to the beacon of our solar system.

Jagged Edge owner Erik Dalton installed 14, 200-watt photovoltaic panels on the roof of his building, making his the first business in the town’s historic district to go solar. The panels are suspended in a metal frame that can be tilted or moved for maximum exposure. The panels connect to an inverter, which converts generated DC electricity into a usable AC voltage, and the inverter is, in turn, attached to the building’s electrical box. “We are hooked up straight to the town’s grid,” Dalton explains. This direct connection displaces the need for a battery system to store generated energy, greatly reducing the cost of installing solar. “The power produced first gets used by the store or in other areas of the building, and any extra goes back into the grid. If we were to create more power than we could use, which hasn’t happened yet but will in the future, we would be able to watch our electricity meter run backwards.”

The Jagged Edge array, sourced and installed by Kelvin Verity of Veritas Solar, cost approximately $35,000 from start to finish, including construction permits and labor. Will Dalton’s earth-friendly investment pay off? His answer is a definitive “yes.” “We’re already saving between $100 and $150 a month in electricity costs, and as the price of energy increases, we expect this savings to grow,” he says. “Eventually, the system will pay itself off, and we’ll be making money.”

Hello sun, hello renewable energy in abundant, limitless supply. Advances in solar technology have brought increasingly sophisticated, easy-to-install and affordable systems to the market. This is good news for the planet. According to the Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA) database, which can be viewed at www.carma.org, “About 60 percent of global electricity generation relies upon fossil fuels to generate the heat needed to power steam-driven turbines. Burning these fuels results in the production of carbon dioxide—the primary heat-trapping greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. If the world is to avert the worst consequences of an altered climate, the status quo must change quickly. Hundreds of millions of increasingly climate-conscious citizens can promote low-carbon alternatives by changing the ways they purchase, invest, vote, think and live.”

Part-time Mountain Village resident Andrew Loomis is doing just that. Even before the plans for his new house on Adams Ranch Road were drawn, he knew the building would not rely on the grid or natural gas for its electricity and heat. The Loomis residence, now complete, is equipped with 17 electricity-generating rooftop photovoltaic panels that take advantage of the home’s southern exposure and Colorado’s bright sun. Loomis is one of those blessed individuals who at times experiences the marvel of the meter running backwards; excess electricity not used by the home feeds back into the community grid. In addition, he installed a vacuum-tube, solar hot-water system that provides in-floor heat and residential hot water. That system, he explains, is designed to prevent up to 1.9 tons of carbon dioxide—what the average heating setup would produce for a home this size—from entering the atmosphere during a 12-month period. This equals roughly 275 gallons of gasoline per year or enough fuel to drive 6,879 miles in a car that averages 24.5 miles per gallon. Together, the systems cost a little under $100,000. “It’s like buying a Mercedes, only it’s good for the environment,” Loomis quips, proudly adding that his electric bills average just $20 per month. (No, that is not a typo.) In the future, power companies will be required to credit solar owners when their meters run backward and supply energy back to the grid.

A longtime environmentalist and advocate for renewable energy, Loomis says that although his solar panels and tubes created a buzz in grid-centric Mountain Village, he looks forward to the day when every new house built will feature solar technology. “Someday it will be commonplace to see solar panels and tubes, just as it’s now commonplace to see the large electric transformers on our streets and in our yards,” he says. “Solar will happen one panel at a time, one tube at a time. And my advice to people is this: Just do it. There’s a little laugh that wells up deep in your heart when you get that low electricity or gas bill in the mail, and you know you’re doing something to help the earth.”

Today’s solar energy products have come a long way from the laboratory look of the 1970s, when the nascent technology gave buildings the appearance of sciencefiction movie props. The vastly improved aesthetics of solar, says InPower Systems’ Anson Fogel, has convinced hesitant customers to make the switch. “It’s really pretty simple,” he explains. “It has to look good. Americans tend to buy with their hearts and egos, so if you make it fun and cool and visually pleasing, then people can relate to it on an emotional level.”

Fogel’s company offers retail solar packages and green-energy consulting through its Carbondale storefront and website and focuses on educating consumers about available products and the potential costs. “There is confusion out there about what to choose and how it works, and we spend a lot of time explaining the reliability of this form of energy production,” he says. “We discuss everything from the economics of the installation to the future cost savings.”

One way InPower entices clients to go solar is through its proprietary PowerView software, which provides real-time tracking of how much energy a home is using—and creating. A customer can log onto the service through an individual account and monitor carbon saved, energy produced and energy bought and sold. The software has been a key selling tool, Fogel says. In addition, anyone interested in switching to solar can “build” their own systems on the InPower website. Visitors are guided with a series of prompts: “Learn about the importance of roof pitch and location. How many photovoltaic panels do I need? How could solar hot water enhance my energy system?” Fogel points out that this interactive approach gives customers confidence and knowledge, making them more comfortable with the process as a whole.

Colorado is doing its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In November 2004, voters approved Amendment 37 (A37), the first time in United States history that a renewable energy standard went to voters, rather than directly to the legislature. A37’s strong mandate that 10 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2015, such as solar and wind power, was a clear step in the right direction, but legislators later decided to pursue even stricter standards. To that end, Governor Bill Ritter signed into law House Bill 1281 last year, which expands the requirements of A37 and dictates that investor-owned utilities, such as XCEL Energy, must produce twice as much electricity from renewables as A37 previously required. Rural electrical cooperatives, such as the Telluride region’s San Miguel Power Association (SMPA), were not included in A37 but now fall under the umbrella of HB-1281.

SMPA must generate at least 10 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020, and investor-owned utilities will be held responsible for 20 percent. SMPA has demonstrated its commitment to renewable energy through two recent programs, Green Blocks and Green Cents, which will soon help fund customer incentives, including solar installation rebates. With Green Blocks, customers can opt to purchase 100-kilowatt-hour blocks of electricity generated through renewable sources. According to the company, “Buying one kWh block has the same environmental benefit as not driving your car for 1,800 miles or avoiding 140 pounds of CO2 emissions from a coal-fired power plant.” Each Green Block adds $1 to a customer’s monthly electricity bill. Customers who opt for the Green Cents program agree to let SMPA round up their monthly electric bills to the nearest dollar. For example, a $72.71 bill would round up to $73, and the 29 cents would go to a renewables fund. For more information on the two programs, go to www.smpa.com.

Kelvin Verity founded Veritas Solar seven years ago. Since then, interest in solar has increased notably, he says, particularly from architects and builders who are encouraging clients to plan for renewable energy from the start of the design process. “We get more calls every year,” he says. “And that makes us very happy.”