We like photovoltaic solar energy technology for a lot of reasons. It allows us to run everything from computers, heart monitors, heat pumps, and vehicles on sunshine. It’s modular and not very scale-dependent, so we can design arrays to match the size of our needs and add on as budget allows. It helps us get connected to the annual abundance of our earth and solar system, instead of lazily living off of millions years of compressed sunshine (fossil fuels) while passing the degradation off to the poor or our grand kids.
From the financial-resilience side, solar also helps us control our operational costs. When you write the check for a well-designed system, installed by a crew you know is going to be around for on-going support, you are locking in your energy costs.
We made a big investment in solar this year. To our knowledge, it’s the largest solar array at an Indiana institute of higher ed (at least until 2020). When we ran the numbers, we tried to make conservative assumptions about electric rates and energy production, not wanting to set unrealistic expectations. That is, we would love to be pleasantly surprised by any unexpected upside!
We have no battery storage with our arrays, so all the electricity produced has to be instantly transferred somewhere. If there is more energy than the building is using at the moment, it goes backwards through the meter and to the next available load down the power line. Our utility, NIPSCO, measures this energy and gives us a 1:1 financial credit for this excess, an arrangement called net metering.
So if we are paying, say, $0.12 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for energy consumed from the grid at night, then the value of our excess solar energy being pushed back to the grid at noon is also worth $0.12.
Which brings me to recent news. State regulators recently approved a rate increase for NIPSCO customers. In Indiana, these state-regulated utilities are businesses that are granted a captive market (monopoly). These utilities make rate increase petitions on a periodic basis, which usually prompts push back by consumer advocates like Citizens Action Coalition and environmental advocates like the Sierra Club.
Since the cost of each kWh has gone up, so too has the value of every avoided kWh through efficiency or through solar energy production… which means that our solar panels will be more financially valuable when 2020 rolls around and rates increase.
Now, I don’t want to give in to schadenfreude for all those without solar, but it is nice to see that an asset we invested in continues to pay us back.
Lastly, a bit of news and a note on the Lindenwood solar array.
Indianapolis Power & Light (another regulated utility/business) is going to be closing two coal plants… good news! One will go dark in 2021, another in 2023. They intend to keep two more plants running for decades… but I highly suspect that economics alone will compel them to shutter the other plants before the end of their service life. Good news for all creatures who drink water and breathe air.
Lindenwood Retreat and Conference Center received 41 kW of solar this year. We had some hardware issues that delayed it’s commissioning, but our vendor worked tirelessly with the manufacture to get it running.
We have a public-facing web site that shows the solar energy production in real time. Please give it a look! Unfortunately we are now entering the “solar doldrums” season of short and cloudy days, but it has already saved more than 1 ton of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of planting 54 trees.
UPDATE: We have a page live for our Moontree solar array (2018) as well.