Orlando Flexes Its Solar Muscles
“Heating water directly from the sun makes sense.”
— Robert Reedy, director of the solar energy division at the Florida Solar Energy Center, by the center’s 40-watt Copper Indium Di-Selenide modules [Photo: Nicholas Waters / FSEC]
Orlando is establishing itself as a state leader in solar power usage but still has a way to go to keep pace with some U.S. states and other countries.
The U.S. Department of Energy has named the city one of 25 Solar American Cities and provided a $200,000 grant to partner with the county and Orlando Utilities Commission to improve sustainability practices.
Among the local efforts are a series of OUC programs designed to promote the use of solar thermal to power water heaters and solar photovoltaics to produce electricity. The utility’s new headquarters, touted as the first building downtown to meet gold-level LEED standards, uses up to 28% less energy and 40% less water than a traditional building. In addition, Orange County is the only municipal government in the state giving a $200 rebate for solar water heating that’s not tied to a utility company, says Bruce Kershner, executive director of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, the industry’s lobbying organization.
But even Orlando is still far from taking advantage of solar power the way industry leaders have in Germany, Spain, California, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Washington and Oregon, says Robert Reedy, director of the solar energy division at the Florida Solar Energy Center, a University of Central Florida facility in Cocoa. For instance, central Florida municipalities require homeowners who want to install a solar electric system to secure three permits — electrical, structural and plumbing — instead of just one.
The state has additional regulations, including one that prevents companies from installing equipment and then renting it to the homeowner or business because third-party electricity sales are illegal for anyone except utility companies.
Installing a solar energy system costs a homeowner the equivalent of 6 to 9 cents per kilowatt hour for the power it generates, compared with the 12 to 13 cents that the homeowner pays for power from an electric company, Reedy says. Solar power costs should hold steady while traditional electricity’s prices increase with the costs of fuel.
“The world has come onto this fact, and we hope Florida does as well,” Reedy says. “Heating water directly from the sun makes sense.”
Still, the state and its municipalities are heading in the right direction, Kershner said recently at an Orlando conference held to match German solar companies with potential U.S. partners. A state program offering rebates for installation of solar water heating equipment has been so popular that the money was disbursed in both 2006 and 2007 before many had a chance to apply.
Orange County is offering homeowners $200 rebates for solar water heating.