Solar Energy Generated from Billboards?
Lamar Advertising Co. and Gulf Power Co. have teamed up for solar lighting research that could funnel solar energy from hundreds of billboards into Florida power grids.
Solar panels atop Lamar Advertising billboards in Escambia County will direct energy into Gulf Power’s grid.
The Baton Rouge, La.-based outdoor advertising giant has mounted solar panels on four of its largest billboards in Escambia County for the experiment, which represents the first time Lamar has tried funneling solar-produced energy directly into a power grid, rather than using solar to charge batteries. “We’re in a sense selling power to the power company and then buying it back,” says Bobby Switzer, Lamar’s Pensacola-based vice president of operations, who initiated the project.
The hookup is also a first for Atlanta-based Southern Co., says John Hutchinson, spokesman for Gulf Power, a Southern subsidiary. “This will give us baseline information for feasibility for all billboards. This is electricity we don’t have to produce and without carbon dioxide emissions, an unwanted byproduct.”
Lamar has about 1,000 billboards in northwest Florida and operates statewide. Expansion of solar lighting depends on factors such as state incentives, federal tax credits, congressional aid and energy pricing, says Switzer. “Currently, the price for what (Gulf) buys back from us is woefully low,” he says, about 4 cents per kilowatt hour. That level, says Hutchinson, is set by the Florida Public Service Commission and based on the utility’s “avoided cost.” Lamar buys electricity from Gulf for about 9 cents per kilowatt hour.
Hutchinson thinks repricing is a possibility. “With all the focus on renewables right now, this is something that we think will be looked at by the PSC.”