Rooftop Solar in The Sunshine State

 

James Locurto-  Geology

Nicholas Pomella- Building Construction Technologies

KathrynPreston- Animal Science

Sierra Humiston- Natural Resource and Fisheries

Around the world today, many people are living in undeveloped communities and are left without the gift of electricity. This lack of electricity is seen especially within the rural areas of  Sub-saharan Africa and South Asia, where around 89% of the communities are living

 without any form of electricity. However, this lack of electricity in impoverished areas can be alleviated by an invention that has been utilized for many years, this invention being solar power. Specifically, in the year of 2007, 2.5 million homes located in undeveloped areas gained the gift of electricity through the development of solar power systems on their homes (Grimshaw & Lewis, 2010). The use of solar power has the incredible potential to save these communities from underdevelopment and can propel them into living a life that everyone deserves. Communities without access to electricity are reaching for a cleaner future through the installment of solar panels on rooftops while the wealthy continue to burn fossil fuels, which is overall the cheaper and more environmentally harmful option.

Burning fossil fuels is a primary driver of the greenhouse gas effect and global climate change. Over the past few decades, levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen dramatically. This rise is attributed to three major sectors in the United States, the most prevalent being the electric power sector ma

king up 33% of greenhouse gas emissions (Solar Energy Industries Association, 2018). The production of electricity is pivotal in the functioning of the United States economy, with the industry valued at $250 billion with a demand function projected to increase in coming years (Morgan et al. 2016). Carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emission levels, currently produced by the United States by way of traditional carbon emitting methods of energy production, such as coal, are not sustainable (Morgan et al. 2016). It is imperative that actions be taken to reduce these harmful emissions.

 

 

In 2016, 10.6 gigawatts of solar panel systems were installed in the United States, increasing the total installed capacity countrywide to 53.3 gigawatts. This amount of systems produces enough solar energy to power 10.1 million homes annually. Florida, being the “Sunshine State”, has made little contributions to reducing the carbon emissions in the electricity sector, which makes up for 51.2% of energy produced in the United States (Solar Energy Industries Association, 2018) . If Florida follows the strategies of the early adopters and switches to rooftop, carbon neutral solar panel systems, the state will be a key contributor to reducing the overall carbon emissions nationwide.

Florida is one of the most solar radiant states in the United States, however it lacks an appropriate solar program that would benefit the state’s energy consumption. Case studies around the world demonstrate that Florida would exceed the electric energy needs of the state just from solar rooftop panels as their high rate of sunshine and lack of cloudy days would lead to high energy output. Peru, a country that is not economically inclined when compared to the U.S, has implemented a rooftop solar program to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). A rooftop solar array producing 5 kWh/yr will prevent the release of 7.06 tons of CO2 emissions when compared to the same power output of a coal or natural gas plant (Yadav & Bajpai, 2018). This is important as the goal of rooftop solar energy production in Peru focuses on reducing the amount of global GHG emissions. Peru has similar climate and sun strength when compared to Florida making this a strong case study to compare the two dissimilar areas of the world. The sun resources available to Peru promote rooftop solar programs, and in comparison, Florida has 75% more available rooftops suitable for solar installation when compared to Peru. Peru, with the implementation of this solar rooftop program in Lima, could result in generating enough electricity to power the capital city of Peru (Ali, Shafiullah & Urmee, 2018)(Brazen, Rierdevall, Vazquez-Rowe & Gabarell, 2018). The “Sunshine State” makes for a strong candidate for large scale rooftop solar programs as shown in the study conducted in Lima, Peru.

The resulting solar rooftop area suitable for solar in Florida exceeds the majority of the world as solar panels can be placed just about anywhere to surpass the breakeven point of installation through the revenues of energy production (Burkart & Arguea, 2017). Solar suitability is dependent on two aspects. First, being proper sunlight falling upon the building (no shade from neighboring structures). Secondly, ensuring that the building is coded and electrically capable of solar installation. Solar panel systems are similar to plants in the fact that they are dependent on sunlight, and without proper sun intensity there is no incentive to install solar panels as proper energy production must be maintained for economic and energy purposes. Florida, having an abundance of sunlight, results in high solarity as solar panels produce greater amounts of energy due to the greater amount of sunlight. This pays off making the price of solar worth the effort as the investment in solar becomes equitable to the consumer. The coastal areas of Florida have the highest amount of solar radiance with the major city of Tampa leading the way with an average of 5500-5700 Whr/sq. M. This metric describes how much energy the sun creates per one square meter when radiated on the ground surface. In comparison, the bay area of Massachusetts produces a maximum of 4500 Whr/sq. M of solar radiance energy (Burkart & Arguea, 2017)(Solar maps, 2018). The only area in the U.S that beats Florida in solar radiant energy is the southwest including New Mexico, Arizona, the western part of Texas, and southern California where the maximum solar irradiance can reach upwards of 8500 Whr/ sq. M (Burkart & Arguea, 2017)(Solar maps, 2018). The solar radiation of Florida makes it a promising candidate for rooftop solar with its above average solar irradiance index. For a state reliant on the burning of coal and natural gas to meet its energy needs, and a lack of wind resources, solar power asserts itself as the most promising alternative energy source (Burkart & Arguea, 2017). If solar rooftop panels were installed on all suitable structures in the major metropolitan areas of Florida including Miami, Tallahassee, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando, the energy needs of those major cities could be met solely through the use of rooftop solar programs.

Not only is Florida one of the most solar radiant states in the U.S, but it also has some of the most available structures suited for rooftop solar installation. Through geographic information system analysis (GIS) it has been determined that Florida’s infrastructure is already designed for solar installation as the northern part of the state has rooftop solar capabilities leading to 80-90% of the total rooftops. As you move to the southern two-thirds portion of the state from Tampa down, the rooftop solar capability increases where 90% or more of the existing residential rooftops can have PV solar installed. Massachusetts in comparison is only afforded the total rooftop area of 70% or less making it less productive in solar energy production. If the complete area of residential rooftops in Florida were covered by PV solar panels then it would meet 46.5% of the states total energy needs (Gagnon, Margolis, Melius, Phillips & Elmore, 2016). The energy fulfillment shown is only relevant towards residential homes and small structures not in excess of 5,000 sq.ft. This concludes that residential solar panels can meet half of the states total energy needs without consuming untouched land for development. When expanding the total rooftop area to include buildings larger than 5,000 sq.ft. the total area for suitable rooftop solar nearly doubles. With double the rooftop area now available the total electrical energy production for the state of Florida is almost completely fulfilled through the implementation of rooftop solar PV panels (Gagnon, Margolis, Melius, Phillips & Elmore, 2016 ).

Florida is the third most populous state in the U.S with a population of 20,894,400 (U.S Census Bureau, 2015). Powering all residential and even commercial buildings through rooftop solar would decrease the large reliance on carbon based fuels. The only source that rooftop solar is not included in powering is transportation as they would still rely on conventional gas. In 2015 the most recent studies of carbon emissions, Florida released 231.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Of that 231.4 million metric tons of Carbon Dioxide, 127.3 million metric tons pertains to the residential and commercial sectors of electricity. The remaining 104.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels in cars and other transportation. Rooftop solar could prevent the release of 127.3 million metric tons of Carbon dioxide equal to 3.79% of the total GHG emissions in the U.S (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015). Florida contains 6% of the United States population and with their high energy output, would be able to decrease their carbon footprint by over half. The implementation of solar panels in Florida would mitigate GHG emissions replacing the expenditures of coal and natural gas products. Florida has more than enough solar radiant energy and available rooftop area to certainly cut out carbon based fuels for electrical energy needs completely.

In terms of the cost of solar panel systems in Florida, very interesting statistics have come to light in the past few years that should lead to an increase in installation. The current price of a 5 kW system in Florida is on average $8,505 to $11,305 (Richardson, 2018). More interestingly, the installation price of solar panelling in Florida has dropped around 12 percent from 2015 to 2016. In regards to a reduction in overall solar panel system cost, the price has dropped by 66 percent from 2010 to 2016 (Klas, 2016). If this trend continues it can be expected that the cost of solar PV array installation will drop even more.

Alternately, front-running states in the solar energy sector such as Massachusetts have in place a variety of incentive programs and legislation such as the Renewable Portfolio Standard, incentivizing an increase in solar energy production. The renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, requires utility companies to sell a certain percentage of renewable electricity. Currently, the RPS in place in Massachusetts requires utilities to produce a total of 15% renewable energy by 2020 with an additional increase of 1% every year after that (Durkay, 2017). As it stands today, Florida does not have a renewable portfolio standard in place. In 2017, solar energy contributed to .49% of the total energy produced in Florida (Solar Energy Industries Association, 2018). If Florida adopts the policies active in Massachusetts, Florida would have the potential to generate 76.2 gigawatts of solar annually upon installing rooftop solar arrays on the suitable structures that are already standing. If they were to maximize this potential they would have the ability to make up 46.5% of their total energy sales with solar alone (Gagnon et al., 2016).

Even though Florida has an incredible potential to utilize and benefit from solar power usage, there are a few aspects that are holding them back. In 2016, an incredibly misleading amendment, known as the “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice” amendment, was created by a group recognized as the Consumers for Smart Solar. The amendment was created with the hope to allow consumers to be able to own or lease their own solar panel systems. Consumers for Smart Solar was able to gather 27 million dollars in funding, with 20 million coming from utility companies in Florida (Brown, 2017). Even though the wording of the title of the amendment seems pro-solar, there is a misleading underlying message within the amendment’s wording. In all actuality, the amendment causes solar consumers to accrue fees and penalties that they wouldn’t have seen if the amendment was not in place, in turn leading to a reduction in the growth of solar in Florida (Morris, 2016). In order for the amendment to be passed, there had to be a 60 percent vote in agreement to the amendment. In the end, the amendment was not passed, only gaining 51% of voters saying “yes” (The New York Times, 2017). Although the amendment was never passed, the efforts made by utility companies and corrupt political organizations have the ability  to drastically hold back the development of solar within the state of Florida.

Just like government regulations can prevent a state from solar installation, government incentives can promote the solar investment. Many northern states like Massachusetts are reaping the benefits of solar PV array installation and experiencing the booming solar power economy. For this, we can partially thank the Federal Solar Tax Credit which amounts to 30% of the cost of purchasing a solar array after deducting the value of an individual state’s rebates. After 2019, this tax credit is set to drop to only 26%, and then again to 22% after 2020. (SunRun, 2017). This upcoming annual reduction in federal solar tax credit can be seen as a method of incentivizing homeowners and solar investors to invest now rather than later. As of now, the state of Florida has no solar tax credit plan so homeowners and investors should look to take advantage of the Federal Solar Tax Credit. Northern states reaping the solar tax cut’s benefits are well educated on the investment opportunity and Florida should follow their lead. Florida could see more solar installation by combating the upcoming annual decreases in the Federal Solar Tax Credit grants and educating its residents on the benefits of solar investment. For example, after 2019 when the Federal Solar Tax Credit drops to 26%, Florida could add a 4% state grant while educating the state’s homeowners to increase rooftop solar PV array investment.

In some states, a company named SolarCity provided a leasing opportunity for homeowners in 2008. SolarCity allowed free installation of solar panels on home rooftops provided that the homeowners pay SolarCity for the electricity produced during the first 20 years. (Earnest, 2008). After this period, homeowners would no longer have to pay for their personally harvested solar electricity; they receive the full energy production of their solar panels without cost. This allowed many homeowners to install solar arrays on their rooftops with no initial installation cost and immediately benefit from reduced electricity costs. Until recently, the state of Florida had legislation in place ensuring that utility companies were the only entities allowed to legally sell electricity in the state, making the direct leasing of solar panels unavailable to residential consumers (Eckhouse & Martin, 2018). Recently, that legislation has successfully been challenged by Sunrun Inc., the largest provider of residential solar installations nationwide. Now, 20 year solar panel leases and their subsequent reduction of overall energy costs are now available to residential consumers across the state of Florida. (Eckhouse & Martin, 2018). This change is a positive step towards making clean, renewable solar energy a financially accessible option for Florida’s residential consumers.

While Florida is taking incremental steps toward expanding it’s solar market, by promoting solar installation instead of taxing the investment, paying for rooftop solar array installation, and  covering for the future reduction in Federal Solar Tax Credit, Florida could expect to see a sharp increase in rooftop solar investment and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing undeveloped land for solar farm installation and would dramatically further the states transition to rooftop solar production.

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