Florida’s Untapped Solar Power

(3BL Media/Just Means) I've spent the summer living in historic St. Augustine, Florida. The surf is great, the people are friendly and the sun shines brightly every single day. The sun is powerful here, powerful enough it seems to produce enough solar energy for most of the nation.  In fact, a 2004 study of small residential solar arrays by the Florida Solar Energy Center found that Florida has 85 percent of the maximum solar energy potential of any place in the country, at 7.2 kilowatt-hours per day. So why isn't Florida covered in solar panels?

John Abrams, the Founder, President and CEO of South Mountain Company, the leading solar integrator in New England, says it’s all about incentivizing the market.

"It comes down to incentives for business and consumers. This is why we only pay $4 a gallon for gas. There are numerous subsidies for gasoline. Incentives for solar level the playing field, somewhat."

Rob Meyers, South Mountain's Energy Manager, also believes it's about the support of government programs.

"Solar is widely used where government programs support it. Actually, Florida Power and Light (FPL) is the main installer of solar in Florida. In Florida, it's almost all photovoltaic, large-scale installations that we don't see. I attended a panel at a conference in Florida and the Vice President of FPL reminded us that Florida owns the largest utility scale."

Unbeknownst to me, Meyers is right. FPL launched three solar power plants in 2009 and 2010, making Florida the second largest supplier of utility-scale solar power in the country. In their lifetimes, these plants will prevent the emission of more than 3.5 million tons of greenhouse gases—equivalent to removing 25,000 cars from our roads each year.  And SunBuilt, a partnership of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Home Builders Association and Florida Solar Energy Research and Education Foundation, offers rebate checks to builders who install solar hot-water heaters in new homes.  But homeowners in Florida are hesitant to commit to buying solar energy today because they think the technology will be more efficient in just a few years.

"We hear this a lot: people's hesitancy about investing into solar today because of the technology to come. Yes, it's going to get better and better, but according to physics theory. the maximum amount of the sun's rays we can convert to usable energy is 30%. Right now, we are installing panels that have a 21% conversion rate. And I'd say that's pretty damn good." said Meyers.

Sources: nrdc.org - South Mountain Company