Special to SWFBT
Karen Moore, Publisher
So here’s how our energy sources have evolved over time. According to Dr. John Woolschlager, director of the Emergent Technologies Institute at FGCU, we have used wood then coal then oil and natural gas, then water then nuclear power (which we began utilizing in the 1970s.) Today, coal use is down because of the cheap availability of natural gas and renewable energy is becoming more affordable, with wind and solar coming onboard. Not much nuclear energy is used anymore.
In the future, however, solar energy is the answer. The U.S. is currently behind China, Germany and Japan with production of the most common form of solar energy (photovoltaic). Thermal solar is what is used for large-scale utility functionality. From a production of photovoltaic solar panels standpoint, China owns 66 percent of all panels; the U.S. only owns 2 percent.
In the U.S., Florida currently does not even rank in the top 10 states for photovoltaic usage; it does rank in the top 10 states for thermal usage. Both forms of solar energy are quickly becoming more affordable and efficient, according Woolschlager. Thermal solar energy is currently priced competitively with gas, coal and nuclear energy, which could not be said just two years ago.
“Renewable energy is inherently more efficient, so we will continue to get more energy more efficiently in the future,” Woolschlager said.
According to Woolschlager, there are currently three ways to work solar energy usage in to commercial projects: 1) purchase the energy outright, 2) enter in to a site-associated solar energy agreement or 3) enter in to an energy services agreement (which is currently discouraged by Florida law.)
Woolschlager then shared three examples. Babcock Ranch is a demonstration of Option 2. Babcock Ranch gave Florida Power & Light (FPL) 440 acres of land and FPL made the $200 million investment to create a 75 megawatts (MW) field that covers 19,000 homes (50,000 people.) In this example, Woolschlager points out, the solar energy component was an essential marketing component for the development.
Florida Gulf Coast University is an example of Option 3. The university entered in to an energy services agreement for a 15-acre solar field with a 2-MW capacity and more than 10,000 solar modules. The field provides 18 percent of FGCU’s power (it covers the energy needs of two academic halls.) Unfortunately, the company that installed the system is no longer in business, and since being owned and operated by FGCU, the field is not doing very well, Woolschlager says.
The third example Woolschlager used was Hertz Corporation, which purchased the system outright for use in its corporate headquarters in Southwest Florida. The company put 2,300 solar panels on its parking garage, which supplies approximately 15 percent of the building’s total energy consumption. Cisterns also channel rainwater for reuse in the building. Hertz was given a 30-percent federal tax credit and the return on investment is projected in seven years.
In conclusion, Woolschlager indicated that because there are a limited number of companies who can actually do the work/enter in to these agreements (and in Southwest Florida this is FPL), the current environment encourages outright purchase, which again, is only done by the utility companies.