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Lower Photovoltaic Costs Fueling Rise of Solar


This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management magazine. Today's tip is that solar power is becoming a more popular option as prices fall.

Solar used to be a hard sell. The technology hadn't matured, the components were expensive, performance was often lackluster and payback periods sometimes progressed at a glacial pace.

But times are a-changin': Solar is selling. The main drivers of that growth, of course, are financial. Although recent studies from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicate that prices for photovoltaic equipment are generally cheaper on new construction than existing structures, there are enough incentives that facility managers are increasingly turning to solar for existing buildings as well.

According to Lawrence Berkeley, the installed cost of commercial photovoltaic systems completed in 2010 fell by roughly 17 percent when compared to the year before, and fell by an additional 11 percent within the first six months of 2011.

Facility managers interested in solar power need to determine where best to locate photovoltaic modules and the related components. Ground-mounted modules allow for easy access, but maintenance is minimal for the modules, so access is largely a non-issue. The real benefit of ground-mounted modules is that they can be set up without any kind of structural calculations for an organization's buildings.

Roof-mounted modules have a distinct set of benefits. Some people don't like the way solar modules look. If that's the case, there are few better places to locate panels than on rooftops. The panels usually require little more than an annual cleaning, which can be wrapped into other rooftop maintenance duties. The Oakland, Calif., plant of Feeney Wire has a 380-panel rooftop photovoltaic array that can produce as much as 90 kilowatts. The array is located on two buildings — one metal structure and one wooden-framed. The system clips cleanly onto the metal roof, while on the wooden structure it is self-ballasting and uses polymer stands that do no damage to the existing roof.

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