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Benefits of Photovoltaic Roofing

Maintenance and engineering managers cannot afford to ignore the nation's movement toward environmental responsibility. Opportunities to use alternative, renewable energy sources will continue to expand rapidly, and solar energy is at the forefront of this movement.

Managers do not want to miss out on the benefits of such technologies as photovoltaic (PV) roofing systems. But instead of blindly jumping into a rash decision, managers need to understand which of the technology's potential benefits applies to their organization, as well as the practical implications of installing and maintaining such a building component.

Financial savings. The cost savings created by reduced electricity use typically are not a cost-effective payback that offsets the upfront cost of purchasing and installing a PV roofing system, unless the federal government and some state governments and utilities offer financial incentives, such as tax credits and subsidy programs. Even as the cost of solar cells continues to drop, the upfront cost of buying and installing a PV system remains prohibitive for many institutional and commercial facilities.

This situation has led to the development of solar power purchase agreements (SPPA), a financial arrangement between a third-party developer that installs, owns, operates, and maintains the PV system for the organization. The organization agrees to host the PV system on the roof or property and to buy the electricity from the provider for a predetermined period.

This set-up allows the host customer to receive electricity at a predictable cost, with the potential to have a positive cash flow via reduced electrical costs from the day the system goes into service. The solar provider receives the tax credits and the income the sale of the electricity generates.

Environmental advantages. Obtaining electricity from a renewable source will help preserve the earth's resources. PV systems are renewable, clean and universal power sources. Solar energy helps prevent damage to the environment by producing no pollution. A 2-kilowatt system will reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 85,576 pounds over its lifetime, according to some estimates.

Reliability. A PV system with a battery-powered storage system can provide power to facilities in the event of an electrical outage.

Hedge against rate hikes. PV systems are less vulnerable to electrical rate increases, which have averaged about 6 percent in recent years. The PV panels produce electricity at a fixed rate over the life of the system. The cost of solar cells — primarily, the main component, silicon — also has been dropping quite dramatically recently.

Peak energy savings. PV systems can reduce the cost of peak power. A PV system produces the most power in the summer at mid-day, when the sun is highest. So it supplements the need for expensive power at peak operating times.

Public relations. PV technology can have a legitimate, positive influence on the general public, which might think more highly of the organization for taking action to protect and improve the environment.

National security. Renewable energy sources lessen the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

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