Solar Energy Holds Ground for Future Production in Columbia
COLUMBIA - Local efficiency company EnergyLink hasn't seen brighter days yet in its early stages of developing solar panel projects. Managers say the solar trend it's waiting for won't come for another ten years.
"We are not the best solar-producing state. There are better," said EnergyLink CEO Chris Ihler, whose audit and installment company determines if commercial or residential property needs energy-efficiency upgrades. It's located on Fay Street on Columbia's north side. The company provides alternative sources of energy-efficient installations by virtue of what it calls "late-breaking" technology. These installations come after the company audits for energy pricing.
One of those upgrades includes solar panel installations. "Some like the idea of producing their own power. They want to be ahead of the curve," said Ihler. But Ihler said his company's projects total no more than three residential installations within the past six months. That's not a surprise, said Ihler.
There's a lot of math that doesn't add up for residential consumers looking to save money on their electrical bill.
Solar panel cost and benefit analysis draws on several factors. According to Ihler, EnergyLink can install a 16-panel solar system for approximately $18,000. That solar system generates 143,120 kilowatt hours (Kwh). The cost of installation divided by the kilowatt hour production means 16 panels generates a single kilowatt at only 12.6 cents. Ihler said that price is close to what average household consumers pay on their electrical bill in Columbia. The City of Columbia offers a $2,000 rebate for those panels as a high-value energy-reduction incentive, dropping the effective price to $16,000. Plus, those buying the panels can file for up to 30 percent on tax credit. That takes an additional estimated $4,800 dollars off. Effectively, the cost of the panels is now around $11,200 and brings the kilowatt hour production to close to seven cents a kilowatt hour. Still, Ihler estimates that this installation would take nearly 15 years before paying itself off as consumers save five cents per electric bill with this solar installation.
The Columbia Water and Light 2012 energy report reveals the distribution of renewable energy sources as they are used monthly. In 2011, the leading source for renewable energy came from its partnership with the Jefferson City landfill, generating 22,848 megawatt-hours (Mwh) of Columbia's accumulative yield of 1,173,85 Mwh. Solar ranked lowest in the energy report with 28 Mwh generated. To put that into perspective, one Mwh equals 1,000 kilowatt-hours (Kwh). A kilowatt equals 1,000 watts. According to 2011 U.S. Department of Energy rates, 32 households could collectively use a single megawatt in one entire day. In regards to solar energy, a single 16-panel solar system generating 7,156 Kwh/year could generate all of 2011's 28 Mwh in about four years. The gap in solar energy production in mid-Missouri is huge, according to Ihler.
"The economy has, you know, forced a lot of solar businesses, out of, out of production," said Ihler. In 2011, Solyndra, a major solar cell production company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and laid off 1,100 employees for a plunge in solar cell prices based on subsidies from Chinese manufacturers.
The turnaround for solar energy, however, has been exponential this past year--just not in Missouri. On November 14, the Solar Foundation will release the 2012 National Solar Jobs Census, which already predicts some 13,872 new solar jobs and a 13.2 percent employment growth rate.
Based on this growth, those banking on solar now are in luck, said Ihler. As wholesale gas prices prices increase and solar panel costs cheapen, he predicts an increase in solar panel production in the Columbia region.
"Within the next ten years, solar technology will be completely revolutionized," said Ihler.
To learn more about U.S. energy production in 2012, click here.