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City of Alexandria, VA City of Alexandria, VA
Green Building Resource Center
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Page updated Jul 27, 2012 9:45 AM
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Solar Power Options for Your Business

solar electric imageWith the rising cost of fuel and dwindling natural resources, more and more people are turning to solar power, providing their homes and businesses with clean, renewable energy. Solar power generates zero CO2 emissions while reducing the U.S. demand for foreign oil. Moreover, the cost for these systems is dropping as technology develops. The government has become increasingly proactive about the development of these systems as well as providing incentives to home and business owners who use solar energy. Alexandria is one of several Virginia cities that allow tax exemptions for installing solar power. Not to mention that rebates, low-interest loans, grants, and other incentives are available from the government for installing solar power systems. A list of suppliers in Virginia can be found here. These companies will be able to tell you what kind of solar power is right for you business.

Solar thermal heating is one of the most affordable ways to begin utilizing solar power. Rather than converting the sunlight into electricity, these systems capture sunlight and make use of its heat energy. Just like your car can lock in heat in the summer, so too can your office or home. If your home or business operations involve a significant amount of hot water requirements, this could be an excellent place to start your investment in solar technology. These systems have low capital costs and payback rates that can be as quick as one year. They can be used for water heating and swimming pool heating. To see if a solar thermal system would be an effective option for you business, use this resource. When using solar power water heaters, two options are available: flat panels and evacuated tube collectors.Flat panels are designed for areas with lots of sunlight in relatively warm climates. The evacuated tube collectors are easier to install in existing structures and are more aesthetically pleasing as they can fit into smaller areas. For places that are overcast or are cooler throughout the year, this may be the best choice for solar hot water heating. Solar water heating is the most affordable way to use solar power, even in existing buildings. These heaters last over forty years and owners of these systems paid for themselves in a few years due to significantly lower utility bills. Installing solar water heaters also increases the resale value of your building, further increasing the benefit of your investment.

solat hot water heating imageIf you plan on owning your building or home for a long period of time, a photovoltaic system could be a wise and ethical investment. “PV” stands for photovoltaic and refers to solar electricity systems that convert sunlight into a direct current of electricity. Details on this process can be found here. The cost of installing a PV system is dependent upon the size of your facility, how much light it receives, and how much energy your company needs. You can find out your average energy demand on your business’s utility bill and design your system around the most energy-heavy month, guaranteeing that you’ll have enough energy year-round. Maintenance on solar panels is minimal in that they only require cleaning 1-2 times per year and are designed to withstand harsh conditions. The majority of businesses in Alexandria will already be on the power grid, meaning that your company will be able to buy power if necessary and will also likely be able to sell back any unused solar power to the power company. Staying on the grid is generally easier and more cost-effective than maintaining back-up systems such as deep-cell batteries or generators.

For those who remain on the grid, your PV system needs to be designed to protect against islanding before you can sell back power. During a blackout, solar panels continue to deliver power as long as the sun is shining. The powered “island” supply line is then surrounded by a sea of unpowered lines. Utility workers repairing the lines may not realize that the circuit is powered, resulting in injury. Your system will require an inverter to convert the direct current of the PV system into an alternating current. When selecting an electrician for the installation, be sure to choose one who has experience with PV systems and is familiar with the National Electric Code for these systems. The angle of your building’s roof along with its orientation toward the sun will help determine how effective the panels would be at fueling your electric needs. In the Northern Hemisphere, these systems should ideally point toward true south for maximum efficiency. Some systems do not require direct sunshine, operating instead on radiated light, ensuring that your solar power will still work on a cloudy day. If your company decides that a PV system is right for you, installation will only take a few days.

Additional solar power alternatives can be found in our article, “Passive Solar Design, proof that there are ways to begin using solar energy on any budget. Although solar power can seem daunting, by reviewing the resources provided in this article, you may find solar power to be a much more feasible option than you once believed!

Green Building Resource Center
301 King St., Room 4100
Alexandria, Va 22314
703.746.4065
Fax: 703.519.3356
E-mail

Office Hours:
Monday-Friday
8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.