Solar For All: New Solar Sites That Are Breaking Barriers

by Anna Gretz
May 23, 2018

Solar For All: New Solar Sites that are Breaking Barriers

It’s 2018, and the mindset that solar is only for the rich and fanatical has long been debunked. Solar panels have taken over rooftops worldwide, and we find ourselves fully immersed in the solar revolution. Even though solar’s rep has changed to include a much wider audience, a few specific installations have solidified solar’s identity as a great option for non-profit and community spaces, as well as electric co-ops. Here’s the scoop.

A Buddhist Temple Powered by the Sun

In San Jose, California, the Chua Di Lac Buddhist Temple is looking to a higher power. The temple has fully switched over to clean energy, thanks to the Mitsubishi Electric PV system that was the very first solar installation ever in the community.

“We believe that spirituality includes engagement in ecological issues,” said Loanie Lam, the owner of the Temple and Unified Event Center. “We give back to the community through healing and yoga classes as well as teaching children how to meditate and live in the present moment.”

The outwardly- and upwardly-focused community center believes that adopting solar energy and using renewable energy resources fits seamlessly into their community’s philosophy.

“It’s beautiful to see the children go home and share the techniques with their parents on how to stay calm and release stress through breathing,” Lam continued. “Installing a photovoltaic system and converting to sustainable energy is an extension of our commitment to our community and mother earth.”

The photovoltaics were installed by Solar System Inc, a San Jose-based company. It includes 188 Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Pro modules, and it has the potential to cover up to 90 percent of the electricity required by the temple. That’s 75,000 kWh of solar power in the first year. The system will also definitely fulfill Lam’s goal of giving back to the earth, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 57 tons every year. That’s the same as recycling 16 tons of garbage instead of dumping it in a landfill.

“Loanie Lam and the organization have already contributed so much to the community and accomplished a great deal,” said Gina Heng, vice president and general manager of the Mitsubishi Electric Photovoltaic Division.

The solar panels installed on the Chua Di Lac Temple aren’t just saving the planet, however. If coupled with energy storage, this solar system also has the opportunity the provide energy security for the Temple and surrounding community, in the case of a power outage. By storing the excess energy generated by the panels, the temple could harness back-up power that could serve the community by providing an additional shelter in the case of a prolonged outage--an event that can put many vulnerable populations at risk.

A Co-Op Opts for Solar

Community solar, or the idea that groups of people can share the perks of solar ownership, has been gaining momentum lately. A Texas Electrical Co-Op is the latest example. In Andrews County, Northern Texas, CoServe Electric has staked a claim on a 25 MW solar project with operations scheduled for next year.

“For too long, our industry has been trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole, and we aim to change that by making renewable energy procurement easier for buyers,” said Clay Butler, the CEO of 7X Energy. 7X, a utility-scale solar developer, is on the other end of the contract with CoServe Electric. They’ll be the owners of the project in Andrews, and will sell the the solar energy in SolarBlocks under a multi-year power purchase agreement. They developed the SolarBlocks strategy to enable customers to sign a contract for a guaranteed block of energy from their solar plants, locking in low energy rates during peak periods. These SolarBlocks can be purchased by any electric cooperative, as well as utilities and corporations.

CoServ has about 220,000 electric meters in northern Texas participating in their electric co-op, and their agreement with 7X will be the largest solar energy contract to date with a Texas electrical cooperative.

“We want to provide renewable energy solutions for our members,” said Donnie Clary, the President and CEO of CoServe. “This project helps enhance our role as a trusted energy advisor, focused on the future and passing along the resulting economic benefits.”

While providing renewable energy for the co-op, the Lapetus facility will also procure 75 jobs for Andrews County, and contribute millions in property tax over the lifetime of the project.

Co-opts taking advantage of renewable energy resources is a phenomenal step in the right direction, but this project has another opportunity on the horizon: community energy storage. Community storage participants can save money by using batteries to store the excess electricity generated by solar panels. But there’s more. By using energy storage, those who are in on community solar projects can minimize their dependence on the power grid, or cut ties and break free from the grid entirely. There are more reasons why this is a really, really good idea.

The power grid is vulnerable -- more vulnerable than most people realize. Everyone has had the experience of a power outage, and knows what a hassle it is to work, cook, and live at home without electricity. What’s less common is a prolonged power outage, one that lasts more than a day or two. The effects of prolonged outages can bring things from inconvenient to life-threatening pretty fast. And the power grid? It’s actually pretty susceptible to prolonged outages. That’s why energy storage is so great. Think about this: households independent from the grid wouldn’t even notice a grid outage.

Households equipped with solar panels and energy storage in the form of home batteries are completely protected from any utility company mishap, whether it be on a large or small scale. Home batteries allow households to power their own essential appliances like refrigerators, water pumps, and heating/cooling devices with stored electricity collected from renewable energy sources like solar panels. The grid may be vulnerable, but the sun? Not so much.

Energy storage changes the entire conversation about grid vulnerability. We don’t have to talk about prolonged power outages as a impending probability, but a situation that can be avoided altogether. Home batteries put the power back into the hands of the consumer, or groups of consumers in the case of community storage.

Community solar is great, but with community storage in the form of home batteries, it’s even better. As more communities look for ways to get together to share renewable resources, it just makes sense for them to look for ways to store them as well.