LWV shines a light on solar energy | News, Sports, Jobs – NUjournal

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Mark Lindquist gives a presentation of solar energy as part of the League of Women Voter’s (LWV) conservation forum. Lindquist begins his talk by discussing passive solar energy as it relates to home design.

NEW ULM – A recent League of Women Voter (LWV) energy forum took a look at the bright side of solar energy.

Rural Lafayette Township resident Mark Lindquist spoke Thursday at the New Ulm Public Library as part of the LWV’s conservation-themed forum.He has researched solar energy options for most of his adult life. In 2011, he began installing solar improvements at his home. The LWV asked Lindquist to speak on the basic types of solar energy along with the benefits and downsides of each.

Lindquist started by discussing passive solar energy. Passive solar energy is when a home or building is designed to take advantage of a site, climate and material to minimize energy use. Lindquist explained his home was constructed with passive solar energy in mind.

“Passive solar energy is fundamentally about a building’s orientation and shape,” he said.

The direction the house faces and the windows can impact how much energy a home needs. As an example, windows facing the sun could help heat the home in winter and reduce energy usage. However, the same window could increase the heat during the summer. The cost of running an air conditioner to offset the heat could eliminate energy savings. Shade structures and energy-efficient windows can also help provide passive solar.

Lindquist said passive solar can be the cheapest form of solar energy, but only if the home is designed with it in mind. Converting an existing home to passive solar can be costly or impractical. He said in a city like New Ulm, where the homes are not organized in a true north-south alignment it can be difficult to take advantage of passive solar.

Solar thermal energy is created by converting light into heat energy. These systems are sometimes called hot air solar. Lindquist uses this system for a chicken coop on his property.

He said there are aesthetic concerns with installing the solar thermal units. Sometimes the panels cannot go directly into the house. This is one of the reasons Lindquist uses his system on a chicken coop.

Thermal hot water devices also exist, but are more complicated than heating air devices. In Minnesota, there is a risk of hot water systems freezing and leaking.

One benefit of the hot water system is storage capacity. The heated water can be stored for later use instead of being used immediately.

Lindquist dedicated most of the talk to photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. He said PV panels are the primary focus for solar energy in the grid. The PV panels can be connected to residential, commercial, industrial and utility properties.

Lindquist said PV panels are becoming more popular as cost trends become more attractive.

“Photovoltaic, the panel cost has come down so much,” Lindquist said. This is in part because the manufacturing cost to make the panels has decreased and the efficiency has increased.

Currently, a PV panel generates 20 watts per square foot. Lindquist said a person who wanted a 6,000-watt system would need 300 square feet of solar panels. These panels can be installed on the ground as an accessory structure or on roofs.

Lindquist said the rule of thumb for installing PV panels on the roof is it will cost $3 for every watt of energy produced. This is assuming the roof does not require any repairs.

According to the Department of Energy, PV panels work best with a southern exposure with 15 and 40-degree tilts. The tilt of the panel will depend on the pitch of the roof or ground space.

Lindquist said in determining the need for a solar project there are five things to consider; motivation, resource, capital, permission and contractor.

Lindquist said some people are motivated to save money or make a return on investment. Most utilities do credit solar customers for generating electricity into the grid. New Ulm Public Utilities will credit a solar credit user about 12 cents per kWh. If the solar panels produce 1,300 kWh in a year, the user will see a $156 revenue a year. Depending on the overhead cost, it could take over a decade for PV users to see a return on the investment.

“If your goal is to make a return on investment, you could probably find a better return on the benefit,” Lindquist said. “If your goal is to save the planet, this is something you could do and make a little money.”

Another challenge with PV panels is receiving legal permission. There are local zoning laws and utility agreements that can determine how and where PV panels are installed.

Lindquist said that when installing his PV panels in the country, the greatest regulatory challenge was the 100-foot setback from a county ditch.

In New Ulm, the zoning ordinance allows up to 120 square feet of solar panels. With 20 watts per square foot, at most a PV panel in New Ulm could produce 2.4 kilowatts.

Lindquist was asked about the lifespan of PV panels. He said it is assumed the panels have a 25-year lifespan. Panels could last longer but will decline in efficiency.

Lindquist said one of the best parts of solar energy is its predictability. He said, “We know when the sun will rise, we can predict eclipses for the next thousand years.”

Looking to the future, Lindquist believes battery storage capabilities will play a major role in the adoption of solar energy. Currently, electricity produced from solar panels is sent into the energy grid. There are limited storage options for solar energy. Once reliable storage batteries are created, solar energy could be generated as a backup.

The LWV’s conservation forum series will continue at 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 25 with a presentation from Chris Lewis and Dan Gag from GSM speaking on energy-efficient homes.

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