Weighing the aesthetics, cost-effectiveness, and total energy output of solar panels
With growing concern for the environment has come a tremendous push for energy independence and sustainability. In the buildings sector, this has manifested itself in part in increased interest in solar-energy systems. Knowing what to look for in terms of aesthetics, cost-effectiveness, and total energy output can make the decision of whether or not to install solar panels — and the process of convincing a client — an easy one.
Looks Can Be Everything
Although it may seem secondary to power generation and energy offsets, aesthetics often is the determining factor in whether or not a solar power system is installed.
Solar panels typically come in one or two colors, depending on the materials used in construction, and have either a shattered or a homogenous look. Invariably, they are rectangular in shape.
If a client is interested in high-power solar panels, he or she may be disappointed to learn that black is the only color option. Whatever the case, as system designers approach the challenge of specifying solar panels for a client, they need to know the client's aesthetic likes and dislikes and consider how panels will look once installed.
As with any system or piece of equipment, the selection of solar panels is highly dependent on cost. Although solar panels can generate energy repeatedly and reliably, their relatively large price tags can discourage consideration of systems significant enough in scale to meet long-term power-generation needs and offset higher first costs.
Of course, there is more to consider with solar-energy systems than upfront cost. Take state feed-in tariffs (FITs), for instance. Depending on the terms of a FIT, not only can enough power be generated to meet a building's energy needs, excess power can be sold back to the utility. These types of programs emphasize the power output of solar panels; thus, it is best to focus on panels with high rated efficiencies.
Subsidies from local governments that offer money up front for systems are not as concerned about power generation as they are about the number of panels installed. If there is a lot of land area for solar panels to be installed in large arrays, then low-cost panels with lower efficiency rates can be used. However, the return on investment usually is longer.
Total Energy Output
Systems installed simply for the purpose of “greening” a company's image and systems designed based on looks generally do not offer the same total energy output as systems designed to increase power output through higher solar-light-to-electricity ratios. Those choosing panels and systems should consider the amount of energy that can be produced and what the daily average output will be to help clients understand how long it will be before they can expect to “break even” or exceed their initial investment.
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As corporate communications specialist, Aaron Fowles creates, implements, and oversees all SANYO North America messaging strategies.
For previous Engineering Green Buildings columns, visit www.hpac.com.