November28

Let the Sun Shine Through

By Tony Shepley

What produces electrical power without making a sound, with no moving parts, and with no impact on our environment except positive benefit?…solar panels. With all the hot air being blown around about the pros and cons of wind turbines, photo voltaic solar arrays are quietly generating power. Solar panels have been around for decades but technology has made leaps and bounds forward and has resulted in huge gains in quality and performance while at the same time costs have been driven down continually. A solar panel today costs about one thirtieth what its predecessors cost several decades ago. Reliability and performance are far improved at the same time and the solar industry is growing at a 100% annual growth rate. Just a few years ago solar production passed the 10 giga-watt annual figure. In 2017 it exceeded 50 giga-watts. To get you used to the terminology a kilo-watt is a thousand watts, a mega-watt is a million watts and a giga-watt is a billion watts. What a difference a few rays of sunlight and a few extra zeroes can make!

Critics of any alternative energy are always quick to point to higher costs of power production, but frankly every form of energy we use today enjoys some form of subsidy. You didn’t think our gas prices were this low in comparison with the rest of the developed world just because of our good looks did you? Certainly having the US dollar as the world reserve currency doesn’t hurt, as everyone else has to buy oil with dollars, but subsidies in the US are a part of energy production. We have the lowest fuel costs for consumers of any developed nation, because we are the most subsidized.

In similar fashion, the Internet didn’t spawn itself. It was developed by the government as a military tool and subsidized to the point at which it could take flight by itself.

Strategic analyst and author George Freidman writes in his book, The Next Hundred Years, that he foresees solar collector arrays in space that will be beaming energy back to earth by microwave transmission by the year 2050. Friedman believes the US will be uniquely positioned to take advantage of this new energy opportunity and that it will establish us an energy leader and free us from our fossil fuel dependence. That is 22 years away, however. In the meantime, we are working on a state of the art that is still on the ground and on roof tops and not yet in the sky.

For the past 7 years Shepley Wood Products has been the first lumber and building material distributor we are aware of who can claim to generate more electrical power than it uses. Although for a while we were the owners of the current largest solar array on Cape Cod, we were eclipsed by a couple of larger solar projects. Such is the path of progress. We were proud to be part of the trail blazing. We were the first solar project to be large enough to require review by the Cape Cod Commission and we got to learn some early lessons about the risks of being relative pioneers on this size of a solar project. Yes from time to time, pioneers get their share of flaming arrows shot at them!

We are located next to the Barnstable Airport, nearly 6000 solar panels with a surface area of almost 4 acres, covering a ground area of 6 acres, and generating 480 volt power back into the grid. Yes, the electric meter does actually spin backwards in what is called a net metering arrangement with EverSource. This array does prefer a sunny day and produces peak output of just under 1.5 mega (million) watts. Longer summer days are higher producers than short winter ones and sunny days out perform cloudy days, but even during our most recent tropical rain storm the other day, with not even a hint of sun visible,  our solar farm was producing a respectable 46 kilo (thousand) watts. We wanted to put a piece of undeveloped property to highest and best use. We wanted to help drive alternative energy awareness to help wean us off of foreign energy and encourage the production of domestic energy.

Charles Kettering once said, “We should all be mindful of the future, because we will spend the rest of our lives there”. By harnessing the sun’s rays, we hope to bring the future one step closer and you can be sure that no one likes sunny days any more than we do!

 

Tony Shepley

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