November29

December 2012 – Keep On Shining Through

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 is making its expected leaps and bounds forward and has resulted in huge gains in quality and performance while at the same time costs are continually driven down. Today, a solar panel costs about one thirtieth what its predecessors cost several decades ago. At the same time, reliability and performance are far improved. While solar may not be on the same rate of rise as the Internet, the solar industry is increasing at a 100% annual growth rate. Only two years ago, solar passed the 10 giga-watt annual production figure. To familiarize you with the terminology, one kilo-watt is one thousand watts, one mega-watt is one million watts and one giga-watt is one billion watts. It takes one kilowatt (kWh) of electricity to burn a 100 watt light bulb for 10 hours. That’s a lot of light powered by rays of sunshine!

Critics of any form of alternative energy are usually 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 has to buy oil with dollars, but subsidies also affect traditional energy production. Monetary backing promotes growth of resources and hopefully leads to self-sustained stability. Look at the Internet, it 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, which will beam 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 as an energy leader and free us from our fossil fuel dependence.  However, that’s 38 years away. In the meantime, we are working on state-of-the-art technology that is still on the ground and not yet in the sky.

Shepley Wood Products is the first lumber and building material distributor (that we are aware of) who can claim to generate more electrical power than it uses. Currently, we are the owners of the largest solar array on Cape Cod! But we look forward to being eclipsed by larger solar projects in the near future. Located next to the Barnstable Municipal Airport, our solar array has nearly 6000 panels covering a surface area of almost 4 acres and a ground area of 6 acres, and generates 480 volts of power back into the grid. Yes, the electric meter does actually spin backwards in what is called a net metering arrangement with Nstar. 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, with not even a hint of sun visible,  our solar farm was producing a respectable 46 kilo (thousand) watts. Our goal was to put a piece of undeveloped property to its highest and best use. We want 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.

 

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