Solar Power Plans Take Off at Home, Business and City Levels

Solar Power Plans Take Off at Home, Business and City Levels

No matter how gloomy the economy gets, the sun seems to still be shining bright on solar power.

In recent days there has been a steady flow of innovations and announcements about solar power across the U.S., ranging from relatively small scale installments to both city-scale plans and statewide legislation.

Starting on the (relatively) smallest end of the spectrum, GreenWaste Recovery and SolarCity announced today that they had completed a 1,500-panel solar power system that spans 1.8 acres, and will be used to provide the power for GreenWaste's Material Recovery Facility in San Jose, Calif. The system is expected to produce over 400,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, enough to power as many as 50 homes in the area.

"The project truly reflects the value our company places on green technology and environmental stewardship," Richard Cristina, president of GreenWaste Recovery, said in a statement. "We are using the power of the sun, a clean renewable energy source, to divert recyclable and compostable materials away from landfills and put them to good use."

Moving up on the scope of projects, solar service provider SunEdison announced today that in 2008, the company installed 86 photovoltaic energy systems in the U.S., with a total generating capacity of 25.5 megawatts of electricity. The company singled out Wells Fargo as a key driver of SunEdison's achievement; the bank provided $250 million in financing for solar energy projects since 2007. As of December 2008, Well Fargo had financed more than $3 billion in renewable energy projects.

From the individual-project level to the city scale, a joint agreement announced last week will make the city of Babcock Ranch, Fla., the world's first fully solar-powered city.

The project will be shepherded by real estate developer Kitson & Partners with Florida Power & Light; the companies will build a 17,000-acre city powered by FPL's 75 megawatt solar facility, creating as many as 20,000 jobs in the area and serving as a testing ground for both solar technology and smart grid technology.

In the end, the city of Babcock Ranch will include 6 million square feet of retail, commercial, office, civic and light-industrial space, all plugged in to a smart grid, wireless internet and ultra-high-capacity digital pipeline to support the technological growth of the town. The adjacent 73,000 acres will be preserved as the Babcock Ranch Preserve, and city planners are also working to incorporate open space and greenways on more than half of the city's acreage.

Escalating one last time, from the city to state level, California Assemblywoman Lori Saldana has introduced legislation that would require all homes built in California after 2020 to be net-zero energy homes -- capable of generating at least as much energy as they require.

The legislation, which will be considered in the state's Assembly this week, would give some leeway in implementing the requirement based on market costs for solar systems. But a representative from Environment California said that solar rebates and incentives at the city, state and federal level will do enough to spur demand that the costs for solar systems will likely drop in half in the coming years.

Much more on renewable energy strategies are online at ClimateBiz.com and GreenBiz.com.

Solar panel photos CC-licensed by Flickr users Schwarzerkater and Clearly Ambiguous.