Page E2.1 . 21 January 2004                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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    PV at Home

    by B.J. Novitski

    As the cost of photovoltaic (PV) technology declines, it is becoming more common for large companies and institutions to install vast arrays of PV cells to capture solar radiation and convert it into electricity. But until recently, it was the rare individual who would place expensive photoelectric panels on the roof of his or her house. Increasingly, however, lower costs and the appeal of an independent power supply have encouraged small businesses and homeowners to take a closer look at the options.

    According to energy experts at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), the massive August 14, 2003 power outage in the eastern part of North America was "a wake-up call to decision makers." The regional power system failed, they say, because it was heavily loaded, near capacity, and too centralized.

    RMI had warned of the weakness of the grid for over 20 years, notably in the book Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security, which describes the vulnerability of the North American electric grid.

    The solution, according to Kyle Datta, managing director of RMI's consulting practice, is distributed generation in smaller, modular, diverse, and redundant electrical devices across the grid, close to the loads they serve. He says: "energy sources such as fuel cells, combined heat and power systems, solar panels, and micro-turbines can provide power at lower cost and greater reliability than the centralized power grid."   >>>

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    Rooftop photovoltaic array on a house in California.
    Photo: Kyocera Solar, Inc.

    ArchWeek Image

    A PV system can be a two-way exchange of electricity between home and power grid.
    Image: Kyocera Solar, Inc.


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