Page E2.2 . 11 February 2004                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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    PV at Home

    continued

    Decentralizing Power

    Homeowners are beginning to respond to the wake-up call and installing electricity-generating PV panels on their roofs. The initial installation is still costly, about the price of a big-screen TV, but many are discovering that the payback is worth it.

    In addition to peace of mind derived from knowing they make nonpolluting electricity and will have power during a failure of the local grid, these homeowners are dramatically reducing future electrical bills. In some cases, where supported by the right technology, state laws, and utility company policies, homemade surpluses can be sold back to the utility and redirected to the grid.

    Kyocera Solar, Inc. is one company providing such systems that convert everyday sunshine into direct current (DC) electricity without the harmful byproducts associated with conventional sources of electricity such as coal, oil, gas, and nuclear power. The systems include solar panels, inverters, and a battery backup that can protect against short-term blackouts.

    Kyrocera inverters change the DC into alternating current (AC) that is compatible with the U.S. electrical infrastructure. When the electrical output from the PV system is less than a family needs, the balance can be purchased from the local utility company. When local production exceeds need, the surplus can be stored or sold back to the grid.

    Whether the net flow is positive or negative depends on the size of the roof array and the power demands of the family. Kyocera staff have observed that owning such a system makes consumers more conscious of the energy they use and therefore better conservationists.

    They tend to reduce consumption, using energy-efficient appliances for instance, and to accept as part of their payback the knowledge that their roof-mounted systems will help reduce global warming, natural resource depletion, and dependency on foreign oil.

    The ability to resell unused electricity to a utility depends on a "net metering" law such as the one in California. In addition, substantial rebates on the initial cost of a PV system are becoming more common as a way for states, cities, and utility companies to help in the transition to decentralized sources of electricity.

    For now it appears that national leaders and decision makers, rather than learning from the electric power crises, are planning to spend billions to rebuild old-tech, polluting, centralized infrastructures. Maybe it's up to homeowners and consumers to lead the way.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    B.J. Novitski is managing editor of ArchitectureWeek and author of Rendering Real and Imagined Buildings.

     

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    ArchWeek Image

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

    ArchWeek Image

    Components of a Kyocera PV system.
    Photo: Kyocera Solar, Inc.

    ArchWeek Image

    Large PV array for a commercial application installed on a flat roof.
    Photo: Kyocera Solar, Inc.

    ArchWeek Image

    Size and shape choices of Kyocera photovoltaic panels.
    Photo: Kyocera Solar, Inc.

     

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