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Solar energizes Florida schools

4:20 PM, Feb 3, 2009   |    comments
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With rising fuel prices and climate change being hot topics worldwide, Floridians are looking at alternative ways to generate cost-effective, environmentally responsible electricity. And, naturally, the sun is one of the first places the Sunshine State residents look. Efforts to harness the power of the sun’s radiant energy have been a hot pursuit for many years.

According to the Institute for Energy Research, solar energy provides less than one-tenth of one percent of the total energy used in the United States. While the amount of electricity generated from solar power in the US has increased nearly 1600 percent in recent years - rising from 12,561 kilowatts in 1997 to 208,511 kilowatts in 2006, efforts to expand solar capacity face several challenges such as cost and reliability.

Solar power is often pointed to as an inexpensive and easy solution to meeting future energy needs, but even in Florida, where the sun shines about two-thirds of the daylight hours each year, there are limitations to how much energy we can get from the sun’s rays. Although sunshine has no cost, the technology needed to capture and distribute solar energy is typically five times more expensive than traditional sources of generation, such as coal, nuclear or natural gas.

The other challenge is reliability. Electricity is needed 24/7, but the sun doesn’t shine all the time. While companies are researching energy storage, there currently is no technology available to store and redistribute the solar energy when it is needed the most.

Progress Energy Florida, which already produces three percent of the company’s electricity from renewable energy resources, recognizes these obstacles and is aggressively trying to overcome them. The company believes solar energy can play an important role in the future, as the technology matures. One of the ways Progress Energy Florida is supporting that belief is through a program called SolarWise for Schools, which helps fund the installation of solar energy systems at Florida schools.

To date, the company has been instrumental in installing photovoltaic (PV) panels on 14 schools with an accompanying energy education curriculum. Students are benefitting from the program today through their daily studies and may provide benefit to us in the future by designing the alternative energy technology of tomorrow.

A parent at a recent SolarWise for Schools launch summed up the program by saying, “This photovoltaic solar array is more than just a source of electricity for light bulbs in the ceiling. It is a source of inspiration – the key to unleashing the creative power of our children and igniting the light bulb of imagination in their minds.” Progress Energy Florida’s long-term goal is to provide a solar system to each school in its 35-county service territory.

To learn more about SolarWise for Schools and how you can make a positive impact in Florida’s energy future, call 1-877-364-9003 or visit www.savethewatts.com.

Test your solar smarts (T or F)

1. Solar Energy has been around for 5 billion years.

True. Solar energy has been around since the sun was born. It is responsible for the weather and virtually all life on Earth. For example, plants use it to photosynthesize light. The use of solar panels to channel energy into electricity is a far more recent phenomenon. That technology has been around for about 50 years.

2. The solar sector could employ 2 million people by 2020.

True. According to Greenjobs.com, the solar sector could employ 2 million people by 2020, which is more people than currently working as elementary school teachers. Research and development groups at national laboratories, universities, and private companies develop and continually improve solar products to lower their costs and improve their reliability. As each technology progresses from the research and development phase toward full-scale commercialization, an increasing number of both professional and skilled workers are needed to sell, manufacture, design, install, and maintain equipment.

3. One of the major breakthroughs in solar technology was in Florida in 1992.

True. In 1992 researchers at the University of South Florida in Tampa fabricated the first thin-film solar cell that was more than 15 percent efficient, meaning that 15 percent of the available solar energy from the sun was converted to usable electric energy.

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