A WAFF 48 News Special Report: Solar Solution

Advocates of solar power are working to get more homeowners and businesses to harness the sun's energy.

"Enough sun hits the earth in 15 seconds to meet the world's energy needs all day long. You've just go to capture it," said Morton Archibald, President of the Alabama Solar Association.

Their mission is to educate people about the possibilities of solar power.

"We're trying to get away from fossil fuels, trying to move people more toward renewable energy," Archibald said.

He believes solar is the best way to compliment nuclear and hydro power. Utility companies, urged by federal mandates, are offering a premium price to buy renewable energy from homeowners and businesses who harness it.

"Instead of having to meet a certain peak demand in August and July when you have a ramp up in the amount of electricity that's being used, (with) solar, these can be disbursed easily throughout all the state. A homeowner, a business, many people can get involved," said John B. Conger, III. Conger is a project engineer for Huntsville-based Southern Solar Systems.

The company works with customers who are taking part in the TVA's Generation Partners Program.

It allows solar panel owners to sell their energy back to the TVA, and offset their own utility costs.

However getting started with solar takes a substantial financial commitment.

"The average home would need about $20,000 to $30,000 investment. That seems like a lot of money but that's your electricity for the next 25 years," Archibald explained.

Spread out over time that's about 85 dollars a month. If you cannot afford it all up front, there are options for financing.

"It's like mortgaging your house. You can save a lot of money if you can pay for the whole cost up front, but very few people have that much money. So you can get green financing, you can roll it into your mortgage, there are companies that will actually lease you the panels. Basically you don't make anything but you don't lose anything for the first ten years or so and then they're your panels and you get to save from then on," Archibald said.

The materials are getting cheaper through the years. Manufacturers in Tennessee are investing billions of dollars to produce key parts of the panels. That's helped drive prices down by 30 percent, according to Archibald and Conger.

Additionally, some land owners are taking advantage of the lower costs by installing large scale solar farms.

Experts believe they are more cost effective and more environmentally friendly than building more power plants.

"For 25, 30 years, you have a product that is just harnessing the solar but we don't have any type of moving parts where you have any oils or fluids or any contaminated type of fluids over time that could leak out into the fields," Conger explained.

He said if the panels are installed correctly, there should be no harsh environmental side effects.

Right now there are no laws in Alabama about who can install a solar array.

"I don't usually really recommend photovoltaic's as a do it yourself project, but there are a lot of real savvy do-it-yourselfers in the Tennessee Valley and there are some people out there that could do this themselves," Archibald said.

If you're not up for installing it yourself Archibald recommends looking for a professional engineer with at least four years of experience. He said you should check their track record and make sure they can spot any issues with your install location. Click here for a list of solar technology companies recommended by the Alabama Solar Association.

A home with too much shade probably would not be a good fit. However, if it is, Conger says you could be saving money, and the environment.

"The future of energy and solar power is really bright," he said.

If you are not ready to install a solar array on your own house, you can still use solar energy by purchasing it from the TVA. You just sign up and the average household pays about $16 more every month.

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