While a number of local residents, businesses and institutions have installed solar panels on their roofs or elsewhere to reduce electrical costs and CO2 emissions, many others do not have the correct roof orientation or size required.
In addition, because a number of business and residential properties are rented, the occupants do not have the solar panel option.
And finally, because many properties benefit from tall, shading trees that provide cooling and temperature moderation during the warm months, they are not suitable for solar panels.
But there are alternatives. One is solar panel farms, an arrangement in which families, neighbors or communities share the installation costs, or investment, and share the profits from generating electricity for the grid. These arrays can be placed on parking lots, buildings or non-arable or “gray” lands. The advantage of this approach is that it accepts capital from investors, and provides credit for the output as well as tax benefits to investors, be they private groups or communal ones.
Gaylord Olson, a Jefferson Road resident in Princeton and engineer/consultant who has studied this idea, points out that these solar farms can provide alternative power and income to those who otherwise would not have the space or other conditions allowing their own panels.
Residents or other investors joining together would receive the electricity from the panels in collaboration with local utilities, which would distribute the power and also credit those owners based on the percentage of their investment. The combined prospects of saving money, making money and receiving tax credits as well as reducing CO2 emissions make this a valuable innovation.
A number of residents on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts has done just this, contracting with a private grocery store to allow group-owned panels to be installed on its roof and parking lot, providing both electricity and profits for their community.
The Princeton Shopping Center with its many flat-roofed buildings and ample parking lot (which could be covered with solar panels, shading shoppers’ cars while providing power) seems to be an obvious candidate for this business-community collaboration.
The technology has been adopted nearby, in Lawrence and Montgomery townships that have installed solar panels on school buildings and parking lots to offset electricity costs. Also, a number of local businesses (Firmenich, Princeton Printers, and others), have already installed panels on their parking garages or roofs.
The new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro has erected a number of solar paneled parking spaces in its large lot, providing shade and electricity. The technology is here. Princeton has several municipal buildings that might be suitable for this income-generating, cost-and-emissions-saving idea.
Another part of the energy-saving, green energy challenge is storing electricity. Where and how can that be done?
At the University of Delaware, Dr. Willet Kempton has been researching a simple storage idea that could help speed the transition to clean energy.
The idea is that utilities would pay electric and plug-in hybrid car owners to store electricity in their car batteries when the grid has a surplus (typically at night, when the batteries could also be recharged at cheaper rates). Then, during peak-usage times, the utilities would draw out some of that stored electricity.
Because most cars are parked at work or at home most of the time, their combined storage capacity could benefit utilities in several additional ways such as storing wind-generated power for peak periods, and eliminating the need for back-up power plants.
For electric/plug-in hybrid car owners, the income could produce as much as $4,000/car/year, essentially paying for a model such as the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, or C-Max Energi. Here too, like the solar farms, the hardware and know-how exists. The question is how to jump start the programs.
Ahead of the general public in addressing climate change, the Pentagon has undertaken a $20 million pilot program testing whether this storage strategy could benefit them by making their vehicles less dependent on fossil fuels. Potentially their results could guide public programs.
The town of Princeton should consider adopting these innovations to both produce electricity and store it, saving the town money, generating income and reducing emissions.
As several New York Times articles have recently noted, such innovations are not merely the latest, clever strategies to save and make money — they are part of an essential global transformation in energy production that must be pursued if we are to reduce emissions and preserve the environmental balances on which we depend.
According to the latest U.N. report, whose science 97 percent of published scientific literature supports, nations have dragged their feet in battling climate change. According to this report, the world has maybe another 15 years to substantially reduce emissions before the problem becomes unsolvable and changes life as we’ve known it.
The original article was posted on The Lawrence Ledger.