Sunlight Solar Energy Inc. employee installing preliminary railing on Bend Parks and Recreation District Office
Throughout the years solar panels on roofs have transformed from a novelty into a mainstream energy solution with solar panels appearing on homes, municipal buildings, non-profit organizations and even wineries. Underscoring this change in the industry, Paul Israel (president of Sunlight Solar Energy Inc. and Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association), states that “in 2013 alone, 20% of all new electric installations were solar. This increase is evidence of solar’s increasingly dominate position in the energy industry.” Other contributions to this shift towards solar can be contributed to an increase in public concern over the environment, available tax credits, rebates, and incentives for solar installations. Finally, the cost of materials has seen a significant decrease by “over 20% in the last 4 years” says Joe Mazzarella, System Designer for Sunlight Solar Energy Inc.
Although these incentives and lowered material costs make solar a more attractive option for homeowners and small businesses, the commercial arena has not been as active in placing solar systems on existing or new buildings. According to a study done by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), this is largely due to what NREL termed ‘soft costs.’ Soft costs refer to the costs associated with the supply chain, installation labor, customer acquisition and business overhead including the cost of permitting, inspections, interconnection with the utility, rebate application process and system design.
Conversely, advocates for designing solar ready (which consists of adding preliminary connections for a future solar system during a building’s design phase) point out that there are several benefits to building with a future solar installation in mind. These benefits include: incentives from the Energy Trust of Oregon of up to $20,000, eliminating the possibility of having to change the roof structure or opening walls to accommodate a future solar system, and not having to financially commit to purchasing an entire solar system during the initial build.
Given the double digit life expectancy of commercial buildings, it is very likely buildings erected today will have a solar installation in the future and should consider building solar ready. Due to the expected increase in solar system installations, The American Institute of Architects currently offers continuing education credits for a solar ready course. Among other concerns, the course covers the Energy Trust of Oregon build and design requirements to qualify for Solar Ready tax incentives.
Regardless of personal opinion, projections of the solar industry remain positive. If the U.S Energy Information Administration projections are accurate, solar is expected to grow “by 52% between the years 2012 and 2040” (http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_electric.cfm). This could mean that building solar ready may change from being an option to an industry standard.
Course Title: Solar Ready – Your Commercial Building
Course Number: 69
Delivery Name: Oregon Solar Energy Association
Curriculum Group Name: AIA Providers
Credit Designation: LU|HSW