Harnessing the Power of Solar
Harnessing the power of the sun and converting it into usable electric and thermal energy is becoming a popular trend for homes, businesses and schools on the Space Coast. Good thing we live in the Sunshine State and the sun’s rays are abundant.
Solar energy is also “clean” energy, which is important everywhere, but vitally so in an area so economically dependent on its environment like Brevard County.
Solar energy is captured in a variety of ways, the most common of which is with photovoltaic solar panels that convert the sun’s rays into usable electricity. Solar projects can be scaled for residential, commercial and utility, meaning it’s provided to multiple solar customers.
The energy is measured in kilowatts (KW) or megawatts (MW). According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:
- Kilowatts and kilowatt-hours are useful for measuring amounts of electricity used by large appliances and households.
- Kilowatt-hours are what show up on your power bill, describing how much electricity you have used.
- One kilowatt (kW) equals 1,000 watts, and one kilowatt-hour (kWh) is one hour of using electricity at a rate of 1,000 watts.
- New energy-efficient refrigerators use about 300-400 kilowatt-hours per year. The typical American home uses about 7,200 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.
- Megawatts are used to measure the output of a power plant or the amount of electricity required by an entire city. One megawatt (MW) = 1,000 kilowatts = 1,000,000 watts.
Utility: Go Big
Florida Power & Light Company and Brevard County play major roles in one of the largest solar expansions in the country.
“FPL is on a path to install 30 million solar panels by 2030, and Brevard County is an important part of that growth,” said Bart Gaetjens, FPL external affairs manager. “From one of Florida’s first solar power plants — the FPL Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center — to the more than 300,000 solar panels that began generating emissions-free power last year at our solar plant in Barefoot Bay, innovative technology goes beyond rocket launches in Brevard County. And, there’s even more solar on the horizon.”
Today, FPL operates 18 solar power plants and more than 200 smaller solar installations around the state. Construction is underway at 10 new FPL solar plants on track to open next year, and the company shows no sign of slowing down over the next decade. Industry experts predict Florida will rank No. 2 nationally in solar capacity by 2022, thanks in large part to FPL’s solar expansion.
Similar in scope to other solar facilities FPL has built in recent years, its proposed FPL Discovery Solar Energy Center would add another 74.5 megawatts of zero-emissions energy to the grid for FPL customers. Together in partnership with Kennedy Space Center, the project would be constructed across from the KSC Visitor Complex, where FPL has installed solar trees throughout the Rocket Garden that give visitors an up-close look at solar technology.
Commercial: Projects You Can See
Large-scale solar installations are only part of the solar story in Brevard. Solar trees and canopies, voluntarily funded by customers who participate in the FPL SolarNow program, can be found throughout the community, including at the Brevard Zoo, KSC and Pelican Beach Park.
“These innovative solar trees and canopies are located in the heart of the community and give people an opportunity to see what solar panels look like up close,” Gaetjens said. “They generate more renewable power for everyone and help to raise awareness for solar energy.”
Solar for our schools
Another FPL initiative involved the construction of 10 solar array projects for Brevard Public Schools, installed for no cost at:
- Central Middle School
- Cocoa High School
- Educational Services Facility
- Golfview Elementary School
- Jefferson Middle School
- Johnson Middle School
- McNair Middle School
- Satellite High School
- Stone Middle School
- West Shore Jr/Sr High School
FPL provided teacher training at the Florida Solar Energy Center as well as clean energy instructional courses and curriculum materials for science teachers. The arrays generate power that is used on-site at each of the schools. Read more at https://www.brevardschools.org/Page/4828.
Residential: Bring it home
Homeowners can install solar hot water systems and passive solar heating. Residential-scale solar is typically installed on rooftops or in open land and generally provides between 5 and 20 kilowatts (kW).
LifeStyle Homes builds homes with solar features.
“Solar-powered homes represent the best cutting-edge, clean-energy homes being built today,” said LifeStyle Homes Marketing Director Karen Kicinski. So much electricity is generated that energy bills are slashed.
“If your LifeStyle solar-powered home produces more energy than you need, the surplus energy will be routed to your utility company, which will then credit your utility account for that excess energy. When the sun isn’t shining, like on cloudy days or at nighttime, you will use this credit to purchase energy from your utility company. This give-and-take of energy is called ‘net-metering’ and it happens seamlessly and automatically,” Kicinski added.
When a home produces as much energy as it consumes on a yearly basis, it has achieved a zero-energy performance.
Owning a pool in Florida is popular, and people like to swim all year round — IF the water is warm enough. The U.S. Department of Energy encourages homeowners with pools to “significantly reduce swimming pool heating costs by installing a solar pool heater.”
John Foster, sales and design manager and an owner at Blue Marlin Pools in Rockledge said solar heating extends that swim time.
“If they want to swim every day of the year, rain or shine, with no regard to the weather, that's a heat pump,” Foster said. “But if they tell me, ‘John, it's March and 80 degrees outside, but the water is still 70,’ solar will get them to 80 plus.”
According to Jason Hughes on his popular River Pools & Spas blog, “While solar pumps may be using ‘free sunshine,’ the pump must be kept running in order for it to function. This boosts a typical electric bill by $25 to $80 a month. Gas heaters can range $300 to $500 per month, and electric heat pumps typically cost owners on average $50-100 per month.”
These numbers are very tentative, though, as weather conditions and desired water temperature can drastically impact costs.
So, the next time you read or hear of Florida as “The Sunshine State,” you’ll know it is about a lot more than growing citrus. Florida it leading the way into the future of solar energy and its many uses.
FPL solar projects
Blue Marlin Pools
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