Spotlight: Solar power: Energy source of future

2016-10-09 07:40:09 | From:http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-10/09/c_135739235.htm

-- By Xinhua writer Zhang Yongxing

HOUSTON, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- As one of the green energies, the solar power has a great potential. In sunny Texas, the second largest state in theUnited States, the solar power has over the past years taken a place alongside the other sources of energy.

In a state like Texas which has abundant energy resources and transparent energy markets, people have compelling reasons to go solar because of the falling cost of solar equipment and installation, state rebates, property tax exemptions, and the 30 percent Federal tax rebate, a senior official from the Texas-based OCI Solar Power told Xinhua.

"This is a great time for solar in the United States, of course including Texas," John Huffaker, vice president of commercial operations of the OCI Solar Power said.

"After the extension of the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) was passed in 2015, solar has become much more viable for those (individuals, businesses and utilities) looking to transition to renewable energy. As solar manufacturing prices continue to decrease, solar has become much more competitive with the price of oil, even during the downturn," he said.

The solar market in the Lone Star state has dramatically changed in the last few years, and is currently set to become the fastest growing utility-scale solar market in the United States.

According to John, a number of solar companies have realized the potential in Texas and have a corporate presence in the state.

"The state of Texas is emerging as a global leader and San Antonio, a city in the southern part of Texas, has become an industry hub in the state, " he said, adding that "the OCI Solar Power is proud to be leading the development of solar in Texas, and will bring 450MW of solar to the state."

Decades ago, solar power (or photovoltaic power), an inexhaustible energy source that converts sunlight into electricity, was an experimental power source, but today lower production costs, greater dependability and ease of use have led to a wider acceptance of the solar power technology, making it a major energy source across the United States.

Currently, solar power in Texas is used for a variety of purposes including mainly powering homes. The state is ranked first in solar energy potential, according to the State Energy Conversation Office (SECO) but is only tenth in solar energy production.

With a mostly sunny climate, renewable energy companies like the OCI Solar Power are looking at Texas as the next frontier for solar energy production.

Headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, the OCI Solar Power specializes in utility, commercial and industrial-scale solar projects. In Texas, the company has developed eight sights, including Alamo 1-7, a project totaling 400MW, and Pearl, a 50MW solar farm which is adjacent to Alamo 6 in Pecos County, Texas. The company also owns and operates two, 3MW solar farms in the state of New Jersey and one, 1MW solar farm in the state of Georgia.

Alamo 1 is the first solar farm sits on 445 acres (about 180 hectares) of land owned by the OCI Solar Power.

According to Jaro Nummikoski, asset manager of the OCI Solar Power, the 39MW farm, which began operation in December 2013, has about 116,000 panels, most of them were made in China.

"The solar farm powers approximately 8,820 homes in San Antonio and reduces carbon emissions by 57,000 tons annually," he said proudly while pointing to the solar farm which is located around 15 minutes south of downtown San Antonio.

When asked how to cut the grass in the solar farm, Jaro said that the company uses professional companies to kill the weeds, but in the 4.4MW Alamo 2 solar farm near San Antonio, which came online in 2014, the company employs dozens of sheep to keep the grass cut, first of its kind in Texas.

"This solar farm has about 18,000 panels and puts out enough energy to power about 1,000 homes, but just because of its proximity to the water treatment facility, and because this solar farm on 45 acres (about 18.2 hectares) of land is located in a residential area, surrounded by neighborhoods and a middle school less than a mile (about 1.6 km) away, traditional herbicides used to kill weeds and unwanted vegetation are strictly prohibited. Using sheep to maintain our grounds allows for a safe, natural way to control grass and weeds," he said.

In addition, he said, it is also very difficult to use traditional mowers around the panel equipment, but because the sheep have a lot more flexibility, and they have done a great job to help us cut the weeds.

The boom in the solar power also has helped Texas' job market. A 2010 National Solar Jobs Census ranks the state third among states, with an estimated 6,400 solar jobs at 170 companies.

The OCI Solar Power and Mission Solar Energy are part of a consortium, they have created 800 jobs for the city of San Antonio.

As for the challenges facing the solar power, John said that all solar companies are facing challenges associated with new technology, associated cost issues and financing but these issues will be resolved over time.

There is no doubt that solar power plants are the future of Texas power. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the entity that manages the flow of electric power to some 24 million Texas customers, predicts that because the solar power is priced low enough to beat the cost of other new plants, between 14,500 MW and 27,200 MW worth of new solar farms will be built in the state by 2031. Under such a scenario, solar's share of the Texas grid is expected to skyrocket from under 5 percent to 15 percent.

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