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Mississippians try to become more eco-friendly

Soaking up the Sun

In the future, Mississippi homes may be soaking up the sun. As alternative energy sources are increasingly explored, the state may turn more and more to its abundant sunshine to provide power for homes.

“There is continued work to develop new technologies to capture the sun’s energy, including photovoltaic cells, concentrating solar power technologies and low-temperature solar collectors,” said Linda Perry with the Mississippi Development Authority’s (MDA’s) Energy Division. “The residential market is the best target opportunity for solar in current industry development.”

With a large percentage of residential energy usage for hot water heating, she feels consumers are familiar with this use of solar, and are open to considering the benefits of it.

Sumesh Arora with the Mississippi Technology Alliance agrees. “Solar hot water heaters are what state residents should look at,” he said. “That has the most savings potential, and the systems are not nearly as expensive as the PV (photovoltaic) power systems. These systems have been well tested and are commercially available.”

He says a water heating system costing around $5,000 is adequate to serve the needs of an average-sized home and could pay for itself in about five years based on the cost savings from the avoided propane, natural gas or electric water heating bills.

It can be done

Madison County homeowner Ernie Dorrill has flat plate collectors on his roof for heating water. “I recommend it to anyone, and the systems can be added to any house,” he said. “They’re easy to retro fit on existing houses.”

Using solar energy to produce electricity is generally quite expensive, according to Arora. “However, it can make sense to install solar panels to serve limited sections of the house as a means of backup power,” he said. “Locations where the power service is limited, such as a remote cabin, may also benefit from solar energy.”

If the solar units are installed on new homes and the cost of the system can be amortized as part of the mortgage, the homeowner will essentially see a flat power bill month after month, he adds.

“It may cost more than $25,000 to install a PV system to produce electricity for an average size home (about 1,800 square feet),” Arora said. “If the home is located in the Tennessee Valley Authority service area, the homeowner can participate in the Generation Partners Program and sell power back to the utility at a very attractive rate.”

MDA’s Energy Division has information for homeowners wanting to use solar energy and promotes energy education to all sectors. Its outreach includes U.S. Department of Energy solicitations, seminars and training, and it maintains a database resource on renewable/solar organizations, associations and companies.

“We support research and development of alternative energy sources, including solar, wind, biofuels, biomass, distributive generation/cogeneration and geothermal,” said Energy Division director Motice Bruce. “Mississippi has experienced success in a wide array of projects considered renewable/alternative energy.”

Do your homework

Homeowners wanting to use solar power should do their homework in terms of sizing the system to make sure they have taken steps to make the home energy efficient first.

“They should also realistically evaluate their motivations for installing solar energy systems,” Arora advises. “The location of the house is very important and must have adequate south-facing roof area upon which the panels can be installed.

“The alternative may be to mount it on a tracker that follows the position of the sun throughout the day and maximizes the amount of power produced from the panels.”

MDA is actively promoting the federal income tax credits for energy efficiency that are available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Many existing tax credits were extended or expanded for homeowners completing energy improvements.

“Mississippians interested in making their homes more eco-friendly can take advantage of excellent consumer tax credits for geothermal heat pumps, solar energy installations and fuel cells,” Bruce said. “The law increased the tax credit to 30 percent of the cost of each qualified energy efficiency improvement and removed the cap on geothermal heat pumps and solar hot water heaters through 2016.”

MDA can help

Consumers can follow the links from MDA’s web site (www.mississippi.org) for more information on tax credits or visit the Energy Star Web site at www.energystar.gov.

MDA considers other viable alternative energy sources for the state, too. Biomass from trees, agricultural food and feed crops, crop wastes and residues, wood wastes and residues, aquatic plants, animal wastes, municipal wastes offer tremendous opportunity to use domestic and sustainable resources to provide fuel, power and chemical needs from plants and plant-derived materials.

Arora points out that geothermal systems are another good substitute for natural gas, propane or electrical heating and cooling in homes. “Such systems, which are commercially available, are best suited for new construction where the house can be built around the system,” he said.

Bruce notes that some utilities have or are designing rebate programs for residential customers who install alternative and/or energy-efficient measures.

Wood- and pellet-burning stoves are also available to heat homes during the winter months. The state has one large pellet mill under operation in the northeast part of the state and will soon have two more in operation, according to Arora.

MDA’s Energy Division partners with organizations to share practical information on the benefits of energy efficiency and eco-friendly residential practices.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at lynn@lynnsdesk.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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