Federal energy policy now includes emphasis on increasing electric generation from renewable resources. These usually include bioenergy, hydrogen, ocean, wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower resources. Of these, it appears that solar and wind energy producers are beginning to offer competitive prices and are predicted to grow rapidly this decade. Obviously, electrical contractors will be doing a lot of the installation work, and it might as well be your firm. Projects are driven by utilities, independent developers and some building owners, so it pays to do your homework and learn all you can about these emerging renewable technologies. Here is a rundown on some of the solar and wind energy news, with links to Web sites providing useful information.

Public Opinion Favors Solar and Wind

Solar energy is ubiquitous and has the potential to play a significant role in making America more energy independent. Most states enjoy enough sunny days to make solar applications feasible nationwide, and opposition is minimal. Here are some public opinion poll numbers, from the Solar Energy Industries Association: A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll released in May 2001 found 91 percent of Americans support “investments in new sources of energy such as solar, wind and fuel cells.” A June 2001 Washington Post/ABC News poll found solar and wind energy have emerged as consensus solutions to our nation’s energy challenges. Ninety percent of respondents nationwide support the federal government developing “more solar and wind power.” In San Francisco, more than 73 percent of voters in November 2001 approved a $100 million bond issue for solar and wind energy projects, which will make it the nation’s leading municipal producer of solar electricity.

Here are the primary resources for information on solar developments and opportunities: The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is the national trade association of solar energy manufacturers, dealers, distributors, contractors/installers, architects, consultants and marketers concerned with expanding the use of solar technologies in the global marketplace. National SEIA members, combined with state chapters, total more than 500 companies providing solar thermal and electric products and services. (http://www.seia.org)

The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is a national organization dedicated to advancing solar energy use for the benefit of U.S. citizens and the global environment. ASES promotes widespread near-term and long-term solar energy use. Solar Today, an award-winning bimonthly magazine published by ASES, covers all solar technologies, from photovoltaics to climate-responsive buildings to wind power. (http://www.ases.org)

The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) is a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility and selected federal incentives promoting renewable energy. For local information, their Web site (http://www.dsireusa.org) has click-on state maps for reports and contacts.

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) is a collaboration of utilities, energy service providers and the photovoltaic industry working together to create and encourage commercial use of new solar electric power business models. SEPA helps establish photovoltaic systems standards and their interconnection to the utility grid, hosts cross-industry workshops, and manages educational and outreach campaigns. (http://www.solarelectricpower.org)

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) develops and deploys efficient and clean energy technologies. EERE’s fiscal 2000 budget of $1.07 billion is approximately 6 percent of the department’s budget. The Million Solar Roofs Initiative (MSR) is enabling businesses and communities to install solar systems on 1 million rooftops across the United States by 2010. The EERE leads this trailblazing initiative by working with partners in the building industry, local governments, state agencies, the solar industry, electric service providers and nongovernmental organizations to remove barriers and strengthen the demand for solar technologies. (http://www.eren.doe.gov/millionroofs)

Electricity is Blowing in the Wind

Modern wind turbines are divided into two categories: horizontal axis and vertical axis turbines. Wind turbine use ranges from homeowners with single turbines to large wind farms with hundreds of turbines providing electricity to the power grid.

Research lab advances, universities and utility organizations have helped drop wind electricity costs dramatically. The United States has many areas with abundant winds, particularly North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota and Montana, and estimates indicate that if the total wind potential in the top 20 states were fully developed, it would fuel three times the current production of all electricity, or 10.77 billion kWh annually. Detailed knowledge of the wind at a site is needed to estimate the performance of a wind energy project.

Wind energy plants produce no air pollutants or greenhouse gases. However, opponents can still find reasons to oppose wind developments, including the noise factor, unsightly towers and threats to bird populations. Incentives like the federal production tax credit, which has been extended through 2003, and utility net metering provisions available in some areas, improve wind energy economics. Net metering permits small wind generator owners to get paid for excess power sold back to utilities.

But the limited control, unpredictability and variability complicate widespread application of wind farms, making the integration of their output into bulk power quite different from other generators. The electric system operator must move other generators up or down to offset wind power’s time-varying fluctuations. Bulk power systems have limited experience in integrating wind output into the larger system. As a consequence, market rules that treat wind fairly—neither subsidizing nor penalizing its operation—have not been developed. The lack of data and analytical methods encourages wind advocates and skeptics to rely primarily on their biases and beliefs in suggesting how wind should be integrated into bulk power systems.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is a national trade association that represents wind power plant developers and turbine manufacturers, utilities, consultants, insurers, financiers, researchers and other wind industry players. The association provides up-to-date information on wind energy projects operating worldwide, new projects in various stages of development, companies working in the wind energy field, technology development, and policy developments related to wind and other renewable energy development.

AWEA’s Web site is the premier industry facility featuring news, research information, educational materials, answers to technical and policy questions and access to wind energy publications. Contractors also can locate information on existing and planned wind energy projects in each state by clicking on the U.S. map provided. (http://www.awea.org/projects/index.html)

Two leading developers of renewable energy projects help illustrate the many opportunities. PowerLight Corporation, the nation’s self-proclaimed leading designer, manufacturer and installer of grid-connected, commercial solar electric products and systems, has provided solar installations for IBEW locals. (http://www.powerlight.com/index.html)

Green Mountain Energy Company is the leading renewable electricity brand in states where utility deregulation permits it to compete. (http://www.greenmountain.com)

Training Resources

The Institute for Sustainable Power, Inc. (ISP), a nonprofit created in 1996 to help reduce the failure of renewable energy projects, provides a quality framework for the accreditation of renewable energy training programs and the certification of renewable and sustainable energy practitioners and professionals. The ISP umbrella organization accredits training programs and manages the auditors at the national affiliate level. (http://www.ispq.org) IBEW employers may check with their local JATC training director for information about training in renewable energy applications. EC

TAGLIAFERRE is proprietor of C-E-C Group. He may be contacted at 703.321.9268 and e-mail lewtag@aol.com.