Smile Politely

Solar Power Presentation Illuminates Tomorrow Night at Champaign Library

If utility rates continue to rise, one of these days solar power will start to make economic sense for the majority of Americans. Right now, Dr. Patrick Chapman, Associate Professor of electrical engineering at the U of I and representative of the Solar Decathlon team, recognizes that solar power systems are right for people who “have the money to spend and good sense to realize that it is wiser than, say, getting a $50,000 luxury car as opposed to a $25,000 hybrid car plus a $25,000 power system.”

Chapman will be giving a presentation on solar power tomorrow night at the Champaign Public Library. The presentation is part of the Earth Smart series, and it will run from 7 to 9 p.m. in Robeson Pavilion A & B. Chapman decided to equip his new home with solar arrays last year, and after the jump, he’ll share some of his thoughts on that experience and the future of solar power.

Smile Politely: How did your PV system operate this summer?

Patrick Chapman: It actually performed a little above expectations for the first year of operation. I didn’t track the performance specifically for this summer.

SP: Any new revelations that you’ve arrived at since your site was last updated?

PC: Yes, Ameren has put in place net metering, which means that they must pay you back the retail value of the electricity rather than the lower wholesale value. It is also a lot easier to get a PV system cleared for operation under the new laws. Also, I received a 1099G for the Illinois grant I received (for $8,039), meaning it was considered taxable income. This was unfortunate since it meant the $2000 federal incentive was effectively going right back to tax. Later I found out that you can get the state to write a letter saying that the 1099G was a mistake and that the grant should not be taxed. Of course, this means I’ll have to file an amended tax return.

SP: What will be the format of your presentation?

PC: It will be about 30-40 powerpoint slides.

SP: What would you hope that someone would get out of the experience?

PC: Since this is probably a more general audience, I hope they come away with a basic understanding of how PV systems work, what the benefits and pitfalls are, and how to go about getting a system for themselves.

SP: How did your work with the Solar Decathlon Team inform your PV design for your own home?

PC: The solar decathlon experience got me serious about getting my own system. I thought for credibility I couldn’t continue to preach about these systems unless I had one of my own. However, I didn’t design my own PV system even though I could have easily. I paid an installer to do the design and installation, which made me more comfortable about receiving the rebate application. Also, my system was part of my house as new construction, so I think the lender preferred a certified installer to do the work.

SP: What would you do differently if you had to build a system from scratch again?

PC: I would have made it bigger. I still plan to add four more 205-watt modules to the system, since I maxed out the budget I thought I had for the project. I should have just borrowed a little more and built a larger system to begin with since I think the 205-watt modules are out of production and the newer modules won’t necessarily match.

SP: What do you think the future holds for home solar systems in Illinois?

PC: I would expect to see a steady adoption of solar in residential and light commercial markets. We probably won’t see large-scale projects in Illinois since there is not much sun here and the price of electricity is fairly low.

SP: Do you have solar hot-water heat in your system? Will you be covering any non-electrical generation topics in your presentation?

PC: No and probably not.

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