With everyone looking to save money, especially on energy, the installation of solar systems continues to gain in popularity, especially in California, which is the No. 1 state for solar energy.
According to the California Solar Energy Industries Association, California installed more megawatts of solar energy in 2013 than it did in the last 30 years combined.
Typically these solar systems are either mounted on roofs, poles or on ground-level structures. However, these types of mountings often come with some downsides.
A lack of ventilation in roof-mounted solar panels can reduce their efficiency and life span because of heat buildup. They also hamper repairs and limit access to the roof. Ground-mounted panels, on the other hand, take up a lot of space and also expose the panels to different hazards.
A newer approach is to mount the solar panels on a raised frame so the panels are ventilated with the space below used for something else — often parking.
One person doing so on a residential scale is local engineer Jim Dillingham of D&Z Structural Engineering. Motivated to make his home energy self-sufficient and to get some relief from those blisteringly hot days in El Dorado County, Dillingham designed and constructed a frame that attaches to his garage. Atop the frame are 60 solar panels that will make his home energy neutral, with the next step being to install an electric charging station for his cars.
“Once we have the electric cars, we won’t be paying for gasoline or electricity,” he said.
The solar canopy also shades his garage and is a popular play area for his children and dogs.
Dillingham said his panels generate about 4.5 kilowatts (kW) during the peak hours of between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. During the summer, they produce closer to 9 kW. Since the meters for the panels are connected to the Internet, he can monitor exactly how much power they are generating every day from wherever he’s at.
Dillingham said the total cost for the project was between $40,000 to $45,000, but that was with him doing a lot of the labor. For someone else, it would probably cost $60,000. However, Dillingham said he will get 30 percent of the cost back in a federal tax rebate and the rest will be paid back over several years in saved energy costs.
As an engineer, Dillingham said his company builds 20 to 25 solar-related structures a year. “Almost every custom-house we do these days has got solar panels on it,” he said. “There are big incentives to utilize solar. Big utilities and tech companies are doing it as well. We have a forward-looking state when it comes to energy.”
Also investing in solar and energy-saving technologies, albeit on a much larger scale, is Marshall Medical Center. Currently it is in the process of putting the finishing touches on a solar canopy structure over parking lot 1 at its Placerville location.
Already operational, the canopy’s 902 solar panels generate 263,000 watts and provide enough energy to supply at least 80 percent of the electrical needs of the nearby clinic building. On an annual basis, the canopy is expected to generate 411,462 kW hours of electricity.
Rice said the canopy allows the hospital to reduce its operating costs related to energy and capital costs, adding that last year they spent slightly over $1 million for electricity alone. The canopy also provides shade and protection from the elements for the cars in the parking lot.
Previously Marshall erected the same kind of solar canopy at its Cameron Park facility in 2008. That canopy produces 670 kW of peak power compared to the 278 kW at the 1095 Marshall Way clinic location. Rice said the Cameron Park system saves the hospital approximately $13,522 annually in electricity costs. The new system at Marshall Way, though much smaller, will save approximately $9,201 annually. “So you can see how much more effective the new systems are than just five years ago,” said Rice.
Other energy-saving actions the hospital is taking include putting in 3,500 LED lamps throughout their facilities that are expected to save them $84,000 a year. They are also replacing their parking lot lights with LED lamps. Next year they are looking at thermal storage where they make ice at night when the energy is cheaper and more plentiful to supplement their air conditioning units.
Rice said these improvements are part of an overall plan of reducing operating costs by cutting back on energy use and changing the model for health care delivery, including doing more health coaching to keep people from needing to use the hospital.
Rice said Marshall is working with the nursing program at Folsom College to use student interns while at the same time they earn credits, he said. “We’re also working with tech companies to do such things as monitor whether or not someone is taking their medication.”
Rice said many of these strategies are the result of Obamacare. “We are working to reduce our operating costs because Obamacare will reduce payments to hospitals,” he said. “This is particularly important in El Dorado County because such a large portion of Marshall’s patient load is made up of Medicare and Medi-Cal patients.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.