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Photo what? City leaders consider photovoltaic power as potential energy source

August 27th, 2011 11:00 pm by Gary B. Gray

Johnson City officials are searching for a company qualified to assess the feasibility of installing and maintaining solar generated power systems at city facilities.
The city wants to use ground and roof top photovoltaic systems that convert solar radiation into direct current electricity. And should the city hook up with a capable company, both entities could gain financially through incentives and electricity saved.
Representatives from 11 interested firms attended a mandatory pre-proposal meeting at the Municipal & Safety Building Tuesday at which Public Works Director Phil Pindzola reviewed the intent and scope of the project. Proposals are due Friday.
“It may be all city facilities; it may be only a few,” Pindzola said. “The city will not finance anything, and the city will not provide incentives. The only incentive we know of is through TVA. But we’re going to leave it to the companies to demonstrate to us their awareness of this and other programs.”
First, the city must decide on which outfit it wants to do the assessment.
If a deal is struck, the city and company would then enter into a contract in which the city would act as the “host” and the company would secure the right to design, install, own and operate the systems.
The city owns a number of buildings throughout the community, including fire stations, schools, golf courses, parks and recreation centers, water treatment plants, the new community center and so on. The intent is to have qualified companies assess these facilities for possible use of photovoltaic systems through the TVA Generations Partner Program.
Here’s how it would work. The selected company would get an up-front credit of roughly 30 percent of the cost of installing the systems. TVA also would pay them 12 cents per kilowatt hour for all electricity generated by the systems that exceed the average usage. In the circle of solar entrepreneurship, this is called “turning the meter back,” and this differential could be a significant due the systems’ efficiency.
When the system generates more electricity than is being used, the excess automatically flows into the grid and is sold to TVA, thus the incentive for the firm that installs and maintains the new systems.
Meanwhile, the city would be able to lock in current usage rates and receive a royalty consisting of a percentage of the savings. That amount would be negotiated with the company.
Photovoltaics basically is a method of generating electrical power by converting radiation from the sun into direct electric current. When light energy strikes the solar cell containing a photovoltaic material, such as silicon, electrons are knocked loose from atoms in the material giving some of the electrons a boost of energy.
An “inverter” is used to change the direct current into alternating current. If electrical conductors are attached to the positive and negative sides, forming an electrical circuit, the electrons can be captured in the form of an electric current — that is, electricity. This electricity can then be used to power a load, such as a light or a tool.
“I don’t know what the cost of doing these buildings would be — you do,” Pindzola told company representatives. “Do you have a $5 million capacity? Do you have a $200 million capacity? We’re also looking at the creativity of the firm. If you give me the names of the top dogs and that’s it, you probably won’t go very far.”
Pindzola also said the city’s use of solar panels could catch on throughout the entire community which would create more efficient energy use and reduce emissions.
Photovoltaic cells look similar to solar panels but they work in a different way. Solar panels are used to produce hot water or steam. Photovoltaic panels convert the sunlight directly into electricity, such as a solar-powered calculator.
The panels can be ground-mounted or built into the roof or walls of a building. There are some large rooftop installations for the sole purpose of serving as power stations by connecting the systems directly to the grid to deliver electricity to customers. Many of these stations are installed, not on utility company property, but on large roof tops such as warehouses through lease agreements between utility companies and property owners.

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