Solar Farms: The Conservation Question

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At Optimus Solar, we field a lot of questions about the solar industry. One question we hear often is “what is your take on the expansion of solar farms in Florida?” While that’s quite open-ended, it is intellectually interesting and practically applicable to consider the implications of land use, power production, power consumption, and conservation. So, what do we think about solar farms?  

We first like to emphasize that Optimus Solar is committed to the sustainability of our communities, Florida, the US and the world through conservation of lands critical to our well-being, clean air and natural beauty.  In fact, we donate a portion of every solar job to Conservation Florida, a quality organization dedicated to the conservation of Florida lands.

When talking about solar farms, land conservation and land use are naturally at the center of the discussion. Land in Florida is still relatively inexpensive. Utilities are able to purchase large swaths to build massive solar farms. Just last year, Florida Power and Light (FPL) purchased nearly 1300 acres outside of Palm Beach for a new solar farm. FPL currently has 14 solar plants, generating 930 megawatts of electricity. Their aim is to produce 4,000 megawatts over the next decade. That’s going to require a lot of land. 

This is great in terms of adding clean renewable power to the grid while also reducing the need for land reserved for fuel pipelines and nuclear waste storage. However, when one looks at what can be achieved with our current footprint and infrastructure, and the negative impacts large solar farms have on land conservation, the answer to the question becomes more complicated.  If preservation of forested land is one of our goals, then solar farms may not be the best answer. 

Forbes recently released an article showing the power of rooftop solar potential in the US, as well as Florida, specifically. There is enough currently-built, solar-eligible rooftop space to provide 75% of all residential power consumption. This is a powerful statistic. Using what we already have, on the same footprint we already occupy, we can functionally produce ¾ of the power we consume.  

Of course, this requires capital, investment, entrepreneurial spirit and effort, but so does importing things such as natural gas, nuclear raw materials, petroleum, etc.  As vehicles rapidly transition to electric, it will also become necessary to produce more power to fuel these vehicles, with solar being the natural option given its production as close to the source of consumption as possible. Rooftop solar makes the most sense when looking at the big picture. If our goal is to preserve the ecological benefits of renewable energy sources, rooftop solar beats out solar farms, plain and simple. 

Solar Power and Electric Vehicles: A Virtuous Cycle for Owners and Communities

 
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Virtuous Cycle: A beneficial cycle of events, each having a positive effect on the next.

Mutually beneficial. Win-win situation. Common phrases we hear time and again which can be applied to many situations.  However, they stop short when we are discussing a truly Virtuous Cycle of occurrences as defined by a complex, self-reinforcing loop of events that yields positive results or feedback. Virtuous Cycles are present in a number of industries and in a variety of forms: rotational grazing in farming, quality urban design, technological innovation and the water cycle. 

A brand new Virtuous Cycle is fast emerging: the adoption of rooftop solar energy systems and Electric Vehicles.  This one uniquely benefits individual owners and consumers in addition to large investors, governments and communities. Picture a common scenario: a person buys a car, drives it for 10 years, and at the same time, buys a house, and lives in it for 20 years.  For each of these years, this individual must buy gasoline, spending an average of $1,600* per year. This fuel must be piped or shipped to them from out of state or out of country, sending more than $1,500 per year out of their community.  At the same time, this individual must buy power from their utility to the average tune of $1,560* per year in Florida. Assuming it is powered mainly by natural gas – the predominant Florida power source – they send another +/- $1,000 per year out of their community to import the resource (Florida produces zero natural gas). 

Now, picture the same scenario where the car is an electric vehicle and the home is powered by solar panels, which provide electricity for the house and fuel for the car.  Between the savings on electricity and gasoline, and factoring in the additional electricity cost to power the vehicle, the net household benefit of a solar-EV home is $2,560* per year. 

This virtuous cycle of hyper-local clean power production and consumption reaches beyond the individual household. The solar panels were manufactured in Florida, and installed by a Florida-based company.  Not only are the initial jobs retained near the community, an additional $2,500+ per year over the next two decades remains local.  The multiplier effect of keeping this money available to spend on local businesses, shops, restaurants, schools, charities, etc. is far more powerful than just $2,500.  It creates a Virtuous Cycle of economic growth within the surrounding community, where instead of importing single-use energy sources ad infinitum, investment is made locally, costs are saved, air is cleaner (through a reduction in tailpipe emissions thanks to the EV) and communities are more prosperous. 

The really cool thing is that this Virtuous Cycle is already a reality. Optimus Solar can provide a number of real-life, current examples where this system is in place, and operating for the benefit of residents and communities.  Electric Vehicles are nearly on-par with gas-powered vehicles in terms of costs, especially when fuel-savings is accounted for.  Solar energy systems provide a return to a homeowner that has a better annual percentage than the S&P 500.  This is a real investment with real, tangible, attractive returns. 

This Virtuous Cycle is scalable in ways most others are not. It saves households money while simultaneously contributing to an overall improvement in quality of life throughout a community. Local governments and businesses would do well to take note of this fact. We can’t find many more effective ways to measurably improve quality of life than through this Virtuous Cycle, which conserves land, cleans the air, saves household expenses, improves home values and invests locally.  By investing in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and large-scale solar energy systems, municipalities and businesses can create Virtuous Cycles for themselves and the people they serve for decades to come.

Homeowners and businesses invested in their communities and interested in participating in a truly Virtuous Cycle of sustainable growth can reach out to us for discussion and further information.

 
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 *figures are based on national averages within the US

Driving the Present: Electric Vehicles Today

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The future of cars is electric. This phrase is familiar to most people. We’ve heard that, eventually, electric vehicles (EV’s) will be able to go as far as we’re used to going, charge as fast as we’re used to refueling, provide the space/cargo/hauling capacity we’re used to, and, best of all, they'll be as affordable as our current fuel-burning models. What’s interesting about this vision of the future is the fact that it is already a common reality. 

Today’s electric cars and plug-in hybrids are already efficient, practical, and relevant.  With over 60 models available in the US alone, and rapidly growing consumer options, including the Ford F-150, which opens up a whole new realm of possibility for the truck enthusiasts reading this article, it is clear that the value proposition of owning an EV not only grows every year, but makes very real sense in the here and now.

In an age where many subjects are divisive, EV’s are pretty unifying. The logical and emotional reasons for continued acceleration of EV adoption are simply too motivating for US households to ignore.

From a consumer perspective, most buying decisions are made on quality and price, adding up to a perceived ‘value’.  This value is not only important at the time of purchase, but throughout the lifespan of ownership. Things like long-term safety and durability matter; it’s why we have building codes.  The cool thing about EV’s is that they offer value, safety, and durability based on technology, engineering, and inherent features, not on codes or regulations.

So where do EVs get their value and what makes them relevant right now as a viable product in American households? There are several interesting facts most people don’t know about EV’s that might just convince you the old adage “the future is now” is actually true. 

AS THEY STAND TODAY

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  • EV’s have 90 - 99% FEWER moving parts of an Internal Combustion Engine, allowing for near-infinite warranty opportunities, especially when paired with the data showing batteries are lasting far longer than manufacturers anticipated.

  • They offer households the ability to save over $1,000 per year on driving costs alone, not including maintenance savings. Electricity prices are far more stable than gas prices, meaning more predictable monthly bills.

  • They charge at a similar rate to the American’s average coffee trip, achieving an 80% fast-charge in the same 22 minutes that people spending picking up their morning coffee. Grab your latte while you’re refueling. 

  • With a range of between 200-300 miles, chances are that a bathroom or food stop will be required prior to a refueling stop. And that is key to the EV’s new relevance in a big way. Refueling during reststops is already a common practice. Owning an EV doesn’t change anything about your road trip.

  • They have better low-end torque for towing and acceleration.

  • They are far more energy efficient due to the inherent nature of their power source. According to FuelEconomy.gov, “EV’s convert about 59%–62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels. Conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 17%–21% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels.”

  • Homeowners with a solar PV system who also own an EV have nearly cost-free fuel over the long-term life of their solar system. Consider the prospect of lowering your electricity bill while simultaneously eliminating your car’s fuel costs. It’s a game changer. 

  • EV’s have a fast-expanding charging network. Charging stations are available across the country at an incredible number of convenient retail, residential, and municipal locations. Optimus Solar alone averages two installed stations per month in Central Florida. 

  • And conveniently, cars are charged at almost the exact same ratio as cell phones: 80% in the home, and 20% ‘on the road’, meaning that worrying about finding a charge is usually not a consideration, even in today’s models with today’s batteries. 

  • They provide a near-silent ride, making family time, conversation, and conference calls far superior in an EV.

  • Finally, EV’s are inherently safer than traditional internal combustion engine cars. Their lower center of gravity (due to the battery placement) means less rollovers. Regenerative braking features on EVs are more effective. They also lack a combustible fuel and harmful exhaust.

AN ELECTRIC PRESENT

EV’s have come a long way. They go faster, last longer, and are as cost effective as traditional fuel-burning vehicles. In the long run, and as renewable energy sources begin to take up a more prominent piece of the energy pie, more EV’s will mean cleaner air in cities around the world. Their benefits speak for themselves. Whether you are motivated by the environment, energy independence, household finances, or even a desire to contribute to improved international relations through the avoidance of fuel imports, owning an EV makes sense and will soon be an inevitability.

When you consider the virtuous cycle of installing solar panels on your home or business and driving an EV that is fueled by the power you produce, they simply cannot be ignored. EV’s will continue improving, and as they do, infrastructure and social structures will change along with them. Instead of filling at the gas station once a week, we’ll be charging at home while we sleep and while at the grocery store. It’s a new normal that many people have already embraced.

The future really is now. It’s cleaner, faster, more reliable, and it’s electric.