As the city and county of Denver seek to reduce energy consumption by 30% by 2030, the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) began installing solar panels on the roofs of 665 homes in 2005. Another 2,335 were eligible but were ultimately deemed unsuitable due to issues with excessive shading, roof conditions, or redevelopment plans.
North Lincoln Homes is a Denver public housing project that offers affordable rooftop townhouses with solar panels to reduce monthly energy bills and dependency on old energy resources. | Photo: Courtesy Denver Housing Authority / Mike Laughlin Photographer
With approval from Xcel Energy, the local utility company, the DHA took the next step, creating the first housing authority in the country to develop, own, and operate a 2 megawatt solar garden with a range of 5,958 panels. Located on 10 acres in suburban Denver and serving around 500 low-income homes.
The solar park, which started in 2017, is “out of sight and out of my mind,” says Chris Jedd, DHA's portfolio energy manager. “You don't have to worry about roof damage, selling or demolishing a building. There is no debt, no equipment and it offers a lot more flexibility and optionality within the portfolio. “
Mixed fuel solutions and all-electric codes in residential construction
In some regions and climates, solar power doesn't play a role, and a combination of rooftop solar power and natural gas continues to dominate home construction and remodeling.
“There is no such thing as a perfect panacea in one energy source,” said Bill Owens, founder and president of Owens Construction in Worthington, Ohio, in a recent webinar sponsored by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). “For some reason it doesn't make sense to be fully electric. That is a mandate that I simply cannot carry out. “
“A common misconception is that your homes have to be all-electric to go to zero energy or zero energy,” says Bryan Cordill, director of residential and commercial development at PERC does not mean sacrificing desirable, high-performance gas systems “How they are used for boiling and heating water.
In California alone, 42 communities have all-electric building codes. With that, the state's Energy Code of Title 24 mandates that all new homes no longer need to have net energy by 2022, which essentially mandates the use of solar panels either for individual homes or for community-wide arrays.
In the city of Davis, California, “the new build was solarized ahead of the statewide mandate,” said Aaron Nitzkin, chairman of the city's solar task force and founder and CEO of Solar Roof Dynamics.
Denver's Thrive Home Builders standard sell homes with solar panels on the roof and have recently committed to an all-electric option, including cooking appliances, HVAC appliances, and fireplaces to replace those that run on natural gas.
Bill Rectanus, Vice President of Operations at Thrive, points out “health risks” associated with natural gas, such as: B. Leaks that can lead to explosions and worse. Still, he adds, many home buyers prefer their gas fires and stoves. “They see every cooking show, they all cook on gas,” he says.
Storm-related power outages and network reliability are further obstacles to all-electric operation. “Propane generators and devices that use little electricity make houses more resilient and reliable,” says Cordill.
As solar energy grows in popularity, backup batteries are also being used to avoid grid reliability issues and to provide power to some critical systems such as a refrigerator, heating or cooling equipment, or WiFi and a computer. In fact, part of Thrive's optional all-electric household package includes backup batteries that collect and store energy from the solar panels on the roof of the house.
(Fossil) Strengthening the resistance to solar energy
PERC and other players in the fossil fuel industry have now advocated curtailing efforts by local authorities to reduce emissions and promote solar energy.
Industry supporters have introduced such measures in Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, and Utah. Last year, four more states – Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee – passed laws preventing municipalities from enacting zero-emission building codes that essentially ban new natural gas utility hookups for new buildings, including homes.
Cordill also points to the MARTaK project by Colorado builder Andrew Michler, the state's first certified international passive house. Although the electricity comes entirely from photovoltaics, the house relies on a traditional propane water heater to meet the minimal need for heating and hot water. Kitchen appliances powered by propane are also used.
But even in progressive communities, the expansion of solar energy can be divisive. In Montgomery County, Md., Bordering the District of Columbia, the plan to allow additional solar farms up to 1,800 acres in a 93,000-acre agricultural reserve has been reduced by more than 70%. Critics argued that more solar energy in the community would threaten valuable arable farming. Proponents noted that farmers are paid to lease the land and that animals can graze under the solar panels.
The original proposal would have powered 50,000 households in other parts of the county, but the measure, which was ultimately passed by Montgomery County Council, reduced that to 2,000, according to Hans Riemer, a council member and a leading proponent of the solar farm initiative in his original shape.
Another amendment added further procedural requirements that Riemer said would further hinder the solar parks in the reserve. “This is a ban,” he says. “To be honest, it's devastating. In combination with additional restrictions, nothing is left over. “