Solar power is gaining ground around the world at "record pace," and a growing number of Iowans are also looking to convert their homes and businesses to the alternative energy, according to Bill Haman, industrial program manager for the Iowa Energy Center.
Solar energy in Iowa, Haman said, isn't like it is in the Southwestern United States, but he said it is still a good resource for the state.
Haman, who manages the Center's Alternate Energy Revolving Loan Program which offers zero percent financing for renewable energy projects, said he has received numerous solar applications from Eastern Iowa. The western side of the state, which submitted applications for wind energy projects in the 2000s, Haman said, hasn't expressed much interest.
"I'm not sure why. It must have something to do with the number of dealers out there selling the product," he said. "There's a tremendous amount of activity from I-35 east."
Earlier this year, MidAmerican Energy completed a 37.6-kilowatt installation on the rooftop of its downtown Sioux City office building that includes 160 photovoltaic solar panels, which can each produce up to 235 watts.
Company spokeswoman Abby Bottenfield said MidAmerican Energy currently has no programs or recommendations for homeowners looking to convert to solar power.
Solar power force
Western Iowa is actually a slightly better location for solar power than Eastern Iowa, according to Haman. He explained that the best site to harness solar power is the extreme southwestern corner of the state near Hamburg, Iowa.
"It diminishes as you move diagonally across the state up to Decorah," he said.
There's no time like the present to go solar if your surroundings meet the requirements. The price of solar panels and associated equipment, Haman said, is now less than it was a few years ago.
"It's low enough that it's extremely competitive with any other alternative a homeowner may chose to explore," he said. "That compounded with federal and state incentives that are available makes it a very appealing opportunity if your residence is set up for it."
Solar panels, he said, need to be facing south and mounted on the rooftop in an urban setting such as Sioux City. The presence of large trees or adjacent homes that cast shadows on the panels is another deal breaker, according to Haman.
"If your rooftop doesn't face south, then the benefit of putting them up there is going to be diminished," he said.
A solar power system is a modular system that consists of solar panels that are strung together. There are no moving parts to the system, which needs virtually no regular maintenance. A solar inverter will need to be installed in your home to convert direct current power coming out of the solar panels into alternating current power which can be fed into the electrical panel box.
"The installation aside from possibly having to put some holes in your roof to attach the mounting system for the solar panels is relatively quite simple," Haman said.
Homeowners seeking to convert to a solar power system will need to work with a building inspector and secure the proper permits. They will also have to submit an application to their local utility company in order to connect their system to the power grid. Haman said homeowners should also install energy efficient appliances, lights and insulation.
"If you do explore going to a renewable energy source, the size of your system can be smaller," he said. "The payback for those energy efficiency improvements is going to be quicker than your renewable energy."