The Starkville Rotary Club welcomed guest speaker Keith Key, P.E., of Mississippi Solar, LLC. headquartered in Philadelphia, Mississippi to talk about solar energy installations and how the energy source is catching on in Mississippi and around the country.
As a University of Memphis engineering graduate, Key designs and installs solar panel systems. Increasing numbers of people are opting for solar panels today to supply electricity.
Mississippi State University is installing solar panels on the new Engineering and Science Complex, with the panels planned for behind a wall on the roof which wouldn't be visible.
When a material is exposed to light and creates electricity it is called the photovoltaic effect. Bell Laboratories first demonstrated this in 1954.
"So it's just a simple machine making electricity. It's powered by the sun, there's no carbon footprint and no moving parts," Key said.
On the flip side, money can be made off solar panels. He said in comparison to Mississippi Power and Entergy, TVA pays more.
In addition, solar was $6 per watt in 2008, and today it's closer to $3 per watt.
Key said as the cost went down the number of installations went up. People tend to think individuals who use solar live off the grid, but things are changing.
"If we were talking about 15 years ago, the average module was about 200 watts and it could power something like three and a half light bulbs. Today, they're about 300 watts per module and now it powers about 32," Key said.
Around noon each day is when the sunlight is at its peak, generating more energy. Most of his customers aren't getting installations to reduce the carbon footprint - most are getting them to save money.
His average cost per commercial application is a little under $30,000.
There are also other benefits of solar installation. If one puts solar in their home or business this year they will receive a 30% tax credit. Businesses are entitled to a 25% grant from the USDA if in a rural area. Key said Starkville does qualify as a rural location in the eyes of the federal government.
"Solar is not a quick fix. It's not a savings account where you can put money in your savings account and take it out next month, it's more like an IRA," Key said. "You put it in there, you keep it in there and get the investment when you retire some 10 years later."
The average business in its 30-year life will save nearly 200 tons of coal and 10,000 gallons of water. Key said their solar panels have withstood tornadoes and one-inch hail at 50 mph.
They can be installed by ground mount, pole mount or integrated inside roof framing. The panels are drilled into the roof which improves the integrity of the roof by doing so.
"So we help your roof in more ways than one," he said.