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Workshop participants learn to harness the sun’s power

workshop4_t.jpgBOONE—More and more homeowners are letting their house work for them by installing solar panels on their residence to eliminate or reduce their electric bill.

Entrepreneurs, electricians, contractors and others learned about the latest in photovoltaic technology during a two-day workshop hosted by Appalachian State University’s Department of Technology conducted by John Hardwick with Sharp Solar Systems.

Andrew Fulton_t2.jpgAndrew Fulton learns to install the rack system that secures Sharp solar panels to a roof. Fulton was attending a solar energy workshop held in Appalachian State University’s Department of Technology. (photo by university photographer Marie Freeman)John Hardwick_t2.jpg When the rack is installed, a 3-by-5 panel is lowered into place under the watchful eye of solar technician John Hardwick, right. Each panel can produce 200 kilowatt hours of electricity a year. (photo by university photographer Marie Freeman)

The two-day workshop was part of the department’s ongoing series on renewable energy.

“Workshop participants are typically people who are looking to add solar energy to their skill set. Not only those who want to sell solar systems, but those interested in designing and installing systems,” Hardwick said.

While the cost for home systems hasn’t declined since the 1990s due to the rising cost of silicon, state and federal credits offered in many areas can reduce the price significantly. There currently is a 30 percent federal tax credit up to $2,000 on residential systems. In addition, North Carolina has a 35 percent tax credit up to $10,500 for photovoltaic systems. The federal and state tax credits combined can reduce the cost of a residential system in North Carolina by more than 50 percent. Even greater reductions are possible for commercial systems when taking advantage of the state and federal tax credits.

The cost of a solar system is based on the amount of electricity used in a residence, not the home’s square footage. Small systems might cost as little $5,000 while larger systems could range from $40,000 to $60,000.

Workshop participants learned how to install solar panels and the power inverter needed to convert the direct current (DC) generated by the panels to alternating current (AC) used in the home. They also learned about solar path mapping, which is an eessential component for anyone considering a solar project, according to Dennis Scanlin, who directs Appalachian’s appropriate technology program. Scanlin says Watauga County residents interested in solar energy can get assistance with solar site assessments through the university’s WNC Renewable Energy Initiative.

Appalachian graduate Andrew Fulton, who is employed with Appalachian Energy Solutions, attended the workshop to enhance his skills working with solar energy systems. “We have a couple of big systems we are about to install, so I wanted to touch up some of my photovoltaic skills so I’ll be on top of the game,” said Fulton, who majored in appropriate technology. “A lot of people in the High Country are interested in solar/thermal systems as well as photovoltaic systems.”

Hardwick has seen growth in photovoltaic systems on commercial property, due in part to the 30 percent federal tax credit that is currently available. “Businesses can often get a rebate, accelerated depreciation benefits, as well as a federal tax credit,” he said. “Because of that, commercial is becoming a little more prominent than residential.

To learn about future renewable energy workshops at Appalachian, visit