Monday, September 21, 2009

Here Comes the Sun!

In the world of green building, nothing is as sexy as a solar panel. The holy grail of energy gurus and green builders alike, solar panels offer a visual commitment to sustainability as well as a practical way to produce free energy from the world's most abundant resource; sunlight. Solar energy is also the world's fastest growing source of power, with production seeing a six-fold increase from 2000-2005 (Sawin, 28). In fact, the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates solar energy potential at 55% of U.S total energy demand! Falling prices for PV systems due to increased production coupled with rising fossil fuel prices and the threat of government intervention in energy markets could spark exponential growth in this sector of the renewable energy market. It is with these facts in mind that a small business in Roanoke, Virginia embarked on the path of energy liberation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 was indeed a milestone in the storied history of Breakell Incorporated. This day marks the beginning of renewable energy production at the office via a large array of photovoltaic solar collectors mounted to a steel frame in the rear of the building. The collectors are oriented at the top of a hill in a due south position and are angled to take advantage of as much mid-day direct sunlight as possible. This will maximize their energy producing potential and allow a quicker payback period for the system. In fact, the first day of production saw 3 KW of output with extreme cloud cover. Free electrons from the sky shower down to produce energy even on cloudy days! At maximum efficiency, the array will produce 6 Kilowatts of energy, enough to power one hundred 60 watt lightbulbs.

Another amazing advantage to solar energy is its ability to feed into the grid when its energy is not being consumed by its primary users. This process, called "net metering" actually allows a specially installed electric meter to run backwards, thus feeding the grid with locally produced power. According to the U.S Department of Energy, "the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act of 1978 (PURPA) requires power providers to purchase excess power from grid-connected small renewable energy systems at a rate equal to what it costs the power provider to produce the power itself" (Metering, 1). In the state of Virginia, commercial businessses are allowed to install PV systems up to 500Kw capacity to be eligible for the program.

By taking the lead in solar photovoltaic installation at its own facilities, Breakell Inc. hopes to set an example for other small business in the region. In so doing, it is leading the way to an energy independent future for America and a better life for our children and grandchildren. If more businesses follow this example, we will be well on our way to a clean, energy efficient economy.


"Metering and Rate Arrangements for Grid-Connected Systems." U.S Department of Energy. Accessed September 21, 2009.

Sawin, Janet L. "American Energy: The Renewable Path to Energy Security". World Watch Institute + Center for American Progress. September 2006. Accessed September 21, 2009.


  1. Chris, this is an excellent documentation of the changes happening at the Breakell office on Patterson Ave. I hope you will continue to follow the impact of the facility improvements and the impact they have on our GHG footprint.

  2. Great blogging, and better writing!. I'll look forward to each post.