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Solar Power rises in Maryland - September 20, 2015

    Renewable energies are a hot topic right now; with discussions by republican and democratic candidates in their presidential campaigns to international interest leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France later this year, everyone is talking about renewable energies. Between wind, geothermal, tidal and solar energies there are lots of different choices for both businesses and homeowners alike to choose from, ranging from relatively inexpensive home projects to massive full-scale operations. Here in Maryland, we are lucky to have access to many different kinds of renewable energy sources and strive to use these to the best of our abilities. 
 
    While wind, geothermal and tidal energies are useful, they are also more difficult and expensive to the everyday homeowner to use. Right now, solar energy tends to be the easiest and least expensive to install and maintain and can be added to homes, businesses, outdoor areas and more. 
 
    While solar panels look like something out of a science fiction movie, they are actually fairly simplistic. Solar panels consist of several parts but the most important parts are the photovoltaic cells. Solar panels have photovoltaic modules, each one usually consisting of anywhere between 36-72 photovoltaic cells. These cells are like a sandwich made up of two sections of semi-conducting materials, like silicon. In order to create the electric field necessary to allow for electricity to flow, one silicon section is given a positive electric charge while the other is given a negative electric charge. When a photon, or particle of light, hits the photovoltaic cell, it knocks electrons free from their respective atoms. The free electron will be pushed out of the silicon junction and into metal conductive plates, found on the side of the cell, where they are then transferred to wires.
 
    At this point, the electricity will flow through the wires and usually into an inverter, which turns the Direct Current (DC) into an Alternating Current (AC). This allows the electricity to be used for homes and businesses and even allows the excess electricity to be added to the power grid, which means your electric meter actually runs backwards.
 
   While solar panels and arrays, which are a series of connected solar panels and photovoltaic modules, do produce quality electricity, they can only do so when hit by light. During the night or really overcast and rainy days, electricity production is limited or nullified.
One way to get around this is to have the solar array connected to batteries that allow for the storage of excess electricity which can be used when the array is not creating any electricity. Otherwise homes and businesses still have to get power from the grid or other energy sources while the sun is not out. 
 
    Here in Maryland, solar power continues to grow as more and more homes and businesses switch over from more traditional sources. One of the biggest reasons for the growth of solar power here in Maryland is the interest and incentives from the state government. 
 
    It all started in 2001 when Maryland legislators passed a law mandating six percent of government building electricity come from renewable sources. In 2007 the government created the state goal of generating at least 1,250 megawatts of electricity through renewable resources, which state officials expect to meet by the end of this year. On top of that Maryland has a relatively high Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires utilities in Maryland to eventually source a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. Maryland's RPS mandates that 20% of all energy must come from renewable sources by 2022, which ranks around 15th highest in the country.
 
    The state government has also added many different incentives and benefits for homeowners and businesses looking to change to solar and to help bring in solar companies. In fact, Maryland has currently more than 177 solar companies at work, which employ more than 3,000 people, with that number growing steadily every year. The state also issues financial incentives to people who buy and use solar power. Some of these include: 
 
    The Clean Energy Production Tax Credit which is a tax credit that lets homeowners claim a credit on their state income tax. The tax credit varies depending on how much electricity your solar system generates and is earned at a rate of $0.0085 per kilowatt hour however credits are limited to a five-year period. 
 
    There is also the Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Renewable Energy Equipment which means solar energy equipment is currently exempt from sales and use tax in Maryland, which can add up to some nice savings. 
 
     Another tax exemption incentive is the Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Residential Solar and Wind Electricity Sales which means the sale of electricity generated by your solar panels is exempt from sales tax as well. 
 
    There is also a Residential Clean Energy Grant Program that encourages residents to invest in solar products. The State of Maryland will give homeowners up to $500 toward the installation of a solar hot water heater and up to $1,000 for photovoltaic panels, provided the products meet certain specifications.
 
    There are also many other national, regional and local incentives and exemptions that are specific to your area. For a more comprehensive list of current incentives and exemptions, an excellent resource is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, run by North Carolina State University. 
 
 
Harrison Jackson is the Education Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 
 


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