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My View: A sunny outlook for solar in Arizona

Phoenix Business Journal

If Arizona has more days of sunshine than anywhere else in the nation, wouldn’t it make sense that we should be No. 1 when it comes to the solar industry?

That thought has been front and center in my brain lately. And I’m certainly not alone as Congress has wrestled with the Build Back Better Act, which includes clean electricity policies that would only cost a fraction of the plan’s price tag.

But consider the return on investment. Nonpartisan think tank Energy Innovation estimates federal policies that reach for 80% clean electricity across the nation would create nearly $40 billion in solar, wind and battery projects in Arizona alone. And the Seidman Research Institute found adopting the full Build Back Better Act would pump $115.6 billion into our economy.

Fortunately, companies with foresight haven’t been waiting for lawmakers to bring new ideas to life, especially when it comes to capitalizing on solar. While we’re not No. 1 — yet — we’re moving in the right direction.

Arizona already is home to the Agua Caliente Solar Project, considered one of the top five solar farms in the nation. The project now has a generation capacity of 290 megawatts at its site east of Yuma. It came online in three phases, with the initial launch nearly a decade ago.

Solar tracker technology

A lot more has happened since then. For example, Array Technologies has chosen the Valley of the Sun as the location of its Array Tech Research Center, a site dedicated to researching, developing and field testing advanced solar tracker technology. Solar trackers refer to the system that positions objects such as solar panels at angles relative to the sun.

While the company — one of the world’s largest manufacturers of ground-mounted systems used in solar energy projects — may be new to you, it’s worth noting that Array Technologies chose Arizona for this project rather than staying near its headquarters in neighboring New Mexico.

The Research Center will serve as a proving ground where customers can discover the potential of prototypes that address common utility-scale solar challenges, including foundation costs, site grading requirements, large module compatibility and installation time. Array’s engineers will use the facility to demonstrate how to overcome these challenges using new technology developed by the company.

Innovation is also alive and well at Tucson-based Sundial Energy. Its product line featuring flexible photovoltaic laminates includes SmartShade solar parking structures, solar security lighting and solar bus shelters. Add to that, commercial businesses, residential developers and individual homeowners can turn to the company for industry-leading inverters, charge controllers, batteries and monitoring.

Brighter future for solar

Even Arizona’s utilities have seen the future and know it includes solar. Arizona Public Service offers a choice of residential Saver Choice time-of-use service plans to help customers save on their monthly bills or earn credits for power they generate. The utility also offers the Green Choice Program that lets residential and business customers select a portion of their energy from renewable sources such as solar.

Going further, customers now can enroll in the APS Residential Battery Pilot for those using home battery systems that charge from solar panels or the grid. When the sun goes down, a battery can power a home with stored solar energy. In an outage, the battery instantaneously disconnects from the main panel and the rest of the electrical grid, creating a self-sustaining, personal grid that can include solar panels.

Salt River Project offers its Residential Distributed Energy Resource Program to help customers connect their solar electric system safely to SRP’s electric grid. The process is designed to review equipment — especially off-the-shelf units available at home improvement stores or online — to ensure it meets proper specifications, codes and UL listings.

While support for solar from Capitol Hill would help, companies with Arizona connections already are moving toward creating a brighter future here and beyond our borders.

Steve Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.



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