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Even with the economic and environmental advantages of solar technology, there is a lot of misinformation about it, and Mississippians have been slow to embrace it, says Will Hegman. “People say Mississippi isn’t geographically suited to solar power, that there isn’t enough solar radiation here, that solar systems are unreliable, that solar is just a fad, and on and on.” But, says Hegman, the facts are that solar systems are extremely reliable and can be economically feasible for many Mississippi farmers, homeowners, businesses, schools, churches, and almost any structure that needs electricity.
WILL HEGMAN with the solar carport that charges the batteries for his all-electric cars — a Tesla roadster and a Nissan Leaf.
Lack of standards, regulations
Aside from the reluctance to embrace new technology, Hegman says, standards and regulations for the solar industry run the gamut from inconsistent to non-existent. Even among power companies, interconnection, installation, metering, and operating requirements for solar systems are widely varied and interpreted. “They all seem to have their own particular spin on things, and trying to cope with them can be awfully frustrating.”
Additional frustration is often encountered at the state level, where agencies may have differing regulations, permits, licensing, and fee structures. While states have training and qualification standards established for professions ranging from cosmetology to truck driving, that may not be the case for solar installers — often, it’s just a matter of paying a fee for a license.
Because solar is still new in comparison to other energy forms, Hegman says, applications for agriculture have not been as much in the forefront as for homes and businesses. “There just hasn’t been a lot of research done on other agricultural applications.
“But I would think the potential is there. Solar arrays could be sited on any non-productive land to generate power for farm use. Most producers, for example, would prefer to use electricity for pumping irrigation water, because it’s so much cheaper than running a big diesel engine. But often there are no nearby power lines, and running lines to pumps is prohibitively expensive. It would be interesting to research how solar might be used to power remote pumping systems.
“Even if there wasn’t room for a solar array, an alternative might be a battery array that could be charged by the diesel generator. The batteries could power the pump for a portion of its run time, thus reducing the amount of expensive diesel fuel required.
“I know from my own experience that solar is completely workable for powering a farm shop,” Hegman says. “But what about as a supplemental power source for grain drying? Or providing power for hog confinement facilities? And a lot of farmers have remote hunting cabins, where solar could be utilized.”
Hegman is an advocate of taking easy steps to make all new homes solar ready, generator ready, and electric vehicle ready.
“This would include roof access for wiring to a solar array, a connection for an external generator in case of complete power failure, and provision for solar charging of electric vehicles. The cost is relatively little at the time of construction, and even if the homeowner doesn’t want any of these technologies now, the infrastructure will be there in the future. To go in and add these after the fact would cost a lot more.” But, he says, builders continue to be reluctant to do this.