Radiation from the sun can be harnessed and utilized in a variety of ways to provide useful thermal and electrical energy. While many methods and technologies exist for accomplishing this, solar photovoltaics (PV) are the most common solar energy system employed today. Since 2010, deployment of these systems has experienced significant growth, resulting in streamlined installation approaches and, of course, lower costs.
In today’s market, solar development has the potential to provide economic and environmental benefits to individuals and Tribal communities alike. In addition to systems designed to offset energy usage at residences and facilities, Tribes with large, flat land areas may also consider utility scale solar development, selling energy directly to the grid to generate revenue.
Types of Solar
Passive solar heating is becoming a popular consideration in the design of modern residences and facilities. Properly-placed windows and awnings increase the building’s heat gain during the winter months, while reducing it in the summertime. The use of high thermal mass construction materials (concrete, brick, stone, etc.) and appropriately-designed air circulation systems also helps to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. By passively taking advantage of the annual solar cycle, these structures have the potential to significantly reduce heating and cooling costs throughout the year.
Distributed generation (DG) is the production of electricity at a location that is typically situated near the actual load demand. Through the use of net energy metering (NEM), these distributed solar arrays offset a portion of the electrical load while allowing uninterrupted access to electricity when the system is not active. Systems that generate more energy than is being used may be able to take advantage of net excess generation (NEG) benefits, depending on the policies that have been implemented by the local utility. The economic viability of distributed solar systems is highly dependent on the local electricity prices and NEM regulations.
In some instances, it may be a viable option for Tribes to pursue utility-scale solar development. Unlike distributed systems, energy generated by a utility-scale solar array is typically sold to a power purchaser (often the local utility), rather than being used to directly offset a local load. Utility-scale systems require a large, contiguous and relatively-flat land base, though hillside systems may be possible based on the hill’s slope and orientation. The viability of such projects greatly depends on the ability and willingness of the power purchaser to buy the energy at a rate that is economically feasible.
Combining solar and energy storage, such as batteries, is a popular method for addressing many limitations that are inherent to typical solar generation. Aside from the important capability of keeping the lights on during an outage, energy storage systems can also smooth PV power fluctuations and help mitigate peak rate and demand charges. These systems are suitable for keeping the power flowing at critical loads and Tribal facilities, especially in areas where outages are a common occurrence.
What You Need
For solar projects to be viable for Tribes, the following characteristics and circumstances must generally be present:
- A suitable location (size, shape, terrain, shading, orientation and adequate structural capacity for rooftops).
- Above average energy costs.
- Access to electric infrastructure and power purchase markets.
- Favorable regulatory framework, specifically local net metering policies for distributed generation projects.
- Recognition and acceptance of forfeited land use capabilities (farming, grazing, hunting, recreation, etc.) for the lifetime of the project.
Services for Solar
The Division of Energy and Mineral Development provides project assistance to Tribes and individuals to develop solar on their trust land. Learn more about how we can help below.
Lakewood, CO 80401-3142