Roof mounted solar panels recently installed at the TPTI building on DP Road. Courtesy/TPTI
By RICK NEBEL
Tibbar Plasma Technologies
We have just completed a PV solar installation at the Tibbar Plasma Technologies (TPTI) building. We have also installed a heat pump (see, for instance, the League of Women Voters article in the Los Alamos Daily Post: click here), and plan to install some charging units for electric automobiles.
Our company now produces more energy (through solar PV) than it uses and does not directly use fossil fuels. Consequently, we technically have a negative carbon footprint.
The goal of this project is for TPTI to become as energy independent as possible. Our business plan is to run the company on very low overhead. These new installations should eliminate our electric and natural gas bills. It should also allow our employees who purchase an electric vehicle (EV) to recharge them for free and eliminate their gasoline costs.
The primary difference between our solar installation and most home installations (see, for instance, this article in the Post: click here) is the size and coupling the technology to a heat pump and EV recharging units.
Our solar PV installation is 20 kW, which is large compared to a typical home solar installations of about 1.4 kW. Our heat pump consumes about 6 kW by itself. The auto rechargers will also be a large load. Also, we are a commercial facility (a little less than 3,000 sq. ft.) and about half of the building is high bay space with large garage doors that have significant heat loss. We have overhead lighting throughout the building and our plasma experiments can consume significant amounts of power. I suspect that using a home solar unit to provide, electricity, heat and an EV recharger would size out in the 5kW–10kW range.
One advantage of this approach is that it effectively locks us into a fixed utility cost, and we are paying for it upfront. This is a hedge against inflation, which is particularly important for people on a fixed income like retirees. Although the payback is 15-20 years, the costs won’t inflate.
We contracted all of the installation work locally. Greg Mechels at Select Solar Power designed and installed the Solar PV system. Lew Nelson at Architectural Metal installed the heat pump.
Every evening when I turn on my TV set, I hear PNM telling us how they are going to go to renewables. The cost of renewables is largely equipment and installation costs (i.e. capital investment costs). The PNM model is pretty simple. They buy and install the equipment, WE PAY FOR IT (through our electric bills), and then PNM owns the equipment. This increases their company valuation, which benefits their stockholders.
If we are going to pay for it anyway, then why shouldn’t we own it? Installing our own solar PV unit allows us to do that. I can’t help but think that PNM going renewable is going to run everybody’s
There also are some hidden tax savings to doing this. The standard model is that you make money, you pay income tax on it, you spend the money on goods and services (like electricity), and you pay GRT on those goods and services. If you provide those goods and services yourself, you don’t pay those taxes. Furthermore, if you use an EV you don’t pay gasoline taxes either. On top of all that, the government will give you a 25 percent rebate on the cost of your solar unit.
While the solar PV route is attractive to us, it might not be the best solution for everyone. If we didn’t have the capital up front, we probably wouldn’t be doing this. It’s an investment to lower our costs, not an investment to optimize our returns. However, there are some advantages to doing this, particularly for older people who want to lock in their costs.
Heat pump secondary inside the TPTI building on DP Road. Courtesy/TPTI
Heat pump outside the TPTI building on DP Road. Courtesy/TPTI