SOLAR

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Solar photovoltaic systems convert sunlight into electricity

Solar photovoltaic (PV) devices, or solar cells, change sunlight directly into electricity. Small PV cells can power calculators, watches, and other small electronic devices. Arrangements of many solar cells in PV panels and arrangements of multiple PV panels in PV arrays can produce electricity for an entire house. Some PV power plants have large arrays that cover many acres to produce electricity for thousands of homes.

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Solar energy has benefits and some limitations

Using solar energy has two main benefits:

  • Solar energy systems do not produce air pollutants or carbon dioxide.

  • Solar energy systems on buildings have minimal effects on the environment.

Solar Energy has some limitations: 

  • The amount of sunlight that arrives at the earth's surface is not constant. The amount of sunlight varies depending on location, time of day, the season of the year, and weather conditions.

  • The amount of sunlight reaching a square foot of the earth's surface is relatively small, so a large surface area is necessary to absorb or collect a useful amount of energy. 

  • The typical solar energy system includes solar panels, an inverter, equipment to mount the panels on your roof, and a performance monitoring system that tracks electricity production. The solar panels collect energy from the sun and turn it into electricity, which is passed through the inverter and converted into a form that you can use to power your home. 

  • The vast majority of residential solar energy systems are connected to the electricity grid (or “grid-tied”). When your panels are producing more electricity than your home needs, the excess is fed back into the power grid. Conversely, when your home needs more electricity than your solar panels are producing, you can draw power from the electric grid.

  • Solar manufacturer Sunflare has a solution for such structures: resilient thin-film solar panels that are installed with a special double-sided tape. Sunflare’s flat, waterproof panels are made without frames, racks, or glass; can be walked on; and can be made to fit any shape. Producing these panels requires less energy than producing glass and silicon panels, and, at 1.7 millimeters thick, they’re more flexible; you can bend and curve each panel’s backing to suit the roof beneath it. Sunflare weighs 86 percent less than silicon, and, unlike commercial roofing installations, requires no roofing punctures. These features mean the panels can be attached to any structure without adding too much weight or compromising its integrity. Plus, the company is committed to environmental stewardship; it doesn’t use toxic chemicals to produce the panels, and it recycles spent materials.

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The Montgomery County Council on 2/23/2021 voted to adopt changes to the County zoning code that will provide opportunities for locating solar collection systems in the Agricultural Reserve.

Zoning Text Amendment 20-01 strikes the right balance between the need for renewable energy and the equally important need to protect the Agricultural Reserve’s unique and vital contributions to local food production, clean water and carbon sequestration. 

The new standards allow solar collection systems generating up to two megawatts of power as a conditional use on the lesser productive soils in the Ag Reserve. Other provisions protect streams, wetlands, steep slopes greater than 15 percent and forests.  

In addition, the areas under the arrays must be used for farming or agricultural purposes. Examples include pollinator-friendly designation, agrivoltaic plantings or crops suitable for grazing farm animals. Another significant change affects property owners who install smaller solar systems to serve their individual energy needs, increasing the amount of on-site energy they can produce from 120 to 200 percent.

 

The Ag Reserve, established by prescient County leaders more than 40 years ago, is recognized as a national model of farmland and open space preservation. Its importance and significance grow with each passing year as we witness the effects of climate change on our food and water supplies. The legislation adopted by County Council embodies the need for protecting this resource while allowing us to see whether agriculture and solar systems can co-exist in a mutually beneficial way in Montgomery County. 

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