What's the Story?
10:56 am
Tue July 22, 2014

Why Doesn't The Sunshine State Use More Solar Energy?

A solar panel installation at FPL's Martin County Next Generation hybrid natural gas and solar energy plant.
A solar panel installation at FPL's Martin County Next Generation hybrid natural gas and solar energy plant.
Credit Julia Duba

As far as solar energy goes, the Sunshine State is third in the country for potential -- and 18th in actual installation.

In Florida, there’s no financial assistance for installing solar panels on your roof. Solar energy users can only take a federal tax credit.

Florida Power and Light powers the state using mostly natural gas. Out of all the energy FPL provides, only 0.06 percent comes from solar energy.

The only way to get solar panels installed on your roof is to call an independent contractor.

A Miami-based company called Mr. Solar is keeping busy installing more solar energy for homeowners and businesses, says CEO Brian Gillis.

“Their goal is to reduce their electric bill and do it in a manner that is cost effective,” says Gillis.

Mr. Solar team installs pool-heating panels on the roof of a Miami house.
Mr. Solar team installs pool-heating panels on the roof of a Miami house.
Credit Julia Duba

Gillis says business could be better, though, if the state and the utilities were more involved with solar energy.

Florida doesn’t have many policies in place to make solar energy happen on a large scale. In 2006, the state started a rebate program for installing solar panels, but ended it when it became too popular.

In this year’s legislative session, the state scrapped the program off the books entirely. Some people were still waiting for their rebates when the program ended.

Florida Power and Light still offers some rebate programs, but the wait list is long and the funds are limited.

Buck Martinez, director of FPL’s Office of Clean Energy, says Florida is doing solar energy the best way it can right now.

“We’re not doing as bad as people think we are,” says Martinez. “But I think we’ll have an opportunity to advance as the price continues to come down.”

Martinez also says despite it being the Sunshine State, Florida’s climate also poses a challenge.

“I think in the state of Florida our challenge is the amount of rainfall and the amount of cloud coverage we have,” says Martinez. “Obviously Florida has good potential. It’s not great potential.”

Some solar energy advocates say FPL could get around the rain and clouds by building solar plants across the state to grab energy from a sunny area while it’s cloudy in another.

James Fenton researches solar energy at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He argues solar energy is not only possible in Florida, but it’s not as expensive as most people think.

“Alternative energy is always alternative until it’s cheaper,” says Fenton. “We’re now getting to the point where it’s getting cheaper. When people start to understand that, then you can find a way to fix the policy to take advantage of that.”

Solar energy is being used at the utilities level around the world now, bringing down the cost. Also, the technology is getting better, making solar power easier to use.

Meanwhile, fossil fuels are getting more expensive.

Gillis says most people don’t know solar energy is getting cheaper. He even goes to schools to teach children about solar energy.

“I think a lot could change if people were more educated on what solar power is,” he says. “And how it works and a little bit more information on the feasibility of it.”

Selima Hussain contributed to this report.

 

This story came from our What’s the Story? blog, where we answer audience questions about South  Florida.