The energy of the desert where the sun is king

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L’&eacute ;desert energy where the sun is king

In the desert state of Nevada, where electricity bills can skyrocket , residents increasingly benefit from the sun, a free and inexhaustible resource. And thanks to recently enhanced tax credits, solar energy is becoming increasingly popular.

Spencer Bockus installs solar panels on the roof of a house in Henderson, south of Las Vegas.

Installing solar panels has never been more popular in the greater Las Vegas, Nevada area.

It's only half past five in the morning in Las Vegas, in the Sol-Up warehouse, not far from the Strip, the famous main casino boulevard, and outside the thermometer already indicates 29 degrees Celsius.

Omar Seguro, the sector manager, ensures that his installation team, which is about to leave, does not forget anything. He supervises the loading of the last materials in the van already filled with photovoltaic panels. And panels, his team installs a lot, about 1000 a week!

The installation of solar panels on the roofs of Nevada homes is well underway.

In the upscale residential neighborhood of Henderson, south of Las Vegas, the sounds of lawn mowers compete for stardom with those of solar panel installers.

While waiting for the first Sol-Up panels to be hoisted onto the roof of the residence, Spencer Bockus is preparing his tools to install the electrical box that will control the system. He's been in the solar business for 15 years, first in California and for the past few years here in Nevada.

Technology is expanding , Faster and faster. It's a very good industry, because it's here to stay. We are so busy here, he says. I believe we have 150 contracts pending.

Meanwhile, Frank Rieger, the big boss of Sol-Up, is in front of his company located on the Las Vegas freeway. Opposite are Caesars Palace and the Bellagio, two of the most famous casinos in Sin City. He is very proud to have installed a huge billboard on the side of the road.

There are over 100,000 cars passing through this highway, and a sign like this costs $15,000 a month. More expensive than my company's rent, he points out.

“When there's a traffic jam, that's what we prefer, because people can't help but see our billboard. »

— Frank Rieger, the big boss of Sol-Up

Frank Rieger in front of his company, which is across from the biggest casinos in Las Vegas.

In the offices of Sol-Up, many employees are busy constantly reminding customers interested in installing solar panels, which cost an average of $25,000 to $30,000.

The least we can say is that business is booming for Frank Rieger, since his teams are doing thirty solar installations a week. And the pace is increasing, especially since tax credits for home solar were revised upwards by the Biden administration.

The tax credit has gone up at 30% and will remain so for the next ten years. For my industry, it's huge, welcomes the entrepreneur, while recently anticipating a decrease of 26% to 22%.

Phil Bourekas recently switched to solar power for his nearly 500 square meter home. He is what is called a heavy consumer of electricity: he has a large swimming pool, a fish pond, a large carpentry workshop for his hobbies, three refrigerated wine cellars. And no less than three huge air conditioners that beat the desert heat.

Phil Bourekas installed a $65,000 solar panel system on his Nevada home.

So we moved here in 2018 and our first energy bill in June was $1200 for a month! It's a big house and it's just hot in here, you know, he admits, but since we installed the solar panels, we're on $14 a month every month, all year round. So we did some math and estimated that the return on investment or break-even point was about eight years.

In less than four years , so his $65,000 system for which he was entitled to 30% tax credits will pay for itself.

Signs on the roofs, there are a few anywhere in the greater Las Vegas area. Like Howard Watts, a Democrat elected to the Nevada legislature who strongly believes in solar and encourages his Republican opponents to take the same path.

“We don't have coal, oil, or natural gas here, but we do have sunshine.” So let's build an economy based on what we have and create jobs. […] I think the two parties can work together on this.

—Howard Watts, Nevada Democrat

In 2020, Nevada voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution that requires at least half of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030.

Howard Watts, an elected Democrat from the State of Nevada, believes that solar energy is a good source of savings and jobs.

Currently, Nevada generates over 5,000 megawatts of electricity from solar power: that's about 10% of the total electricity consumed in this desert state. Enough to supply nearly 900,000 residences.

With prices down 53% for materials and installation, solar energy has the wind at its back more than ever, according to Marc Perez, of the American Solar Energy Society.

Hydroelectricity is still the most important source of renewable energy, he recalls. Historically in North America, it developed in the 20th century. After that, the wind really took off in the early 2000s, if we look at the statistics from the United States Office of Energy Information.

One of many solar panel installations like the company does every day on the roofs of residences in the greater Las Vegas area.

And the abundance of silicon on the Earth, which is used in the construction of the glass of the panels, promises a meteoric rise in energy, according to Marc Perez.

It's a hyperabundance of material . Growth or trends are stronger for solar. In five years, it will probably dominate wind in terms of capacity.

Such success obviously encourages many companies to enter this lucrative market, and not all of them necessarily do so in full compliance with the law. Frank Rieger, the boss of the company Sol-Up, deplores it, because it is bad for the reputation of the sector.

There are about 300 solar companies in town, but 95% of them aren't even legal. You can make a lot of money selling solar power, even if you don't do it right. Those who want to take advantage of the windfall are sales offices, and some only operate from their living rooms. They find an installer who installs the system, which is completely illegal.

One of many daily solar panel installations on the roof of a residence in the greater Las Vegas area.

But hunting down these unlicensed companies seems difficult, according to lawmakers in the state. We have put in place stronger protections for consumers, says Howard Watts. There are laws in place to try to suppress this, but we know it is still happening. So more needs to be done either by educating people or ensuring that these complaints are investigated and these companies are punished.

While the installations of photovoltaic panels follow one another week after week on the roofs of residences, the same cannot be said for the roofs of commercial enterprises.

However, you just have to enter these casinos that have made the city of gambling famous to realize the incredible consumption of electricity 24 hours a day. The lights, the slot machines, the air conditioning , hotel rooms, all very expensive.

For each casino, it's $100,000 to $350,000 a month for electricity. If you multiply these figures by 75 gambling establishments, it becomes dizzying, not to mention the production of greenhouse gases.

Solar panels on the roof of MGM's casino, Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip

The MGM Resorts group, which operates 13 locations in Las Vegas and manages 36,000 hotel rooms hotel, decided to make a move. On the roof of the Mandalay Bay casino, hundreds of solar panels capture the sun and power the huge air conditioning machines that are located right next to it.

And that's just part of the company's effort, says Geoffrey Becker, director of governance at MGM.

“We truly believe that a greener business is a better business. And so, in 2016, MGM actually exited the electric utility monopoly in Nevada, which allowed us to really take charge of our energy.

—Geoffrey Becker, Director of Governance at MGM Resorts

Of course, it's not the casino's roof panels that are the game changer. In fact, the real solar power source that covers 90% of the daytime electricity needs for MGM's 13 casinos is in the middle of the desert, north of Sin City. This is where 323,000 signs have been installed in a park of over 240 hectares.

It is therefore a 100 megawatt network, explains Geoffrey Becker. For comparison, this array in Mandalay Bay is just over eight megawatts. It is therefore much larger in the north of Las Vegas.

MGM Resorts has installed, right in the middle of the desert , 323,000 solar panels in a park of more than 240 hectares, which produce 100 megawatts of electricity.

MGM's solar choice is quite unique, because the company is strong enough to afford the costs of such infrastructure, but also because it is part of the company's plan for the future. x27;be able to use 100% renewable energy by 2030. The other energy-intensive casinos are not there yet…

This is enough to disappoint Frank Rieger from Sol-Up. All these roofs that could accommodate these solar panels, it is inexcusable, he laments. Imagine if you could run Las Vegas on solar energy or renewable energy, then you could do it everywhere, it would be an example for the world.

But before you To get there, there's probably one key piece missing to ensure total success: energy storage. Because for the moment, when solar energy is available, it must be consumed immediately.

Marc Perez, of the American Solar Energy Society, thinks of a solution while waiting for the miracle batteries.

I would say that in the very long term, for the #x27;seasonal intermittency, this can be solved with overcapacity. Because, for the moment, the seasonal imbalance is very impressive [with the night and the clouds]. So seasonal storage would be needed to overcome this imbalance. How much storage? It takes us maybe four or five hours to get through the night.

The technology is still in development, but it should further boost solar panel sales.

The company Sol-Up experienced rapid growth, thanks in particular to tax credits for the installation of solar panels in Nevada.

The next step will also be to produce more panels in American soil to solve supply problems.

It's not just the United States. It's actually the whole Western world that has given up making them, argues Frank Rieger. It's not just the panels, you can take almost all kinds of products in the consumer electronics industry, like the chip industry. It's a mistake of the past that needs to be corrected.

It is now almost 3 p.m. in Henderson, and the heat is still stifling, but that's good, the x27;s team of Spencer Bockus has completed the installation of the solar panels. At 41 degrees, all have the satisfaction of a job well done.

Another installation scheduled for the afternoon? No, Spencer replies, that's it for today, on my way to a nice cold beer. Tomorrow at sunrise, he and his team will tend to another home that has chosen the solar path.

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