Monday, August 27, 2007

Roof is proof of solar technology -- Tiles replace panels in Vacaville development

August 26, 2007

Roof is proof of solar technology -- Tiles replace panels in Vacaville development

By Ines Bebea

A new subdivision on Ruby Drive in Vacaville features houses that have solar panels built into the roof tiles, providing energy efficiency for owners. (Photo by Chris Jordan)

VACAVILLE - Solar energy is picking up steam in the Bay Area. If a recent survey of solar projects in the nine Bay Area counties is any indication, Northern California is leading the state by example.

The latest survey by NorCal Solar, an advocacy group, found that solar panels in the Bay Area produced enough electricity to power 61,725 homes. Vacaville was among the top 10 cities with populations greater than 50,000 in terms of watts generated. In 2006, 24 solar projects were installed in the city and produced 2,268,744 watts.

A housing development in Vacaville is taking the concept of solar panels to the next level. Meritage Homes is building 45 energy efficiency homes with solar panels embedded in the roof tiles.

"The idea of building a home based on energy efficiency systems has been in progress for awhile, but we wanted to build our homes with technology that would be cost effective for the owners," said Jeff Jacobs, vice president of community development for Meritage Homes Corporation.

"Vacaville is a forward thinking city," he added, "and we thought it would be the right place and the right time for this kind of community."

This is the first energy efficiency residential project for Meritage Homes. The solar tile technology was developed by SunPower Corporation. The San Jose-based company has been involved in solar technology for 25 years and launched its housing division three years ago.

"Our system includes the solar tiles, the inverter that converts sun light into household electricity, the electric meter and a Web-based monitoring system," said Bill Kelly, general manager for the SunPower New Home Division.

According to Kelly, 10 other communities in California are being developed with solar technology.

"The growth industry for solar panels in California and worldwide has grown 30 to 35 percent per year," Kelly said. "The panels are now more aesthetically pleasing, and the growing concerns regarding the environment have attracted the interests of the general public."

SunPower has done away with the traditional steel and mirror design of solar panels by creating rectangular solar tiles.

The homes in Vacaville also feature tankless water heaters and automated ventilation systems that will help residents save on their utility bills.

"Residents of the homes will notice a significant reduction in their monthly utility bill from what they were used to," Jacobs said. "We hope that they consider the homes an investment that will pay off for them. Depending on your family size, with all our energy efficiency features, you can experience a 50 percent drop in your utility payments."

The emergence of solar panels is evident across Vacaville. Solar panels were installed at the City Hall building in 2003. According to Ed Huestis, transportation systems manager for Vacaville's Public Works Department, the city is the ideal market for solar panels in residential and commercial buildings.

"Our location, hours of sunlight and a population that can afford to make those kind of energy saving improvements make us an ideal location," said Huestis, who paid $20,000 to install solar panels in his own home a few years ago. "The City and County administration have been very conscious about it, and the level of awareness has definitely been raised in Vacaville."

Liz Merry, program manager for NorCal Solar, said the growing popularity of solar energy is a direct result of California's energy crisis in 2000.

"Homeowners want to save money and do something for the environment," Merry said. "The financial payback begins immediately. Solano County has very hot summers and, with that, huge electric bills. Solar energy is a very attractive alternative for its residents."

Reach Ines Bebea at 427-6934 or

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