When Joe Harris arrives at his office, he parks in a space reserved for electric cars, whips out a cable, and plugs his Mazda Miata into a solar-powered charging station.
Sixty photovoltaic panels, which convert solar energy into electricity, were installed on the roof of the three-story Harris Civil Engineers building near downtown Orlando in April. Three months later, the panels were energized, providing 10.5 kilowatts — enough to power about one-third of the 20,000-square-foot building.
Harris's system is one of about two dozen residential and commercial systems that will be featured on the Orlando Solar Tour on Oct. 3. The tour, which is part of the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society's national tour, features the latest solar and energy-efficient technologies. It is free and open to the public.
With solar costs about 30 percent lower than a year ago, and incentives available to cover at least a third of the installation costs, more families and businesses are going green to save money during tight economic times, said Craig Williams, spokesman for the Florida Renewable Energy Association.
During the tour, property owners will share how they are using solar power and other energy-saving practices to reduce their energy bills and carbon emissions, Williams said.
"When you combine energy efficiency, solar hot water and solar electric systems, you can create a 40 percent savings on standard Florida home," he said.
At most sites, representatives of the solar industry will be on hand to answer technical questions and provide information about Florida solar rebates, Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) solar-production incentives, and the 30-percent federal tax rebate for solar installation.
Standing on the roof of his building, Harris surveyed the neighborhood.
"Just about everybody has flat roofs. Panels could be on every roof. But the property owners think solar is too expensive, too complicated. They don't know how to do it," he said.
"But it's easy. And with the price of electricity going up each year, it's worth the investment," he said.
His solar system will pay for itself in 10 years, said Harris. "I think of it as a 10-percent return per year."
Converting his Mazda Miata to electrical power was also easy, he said.
"My kids helped me. We took out the gasoline engine and replaced it with 10 batteries. It took about 10 weekends."