Why Install a Solar Electric System?
Hint: it is not about electricity bill savings
by, Madison area PV system owner and advocate
Many Americans think solar energy is the best way to generate electricity. But when they get to the point of installing their own system, they see the price, compare it to their electric bill and their interest in installing a system often stops.
Yes, solar electric systems are expensive. Of course they cost more than power generated by huge coal and nuclear power plants and transported by high voltage power lines!
Of the 69 solar electric system benefits, outlined below, most do not improve solar energy’s payback period. Rather most benefits, support the well being of the local and world community. Thus installing a solar electric system is done as much for your community as for your own benefits.
Solar Electric System Benefits to the Community
- One of the most sustainable energy sources.
- A magical way of making electricity – converting sunlight into electric power.
- People love it; in a poll by USA Today, 91% prefer solar power to other sources
- A great educational tool for students and adults.
- Purchasing a system supports development of new energy technology and market.
- Reduces exports of Wisconsin’s funds for out of state fuels.
- Creates high quality Wisconsin and U.S. jobs (36 jobs created per MW installed).
- Generates power during peak electricity consumption periods...
- ...Thus increasing grid reliability...
- ...Thus reducing the need to build power plants, and transmission and distribution lines infrastructure to meet occasional peak power needs...
- ...And reducing the utilities need to purchase the most expensive peak power (which has been driving increases in Wisconsin’s electricity price increases over the last decade).
- Generates clean power during summer ozone periods, thus reducing ozone levels.
- Reduces coal firing at power plants...
- ...Thus reduces need for coal mining and transportation and its negative environmental impacts.
- Reduces nuclear power consumption...
- ...Thus reduces production of nuclear waste, uranium mining, and the threat of leaked radioactive materials.
- Reduces firing of natural gas at power plants...
- ...Thus allowing natural gas to be used for more appropriate uses.
- Reduces CO2 emission...
- ...Thus reducing the threat of global warming, and the vast environmental changes many feel it causes.
- Reduces NOx emissions.
- Reduces SO2 emissions.
- Reduces methane emissions, a strong green house gas, from coal mines and the natural gas distribution system...
- ...Thus reduces the threat of global warming (its cost per ton CO2 emissions reduced is close to that of a hybrid automobile).
- Reduces particulate emissions for coal fired power plants...
- ...Thus reducing air quality issues and the related impacts of early human death (estimated cost in Wisconsin 4.5 cents per kWh generated in Wisconsin).
- Reduces mercury emissions from coal fired power plants (source of about 60% of the mercury pollution in Wisconsin and the U.S.)...
- ...Thus reducing the poisoning of Wisconsin’s and the nation’s environment (e.g., fish).
- Produces no hazardous waste while operating.
- With a 30 to 50 year life, panels stay out of waste stream longer than most technologies.
- PV products are generally safe for disposal, because PV materials are usually encased in glass or plastic, and many are insoluble. (see the Department of Energy's "PV Panel Disposal and Recycling" page.)
- Diversifies Wisconsin’s electricity generating mix thus improving electricity security and reliability.
- Unlike large power plants and transmission lines, solar electric systems are not a terrorist target.
Solar Electric System Personal non-monetary benefits
- Fun to own.
- Get to watch your meter turn backwards.
- No need to purchase, transport or fill with fuel.
- A sign of a person’s or business’ ethics, and good public relations for a business.
- An action to be proud of – be the first on your block to do it.
- Makes your home or business "green."
- Can be done to be very attractive.
- Once panels are up no one can build a structure that blocks your sunlight. (Wisconsin law allows property owners with solar energy systems to apply for permits guaranteeing unobstructed access to solar and wind resources.)
- Produces electricity, the most useful and highest quality type of energy that can be used to do everything from operate a computer to heat water.
- Produce power at a quality that is often better than what is delivered by electric utilities.
- Highly flexible technology - PV produces power wherever there is sunlight.
- With batteries it can provide power when the grid goes down or at sites without utility electricity service.
- Simple modular technology that can be quickly installed.
- Many ways to integrate into the human environment, panels on a roof or on a rack, tracking panels on a pole, PV sunshades (reducing building cooling load), PV shingles, PV standing seam roofing, PV flat roof (reduces cooling and heating loads), PV windows.
- Can be sited on underutilized areas such as roof tops and brownfield sites.
- The best way to generate urban renewable power.
- PV panels can be moved to different sites for different uses.
- A way to better understand a technology with the potential to be a major future power source.
- A great motivator to reduce your power consumption through energy efficiency and energy conservation.
- Tunes owners into how they use electric power.
- Tunes owners into their natural environment.
- It is good to be part of Wisconsin’s renewable energy community (open your home or business for the "Tour of Solar Homes").
Personal Monetary Benefits
- Reduces or ends the monthly bills to your local electric utility. Some people are even paid by their utility for excess production.
- As electricity prices increase solar electric systems will only save owners more money. In 2004 alone four-out-of-five of Wisconsin’s investor owned utilities have asked for about 10% rate increases.
- PV panels should have a life of 30 to 50 years and warrantees of 25 years.
- Thus PV panels are likely to maintain their value.
- Thus, once purchased the price of power it generates remains stable (i.e., free) for 30 to 50 years.
- Once it is purchased the operation costs includes only very low maintenance cost (the only moving part is the electrons).
- Focus on Energy incentives help pay for systems.
- Federal tax incentives help pay for commercial systems.
- Can sell your renewable energy credits for up to ten years.
- Not as expensive as they used to be – over the last two years installed cost has declined by almost 25% in Wisconsin.
- Increases assessed value of home or business.
- In Wisconsin solar electric systems do not impact appraised value, thus property tax does not increase.
- The number of installers and the quality of the work they have been doing is improving and installation time decreasing. Six Wisconsin installers are certified PV installers by an international certification board.
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