Renewable Energy Isn't Cheap, Not Immune to Blackouts, Don't Need
Posted on Tue, 04/12/2011 - 04:55 PM by John Clem
viewed 10377 times
Solar energy is a fast growing trend that's become a big business for manufacturers, installers and utilities. The reason for this boom in the last decade is unknown, but it's safe to say that the usual suspects of government subsidies, financial benefits and green energy generation are the culprits. For the uninitiated, solar power systems can seem complex, expensive and possibly just not worth the effort, but if you're reading this article, you're interested enough to do some research, and to fully understand the process, you'll need to do quite a bit more.
It's beyond the scope of this article to explain every facet of solar energy, but what I'd like to highlight are five important things one should know before getting too much further into the process of purchasing and installing solar panels.
Cheap, Renewable Energy Isn't Cheap
One of the touted claims for solar power is that it's cheap, clean renewable energy. Let's break this down step by step. Solar is cheap in that once you have the panels installed, you don't have to pay money or put anything into them to have them continue to generate power, but you'll spend between $10,000-$40,000 to get your system purchased and installed. Solar is clean energy in the sense that there are no emissions, but there are emissions and green house gases created in the production of photovoltaic cells used in solar panels. The panels offset this carbon footprint by orders of magnitude over the life of their use, but they're not truly 100% green. Renewable implies that this energy creation will last forever, and while most panels have a 25-year lifespan, they will lose approximately .5% of their efficiency each year, meaning that while they're extremely efficient, they won't last forever.
Solar Doesn't Make You Immune to Blackouts
This is a surprise to most people, but even systems with batteries to keep the power on when the sun goes down will shut off during a blackout in your neighborhood. This is because the majority of solar power systems tie into the local power grid and the solar power systems are smart enough to recognize that if the power is out on the grid, it would be too dangerous to be pumping more power into it. This is a safety precaution, but could be pretty annoying if you've assumed that you're covered in a blackout. If you have mission critical appliances at your business or medical equipment for example at your home, you will still need a generator for backup power.
You Don't Need "Sunshine"
Sure, the radiation from the sun is what causes photovoltaic cells to produce energy, but when the sun is behind a cloud, you don't suddenly lose your ability to generate power (which as a native of Seattle makes me happy). The reason for this is that photovoltaic cells operate much more efficiently in cooler climates, so although you're not getting as much direct sunlight, the solar radiation that is making its way to your panels generates energy much more efficiently.
Think Amortize, Not Purchase
Again, the cost of a solar power system is quite high initially, so simply putting yourself in the mindset of paying it off over time can lessen the blow. Some counties have programs in place that allow you to roll the purchase and installation cost into your property taxes over 20 years. Others do solar leasing where you get the benefit of affordable, green energy while essentially just swapping your electricity bill with a solar lease bill. However you decide to finance your solar power system, just consider it as an investment in your home rather than a big expenditure.
You're not An "Early Adopter"
There can be a tendency to consider any new type of technology as expensive, full of potential problems, and all around, a bad economic decision (much akin to buying that $1000 Blu-ray player the first year it came out only to find that two years later it's a third of the price and has all the kinks worked out). Some people have this same opinion of solar power, but consider that solar power technology has been around for over a century, and that the modern photovoltaic cell that current solar technology is based on was developed in 1954. This is not to say that the technology is not progressing, but simply that it's fairly rock solid at this point and will probably not see any dramatic price drops any time in the near future.
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