The decision between solar panels or utility scale solar is not necessarily clear cut. Stated another way, does it make more sense for you to install solar panels on your own property – investing in the equipment yourself – or to support utilities’ efforts to build new solar farms that will diminish the amount of coal-based electricity flowing through the grid?
To help you answer the question, based on your own circumstances, there is an online tool: “In My Backyard,” which was developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Before you go online, gather the following information:
- annual and monthly electricity usage
- estimated size of photovoltaic (PV) solar system or wind turbine that could be installed
The NREL tool will tap into Google Earth maps and data to get data on the amount of sunshine and wind at your location, and then will estimate the amount of power that could be generated by a PV system or wind turbine where you live. Once you have that information, and if you decide to install solar panels, take advantage of federal and state tax incentives and rebates.
That being said, kilowatt hour (kWh) costs vary by utility, as do state and local incentives for installing your own solar panels. You may decide that it makes more financial (and environmental sense) to buy solar power through utility scale solar plants, rather than generate your own solar energy. Programs such as “Blue Sky” here in Oregon allow Pacific Power customers to invest as little as $1.95 a month on top of their electric bills to support renewable power infrastructure.
Cost is part of the equation (both up-front and long-term) as well as logistics and practicalities. Some experts, including those at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, believe that larger, utility scale solar farms are 25% more efficient and cost less than smaller PV panel systems. Their conclusion? That with today’s widespread use of renewable energy, it may make more sense to allow utilities to bear the cost of generating large amounts of clean energy where efficiencies may be greater and costs lower.
Only you can answer the question: solar panels or utility scale solar when it comes to your property. Personally, I’d feel better going solar myself instead of waiting for permitting and construction of large-scale projects. And, I’ll own my own PV system once I do so.