I’m sure that we can all agree that finding reliable alternative energy sources is critical in the coming decades. Regardless of whether you believe that the planet is warming, we simply cannot continue to burn fossil fuels as if they will always be available for our use.
Obviously, I’m a proponent of solar power since I write this blog. But I cannot ignore the fact that there continue to be solar energy disadvantages that present hurdles to any significant reliance on the renewable energy resource.
I’ve been blogging about solar power for two years now. I also have a friend who is a manager at a local electric utility in my hometown. I recently chatted with her (we’ll call her “Jessica” to protect her identity) about the disadvantages of solar energy and what needs to be done in the future – if anything!
Jessica and I talked about the impact of Renewable Energy Standards (RES) – also known as renewable portfolio standards, that require utilities to generate a certain amount of their electricity using renewable resources. As a result of these standards, utilities are forced to move away from inexpensive (yet dirty) sources of energy to solar power, wind, hydro, etc. But the costs associated with doing so are passed onto rate-payers, many of whom will be facing double-digit increases in their rates in this tough economy.
Now, consider the fact that Jessica does work for the power company when she states that our immediate investment would be better spent in clean coal technology rather than a forced change to renewable energy on a short time frame. I’m fairly skeptical of “clean coal,” but perhaps there could be a balance that shifts some of the funding for purely “green” energy resources towards reducing emissions of coal plants since we are not shutting them down any time soon.
Jessica also discussed the expensive grid upgrades that are required before clean solar electricity generated by solar power plants can be transmitted to the infrastructure that will deliver power to end-users. In fact, solar energy resources in Central Oregon where I live are ample. But too many sites that may be perfect for solar panel installation are too far from existing power lines and/or the grid is at capacity and cannot take additional power.
So maybe utility-scale solar energy is still cost-prohibitive. But what about home solar panels? Why not go solar right at home?
Even with the cost of solar panels dropping 50% or more recently and the generous tax incentives and rebates offered by local, state and federal governments, the price of an average home solar array is $15,000-30,000. Considering the savings in your electrical bill and average increase in home value of $20 for every $1 saved in energy costs, the return on investment could be about 5-10 years. But today’s homeowner is cautious – leery of making investments in the home or taking out any type of a loan.
Some people are opting for solar panel leases or solar power purchase agreements as a way to go solar without the upfront costs. Those options are not available in all locations, however. I do believe, however, that the market for residential solar panels will continue to grow and more regions will have special programs and opportunities for homeowners to use solar power in affordable way.
So, what is the bottom line? Am I saying, “don’t switch to solar power”? Absolutely not. But in 2010, solar power technology still has a way to go before the resource is more affordable, reliable and efficient for wide-scale use. Investment in the future of solar energy is wise, along with re-examining our current energy sources and planning for the future.
Have a comment or perspective on this issue – please share below!