In early 2016 there was a 43% rise in solar installations, and by the second quarter U.S. had an installed capacity of 31.6 gigawatts (GW) enough to power 6.2 million homes reports the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Small and Decentralized Electricity Source
Solar energy’s greatest attraction is that it can be produced on a small scale directly by the end consumers in contrast to large centralized conventional energy sources controlled by large corporations.
- Solar energy is suitable for heating and electricity generation using photo-voltaic cellsinstalled on roof-tops of individual buildings. This is useful as decentralized sources of electricity for households and commercial businesses, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Solar water heating and passive solar designing of buildings to cool or heat space are other solar technologies available for individual buildings according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
- Medium-sized systems for community level power generation are also becoming popular. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (Energy.gov) analysis stated that 13 states in U.S. installed 100 megawatts (MW) in 2015 alone, and residential units reached 2 gigawatts. Community solar installations of 100 MW were installed between 2010-2015. These installations are important to keep communities running at a lower cost for everyone.
In addition, EIA states that on a large scale “Solar thermal/electric power plants generate electricity by concentrating solar energy to heat a fluid and produce steam that is then used to power a generator”.
- The decentralized nature of solar power makes it a practical and viable energy source in remote areas located far from the electricity grid. This is crucial for agri-business in farms for running irrigation, greenhouses, and crop and hay dryers, making agriculture risk-free according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Cheap and Reliable Energy Source
Technological developments and policy and subsides by the government have reduced the high costs of solar systems. The price of solar PV panels have decreased by 60% and the cost of the solar electricity system by 50% according to the Energy.gov report. So solar energy is now competitive with conventional energy sources.
The running costs are less and the initial investment is regained leading to subsequent savings in energy costs according to Greenpeace. This happens because the input for solar energy is free and clean sunlight while fossil fuels are mined and transported over long distance according to another Greenpeace report (myth 1). The Greenpeace report estimates that in the U.S., the costs to deal with environmental problems from use of “dirty power sources” double or even triple the cost of electricity from conventional sources like coal. Solar energy is important to help offset and potentially eliminate, these additional costs.