5 Reasons Solar is Better than Coal

Looking at the following chart, it’s pretty clear we get way more ofour electricity from coal than we do from solar power. I mean, solardoesn’t even show up when compared to the Goliath that is coal:

Coal as Goliath, Solar as David?

Crazy, huh?

For the record, solar photovoltaic (“PV”) and solar thermal resources accounted for 891 thousand megawatt-hours of electricity in 2009,according to Department of Energy figures. Coal, meanwhile, is used to generate about 45 percent of all our electricity — making it the single largest source of power in America.

So, who’s going to stand up for solar? Here are five reasons why solar power beats the pants of coal:

(1) Solar is clean. Once up and running, a solarenergy system is a zero-emissions source of power. No carbon-dioxide. No sulfur dioxide. No arsenic. No air-borne particulates… Essentially none of the environmental and health hazards associated with coal-fired power plants.

(2) Coal is old energy. Think about it: when youcombust coal, you’re essentially burning dead plant material that wasburied millions of years ago. Plus, coal has been mined for use as afuel as far back as 10,000 years ago in China. Talk about yesterday’s energy…

A solar PV panel, by contrast, generates electricity using new energy from the sun. Literally: it takes about 11 minutes from when thesunlight leaves the sun, hits your solar panels and gets converted intojuice to power your flatscreen TV.

(3) Coal is a finite resource. I’m not going to lie: we here in the U.S. are blessed (maybe cursed?) with vast coalreserves; we’ve got a hundred years or more worth of the stuff. But if I were going to put my money on which will happen first — we run out ofcoal or the sun burns out — I’d be all in on the former.

(4) Cost-wise, solar is closing in on coal. Newanalysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggests that, as the cost of generating electricity from the sun continues to fall, solar power may soon rival coal-fired plants.

(5) Solar panels generate electricity at a fixed price. Since the “fuel” that powers solar panels comes from the sun, you don’t haveto pay for it. As a result, the price of the resulting electricity won’t fluctuate over time. (Indeed, this is one of the great benefits ofowning a solar energy system: as the price of conventional electricityincreases over time, the impact of these hikes on your monthly energycosts is minimized.)

In contrast, operators of coal-fueled plants have to take into consideration price fluctuations of their main input, coal.

Any other reasons solar PV is better than coal? Post ‘em below or on Twitter: #solarvscoal

5 Reasons Solar Power Beats the Pants Off Coal

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Chu Announces Funding for SunShot Solar Projects


Department of Energy head Stephen Chu yesterday announced over $110 million in funding to support the development of advanced solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing techniques.

“Expanding the U.S. solar energy industry is an important part of the Administration’s goals to diversify our electricity supplyand rebuild America’s manufacturing base to create jobs now and in thefuture,” said Secretary Chu. “The SunShot Initiative will not only keepthe United States at the forefront in solar energy research anddevelopment, but will help us win the worldwide race to build a solarmanufacturing industry that produces solar systems that are costcompetitive with fossil fuels.”

In recent years, the U.S. has rapidly lost ground in terms of total investment in clean energy. China-based solar-panelmanufacturers, in particular, have made headway thanks in part togovernment-backed loans.

In addition to federal tax credits available to to homeowners andbusinesses that install solar energy systems, the U.S. is aiming topromote cost efficiencies in the solar manufacturing process. As part of the SunShot Initiative, funding will be made available over five years to a number of companies, including:

  • Bay Area PV Consortium (Stanford, CA) – $25 million for University-Focused Development
  • SVTC Technologies (San Jose, CA) – $25 million for Industry-Focused Development
  • U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium (Albany, NY and Palm Bay, FL) – $62.5 million for Industry-Focused Development

See the SunShot wesbite for more info.

Chu Announces Funding for SunShot Solar Energy Manufacturing Projects

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Cost of Solar to Drop in Half over the Next 10 Years


Bloomberg New Energy Finance this week is having its annualconference in New York. Among the tidbits making their way through theInterwebs, I found the following particularly interesting:

(1) Michael Liebreich, chairman of the research group, noted in a talk that he expects the cost of developing a solar power project to drop by half in the next decade, worldwide. New Energy Finance numbers suggestthe cost of large solar photovoltaic (PV) projects to decline to from around $3.00 per watt today to $1.45 per watt in 2020.

A reduction of that magnitude would make solar energy more competitive with fossil fuels. Note, however, that the cost of large-scale solar has always been — and willlikely remain — lower than the costs associated with residential solarenergy installations.

(2) Meanwhile, New Energy Finance analyst Chris Gadomski expects that plans to build more nuclear reactors in the U.S. will go forward,despite calls to scale back nuclear’s role in our energy mix.

“We’ll see a reassessment and reevaluation and then staythe course,” Gadomski said today at a conference in New York today.Plans to build the five reactors are already underway, he said, and “Wedon’t see that changing.”

You can follow the conference chatter on Twitter: #BNEF2011

Next 10 Years: Cost of Solar Will Drop by Half, U.S. Will Build 5 Nuclear Power Plants

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Sacramento to get More Solar Power

SolarCitySolarCity, a fast-growing company that provides solar lease options to homeowners in many parts of the country, today announced it plans to install more than 8,000 solar panels for the City of Sacramento, California.

At 1.9 megawatts (MW), the solar panel installation would be thelargest such facility in the city and would produce around 2.6 millionkilowatt-hours (kWh) in the first year of operation — enough to powerroughly 235 typical American homes.

“This project is a triple win for Sacramento — it willsave taxpayers money by lowering the city’s energy costs, reducepollution by generating renewable power, and create more local jobs toinstall the panels,” said [Sacramento] Mayor Kevin Johnson. “It’s ourgoal to become a greener city and generating clean energy on ourfacilities is keeping with that commitment.”

Go Sacramento!

While SolarCity has become known mainly for its work with residential solar panel installations — and, as noted above, solar home leases —it’s clear that the company is also making efforts to extend its work to the commercial and government sectors.

This story isn’t the only interesting news coming out of California’s capital. The State Assembly last week passed a bill that officially boosts California’s renewable energy target to 33percent. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign the bill into law inthe coming days.

More Solar Power Coming to Sacramento, California

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Special SPF Sun Block Electrifies Skin in Tests

It seems April Fools’ Day this year got very popular with corporate America and media outlets:

From a new “body controlled” email system to the purchase of Pluto to a royal wedding–themed car, companies and media outletshave been busily pranking this April Fools’ Day, lightening up anotherwise grim news flow focused on violence in Libya and the ongoingdisaster in Japan.

The MarketWatch story linked to above references the day’s gags from Google, Groupon and Virgin, among others. We here at GetSolar would just like to inform our readers that we were hip to the April Fool’s thang way back in 2009:

A Spain-based firm, Derma-Volt, is developing a suntan lotion that,when applied, will cause the underlying surface to generate electricalcurrent.

The key to the technology lies in the lotion’s highdensity of molecules rich in electropositive elements, like cesium.(Chemistry 101 flashback: Electropositivity is the tendency of atoms to“donate” electrons; elecronegativity is the tendency for atoms to“accept” electrons.) Under normal circumstances, such elements wouldcause serious health hazards. To counteract these risks, Derma-Volt hasdeveloped a proprietary chemical interface, the details of which thefirm declined to release.

A recent round of lab tests confirmed that a square meter of treatedskin is enough to produce 250 milliamperes — or 1/4 an ampere — of DCcurrent. Since the skin of an average person is about 1.5 to 2 squaremeters in size, researchers believe the product may eventually enableindivduals to generate enough power to charge portable electronics likeiPods and GPS units.

“When our technology is ready,” notes Diego Martinez-Velasquez, headresearcher at Derma-Volt, “these devices will be consuming a third — or a quarter — of the electricity they now consume. We think that five years from today, it will completely normal to charge your mobile [phone] byjust going to the beach and relaxing in the sun.”

A challenge remains, however, in collecting and stepping up thecurrent to generate sufficient voltage. Questions also remain on how,exactly, the devices would interface with the human body.

“Where to plug this in?” asks Tara Hubbent-Mendez, an electronicsproduct designer and tech commentator. “There must be new ways to charge these devices. Wires will be a dead end, for sure. If Derma-Voltbecomes huge, wireless charging technology will continue to growgangbusters.”

Happy Friday everyone — have a safe and relaxing weekend!

Special SPF Sun Block Electrifies Skin in Tests, Paves Way for Body Solar Panels

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The Advantages and Limitations of Installing Solar Panels

solar-home-energy-roofOver the past year, we’ve witnessed terrible accidents in “the big three”energy sectors: the Massey coal mine explosion in West Virginia, whichkilled 25 miners; the explosion of the drill rig Deepwater Horizon,which killed eleven and caused billions of dollars of damage; and the on-going nuclear crisis in Japan, which is prompting many to reassess the probability that a similar disaster occur here in the United States.

If anything is clear, it’s that there are risks associated with theextraction and production of energy — and that all sources of energycome with costs and benefits.

With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the benefits and costs solar photovoltaic (PV) energy.

First, the benefits:

  • Solar PV power is reliable. Year over year, theamount of sunlight that hits your roof doesn’t vary that much. Thismeans that it’s easy to predict how much electricity your system willproduce over the course of its lifetime (and how much you’ll save onyour monthly electric bill — see next point). In fact, some solarinstallers even offer power production guarantees: if your solar energysystem doesn’t produce the annual production stated in the contract,they’ll pay you the difference.
  • Solar power lowers your electricity bill. We findthat most homeowners and business owners who install solar panels do soto offset their usage of conventional electricity. Where the price forgrid power is high — like California, Hawaii and much of the northeast — solar panels are particularly good at slashing monthly electricitycosts. And, thanks to net metering, any extra power you produce in, say, June shows up as credit on your July electric bill.
  • Solar PV is safe and clean. After accounting forthe energy used to manufacture the panels, solar energy systems produceemissions-free electricity, which definitely cannot be said ofcoal-fired power plants. And, unlike nuclear power, there’s noradioactive waste to deal with… which is nice.

Now, we’ll be the first to admit that solar PV can’t do it all. There are limitations:

  • Solar is a variable energy source. While solarproduction is predictable on an annual basis, the same can’t be said for a daily or even weekly basis. No matter how much you may want it tohappen, your solar panels just won’t produce electricity at night.Luckily, net metering helps smooth out your production/consumption ofelectricity. It’s fairly common for a PV system to run the home’selectric meter backwards during the day; at the end of the day, when the family returns home and the sun goes down, the meter then spins in thenormal direction. (The variable nature of solar power has biggerimplications for PV’s use at the utility scale because utilities can’tuse solar to easily “dispatch” electricity at a moment’s notice orgenerate power at night.)
  • Without incentives, solar is a more expensive alternative. The federal government offers a tax credit worth 30-percent of totalinstalled system costs. Beyond this, some states offer solar rebates,tax credits and other incentives to help homeowners and businesses makethe transition to solar power. Some programs are so good that residentsin these areas would be silly not install a solar home energy system. As a general rule: in the absence of (a) state incentives, and/or (b) high electricity prices, chances are good that solar PV is a relativelyexpensive option for you. This is changing all the time, as solar panel prices continue to fall and financing options like solar leases proliferate. So it’s safe to say that solar PV is becoming an affordable option for more and more Americans, every year.

>> 3 Things That Make Solar Power Tick: Sun, Electricity Prices and Incentives

  • Some roofs just aren’t good for solar. For arooftop system to work well, you’ll need a roof that’s in good condition and gets unobstructed southern exposure. Trees and tall buildings arecommon sources of shade, and sometimes we have to tell folks that arooftop system just is not in the cards. Ground-mounted systems are great, too, but you’ll need sufficient space in your yard. Read more: What Makes a Roof ‘Good’ for Solar?

So, there you have it… This is by no means intended to be anexhaustive list. If you have comments, feel free to post them below.

Solar Power Advantages and Limitations: Why You Should Install Solar Panels

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Say What? Growth of Solar Panel Installations to Match Growth of Apple $AAPL

I’ll be the first to admit it: solar panels aren’t as cool as theiPad. I mean, at the end of the day, all they do is turn sunlight intoclean energy, right? The iPad, meanwhile, can do just about everythingshort of raising your children. (To be fair, I think they’re working onan app for that.)

But just because solar panels aren’t as cool as the iPad doesn’t mean they’re insignificant.

Case in point: new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Financesuggests that solar-panel installations may grow by more than 50 percent in 2011, a rate that would match Apple’s sales growth after theCupertino, Calif.-based company launched the iPad in 2010.

According to the analysis, homeowners and project developers may install as many as 28 gigawatts(GW) of new solar generating capacity worldwide — roughly equal to 25nuclear power plants. The projections for 2011 are:

almost equal to the generating capacity of thecombined nuclear-reactor fleets of Germany and China, which took decades to build.

Germany, the biggest market for solar panels, will hold its No. 1ranking this year, installing at least 6 gigawatts of panels, followedby Italy with at least 4.5 gigawatts, New Energy Finance estimated. TheU.S. will see about 1.6 gigawatts plugged in.

Much of this growth will be due to continually falling prices forsolar power. Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst at New Energy Finance,suggests the price of solar panels is likely to fall to $1.50 per wattin the second half of 2011, compared to around $1.80 in 2010.

>> Learn how solar panels are priced

This price should translate to a fully installed cost of $5.00 perwatt, the analysis suggests. While I think this price target may be abit aggressive, Chase’s overall thesis — that falling solar panel prices will continue to boost demand — is clearly sound. Heck, U.S. solarphotovoltaic (PV) installation grew over 100 percent last year. With falling solar prices and heightened sensitivity to the risksassociated with nuclear power, who’s to say the global growth of solarPV installation rate won’t top Apple?

Photo cred: bfishadow.

Pace of Solar Panel Installations to Match Apple’s Sales Growth

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University of Maryland Turns on Solar Energy Farm

UMES solar panels

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore(UMES) today inaugurated a 2.2-megawatt (MW) solar farm that will meet15 percent of campus electricity needs.

Covering 17 acres of land previously usedfor agricultural research, the 7,800-panel solar array is the “largestconcentration of photovoltaic modules on one site” in all of Maryland,according to the press release. In its first year of operation, it should generate 3.3 million kilowatt hours (kWh) — roughly the equivalent annual demand of 300 typicalAmerican houses.

Like most larger-scale solar installations, the University of Maryland’s 2.2-MW array was completed by way of apower purchase agreement (PPA). SunEdison — a large PPA providerheadquartered in Beltsville, MD — engineered and installed the system at no up-front cost to UMES or the state of Maryland.

According to the terms of theagreement, UMES will in turn purchase the electricity generated by thesystem at a predictable rate and use it to offset the university’sdemand from the electricity grid. Here’s more from a press statement:

Kirwan described the UMES-SunEdisonpartnership as mutually beneficial since the state had no upfrontinvestment.  “Perhaps most importantly, the people of Maryland will reap the enormous benefit of having literally millions of pounds ofpollutants not released into the atmosphere as this power is generated,” Kirwan said.

It bears noting that the University ofMaryland system is no stranger to solar power: earlier this year,University of Maryland College Park announced it would install a bit rooftop solar energy system. It also bears noting that installing solar panels doesn’t only makesense for Maryland schools — homeowners, too, can slash their electricbills by going solar. Maryland residents are aided by a solar energygrant program and a solar renewable energy credit (SREC) program, bothwhich make solar energy financially more attractive. Feel free tocontact us if you’ve got questions about either of these programs.

Handout photo via The Baltimore Sun.

University of Maryland Turns On Big Solar Energy Farm

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Solar + Wind = 25% of Oahu’s Electricity Needs?

map-hawaii-oahuA new report from the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) suggeststhat the island of O’ahu could meet a quarter of its electricity needsusing solar power and wind resources.

“The findings of this study show it is feasible to integratelarge-scale wind and solar projects on Oahu but also have value beyondHawaii. Both large mainland utilities and relatively small and/orisolated grids that wish to integrate significant amounts of renewableenergy while maintaining reliability for their customers can learn fromthis study,” said Hawaii HNEI director Dr. Rick Rocheleau.

Hawaii is home to both the nation’s highest retail electricity prices and the most ambitious renewable energy standard. The HNEI studyenvisions integrating ”400 megawatts (MW) wind power from Molokai and Lanai supplied through an undersea cable combined with 100 MW of wind and 100 MW of solar power located on O’ahu.”

As a big importer of energy sources, Hawaii is taking meaningfulsteps to increase the amount of electricity it generates on the islands. The HNEI study suggests the 500 MW in total could help a good deal onthis front:

[t]he electricity supplied from these sources wouldreduce Hawai’i’s fossil fuel consumption by approximately 2.8 millionbarrels of low sulfur fuel oil and 132,000 tons of coal each year.

The full report (PDF) is available on HNEI website.

Solar and Wind Could Meet 25 Percent of Oahu’s Electricity Needs

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New First Solar Plant to be Built at Former GM Facility in Arizona $FSLR


It’s a sign of the times: the site of a former General Motors vehicle testing facility will soon house a manufacturing plant dedicated tomaking clean-energy-producing solar panels.

First Solar, the Tempe, Arizona-based maker of advanced thin-film solar modules, today announced it will build a its new U.S. manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona. Thecompany will invest about $300 million in the facility and, in so doing, create some 600 jobs.

First Solar President, Bruce Sohn, took care to acknowledge thatgovernment incentives have played a key role in promoting growth in therenewable energy sector:

“Supportive state and federal policies have provided thevisibility needed for the U.S. to become our fastest-growing market, and the Mesa factory will enable us to meet that growing demand. Programssuch as Department of Energy loan guarantees and the solar investmenttax credit are crucial to helping the renewable energy industry quicklyreach the scale needed to compete with fossil fuels. Over the long-term, programs like these facilitate the market growth and investment thatwill support the future expansion of this factory.”

First Solar is looked to as a price leader, and has long had theindustry’s lowest per-watt manufacturing cost. An influx of cheaplyproduced polysilicon-based panels — mainly from China — is howeverchallenging First Solar’s claim to the top spot. The company recentlyexpanded production at its solar panel manufacturing plant inPerrysburg, Ohio. When the Mesa plant comes on line in 2012, output isexpected to increase to over 500 megawatts (MW) a year.

First Solar announced a new plant will be built in Mesa, Arizona

First Solar’s CEO Rob Gillette (left) and President Bruce Sohn (second from left) announce the company’s new plant in Mesa, Ariz., with Governor Jan Brewer and other government officials.

Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, has in recent years worked to attractclean-energy companies — particularly solar-panel manufacturers — to the state. In her remarks today, she echoed Sohn’s sentiments, highlighting supportive programs Arizona has enacted at the state level.

“First Solar’s presence in Arizona has been a greatengine in driving our renewable energy sector forward. And now its plans for a 135-acre technology campus — with 600 quality jobs and thepotential for hundreds more — will propel Arizona into its secondcentury, while promoting the Arizona Commerce Authority’s plan forbusiness attraction, retention and expansion. We are grateful that First Solar’s leadership has confidence in my Cornerstones of Reform —including the Arizona Competitiveness Package.”

For more information, see First Solar’s website.


Solar Panel Plant to be Built at Former GM Facility in Arizona


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Map of America’s 104 Nuclear Power Plants

As a follow on to yesterday’s blog post, where we broadly discussed the country’s electricity sources, I got tothinking: Where, exactly, are our nuclear power facilities?

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission offers a lot of useful information, including this map:

Map of U.S. Nuclear Facilities

It’s unclear how Japan’s on-going nuclear crisis will influence U.S.energy policy. And it’s probably far too soon to offer predictions. But during testimony this morning at the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, Department of EnergyHead Stephen Chu offered the following responses to Texas Representative Joe Barton:

“The president and the administration believe we have tobe looking very very closely at the events in Japan. We have to applywhatever lessons that can be and will be learned from what’s happeningin Japan.’’

“Those lessons would then be applied first looking at our currentfleet of reactors, to make sure they can be used safely,’’ he said, and“as one proceeds forward, how those lessons learned can be applied” tonew plants.

But, he said, “It’s premature to say anything except that we will use this opportunity to learn as best we can.’’

But Mr. Barton replied: “I’m not sure what you just said. Does thepresident support new nuclear power plants in the United States?’’

Dr. Chu answered: “The president’s budget is what it is.’’ The budget calls for $36 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors, and money to help develop a new class of small, modular reactors.

“So that’s a yes?” said Mr. Barton.

“That’s a yes,’’ Dr. Chu replied.

“Good, that’s what I wanted you to say,’’ Mr. Barton said.

For better or worse, in the wake of the tragedy in Japan, othercountries appear more eager to alter their energy policies. China has suspended approval of new nuclear plants, for instance. And Germany announced it would idle seven of its nuclear power plants for three months inorder to conduct a review of its reactors and energy policies.Developing…

For reliable updates on the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, see World Nuclear News.

Where Are America’s 104 Nuclear Power Plants Located?

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Where Does Our Electricity Come From?

us-electricity-sources-2010-totalWith the on-going calamity in Japan and phrases like “nuclear meltdown” and“radiation sickness” in headlines, it’s to be expected that people discuss with renewed attention the risks and benefits of nuclear energy. At very least, it’s helpfulto stop and take a moment to think about where our electricity comesfrom.

Here in the U.S., we get about one-fifth of our electricity fromnuclear power. Coal is still king, representing nearly half of totalelectricity generation, nationwide. Natural gas is number two, used tomeet about a quarter of our demand.

According to Department of Energy figures, these three sources together account for almost 90 percent of our electricity needs. (Bear in mind, there are regional variations — utilities in thesoutheast and mid-Atlantic, for example, generate more nuclear energythan they do in, say, New England.)

What about renewable energy sources, like solar, wind, biomass andgeothermal? That’s the yellow slice, representing 4.5 percent of thetotal. More specifically: in 2010, solar power technologies —photovoltaics and solar thermal — accounted for far less than onepercent of all the electricity generated by U.S. utilities. The EnergyInformation Agency just released the December 2010 numbers.

The merits of solar power — that it’s clean, safe and reliable —stand in stark contrast to the string of disasters we’ve witnessed inthe coal, oil and now nuclear energy industries, as noted by John Broder:

Three of the world’s chief sources of large-scale energyproduction — coal, oil and nuclear power — have all experiencedeye-popping accidents in just the past year. The Upper Big Branch coalmine explosion in West Virginia, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oilspill in the Gulf of Mexico and the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japanhave dramatized the dangers of conventional power generation at a timewhen the world has no workable alternatives able to operate atsufficient scale.

While growing rapidly, the domestic solar energy market is still inits infancy. If the stock market is any indication, however, people arelooking for alternatives to conventional energy: solar stocks are justabout the only thing trading up today, with shares of FirstSolar,SunPower, Trina Solar (and the like) up amid an otherwise grim market.

Where Does Our Electricity Come From?

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Solar: Not Just for California Anymore

Todd Woody of Grist Magazine summarizes nicely a recent solar industry report, saying solar power is “not just aCalifornia thing anymore.” More specifically, Woody reports that

[b]ack in 2004-2005, California accounted for a whopping80 percent of the U.S. market. In 2010, that share fell to 30 percent,with 258.9 megawatts of the 878.3 megawatts of photovoltaic powerinstalled that year …

If California’s share of the solar pie is shrinking, it must meanthat other states’ are growing. New Jersey in 2010 maintained its number two spot, installing about 137 megawatts (MW) of solar power — roughlyequal to about 27,400, 5-kilowatt (kW) residential home energy systems.

Other gainers include Nevada, Texas, New Mexico and North Carolina —but note that these states solar markets are dominated by big,utility-scale solar power plants. Residential solar energy systems, inother words, don’t yet make up a meaningful share of the pie in thesestates.

U.S. Solar Energy Capacity Installed, 2010

Credit: U.S. Solar Market Insight: 2010 Year in Review

Why aren’t more Nevada homeownersinstalling solar panels? My guess is that it’s because Nevada — alongwith Texas, North Carolina and New Mexico — doesn’t have in place astatewide residential solar rebate program or similar incentive. Despite a 30-perent solar tax credit from the federal government, homeowners in these states aren’t quite there yet.

Another noteworthy trend is occurring in Pennsylvania, which has gone from a solar zero to solar hero in just a couple of years. In 2009, for example, the Keystone State saw just 3 MW of solar installed. In 2010, that figure rose to forty-seven. The number of Pennsylvania solar panel installations will likely tocontinue to grow.

To sum up, California is still a big pieceof America’s solar energy market. No matter how you slice it, however,other states are stepping up to challenge its claim to first place.

See the full Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research report: U.S. Solar Market Insight: 2010 Year in Review (PDF).

Solar Power ‘Not Just a California Thing Anymore’

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Solar = Sun+Electricity Prices+Incentives

Ever wonder whether there’s enough sunshine where you live for solarpanels to work? Well, it turns out that sunlight is just one of the main ingredients that make a solar home energy system tick. For example,sunshine is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when youthink about New Jersey. But the Garden State is the country’ssecond-biggest solar market, after California.

New Jersey is America's second-biggest solar power market, after California

How is this possible? If you’re thinkingabout installing solar panels on your home or business, it’s helpful tothink in terms of three broad categories: sunlight, electricity pricesand incentives, like solar rebates and tax credits.

(1) Sunlight. Photovoltaic (PV) solarpanels generate electricity whenever they’re exposed to sunlight. So,unless we’re talking about Alaska during the winter months, chances aregood there’s enough sunshine in your part of the country to power asolar array.

>> See: How Solar Home Energy Works

Of course, all else equal, the more sun, the better. Just take a look at the sunshine numbers for Phoenix, Arizona, courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) PVWatts Viewer:

Arizona gets tons of annual sunshine

It’s clear that Arizona is blessed with sunshine. In a typical year,Phoenix receives 6.17 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per square meter. Don’t worry about the details. All this means is that Phoenix gets about 30 percent more annual sunlight — or “insolation” — than Atlantic City, whichreceives 4.7 kWh/square meter in an average year.

>> The amount of sunlight hitting yourproperty may be impacted by trees, the angle of your roof and othersite-specific factors. For more info, read: What Makes a Roof Good For Solar?

You may be saying “duh,” at this point — you don’t need a degree inmeteorological science to know that Arizona is sunnier than New Jersey!But bear with me. My aim here is to show that a good amount of accuratedata goes into the solar design and installation process. This meansyou’ll know how much your solar home energy system will produce, yearover year.

(2) Electricity prices.

Notice something besides annual sunlight that’s different betweenPhoenix and Atlantic City? You got it: “ELEC RATE.” Simply put,electricity costs more in New Jersey than it does in Arizona. All else equal, the higher the per-kWh price for electricity, the better.

To take an example, let’s assume Pat and Kelly each buy a solar home energy system. For sake of simplicity, let’s say eachsystem cost $1,000 (in reality, PV systems cost much more than this) and that they both will produce 5,000 kWhs per year. The only thing thatdifferentiates the two solar buyers is that Pat pays five cents per kWh($0.05/kWh), while Kelly pays ten cents per kWh ($0.10/kWh).

Q: Who made the better investment?

A: Kelly.

Let’s take a quick look at the math. Pat’s system produces 5,000 kWhper year, saving $250/year in electricity costs (5,000 kWh/year x$0.05/kWh = $250). Kelly, meanwhile, saves $500/year (5,000 kWh/year x$0.10/kWh = $500). Saving $500 annually, it will take Kelly just twoyears to recoup the initial outlay of $1,000; it’ll take Pat twice aslong to do the same.

Granted, this is a vast oversimplification. But generally speaking,if you’re paying a high rate for your electricity, you stand to benefitfrom installing solar panels.

(3) Incentives.

What do both Arizona and New Jersey have in common? Residents in both states are eligible to participate in a solar incentive program.Arizona homeowners and businesses can receive solar rebate via theirutility, like Arizona Public Service. Owners of solar panels in New Jersey, meanwhile, can sell the solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) associated with their system’s output.

>> GetSolar Map of State Solar Rebates and Incentives

Also, don’t forget that, at the federal level, homeowners are able to take advantage of a solar tax credit worth 30 percent of installedsystem costs. And businesses that install a commercial solar energysystem in 2011 may receive a solar grant, also worth 30 percent ofsystem costs.

As it stands currently, incentives — like solar rebates and taxcredits — matter. Consider the fact that Ontario, Canada — which neither has particularly high electricity prices nor receives exceptionalamounts of sunlight – is one of the fastest-growing solar energy markets in North America.

To sum up: if you live in an absurdly sunny place, with sky-highelectricity rates and TONS of solar rebates and tax credits, youshouldn’t even think twice about installing solar panels. These kinds of places are admittedly few and far between. Instead, we find most people who are interested in solar power face a somewhat unique mix of sun,electricity costs and incentives. The best way to see what mix is inyour area is to get a free solar quote

3 Things That Make Solar Power Tick: Sun, Electricity Prices and Incentives

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