The hidden benefits of solar powered energy

Energy Efficiency

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13 June 2018

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Kerry Kilpatrick

Are you a solar-powered energy user? Have you considered adopting solar as a source of power for your home or business?

If you answered “yes” you’re in good company. According to a recent report from the International Energy Agency, electricity generated from the sun is the fastest growing source of energy in the world.

“Solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy worldwide last year, outstripping the growth in all other forms of power generation for the first time” The Guardian

Free, renewable and clean are some of the most compelling benefits for converting to solar-powered energy instead of traditional fossil fuel-sourced energy. While those benefits are just some of the factors driving a surge in solar installations, there are many hidden benefits that merit attention.

The hidden benefits of solar sourced energy were clearly spelled out in a recent report by the Institute for Energy Innovation. The report was created in an effort to educate policy makers attempting to manage rapid changes taking place in the power grid. Those changes reflect the move from the historical centralized source of energy generation to a grid that encompases distributed generation (DG).

“Driven by declines in the cost of solar components, greater competition among solar installers, and growing familiarity with solar DG and its benefits, national solar DG has expanded by more than 50 percent annually over the last four years” Institute for Energy Innovation

The Institute for Energy Innovation’s report is titled Solar Energy in Michigan: The Economic Impact of Distributed Generation on Non-Solar Customers. While the report merits an in-depth review by those involved in the energy industry, the jargon and acronyms make it a bit overwhelming for those already sold on the “free, renewable and clean” aspects of solar powered energy.

The list below is an attempt to convey the report’s valuable information (without jargon or acronyms) detailing the many hidden benefits of solar:

  1. Improved Reliability?—When Hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed the power lines on the island of Puerto Rico the vulnerability of a centralized grid was graphic. One story from the island clearly illustrates the improved reliability associated with generating energy at distributed or on-site locations: “While his competitors wait for diesel to restart generators knocked out by Hurricane Maria, flower grower Hector Santiago is already back in business because of solar panels powering his 40-acre nursery in central Puerto Rico.”
  2. Reduced Demand?—Facilities or homes generating all or most of their electricity on location will use less energy from the grid. Any reduction in overall grid demand for electricity results in a reduced need for building additional expensive power generating plants.
  3. Less Wasted Energy?—When electricity is transmitted along power lines there is loss that naturally occurs. The greater the distance from the source, the greater the loss. Think of it as attempting to water a garden using a garden hose with holes in it. The amount available at the end is less than the amount produced at the source. The U.S. Government estimates 5% of the energy generated for the national grid is lost during transmission. When electricity it generated on-site the waste is kept to a minimum. Less waste equals lower cost of electricity.
  4. Improved Resilience?—Resilience is the ability to recover quickly. Imagine being told it will take four to six months before electricity is restored after a storm! When energy is produced in “distributed” locations, instead of at a single source, there is less vulnerability and an increased capacity to recover quickly.
  5. Predictable Energy Costs?—Electricity generated from burning fuel (oil, gas, coal) reflects a cost related to the price of the fuel. If fuel prices increase the cost of electricity has to rise. Because solar does not require fuel, the resultant cost of the electricity is not subject to fluctuations and the resultant cost of energy is predictable throughout the life cycle of the equipment.
  6. Clean and Quiet Communities?—Because the operation of generating electricity from the sun doesn’t create smoke or use noisy machinery, the choice for solar is a proven advantage for communities concerned about health.
  7. Clean Jobs?—Solar is driving a dramatic growth in “green collar” jobs. These jobs require advanced skills and offer a premium wage due to their technical nature. According the the United States Department of Energy “The solar workforce increased by 25% in 2016”

“In the event of a giant storm like Maria, microgrids and smaller-scale electricity generation would have made it more difficult to decimate the entire system.” Green Tech Media

To paraphrase one of the conclusions from the Institute for Energy Innovation’s report, the growth in distributed energy, represented by multiple solar generating installations attached to the electrical grid, helps reduce the overall costs and risks of centralized energy production and distribution. It represents an overall net benefit to society.

“The growth of solar DG systems in most cases helps to reduce overall costs and represents a net benefit to all utility customers.” Institute for Energy Innovation

When the many benefits of solar powered energy are clearly understood, it should encourage both private and public decision makers to do everything possible to promote the adoption of solar. Even without an understanding of all the benefits of solar, a rising demand coupled with plummeting costs makes solar energy one of the preferred sources of generated energy today and into the future.

First published here.

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About the Author

Kerry Kilpatrick is the Corporate Social Media Director of EAG, the Energy Alliance Group of North America, an energy solutions and cost recovery company taking a “holistic” approach to reducing a company’s energy, water and operating costs