Is solar power a viable alternative to fossil fuels in New England?

By: Jessica Damicis, Senior Engineer at Pare Corporation and a member of Pare’s Sustainability Committee

Solar power is increasing in popularity as a renewable energy resource.  Reasons for the surge in popularity of solar power include rising energy costs, improved and more cost-effective solar panel technology, widespread interest in sustainability, and the need for resilient electricity.

Photovoltaics (PV) which use receptor panels to produce energy from the sun can be placed on open land or roof areas to produce energy for businesses or residences, which may then sell excess energy back to the electric utility. The use of these PV systems can reduce dependency on fossil fuels, the electric grid infrastructure, and reduce risk of power outages in strong storms. The reduced dependency on non-renewable energy can help the business or residence become more sustainable, lessening their impact on the environment through carbon emissions. Unlike other renewable energy sources such as wind and hydroelectric, solar panels require little maintenance and their productive life can be 25 years or more.

A common belief is that PV’s are only effective in regions with bright, year-round sun. While it is true that solar power potential is more modest in New England compared to other sunnier regions of the United States, the total solar power potential easily exceeds the entire electric needs of the New England region. For example, Rhode Island’s State Energy Plan suggests the state could develop over 1,800 MW of solar energy by 2035.

For residents and businesses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island there are several options for solar power—even for those who do not own their property!

Homeowners and businesses who own the building they occupy can do an assessment to see if solar power is viable for their property. Many solar companies offer these assessments to interested property owners and provide quotes for initial cost and payback period.  Owning the PV panels is a greater cost advantage to the property owner, and loans are available to aid in the initial upfront cost.  Property owners can also elect to lease panels for minimal upfront costs.  Leasing is a great option for a property owner who is unable to afford the upfront costs, does not want to wait a year for tax incentives, or who wants to avoid dealing with maintenance of the panels.

Green power programs are another great option and are available for those who do not own their property or who are unsure if they are ready to install PV’s. These programs do not have the same cost savings benefit or property resiliency benefits that installing panels on-site provides, but it is a great way to promote green jobs locally and to support sustainable power. These programs— such as the ones offered through Mass Energy (www.massenergy.org) in Massachusetts and through People’s Power and Light (www.ripower.org) in Rhode Island—allow energy users to switch to renewable energy by paying a few cents more per kW on their energy bill. For an average residential household this might be around $10-20 per month. The green energy programs use the revenue made to invest in new renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and to maintain existing infrastructure. While this is an extra cost instead of savings compared to owning PV’s, these payments into green energy programs are 100% tax deductible.

With so many great options to utilize solar power, there are many ways to “green” your electricity with photovoltaics. Ultimately, the best option depends on the goals a property owner or renter is looking to achieve. It is clear, however, that even in New England solar power has many benefits for power consumers.

To learn more about solar power, please visit

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *