So, why solar? Out of all of the available renewable energy options (including wind, biomass, ocean power, etc.) and, for that matter, conventional options (natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear) why are we in the business of solar and why should Maine implement solar as our 21st century energy solution?
Because solar is plentiful. See the chart below:
OK. So there is a lot of solar in the world, but what about Maine? Maine is cold!
While we sure have cold winters, Maine, remarkably, has a full 33% more sunshine than Germany, a world leader in solar energy. Solar equipment actually performs better in cooler conditions, and our fantastic summers help make up for the lack of sun in the depths of December and January. Fun fact: a solar array installed in Maine will harvest nearly the exact same amount of energy on an annual basis, as the same array installed in Houston, Texas!
Also important is noting Maine’s geography. We are rich in natural resources: wind, water, sun – but have no indigenous fossil fuels. We have a great tradition of burning cord wood for home heating, but an unfortunate reality is upwards of 500,000 homes in the State still heat with oil. Oil is a volatile and dirty fuel that is a burden for many homeowners to pay for.
Natural gas has been suggested as a panacea for Maine’s energy woes, but, in actuality natural gas has done little to prove it will really make energy any cheaper for Mainers. Natural gas rates have increased several times in the last few years, and the pipelines that supply natural gas provide service through major metropolitan areas – Washington, D.C., New York City, Providence, Boston – before reaching Maine. That means that, relatively speaking, Maine is really far away from any natural gas resource and we will by definition pay more for the resource because of where we are based.
In stark contrast, the sun is democratic. Anywhere in Maine that faces south, can take advantage of the sun. Once installed, solar equipment will provide free power for upwards of 50 years. Solar equipment requires no moving parts and can withstand the worst that decades of Maine’s winters can throw at it.
But I heard that solar is expensive!
Actually, solar has dropped in price by 74% in the last 10 years. It is, in fact, one of the leading forms of new power in the United States. In 2015, 40% of all the new power added to the grid came from solar. The 20-year cost of power for a solar array is roughly 1/2 of the current price for CMP power (7 cents per kilowatt-hour vs. 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour).
How Solar Works
The sun’s rays have energy – called photons – and the equipment that turns those photons into electricity is called photovoltaic (PV) panels. Modern PV panels are grid-tied, meaning they interact directly with the utility grid, allowing you to run your home directly off of solar, when the sun is out, and seamlessly receive back-up from the grid when the sun goes down… no batteries required!
When you produce more electricity than you use, then you will backfeed CMP (powering your neighbors’ house!) and earn a credit. Those credits go against your electric bill at other times of the year. So for example, if you install an air source heat pump to provide heat, you can run this electric appliance off of stored sunshine from the summer, in the form of credits you banked with CMP.
Many of our customers go from having electric bills of $100-200/mo, to the minimum fee to stay connected to the grid ($14) !!
What Happens when the Power Goes Out?
Because grid-tied systems are grid-dependent, they will shut down when the connection to the utility is lost (this is a safety regulation that prevents PV systems from accidentally backfeeding and injury utility line workers). However, if you wish to maintain electricity in the event of a power outage, the ability to integrate battery storage with a grid-tied PV array is possible.
Why Invest in Solar?
Solar energy is one of the safest investment options on the market today, delivering:
- 100% guaranteed financial return on investment (you get all of your money back, then an ‘annuity’ for decades in the form of avoided electricity costs)
- Environmental return on investment (eliminate thousands of pounds of CO2 emissions annually)
- Home equity return on investment (solar is proven to increase the value of any property by lowering cost of ownership)
- Community return on investment (everyone benefits from cleaner air & reduced dependence on fossil energy)
For more information on solar power, take a look at this guide to going solar created by ReVision Energy