Five Benefits of Solar Energy

Original Source: The Energy Collective

Although some form of solar power has been available for decades, the technology has only recently gained mainstream acceptance and attracted the interest of big-time utility companies. On a per-kilowatt basis, solar power remains expensive relative to conventional sources of energy like coal and natural gas. Nevertheless, its overall cost continues to shrink at a rapid rate. As solar power becomes an increasingly important component of the country’s “energy mix,” it’s worth taking a look at five major benefits of solar power.

1. Changing Relationships with Public Utilities

Homeowners and business owners who install solar panels on their property enjoy more equitable relationships with their local utilities. Whereas conventional arrangements between utilities and their customers require the latter to be wholly dependent on the former, solar power users gain a measure of independence from their utilities. Even if their solar panels don’t produce all of the power that they need on a daily basis, they’ll need to buy less conventional power. If they produce more power than they require, their utilities may actually pay them for it at a fluctuating wholesale rate. For cash-strapped homeowners, this can turn into a significant source of revenue.

2. Healthy Financial Incentives

Along with various state agencies, the federal government offers attractive subsidies for private individuals who install solar panels or solar heating devices in their homes. In certain jurisdictions, generous subsidies may be available for businesses as well. Generally speaking, these incentives allow solar power users to claim tax credits in proportion to the amount of generation capacity that they install on their property. This reduces solar power start-up costs and increases the profitability of the technology.

3. Minimal Environmental Impact

Although the production of solar panels does require some inputs of raw materials and energy, solar power’s environmental impact is minimal. The technology produces none of the carbon, methane or particulate emissions that fossil fuels emit, and it doesn’t demand large-scale mining or drilling operations. Since panel arrays can be placed on rooftops or in isolated desert areas, solar power’s physical footprint is manageable as well.

4. Labor-Intensive Production Regimes

The solar power industry’s “innovation engine” has resulted in the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in the last decade alone. Although proponents of conventional energy technologies argue that the solar industry destroys more fossil fuel-related jobs than it creates, this is a misleading claim. After all, solar panel production is just a small facet of an overall industry that demands contributions from installation technicians, salespeople, battery-storage designers and other key players.

5. Geopolitical Benefits

Since the dawn of the fossil fuel age, the United States’ reliance on unstable or hostile countries to supply oil, gas and other energy resources has caused plenty of trouble. Indeed, the country’s political and business leaders are often forced to make unsavory compromises with shady or dangerous parties in order to guarantee steady energy imports. Since all of the solar power that the United States needs can be generated within the country’s own borders, the technology has the potential to eliminate this less-than-ideal reliance on imperfect actors. In the long run, such a development could increase the economic and physical security of every American citizen.

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Photo Credit: Solar Energy Benefits/shutterstock

Putting Things in Perspective

Solar power shouldn’t be mistaken for a cure-all that’s capable of single-handedly solving all of the world’s social, environmental and political ills. However, it’s a valuable technology that’s increasingly competitive with traditional sources of energy. Moreover, its benefits are undeniable. In the future, solar power is all but assured to have a lasting and overwhelmingly positive impact on our society.

 

Distributed Solar PV Benefits & Costs

The Rocky Mountain Institute’s eLab has created a new report on solar power benefits and costs (distributed solar PV benefits and costs, to be specific). This is a critical effort, and a very useful report to help that effort along. Better valuation of distributed solar PV (DPV) is sorely needed in order to steer the quite complicated electricity system in the right direction (technically, financially, and politically).

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“This analysis of current structural misalignments (including net-metering and volumetric rates) offers a foundation to support smart policymaking and electricity pricing structures across the country—which can help avert the impending collision of solar costs and grid prices,” an email to me from a Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) staff member noted.

“Deciphering the costs and benefits of distributed energy services is critical to ensure better technical integration and economic optimization. As the penetration of DPV and other customer-sited resources increases, accurate pricing and market signals can help align stakeholder goals, minimize total system cost and maximize total net value.”

Read more at CleanTechnica

Energy Star Portfolio Manager Benchmarking Tool Gets An Upgrade

WASHINGTON –– The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week announced the release of an upgrade to its popular online energy management and tracking tool, Energy Star Portfolio Manager. The upgraded tool can help businesses achieve the President’s call to make commercial buildings at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020. The new Energy Star Portfolio Manager delivers a more user-friendly interface, enhanced data sharing capabilities, better reporting, and for the first time, the ability to manage buildings across their lifecycle from design through occupancy.

Tens of thousands of organizations—including school districts, retail chains, hospital systems, and local governments—currently use Energy Star Portfolio Manager to measure the energy performance, water use, utility costs, and greenhouse gas emissions of more than 40 percent of the nation’s commercial building space.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Janet McCabe, principal deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. “The new ‘turbo-charged’ Portfolio Manager makes it easier than ever for building owners and managers to make strategic business decisions that are good for the environment and good for the bottom line. Consistent with President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, this tool helps businesses cut wasted energy, reduce harmful carbon pollution, and save money.”

The tool will continue to deliver the nearly 150 energy, greenhouse gas (GHG), and water performance metrics that owners and managers of commercial buildings use to make strategic management decisions. One of these metrics—the 1–100 Energy Star score, rates a building’s energy efficiency against similar buildings nationwide. A score of 50 represents median energy performance, whereas a score of 75 signifies that a building outperforms 75% of its peers. Buildings in the United States that score a 75 or higher, and have their data verified by a Professional Engineer or Registered Architect, are eligible to earn EPA’s Energy Star certification.

Energy Star certified buildings use, on average, 35% less energy and generate 35% fewer GHG emissions than typical buildings. Studies have shown that they have lower operating costs, increased asset value, and higher occupancy rates. Additionally, there are benefits to simply measuring and tracking a building’s energy performance in Portfolio Manager—a recent EPA study showed that buildings that benchmarked consistently over a three-year period logged an average energy use reduction of 2.4% each year. For commercial building portfolios with annual energy bills in the millions of dollars and that emit tens of thousands of metric tons of GHG emissions each year, these reductions can be substantial.

Products, homes and buildings that earn the Energy Star label prevent greenhouse gas emissions by meeting strict energy efficiency requirements set by the U.S. EPA. In 2012 alone, Americans, with the help of Energy Star, saved $24 billion on their utility bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to those of 50 million vehicles. From the first Energy Star qualified computer in 1992, the Energy Star label can now be found on products in more than 65 different categories, with more than 4.5 billion sold over the past 20 years. Over 1.4 million new homes and 20,000 facilities, including offices, schools, hospitals, and industrial plants, have earned the Energy Star.

 

This article was first published on the website of the US EPA.