Even as the costs of solar power continue to decline, a widespread perception from the public and many policymakers that solar is “too expensive” remains stubbornly in place – much to the frustration of advocates and industry professionals.
A new study challenges this assumption by delving into the numbers to compare the actual costs and benefits of solar power projects. The results confirm several key widespread public benefits of solar power and could provide the industry with a valuable weapon in the public-perception fight – a battle that remains crucial for long-term viability and growth.
The report, authored by Richard Perez at the University of Albany, Ken Zweibel at the GW Solar Institute and Thomas E. Hoff of Clean Power Research, focuses on tangible benefits that solar power generation delivers to utilities, ratepayers and taxpayers. Although incentives have proven to be a vital driver of solar power growth, the report’s authors argue that the gulf between “inexpensive” conventional energy and “expensive” solar is smaller than often portrayed, especially when solar’s public benefits are taken into account.
1. Savings on wholesale energy Locally generated electricity from solar installations reduces the amount of power utilities must purchase at higher prices.
2. Reduction of demand-response expenses “PV installations can deliver the equivalent of capacity, displacing the need to purchase this capacity elsewhere. 3. Savings on energy losses within the distribution system Electrical losses typically incurred when energy is moved from large power plants can be avoided. 4. Reduced need for feeder equipment upgrades Because distributed PV can deliver capacity at the feeder level, it can reduce the wear and tear on transformers and other feeder equipment. 5. Hedge against fuel-price spikes. “Solar energy does not depend on commodities whose prices fluctuate and will likely escalate substantially over the long term.” 6. Grid security aid Solar power’s ability to closely mirror peak power demand can reduce the chances of blackouts that can occur when power systems are over stressed. 7. Health-related and environmental gains Solar power displaces the greenhouse gas emissions, mining-related, water, and other damages associated with fossil fuels. 8. Long-term taxpayer benefits from reduced fuel-price volatility Using an estimate of a 150% rise in fuel-based generation costs by 2036 (a conservative estimate), the report found that solar generation contributes a significant long-term value. 9. Economic boost. The job-creation benefits of solar power have been demonstrated in numerous studies. Moreover, “Job creation implies value to society in many ways, including increased tax revenues, reduced unemployment and an increase in general confidence conducive to business development,” the report explains.
Solar Industry, by Jessica Lillian, 8/2/11