When I came to the solar industry I had just completed my Master in Public Health. Some of you may be thinking, “Thats an odd career move! What does solar have to do with public health?” I still get this exact response when I tell people my background. But to me, solar power is one of the most exciting and valuable solutions to a myriad of public health challenges! Think about it. Traditional sources of energy like coal and fossil fuels are the primary causes of climate change. They emit more greenhouse gasses and use much more water than solar. The global public health impacts of climate change are enormous and well documented…extreme weather events, flooding, draught, and heat waves all take a toll on our ability to live full and healthy lives. On top of that, the more immediate and local impacts of air pollution from traditional energy plants include asthma, COPD, and other respiratory illnesses.
While this simple logic proves to me that solar power is a vast improvement over burning fossil fuels, quantifying the environmental and health impacts of solar energy is not a straightforward task. However, determining the value of these external benefits is imperative to understanding the true costs and benefits of solar compared to other sources of energy. Thankfully the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) recently published a technical report on this very topic! “The Environmental and Public Health Benefits of Achieving High Penetrations of Solar Energy in the United States.” was commissioned by the Department of Energy as part of the On the Path to Sunshot series of studies to assess the progress of the SunShot Initiative at its midway point.
The SunShot Initiative was launched in 2011 as a result of the Obama administration’s goal to make solar electricity cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity by 2020. In the first five years, the initiative has invested in education, policy analysis, and research and development of solar technologies as well as programs fostering more highly skilled U.S. based jobs. Since SunShot’s launch, solar installations have grown more than tenfold with more than one million solar installations producing power across the U.S. and the cost of solar energy has dropped drastically. As a result, the industry is approximately 70% of the way toward meeting the SunShot 2020 goal to achieve $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) installed cost for solar energy systems.
The researchers sought to unveil the cumulative environmental and public health benefits of the solar power that has already been installed, and what future benefits would result if SunShot’s targets - 14% of US electricity by 2030 and 27% by 2050 - are met. They found that health and environmental benefits could add approximately 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to the “true” value of solar energy! Lets break down that number…
Compared with fossil fuel generators, photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar produce far lower lifecycle levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other harmful pollutants including fine particulates (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx).
Department of Energy
Greenhouse Gases: Achieving the 14% by 2030 and 27% by 2050 targets could reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the power sector by 10% between 2015 and 2050. This may not sound like a lot, but in dollars and cents this means 238-$252 billion in savings, or 2.0-2.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) of solar installed. These savings add to the 17 million metric tons of CO2, or $700 million, saved annually by solar already installed by 2014.
Other Air Pollutants: Meeting the same targets through solar expansion would also reduce other power sector cumulative emissions of PM2.5 by 8%, SO2 by 9%, and NOx by 11% between 2015 and 2050. The monetary value of which they estimated at $167 billion in savings from reducing health and environmental costs, or 1.4 cents per kilowatt hour of solar. Not to mention avoiding 25,000-59,000 entirely preventable premature deaths! This builds on 2014 solar installations providing annual reductions in air pollutants worth $890 million.
Water: Often we forget that traditional sources of electricity are also big water hogs. I even wrote a blog about the ways solar helps to conserve water. The researchers found reaching SunShot’s goals could result in cumulative water savings of 46 trillion gallons of avoided withdrawl (4% of total power-sector withdrawls) and 5 trillion gallons of avoided water consumption (9% of total power-sector consumption) between 2015-2050. This is definitely a non-trivial benefit given much of the big solar states are also arid states where water conservation is imperative.
Environmental and health benefits from achieving SunShot vision. - DOE image
Put it all together and you get to the estimated 3.5¢/kWh-solar, equivalent to more than $400 billion in benefits due to SunShot-level solar deployment! Existing solar in 2014 provided $1.5 billion in annual benefits due to health and environment effects. Given the cost of going solar for residential properties in our neck of the woods is currently between 8 and 11 ¢/kWh, adding 3.5 ¢/kWh of value is a pretty big deal. The LBNL researchers noted that this is approximately equal to the additional LCOE reduction needed to make unsubsidized utility-scale solar competitive with conventional power generation today.
Improving public health and the environment is a lofty goal near and dear to my heart and truly an important aspect of solar’s many benefits. Hopefully quantifying the magnitude of solar’s “external” impacts will help inform policy decisions by making the “true” costs and values of solar and its economic competitiveness with other energy options more explicit.
UPDATE - 6/23/2016 - SI 2 has arrived safely in Seville, Spain, and did so in just 71 hours, 8 minutes (of the planned 90-hour duration). Read more on the SI2 blog page.
Solar Impulse 2- that amazing solar-only powered aircraft - is in the air again, this time undertaking a predicted 90-hour flight from New York City’s JFK airport to Seville airport in Spain!
You can see how its systems are performing - solar cells charging the plane’s batteries and powering its ascent during the day, and the batteries propelling the plane during the night as it descends - by following the very cool charts embedded below. (You can read some of our earlier coverage of Solar Impulse 2 here.)
Bad news for Pasadena Water and Power customers - we have just learned that PWP’s solar rebates will be dropping by 1/3 effective August 1st! Here are the details…
As we have noted many times in the past, Pasadena has one of the best solar rebate programs around - decent rebates, a well managed program, and good communications. Consistent with that approach we have just learned that the solar rebates are going to be reduced effective August 1st. That means that rebate applications submitted prior to then, and which are deemed complete when submitted, will qualify for the current rebate. Once the rebate is reserved, you would then have a year to complete the project.
Here are the current and upcoming rebate rates:
Potential residential or commercial clients, your rebate will drop from 45¢/Watt to 30¢/Watt. That means that for a typical residential project of 5 kW, the rebate will drop from $2,250 to $1,500.
Non-profits will leave even more money on the table if they miss the August 1 deadline. For a typical 40 kW school project, the rebate will drop from $36,000 to $24,000! Ouch!
If past is prologue, this drop in the rebate amount will create a stampede as folks try to lock in the current rebate rate before it steps down. If you are in PWP’s service area, please don’t wait, give us a call today!
Advocates of solar, such as the crew at Run on Sun, take it for granted that going solar is win-win for our clients, such as the folks at Chandler School. But sometimes we forget that non-adopters have real concerns about putting solar on their roofs. In this, our last cut on the data that we received from NREL (read our two earlier posts on who chooses Run on Sun and what generally keeps people away from solar), we wanted to address the greatest concerns that people have so that they don’t need to be scared of solar.
First off, here’s our last chart:
Let’s take these concerns one at a time.
Perhaps the greatest overall concern turns on cost and its counterpart, value.
The greatest concern expressed was over the affordability of going solar. The good news is that solar has never been more affordable. Back in 2007 when we were first doing installations, solar systems cost more than $8/Watt installed. Today we are at half of that cost, and even though most rebate programs have ended, the federal tax credit is still at 30%, meaning that more and more people can now afford to go solar!
Still, some consumers are concerned about getting enough bang for their buck - they wonder if solar really provides value commensurate with its cost. To that we reply - it depends. It depends on the quality of the equipment that you choose and the quality of the installer who puts that equipment on your home. But how can a consumer know if they are getting quality? It starts by taking the time to do your research - get multiple bids so you have a basis for comparison. Be wary of low-ball bids - prices below market are a clear sign that there will either be nasty surprises by way of change orders down the road, or that your contractor is cutting corners.
As to the quality of the contractor doing the work, ask for references and check them. In California, look at the Contractors State License Board website to see if there are complaints against the contractor, and see if they are certified by NABCEP, the gold-standard for quality in the solar industry. Review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List can also help.
Going solar is a significant financial investment and it should be treated as such. We have written at great length about the problems with solar leases, but even a favorable loan, like a home equity line of credit, carries costs. Ideally, savings from your lower electric bill should offset the cost of financing the system, and once the system is paid off, you will continue to derive those savings for the lifetime of the system.
When you get a proposal for going solar, it should clearly spell out what your savings will be in Year 1, and provide a reasonable projection for your payback period over time. But be careful about proposals with overly rosy projections based on unrealistic assumptions (like energy costs going up 7% each year for 25 years), or ones that don’t disclose their assumptions at all!
Another general area of concern turns on how well a solar power system will hold up over time, and what it will cost you to maintain it.
In solar, like most everything else, you get what you pay for, if you’re lucky! Every day we get emails inviting us to purchase cut-rate panels at a fraction of the price we pay for top-of-the-line panels from LG. We delete those emails without a second thought because we have no interest in dealing with junk. But someone is buying those panels, and they are ending up on the homes of consumers. Again, get multiple bids and do your research. Selecting quality products from established manufacturers is your best assurance that you will have reliable equipment that will last. (We install LG panels and Enphase microinverters because we believe that they are the best value for our clients.)
We are always a bit baffled by this one, since a solar power system is largely maintenance free. We think this concern arose because leasing companies promised to perform all maintenance needed for the system, but this is a hollow promise since there is really nothing to do! At Run on Sun we provide a ten-year warranty on our work, and we support the manufacturer’s warranties for the parts - so if something does go wrong, it will be fixed with no hassle for our clients.
The final category of concerns centers around harm to your most valuable asset, your home. Solar, when done right, will improve that value, but that is not guaranteed.
One obvious point of concern has to do with damage to your roof. After all, a solar array on a pitched roof is held in place by lag bolts driven into the roof rafters so that means lots of holes being put into your roof. However, when done correctly, as shown in the photo on the right, all of those penetrations are covered by a flashing that guarantees that water cannot penetrate.
The other issue to consider is the status of your roof - if it is nearing the end of its usable life you will want to re-roof before you put solar on it!
Image from the very cool Solar Hall of Shame page by
Green Sun Energy Services, LLC. (Used w/permission)
Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder and we love seeing solar on a home. (Although not when it is installed like the bozos did in the photo on the left!)
Still, not everyone wants to see solar panels, and many of our installations are done so as to make the installation as inconspicuous as possible. (In the photo below the only way to see that lovely layout is to go up on the roof.) A properly designed and installed system should look clean and neat. We take pride in our craftsmanship and we work very hard to make our systems as visually appealing as they are economically beneficial.
Finally, there is the concern that adding solar will make it harder to sell your home, which can be true if you have leased the system since the new owner has to assume that lease as part of the deal. We have written at length about the perils of solar leases, and making it harder to sell your home is just one of many reasons to give them a wide berth.
But if you were smart enough to avoid a lease, the latest research indicates that having a solar power system installed increases the value of your home. How much? Roughly $4.00/Watt for a typical installation - which pretty much means that the cost of the system is offset by the increase in resale value! Try doing that with granite countertops!
Consumers need not be scared of solar, provided that they choose a reputable installer and pay for quality equipment. At Run on Sun we specialize in both, so give us a call today!
Everyone knows that when it comes to Pasadena, Run on Sun is the premier installer of solar PV systems for residential, commercial, and non-profit clients (if you doubt it, just ask us!). But we have one other cool thing in common - we are both marking milestone birthdays this year!
While our hometown is turning 130, Run on Sun is turning 10 years old this year! (Which, if you think about it, is nearly 130 in solar-installer years!) So when we heard that the folks at Pasadena Weekly were looking to feature ads that wished the City a Happy Birthday, we just had to get into the act! (If you are in the Pasadena area, you will find the ad - with art work by that Solar Kid Julia who will soon be a college sophomore - on page 42.)
Happy Birthday to us both, and many happy returns!
«climate change» cpuc «enphase energy» «feed-in tariff» fit gwp «jim jenal» ladwp «net metering» pg&e pwp «run on sun» sce seia solar «solar power» «solar rebates» solarcity usc «westridge school for girls»