Not All Energy is Created Equal

There are many misconceptions about solar energy; the most prevalent is probably cost. In part, this is because people aren’t aware of how much solar technology has progressed in recent years, but it’s also because many people don’t understand what makes up their monthly energy bill.

The reality is that not all energy is created equal. We pay more for “peak” energy – the energy we use in the middle of the day while the sun is shining and demand for energy spikes – than we do for non-peak energy – the energy that runs our refrigerator in the middle of the night when overall demand is low. In fact, peak energy costs up to five-times more.

Supplying electricity to meet these escalating afternoon spikes has become a vexing burden on consumers and electricity suppliers worldwide. It is a hidden cost that runs in the billions of dollars each year and is growing faster than overall power demand.

To meet this demand each afternoon, many utility companies turn on natural gas powered “peaker plants” to supplement the coal powered plants that provide 24/7 base load power.  They then turn off these peaker plants when demand subsides in the evening.

There is a better, more environmentally friendly option – solar energy can help off-set these peak demands. These (sunny) daylight hours are the most effective for solar energy. In fact, the output from solar PV modules rises in the afternoon nearly in sync with peak electricity demand.

What is the price of solar today? A solar farm built with SunFab thin-film modules could deliver electricity for less than 20 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) during peak sun periods. According to the Energy Information Administration, the average residential customer in New England paid 17.84 cents per kWh in the first five months of this year. That sounds pretty competitive to me. And, because there are no fuel costs associated with a solar panel, that price remains constant over time.

Energy sources that rely on fossil fuels are inherently volatile as supply and demand for the fuel ebbs and flows. Take for example natural gas prices – today they may be at record lows, but just last year they were at record highs.

Solar energy could help to alleviate some of this price volatility.

The simple truth is that solar energy is a cost competitive option for peak power generation today. And the cost of solar is only going down as the technology improves and scale increases.

Solar is clearly a solution whose time has come - daylight hours closely match peak demand, the fuel is free and there are zero emissions from the production of solar electricity. Makes you wonder, why wait?

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