A fundamental shift is occurring in how solar installations are being viewed. This is mainly because solar projects are reaching the point of production capacity where the benefits of rapid deployment and falling costs make it extremely competitive.
Installing Solar is Now Faster & More Cost-Effective
Solar brings a different kind of value to the utility grid. Not only can it be quickly deployed on existing infrastructures (warehouses, commercial buildings, residences and “brownfield” locations) at rates that are significantly faster than nuclear or fossil fuel plants, it offsets the most expensive power plants at peak production — providing immediate economic value.
This year, the U.S. industry may install 2 gigawatts (up from 878 megawatts in 2010) of solar. The last nuclear power plant to come online in the U.S., Watts Bar 1, has a capacity of 1.1 gigawatts — but that took 23 years to complete!
And while coal-powered plants generate 54% of our electricity, the pollution caused from all phases of coal mining, shipping, storage & burning is dramatic. Coal burning is the single biggest air polluter in the U.S. Recent international reports also suggest solar could be as cheap as conventional coal-fired power by the year 2015.
“We're just reaching some thresholds in the communications perspective when you tell people that we're building, actually building, central-station power plants that are delivering power within months after [breaking ground],” according to Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications and Public Policy, Julie Blunden, of California’s SunPower. “Usually when you start building power plants it takes years, maybe a decade [before delivering power]. We start delivering power through phases within two months.”
Additionally, there’s growing and abundant evidence that developing distributed renewable energy projects is more cost effective than building large, and sometimes remote, fossil fuel or nuclear power plants. Plus, solar projects don’t generally have to wait for planning and construction of new transmission lines – which could be contested by neighboring property owners and be costly to build because of significant opposition.
Nuclear power plants take in anywhere from 30,000 gallons to 2.4 million gallons of water per minute (Maryland PIRG, 2011)
When looking at the cost and time necessary to construct a new nuclear or fossil fuel plant – in sunny areas, solar PV is already competitive. Solar benefits the world not only economically, but socially and environmentally as well.
- Can be permitted and installed faster than other traditional power plants
- Has a predictable energy curve and is most efficient when utility rates are at their highest
- Produces local, on-site energy, which reduces the need for extensive high-voltage transmission lines or a complex infrastructure
- Reliable over the long term: With no moving parts, fixed photovoltaic systems last longer than other energy sources
- Predictable pricing that is equal to or below retail energy rates
- Clean, quiet and visually unobtrusive in nature - solar energy plants do not have any polluting emissions, do not make any sound, and are not considered to be an "eyesore"
- Uses little to no water in the production of zero-emission electricity (unlike nuclear power)
- Can be placed in virtually every geographical region because the sun is available everywhere
- Creates clean, renewable energy that will sustain and support the health of future generations
- Is a distributed generation energy source that can mitigate national security concerns about energy disruption
- Supports national energy independence because solar electricity is used where it is generated
- Creates dependable, local jobs for the new energy economy - solar energy creates more jobs per megawatt hour than any other energy type
Solar energy is a quick-to-install, fast starting and long lasting producer of environmentally-friendly, zero-emmission power. With the pollutant risks of other tradtional energy sources (nuclear, fossil fuels) and the rapid solar technology advancements being made, solar energy is poised to take the United State's energy production reigns in the near future.