Understanding Maine’s Solar Potential
Updated Nov 28, 2012
So, why solar? Out of all of the available renewable energy options (including wind, biomass, ocean power, etc.) and, for that matter, conventional options (natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear) why are we in the business of solar and why should Northern New England implement solar as the solution to our energy insecurity?
Because solar is plentiful. See the chart below:
While fossil fuels, and even other renewables, are finite, enough solar energy falls on the earth’s surface each minute to meet world energy demand for an entire year. Graphic Source: Perez, R. and M. Perez, A Fundamental Look At Energy Reserves For The Planet
OK, so – there is a lot of solar energy that hits the earth. But is there really enough sun in Maine for solar to offset my energy needs?
The answer is absolutely yes! Here’s why…
Insolation is the amount of solar energy hitting the earth’s surface and is measured in kW-hr/m2/day. The National Renewable Energy Lab has assembled worldwide insolation data to learn how much sun falls in a particular location so that one can draw a reasonably accurate conclusion as to the amount of solar energy that can be harvested on an annual basis. Below is an insolation map that has been cropped to show how the available solar insolation in Maine compares to eastern Europe’s:
Germany is the world leader when it comes to solar, yet Maine receives more sun!
If Maine and New Hampshire get roughly 20% more annual sunshine than Germany, the world leader in solar energy installations, why are we so far behind implementing available renewable technology?
A Matter of Priorities
Germany has a powerful government incentive program that financially rewards people and businesses who invest in renewable energy. The ‘Feed-in Tariff’ law requires utilities to pay a premium to any home or business that generates clean renewable energy.
This market-based incentive encourages private investment in renewable energy, which then helps stabilize the electric grid, reduce C02 emissions, and provide clean power for decades for Germany.
Even within the United States, several states have a carbon emission trading system (SRECs) which are bought by utilities trying to meet renewable energy quotas dictated by state renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS). This leads to an additional set of incentives for residential solar power systems beyond just the direct savings on the electric bill one experiences when generating power with solar.
The biggest game-changer in the solar electric market since 2009 has been a staggering decline in the cost of photovoltaic panels.
For all systems, there is an uncapped 30% federal tax credit available. Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts all have their own state rebates as well – $2,000, $3,750 and $4,250 respectively. With installation costs ranging from $3-4/watt, that means that the average cost of a system is slashed in half. If you look at solar as a 20 year investment, you can currently buy solar power for 30% less than the same amount of power from the utility company.
Try our online solar calculator to design a system for your home.