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 is ReVision Energy in the business of solar and why should Northern New England implement solar as the solution to our energy insecurity?
Because solar is plentiful. It is the most abundant and accessible resource available to humanity.
Traditional methods of energy generation through the use of fossil fuels are limited, as the resources—such as coal, uranium, and natural gas—are finite. On the other hand, sustainable energy resources—such as solar, wind, and geothermal are renewable. Of the many sustainable options, the amount of solar energy that the earth receives each year dwarfs all of the other resources. In fact, enough solar energy falls on the earth’s surface each minute to meet world energy demand for an entire year (DOE).
OK, so – there is a lot of solar energy that hits the earth. But is there really enough available sunshine in New England for solar to offset my energy needs?
The answer is absolutely yes! Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts have very favorable solar energy resources, also know as solar insolation.
Insolation is the amount of solar energy hitting the earth's surface and is measured in kilowatt-hours per meter-squared per day (kW-hr/m2/day). New England's sunny solar insolation makes it an ideal location for widespread solar energy transition - even more so than the leader in renewable energy, Germany.
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. New England receives a great amount of solar energy, making it an even more favorable location for solar than Germany, the world's leader in solar power. The map below shows how the available solar insolation in Maine compares to both Texas and Germany:
What we can learn from the chart is that Maine has a similar amount of solar insolation as Texas, a very sunny state and a 26% greater resource than Germany. Maine is on the same latitude as the French Riviera!
Though Germany's solar resource is on par with Alaska, they have a much higher level of solar adoption than New England thanks to making it a national priority and creating policies that drove market investment in solar energy. Ironically, it is Germany's deep investments in solar that spurred the growth of the modern solar electricity as we know it, and resulted in the reduction of costs that has made solar more cost-effective globally (SEIA). At times during the year, Germany may be running as high as 95% on renewable energy!
It's important to understand that when we're talking about solar energy as a resource, we are talking about annual potential, not monthly potential. In December, a solar panel in Austin, Texas, will beat the pants out of one installed in Maine. However, our summers have longer days and our cooler climate allows the equipment to produce more power than it would the Southwest (more detail about this in Reason #9 Solar Works in Winter), making up for the lower energy production experienced in winter.
When we started installing solar electric systems in the early 2000s, prices were well north of $9/watt installed. A typical home needs roughly 5,000 watts of installed solar electricity to meet all its needs, so that meant a typical system for the home was $45,000. By Spring 2023, that price had declined to roughly $4/watt in most places where ReVision Energy does business, meaning the same system would be only $25,000!
Over that same period of time, grid electricity rates have gone up across the board, making solar a significantly more affordable and cost effective option for energy. And lucky for us all, the sun isn't going anywhere anytime soon, making solar an abundant resource, even with our bleak New England winter.
Solar's unending abundance makes it the best energy option for the future, since there is enough of it to go around and the technology needed to harness it is only getting better. Unlike solar, fossil fuels are a finite resource that come with plenty of destructive (dare we say, world-ending) side-effects. There is no reason to continue to burn fossil fuels to power our homes, businesses, and communities, and thankfully solar can offset fossil fuel use in New England.
Read on the learn some core concepts of electricity generation - how it's measured, how you're billed for it, and how adding solar electricity can lower both your electricity bill and your fossil fuel dependency, leading us all towards a cleaner, more energy independent future.