What is the Future of Solar Energy?

Solar energy is an unparalleled source of electricity generation in a time of soaring demand and environmental sensitivity.

Thanks to government subsidies and advances in technology, the number and size of solar farms continues to soar. We have harnessed the power of the sun for years to warm our homes, provide light and most recently generate power. Still, solar power is but a small fraction of the U.S. energy mix.
Renewable fuels account for about 7% of energy supplies; of this, only 1% (0r 0.07% of total energy supply) is solar. Nonetheless, solar is getting a boost thanks to tax credits, new technologies and a desire to reduce our reliance on imported and domestic fossil fuels.
Still Solar Power is Pricey

Consider the newest solar plant to come on board in Arcadia, FL, a small community north of Fort Myers on Florida's southwest coast. The solar farm, boasting 90,000 solar panels, sits on 180 acres of land in DeSoto County. The farm is rated at providing power (about 25 megawatts / MW) to about 3,000 homes and businesses.

With a price tag of $152 million, this translates into a cost of around $50,000 per home/business.However, once built, other than maintenance and upgrades, the facility will keep producing about 25MW each year.

Thus, in 2 years, the cost per home/business is down to $25,000. In 10 years it is down to $5,000 per home/business, which could easily exceed total energy usage per customer for the ten-year period. And the farm keeps on producing thereafter.

Although initial start-up costs are steep, the benefits are enormous.
First, engineers, architects, construction crews and others have to plan and build the facility. Once built, at least a small group of people must operate it. So, it does help to create jobs.
Any energy it generates helps to offset the use of fossil fuels, a good thing for the environment, our overseas balance of payments and possibly even generating some political capital. When compared to wind power, however, solar is expensive and produces far less return on investment.

However, as solar sites grow in size (and each year begets bigger farms), the cost per kilowatt produced will surely decrease. Solar power can be harnessed across almost the entire U.S., large parts of southern and central Europe, Australia and even southern Canada.

As of this writing, the two largest operating solar farms overseas are in sunny Spain - Jumilla (20 MW with 120,000 photovoltaic panels) and Beneizama (20 MW with polycrystalline solar modules). Other large sites in operation include two in Germany (10 and 12 MW) and one in Portugal (11 MW). And a California company is preparing to install a massive solar installation near Sarnia, Ontario (across the river from Port Huron, Michigan) that will promises to be the largest photovoltaic solar installation in North America.

But, on the drawing board and/or under construction are even larger ventures - a 1 GW farm in China, a similar one for Australia and a 550MW farm in San Luis Obispo, CA. The push for solar (and also wind) is being driven by national and/or state requirements that a certain percentage of the energy used comes directly from renewable sources by around 2020.

While it is the larger solar projects make the news (often each news story heralding the "largest solar farm built in a certain area), many homeowners are installing solar hot water heaters, solar attic fans, and solar pool heaters. Some cities are even installing solar parking meters, while the San Diego Zoo sports a solar-powered trash compacter.

Since the sun shines daily, it really does make sense to harness its energy. The only question becomes, "at what cost?"

Daniel has spent his career helping people uncover the truth. Visit Daniel's latest websites about morning sickness remedies and Geocaching supplies.
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