How You Can Help the Transition to Renewable Energy by Ava Weinreb

It is no secret that the United States, and all of the world for that matter, is in urgent need of a switch from excessive fossil fuel consumption to renewable energy use. While the current presidential administration has big plans for implementing more renewable energy systems around the country,[1] it is important for individuals to act as well in order to get our energy systems to net zero emissions as quick as possible. With individual action we can speed up the transformation process and show government officials and representatives that we want to see a change. Solar power has the most potential for increasing individual renewable energy use in homes, budlings, and businesses, and offers the most benefits to users, therefore is the smartest and most feasible renewable energy option for those wishing to make the switch. While home and building owners should consider the many benefits of switching to solar power, governments too should continue to encourage the transition with further policies and incentives.

Solar power’s ability to operate on a local and more individual scale is one of its many benefits over other renewable sources. Solar power can easily be implemented by individuals in their own homes and with little disturbance to the surrounding area since panels are most often placed on rooftops. However, large-scale solar farms can also be used to provide energy for larger areas. Solar power requires the least amount of land of any renewable option, about half that of wind turbines,[2] and rooftop placement can eliminate land use completely.

Despite high capital costs (an average 5-kilowatt solar system costs about $14,000 before tax credits),[3] using solar panels for your building, whether residential or commercial, will help you save on energy bills in the long run, with very low operational costs. The levelized cost of electricity on a long-term scale is lower than most renewable energy sources, and far lower than non-renewables.[4] Cost savings depend on size of the solar system, hours of direct sunlight based on location, size and angle of panels, and local electric rates.[5] The average payback period is about eight years,[6] and panels last about 25 to 30 years.[7] Because of the constant improvements in technology for solar PV cells, costs continue to decrease, and efficiency continues to increase. The cost of solar has decreased over 20 percent in the past five years.[8]

Costs are lowered further by tax credits and rebate programs on the federal level and within each state. The federal income tax credit covers 30 percent of capital costs for equipment and installation of solar panels on any building. Almost every area has additional state and local tax credits and rebates to compound this so that costs can be cut by as much as half.[9] The presence of solar panels is also seen as an upgrade to a home and can increase your home value. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory performed a study showing that solar panels on a home increased its value by an average of $15,000.[10]

In addition to saving money, solar power users can actually make money from excess energy production in most states. Net metering compares the amount of electricity that a building takes from the grid to the amount of excess electricity the solar system produces, and the owner is paid for the difference at the retail price.[11] Every US state, except for Alabama, South Dakota, and Tennessee, has some form of net metering policy. Seven of these states use distributed generation compensation rules which differ from net metering in that they do not compensate at the full retail price or they use an alternative method of compensation.[12]

As we can see, solar energy has many benefits for the individual, as well as environmental benefits, so home and building owners should strongly consider installing solar systems. Governments can play a large role in this implementation at both the federal, state, and local level by providing further incentives for individuals to switch to solar power. Besides further tax credits, loan assistance, and investment in research and development, state and local governments can mandate installment of solar panels on all new buildings, following the example of California, which now requires single and multi-family homes up to three stories high to use solar PV as an electricity source.[13] States can also create programs, such as Washington DC has done, to assist low-income homeowners with installation of solar systems that will help to lower their energy bills and lower emissions.[14] With the optimism of the new administration, as well as actions from individuals and cooperation of states, a future powered by renewable energy continues to look more like a possibility.

[1] “The Biden Plan to Build a Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure and an Equitable Clean Energy Future.” Joe Biden for President: Official Campaign Website, 5 Aug. 2020, joebiden.com/clean-energy/.

[2] Grover, S. Energy, Economic, and Environmental Benefits of the Solar America Initiative. United States: N. p., 2007. Web. doi:10.2172/914650.

[3] Matasci, Sara. “How Much Do Solar Panels Cost? 2021 Guide.” Solar News, EnergySage, 14 Feb. 2021, news.energysage.com/how-much-does-the-average-solar-panel-installation-cost-in-the-u-s/.

[4] Anastasia O’Grady, Mary. “The Experts: What Renewable Energy Source Has the Most Promise?” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 17 Apr. 2013, www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324485004578424624254723536.

[5] “Benefits of Residential Solar Electricity.” Energy.gov, www.energy.gov/energysaver/benefits-residential-solar-electricity.

[6] Aggarwal, Vikram. “Calculate Your Solar Panel Payback Period.” Solar News, EnergySage, 20 Jan. 2021, news.energysage.com/understanding-your-solar-panel-payback-period/#:~:text=The%20typical%20solar%20payback%20period,20%2C000%2F%242%2C500%20%3D%208).

[7] “How Long Do Solar Panels Really Last?” Sunrun, Sunrun, 19 Oct. 2020, www.sunrun.com/go-solar-center/solar-articles/how-long-do-solar-panels-really-last.

[8] Matasci, Sara. “How Much Do Solar Panels Cost? 2021 Guide.” Solar News, EnergySage, 14 Feb. 2021, news.energysage.com/how-much-does-the-average-solar-panel-installation-cost-in-the-u-s/.

[9] Holowka, Taryn. “Top Four Benefits of Installing Solar Panels on Your Home.” U.S. Green Building Council, 5 Apr. 2017, www.usgbc.org/articles/top-four-benefits-installing-solar-panels-your-home.

[10] “Benefits of Residential Solar Electricity.” Energy.gov, www.energy.gov/energysaver/benefits-residential-solar-electricity.

[11] “Net Metering.” Solar Energy Industries Association, www.seia.org/initiatives/net-metering.

[12] Andersen, Glen. “State Net Metering Policies.” National Conference of State Legislatures, www.ncsl.org/research/energy/net-metering-policy-overview-and-state-legislative-updates.aspx.

[13] “Solar Requirements for Commercial and Residential Development in California.” Cal Solar, Inc., 21 Aug. 2020, www.calsolarinc.com/solar-requirements-for-commercial-and-residential-development-in-california/#:~:text=The%20California%20solar%20mandate%20enforces,is%20less%20than%20four%20stories.

[14] “Solar for All.” DC.gov Department of Energy & Environment, doee.dc.gov/solarforall.

 

2 thoughts on “How You Can Help the Transition to Renewable Energy by Ava Weinreb

  1. Very interesting blog post Ava. I agree that state and federal governments need to play a big role in providing incentives for homeowners to switch to solar energy. With that being said, the homeowner is responsible for researching different solar companies, maintaining the solar panels, and researching the relevant policies that will allow them to save money on solar energy. For the average American consumer, this process may seem daunting and they may elect to not install solar panels on their home. I think an interesting idea for helping the average American consumer in transitioning to renewable energy would be a website run by the federal government where the consumer can input information about their home and their electricity bill. The website will then estimate how much money they can save from using renewable energy and give them a step-by-step guide on how to install the solar panels and how to access the maximum amount of savings. I doubt the average American consumer is aware of incentives such as net metering (I know I wasn’t before reading this blog), so creating a website that quickly educates the consumer on how to install PV and the benefits they will receive is crucial.

  2. Great blog post, Ava! I like the emphasis on the power of the individual to take this crucial step towards greener energy. I agree that local and federal governments need to play a big part in incentivizing this transition. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve yet to hear individuals in my community seriously discussing solar panel installation for their own homes and businesses. I think to some, it still appears intangible or unrealistic and definitely requires that initial push or incentive to consider the possibility. Furthermore, there are still some obstacles that may seem daunting such as a (only recently overturned) loophole in Senate Bill 1626 allowing property developers to keep properties “in development” for extended periods of time to refuse solar panel installation in Texas[1] or the regulations imposed by Home Owner Associations limiting if or where homeowners may install solar panels.[2] However, solutions like state-instituted Solar Access Laws can overturn these regulatory stipulations and should be widely implemented to allow and encourage more widespread solar panel installation.

    [1] “Solar Panel Laws in Texas”. Solar Panels Network, 2020.
    [2] “How Solar Access Laws can Save you from your HOA”. Yes Solar Solutions. Mar 13, 2020.

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