WHAT

Solar energy is one of the cleanest, most abundant, easily accessible sources of renewable energy. Solar energy can be generated on small scale, individual size operations and large scale, power plant size ones. Individual homes generate solar energy through silicon photovoltaic cells installed on rooftops. When sunlight hits the cell, the energy knocks an atom free from the silicon, allowing it to flow through the material to a converter that generates electricity. Heat energy from the sun can also be trapped more passively, through the use of thermal windows, skylights, and sunrooms. On a large scale, solar concentration systems use mirrors arranged in a parabolic shape around a central ‘power tower’ to focus the sun’s rays on a heat collecting mechanism. The collected heat is then used to generate electricity. Since solar energy can be harnessed on small, individual scales or large, city or countywide scales, it is readily available for use. This gives both individuals and public groups the opportunity to take initiative and utilize cleaner energy, leading the way towards more a sustainable society.

WHY

As we continue to grow and develop as a society, our demand for energy grows as well. At our current levels of demand, which will only increase over time, there are not enough natural resources –coal, natural gas, etc. – to supply the amount of energy needed in the long term. This means we need to move towards more sustainable means of generating electricity, and solar energy is one of the most abundant and renewable methods available. Solar energy never runs out, making it very sustainable over long periods of time. Additionally, the production of solar power generates fewer pollutants than traditional methods of generating electricity, making it a cleaner source of energy as well. With the cost of installing individual solar panels dropping – by more than 60% since 20101 – solar energy will continue to be feasible on both small and large scales. Installing panels on only 0.6% of the U.S.’s total land area could provide enough energy to power the entire country1 . Technological advances will continue to increase efficiency, drive down costs, and make connecting to the grid that much easier, making solar power one of the easiest ways to move away from unsustainable power generation.

TAKE ACTION

In working towards a more sustainable society, you can urge your local legislators to support solar energy policies and installations to try and effect change on a larger scale. Additionally, as a business or homeowner, installing solar panels on your rooftops can not only generate more clean electricity for your home or business, but can also save you money. It was estimated that the average 20-year savings for Americans who went solar in 2011 was projected to be around $20,000 on average2. More populous states – New York, California, Florida – had homeowners saving an estimated $30,0002. Additionally, solar power is reliable and provides energy security and independence. Investing in and implementing solar energy strategies is one of the easiest ways for individuals to make a difference and support the move towards more sustainable energy.

HOW?

Planning for a home or business renewable energy system involves analyzing your existing electricity use, looking at local codes and requirements, deciding if you want your system to operate on or off the grid, and understanding the different technologies available. Analyzing your electricity needs will help determine the size and cost of the system required. Looking at local codes and requirements ensures that your system complies with all government standards and regulations specific to your area. Deciding whether to operate on or off the grid will give you the option to sell any excess power you generate back to the local power provider, or remain completely energy independent from public utilities. Finally, choosing the right technology ensures that you’re generating energy in the most efficient way for your specific circumstances. For more information on installing home solar energy systems, visit: energy.gov/energysaver

PROGRAMS

Net Metering (through local utility departments)

Net metering allows residents and businesses that generate their own electricity via solar power to feed electricity they do not use back onto the grids in exchange for payments or discounts on their electric bills. Since this is implemented at the state level, specifics vary depending on location. To learn more about your state’s net metering policies, visit: www.ncsl.org/

Solar Powering America

Formed by the US Department of Energy (DOE), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Solar Powering America is an initiative aimed at coordinating efforts between government agencies to meet the goals laid out in the president’s Climate Action Plan. The main goals this initiative is focused on achieving is doubling US renewable energy deployment between 2012 and 2020 and installing 100 megawatts of solar on federally assisted housing.

Statewide Incentives for Renewable Energy

Incentives for installing and supporting renewable energy – including solar energy – exist at the state level. To look up incentives in your state, visit: www.dsireusa.org

SunShot Initiative

This program within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) works across five areas – photovoltaics, concentrating solar power, soft costs, systems integration, and technology to market – to drive the cost of solar electricity down to $1 per watt (not including incentives). This would make solar power faster, easier and more affordable for Americans, making it more competitive with traditional sources of electricity, and enabling it to grow and expand.

Tax Credits (through Energy Star)

Energy Star is an EPA voluntary program that helps both businesses and individuals save money and protect the climate by being more energy efficient. Energy Star offers federal tax credits of 30% of the cost with no upper limit to existing homes and new constructions that install solar energy systems, including both solar water heaters and solar panels (photovoltaic systems). Both primary and secondary homes qualify, and credits are also available for eligible insulation materials, including windows, doors, skylights, and efficient roofs3 . For more information and how to apply, visit: www.energystar.gov/about/federal_tax_credits

References

SEIA. “Solar Energy.” Solar Energy Industries Association. Accessed February 06, 2016. http://www.seia.org/about/solar-energy Energy Informative. “Solar Energy Pros and Cons.” The Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Energy. Accessed February 06, 2016. http://energyinformative.org/solar-energy-pros-and-cons/ EnergyStar. “Federal Income Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency.” Federal Tax Credits. Accessed February, 06 2016. http://www.energystar.gov/about/federal_tax_credits

http://alternativeenergy.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001272

Advantages & Disadvantages Of Solar Power

http://energy.gov/energysaver/planning-home-renewable-energy-systems

http://energy.gov/eere/renewables/solar

http://www.ncsl.org/research/energy/net-metering-policy-overview-and-state-legislative-updates.aspx#state

http://www.seia.org/policy/distributed-solar/net-metering