Facilities across the globe are looking to cut power costs, save space and repair time, and reduce their impact on the environment. One power source offers these benefits with relatively few negative impacts: solar.
Solar is not new, but only recently has it become a viable option for most businesses. Using just panels, storage and transformer technologies, and your existing power infrastructure, solar can be easily retrofitted into facilities or built as part of new construction.
The rise of solar power as a viable alternative to traditional fuels promises benefits for facilities of any size. Providing a sustainable power source and reducing costs in the short and long term, solar is now a compelling option for your power needs. Getting started can be accomplished faster than other power projects, and requires a relatively small upfront cost.
Having access to stable power is a core part of running any facility, but these needs are being balanced more often against sustainability goals. More companies are now looking to reduce their carbon footprint and impact on their local environment.
Like wind, solar offers a viable alternative to traditional fuels that reduces environmental impact. Fuels like oil, coal, and even hydroelectric can cause lasting harm to the environment, including generating hazardous waste and pollution, and leaving behind empty mines or unusable land. Even putting pollution aside, these power sources produce clear, lasting change to the environment, and provide only marginally cheaper power. Oil and coal also has an impact on infrastructure, needing railways, roadways, pipelines, tank trucks, and on-site storage tanks that take up room, pollute more, and occasionally leak.
Solar offers a power source that mitigates many of these harmful impacts. While creating solar equipment still involves plastics and materials that come from mining and fossil fuel, its source of energy is limitless because solar leverages the constant output of the sun. With solar, no infrastructure outside of racks to hold the panels and storage equipment is needed. This not only prevents harmful environmental impacts, but also saves space and money over long-term usage.
With advancements in materials and cost, solar's cost per kilowatt-hour has fallen to at or below the cost of other fuels. By 2020, research suggests1 that solar will become fully cheaper than other fuels for the same power, making an investment today a viable way to save money in the future.
Solar requires a one-time, substantial investment in panels. While these upfront costs can be expensive – benchmarked at around $1.30 per watt2 relatively little upkeep and maintenance are needed. Panel prices have fallen by half in the last five years, and are expected to fall through the next several decades.
The long-term benefits of solar present even more compelling financial incentives. Solar power in 2017 is estimated to cost on average $.12 per kilowatt-hour, only slightly above the average commercial electricity cost today. 3 Federal subsidies called ITCs lower the average cost to $.08 per kilowatt-hour, below industry averages, and long-term predictions anticipate the fixed price of solar remaining below $.10. With state subsidies, prices can be even lower.
In certain states, excess solar energy can be sold back into the grid in a process called net metering, offering another cost-saving measure. During peak demand times, particularly hot days with air conditioning overuse, power grids struggle to keep up with usage. This means large-scale solar producers can provide a significant benefit to the stress, while selling power back to utilities at cost. Solar can even be eligible for tax credits, which can reduce the upfront costs as well as future associated fees.
To go solar, you will need to make an upfront investment for panels, racks, and transfer equipment, with costs varying according to panel efficiency, project scale and location. But you likely won't need to spend on new space for your solar power. The panels can be installed in many places across your facility, including space that sits unused today, like your roofs and the open fields surrounding your facilities.
Roof-mounted solar uses completely existing facilities to provide power, relying only on correct angles to generate power. It can be installed on buildings and warehouses, on parking garages, and even on signs and lights. Not only does roof-mounted solar capture sunlight hitting your roofs across the day, but it also reduces interior heat by shielding buildings from direct sunlight.
Solar is not limited to roofs. Sites with open spaces, where underground facilities or unused land are abundant, can be covered with solar panels. While the panels do consume space, they use land that is left open or otherwise unused. If onsite space is not available, you may be able to install a solar farm offsite and transfer the power to your facility.
Solar installations require the same regulatory approval and permits as any new construction, but do require specialty knowledge to plan and develop. Your installation will be subject to local laws, which may encourage or prevent new installations, allow for net metering, or even subsidize your energy costs beyond federal credits. Considering these laws in advance can prevent a costly change mid-installation.
Solar has become a viable alternative power source worth consideration in commercial usage. While going solar means stepping away from an existing power infrastructure, it offers benefits to the environment and long-term budget that should make it part of any power needs conversation.
1. Oilprice.com. "Solar Power to Threaten Conventional Power by 2020." Leonard Hyman & William Tilles. May 11, 2017.
2. U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Technical Report NREL/TP-6A20-64746. September 2015.
3. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Form EIA-861. "Annual Electric Power Industry Report https://www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/html/epa_02_04.html