Why solar power is so valuable – 7 solar benefits
We all know solar energy is a renewable resource that won't run out for the next two or three billion years, but it has many other important benefits, too..
Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Zachary Shahan, editor of CleanTechnica and Planetsave. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of ABB or its employees.
We all know solar energy is a renewable resource that won’t run out for the next two or three billion years, but it has many other important benefits, too. I can think of seven. See if you can think of any more!
1. Solar power is better for the environment, which means us
I thought I’d start with obvious benefits of solar power, and these are the fact that it is less polluting than almost any other source of energy. Aside from emissions created from the manufacture, transportation and installation of the equipment, it produces no greenhouse gases and causes no water pollution. It also requires very little water to maintain, approximately 20 times less than nuclear power plants, which are cooled by water, 16 times less than coal power, and 8 times less than combined-cycle natural gas power.
2. Less electricity lost in long-distance transport
The United States’ Energy Information Administration estimates that “national electricity transmission and distribution losses average about 6% of the electricity that is transmitted and distributed in the United States each year.” That’s not huge, but it’s also not an insignificant amount. The shorter the distance electricity has to go, the better, so rooftop solar is again helpful for increasing the efficiency of the electricity system.
As a side note: another way to reduce electricity losses from long-distance transmission is by using high-voltage, direct current (HVDC) transmission. There are many other benefits to HVDC transmission, but since I brought up cutting electricity losses, this seemed worth noting.
3. Solar power can use under-utilized land
Whether on rooftops, brownfield sites, or above parking lots, solar panels can be installed in places that can be used by very few other things. Rather than use expensive land that could be utilized by other productive applications, solar power can go up in places with almost no land/property cost.
4. Solar panels produce electricity when it is in high demand… up to a point
Electricity use rises as people get up and start doing things, naturally. The period of highest demand tends to be in the middle of the day and early evening in much of the world. With electricity systems based on “baseload” power plants that produce electricity at a pretty steady output, and based on the basic economics of supply and demand, this drives up electricity prices in the middle of the day and early evening. So, the electricity produced by solar panels in the middle of the day is of a higher value than if it were produced in the middle of the night.
Image Credit: ECO Issues
However, this benefit can wear off as solar power penetrates the market. In electricity markets with a lot of solar power, the extra supply of electricity can drive down electricity prices in the middle of the day, sometimes even to levels similar to those in the middle of the night!
Image Credit: Fraunhofer
5. Your fuel is domestic
If you care at all about your local, regional, or national economy, it’s hard not to be concerned about the massive amount of money we send to others for coal, natural gas, and in some cases oil that is used for the production of electricity. Take a stroll through statistics on national coal and natural gas imports if you’re now curious how much your country is importing. While sunshine originates much further away, there’s no charge for it, so when you use solar power, you aren’t continually sending money elsewhere for your fuel imports and you aren’t as affected by the price volatility that comes with imported fuel.
6. Improved grid security
With power plants more numerous and more spread out, the grid is less susceptible to blackouts or brownouts from the unexpected failure of one or two. A grid with a high penetration of solar has thousands or even millions of separate “power plants” very widely spread out. This provides greater grid security in the face of natural or human-caused disasters.
7. Job creation and economic growth
With some technologies, much of the cost is in the materials. With others, much of it is in the labor. In the case of solar power, much of the cost comes from installing the solar panel systems. $1 is $1, but $1 that goes back into your local community and that creates jobs for your neighbors is quite valuable. It helps your neighbors, of course, and it also boosts the economy in which you live and probably work. Again, if that $1 of electricity was coming from a fossil fuel source, much of that money would probably be headed out of your community and maybe even out of your country for the fuel.
All together, I’ve seen reports showing that solar power offers a total value of about 25 to 32 cents per kWh. That’s much higher than the price paid for that electricity almost everywhere in the world!