As the need to distance ourselves from fossil fuels becomes more urgent due to climate change and pollution in general, solar power is emerging as a leading alternative. It can be scaled to be used by individuals or large utilities; and best of all- it’s renewable. However, large scale solar farms require large tracts of land that have long and regular periods of sunlight. Suitable areas can usually be found in many rural settings and deserts, but transferring that energy over lengthy power lines to more populated areas can be expensive and inefficient.
A new trend is emerging that seems like a promising answer to this inconvenience – building on retired landfills! When a landfill is full it is covered with a polyethylene cap, a thin layer of soil, and finally grass. Despite it’s more pleasing aesthetics, this brownfield ground is still mostly unusable as it is unstable and not suitable for building large structures. Because of the gasses and toxins emitted by the covered landfill the growing of crops is also not a viable option. However, this acreage is perfect for large scale solar farms. Ballasted anchors are used to stabilize the solar array to avoid penetrating the landfill cap. This specialized racking system allows for thousands of solar panels to be installed on this otherwise unusable land; producing a lot of clean, renewable energy.
Landfills are typically built outside of, but close to, city limits and already have access to the power grid. This makes transporting energy for use in more densely populated areas much easier. Right now, there is an estimated 10,000 capped landfills in the US alone, and that number is only growing. The construction of large solar farms would not only positively impact the environment, it would create thousands of well-paying and sustainable jobs on land that is otherwise sitting unused.
In a competitive market, coal is more expensive than both solar and wind.
In 2001, Texas created a competitive electricity market in that the least expensive resources go on the grid first. At that time, wind supplied less than one percent of Texas’ energy. As of 2018, 20 percent of the market is wind power. With technology and increased production lowering the cost of renewables, there are less arguments, than ever before, for the steady destruction of mountainous landscapes created by America’s need for coal.
Due to the competitive market, Texas has retired coal-fired plants, replacing them with natural gas which is significantly less expensive. By the end of next year, wind is expected to generate more electricity for Texans than coal as more plants are retired. However, these retired plants are largely being replaced by more efficient and less expensive natural gas plants. While natural gas beats coal in an environmentally-friendly competition, it is still a fossil fuel.
Texas’ competitive electricity market creates a fairer fight between renewables and fossil fuels when compared to other state and federal energy policies. Still, fossil fuels have an advantage. The hidden costs related to fossil fuel use like the consequences of climate change, explosions during drilling, transportation, spills and leaks, or burning process, and the pollution of land surrounding gas wells, is not included in the price comparisons of natural gas and renewables.
However, there is still hope. As we continue to burn the finite source of natural gas, it will face the same, inevitable dilemma of oil and coal. The low hanging fruit will be harvested, and the remaining sources will be difficult, dangerous, and expensive to gather while the cost of renewable energy continues to plummet. Someday, the market will favor it.
Will the invisible hand of the free market move soon enough? Don’t wait to see. Ease America’s dependency on fossil fuels by making a personal change in your energy source. Contact SolFarm Solar Co to see what you can do to save the planet.
California began a program using the app OhmConnect. The app notifies residents signed up for the program when to turn off and unplug everything consuming energy. Not only are residents helping grid operators manage a grid becoming more and more reliant on renewables, they get paid for it.
Most of the strategies for lowering fossil fuel use consist of replacing fossil fuels with another energy source. However, solutions also lie with consumers of energy. Lowering consumption decreases the amount of energy required of the energy plants.
Transferring a grid from fossil fuels to renewables lowers the reliability of the baseload. The baseload is the minimum amount of energy a power plant generates to provide for their customers. It is easy to maintain a baseload with fossil fuels. Just burn however much the area needs, increasing the amount of coal, natural gas, or petroleum consumed in times of greater demand like the evenings when people are coming home, turning on lights, and making dinner.
Dealing with baseload with a largely renewable grid can be managed in several different ways. One of the best ways is diversifying the grid with solar, wind, hydro, and other energy sources. The creation of the storage battery has also been a help, allowing energy to be produced and stored until needed rather than put on the grid constantly. Importing energy from another area could even be an answer. Finally, baseload problems could be solved by… lowering the baseload which is achieved by lowering consumption.
The best solution is using all tactics. A carbon-free grid will not come from one answer but from several.
How Does This Apply to NC?
North Carolina comes in second to California for solar energy production. As California proves a carbon-free grid is feasible, others will follow suit, and North Carolina could be prepared to follow in its footsteps.
Even with fossil fuels, there are limits to how much power plants can produce. Duke Energy already has a program in place for customers to get bill credits if they sign up for a program to not use their air conditioning during peak consumption times. It is not nearly as in depth as the Californian program is. However, Duke Energy’s program is based in the same principle. Customers can help save the Earth too.
Solar helps areas all over the world acquire energy for the first time. Microgrids could enable the 1.2 billion people without access to a grid to produce electricity. They will help achieve the universal energy access goal of providing 195 million more people with energy by 2030.
What It Looks Like Now
Most of the off-grid areas are in Africa and East Asia. There is a push to provide universal energy through an expansion of transmission and a variety of production methods. Many communities in sub-Saharan Africa cannot be connected to the gird, so renewables are the answer. With political goals and market growth aligning, off-grid energy is more feasible than ever.
More than 30 percent of off-grid Kenyans use solar. Some financing programs hope to help solar reach 70 percent of Uganda’s rural population. Asia is quickly following suit. In many instances, these solar systems just provide light and phone charging capabilities, but production is expanding to include fans and TVs.
For some countries, solar is even improving a tourism market. Ecotourists look for the pristine wilderness in the countries utilizing off-grid solar. Safari lodges use more energy than the communities using off-grid solar because the clientele using them are usually from areas with stable energy sources and expect phone charging capabilities, lights, and even refrigerators, washing machines, and air conditioning or heat.
What It Could Mean
Eventually, with solar, communities will have access to services only available with energy like internet and quality of life will improve. The situation improves environmentally as well. Off-grid communities do produce some pollution. It is not anywhere near the scale of developed countries like America or Europe or developing countries like China. However, off-grid communities do burn wood, releasing carbon dioxide. Some wealthier communities even use diesel generators. If these methods of light and heat generation could be replaced with solar, that would be 1.2 billion people’s energy being produced by solar instead of diesel or wood.
How many years is too many before the payback period on a solar energy system is no longer worth the investment? 9? 10? 14? For many of our customers, the number generally falls somewhere in this range. Solar panels are a considerable upfront investment and, like any good financial decision, people want to see when their investment pays off. It’s sound economics, right?
Well, yes and no.
I say no because the value gained out of installing a solar energy system goes far beyond what you see on the ROI sheet. However, these are typically the only numbers most people take into consideration. This is a missed opportunity in my book.
The true financial payback from installing solar panels could be well over 200% for many homeowners; of course add on the environmental and social returns that come with it and you’re sitting on a hefty payback that does well for both the world and your wallet.
Let’s take a look at the bigger picture…
We crunch numbers and reduce margins left and right trying to get the ROI to an acceptable time-frame- which, as a business dedicated to making solar affordable for everyone, is kind of our mission. We want to give you the lowest possible price we can, and we’ll do it every single time. But sometimes we feel like the concept of “payback” has become this odd entity that looms over solar panels more than it does anywhere else.
When we go to buy a TV, are we considering what the payback is?
When we buy mulch for our yard, are we considering the payback for that?
When we buy a new car we’re obviously getting use out of it, but when’s the payback for that coming?
We derive use and pleasure out of all of these things and we never once stop and ask ourselves “When will this start making money for me?”. It’s just not a thought that comes to mind. We blindly accept that these goods and services cost money and we throw it at them with no regard other than wondering how long they will last us.
When you buy a solar energy system you get use, you get a payback, and if you sell your home the added resale value you can fetch is roughly the cost of the original system itself.
Solar panels not only add value to your property, but they also help sell your home an average of 20% faster than homes without a solar PV system.
In a post by solar website The Cost of Solar they break down exactly just how much you can expect to recoup from installing a solar energy system.
They then go on to explain how it’s possible to recoup a 200%+ return on your solar panel investment.
They nailed it- as far as financial decisions go, this one is a potential no-brainer.
In the case of SolFarm Solar Co. President and Founder, Mike Diethelm, the decision shouldn’t just rest on the financial savings. He touched on the environmental motivations and reasonings in a passionate piece he recently shared with SolFarm staff.
“There are so many more things in a solar array that bring utility and happiness to you when you go solar. It’s like brushing your teeth – you are acting responsible, getting minty clean breath to share with your neighbors, giving 40 years of sunshiny solar power — the free fuel that your solar modules use. Oh… and there is a payback! It’s not the world’s worst payback and it’s not just measured in dollars alone. We know that the carbon in the troposphere is causing the planet to warm. Should we wait for someone else to solve that problem? How many years of my carbon footprint should our future generations pay for? I’m putting my footprint down and saying none. I know you will step out of the norm and be that solution. We all do that and KABOOM… payback.”
So there you have it. While we understand that affording a solar energy system is not in the budget for every homeowner, we wanted to shed light on the different ways that you can turn solar panels into a brilliant investment. Not just for your wallet, but for our planet’s future.
As always, Solfarm Solar Co. would love to help you jump start this investment into your energy future. So contact us today for a free quote or even a simple discussion about how solar can be the right choice for you.
For our first SolFarm Solar Employee Spotlight, we are more than proud to feature the immeasurably passionate and talented Kelly Gloger. Throughout his professional life Kelly has focused mainly on the areas of Sustainable Design and Planning, and brings with him an incredibly impressive resume.
Kelly has been working with SolFarm as a Project Developer for roughly two years, after he and his equally talented partner, Bonnie, and their two dogs moved to Asheville from the US Virgin Islands in February of 2015. Kelly is the son of a dairy farmer and attributes this upbringing as the source of his interest in agriculture and the beneficial reuse of waste materials. As the years progressed, so did Kelly’s interests. He developed passions for renewable energy systems, wastewater reclamation and reuse, community organizing, and planning.
After attending architecture school at the University of Houston, Kelly worked in New England designing and installing passive solar thermal systems. He was then hired as the executive director of the New Hampshire Solar Self-Help Program, a program that assisted low and moderate-income families in the design and installation of solar heating systems for their homes.
Following this foray into the renewable energies field, Kelly refocused his interests on wastewater treatment systems. He worked for two New England engineering firms marketing natural wastewater treatment systems, and soon after returned to school to acquire his Master’s of Science in wastewater treatment technologies for aquaponic food production systems from Texas A & M University.
His graduate school research brought him to the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he was soon hired to work for a commercial-scale aquaponic farm. Following that job, Kelly then worked for Caribbean Infra-Tech, a sustainable design company. He eventually landed a position as a senior associate and master planned the conversion of a 1,200 acre brownfield into an eco-industrial park, among several other projects.
After seven years with CIT Kelly founded Solar Delivered!, a renewable energies company that services commercial and residential properties across all three U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2014 Solar Delivered! was voted best solar company on St. Croix.
In February of 2015, Kelly and co. then relocated to Asheville, NC, where he currently resides.
Kelly’s other passions include sustainable planning and community organizing. Taken from his website, he writes “I have always believed that when a community is involved in planning its own development and future, the final product is superior and embraced.” During his 20 or so years in the Virgin Islands Kelly attached himself to several highly important projects that sought to exemplify this philosophy. These projects include the planning of multiple eco-developments, residences, and parks; he has also served on various boards for community projects such as the Virgin Islands Farmers’ Cooperative and the St. Croix Farmers In Action. He continues to be an activist and deeply involved community member here in Asheville, NC.
In addition to being a highly accomplished professional, Kelly is also an avid fun-haver. He can be found navigating the streets of Asheville, sometimes on his road bike, other times on his long-board. He can also be found out in DuPont and other WNC forests on his mountain bike.
In their downtime, Kelly and Bonnie spend countless hours working around their home. Inside, Bonnie has filled the space with her art and vivacious plants. Outside, they have worked together to transform their property into an environmentalists’ Shangri-La. Two rain water cisterns capable of catching 600 gallons for on-site water reuse flank the garden gate (however their form is so beautiful you would never guess they were anything but art), under the ground a gravel infiltration basin for water runoff has been constructed. Their large vegetable garden is flanked by fruit trees and fully nestled among pollinator indigenous landscaping. On their roof, a solar PV system.
We are incredibly lucky to have such an accomplished individual and visionary on our team! Kelly is a wonderful asset and a true joy to have around.
We would also like to note that Kelly and Bonnie are the hosts of our upcoming solar open house! The beautiful home pictured above will be open to the solar-curious from 2 to 4 pm on June 24th. Kelly, Bonnie, and the SolFarm team will be there to answer any of your solar questions. You can RSVP to the event here via the Facebook event page.