The benefits of solar power

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Mike Nemeth, guest columnist

Recently, Fred Hubler raised a concern that may be in many peoples’ minds about Iowa’s new energy plan, and the futility he claims in encouraging wind/solar energy. Allow me to set the record straight, specifically about solar energy in Iowa.

The case for solar energy is far from “collapsing around the world.” The costs of solar energy have been on a steady decline since the 1970s. In 1977, one average day’s sun would generate the equivalent energy of one AA battery at a cost of $76.67. Today’s cost is about 50 cents. Warranties on the solar equipment are 10 years to as much as 25 years — even whole-house air conditioners have a shorter warranty! There’s no need for batteries.

Solar energy is an investment and should be looked at as such. Put in a sum of money now and get an accumulating stream of cash that in a few years results in more money than the initial investment. That is the typical scenario for homes and businesses that incorporate solar energy.

Some more facts about solar energy:

• Solar installation in the U.S. has become a $10 billion industry made up of over 13,000 businesses — mostly small businesses.

• The solar industry has seen growth rates of over 20 percent per year for the last 5 years.

• The solar industry’s contribution to GDP is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 14.3 percent through the rest of this decade. Compare that to the US GDP projection of 2.5 percent growth.

• More people work in the U.S. solar industry than in oil and gas extraction.

• There are more than 27 gigawatts of solar installed in the US. That’s about seven times the amount of energy in kilowatt-hours that Duane Arnold nuclear plant produces.

• This year, solar is expected to reach price parity with conventional electricity generation in 36 states — well over half the nation. Meaning it will soon be — and in many places already is — cheaper to generate electricity with solar than it is with coal or natural gas.

• Iowa can compete in solar. We get plenty of sun; the fact that we can grow corn and beans very well attests to that.

• Solar panels work best when they’re cold. Take a panel from an Iowa winter and put it in the summer desert & it will lose 20 percent of its efficiency.

• Solar arrays in Iowa are nearly self-cleaning, as opposed to the dusty desert.

• The equipment has no moving parts and is almost maintenance-free.

• Policies in Iowa are fairly friendly toward solar, as opposed to the southwest where regulatory conditions are worsening.

• And did I mention, the fuel is free.

There is no reason why every factory, warehouse, and retail building in this state — and many houses — should not have solar installed on it from day one. Once you investigate the costs and the benefits, it’s clear that if our energy mix does not include a healthy degree of solar electricity generation, Iowa’s current standing as a net energy exporter will be just a memory.

• Mike Nemeth, PE is president of Nemeth Energy Solutions, Inc. He founded the company in 2009 to focus on commercial solar energy installation. Mike uses solar energy at his home, saving him over $700 per year on his electric bill. Comments: mike@nemethenergy.com

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