Debunking Solar Myths in the Midwest
Despite myths and misconceptions, solar energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sources worldwide and is thriving in the U.S., with more than 13GW of solar energy production, two-thirds of which has been installed in the past two years. That is enough to power about 2.2 million homes. Although most development so far has been on the coasts, Chicago and the Midwest are catching up and have a great deal of opportunity for growth.
Myth 1: There isn’t enough sunshine in the Midwest and winter ruins the numbers. Well, after this past winter, that may seem an easy conclusion, but when we look at the amount of useable sunshine in Chicago, it is not that much different than Atlanta. Life need not be perfect for solar to be effective. Germany is a great testament to that, leading the world in solar installations despite having similar useable sunshine to Alaska. The key difference is that Germany has decided clean energy is vital to their future and has invested heavily in it.
Myth 2: Solar is too expensive: This situation has changed rapidly and panel pricing has come down 95 percent in the past 30 years, including 50 percent in the last four years alone. An average 3kW system in the Chicago area can be installed for about $5 per watt, or $15,000, before incentives and possibly as little as $6,750 once those are factored in; not a bad price to install a micro-utility on the roof that will work for 25 years or more.
Myth 3: Solar is too complex: The technology is remarkably simple and integrates seamlessly with existing systems. Photovoltaic (PV) systems are nearly plug-and-play and tie directly into the service panel without too many problems. Homes typically have 100-to-400-amp service, which is perfect for solar. Of course, it is paramount to hire someone that is licensed, insured and has experience installing DC current and working on a roof.
Myth 4: Solar is still evolving: Skeptics misunderstand how powerful solar can be and may misinterpret some of the metrics. At 17 to 20 percent efficient, solar is more efficient than most cars on the road today. Although that may seem low, consider how efficient conventional energy is when we factor in mining, transportation, processing or refining of fuel, and then burning, scrubbing and delivering electricity over thousands of miles of wire. That makes producing energy on our rooftop pretty impressive and incredibly efficient.
Solar benefits include strong and nearly risk-free return compared to other investments, earning between 7 to 15 percent annually; savings on monthly utility bills; energy independence, with no roller coaster price changes; free energy after the initial investment; reducing line losses and summer overloads, increasing grid efficiency; avoiding harmful pollutants, dangerous accidents or spills for a cleaner environment; and boosting the local economy via local jobs and spending.
Lisa Albrecht is a renewable energy specialist with Solar Service, Inc. For more information about how to benefit from solar energy, visit IllinoisSolar.org.