Traveling this week to a meet with a group of solar installers near Tehachapi California, you cannot help noticing the hundreds of large and small wind turbines turning as you ascend the grade in the Sierra Mountains. The sheer number of large wind turbines is impressive enough, but when you get off the main highway, it is very cool to see many small home wind turbines cranking out power.
A leading advocate for renewable energy is Bill Haman the industrial program manager of the Iowa Energy Center. Bill spoke recently on the pros and cons of installing wind and solar power generation. What Bill told the group was “Wind turbines are not for everyone. Make sure they are for you before you make the investment.” Bill and others gave the crowd the skinny on wind energy including valid reasons to invest in solar or wind.
“Maybe wind isn’t the best choice for you now,” Bill told the crowd. “Two years ago people couldn’t really afford to build solar energy. Today that picture has reversed. The price for solar energy has dropped like a rock.”
When Haman polled the crowd, about 20 people said they are interested in putting up their own wind turbine on their property. Another 30 people said they are interested in tapping into solar energy for their homes.
Today, the price of solar energy technology is about half what it was two years ago. There are two main reasons for the price drop. The first: China recently opened the largest plant in the world manufacturing the silicon used in solar panels. The other reason: the world recession, making solar panel demand drop while the supply grew.
“This window of opportunity to buy cheap solar may be short,” Haman cautioned. For an average household consuming 900 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity per month, an installed solar system might cost in the range of $35,000 to $42,000 today, Haman estimated. For a wind turbine that would generate at least as much energy, the cost would be closer to $50,000-$60,000, he said.
Speaking about the global energy crisis, Haman said solar energy should be the energy of the future but only if we can find a cheaper way to harness it. “The sun delivers enough energy to this Earth in one hour to power the entire world population for a year,” he said.
Right now, the best solar energy systems are about 43 percent effective, but they cost about $1,000 per watt about $1 million per kW and only the government can afford those systems. Our challenge is not to find new energy sources, but how to make solar and wind more affordable. Something that should be printed on every blackboard in America.
“Before you go down to your bank and start financing a solar or wind project, there’s one thing you should do first,” he said. “Spend your first dollar on making your home, your farm, your business as energy-efficient as you can.”
The return on the dollar invested in that will be a lot quicker than with solar, wind or other alternative energy sources. Story Credit; Lemar Sentinel Magdalene Landegent