Solar Power: Finally Within Reach

By Micaela Cook, Citzenre Representitive

Solar power is gaining popularity and attention in mainstream America, but solar technology has reliably producing clean power for decades, in fact, many photovoltaic systems installed in the 70s are still operating today. Today’s typical solar cells have conversion efficiencies of 15 to 20%, but research and development programs aim to increase that to greater than 50%. While solar cells are already used for calculators, watches, satellites, remote telecommunications devices, municipal lighting, off-grid, and grid-tied power, solar energy also offers many possibilities for a sustainable future. Each day, 89 petawatts (that’s 89 followed by 15 zeros) of sunlight reach the earth’s surface. That is almost 6,000 times more than the 15 terawatts of average power consumed daily by humans. As technology improves, and more of this energy is harvestable through photovoltaic (PV) cells, greater quantities of ground-level air pollution emissions will be avoided. Non-renewable sources of power are the greatest source of this type of pollution.  Additionally, solar electric generation has the highest power density (global mean of 170 watts per square meter) among renewable energies, and this is without releasing any greenhouse gases whatsoever.

By continuing to burn fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil and clearing forests we are dramatically increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere and temperatures are rising. The world is already changing. Glaciers are melting, plants and animals are being forced from their habitats, and the number of severe storms and droughts is increasing.

According to Al Gore’s website:

• The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years.

• Malaria has spread to higher altitudes in places like the Colombian Andes, 7,000 feet above sea level.

• The flow of ice from glaciers in Greenland has more than doubled over the past decade.

• At least 279 species of plants and animals are already responding to global warming, moving closer to the poles.

Although burning wood, or for instance oil from soybeans, releases carbon that was recently fixed by the plants from the air–and is therefore carbon neutral–we have already overloaded our atmosphere with so many additional tons of greenhouse gases that finding sources of energy that release absolutely no carbon or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is most advantageous.

Unfortunately, for most individuals, the major barrier to using solar technology is cost. The cost of PV for a residential application is presently between $8 and $10 per watt, which works to about $40,000 to $50,000 for an average 5 kilo-watt system. New York State has offered 50% rebates towards the cost of installation, which has allowed a significant number of people who would not otherwise be able to have a solar system to install one. However, there are, of course, many people who cannot afford even 50% of the installation cost and  even after these substantial renewable incentives from the State and the Federal government, the cost of electricity still amortizes out to about 21.5 cents per kWh. That is between two and three times the average cost of electricity – a cost premium that is a significant barrier and the main reason the PV market is still in its early adoption stage..

This set of circumstances within the photovoltaic industry has led to the birth of the Citizenre Corporation. According to their website, ( “Citizenre believes that photovoltaics should play a much more important role in our nation’s energy infrastructure, more than one fifth of one percent, and has actually laid the ground work to make that possible.” Citizenre offers consumers the opportunity to rent a photovoltaic system designed specifically for their residence, without any up front cost. Customers pay for the electricity generated by the panels at the rate they pay to their current utility at the time they sign up. Thus, electricity rates can be locked in for us to 25 years, avoiding the 6% average increase in electricity rates that New York has undergone for the last 10 years.

The availability of services likeCitizenre’s represent an enormous step toward making solar power affordable and practical for the average consumer. Citizenre is currently accepting reservations for their first round of installations in 2008.

Micaela Cook is a former installer of solar panels, as well as a distributor for Citizenre. Her class entitled “Solar Systems Without The Upfront Investment” will be held Wednesday, September 26, from 7-8:15 pm in the classroom at GreenStar’s West-End Store.


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