Did you know that Maine exports over $5 billion each year buying fuel from ‘away’? Not only is our dependence on oil and gas a disaster for the environment, it’s also a huge drag on Maine’s economy! Mainers spend more money on fuels than they spend on taxes.
The bright news? Despite myths to the contrary, SOLAR POWER can help everyone in Maine save money.
Due to our latitude, and proximity to the Gulf Stream and resulting weather patterns, we receive the best sunshine in New England—more than enough to power every home with solar electricity and convert our homes, businesses, nonprofits, and government buildings to 100% solar. Solar can power ‘plug’ loads – fridges, computers, etc. – as well as highly efficient and affordable heating equipment (heat pumps) and water tanks.
With the availability of reasonable financing and cost-effective equipment installed by Maine craftspeople, solar is an affordable way for Mainers to take control of their energy bills and kick oil and propane and utility bills out of their lives!
Is there really enough sun in Maine for solar to offset my energy needs?
The answer is absolutely yes! Here’s why…
Insolation is the amount of solar energy hitting the earth’s surface and is measured in kilowatt-hours per meter squared per day (kW-hr/m2/day). The National Renewable Energy Lab has assembled worldwide insolation data to learn how much sun falls in a particular location so that one can draw a reasonably accurate conclusion as to the amount of solar energy that can be harvested on an annual basis. Below is an insolation map that has been cropped to show how the available solar insolation in Maine compares to eastern Europe’s:
The results are clear: Germany is a world leader when it comes to solar, yet Maine receives more sun!
If Maine gets roughly 30% more annual sunshine than Germany, why are we so far behind implementing available renewable technology?
A Matter of Priorities
Germany has a powerful government incentive program that financially rewards people and businesses who invest in renewable energy. There is a national “Energiewende” movement with strong buy-in on the local and national level with a set of ambitious renewable energy goals and policies to support them. The cornerstone of these, for solar, is the ‘Feed-in Tariff’ law which requires utilities to pay a premium to any home or business that generates clean renewable energy, allowing private renewable energy investors to finance solar investments and expect modest returns.
The public benefit of this private investment in renewable energy is greater stability to the electric grid, reduced carbon and other forms of air emissions, and, in the long term, very reasonable rates for clean electricity. The bulk of the investment in Germany comes from individuals (often farmers) or from small solar co-operatives where a group purchases and operates a solar project as a group.
In the United States, there has been no similar national movement to drive the adoption of renewable technology. Various states have made progress on the local level, and they are reaping the benefits of those forward-thinking policies. For example, California is set to handily meets its goal of 33% renewable electricity by 2020, and, closer to home, Massachusetts is one of the top 5 solar states in the USA thanks to policies like a carbon-credit trading system (SRECs). In fact, solar adoption in Massachusetts has grown so quickly that Gov. Devall Patrick was forced to increase his solar adoption goals after his previous goal (250MW) was met 4 years early.
At this writing, Maine has no incentives for solar. Let’s repeat that: Maine has no incentives for solar.
If someone says to you “solar gets lots of subsidies” the answer is NO solar does not. Solar is growing rapidly because it is cost-effective and because the market is choosing to go solar, not because the Government has anything to do with it.
Since 2003, solar electric modules have dropped in price by over 74%, making them competitive with all forms of traditional, and dirty, fuel sources.
How Modern Solar Electric Systems Work
With no moving parts anywhere in the entire system, grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) systems are the most reliable renewable energy technology available (beating wind, biomass, tidal, hydro etc).
PV manufacturers warranty solar panels for 25 years, and the expected useful lifespan of PV panels is closer to 40 years. Solar panels can withstand snow, hail, ice… whatever Maine winters can throw at them!
Today, nearly all solar electric systems are connected to the grid, installed either on the roof of the structure, a shed/barn, or somewhere on the ground.
When sunshine falls on the PV panels, clean solar electricity is generated and flows through a wire to a solar inverter. The solar inverter converts the solar electricity the type of electricity (AC) which is used in your home. The AC electricity flows from the solar inverter into your home’s electric panel, and will meet any household demands – dryer, fridge, computers, heating system, or electric vehicle!
Under Maine’s current net-metering law, if you produce more solar power than you can use in real-time, the solar power is sent out to the grid and you earn a credit. Your system stays connected to the grid and you get power when the sun is down from the utility grid. If you have solar credits, you will use these solar credits up before you are billed for the grid power.
And this is what’s staggering… Maine’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) has proposed taking away net metering, and allowing the utility company to tax you on all power you create yourself! Could you imagine the grocery store billing you for growing your own tomatoes? This is exactly what Maine’s PUC wants to do for Maine’s solar customers.
Even worse, the PUC’s excuse for doing this is based on lies. Solar saves everyone money, which Maine’s PUC knows because they conducted a study which proved that this is the case. If you hear someone saying that solar makes other people’s electric bills go up, correct them. That is a lie!
How Solar Electricity Works Under Current Net Metering Law
Sunlight causes electrons to move through the wiring connecting your home’s solar photovoltaic panels, creating direct current (DC) electricity.
2) Solar inverter converts DC power into AC power
The DC electricity produced by the solar panels is inverted into alternating current (AC) electricity that can be used in your home. The AC electricity flows into your circuit panel and is available for any active electric loads: lights, television, computers, refrigerator, electric vehicles, etc.
3) Excess power is sent to the grid
If your solar photovoltaic production exceeds your demand, then the extra solar electricity is pushed from your home out to the grid, benefiting everyone in the local community by reducing wear and tear on the electric grid and reducing pollution. At the end of the month, the utility reconciles the difference between your solar production vs. your grid electrical consumption, and you either earn a credit or are billed accordingly.
What Happens when the Power Goes Out?
Many grid-tied systems are 100% grid-dependent, and they will shut down when the connection to the utility is lost (this is a safety regulation that prevents PV systems from accidentally backfeeding and injury utility line workers). However, nearly all grid-tied systems are able to have a battery backup component added to them, and batteries are becoming increasingly affordable.
One of the manufacturers of solar electronics with battery backup is based right in Maine! Pika Energy in Westbrook, Maine offers the Pike Energy Island which allows the homeowner to have multiple renewable energy systems and battery banks to build a home-based micro-grid.