Beyond Payback: Our Energy Future
by Glen Fisher
As our nation enters another presidential election year, many politicians speak of their policies for energy independence. It seems every candidate has the best vision to satisfy our country’s energy needs. Whether it be building a pipeline for oil sands from Canada, or expanding “fracking” of natural gas reserves, discussion rages about how to best secure our energy demands. One option not discussed enough in these conversations is solar energy.
Citizens are looking for options to satisfy their needs for electricity and heat without relying on foreign supplies of fossil fuels. Many Americans want to be converting from conventional carbon-emitting technologies to more ‘green’ energy sources. Whether it is solar PV to provide electricity, or solar thermal to provide space heating and hot water, people are just beginning to see the real investment value in purchasing a solar energy system.
When initially considering solar energy, people are very concerned with “payback”. Although this is an important economic metric that should be looked at, this is not the whole picture. Installing a system should be looked at as a very low risk investment. The return on investment may not boast to be as high as the stock market or other high-risk investments; however, the security in this investment is much greater. Furthermore, your investment works to stimulate our economy. As far as the matter of cost, both solar electric and solar thermal are viable options for property owners and developers that are willing to do the research.
In the Midwest, both natural gas and electricity are currently inexpensive. This is true mostly because of the new hydraulic fracture or “fracking” method of natural gas extraction which allows the mining industry to reach deep reserves not accessible before.
Though some experts believe we now have a larger reserve of natural gas than predicted before, it is not likely energy prices will be going down in the future. Tim Ollhoff, of the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance articulates the situation well: “Natural gas is cheap right now, but looking back 3 or 4 years ago, the price doubled in one year. That could happen again—especially as the public has more awareness of the damages to water quality, ecosystems, and agriculture that result from fracking.”
If you plan to use heat and electricity in the future, securing your rates now is a wise investment.We have many manufacturers of solar electric and solar thermal products in America. By choosing locally manufactured products and working with a local installer, you are supporting your local economy and creating jobs.
Wisconsin now has several big solar manufacturing and supply companies including Helios Solar Works, Ingeteam, Johnson Controls, Cardinal Glass, and Caleffi Solar, among others. These companies, and many others in the Midwest, produce quality products for solar PV and solar thermal systems. System designers, engineers, and installers now have high quality domestic products to choose from for their systems—which is now the trend that end-users prefer.
The solar industry has been growing rapidly in the past few years, adding many long-term, quality jobs to Wisconsin’s economy. Our main sources of energy currently are coal and natural gas, both of which are finite resources. Our demand for energy is ever increasing. Even if you think these carbon-emitting energy sources will not increase in price—it would be most responsible for our current generation to conserve these resources as much as possible for future generations.
The value of the investment in a renewable energy system is greater than many realize and I strongly encourage everyone to explore what is possible today.