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Awareness is growing that traditional sources of energy come with a number of challenges, including increasing prices, concerns over security of supply, transport and storage of toxic waste products, and potentially catastrophic environmental impacts. Solar electric power offers attractive alternatives to conventional electricity generation. Photovoltaic power is an increasingly important source of renewable electricity that can address these concerns.
In the United States in 2011, over 40% of all electricity was generated by coal-fired power plants, 25% came from natural gas-powered plants and about 20% was generated by nuclear power plants. The remaining small portion, including hydroelectric generation, is provided by renewable sources:
Solar power generation is emerging as one of the most rapidly growing renewable sources of electricity. Both small and utility-scale photovoltaic systems offer several advantages over other forms of electricity generation. Solar electric power is:
CLEANSolar electricity does not require fossil or nuclear fuel, or water, and produces no harmful emissions in operation. The EPA estimates that a one Megawatt (1 MW) solar electric power system would prevent the emission of approximately 2.4 Million pounds of carbon dioxide annually. This is equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide sequestration of about 250 acres of pine forest, or removing 200 passenger cars from the road.
SUSTAINABLEPhotovoltaic panels have no moving parts to wear out. They are proven and highly reliable; many come with 20-25 year performance warranties and they may last 30 to 40 years or longer.
COST EFFECTIVEEquipment costs have decreased significantly over the past three years. Current financial and tax incentives help make solar electricity cost-competitive with conventional grid power (www.dsire.org).
PREDICTABLEBecause of the systems’ simplicity and low maintenance requirements, solar power costs are largely constant over the life of a system.
WELL-TIMEDSolar energy can effectively replace peak-priced electricity, during summer afternoons.
MODULAR AND SCALABLE. The size and generating capacity of a photovoltaic system are a function of the number of solar panels installed. Other components scale easily with system output, making it easy to match PV technology to power needs.
DISTRIBUTED AND FLEXIBLESolar electric systems can be installed nearly everywhere electricity is needed, including at the customer site, ‘inside the meter’ – on a roof or on the ground - reducing reliance on traditional power production and transportation systems. PV is also suitable for locations where extending power lines would be cost-prohibitive.
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