Solar Energy: Bright Idea or Not?

As energy resources become more scarce and global political issues threaten energy security and standards of living, the developed world has been focusing on alternative sources of energy. These sources of energy have ranged from renewable natural gas and “clean coal” to naturally renewable sources such as wind and solar.

With any new energy transition, the initial cost of these alternate energy sources far outpaces their payback periods, causing a slower than expected adoption rate. The United States federal government, along with other international governments provide tax incentives and grants as methods to boost adoption rates. One of the largest and fastest growing fields for adoption and incentives is in solar energy.

Solar energy is available everywhere, but economically only viable in higher energy density locations due to the high cost of materials and installations. Solar energy density is the amount of solar energy (kWh) incident on a square unit of Earth’s surface (m2). Locations closer to the equator tend to have higher energy density than locations closer to the poles. Other factors contribute to the economic viability of a project, such as local utility rates, incentives, and customer goals and preferences.

As solar panel manufacturing processes have improved and efficiencies have increased, the initial cost and payback periods have decreased dramatically. Conventional payback periods previously ranged from 25-30 years; current payback periods today have improved to 12-15 years. Areas with high energy density or high utilities cost can experience payback periods of  7-12 years.

Many educational, medical, and government facilities are increasingly embracing solar energy, and other renewable energy sources to showcase their environmental conscience and commitment towards improving health and combatting climate change. Many clients often have excellent existing conditions for solar energy but may not be aware of its benefits or understand the infrastructure behind the systems. As engineers, it is in our best interest to make our clients aware of solar opportunities and the short and long-term benefits it will provide them.

Barton Associates is happy to discuss the viability of adding renewable energy systems to your current facilities or upcoming projects.  If you would like to explore solar energy opportunities, please contact Jacob Rourke, PVA at 814-237-2180 or After an initial site visit, basic scoping discussion, and preliminary calculations we can recommend if solar is a viable option for you.

Jacob Rourke is a Photovoltaic Associate, credentialed by the National Association of Certified Energy Providers.   

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