A recent study by National Renewable #Energy Laboratory (NREL) has demonstrated that #solar energy could power roughly 75 percent of United States homes. The study has been funded by the Solar Energy Technologies Office of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The United States government is genuinely interested in ways to use solar energy to power more homes.
According to the study, up until recently, the adoption of #rooftop solar has been concentrated mostly in higher-income households. Indeed, the price of rooftop solar installations is quite prohibitive, so mostly higher-income households can afford it. However, according to NREL, focus is shifting from high-income households to low-to-moderate income (LMI) households. A low-to-moderate household is one that earns 80 percent or less of the AMI (area median income). One of the key policy goals of the government is to enable LMIs to access solar energy and help them reduce the energy burden, as well as increase their resilience to rate changes. More individuals, regardless of income, should be able to access cheaper solar energy and even produce it themselves using rooftop solar installations.
In the Rooftop Solar Technical Potential for Low-to-Moderate (LMI) Income Households in the United States report, NREL has outlined the methods it used to gather data and also highlighted some impressive results. The study was conducted to measure the solar photovoltaic potential on LMI households. To measure the potential of each household, the researchers used LiDAR (an abbreviation for light detection and ranging). In plain language, researchers approximated how much electricity could be gathered by a rooftop solar installation placed on each of the target buildings. Various statistical methods were also used to apply the results to the United States as a whole.
Many Possibilities to Go Solar
According to the study, 67.2 million buildings out of a total of 116.9 million buildings in the United States are adequate for rooftop solar installations. In other words, 57 percent of households in the United States could produce electricity from solar panels on the roof. This is a very impressive find. And things get even better in the second part of the study. According to NREL, the total generation potential was 1,000 TWh (terawatt-hour). This number represents 75 percent of all residential consumption of electricity.
What the study managed to show is that if each LMI household that is suitable for a solar installation would have one, the solar electricity could power 75 percent of all United States homes. This is a very important find due to two reasons. One, it shows that LMI households should be assisted in obtaining access to solar rooftop installations. Perhaps the government could provide more incentives to these households to install PV panels. Secondly, it shows that with proper adoption of rooftop solar systems, households could (in time) be less dependent on electricity coming from other sources such as burning gas and coal.
When calculating the potential of each building, researchers took into consideration the specific orientation of roofs and, of course, their size. In many cases, buildings which are built in an area with a colder climate are oriented in a way that maximizes the incoming solar radiation. This makes them ideal for solar panels placed on the roof. In hotter climates, on the other hand, buildings are oriented in a way that minimizes the incoming solar radiation. Why is this important? It explains why many of the counties in states such as Montana and Alaska have more LMI rooftops eligible for rooftop solar panels than counties in states like Arizona.
However, let’s not forget that counties in the southeast can harvest more solar energy because the radiation is considerably higher when compared to northern states such as Alaska. So, even though there are fewer LMI households that could harvest electricity from PV panels in southeastern states, the amount of energy harvested by these households would be higher.
According to the #DOE (Department of Energy) of the United States, the cost per watt for solar energy has been on a consistent downward slope. This means solar installations could account for more than 971 Gigawatts of solar capacity across the United States. And PV installations could account for more than 33 percent of the entire electrical generation by the year 2050. As a side note, the current solar capacity in the United States sits at approximately 50 gigawatts.
Setting Solar Goals
According to the #NREL study, achieving the 33 percent from solar sources by 2050 is easily achievable among LMI households. Of course, the current study did not analyze the actual economic viability. However, considering that the price per kilowatt of solar electricity is decreasing and that rooftop PV installations are cheaper now than they were just a couple years ago, there is little doubt that this would not be an economically viable option for LMI households.
Solar Saves Money – So the Concept Is Catching On
However, for this solution to be economically viable, NREL suggests that new models for PV installations be deployed for LMI households. The study recommended that rental-occupied buildings and buildings housing multiple families benefit from custom models. All property owners, including rental-property owners, must be encouraged to install solar panels on rooftops. Even though the government can offer various incentives, the most important incentive is cost savings. As long as solar panels remain affordable and as long as they help homeowners save substantial money on utility bills, these solutions will become increasingly popular with LMI households.
The study conducted by NREL is just the first of its kind. And it has already demonstrated that LMI households have immense potential when it comes to generating electricity from rooftop solar installations. What remains to be seen is the profitability of these solutions. However, there is little doubt about the economic viability of rooftop installations at the time of writing. Stay in the loop by staying on top of solar news!