Utah has one of the fastest-growing markets for solar power. Thousands of residents power their homes using the sun, and thousands more are planning to go solar. The cost of solar panels is also bound to drop, as tellurium (an important component of solar cells) is already being mined in Bingham Canyon. Since 2015, more than 95 percent of the state’s additional electric generating capacity comes from solar power. However, full statewide solar power is hardly feasible — at least, not in the near future.
The Problem with Statewide Solar Power
While most new power plants (or farms) are overwhelmingly solar, more than 60 percent of Utah’s power production still relies on coal. Unlike solar, coal is a reliable source of energy. Solar power only runs when the sun is out, so no power during the night. Solar farms are heavily reliant on the sun.
They can’t increase their output to meet demands, and the technology to use batteries to store power from the grid is in its infancy. Solar farms are also subject to weather. Dark cloudy skies or heavy winter snow can leave the whole grid deprived of power. A backup reliable power source is needed, and Utah is going nuclear to commit to its green policies. Construction has begun on a nuclear plant in Green River, with the plant ready to run in 2030.
Grid-connected Solar Power
The best way to go solar is by installing solar power systems in individual homes. Residential solar is still connected to the grid. However, the solar power systems can produce enough electricity to match the needs of individual homes. The average 4-5 bedroom house uses less than 900 kWh of electricity per month.
A small 8-kW system (with 6.6-kW being the smallest) can produce 1,000 kWh per month — more so in Utah, where the sunlight is more concentrated due to elevation. If you go straight to a solar company, you can get an 8-kW system installed for around $25,000.
If you buy the panels separately, an 8-kW system goes for around $10,000. Cut $2,600 due to federal tax incentives and another $1,600 for Utah’s own solar incentives — for a final cost of $5,800. Of course, you’ll have to install the panels and wire the system. If you can’t do it yourself, you’ll need contractors.
General contractors should have the necessary expertise to install your solar power system. You can add the installation cost to the cost of purchasing the panels before calculating both federal and local solar incentives.
Relying solely on solar power is possible but expensive. Batteries to store excess power can cost as much, or even more, than your solar power system. You’ll also be powering your house with limited electricity. Without the grid to compensate — your home needs to be energy-efficient, and large power draws (like air conditioning) can drain too much from your system.
Stay at Zero Through Energy Efficiency
An 8-kW solar power system should produce enough electricity to cut your electricity bills to zero or close to it. Most power companies charge $2-$5 to connect to the grid, even if your house produces more power than it consumes. Energy efficiency allows your home to stay below the production of your system. In most houses, proper insulation is enough to cut power use by 30-50 percent.
Switching to appliances that use inverter technology, particularly air conditioning, refrigerators, freezers, and washers — can cut another 30 percent. Staying below production gives your home energy credits that it can use during long winters or when the sun is out.
Use Excess Production
While there’s nothing like seeing negative numbers on your electric bills, don’t expect the power companies to send you a check. Once your home is deep in the negative numbers, it’s better to use the excess electricity instead of sending it to the grid.
Dealing with microgrids, peer-to-peer selling, and other forms of energy-sharing can be a hassle. Just use the excess power to charge an electric vehicle (EV). Yes, buying an EV can cost $5,000-$10,000 more, but you’ll be saving up to $2,000 a year on fuel costs. Your home will be net-zero on electricity and net-negative on carbon emissions.
While full statewide solar power might be a pipe dream, residential solar power is a reality. Solar power systems are investments with triple or quadruple returns on savings. Buy panels through a solar provider, and let your friendly neighborhood contractor do the installation.