27 Jul Solar Technology at ifarm
Our solar panels have been doing great with all this sun. Each year we average around 10,230 kWh (kiloWatt hours, a measure of energy use over time) about what an average American residential home uses each year (x). This is far more electricity than we use at the farm, running only a few appliances and a computer, so the majority of our energy is sold back to the grid. It’s great to be net positive!
We installed our system in 2014. The cost has dropped sharply since then, and continues to drop more precipitously each year. This is because solar technology is becoming more commonplace, with innovations building on innovations. It is a technology, not a fuel, which means it will only become cheaper and more efficient as the years go on. Bloomberg recently reported that solar was cheaper than coal to produce in several US States. This is a huge victory and is making solar a far more viable investment for the future. The cost disparity is only going to grow as solar technology continues to improve.
Solar Batteries Save For a Rainy Day
Like many solar users, we have no storage system at ifarm, so we either use the energy produced or sell it to the grid. Stephen Coffrin, our solar engineer from Solar Design Associates, tells us that a big step for solar technology is developing better batteries. Batteries are important for solar because the amount of sunlight changes with the weather and the seasons. Without the grid, we could not run anything at night or during long overcast days. Batteries would make it possible to literally save energy for those rainy days. The technology is becoming available, but it is still in its development stage. However, in some areas with high energy costs like Hawaii, battery and solar technology are already outstripping conventional power plants.
Battery technology would really help all areas of the power industry. Presently all power plants run based on the local energy demand. They have to outsource to “peaking power plants” when the demand is too high. These plants tend to be old, expensive, distant, inefficient, and run very dirty coal. The peaking plants have to consistently run at 1/10 capacity to be ready to supply demand, meaning they continuously waste energy.
It is certainly deeply satisfying to flip a switch and know that we are running directly from sunlight streaming onto the carriage house roof! If you are interested in exploring solar in Massachusetts, this website explains the various government subsidies you can take advantage of.
We may be running a solar workshop in the future, keep an eye out!