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Yardley Voice – Riding the Solar Coaster

What goes up, down, up so fast that you need an ESPN play-by-play announcer to keep track? The solar coaster!

Many other developing technologies have seen rapid changes and solar energy is no exception. Fortunately for consumers, many of these changes have been very positive.

While there have been a few dips, solar energy continues to be cost-effective and the overall trend points to another year of growth in this terrific green energy field. Over the past year, the number of solar energy systems grew rapidly against a backdrop of declining material costs and increased installation efficiency.

The price of photovoltaic solar panels (PV), the panels that convert the sun’s energy to electricity, had fallen sharply and caused a bit of a shakeout among manufacturers with victims like Solyndra and Evergreen. The decline, however, has slowed and with an anti-dumping suit pending, may even reverse.

In the meantime, the combination of lower costs for solar and the rising prices of electricity and oil, means the return on investment from solar energy keeps getting better and better. There have also been swings in the PA Sunshine Program, an innovative rebate program instituted in 2009 to help develop the solar energy industry in the state.

The program has been very successful. As the number of solar installations grew, the rebates shrank and it looked like we’d reached the end of it. Starting last August, pending projects were put on a waiting list instead of being guaranteed the incentive. Solar coaster lows!

At the beginning of 2012, however, we learned that all projects on the waiting list would receive the rebate. Moreover, the program received additional funding so there is a small window of opportunity for even more projects to receive rebates.

While there were other ups and downs in the solar industry, including the sunset of the US Treasury Grant program and tremendous volatility in the SREC (Solar Renewable Energy Credit) market, capacity of solar energy installations in PA more than doubled last year. This year, there is the potential to rise just as much.

Even so, solar energy produces only a fraction of one percent of the electricity consumed in Pennsylvania (the rest is produced by coal and nuclear). So we still have a long way to go to make this non-polluting, renewable energy source the powerhouse it has the potential to be.

by Mark Bortman

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