What produces electrical power without making a sound, without a moving part, and with no impact on our environment except positive benefit? Solar panels. With all the hot air being blown around about the pros and cons of wind turbines, photo voltaic solar arrays are quietly generating power. Solar panels have been around for decades but technology is making its expected leaps and bounds forward and has resulted in huge gains in quality and performance while at the same time costs have been driven down continually. A solar panel today costs about one thirtieth what its predecessors cost several decades ago. Reliability and performance are far improved at the same time and while solar may not quite be on the same rate of rise as the Internet, the solar industry is growing at greater than a 100% annual growth rate. Just 8 years ago solar production passed the 10 giga-watt annual figure. To get you used to the terminology a kilo-watt is a thousand watts, a mega-watt is a million watts and a giga-watt is a billion watts. What a difference a few rays of sunlight and a few extra zeroes can make! In Q3 of 2021, the US installed a record amount of new solar…5.4 Giga-watts...in one quarter!
Critics of any alternative energy are always quick to point to higher costs of power production, but frankly every form of energy we use today enjoys some form of subsidy. You didn’t think our gas prices were this low in comparison with the rest of the developed world just because of our good looks did you? Certainly having the US dollar as the world reserve currency doesn’t hurt, as everyone else has to buy oil with dollars, but subsidies are a part of energy production.
As a comparison, the Internet didn’t spawn itself. It was developed by the government as a military tool and subsidized to the point at which it could take flight by itself.
Strategic analyst and author George Freidman writes in his book, The Next Hundred Years, that he foresees solar collector arrays in space that will be beaming energy back to earth by microwave transmission by the year 2050. Friedman believes the US will be uniquely positioned to take advantage of this new energy opportunity and that it will establish us an energy leader and free us from our fossil fuel dependence. That is 38 years away, however. In the meantime, we are working on a state of the art that is still on the ground and not yet in the sky.
Shepley Wood Products is the first lumber and building material distributor we are aware of who can claim to generate more electrical power than it uses. Ten years ago we could claim to be co-owners of the largest solar array on Cape Cod. It didn’t take long to be surpassed in production by other larger projects but our pioneer solar facility near the Barnstable Airport, has 6000 solar panels with a surface area of almost 4 acres, covering a ground area of 6 acres, and generating 480 volt power back into the grid. Yes, the electric meter does actually spin backwards in what is called a net metering arrangement with Eversource. This array does prefer a sunny day and produces peak output of just under 1.5 mega (million) watts. Longer summer days are higher producers than short winter ones and sunny days out perform cloudy days, but even during our most recent tropical rain storm the other day, with not even a hint of sun visible, our solar farm was producing a respectable 46 kilo (thousand) watts.
Charles Kettering once said, “We should all be mindful of the future, because we will spend the rest of our lives there”.
By harnessing the sun’s rays, we bring the future one step closer.