Community Perspective

Now is a great economical time to use solar energy

Last November I was one of the more than 100 people who attended the first Solarize Fairbanks workshop. After hearing the latest information about solar energy applications for Fairbanks, I quickly concluded I was ready to solarize my home. I committed to installing a grid-tied photovoltaic system this April. Several things inspired me to make this important decision.

I already knew that photovoltaic technology worked great based upon my 40 years of experience using solar photovoltaic panels for generating electrical power at my remote Alaska homesite near the Arctic Circle. I hesitated for years on investing in a photovoltaic system for my Fairbanks home because my monthly electrical usage was rather modest and the upfront costs of a home-sized system were substantial.

However, photovoltaic technology for home use is now well-established and system costs have dropped dramatically during the past 10 years, while electric utility rates continue to climb. This photovoltaic price drop, coupled with a 26% federal tax credit in 2020, makes investing in a photovoltaic system economical. Photovoltaic panels typically come with a 25-year warranty, have no moving parts and they work even better in cold temperatures. Also, by installing a photovoltaic grid-tied system and using the existing utility for additional power, the cost of installing a battery bank is avoided, further reducing the cost of a home system.

Photovoltaic panels generate electricity without any pollution and help to reduce my carbon footprint by reducing my dependence on fossil fueled electric utility power. In case I decide to invest in an electric vehicle to further reduce my daily use of fossil fuels, it is easy to add capacity to a photovoltaic system. This benefits the local community by supporting cleaner air and benefits the world by doing my small share toward the transition to a non-carbon based sustainable future. Electricity derived from clean solar sources such as the wind, sun and hydropower is already meeting our needs as a society and will do so far into the future. In many places in the Lower 48 the cost of new photovoltaic-generated electricity is now cheaper than power from existing coal or gas-fired electricity sources. Solar electricity has come of age and is poised to play a major role in addressing the human-caused carbon emissions driving climate change.

I encourage anyone whose home or business has good sun exposure to consider the multiple advantages from meeting most of one’s electrical needs through the installation of a solar photovoltaic system. I feel good about my decision to add a photovoltaic system to my home and thank the volunteers of Solarize Fairbanks for supporting adoption of this technology with timely information and facilitating discounts for neighborhoods banding together to solarize their homes. While people may choose to solarize their home for different reasons, cost is no longer a significant barrier.

Jim Schwarber is a 52-year Alaska resident who splits his time between Fairbanks and Northwest Alaska. He volunteers with “Solarize Steele Creek,” which urges the increased use of solar power in that Fairbanks neighborhood.


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