It's easier and more economical than ever

Is Solar Power Right for Your Farm?

The owner of a farm that had recently installed a system told her local newspaper, "One of the interesting things about having solar power is you don't get an electric bill every month any more." She added, "It's really fun to see the meter go backward, instead of forward.”

Fitting your stable for solar power may seem hi-tech and expensive, but with improved technology and the increased costs of oil, solar energy is easier and more economical than ever to install and use, and can prove to be a positive choice for the environment, as well as a good investment. 
 
Solar power is generated by the absorption and conversion of sunlight to electricity, using photovoltaic (PV) cells, and can be used to power anything, from a single light bulb to an entire farm. It can be installed as an isolated system (“off the grid”) and stored to a battery, for a remote run-in shed or incorporated into the existing power supply (“a straight line tie”) and sold back to the power company the power company.
 
There are a variety of reasons to choose solar power. Most notably, as a renewable energy source, it is eco-friendly and ensures power for generations to come. 
 
Furthermore, as part of the government’s environmental protection programs, there are tax incentives available to those who employ clean energy. These vary by state, and can make a large difference in the final costs of installing solar energy. For example, recently in Connecticut, there was 100% tax exemption for the sale and use of all solar energy equipment, as well as the labor and services relating to its installation. 
 
For more information on federal, state, utility and local incentives and policies promoting solar power, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at www.dsireusa.org/. 
 
Solar tax credits began in 2005, and since then, solar power has grown very quickly. The amount of solar electric capacity installed has been doubling each year. In 2011, the new capacity exceeds a GigaWatt (1Billion watts), and as technology increases, many estimate that the price of solar energy will continue to drop. The price for high power band solar modules has dropped from around $27 per watt peak (Wp) in 1982 to around $4/Wp today. President of the Solar Energy Industries Association, Rhone Resch says that, "By 2016, we expect solar energy to be the least expensive source of electricity for consumers." 
 
In addition to the tax rebates available, there are some states that offer a solar leasing program that allows consumers to install solar panels and pay for them as they would their regular electric bill. Blogger Alexandra Marks explains that she expects to save a huge amount of money by leasing solar panels rather than buying them. The cash cost of her system was estimated at $46,000. The state rebate of $10,000 and the federal tax credit would have brought the upfront cost down to $26,000, but with the lease program, the upfront costs are zero. The federal and state incentives go to the leasing company, which essentially means that she is given a fixed rate loan for the remaining $26,000, for which she will pay about $100 a month for the next 15 years.
 
For many, the primary reason to choose solar power is to gain energy independence. With no electricity bill, or with reduced energy costs, it can mean a decreased dependence on global politics and market price of oil. It can also be a great solution for stables and barns that are very rural or isolated. 
 
If the building in question is in a remote location, it can be the most financially viable option to be powered “off-the-grid”. In some areas, there is only 50 feet before PV becomes more economical than installing a new transformer and electrical lines. In other areas, electricity is often interrupted, or the lines are knocked down. Independence from the electricity grid means that you can run the system so long as there has been sufficient sunlight to recharge the batteries.  
 
The benefit of tying the system into the power grid is that you do not need a battery, and instead you are credited for the energy you generate and sell it back to the power company. Not needing a battery bank can greatly simplify system complexity and reduce installation costs, but rules prevent the system from producing any power when the utility grid is down, which means a grid-tie solar system is not suitable for use as an emergency backup power system. It will, however, significantly reduce your monthly utility costs, and since there are no batteries to maintain and periodically replace, there is almost no maintenance involved with a grid-tie solar system.
 
The first thing that must be done when deciding what kind of system to install is to evaluate your electrical needs. List the various devices that will run on the system, and how often they will be used. It is often useful to look into energy efficient appliances, which can often cut electricity usage in half. It is also important to note that, based on location, some barns will be able to generate more or less energy because of factors like weather, sun direction, and latitude. Using this information, one can estimate the number of panels that will be needed, and the costs and challenges associated with the installation. Depending on the setup, there will be a variety of batteries, inverters, and additional parts to consider, as well.
 
Installing solar-electric power requires a large amount of research, as there are so many variables depending on the location, size, and requirements of the project. Its large upfront cost can turn many off, but it is generally a very sound investment, paying for itself in 10-30 years. Perhaps most importantly, it represents a responsible step toward a cleaner planet.   
 
To find experts in your area, visit the LuxeList of local resources. 

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