Is solar energy an option for cities located in regions with limited months of sunlight?

As solar installations ranging from small residential applications to large utility-scale solar farms have become more commonplace, questions arise about the efficacy of solar energy in locations where the sun has limited exposure. We turned to our panel of Zintro experts and asked them to share their knowledge. Here’s what they had to say:

John Pugno, Vice President at Acumensal Solutions, Inc., a company that designs and operates systems to conserve natural resources and supply clean energy, says that it is important to look to Germany as an example that solar energy can work in cold areas. Pugno explains that although Germany has “less solar radiation than Michigan – the second worst solar radiation state in the United States – they are the world leader in solar installed capacity.” Ed DeJesus, Founder and President of Sightline Solar, a company that provides alternative energy integration, agrees that Germany proves that cities with low levels of solar radiation can still utilize solar energy technology. DeJesus states, “we get 4.2 average solar hours in MA, and Germany gets under 4. Yet 30% of all their homes have solar thermal hot water systems.”
Kanaga Gnanalingam, a retired energy consultant from CEB Sri Lanka, explains that solar energy can be useful even in places with limited months of sunlight. Like Pugno and DeJesus, Gnanalingam references Germany’s increased dependence on solar energy, demonstrating that “Germany has the largest solar energy projects totaling more than 15GW and this is a place with very low solar radiation.” Gnanalingam also points out that in Alberta, Canada, an energy corporation called Enmax “is providing 1.3kW rooftop solar system with an upfront cost of $1500 and a small monthly charge.” In Alberta, this reduction in installation costs provides an incentive towards using solar energy.
Although solar energy provides a clean form of renewable energy, it comes with a high price tag. Not only are installation costs expensive, but also operations expenses can cause higher electricity costs, especially during winter months. Hal Slater, CEO and a specialist in semiconductor device physics at Sandia National Laboratories, notes that an increase in photovoltaic installations can lead to higher electricity costs. Slater points out that “while Germany leads the world in solar energy and photovoltaic (PV) installations even though it has about half the amount of solar resource that we do in the US Southwest, the cost of electricity in Germany is about twice what we pay in the US (on average $.10/kWh), their financial payback times are equivalent to ours.” Slater touches on an important economic aspect towards considering whether solar energy is the most effective form of alternative energy.
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