New Mexico Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy
For information on incentives for solar energy, and also information on system sizing, cost, solar rights, and where to find services, see our Incentives Page.
As the following discussion describes in more detail, solar is viable for home heating, water heating, and for electricity generation both for homes and entire cities.
Solar Hot Water
Solar hot water systems, such as the one pictured, are a cost effective and extremely clean way to provide domestic hot water, or solar hot water for space heating. A system like that pictured above, which heats an 80 gallon water tank, costs between $4000 to $5000, and can save hundreds of dollars per year at current natural gas and electricity prices. The same technology (with more panels) can be used on a larger scale to provide space heating as well: The solar heat can be stored directly in a radiant floor, or in hot water tanks.
Passive Solar Design
Passive solar design, which is simply placing windows properly to take advantage of the natural path of the sun in different seasons to both heat and cool a building, and using thermal mass inside to store solar heat for night time, is a well proven and understood clean energy technology. A well designed passive solar home in New Mexico uses approximately 80% less than the typical up-to-code conventional home. Click here for simple guidelines for designing a passive solar home by the New Mexico Solar Energy Association. Be careful not to wing it though! Too much gain or not enough or bad placement of thermal mass will lead to overheating, too cold at night, or other problems.
Photovoltaic (PV) systems such as these pictured, provide clean electricity to buildings and the power grid directly, or can be used to charge batteries for "off-grid" buildings. The cost of these systems is about three times the cost of grid power, but is decreasing. In particular, it decreases about 20% each time the industry doubles, and the industry is growing 30-40% per year at present. As the following graph shows, it is projected to be directly competitive with conventional power in New Mexico (which costs about 8 cents/kWh) by 2016 or so:
Distributed solar energy on the power grid is beneficial in many ways: The value of grid-tied PV to rate payers in general, for example, has been estimated to be between 23 and 35 cents per kilowatt-hour (see http://www.votesolar.org/tools.html), due to the ability of PV to reduce peak demand, wear and tear on the infrastructure, lessening demand for natural gas, etc. These savings are approximately equal to the cost of solar power, making it a cost effective measure even today in the larger scheme of things.
According to the Renewable Energy Policy Project, PV manufacturing and installation creates about 35 job-years per mega-watt: Its a great economic development tool!
As our information on sizing and cost explains, PV systems cost about $10 per installed watt of peak generation capacity. They are robust, requiring almost zero maintenance, and the panels last at least 25 years. And contrary to old propaganda, they don't require more energy to make than they pay back - their energy payback is on the order of 3 to 5 years (See Home Power Article on research on this topic).
Finally, a study funded by the Energy Foundation estimates that there is enough roof space to provide 700 gigawatts (about 700 giant power plants worth) of PV generation in the US.
A variety of Incentives are available and/or expected for PV in New Mexico.
Concentrating Solar Power Technologies
Concentrating solar technologies, such as the "troughs", "dishes", and "power tower" pictured above, respectively, utilize solar heat to generate electricity. The troughs have a proven track record in California. The dishes are now under rapid development (in California, Nevada, Spain, and Australia), and these utilize very little water and can utilize natural gas directly to "firm up" their output. The power tower approach has been successfully tested as well, and in particular, was tested using "molten salt" as an energy storage medium. This ability to store energy (which can be extended to the troughs as well), means that these technologies could be utilized very effectively as bulk power sources on the power grid.