The solar-powered world that green-energy advocates long dreamed of isn’t such a fantasy these days.
Thanks to heavy growth in solar-panel production capacity, much of it in Asia, combined with steady engineering advances, the cost of generating electricity by capturing the sun’s rays is getting closer to parity with traditional fuels. In some sunny areas of the country it is nearly there.
But does solar power have a place in powering Rhode Island?
Historically, Rhode Island has lagged behind its neighbors in all forms of renewable energy production, ranking 49th in the country last year, behind only Arkansas, in nonhydropower renewable energy generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Next door in Massachusetts, government energy policies that forced utilities to grow their renewable energy portfolios made the Bay State a hub for renewable research, development and use.
Rhode Island leaders took steps to improve the state’s sustainable-energy position last year by passing a series of laws intended to increase renewable usage.
First among them was a distributive-generation law that requires National Grid to buy 40 megawatts of power from renewable sources by 2014 in 15-year contracts meant to give the generator a stable revenue source that is attractive to lenders.
Last December, National Grid signed its first three renewable energy contracts, all for solar projects. They were with New York City utility Consolidated Edison and ACP Land LLC, a company with an address on Gano Street in Providence.
Although falling panel prices have made it easier for businesses and energy users to take advantage of solar power, low-price competition from China and Taiwan has put intense pressure on American panel manufacturers.