Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Dec 15

Harnessing Solar Energy Outside the Sun Belt

Posted in Energy Industry | Future Technology | Solar Power

Harnessing Solar Energy If we try to observe which states are going solar we will find an interesting bend. Many states in U.S.A. are not the sunniest one but still they are opting for solar energy. It’s natural for sunny California to go for solar energy. South Florida is a focus of solar activity because it enjoys a balmy weather and a progressive bend of mind. If we study the energy maps of parts of the Phoenix we will find that they are also opting for the solar energy. If we care to look into the demographics we will find that people want clean and green energy like solar energy while living in shady area. Why? The answer lies in the economic status. They have money to spend and possess progressive thinking.

You don’t have to live in the Sun Belt to take advantage of solar panels. When people decide to go solar they are taking a huge expensive step forward and a complicated one too. But solar panel leasing plans are making it easier for people to utilize the bountiful energy of the sun. Neighbourhood groups are availing the facility of group discounts to utilize solar energy.

What factors are responsible for consumer going solar?

The main factors are availability of sun, social and political values, disposable income and incentives provided by state and local authorities. One can find out the incentives and rebates by visiting the website of the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). We can get a peek into consumer behaviour by looking at this mashup map by Cooler Planet. Cooler Planet is a Seattle based company floated by the environmentalists. These environmentalists are also comfortable with the software and online marketing. They say, “Over time, we aim to provide you all the tools and resources you need to reduce the carbon footprint of your home, your business, and your life.” Cooler Planet’s services are completely free of charge. Cooler Planet has received around 30,000 enquiries over the last few years. They mapped these enquiries on a live data, interactive heat map.

If we analyze their maps some interesting facts will emerge. Disposable income combined with progressive values ignites interest in solar power in Seattle and Boston, though they don’t get ample sunlight. New Jersey, California and Colorado are armed with incentive systems and these states rise to the occasion. There are some regions that may throw a surprise at observers, for instance, areas with high-density population doesn’t mean more interest in solar power.

Washington State

This state boasts of a concentration of progressive, tech-savvy and green leaning population in the Seattle area and Bellingham. But solar power is still a favorite of rural folks and, to a lesser extent, the eastern part of the state, where incomes are much lower. Further, Washington is known as the cloudiest state, both in people’s perception and according to the data. In fact, the first 14 least sunny cities in the nation are all in Washington.


The Twin Cities are also progressive and relatively prosperous. It is obvious that people there would be interested in solar power. The fact is still holds that Minnesota is quite cloudy and has notoriously rough weather. Interest in solar energy is still quite strong through much of the state’s farm country.


Chicago is windy and densely populated. But due to the efforts of Mayor Richard Daley the city is going clean and green and adopting solar power.

The Rust Belt in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana

They are not known for alternative energy enthusiasts. But it is surprising that there’s enough awareness and interest in solar power in Indiana, particularly in the Rust Belt north, where the weather is also often dreary. Solar power is also gaining a stronghold in Ohio and lower Michigan. These two states are heavily represented on the list of least sunny. They are also experiencing the worst effects of the global recession, with soaring unemployment and grim real estate prospects. But they are defying statistics and going solar.

Southeast Appalachians

Rural Kentucky, Tennessee, the western Carolinas and northern Georgia are not favourites of bi-coastal environmentalists and trend watchers. Still this section shows pretty solid interest in renewable energy, even in areas that are not thickly populated.

Upstate New York

We expect that Massachusetts will show due regard to the solar power. Because of its deep blue leanings, sound economy and major state incentives. But neighbouring upstate New York is opting for solar power irrespective of its cloudy and cold weather and current economic decline.

  • Bob Congdon

    You make no mention of the Mid-Atlantic, DC area, or the Southeast. What is outlook for these areas? Thanks.

  • Thomas Finger

    I think it is interesting to chart what parts of the U.S have the greatest interest in solar/wind–even if they are not making an economical choice — I am still waiting for a frugal, mass produced alternative .. something that a typical consumer would be able to install themselves or with a minimal investment — when will it be here? I am in SE Wisconsin and I am anxious to install something that would show a return in two years or less ($1200 at most) — Something that I can use myself — call it a winner — then market and encourage others in my neighborhood… Anyone have a good recommendation?

  • tyler

    Portland does not get much sun at all (its solid grey for about 9 months out of the year unfortunately), but we still have a lot of solar installations and more coming everyday.


  • Ron

    Pennsylvania is presently offering 20% of the costs to be paid by the state for solar power installations, and the Fed also is offering 20%. However, I have not seen much interest. What are your thoughts on PA? This is a significantly populated state, and in elections it is often said that “so goes PA, so goes the Presidential election”. I would think that this state would be more of true indicator of whether or not solar energy will ever work outside the sunbelt. However, even at 40% subsidized costs, many solar panel suppliers are still saying the projects will not start to pay for themselves until ~20 yrs after the install. I want to see this be successful. But how?

  • Lornkanaga

    Thomas Finger–check out It currently has two articles on a gentleman who built his own solar panels for under $100 each. Granted, it’s a lot of labor, but it might be something for you to consider.

    I wholeheartedly agree that those who can afford it, and who are so inclined, should buy and install solar/hydro/wind/etc. regardless of the climate. The more who buy, the lower the cost becomes for those of us who want it but can’t afford it yet.

  • Ron

    Interesting article, but that gentleman built two decent sized panels, and only generated 18.9 Volts under NO load, and he was operating them in Arizona. That is a good way from 120 V. Just to get to 120V you would need an entire room covered, and your still a long way from providing enough amperage to support even a small home, let alone the battery system or a way to put it back into the grid if a battery system is to be ignored. Again, if he were in the state of PA, his payback would be 1/5th of that found in Arizona.

    If residential solar power is truly ever going to pay for itself, we need less hype and more realistic solutions. Otherwise, we should stop kidding ourselves about solar power outside the sun belt. We should solve the problem where it is easiest first, by putting most of our resources into developing large solar power plants in the sun belt. If they can’t measure up there, we should face the facts and go nuclear.

  • Thomas Finger

    thanks “lorn” I will go to that website–Ron I think you are right–nothing “alternative” appears realistic now or short term–and probably not even 10 yrs down the line—Most modern countries do have extremely reliable small (nuke) reactors that seem to have a pretty safe (extremely economical) record–we need to wise up and get building–especially in this economy of horrors…Tom in SE Wisconsin

  • mark

    I think that solar energy will become the future of the most important forms of energy, and pollution-free, it is environmentally friendly. I now use solar water heaters, so I advocate everyone should work together to protect the environment.

  • Thomas Finger

    Mark — surely you can see that water heating is only a small fraction of what we need energy for — solar is so limited because of where population centers are in many north and eastern regions — and prob upper west coast too — It is not PRACTICAL for transportation or industry — not too mention the storage conundrum — batteries are NOT very environmentally friendly or carbon neutral — sooooooo I still await the right consumer friendly solution that I can put up in SE wisconsin and power my home… I really want a 3-6 year payback on whatever can be logically used — there has to be something out there… what about magnetics? anybody up to date on that tech?

  • jerry

    It’s funny to read comments that want a 3 to 5 or so year payback on solar. Here in Arizona what’s your payback on that $20,000 swimming pool, what’s your payback on that $25,000 car? Furthermore what did those things do for the environment? But nobody hesitates to buy those things that do nothing but depreciate, cost thousands to keep running over their lifetimes use untold natural resources and do nothing to add to the value of a home. But that solar better pay for itself chop, chop!

  • Ron

    A swimming pool does nothing to the value of a home?

    Come on. I agree that a 3-5 year payback on a solar system is a bit unrealistic at this point, but in PA the estimated payback right now is also unrealistic at roughly 20 years even with 20% of it paid for by the state and another 20% paid for by the Fed’s. I agree with pursuing solar power, but let’s use our heads and research it in regions where it makes sense. The technology is not efficient enough yet regions like PA, so stop wasting federal taxes on installation there. Let’s do it. But – take the emotions out of the equation. Do it only… where… it makes sense.

  • Thomas Finger

    What does a swimming pool have to do with most people wanting an alternative energy that will be a solid investment? Sure humans are greedy and consume more than they should — always have and always will — but most of us love the idea of making our own energy and sticking it to the grid… it is highly unlikely most will be able to since living in a city/suburb involves many rules and regs — and wind and solar will always violate many of those restrictions — so onward and upward!! There have to be more possibilities than just those two — Now bring em on!

  • Thomas Finger

    Amen Ron — here in SE Wisconsin micro hydro may make sense for about 3% of the population and I like some of the stuff I have read about magnetic power generation — I hope there is real money being put into some of that tech…

  • jerry

    The point was that here in Arizona swimming pools are so commonplace that people are more than willing to spend money on something that costs money to keep full of water, chemicals, electricity to run pumps up to 12 hours a day 365 days a year, and time and energy or a service to clean them. Key word there was “cost” if added up over 10 or 20 years adds nothing to the value of a home. On the other hand installing solar saves the owner money. As far as city rules and regs will always be violated. How can a blanket statement like that be made? Always? Not here in Arizona. The State Legislature has made it illegal for anyone to be denied the ability to install solar. 20 year payback? once again not here in Az. A 5KW system installed for about $6.00 a watt is $30,000. The utility incentive is $3.00 a watt ($15,000) that leaves a balance of $15,000. Federal tax credit 30% after utility incentive has been deducted $4,500 and state tax credit $1,000. Grand total after credits and incentives $9,500.5KW produces about 9,125KWH with an average homeowner paying about $0.12 a kilowatt hour $1,095 gives it a payback of 8.67 years not 20. You were off by over 11 years by our standards. And don’t even get me started on the utilities here raising their rates by 5 to 10 percent a year which would bring the payback down to 5 or 7 years hence the car purchase analogy. Now excuse me while I go take a dip in my heated pool!

  • carmen

    I think solar panel system is great to produce huge alternative and recently people are focusing on it more, that is really great.

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