New Jersey is not exactly the sunshine state, but solar panels spring up with help of state government

Michael Giberson

Casually scanning a solar resource map wouldn’t naturally lead you to think that New Jersey would be a good candidate for solar power, but state government policies have resulted in it leaping into second place in PV installations (after California) in 2010.

NREL PV Solar Resources Map
NREL PV Solar Resources Map

More PV was installed in New Jersey last year than in Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, or Utah. Much more than Oregon, which has a lot better quality resource for PV solar, is about 12 times larger, and no slouch when it comes to flashing its environmental credentials.

The New York Times reports that not all residents of the state are happy with the solar panels popping up on utility poles and other places. Guess you can’t make everyone happy, right? Whether they like it or not, electric ratepayers throughout the state have been helping to fund the project.

Some highlights from the Times:

ORADELL, N.J. — Nancy and Eric Olsen could not pinpoint exactly when it happened or how. All they knew was one moment they had a pastoral view of a soccer field and the woods from their 1920s colonial-style house; the next all they could see were three solar panels.

“I hate them,” Mr. Olsen, 40, said of the row of panels attached to electrical poles across the street. “It’s just an eyesore.”

Like a massive Christo project but without the advance publicity, installations have been popping up across New Jersey for about a year now, courtesy of New Jersey’s largest utility, the Public Service Electric and Gas Company. Unlike other solar projects tucked away on roofs or in industrial areas, the utility is mounting 200,000 individual panels in neighborhoods throughout its service area, covering nearly three-quarters of the state.

The solar installations, the first and most extensive of their kind in the country, are part of a $515 million investment in solar projects by PSE&G under a state mandate that by 2021 power providers get 23 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. If they were laid out like quilt pieces, the 5-by-2.5-foot panels would blanket 170 acres.

New Jersey is second only to California in solar power capacity thanks to financial incentives and a public policy commitment to renewable energy industries seeded during Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s administration.

But his neighbor Tony Christofi, a 47-year-old contractor, wondered aloud whether Fair Lawn, by not fighting, was getting more than its fair share.

“I’m fine with green energy,” he said, “but are the savings going to be passed on to consumers?”

PSE&G officials said solar energy was still more expensive to produce than more traditional power sources and acknowledged that bills were going up 29 cents a month. Each panel produces 220 watts of power, enough to brighten about four 60-watt light bulbs for about six weeks. When complete, this project is expected to provide half of the 80 megawatts of electricity needed to power 6,500 homes.

The article notes a shift in priorities that came in with the state’s new governor: “Although he supports renewable energy, Gov. Chris Christie, through a spokesman, characterized the mandates that spawned the panel project as ‘extremely aggressive.’ He has already asked that they be re-evaluated.”

In February, a New Jersey newspaper reported, “The state will move away from subsidizing residential solar projects to emphasize commercial installations and encourage the construction of more gas power plants in a revised energy master plan….”

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4 thoughts on “New Jersey is not exactly the sunshine state, but solar panels spring up with help of state government

  1. “I’m fine with green energy,” he said, “but are the savings going to be passed on to consumers?”

    Proof that marketing works.

  2. Here is what drives me wild about reading articles like this. When are newspapers going to force reporters to develop some minimal scientific literacy. Here we have an example of the difference between power, the rate of production of energy, and energy, the ability to do some work.

    “Each panel produces 220 watts of power, enough to brighten about four 60-watt light bulbs for about six weeks. When complete, this project is expected to provide half of the 80 megawatts of electricity needed to power 6,500 homes.”

    220 watts of power is a rate of production. Such a panel could brighten 4 60 watt bulbs (total of 240 watts, but he said brighten, he did not say light up) but when he says for “six weeks” he is moving from Watts a unit of work (defined in SI, the modern metric system, as a mass in kilograms multiplied by a length in meters squared and divided by a time in seconds cubed) to Watt Hours. A kilowatt hour [kWh] is one thousand watts for 3600 seconds.

    Power multiplied by time is energy. The fundamental SI unit of Energy is the Joule one watt times one second. This is a tiny unit, and the electricity business keeps track of energy in kWh, each of which 3.6 million Joules or 3.6 MJ. Now 4 60 watt bulbs for 6 weeks (4*60*6*168) will use .24 kW for 1008 hours or 241.92 kWh.

    A 220 watt panel can produce .22 kWh, if it is clean and the sun is shinning brightly on it for an hour. To get 241.92 kWh at that rate, would take 1099.64 hours. Now there are approximately 4380 hours of daylight in a year. So, it will take about a quarter of a year or three months to generate the energy to light the bulbs for six weeks.

    Of course this assumes that electricity can be stored with 100% efficency and at no cost.

    I’ll stop here. The second statement is even worse.

    The project is useless and will cost New Jerseyans a fortune.

  3. Fat Man,

    “When are newspapers going to force reporters to develop some minimal scientific literacy.”

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen, even though it would reduce CO2 emissions. 🙂

    Quite obviously, they also lack any significant understanding of economics.

    When you read some of what they write, you wonder if they even have any communications skills; or, if they have any understanding of the difference between “reporting” and “journalism”.

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