University of Vermont

Why Use Solar?  
Why Use Solar?
Is it cost-effective?

     Despite Vermont's cloudy climate, photovoltaic technology (panels that convert solar energy directly into electricity), can provide reliable power for homes and businesses.

         Photovoltaics offer:

  • Long term reliability even during power outages.
  • Predictable costs, once the panels are installed the power is free.
  • Silent power generator, no buzzing or humming.
  • Renewable energy that creates no air pollutants or toxic emissions.
     According to the EPA, a 5 kw photovoltaic system in the state of Vermont can avoid 18,583 pounds of CO2, or about 9 tons of CO2 (a known greenhouse gas) per year.  This is equivalent to, 

The emissions from driving approximately 23,229 miles in an average* passenger car, this would be equivalent to driving across the United States almost 8 times.


The carbon dioxide absorbed by approximately 3 acres of trees in one year.  Young trees in particular absorb lots of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow.

     Estimates of emissions avoided in Vermont may vary from location to location due to the energy mix in the area.  Switching to solar electricity from an electric mix that consists largely of nuclear and natural gas generated power will not reduce emissions as dramatically.

     Every day the average amount of sunlight that contacts the Earth’s surface is equal to 200 watts of power per square meter.  If all this energy could be captured the average home would have more than enough roof space to produce electricity for all of its power needs. In fact, each day, more energy reaches the Earth from the sun than would be consumed by the global population in 27 years, (source: CREST).

*Calculation is based on a well maintained car that gets 24 miles to the gallon.  One gallon of gas emits approximately 20 pounds of CO2.

Is solar energy cost-effective?
     Solar power is essentially free after the initial investment of buying a photovoltaic (PV) system.  Because PV systems have no moving parts maintenance costs are minimal.  The total dollars saved each day by using solar power at UVM can be seen on the Current Power page.  Total dollars saved is calculated based on the current price of electricity which is $0.10 per kWh. 

     Unfortunately, PV systems are not mass produced, due to a lack of federal investment in solar energy especially in comparison to fossil fuel investments.  This makes them quite expensive to purchase and there is not a lot of consumer demand for them.  In some areas solar power is a cost effective energy solution. In many places the initial cost of buying a PV system is higher than the dollars saved over time, making conventional sources of power less expensive. 

     Places where using photovoltaics is currently cost-effective are: 

  • remote, off the grid sites 
  • energy efficient buildings with PV systems as part of the building design 
     UVM is on the city of Burlington's electric grid therefore, we are not in an area where solar power is more cost effective than conventional electric power.  UVM's solar panels serve as a demonstration for the University and Burlington communities to learn more about solar energy. 

     As solar energy is continually developed and improved it will become less expensive and a more common source of electricity. 

The UVM Solar Panel project was funded in part by Burlington Electric Department, the Department of  Energy's Million Solar Roofs program and the UVM Physical Plant Department.

Last modified July 26 2002 09:09 AM

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