Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Project

Advisor(s)

Jon Erickson, PhD.

Asim Zia, PhD.

Taylor Ricketts, PhD.

Abstract

An operational research project to investigate net economic, environmental and public policy benefits from converting land from agriculture to solar electricity generation was undertaken on a 15-acre farm in Proctor, Vermont. Two solar arrays (66 KW AC and 500 KW AC) were established.

The net after-tax financial return on cash equity of the 66 KW AC solar project was calculated to be 21% for the investor over a 25-year period (less than 1% average annual rate of return), while the financial return for the 500 KW AC solar project was 145% over a similar period (5.8% average annual rate of return). Economies of scale and researcher mistakes developing the small-scale array explain most of the difference in results. The net environmental impact of both solar projects is positive: avoided carbon emissions are more than 75% greater than the combined (i) loss of carbon sequestration/absorption from tree clearing required for those projects, and (ii) carbon emissions from solar panel manufacture, transportation and installation. Public policies promoting solar electricity are major factors in generating positive economic returns; they may in fact be more generous than necessary to stimulate solar investment given cost declines. However, some subsidization of solar electricity generation is justified until at least 2020, when the costs of producing solar electricity are expected to reach near parity with those of fossil-fuel generated electricity. Public subsidization is further justified given the large social global benefits of avoiding carbon emissions and mitigating climate change.