In the heat of an Oklahoma summer, it often seems like the sun never stops shining.
That is likely the reason Oklahoma is among the states with the highest potential for harnessing solar energy.
The same is true for wind, which is why western Oklahoma is awash with towering turbines, but it’s hard to find signs the state is taking advantage of the sun’s rays.
Engineer Albert Janco is a long-time proponent of renewable energy. He said alternative energy sources such as solar and wind can help the United States end its dependence on foreign oil, a goal that should be part of a sorely needed comprehensive energy policy.
“It’s a matter of survival,” he said.
Analysis by the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative showed the state is in a good position to use solar radiation – which is free and available everywhere – but the technology to turn it into electricity is expensive and hard to incorporate into the current utility power grid.
University of Oklahoma professor Scott Greene, the initiative’s director, said there are several companies working on small-scale solar projects for homes or businesses.
Some companies have expressed interest in potentially developing large, utility-scale farms in southern Oklahoma.
“Right now, the cost of solar is significantly greater than wind, but the costs are dropping rapidly,” Greene said. “My opinion is that large-scale solar in Oklahoma is about 10 or so years away.”
Solar power systems produce no pollution and typically are very reliable, according to the initiative’s analysis, but it takes up a lot of space.
“Storage devices such as large fuel cells or batteries are not very efficient or cheap,” the report states. “Continued technological progress will lead to an almost inevitable conclusion that solar energy conversion systems will become a major contributor for the world’s future energy needs.”
Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Natalie Shirley is confident solar energy is part of the state’s future.
“We are paving the way for a bright future in alternative energy development and manufacturing in Oklahoma,” Shirley said in September when a state group went to Germany for a solar energy conference. “Our renewable energy sources, including solar, are making the state’s energy portfolio stronger and more diverse.
“Oklahoma has transformed itself to a top-tier renewable energy producer and provider.”
Bob Willis of Edmond’s Sunrise Alternative Energy said solar power is a viable option for those looking to cut down on the amount of electricity they have to buy.
His company installs solar panels in conjunction with other alternative energy measures to minimize electricity use.
“There’s some good products out there,” Willis said.
He said people are starting to get interested in ways to use less electricity, but solar power likely won’t become a big commodity in Oklahoma as long as utility costs remain low.
In most cases, it will take as many as 20 years to offset the cost of installing solar panels to generate power, Willis said.
Willis said use of solar power in Oklahoma will increase if utility rates rise or legislators enact some kind of incentive program.
He said more people should consider installing solar panels.
“It just sits there and makes power,” he said.