U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Tribal Energy Program

Cost-Effective Photovoltaic Applications

The most cost-effective photovoltaic (PV) applications are for small loads such as emergency call boxes, irrigation controls and sign lighting. Other cost-effective PV applications include water pumping or general residential use that avoids line extension or the use of remote diesel generators. In some cases, PV systems may be the best way to bring power to remote villages.

Line extensions often cost $20,000 or more per mile, so if parts of your tribal lands are far from the electrical grid, a PV system may be the most cost-effective way to bring power there. Keep in mind that line extensions involve a high initial cost with poor cost recovery (due to the small load that the line may serve), require a lot of time to install, and usually have to be subsidized. PV systems also involve high initial costs, but they can be installed quickly and they are often cheaper than cost of the line extension, and require no fuel to operate.

Also, if your tribe trucks in fuel to remote areas of the tribal lands, the delivered cost of that fuel may be very high (including the driver's time and the cost of the fuel for the truck), so a PV system that at least reduces the amount of fuel used at a remote site can be cost-effective, while also reducing noise and pollution from the engine/generator alternative.

Some states, such as California, offer financial incentives that may make PV power a cost-effective choice even for homes and businesses that are connected to the grid. For grid-connected tribal homes and businesses in California, the California Energy Commission has produced the "Clean Power Estimator," a tool that provides California residential and commercial electric customers a personalized estimate of the costs and benefits of investing in a PV or small wind power system.