CP Staff

Jul 122013

Originally posted on 1bog.org

One question a homeowner considering solar might ask is, “how much of an impact will putting panels on my roof really have when I’m just one person?” The average home installation generates about 6 kilowatts of energy, whereas the average power plant generates about 667,000 kilowatts. It’s pretty easy to think that the power plant dwarfs the average house, right? But think about this: as more systems are installed, their cumulative effect creates a number of benefits for both the individual homeowner and society as a whole.

To get a better understanding of the big picture, let’s take a few steps back.

where does solar energy go? Residential vs. Commercial vs. Industrial Solar.

First, some facts. In 2011, energy generated in the U.S. was distributed fairly evenly among residential, industrial, and commercial categories, at roughly one-third each with residential having a slight edge over both commercial and industrial. So, although power plants generate a whole lot more power, when put in the perspective of consumption, the playing field evens out quite a bit.

But then we have that slight edge that residential has over commercial and industrial categories, and here’s where it gets really interesting. Since residential is the largest consumer of electric power, its size allows solar to make more of an impact than if we focused solely on the other sectors which makes it a natural target for reductions. However, the size of the consumption is not the only reason to focus there.

If we take a look at the three categories in another way, this time looking more granularly at their demand in monthly increments, in the “Historical peakiness” graphic below you can see that residential power consumption is also the “peakiest” on both a daily and monthly scale. Peakiness basically means the points at which demand is highest. Residential power dominates this, which means that it rules the demand sector for power as well, especially in the winter and summer months when there is a direct need for heating and cooling in the home. Why does this matter? Because “peaky” power is the most expensive power.

Historical peakiness of solar Source: EIA

“Peaky” is expensive because grid operators and utilities dispatch power starting from the cheapest and moving to progressively more expensive power. The cheapest power comes from nuclear and hydro dams, then coal and wind, when available, are dispatched. Finally, natural gas turbines match the exact demand, spinning up and down as necessary. This ability to move up and down with the grid is what keeps the lights on and prevents brownouts or surges, but it is very expensive to do this. On the hottest summer days, when all of the cheapest power is already in use, demand dictates the most expensive power be purchased.

However, it does not need to be that way. As it turns out, solar generates power right at the same time it is needed the most — at the peak. For all intents and purposes, solar generation has the effect of shaving the peaks off. Take a moment to really digest that: solar works best when energy is most needed, so a solar home essentially bypasses the entire nuclear-hydro-coal-wind daisy chain. (Incidentally, this has utilities companies freaking out.)

We can actually see this in action in Australia, where solar is being added at a furious rate. For each year that solar is added, the peak summer demand has been shaved progressively downward. Since 2008, that demand has fallen by 15 percent. Furthermore, overall demand fell by 3 percent, whereas it was previously predicted to rise 10 percent! If the trend continues, it will translate into lower demand for new power plants and the transmission lines needed to distribute that power.

The implication of this trend is that residential solar is perfectly suited for reducing society’s most expensive power. That is all well and good for the altruists out there, but there is also a very pragmatic element as well: Whether you want to save the planet or not, as a utility ratepayer you are ultimately footing the bill for that expensive, peaky power in the form of higher costs in the summer and winter. Adopting solar means shaving down your demand, which in turn means that you will see some significant savings on your utility bills, and that always feels good whether it’s for the planet or your wallet – or both.

The post Why Residential Solar Energy is Mightier Than Its Industrial and Commercial Counterparts appeared first on Solar Power.

Dec 212012

The Wales National Coal Museum, known as the ‘Big Pit’ museum, has turned to
solar energy to power its buildings in Blaenafon, south Wales.

More than six percent of Big Pit’s energy will be generated by 200 solar panels installed on the museum’s roof in a bid to reduce bills and carbon footprints, museum representatives said.

The Big Pit was one of several collieries in the area in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries providing employment for hundreds. The shaft at the pit was 300 feet deep with it gaining its name due to the particularly large elliptical shaft. Big Pit closed in February 1980 at which time it employed 250 people. By 1983, after extensive development, it re-opened as a museum.

Since that time, the National Coal Mining Museum has seen well over 3 million visitors pass through its gates and it is now a World Heritage site. The museum invested $114,000 in the panels but is expected to save $652,000 over a 25-year period. In addition, the electricity generated will be used on site with any surplus being sold to the National Grid, which can produce additional income for the museum.

Despite complaints from some of the ex-miners who work as guides at the museum, the most common reaction to the new energy source has been positive.

“Coal is such an important part of Wales’ heritage and yet green energy will play a major part in its future,” Peter Walker, museum manager at Big Pit said. “A solar powered coal mining museum is a fantastic way to celebrate this national journey.”

The panels are an initiative of community interest company Warm Wales.

“In bringing together a major contributor to our Welsh heritage with new technology we’re demonstrating to all that even the most traditional of industries can gain substantial benefits through integrating the old and the new,” Warm Wales’ project director Craig Anderson said.

The Big Pit won the Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year in 2005 for ‘keeping the story of British coal alive,’ and is one of Wales most popular tourist attractions.

The post Coal Museum Installs Solar Panels appeared first on Solar Power.

Dec 062012

This week, the federal government approved to build a solar farm covering 445 square miles in the Western United States. The land is in parts of California (fifty percent of the land is in Southern California), Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. The project could produce as much as 23,700 megawatts of renewable energy on government land, enough energy to provide solar power to 7 million homes.

Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior, finalized the plan with United States Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). The new plan capitalizes on the abundance of sunshine and potential for solar power in this sunny region of the country. The land will be divided into 17 solar energy zones that will house future solar plants, all of which are located near major power lines that will allow the power to be easily distributed to homes. The government says it is open to the idea of adding more zones in the future, and will also consider development outside of the zones on a case-by-case basis through 19 million acres of land designated as variance zones. Because one of the program’s goals is to conserve natural resources, it has ruled out development on 79 million acres of land where development would harm the environment.

Besides creating 13,000 jobs in operations and construction at solar power plants and providing clean energy to millions of people, the project’s achievements represent a historic cooperation with the federal government and the energy industry. Previously, renewable energy developers have submitted plans to the federal government proposing sites to house green energy plants, a largely inefficient process that required reviews of each case’s possible environmental impacts and caused delays in renewable energy projects. Under the new regulations, private development in the region will occur within the designated 445 square miles of public land. The designated land has been chosen by the government because it poses few environmental risks, such as the threat of habitat destruction to endangered species, a factor that has plagued prior renewable energy development projects and has been criticized by environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy approves of the government’s new plan, saying that it will allow development to continue while preserving the desert landscape of the western United States.

“We are proud to be a part of this initiative to cut through red tape and accelerate the development of America’s clean, renewable energy,” said secretary of energy Steven Chu. “There is a global race to develop renewable energy technologies—and this effort will help us win this race by expanding solar energy production while reducing permitting costs.”

The post US Government Approves 23,000 MW Solar Project in Western US appeared first on Solar Power.

Nov 172012

Solar City and Balfour Beatty Communities announced plans to provide up to 13.2 megawatts of solar energy on 4,700 military homes at Balfour Beatty-managed residential communities at Fort Bliss, Texas, and the adjacent White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. The project is an equipment lease arrangement, primarily financed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which supports the U.S. Army’s program to reduce energy consumption at all installations to ‘Net Zero’.

The project is the first and largest phase of a 5-year plan to build more than $1 billion in solar energy systems for up to 120,000 military homes throughout the United States is the first and largest phase of a 5-year plan. The project is dubbed Solar Strong by Solar City, a leader in public and private solar energy projects around the country. Construction is expected to begin in January. Solar City will initially add more than 100 installation, electrical, and maintenance jobs locally.

Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations, Energy & Environment) said this project by the Army would lead the way for other public/private renewable energy projects around the nation. Major General Dana Pittard, Commanding General of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss noted that this is the largest solar housing project in the Army.

Balfour Beatty Communities, LLC manages these housing communities for the Army at Ft. Bliss and White Sands. It also manages housing at Ft. Carson in Colorado, which is also part to the renewable energy program. Balfour Beatty provides development, financing, renovation, operation and management services as part of comprehensive military housing privatization projects for the U.S. Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The company is committed to sustainable business practices and is a leader in the military housing Public-Private Partnership industry, currently providing services to members of the U.S. military and their families residing at 48 military communities in 24 states. Chris Williams, President of Balfour Beatty Communities said his company and this project is a significant step towards energy security.

The Defense Department is currently the largest energy consumer in the United States. It has a worldwide goal of reducing energy consumption to zero in a project called “Net Zero”. The DOD expects the Fort Bliss installation will produce as much energy as it uses while sending no waste to landfills and maximizing water reuse. The projects will also help the military meet Department of Defense goals to have 25 percent of its energy requirements met by renewable energy by 2025.

The Department of Defense strongly believes that renewable energy is an extremely important for national security. The Department’s position is that the United States military and defense installations must be self-sufficient when it comes to energy so that no disruption in energy can disrupt our national defense. Net Zero was developed as part of that strategy. The Solar City/Balfour Beatty project helps the DOD achieve that goal.

The post Solar City appeared first on Solar Power.