The Confusion Surrounding Solar Potential

There still seems to be plenty of confusion and doubt concerning the ability of the sun to provide sufficient energy in certain parts of the continental United States.

The technical term for the amount of available solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is called solar irradiation. While the amount of solar irradiation is less in more northern parts of the country, there’s still plenty available to make solar viable.

Unfortunately, some of this confusion comes directly from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In the following two images, the NREL’s makes it appear like the potential solar irradiance drops off significantly for parts of the country that are not in the South West. The reality of the matter, which can be seen from an image on the right provided by William Driscoll from PV Magazine USA, shows that a good percentage of the solar potential is still available across the U.S. In fact, other parts of the country have at least 70 percent of what the South West has.

William Driscoll

To put this massive solar potential another way, only a 160 square kilometer piece of land would be required to provide enough power for the whole country. That’s a very tiny percentage of the total land available. Of course, one of the great things about solar is that it is easily distributable. Obviously, solar power plants can be built virtually anywhere. The point here is to highlight the fact that space is not an issue as we transition to a solar plus battery storage energy infrastructure.

From a practical perspective, homeowners in the more northern states would require an extra solar panel or two to match the amount of energy captured in the southern states. Is this significantly more expensive? Not at all, this would add approximately $300 to $600 to the total cost.

The, on average, cooler northern states actually have an advantage over some of the hotter parts of the country. The reason is that many electronics, including solar panels, are slightly less efficient in hotter temperatures. Solar panel systems require light, not heat.

In summary, the United States has an incredible potential for the expansion of its use of solar energy. We are still early days for our transition to renewable energy. Those homeowners, businesses, and utilities that decide to invest in solar power now will find that they can build solar systems to provide all of the power they need. Starting now will have them saving money sooner than later too!

Jay Inslee Calls For 1,100 GW Of Solar Energy By 2035

Democratic Governor of Washington State and Presidential Candidate, Jay Inslee, has proposed that 1,100 gigawatts of solar energy capacity be installed by 2035.

Of the many democratic candidates, Inslee is, by far, the most vocal proponent of a quick transition to a clean energy society for the United States. It’s his primary platform. He is calling for 100 percent “clean, renewable, and zero-emission” energy by 2035. This is his energy version of Kennedy’s “moonshot” program. “A massive, full scale mobilization of the federal government that will spur major innovation and deployment of clean energy.” This will also include “good paying jobs for workers, and support for vulnerable communities.”

Jay Inslee

In order for Inslee’s goal to be met by 2035, solar would need to be installed at a compound annual growth rate of 19 percent. This growth rate is actually less than what an independent Japanese/German/U.S research consortium (GA-SERI) has determined. Of course, additional solar capacity would be needed after 2035 to meet the needs of an increasing amount of electric vehicles and new infrastructure that will need to be zero-emission.

In addition to more clean energy deployment, the governor also realizes that there are other pieces of the puzzle that must be supported. Energy storage, smart grids, and transmission are topics that must be dealt with as well. He mentioned that “through expedited planning, broad cost allocation, and negotiated siting”, the long distance interstate transmission of clean energy can be accomplished. The Governor also mentioned an idea that has already passed in California, that all new homes should automatically include solar.

It’s quite refreshing to hear a Presidential candidate put such a strong focus on renewable energy as a part of his campaign. This is the kind of leadership that is needed, and will continue to be needed many years into the future.

It’s worth noting that, from a political standpoint, promoting clean energy is no longer a radical idea. This is mainly due to the fact that it is now the cheapest option available. Voters like hearing that they will be saving money.

The one idea that may have been overemphasized was the need for investments in transmission and distribution. One of the great things about solar power is that it is easily distributed. In other words, the energy can be used where it is produced. A good deal of solar can be installed in the cities that require it. The remainder of the required solar can, in many cases, be installed nearby the cities that need it. This can limit the required transmission lines. This energy does not need to be transmitted across multiple states, like conventional energy.

Hopefully, more politicians will feel comfortable showing support for solar power and other sources of clean, renewable energy. After all, it’s a safe bet now.

San Bernardino County Says No To Utility-Scale Solar

The largest county in the United States has just banned utility-scale solar. More specifically, San Bernardino County has said no to large scale solar developments that plan to sell a majority of its electric production elsewhere.

More than a million acres constitutes the amount of land that will be off-limits to solar contractors that do not comply with the new law.

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors has instead created guidelines for large solar installations. Called CORE (community-oriented renewable energy), this plan focuses on energy generation that is primarily used by local residents. The line is drawn right at the 50 percent mark. At least half of solar power generation must be utilized on site and not sold to the grid.

At the heart of this decision is the debate of whether rural residents quality of life is being diminished by having to deal with living nearby large solar panel installation sites. Conservationists and Native American tribes are among those that have successfully blocked large scale solar projects in the past.

In all fairness, who would be OK with living next to any type of power plant, even one that does not spew toxic fumes?

On the other hand, it is certainly easier to argue for more rooftop solar. The fact remains that a very high percentage of roofs and parking lots in this country still do not have solar installed on them. This would be a good starting point.

However, if we are truly to become a society that eventually relies on solar energy for the majority of the power that we need, we cannot ignore utility-scale solar. Common sense compromises can enable many large scale solar installations to still take place.