Solar Power/Energy Counterpoint

Solar Power/Energy refers to the utilization of the radiant energy from the Sun. It refers more specifically to the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either by photovoltaics or concentrating solar thermal devices. The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the Earth is so vast that in one year it is about twice as much as will ever be obtained from all of the Earth’s non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural gas, and mined uranium combined.

As of 2007, the total installed capacity of solar hot water systems is approximately 154 GW. China is the world leader in their deployment with 70 GW installed as of 2006. Chinese government officials signed an agreement on Tuesday (9/8/09) with First Solar, an American solar developer, for a 2,000-megawatt photovoltaic farm to be built in the Mongolian desert. Israel is the per capita leader in the use of solar hot water systems with 90% of homes using them.

Photovoltaics (PV) has mainly been used to power small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to off-grid homes powered by a photovoltaic array. Germany, Japan, US, and Spain have become the leaders in the PV market. It is expected that by 2009 over 90% of commercial photovoltaics, installed in the United States, will be installed using a power purchase agreement. Grid parity (cost), the point at which photovoltaic electricity is equal to or cheaper than grid power, is achieved first in areas with abundant sun and high costs for electricity such as in California, Hawaii, and Japan. It is not common knowledge, but George W. Bush has set 2015 as the date for grid parity in the USA. Here are some examples of large-scale photovoltaic power plants and here are some more.

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated light is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant.

Storage is an important issue in the development of solar energy because modern energy systems usually assume continuous availability of energy. Solar energy is not available at night, and the performance of solar power systems is affected by unpredictable weather patterns; therefore, storage media or back-up power systems must be used.

Solar installations in recent years have also largely begun to expand into residential areas, with governments offering incentive programs to make “green” energy a more economically viable option. The program allows residential homeowner installations to sell the energy they produce back to the electrical power grid. It has now been stated by the chairman of the 2008 European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference that photovoltaics can cover all the world energy demand.

The Solar Electric Power Association made a statement concerning the historical announcement that “The Pacific Gas and Electric Utility (PG&E) will develop two photovoltaic (PV) power plants equivalent to almost double the amount of current U.S. grid-connected PV capacity”.

Florida Power and Light (FP&L) unveils the plans to build Florida’s first large-scale solar thermal power plant (CPS), one of the largest such plants in the world. It also announced new solar energy projects that include the world’s largest photovoltaic solar plant and first “hybrid” energy center, coupling solar thermal technology with an existing combined-cycle generation unit.

As can be seen from the brief “Solar Power/Energy Counterpoint” facts article, solar energy is becoming one of the most viable alternatives for electric power generation. We don’t hear much about it, but it has the possibilities of playing an important part in the new energy resources available without much say-so from known government programs (except for insentives).

Of interest are the candidate’s views on technological issues: Energy, Climate change, Space program, skilled worker shortage, and technology.

Some more interesting articles:

  1. A Solar Grand Plan.
  2. Are solar photovoltaics just to costly?
  3. Solar Cell Production Jumps 50 Percent in 2007.
  4. Solar Power: The Pros and Cons of Solar Power.
  5. Machine Design Editorial: The Economics of Renewable Energy