Calculating Solar Energy’s Land-Use Footprint

New Hampshire, USA — New statistics from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reveal exactly how much land is needed to site a solar plant of various sizes and technologies, based on actual plants and projects and not models or projections. The takeway: your mileage may vary.

NREL’s previous estimates and calculations of solar energy’s land-use requirements, published several years ago, suggested that it could meet the U.S.’ total electric demand (circa 2005 levels) with a footprint of about 0.6 percent of the nation’s total land area, or somewhere around 14-15 million acres.

Now, though, NREL has pooled data from more than two-thirds (72 percent) of solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar thermal (CSP) power plants already installed or being built across the country, as of 3Q12 data from SEIA: 2.1 GW (AC) of generation capacity and 4.6 GW (AC) under construction. Not surprisingly, they determined the required footprint varies widely depending what solar energy technology is applied, weighing between and how one calculates the “direct impact” (physical infrastructure development) vs. “total” area impacted including the surrounding land.

Written by James Montgomery. To read the full article, click here.

Sun Plus Nanotechnology: Can Solar Energy Get Bigger by Thinking Small?

Nearly 60 years after researchers first demonstrated a way to convert sunlight into energy, science is still grappling with a critical limitation of the solar photovoltaic cell.

It just isn’t that efficient at turning the tremendous power of the sun into electricity.

And even though commercial solar cells today have double to four times the 6 percent efficiency of the one first unveiled in 1954 by Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, that hasn’t been sufficient to push fossil fuel from its preeminent place in the world energy mix.

But now, alternative energy researchers think that something really small—nanotechnology, the engineering of structures a fraction of the width of a human hair—could give a gigantic boost to solar energy. (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Solar Power.”)

“Advances in nanotechnology will lead to higher efficiencies and lower costs, and these can and likely will be significant,” explains Matt Beard, a senior scientist for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “In fact, nanotechnology is already having dramatic effects on the science of solar cells.”

Written by Patrick J. Kiger. To read the full article, click here