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.

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Hydropower: the unsung hero of renewable energy

Hydropower accounts for more electricity production than solar, wind, and geothermal combined, but gets far less press because it is a mature technology with a much lower annual growth rate than most renewables. Still, hydropower will likely continue its leading role as the world’s most important producer of renewable electricity until well into the next decade.

This is the 2nd installment in a series that looks at the recently released 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. The previous post – Renewable Energy Status Update 2013 – focused mainly on wind and solar power. This post delves into hydropower and geothermal power. Some of the BP data is supplemented by REN21′s recently-released 2013 Renewables Global Status Report (GSR). (Disclosure: I have been a reviewer for the GSR for the past three years).

Hydropower

Hydropower accounts for more electricity production than solar PV, wind, and geothermal combined. In 2012, hydropower accounted for 16% of the world’s electricity production. However, hydropower gets far less press because it is a mature technology with a much lower annual growth rate than most renewables. While solar PV increased capacity by an average of 60% per year over the past 5 years, new hydropower capacity increased at a much more modest annual rate of 3.3%.

Written by Robert Rapier. To read the full article, click here.

Solar Power In The U.S. Becoming A More Popular, Cost-Saving Option For Homeowners

Ben Kunz wanted to do “the green thing” and save on his electric bill without paying a lot of money up front. So instead of buying a solar system for his house in Cheshire, Connecticut, he leased one.

“I thought it was a pretty good deal,” he said. “I lean a little environmentalist so I’m concerned about global warming.”

Increasing numbers of U.S. homeowners are relying on the sun to meet much of their hot water and electricity needs. In fact, residential electricity produced by solar in the first quarter of 2013 was almost 10 times higher than that generated in 2008, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

But the potential for more is huge.

Consider this: “The amount of solar energy falling on the United States in one hour of noontime summer sun is about equal to the annual U.S. electricity demand,” the Energy Department says in its SunShot Vision Study.

Written by Carole Feldman. To read the full article, click here.

A Material That Could Make Solar Power “Dirt Cheap”

A new type of solar cell, made from a material that is dramatically cheaper to obtain and use than silicon, could generate as much power as today’s commodity solar cells.

Although the potential of the material is just starting to be understood, it has caught the attention of the world’s leading solar researchers, and several companies are already working to commercialize it.

Researchers developing the technology say that it could lead to solar panels that cost just 10 to 20 cents per watt. Solar panels now typically cost about 75 cents a watt, and the U.S. Department of Energy says 50 cents per watt will allow solar power to compete with fossil fuel.

In the past, solar researchers have been divided into two camps in their pursuit of cheaper solar power. Some have sought solar cells that can be made very cheaply but that have the downside of being relatively inefficient. Lately, more researchers have focused on developing very high efficiency cells, even if they require more expensive manufacturing techniques.

Written by Kevin Bullis. To read the full article, click here.

How Solar Tech is Breeding Independence from The Grid

For thousands of years, the sun has been revered by many cultures for its enormous power and size. Now, people are admiring the giant star for a very tangible reason: its ability to help lower electric bills. Installing solar panels will save the average person around $1000 a year on their energy bills, notes SolarEnergy.net – not too shabby!

In an effort to reduce the amount of money they spend on energy, more people are becoming interested in “going off the grid” and leaving traditional electric and gas companies – and their corresponding high bills – and getting energy from other sources. The use of solar power in residential homes was nearly 10 times higher during the first quarter of 2013 than it was five years ago, the Solar Energy Industries Association reports.

One way to take going off the grid from fantasy to reality is through solar power. By hooking up one’s home, RV or other dwelling to solar power, it is now easier than ever to go off the grid but still enjoy creature comforts such as air conditioning, television and computers.

Speaking of television, there are options for folks who are interested in alternative viewing options for their favorite programs while living off the grid. These include DirecTV packages that can work with personal computers and even mobile devices.

Written by CleanTechies. To read the full article, click here.

Window Socket: Portable Solar-Powered Outlet Sticks to Windows, Charges Small Electronics

The Window Socket is an idea so fabulously simple, it’s slightly amazing that we haven’t seen one before. Designed by Kyuho Song & Boa Oh, the charger sticks to a window and draws solar power to an internal battery, which enables one to either plug in small devices to the outlet right there and then, or save the stored power for use during night time hours.

According to Yanko Design, Kyuho Song & Boa Oh “tried to design a portable socket, so that users can use it intuitively without special training.” It sticks to a window with a suction plate that encircles the solar panel, and a basic outlet feeds the converted solar power to a device—and that’s pretty much it. As the designers point out, this is a charger/converter that can be used anywhere there’s daylight, particularly where there is restricted use of electricity, such as outdoors or on a plane.

At present, the Window Socket is still a concept, but in the near future the designers hope to increase its efficiency, energy storage and charge time. The battery on the Window Socket is very small; at 1000mAh the stored power might be about enough to charge a mobile phone—particularly if it were a USB outlet rather than a standard one, but it won’t be enough to power household appliances. And while it can provide 10 continuous hours of power on a full charge, it presently takes about 5-8 hours to fully charge. But even that can’t completely take a way from it’s awesome, simple design.

Written by Charley Cameron. To read the full article, click here.

Eddie Bauer’s Power Katabatic Solar Tent Will Keep Your Gadgets Charged in the Wilderness

If there’s one place technophiles fear, it’s the great outdoors. But with this new solar charging tent by Eddie Bauer, gadget geeks will be able to charge their devices even in the depths of a forest. Called the Power Katabatic, this 92-inch tall tent was designed for “roughing it” though all four seasons within an ample 36-square-feet space. However, beyond its generous quarters, the real star of the Power Katabatic is the small triangular solar panel, called Goal Zero solar charger, which sits atop the tent, drawing in energy for powering devices.

Details on the solar power system are still sparse as Eddie Bauer just released photos of the tent-mounted solar panel. What we do know is that sun-derived electricity is stored in a battery pack that you can plug in to recharge all your iPhones, cameras, and GPS devices.

This whole setup does however cost a pretty penny—between the $600 tent (without the solar panel unit) and a Goal Zero Sherpa 50 power pack for $200, you’re already looking at spending nearly $800 before you even account for the still unannounced price of the solar charger.

Written by Kevin Lee. To read the full article, click here.