More government financing for solar power?

Hasn’t the Solyndra scandal taught us anything? What is the appeal of solar power anyway?

09/23/2011


Dear Control Engineering: After reading the story that the DOE is giving more money to solar power companies, I have to ask what we’ve learned from the Solyndra debacle? What is the appeal of solar power anyway?

While it might be interesting to get into political discussions, I’ll leave that whole area for others. But we can look at what solar power represents. If you think about it, with the exception of geothermal and nuclear, all power generating technologies are ultimately solar. Plants grow as the result of the sun, and plants become the source of all fuels one way or another.

Photovoltaic panels, meaning devices that create electrical current when placed in sunlight, convert light to power with varying levels of efficiency. Most cost-competitive technologies fall into the 15% ballpark. That means under decent conditions, they can produce about 12 W per square foot. There are major chunks of the south-east U.S. where such a panel could do that easily for around six hours per day. This approach doesn’t require boilers, creates no emissions (at least in operation), demands very low maintenance, etc. Moreover it’s infinitely scalable. Small installations are just as efficient as big ones, so it makes sense to cover the roof of your plant with panels. Ultimately one of the most appealing benefits is that solar generation creates power during times of the day when demand is highest.

For now, the cost is still too high when compared to conventional methods (e.g., coal), but the cost per watt is coming down. Solyndra’s schtick was that it was making cylindrical panels instead of flat ones, so they could use light coming from more angles. That was supposed to increase efficiency. There are also various thermal technologies that create steam using sunlight.

Perhaps you think that 15% isn’t all that efficient. But, compare it to using an equivalent amount of surface to grow corn and turn it into ethanol. How much energy do you think you’ll get from that? When it’s all said and done, how many Watts will you get from that space? I guarantee that it won’t equal the 21 kWh you could get from a one-square-foot panel in a good location over a year.

Political questions and embarrassments aside, there will likely be more efforts to promote solar power using various technologies. The advantages are far too appealing and practical to ignore.

Peter Welander, pwelander(at)cfemedia.com



No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners.
Control Engineering Leaders Under 40 identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Learn more about methods used to ensure that the integration between the safety system and the process control...
Adding industrial toughness and reliability to Ethernet eGuide
Technological advances like multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) transmitting and receiving
Virtualization advice: 4 ways splitting servers can help manufacturing; Efficient motion controls; Fill the brain drain; Learn from the HART Plant of the Year
Two sides to process safety: Combining human and technical factors in your program; Preparing HMI graphics for migrations; Mechatronics and safety; Engineers' Choice Awards
Detecting security breaches: Forensic invenstigations depend on knowing your networks inside and out; Wireless workers; Opening robotic control; Product exclusive: Robust encoders
The Ask Control Engineering blog covers all aspects of automation, including motors, drives, sensors, motion control, machine control, and embedded systems.
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
News and comments from Control Engineering process industries editor, Peter Welander.
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
This is a blog from the trenches – written by engineers who are implementing and upgrading control systems every day across every industry.
Anthony Baker is a fictitious aggregation of experts from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration.
Integrator Guide

Integrator Guide

Search the online Automation Integrator Guide
 

Create New Listing

Visit the System Integrators page to view past winners of Control Engineering's System Integrator of the Year Award and learn how to enter the competition. You will also find more information on system integrators and Control System Integrators Association.

Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Control Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.