Solar Energy Facts You Should Know
Solar Energy Facts You Should Know
From Loretta Van Coppenolle, Conservation Chair at the San Antonio Sierra Club
Solar energy is not the exotic, experimental power source it may have been 30 years ago. It is now providing energy in a big way around the globe. Here are some facts about solar we should all know, including information on projects and developments now occurring.
1. The amount of solar energy that falls on the earth’s surface in 40 minutes equals the total annual energy consumption of all the world’s people. Put differently, 27 years’ worth of worldwide energy consumption equals only one day’s worth of solar energy hitting the earth.
2. All the energy in the earth’s reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas equal just 20 days of energy produced by the sun, but only 1% of that solar energy is used to generate power.
3. One year’s worth of solar energy on one acre of land in West Texas equals the energy of 800 barrels of oil. Texas has more solar energy potential than any other U.S. state.
4. Nine solar plants built in the 1980s in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, California, have a combined generating capacity of 354 megawatts (MW), making them the largest operating solar installation in the world. They produce enough electricity for the needs of about one-half million people. The complex is called Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS). SEGS is a hybrid system that uses natural gas as backup on cloudy days or at night, with natural gas providing 25% of the system’s total output.
5. The Nevada Solar One plant in Boulder City, Nevada, has a 64-MW generating capacity and uses molten salts to store extra heat which can then be drawn and used at night. Nevada Solar One cost $220-250 million. Its power costs slightly more than wind power but less than photovoltaic power.
6. A solar plant at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada was completed in 2007 and uses an advanced sun-tracking system to generate 14 MW of energy and supply about 25% of the base’s power. The plant is the largest solar photovoltaic system in North America.
7. The BrightSource Energy company is planning the construction of a 400 MW solar concentrating plant in the Mojave Desert to be called the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. The plant will be built in 3 stages, each able to generate power independently when completed. BrightSource plans to construct a total of 14 solar plants that will collectively produce over 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of energy – enough to power 1.8 million homes.
8. Pacific Gas and Electric will use a company called Solel to build the world’s largest solar facility in the Mojave Desert. Mojave Solar Park will generate 533 MW of energy when completed in 2011, enough to power 400,000 homes.
9. NextLight Renewable Power has proposed a 230 MW photovoltaic solar station in the Antelope Valley of California that will supply enough energy for 70,000 homes. If begun in 2010 as planned, the plant will be completed in 2013. In June 2009 Pacific Gas and Electric announced an agreement to buy power from the project for 25 years at no more than 13.3 cents a kWh.
10. A Phoenix, Arizona, company, Stirling Energy Systems, has signed two large power–purchase agreements using Stirling engines for up to 1,750 MW of energy to be built with its sister company, Tessera Solar. Both projects are slated to begin construction as early as 2010. CPS Energy has contracted with Tessera to build a small, 27-MW solar plant with a Stirling engine in West Texas.
11. Abengoa Solar is building one of the world’s largest solar plants in the desert southeast of Phoenix, Arizona. It will generate 289 MW of energy, enough to power 70,000 homes, by 2011. The plant will have thermal storage backup. In Spain two 50 MW solar plants with six-hour backup are planned or under construction. A third Spanish plant, the 15 MW Solar Tres facility, will have 15-hour thermal storage.
12. The federal Bureau of Land Management announced in July 2009 that it had identified initial solar project areas for utility-scale solar energy totaling 100,000 MW. These projects will be fast-tracked to make the energy available to consumers as soon as possible. These solar plants will have a natural-gas-backup so as to produce power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The total estimated generating cost will be about 7 or 8 cents per kWh.
13. California boasts almost 50,000 solar-panel installations today. A decade ago there were only 500 California rooftops with solar panels. These distributed solar installations combine with central solar to give California more than 500 MW of energy at peak times. California’s solar capacity grew by 1/3 from 2007 to 2008.
14. “Nationally, residential installations account for about a third of the energy supplied to the power grid by photovoltaic arrays on panels; the remainder come from installations on larger facilities, like government buildings, retail stores and military installations,” says a 7-15-09 New York Times article.
15. Ten states, according to the same article, “led by Colorado, and including Hawaii, Connecticut, Oregon, Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, more than doubled their rooftop solar capacity in 2008.”
16. New Jersey’s largest utility, PSE & G, has begun installing solar panels on 200,000 utility poles to produce 40 MW of energy to its customers. A New Jersey company, Petra Solar, Inc., will produce the panels and plans to add 100 employees, tripling its workforce, to do so. Each panel is designed to be installed and connected to the grid in under 30 minutes. New Jersey is second in U.S. solar capacity after California. Colorado is third. Texas is not in the top ten.
17. NRG, CPS Energy’s proposed partner for nuclear expansion, is part of a group that has committed to building a 92 MW solar plant in New Mexico, about 10 miles from El Paso, Texas. El Paso Electric has announced an agreement to buy power from the plant.
18. A Florida-based company, Solar Energy Initiatives, has procured land in West Texas to build one of the country’s largest solar parks to generate 300 MW of energy for Texas, with construction scheduled to begin by 2011. The park is expected to generate as much as $750 million in revenue within the next six years, according to a Texas Energy Report article by John Moritz.
19. According to technology writer Chris Turner, “Arizona-based First Solar … has developed a [solar] panel for a production cost of an astounding $1.14 per watt, less than half the cost of its nearest rival….And by the end of 2009, the company plans to manufacture its revolutionary panels at gigawatt scale.”
20. Corpus Christi, Texas, is among 3 cities being considered by GlobalWatt, Inc., a San Jose, California, firm, to be the hub of a major solar industry center with a green business park and solar panel manufacturing. The city was chosen as a finalist because of its high level of community support and strategic location.
21. “Thin-film solar systems,” according to writer James M. Higgins, “are cheaper to manufacture than flat-panel systems, require fewer scarce materials, are much easier to install, and require less physical vertical space per installation since they are flat. Thin-film solar materials can deliver virtually the same efficiencies as most flat-panel systems but at about 20% of the cost.” One company, Nanosolar, has achieved a 14% conversion efficiency rate in its now-marketed products.
22. Dye solar cell technology using titanium dioxide (an abundant, electricity-conducting material used in toothpaste and paint), accepts light from all directions and in all light conditions. Dyesol, one of a growing number of firms experimenting with this technology, is approaching market readiness with a recently signed contract with Corus, a mega-corporation once known as British Steel. The government of Wales has also invested in the project. The Dyesol product is set to be on the open market by 2011.
23. “Solar is a $13 billion industry today. It will hit $40 billion by 2012, unless it continues to exceed forecasts, as it has over the past five years,” according to writer Chris Turner. This is happening, though globally, the renewable-energy industry gets only about $11 billion in subsidies a year, compared to over $200 billion for fossil fuels.
- Compiled by Loretta Van Coppenolle,