The Best Place for Solar Power is … New Jersey?

New study says it’s not about the best light, but where solar and wind can do the most good.

Photo: Neil Crump/Flickr

The Arizona desert may enjoy nearly endless sun, but is it the really best place for solar panels? Maybe not. A new study suggests that cloudier New Jersey is actually the state that will get the most value from switching to photovoltaics, not because of the amount of sunlight in the Garden State but because adding solar power capacity there would result in the greatest reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and dangerous pollutants.

The same might hold true for wind turbines: the most value could come not from the places with most wind but the areas that have the dirtiest air. “A wind turbine in West Virginia displaces twice as much carbon dioxide and seven times as much health damage as the same turbine in California,” explains Siler Evans, a Ph.D. researcher in Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy and the lead author of the new study, published earlier this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The difference in West Virginia’s case comes from reliance on coal as its current source of energy. Transitioning from coal to wind in West Virginia would generate electricity while also improving residents’ health and help to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to health and climate concerns, the paper also addresses the economic factor. The researchers argue that the federal Production Tax Credit, which subsidizes wind energy, would have a greater social impact if it varied by location, instead of being implemented in the same manner across the country. “It is time to think about a subsidy program that encourages operators to build plants in places where they will yield the most health and climate benefits,” co-author Ines Lima Azevedo, executive director of the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making, said in a press release about the new study.

Outside of federal subsidies, state subsidies have resulted in the rapid growth of solar and wind power in the Southwest and Midwest. The authors argue that these might not be the best places. Using their criteria of providing the most social value, they say the best sites for future wind and solar would be Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania, all of which rely heavily on coal.

The Carnegie Mellon study is accompanied by a related commentary by authors from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and other organizations who say the “co-benefits” of using solar and wind to reduce CO2 and sulfur dioxide emissions present “a compelling narrative” for policy makers. The authors argue that there are “synergies between renewable energy policy and health and climate protection” that governments could put to good use both in the U.S. and the European Union.


Solar Power Cuts Dairy Costs

A LUCINDALE dairy is saving up to 72 per cent on its water heating bill using an Australian Sun Energy solar hot water system.

More than six months ago, Doug and Lyn Crosby and their sons Bill and Bob installed a single-wall evacuated tube high-temperature dairy solar hot water system and, based on its performance, believe it will pay for itself in 2.5 years.

The custom-designed system is used to wash down their two robotic dairy machines and rinse-out milk lines.

The collector system that is mounted to the roof of the dairy comprises 32 single-walled vacuum glass tubes, each 2.2 metres long.

Inside the clear 100-millimetre diameter evacuated tubes are absorber fins coated with aluminium nitride selective coating to ensure high absorption of the sun’s rays.

Each of the 32 tubes are plugged into a heat exchanger which feeds into a 320-litre ground-based tank, pre-heating water up to 85C degrees for a 400L electrically boosted main storage tank.

The water is heated by the solar radiation collected by the tubes and can reach temperatures of up to 85C degrees depending on the time of the year.

An electric power booster in the main storage tank is used to reach the required temperatures to be used in the dairy, between 80C and 100C degrees.

With the latest investment, the Crosbys have continued their strong track record of innovation.

Four years ago, they were the first dairy in South Australia to install robotic milking machines to minimise labour needs. They are milking about 150 cows with the two Lely robots and continue to work part-time off-farm.

Doug says he was not immediately convinced about investing in the solar thermal hot water system.

“I couldn’t see how it was going to work but now we can see it does,” he said.

He is now a strong advocate of the Australian Sun Energy hot water system, and works out that by reducing power usage by about 30 kilowatts a day, you can make savings of about $10 a day.

Bill says it is a case of spending a little money to save some in the long term.

“If we can cut costs with our energy bill we can be more profitable,” he said.

“If we can take out or reduce a $60,000 expense it may allow us to pay ourselves a wage whereas, at the moment, we are not taking much out of the farm.”

Mount Gambier-based Australian Sun Energy, a locally owned company that operates across Australia, is a national distributor for Greenland solar hot water systems.

Sales manager Peter Taylor and business manager-director Roslyn Pasfield set up the company more than four years ago.

Their company now supplies energy reduction systems and equipment to domestic and commercial customers across the country. Their product range includes solar tracking skylights, pipe insulation, digital self-heating home systems and modular stainless steel water tanks.

Peter says the solar thermal hot water system will work on cloudy and sunny days. It even works when it rains and when there are frosts. These systems are also used in Europe, where it snows.

“There is always solar energy hitting the ground during the day,” he said.

“We are storing the energy from the sunlight in the water so it can even be used at night.”


Forget solar panels, here come building-integrated photovoltaics

Solar panels are becoming passé. Why put solar panels on top of building construction materials when you could just tap the power of the sun directly through the construction materials themselves?

Ben West This roof doesn’t have solar panels — it has solar shingles.

Bloomberg reports on the rapid growth in building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV. These are solar powerharvesting cells that are incorporated into the walls, roofs, and windows of buildings — integrated seamlessly instead of being bolted onto a finished building as an apparent afterthought:

From stadiums in Brazil to a bank headquarters in Britain, architects led by Norman Foster are integrating solar cells into the skin of buildings, helping the market for the technology triple within two years. …


The market for solar laid onto buildings and into building materials is expected to grow to $7.5 billion by 2015 from about $2.1 billion, according to Accenture Plc, citing research from NanoMarkets. Sales of solar glass are expected to reach as much as $4.2 billion by 2015, with walls integrating solar cells at $830 million. About $1.5 billion is expected to be generated from solar tiles and shingles.

The technology provides a respite for solar manufacturers, opening the way for them to charge a premium for products. Traditional solar panel prices have fallen 90 percent since 2008 due to oversupply, cutting margins and pushing more than 30 companies including Q-Cells SE and a unit of Suntech Power Holdings Co. into bankruptcy.

The industry is already well established in the U.S., where Dow Chemical Co. (DOW), the country’s largest chemical maker by sales, is selling in more than a dozen states solar shingles that look like regular roofing material.

Expect green buildings of the future to look a lot more blue.


California Solar Farms Bring Home-Grown Solar Power

California Solar Farms Bring Home-Grown Solar Power (Exclusive Photos & Video) (via Clean Technica)

Sure, we’ve all heard about the skyrocketing growth of solar PV growth in California, including some super large California solar farms. We’ve reported on it here, and on Planetsave. But to see it happening is something else entirely. Riding from…

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Dominion Converts First of 3 Coal Plants to Biomass

Dominion Virginia Power’s Altavista power station is now running on renewable biomass as part of a previously announced plan to convert three of its coal-fired power plants in the state to burn mostly waste wood left from regional timbering operations as fuel, the energy provider said Monday.

The subsidiary of Richmond-based Dominion Resources Inc. said the other plants in Hopewell and Southampton County should be operating on biomass by the end of the year. When in operation, the three plants are expected to produce a total of 150 megawatts of renewable energy, enough electricity to power about 37,500 homes.

In 2011, the company announced plans to spend about $165 million to convert the plants in a move it said provided environmental and customer benefits. Under Virginia law, Dominion will be able to recover certain costs related to the conversions.

The fuel switch will result in a reduction of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and other emissions. Dominion also said the conversions will help meet the state’s voluntary renewable energy standards, which call for 15 percent of the company’s generation to be from renewable resources by 2025.

All three identical power stations went into operation in 1992 and were acquired by Dominion in 2001. They had been used primarily to produce steam for nearby manufacturing plants and intermittently to meet the peak demand for electricity, the company said. The conversion to biomass is expected to displace 194,000 tons of coal at each station annually, based on projections of how much the plants would operate on the new fuel.

When all three conversions are complete, the facilities are estimated to have a total economic impact of more than $350 million over the 30-year life of the stations. They’ll employ a total of about 90 workers and an additional 300 forestry and trucking jobs will be needed to supply the roughly 600,000 tons of biomass that each station will use annually, the company said.

Dominion is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy and has the nation’s largest natural gas storage system. It serves retail customers in 15 states.