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@cfemedia.com



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
Safety standards and electrical test instruments; Product of the Year winners; Easy and safe electrical design
Safer human-robot collaboration; 2017 Maintenance Survey; Digital Training; Converting your lighting system
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Future of oil and gas projects; Reservoir models; The importance of SCADA to oil and gas
Big Data and bigger solutions; Tablet technologies; SCADA developments
Automation modernization; Predictive analytics enable open connectivity; System integration success; Automation turns home brewer into brew house
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas for tomorrow's fleets; Colleges and universities moving to CHP; Power and steam and frozen foods

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
Compressed air plays a vital role in most manufacturing plants, and availability of compressed air is crucial to a wide variety of operations.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me