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 Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 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...
The true cost of lubrication: Three keys to consider when evaluating oils; Plant Engineering Lubrication Guide; 11 ways to protect bearing assets; Is lubrication part of your KPIs?
Contract maintenance: 5 ways to keep things humming while keeping an eye on costs; Pneumatic systems; Energy monitoring; The sixth 'S' is safety
Transport your data: Supply chain information critical to operational excellence; High-voltage faults; Portable cooling; Safety automation isn't automatic
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant 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.

Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Synchronizing industrial Ethernet networks; Selecting protocol conversion gateways; Integrating HMIs with PLCs and PACs
Why manufacturers need to see energy in a different light: Current approaches to energy management yield quick savings, but leave plant managers searching for ways of improving on those early gains.

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

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.