Solar Power is generally defined as the conversion of energy from sunlight into usable electrical power.  It includes direct technologies such as photovoltaics (PV) and indirect technologies such as concentrated solar power (CSP).

PV systems are typically utilized on residential or small commercial applications. They can be efficiently scaled down to an individual’s needs or can be scaled up to meet the needs of very large utilities, such as Germany’s Neuhardenberg Solar Park, mentioned here in a recent blog.

CSP systems, on the other hand, require a great deal of land to be efficient. As a result, you’re not likely going to see a CSP system installed in your neighborhood anytime soon.

Solar Power Technologies For the Future

As the needs of a growing economy evolve and concerns around green house gases continue to increase, its important for consumers to be informed about all the various alternative forms of sustainable energy.

Solar PanelsPV electrical systems are appropriate for the owner seeking to make a lifestyle change. A decision to outfit your home with solar panels (a photovoltaic system) reduces your dependence on the electrical grid that is most probably powered by fossil fuels.

A home powered by solar panel technology is home that is committed to reducing pollution and green house gases. For more information on how a solar panel system works, read our previous blog.

Concentrated Solar Power in a Nutshell

Concentrated Solar Panels (CSP) also utilize energy from the sun, but in a vastly different way. CSP systems use reflective panels to direct the sunlight to a liquid medium. The energy is transferred to the liquid, which becomes extremely hot. The hot liquid is channeled to a chamber where water is boiled and the resulting steam drives a turbine.

Solar PowerThere are a few competing implementations of CSP technologies. The first successful large-scale implementation of CSP utilized parabolic panels (pictured at right) to focus and concentrate sunlight to a centrally-located tube filled with synthetic oil.

The focused light is up to 80 times more intense than ordinary sunlight. Synthetic oil is used because it can transfer heat up to 750°F while keeping pressure manageable.

The parabolic CSP systems designed during the 1980’s and 1990’s and used to a great deal in California’s Mohave Desert do not have the ability to support electrical demands for its consumers independent of any other source of energy. Natural gas is consumed to support 10% of consumers needs.

Concentrated Solar Power Evolved

Solar PowerPictured at the top of this blog and to the right, is the new Gemasolar Plant in Spain. It was designed to collect energy from heliostat reflectors in a centrally-located tower filled with molten salts.

The molten salts are pumped to underground, highly insulated tanks where they drive steam-driven turbines. The stored heat can run at full capacity for up to 15 hours without sunlight.

 

As Texas grows, so does its consumption of power and electricity. Federal and state environmental regulations have required the winding down or closure of a previous generation of power sources. Solar electricity can meet the needs of a growing Texas economy.

No state is better situated to capture the power of the sun. If all usable land is included, Texas has more than twice the solar potential of any other state.

Solar Electricity is Viable Now

The Neuhardenberg Solar Park, pictured above, is located in eastern Germany. It’s an example of how Germany has gone “all-in” with solar and other other renewable energy sources.

Solar ElectricityGermany, the largest photovoltaic (PV) installer in the world, derives about 3% of it electricity needs from PV systems. Market analysts expect that number could reach 25% by 2050.

Solar Electricity in Texas

We can always hope that market barriers and regulations in the State of Texas will be further modified to facilitate growth like they have been in Germany. During 2012, Texas installed 51 Megawatts (MW) of solar electric capacity, 12th nationally. Texas also ranked 13th in cumulative installed solar capacity.

According to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab, Texas currently ranks 7th in the total number of installations and 6th in total installed solar capacity. Quite a jump in just one year.

Solar Electricity across America

The third quarter of 2013, the most recent data available, was the second largest solar installation quarter on record in America. 930 MW was installed, a 35% increase over the third quarter of 2012. Within the residential segment, 186 MW came online.

Solar ElectricityFalling costs continue to be a driving factor in the growth of solar electricity.  The average cost of a completed PV system dropped 16% from the previous year to $3.00/W.

In Texas, the cost of all PV systems is $5.83/W, 9th in the country. In Ohio, the most expensive state in America, the average cost is $10.09/W. In California, the leading in terms of capacity and total number of installs, the average cost is still $7.08/W.

The average price of a solar panel has declined 60% since the beginning of 2011, largely because of the enormous growth in manufacturing capacity in Asia. These lower prices, a favorable regulatory environment and increased demand mean more record growth for years to come. By the end of 2013, 4,300 MW of PV were forecasted to come online, a 27% growth over 2012.