Because one obstacle to adopting wind and solar power is reliability—what happens on calm, cloudy days?—recent improvements in energy-storage technology, a.k.a. batteries, are helping accelerate adoption of renewables. Last May, for example, Tucson Electric Power signed a deal for solar energy with storage, which can mitigate (if not entirely resolve) concerns about how to provide power on gray days. The storage upped the energy cost by $15 per megawatt hour. By the end of the year, the Public Service Company of Colorado had been quoted a storage fee that increased the cost of a megawatt hour by only $3 to $7, a drop of more than 50 percent. In a landmark achievement, Tesla installed the world’s largest lithium-ion battery in South Australia last December, to store wind-generated power. But by then Hyundai Electric was at work in the South Korean metropolis of Ulsan on a battery that was 50 percent bigger.
Other cities won’t have it so easy. Take Atlanta. Residents buy energy from Georgia Power, which is owned by investors. As things stand, Atlantans have no control over how their power is generated, though that may change. In 2019, Georgia Power, by state law, has to update its energy plan. Ted Terry, director of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club, says the nonprofit is working with Atlanta officials to incorporate renewables, primarily solar, into the state’s plan. Developing such energy sources on a scale that can power a metro area with 5.8 million people, as in Atlanta, or 7.68 million in the San Francisco Bay Area, or 3.3 million in San Diego, will prove challenging. But it doesn’t seem impossible. In 2015, California set a goal of deriving 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Its three investor-owned utilities—Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric—are poised to achieve that goal just two years from now, or ten years early.
A good match between generation and consumption is key for high self consumption, and should be considered when deciding where to install solar power and how to dimension the installation. The match can be improved with batteries or controllable electricity consumption. However, batteries are expensive and profitability may require provision of other services from them besides self consumption increase. Hot water storage tanks with electric heating with heat pumps or resistance heaters can provide low-cost storage for self consumption of solar power. Shiftable loads, such as dishwashers, tumble dryers and washing machines, can provide controllable consumption with only a limited effect on the users, but their effect on self consumption of solar power may be limited.
In 2004, natural gas accounted for about 19 percent of the U.S. electricity mix. Use of natural gas is projected to increase dramatically in the next two decades if we continue on our current path, but supplies are limited and imports are increasing. Our growing reliance on natural gas combined with limited supplies makes this fuel subject to price spikes, which can have a significant impact on consumer energy costs. In addition, though natural gas is much cleaner than coal or oil, it does produce global warming emissions when burned. So, while the use of natural gas serves as a good transition to a cleaner future, it is not the ultimate solution.
Even with plans to grow as much as 80 percent over the next five years, the city expects to have plenty of energy from these renewable sources. (To be sure, about 2 percent of the time, the Georgetown utility draws electricity derived from fossil fuels. Ross says the city more than compensates at other times by selling excess renewable energy back to the grid—at a profit.)
One- to 10-kW turbines can be used in applications such as pumping water. Wind energy has been used for centuries to pump water and grind grain. Although mechanical windmills still provide a sensible, low-cost option for pumping water in low-wind areas, farmers and ranchers are finding that wind-electric pumping is more versatile and they can pump twice the volume for the same initial investment. In addition, mechanical windmills must be placed directly above the well, which may not take advantage of available wind resources. Wind-electric pumping systems can be placed where the wind resource is the best and connected to the pump motor with an electric cable. However, in areas with a low wind resource, mechanical windmills can provide more efficient water pumping.
Going forward, there is hope for the small wind future! Certification programs are under way in various places to provide real turbine performance data. In North America this is being spearheaded by the Small Wind Certification Council, which requires third-party certification of turbine performance in a standardized fashion. Manufacturers will no longer be able to fudge power curves, or specify ‘rated power’ at hurricane-force wind speeds. This will allow you, the consumer, to compare turbines on a much more even footing.
The journal, Renewable Energy, seeks to promote and disseminate knowledge on the various topics and technologies of renewable energy systems and components. The journal aims to serve researchers, engineers, economists, manufacturers, NGOs, associations and societies to help them keep abreast of new developments in their specialist fields and to apply alternative energy solutions to current practices.
I wouldn’t consider myself a creative type. Never painted a picture, never felt confident in color or fabric choices. But I did get a real creativity boost living off-grid in northern New Mexico, raising children on one income in a home with caught water, gardening at 7600 feet in a climate that gets REALLY cold. We built a house called an earthship from recycled materials and earth.
A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell (PV), is a device that converts light into electric current using the photovoltaic effect. The first solar cell was constructed by Charles Fritts in the 1880s. The German industrialist Ernst Werner von Siemens was among those who recognized the importance of this discovery. In 1931, the German engineer Bruno Lange developed a photo cell using silver selenide in place of copper oxide, although the prototype selenium cells converted less than 1% of incident light into electricity. Following the work of Russell Ohl in the 1940s, researchers Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller and Daryl Chapin created the silicon solar cell in 1954. These early solar cells cost 286 USD/watt and reached efficiencies of 4.5–6%.