Thursday, May 09, 2013
On page one of its April 26, 1954 edition, The New York Times proclaimed that the first silicon solar cell, recently built by Bell Laboratories, was “the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams – the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.”
Now nearly 60 years later, as high voltage power lines are poised to go through some of the most beautiful natural areas of Northwest Arkansas, some wonder if the potential of solar isn’t long overdue.
According to spokesman, Peter Main, SWEPCO currently uses wind, but no solar generated electricity. Main said, “When we seek bids for renewable energy, we include wind, solar and other renewable resources. The most cost-effective resources for our customers have been wind farms in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. SWEPCO currently purchases 469 megawatts of wind energy under multiple long-term power purchase agreements.”
The Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc., which provides electricity to Carroll Electric, also uses some wind power but does not use solar although their website says, “In early 2009, the department purchased solar panels as part of a pilot program to test small-scale solar power systems to determine if AECI might add them to their product offerings.”
According to Main, “Energy from solar farms would be transmitted over high voltage transmission lines,” thus not reducing their need.
Antelope Valley Solar Projects in California, one of the largest planned solar projects in the U.S, and projected to go online in 2015, will provide 579 megawatts of energy, enough to power approximately 400,000 homes and offset the emissions equivalent of three million cars over 20 years. The Sierra Club endorses the project partially because panels are located near existing transmission lines, including a major substation, thus making it unnecessary to build new high-voltage power lines through undisturbed land.
However, when solar panels are installed by a business or institution, the power is being generated where it’s needed, and this type of solar installation is rapidly increasing due to decreasing costs of the materials.
According to a report by the National Solar Energy Industries Association, between the second quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2012, the average price of a completed commercial photovoltaic solar system fell by nearly 14 percent, and “The economics of PV have become so attractive that many of the best managed corporations, which are synonymous with low cost and efficiency, are adopting solar energy on a massive scale across the U.S.”
The SEIA further reports that during the first half of 2012, non-residential PV systems came online an average of one every 72 minutes, and businesses as well as other large energy consumers like non‐profits, schools and public agencies, are expected to add enough PV systems over the next five years “to replace seven retiring coal power plants.”
In regard to Arkansas being capable of benefiting from solar power, Joe Thomas, president and CEO of MAGE Solar USA, at a March 12 panel on solar energy opportunities in Little Rock, said if cloudy and cold Germany can lead the world in solar power use, then Arkansas “can do just as well in capturing sunlight and turning it into electricity or heat.”
In “Optimal Deployment of Solar Index,” a study published by The Electricity Journal, Arkansas ranked 7th in “states that would benefit from solar deployment solely for purposes of self-sufficiency.” Arkansas’s rank was sixth for “states that would benefit from solar deployment through generating and exporting energy to other states.” The report also says that for states to maximize benefits from solar generation, they will “need to figure out how to successfully export significant quantities to other states, which may require investing in infrastructure.”
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Arkansas “remains in the small minority of states without a renewable portfolio standard, which would drive investment in… renewable energy development by requiring utilities to generate or purchase an increasing portion of their electricity from renewable sources.”
According to Main, SWEPCO is able to take advantage of a federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) that provides wind project owners an income tax credit for production of electricity from utility-scale wind turbines. This program is not available for solar.
Ted Terry, field coordinator at Georgia Solar Utility Incorporated, said the reason solar hasn’t taken off more with energy utilities is in part because Americans are still in the process of shifting the way we think about solar. He said 25 percent of Americans believe solar works and that’s “nearing the tipping point where people will start to demand it and utilities will respond.”
Meanwhile the Federal Department of Energy launched the SunShot Initiative in 2011, which is “a collaborative national initiative to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade. Reducing the installed cost of solar energy systems by about 75 percent will drive widespread, large-scale adoption of this renewable energy technology and restore U.S. leadership in the global clean energy race.”
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