Is solar viable on a large scale?

I've been thinking about this for a while now. Solar power, as I have come to experience, is a great way of reducing energy costs, as well as giving me the feeling that I'm doing something. The problem that I've run across is that there are many people who don't believe that it works on a large scale, like for powering cities.

I've seen lots of powerful arguments that say that solar is either too inefficient, or too costly to implement for cities. This video for example:

http://abetterenergyplan.ca/#/home/getting-smart

Basically sums up that cities need constant power, not just at night. How can we improve our future with green energy if that's true?

Comments

  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    It's pretty much true.
    Solar panels are expensive and inefficient. Batteries are needed for true off-grid storage, and they have the same failings. Plus, over-all the solar will not be as "environmentally friendly" as it may seem; production pollution is less when done on a large scale.

    Horrible, isn't it?

    But if you put grid-tie solar on your home it will at least negate some of the "pollution produced power" by taking out what you would otherwise need supplied by conventional means. You may even generate a surplus.

    There is the argument that we are not seeing the true cost per kW hour of conventional energy generation because there is no "pollution cost" figured in (the dreaded carbon tax). But solar power still has a long way to go to compete. The standard estimate is that grid-tie solar costs about $0.50 per kW hour over the life of the equipment, and true off-grid is double that.

    Solar has improved since the first panels appeared. Quite a lot. If more people invest in the existing technology there will be more $ for further R&D and more advancements will be made. In the meantime, ever panel that goes on a roof reduces the need for "pollution power", so to speak.

    Since this thread has already started going political and I'm largely to blame, I warn myself right now to stop before it goes "political critical". :p
  • petertearaipetertearai Solar Expert Posts: 439 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    Solar power will never be the solution to energy needs.
    BUT will most likely be part of the solution in 100 years from now.
    My personal start in solar was because of the cost in getting a cable from the road to my holiday home.Only needed to pump water and light. This was achieved with $3000 compared to $15000 for the cable.Since then I have added to that but still ahead on dollar terms and I find it interesting!

    Regards Peter
    2225 wattts pv . Outback 2kw  fxr pure sine inverter . fm80 charge controller . Mate 3. victron battery monitor . 24 volts  in 2 volt Shoto lead carbon extreme batterys. off grid  holiday home 
  • dreesdrees Solar Expert Posts: 481 ✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    There is no single solution for our energy needs.

    Most renewables are too expensive (PV included) though this is getting better over time. I'd expect that within 5 years PV will be at grid parity in most of the country.

    Once the cost problem is solved, PV will take off on it's own. Everyone will install as much as possible, which brings us to the next problem - grid storage.

    We will need affordable, large scale storage. Not just for PV as having large scale storage should improve the reliability of the grid. This will take a "miracle".

    Bill Gates gave a good TED talk on what's needed last year which talks about possible solutions.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates.html

    He's betting on advanced nuclear plants - but nothing is a sure thing so he is encouraging R&D across the field.
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    I think Solar is the answer........maybe not the solar we have today......but the solar of the future.
    Think about it........the sun is a 900,000 mile diameter fusion reactor.
    Solar or fusion power is the only option we really have. You cant burn oil and coal and natural gas forever.
  • jagecjagec Solar Expert Posts: 157 ✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    Basically sums up that cities need constant power, not just at night. How can we improve our future with green energy if that's true?

    While that's true, and solar as it exists today can never replace the majority of the country's base load electricity needs, it CAN effectively produce power that is currently being made by expensive natural gas "peaker" plants for daytime loads.

    Right now solar is so small a fraction of our total energy production that every additional kWh is fairly high-value. If solar ever gets to be a much larger fraction of total energy production, it will have to use some kind of energy storage, like molten salt or pumped-storage, to ensure that none of that power goes to waste.
  • phred01phred01 Solar Expert Posts: 35
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    Silicone, solar is great for the ordinary man as there is no major maintenance requirements. On a large scale solar power stations are basically ordinary thermal plants with generators where the sun replaces coal or oil. There are strategies that store heat so power generation can on during the nite. These solar generators are located in deserts like the Germans do in Algeria. The down side of course is whether these counties are stable. The US has plenty of deserts and these can be used as the land is cheap and sunshine is in abundance. However all power grids require a base load so alternatives like nuclear, hydro, wind and of course burning fossil fuels will all be needed to supply reliable electric power.
  • SolarLurkerSolarLurker Solar Expert Posts: 122 ✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    Large scale solar share many of the problems with non renewable energy production, transmission losses, space constraints, and and distribution costs.

    Distributed micro production and conservation are the answer. However, to really make it work we need a policy that supports, solar, small wind, micro hydro, and combined heat and power.
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,366 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    Large scale solar share many of the problems with non renewable energy production, transmission losses, space constraints, and and distribution costs.

    Distributed micro production and conservation are the answer. However, to really make it work we need a policy that supports, solar, small wind, micro hydro, and combined heat and power.

    Large Scale:
    non renewable energy production = isn't it by definition a renewable source
    transmission losses = no worse than any other large scale generation station
    space constraints AZ, NV, CA, NM, UT has Space worth not much for anything but.
    distribution costs = no worse than any other large scale generation station

    I agree small is nice and much more convenient. It also can be micro audited for cost benefit analysis.

    Really both solutions are needed.
  • russruss Solar Expert Posts: 593 ✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    Large scale solar share many of the problems with non renewable energy production, transmission losses, space constraints, and and distribution costs.

    Distributed micro production and conservation are the answer. However, to really make it work we need a policy that supports, solar, small wind, micro hydro, and combined heat and power.

    Meaning the government is to borrow money to throw at micro generation?
  • oil pan 4oil pan 4 Solar Expert Posts: 766 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    russ wrote: »
    Meaning the government is to borrow money to throw at micro generation?

    They already have.

    Solar hybrid gasoline generator, 7kw gas, 180 watts of solar, Morningstar 15 amp MPPT, group 31 AGM, 900 watt kisae inverter.

    Solar roof top GMC suburban, a normal 3/4 ton suburban with 180 watts of panels on the roof and 10 amp genasun MPPT, 2000w samlex pure sine wave inverter, 12v gast and ARB air compressors.

  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,642 admin
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    Almost hate to bring this up:
    Electricity consumers in the UK will need to get used to flicking the switch and finding the power unavailable, according to Steve Holliday, CEO of National Grid, the country’s grid operator. Because of a six-fold increase in wind generation, which won’t be available when the wind doesn’t blow, “The grid is going to be a very different system in 2020, 2030,” he told BBC’s Radio 4. “We keep thinking that we want it to be there and provide power when we need it. It’s going to be much smarter than that. “We are going to change our own behaviour and consume it when it is available and available cheaply.”
    Holliday has for several years been predicting that blackouts could become a feature of power systems that replace reliable coal plants with wind turbines in order to meet greenhouse gas targets. Wind-based power systems are necessary to meet the government’s targets, he has explained, but they will require lifestyle changes.
    Under the so-called “smart grid” that the UK is developing, the government-regulated utility will be able to decide when and where power should be delivered, to ensure that it meets the highest social purpose. Governments may, for example, decide that the needs of key industries take precedence over others, or that the needs of industry trump that of residential consumers. Governments would also be able to price power prohibitively if it is used for non-essential purposes....
    Looks like we are heading to a time of hybrid systems for our home or left at the mercy of scheduled blackouts to support industry...

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • oil pan 4oil pan 4 Solar Expert Posts: 766 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    "the government-regulated utility will be able to decide when and where power should be delivered, to ensure that it meets the highest social purpose".
    Sounds way too much like when the romans would cut water off to the lower class, back then the highest social porpose was the rich and powerful fooling around in the bath houses.
    We already know who the losers are going to be here.

    Solar hybrid gasoline generator, 7kw gas, 180 watts of solar, Morningstar 15 amp MPPT, group 31 AGM, 900 watt kisae inverter.

    Solar roof top GMC suburban, a normal 3/4 ton suburban with 180 watts of panels on the roof and 10 amp genasun MPPT, 2000w samlex pure sine wave inverter, 12v gast and ARB air compressors.

  • AntronXAntronX Solar Expert Posts: 462 ✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    There is good research happening at Sandia labs on supercritical CO2 Brayton cycle turbine to replace Rankine cycle steam turbine. Main advantage is thermal to net electric conversion efficiency in 42% range at relatively low inlet temperature of 500 Celsius, but higher pressure at 20 Mpa (2900 psi). The turbine itself is 30 times smaller than steam turbine of same power output. This is good news for solar thermal and nuclear. If it's possible to get 30 - 35% net conversion efficiency for solar thermal power plants with molten salt storage, that would be double huge. Traditional silicone PV systems are only about 10 - 15% efficient without energy storage.
  • AntronXAntronX Solar Expert Posts: 462 ✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    BB. wrote: »
    ...Looks like we are heading to a time of hybrid systems for our home or left at the mercy of scheduled blackouts to support industry... -Bill

    Hey Bill, take what this guy says with a huge grain of salt:
    He was formerly an Executive Director of British Borneo Oil and Gas. Previously, he spent 19 years with the Exxon Group, where he held senior positions in the international gas business and managed major operational areas such as refining and shipping.

    Anyways, all this talk of wind power caused blackouts is fear mongering by fossil fuel industry. And don't bring up California or Texas blackouts - those had little to nothing to do with wind, but everything to do with bad capitalism and mismanagement.
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    The problem with wind power is that it doesn't work all of the time. I mean, it's a pretty basic fact. If it's windy outside, the turbines turn faster and produce more power, and if it isn't then they don't turn that much, and not a lot of power is produced.

    I'm not sure how you can say that blackouts can't be the fault of wind power when it's obviously not a very reliable source of electricity.
  • dreesdrees Solar Expert Posts: 481 ✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    The problem with wind power is that it doesn't work all of the time. I mean, it's a pretty basic fact.
    One can easily say that about any power plant...
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,642 admin
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    Except that a Utility Power Plant (coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, etc.) can be scheduled to meet a pretty predictable demand.

    A wind turbine based system would either needs lots of energy storage and/or spinning standby (traditional power plant) to meet predicted loads.

    Or, we would need to change the Loads to be assigned energy based on available wind/etc. power...

    Today, we are not there, but we are heading towards that with Smart Meters (variable billing rates) and appliances (A/C, Washer, Driers, Hot Water Heaters, etc.) that can be controlled by the utility to better match demand against available energy.

    In someways, this is a better way to avoid needed "peaker plants" to handle generation/load miss-matches.

    In the old days, the utilities pushed washers and driers as they tended to be used "off peak" and evened out the peaks and valleys (which tend to be more expensive to support).

    From California's Independent System Operator--Our state's up to the minute generator capacity vs current load:

    ems_small.gif

    As an example, here is today's Wind:

    WIND_GENERATION.JPG

    As I type this, our wind this morning when from 900 MW to near 100 MW, and supplied most of this energy during our minimum system load requirements (very early morning).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,400 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    The problem with wind power is that it doesn't work all of the time. I mean, it's a pretty basic fact. If it's windy outside, the turbines turn faster and produce more power, and if it isn't then they don't turn that much, and not a lot of power is produced.

    I'm not sure how you can say that blackouts can't be the fault of wind power when it's obviously not a very reliable source of electricity.

    Reliability is a relative term in this case. For example, if you have enough wind (or PV) in disagreated locations, (and the installations were sited properly in good wind areas) the chances of a predictable number of turbines producing a predictable amount of power at any given time is pretty good. (Same with PV).

    For example, if it is not blowing today in West Texas, it might be blowing in Wyoming just to chose two spots. I'm sure utility engineers, (and weather forecasters) are pretty good on an ongoing basis predicting output of wind and solar as it relates to grid loading.

    So to conclude, the reliability of any RE, be it PV, Wind, Hydro etc gets greater ( in total) as the total number of installations are considered. 1 installation in one location might not be very reliable. 1000 installations in 1000 different locations and the "reliability" only gets better.

    Tony

    Tony
  • dreesdrees Solar Expert Posts: 481 ✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    BB. wrote: »
    From California's Independent System Operator--Our state's up to the minute generator capacity vs current load:
    Too bad that data doesn't take into account the 800+MW of installed PV. I think the only solar the renewables charts include are the big solar thermal plants.

    Wind definitely appears to be significantly less "predictable" than PV. Would the peak load around 1pm be noticably higher without the 800 MW of installed PV? Which wind farms are included in the renewables watch charts? And where are they located? Would be nice to have more detail...
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,642 admin
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    A 1,000 MW appears to be "round off error" in the actual vs predicted power usage graph...

    If you follow the links in my first link to CAISO, they have "yesterday's" Renewable Energy charts (PDF Down Load here).

    For example, 3/22/2011, Renewables were ~10% of California's actual power grid... Note, that this is a political call... "Big Hydro" is in the Nuclear/Coal/Natural Gas (aka "Thermal" generation) bin. Big Hydro is around 8% of our average power (I think, "Thank You Canada").

    Small Solar (i.e., my roof) and small RE, I guess, is part of the Load Avoided chart (i.e., invisible).

    Wind power (at least yesterday) is almost the inverse of the load curve. There is history too at the link if you want to look at summertime wind (when it is supposed to peak in the afternoons). Of course, we have had a week of very stormy / windy weather, so that is going to slant yesterday's wind/solar numbers.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • solarvicsolarvic Solar Expert Posts: 1,053 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    Why not use wind and hydro power together to make a stable power output? The kinzui dam in pennsylvania is an example how this could work. They have turbines at the dam that can also pump water. At night when they have more capacity than needed they pump the water up a mountaintop lake. Also the electric company sends thier excess power to them also to pump the water. In the day time when they need more power they let the water drain off the lake to turn thier turbines and release the water into the river. Why couldn,t the wind turbines use thier excess capacity do do the same thing? When there were low production wind days they could release the water to run thru turbines like the kinzui dam. :Dvictor:D
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,642 admin
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?

    Actually, pumped hydro current looks to be one of the most efficient, cost effective, and flexible methods of energy storage... I guess it can be upwards of 80% efficient.

    Typically, there are few places where a dam can be placed--and the changing water levels are actually quite hard on the environment (in terms of life around the shore).

    Out west, we are having the Wild River movement and people trying to rip out dams and hydro stations... NIMBY (Not In MY Back Yard) is always going to be a problem.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    solarvic wrote: »
    Why not use wind and hydro power together to make a stable power output? The kinzui dam in pennsylvania is an example how this could work. They have turbines at the dam that can also pump water. At night when they have more capacity than needed they pump the water up a mountaintop lake. Also the electric company sends thier excess power to them also to pump the water. In the day time when they need more power they let the water drain off the lake to turn thier turbines and release the water into the river. Why couldn,t the wind turbines use thier excess capacity do do the same thing? When there were low production wind days they could release the water to run thru turbines like the kinzui dam. :Dvictor:D

    Here's an example of one place where that formula isn't working very well, and they're having to close down Wind Turbines as a result:

    http://envirogy.ca/2011/03/03/bonneville-power-administration-forced-to-shut-down-wind-power/
  • dreesdrees Solar Expert Posts: 481 ✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    Here's an example of one place where that formula isn't working very well, and they're having to close down Wind Turbines as a result:

    http://envirogy.ca/2011/03/03/bonneville-power-administration-forced-to-shut-down-wind-power/
    Sounds like they need more transmission capacity. I'd bet there's plenty of places not too far away that could use that excess electricity... Build a transmission line and sell the wind power with a PPA...
  • solarvicsolarvic Solar Expert Posts: 1,053 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Is solar viable on a large scale?
    Here's an example of one place where that formula isn't working very well, and they're having to close down Wind Turbines as a result:

    http://envirogy.ca/2011/03/03/bonneville-power-administration-forced-to-shut-down-wind-power/
    This is more of a problem where the grid needs a lot of updateing. Wind power is suposed to offset the use of fossil fuels. Seems that this electric needs to be sent to a different part of the country that nees it. :Dsolarvic:D
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