Monday, April 30, 2012

Making the case for solar energy over other renewables

A report in today's Wall Street Journal by Robert Lee Hotz about large wind farms causing increased ground temperatures as large turbine blades pull down warm air and churn up cooler air at the ground level shows a couple of interesting things about renewable energy impacts on the environment.  One is that there are impacts that will occur and have not yet been studied as to the potential adverse effects.  The study showed for the first time over a nine year study period by sensors on a NASA satellite (done by researches at University of Albany-State University of New York and and the University of Illinois that the average nighttime air temperature around the large scale wind farms (in TX with 2350 turbines) increased by 0.72 degree Celsius over time.  The study looked at the area air temperature when there were just a couple hundred wind turbines to a couple thousand.

EPV (Electric Photo-Voltaic) or Solar arrays are the closest thing to nature that can impact an area where arrays are installed for the following reasons:
  1. They are usually going on existing structures so their impact is not in addition to some structure that doesn't already exist.
  2. They have no moving parts that can hurt or kill wildlife (birds are known to be killed or injured when flying into turbine blades)
  3. They mimic the natural photosynthetic process that basically gives the planet life, where plants create oxygen from synthesizing sunlight and carbon dioxide.
EPV may not be as efficient in generating as much power as wind or hydro-electric turbines, but the trade-offs are pretty clear if you are looking to energize a smarter planet.  Municipalities and states (like Maryland) which are working toward mandating an ever increasing percentage of power come from renewables should consider the impact of the logical choices. 

Solar energy is not free to install, but it is very cost effective, and damn near makes the cost of power free once installed and the equipment is fully depreciated.  There are no moving parts to be damaged or to damage the environment, and companies that know what they are doing and can provide the engineering expertise to builders, installers and building owners can rapidly deploy solar cost savings into a business model that is cash flow positive.  The leading companies in engineering solar solutions (like Mercury Solar Systems out of NY) have demonstrated for clients that solar can be and is actually a profit center for a business with structures exposed to sunlight that don't have solar arrays generating power and selling that power to the grid at standard offered rates.

A solar company like Mercury Solar System that can leverage their economic scale to get the costs of various arrays down to their lowest price point from manufacturers, and with lean US engineering processes and low overheads provide local jobs, training to roofing contractors and local electrical contractors to install solar systems.  Solar energy is truly the most viable alternative renewable energy source we have in our modern world and can turn around our economy.  The American Petroleum Institute can either fight renewables or embrace the "all of the above" strategy espoused by the Obama administration.  The fact is their partnership is imperative for the success of solar.  BP Solar is a key strategic researcher and supplier of innovative EPV solutions that show they are part of the global solution on energy.

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