- Extensive business development experience in both utility-scale and distributed solar.
- Responsible for over 40 MW of solar development in the U.S.
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Determining Feasibility Requirements for Solar/PV Project Development
- There is a a growing awareness of energy efficiency in corporate America and across society.
Not long ago, if you looked at a city such as San Francisco or New York at night, it was all aglow. Now, many buildings in large cities are kept dark at night. An increased overall awareness of energy consumption is evident in the wider usage of automated systems to help regulate energy consumption. This shift is economically driven because electricity is becoming more and more expensive to create. The reaction against fossil fuels and their impact from a global standpoint is driving a search for a more affordable, sustainable energy mix; addressing the demand side is a critical step before addressing the supply side.
- As a political and cultural consensus grows around the need for sustainable energy, the focus of government policy will shift toward making solar more affordable.
As climate change becomes an accepted consensus view, policy makers will respond. A study done at Cal Tech produced a 3,000-page analysis concluding that solar is the only truly sustainable energy source currently available. Policy makers will eventually face the reality that solar needs to be one of our sources, combined with storage and other technologies, so that our energy mix is sustainable and with little impact on our planet.
As the discussion matures, the policy questions will revolve around how to utilize the sun globally to provide for the growing energy needs of our expanding population and industrial base. The policy trend over time will focus on making solar power more affordable, more commoditized, and easier to implement.
- In the U.S., utilities in college towns or so-called "blue states" are at the forefront of adoption.
Solar adoption is currently being led by in states with distributed solar programs or investor-owned utilities that implement those programs. But municipally-owned utilities are beginning to make strides in solar adoption.
Emerging markets include college towns such as Austin, Texas, a rare exception in a state that is not particularly solar-friendly. Austin has a 30-megawatt plant outside of city which is currently the largest municipally-owned solar power plant in the United States.
Other leading lights include Florida Light and Power, California's PG&E and SoCal Edison, Xcel in Colorado and Duke Energy in North Carolina. Northeastern states such as New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts are also beginning to move on the solar energy front. Outside of these pockets, the outlook looks less promising.
- The technology trend is toward improving the efficiency of capturing the sun's air radiation.
In the best possible scenario, a solar panel operating at maximum efficiency could capture about 30-36 percent of the energy that reaches us from the sun. Our most efficient panels are capturing about half of that figure right now. Engineers are working on improvements in technology that could double their efficiency.
The challenge is that to obtain those efficiency targets, the price of the engineering gets passed on to the customer. Higher-efficiency panels cost more, simple as that, so it is a cost-vs.-benefit question. The trend should really be toward the best price and the best production, focusing on beating the existing rate per kWh that the utility is charging in the specific market in question.
- Rooftop-based solar panels are not necessarily the best technology; tracker technology is more promising for large-scale installations.
North America straddles a range of latitudes north of the equator. For our geography, the best available technology to maximize kWh output is ground- mount tracking technology. With this technology, the panels rotate following the sun as it passes east to west. The trackers' default setting at night and during high winds is flat. In the morning, the panels tilt toward the east at about 35 degrees. They wake up with the sun and then rotate to the left, following the sun throughout the day. Tracker technology enables the panels to produce approximately 40 percent more energy at our latitudes than if it stationary, lying flat on a roof.
Ground mounts obviously require land, so the opportunity cost of the land should be taken into consideration when analyzing the best installation solution. The micro environment, geographic location and all costs should be evaluated to maximize ROI of the project. Change agents and other stakeholders need to better understand how to maximize these technology options to make project economics as cost-efficient as possible.