The State of Solar Energy

cheap green electricityEven though wind farms and natural gas generators have increased in construction costs throughout the Country, solar photovoltaic systems have actually decreased in cost to make. This is according to the EIA, who say that “Since 2013, average costs for solar photovoltaic generators have fallen by 37%, wind by 13%, and natural gas by 4.7%.” 

As more engineers build more renewable energy projects, the value the big 3 (natural gas, wind, and solar) bring to the grid (97% of capacity to be exact) offsets the costs of construction. In addition, because of “falling costs in crystalline silicon axis-based tracking panels.” 

Sure, solar energy is far behind the other renewables for producing energy–the EIA says that solar didn’t hit 2% last year–but a part of this is that the technology is still relatively new. Researchers are just now learning of the most optimal environments for solar panel efficiency. Additionally, technology will hopefully continue to grow in sophistication, meaning that the 27% of energy that coal produced last year will be absorbed more by solar, wind, and natural gas. It’s going to have to be, at least, as coal plants are continually phased out.

Smart Uses of Solar Power

In Israel there lies one of the largest solar energy projects in the world: the Ashalim Solar Thermal Power Station. It will account for close to 1% of electricity generation for all of Israel. With over 500,000 concave mirrors in usage, this will power close to 70,000 homes in Israel. Another cool feature is this: 

“The power station uses a thermal-energy storage system, based on molten salt, which allows the plant to operate for approximately an extra 4.5 hours daily at full power after sunset.”

Jumping back to the United States, researchers at Columbia University have figured out a way to increase solar cell efficiency by harnessing excitons. This simply means that there will be more than one exciton made per energy transfer process. Instead of one “excited” atom transferring electricity to an “acceptor” atom, there will be two. And this is done by using organically designed materials. 

The Future of Solar Power

The  two previous examples shed light on solar’s future. Even though some states are losing solar jobs despite renewable energy pushes, and despite the 30% tariffs on imported solar panels issued by Trump, growth is good, demand is higher than ever, and prices will continue to fall. This all means that solar power will contribute much more to overall grid capacity for some time.

Texas, meanwhile, has the largest untapped potential for solar power in the country. 

Why Retrofitting Turbine Batteries Can Lead to More Secure Grids

We have talked about the importance of beefing up our electrical grid with batteries before, and it’s still relevant today. Because of how uneven wind-generated power can be, equipping turbines with batteries is a surefire way to make consistent electricity

Take for instance Glidepath Power Solutions and their recent acquisition of 8 Texas wind farms for the purpose of retrofitting the older turbines with revamped amperage power. More specifically, Glidepath is equipping the turbines with batteries that will have much more electricity storage capacities to strengthen the reserves available to a dangerously depleted grid–as this summer’s heat has illuminated.

The Glidepath acquisition was from Exelon and totals 149 Megawatts (MW) in total. And according to Utility Dive, Glidepath wholeheartedly believes that retrofitting turbines with better batteries will prevent the problems that ERCOT faced this summer.

According to that same source, “GlidePath’s acquisition brings its operating portfolio to more than 445 MW, which is in addition to its development pipeline of more than 1 GW of battery storage projects across the country.” So they are doing a lot to make wind more efficient for Texas energy.

A Shift Towards Retrofitting and Battery Storage

Earlier this year, General Electric reported they would be scrapping a plant in California even though it had 20 years left in its lifecycle. Instead of getting its traditional use, it will be mothballed and turned into a battery storage site. This will most likely happen more frequently in the upcoming years as renewable energy continues to grow, meaning that a demand for battery storage will be needed to match the output.

In short, grids need more backup reserves to avoid blackouts and system failures. This push to retrofit legacy technology into something much more sustainable is going to only push smarter and stronger grids.

Storage Development Directions for Wind Farms

John Parnell, a contributing writer for Forbes, calls the scale the Glidepath’s acquisition a telling sign that storage development is only going to get bigger. And many are chiming in and agreeing that renewables can be even more powerful if wind energy can be stored more efficiently and longer in Texas.

So, all of this is obviously a positive thing. Retrofitting inefficient turbines will only strengthen the grid. But it also begs the question as to how much energy should be invested in retrofitting versus building new wind farms with the updated technology. We will see how this recent development unfolds in the years to come.