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Solving The Space Problem For America’s Solar Industry

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(edited)

"Solar farms need huge tracts of land to operate at scale, and there is often fierce competition for those parcels, driving up prices for solar developers"....

Dividing the population of the US by 2.5 persons per household yields 133 million households in the US. Multiplying 133 million by 6000 square feet (the size of an average suburban plot of land) yields essentially 800 billion square feet occupied by a single family home 'primary residence'. This does not account for high-rise multifamily living or space used for streets, schools, businesses, etc. but it helps bring land use into perspective.

A square mile is 5280 x 5280 feet, or roughly 28 million square feet. Dividing 800,000,000,000 by 28,000,000 yields around 28,600 square miles. A 'standard' county is about 40 miles by 40 miles, or 1600 square miles, however most counties don't quite get that large. Dividing 28,600 by 1600 square miles yields slightly less than 18 counties. Taking the square root of 28,600 yields a distance of roughly 170 miles. Therefore a square 170 miles by 170 miles within the US would be enough to house everyone living in the country. The 'lower 48 states' is roughly 3000 miles east to west times 1500 miles north to south, or about 4,500,000 square miles. Texas alone is roughly 800 miles x 800 miles.

More than one million square miles of land in the United States is used for either cattle pasture or growing forage for livestock (soybeans, alfalfa, hay, etc.). The combination of 'lab grown meat' (meaning meat equivalent cultured in vats), 'milk' produced by microorganisms, and leather substitute cultured from bacteria puts livestock on the list of industries targeted for downsizing. All of this already exists - none of it is speculative.

If the typical home allocates 500 square feet per resident, then the 'average' home is 1250 square feet. Each resident needs about 30Kwh of electricity per day, which translates into 6000 watts of solar panels, or roughly 300 square feet (6000 watts x 5 hours = 30Kwh). Therefore, the home should have 750 square feet of panels. In the bigger picture, this means that the area used by panels is less than the area occupied by the resident within the home, not to mention the area of the housing lot.

The biggest 'waste of space' in urban areas is parking lots. Other bits of urban real estate that might be attractive for covering with solar panels are drainage ditches and/or power line right of ways. In rainier areas land is set aside for retention ponds, which could also be covered. This is before any discussion of abandoned houses or 'second homes' used by snow birds, etc.

The US has plenty of room for panels. These panels could be situated entirely within urban areas and still be adequate to power the entire country. However, the 'best use' is, most likely, in conjunction with agriculture, since it has been demonstrated repeatedly that solar panels actually enhance agricultural productivity.

Edited by Meredith Poor
Fix 4,500,000 million...
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7 hours ago, Meredith Poor said:

The combination of 'lab grown meat' (meaning meat equivalent cultured in vats), 'milk' produced by microorganisms, and leather substitute cultured from bacteria puts livestock on the list of industries targeted for downsizing. All of this already exists - none of it is speculative.

To start at this point, well, no, there are certainly plenty of companies looking at these areas but so far commercial quantities of meat grown in a lab has proved an elusive dream (as opposed to the stuff made from plants). I draw your attention to this report by someone who's looked extensively at this area. There are fundamental problems with scaling up the known processes.

As for your calculations, I'll only touch on one of the basic problems. I think (this point is not explored in the post) you're using the rated, installed capacity of each panel and assuming that power is produced through the day and night. PV panels produce their full power for only a couple of hours during the middle of the day and obviously don't do anything at night. At a first glance, then, you'd need 12 times the space you estimated plus a humongous amount of pumped hydro storage which would probably take up many times the space of the PVs if ever it was built.. Now it won't be as bad as that because there is plenty of existing hydro power, as well as biomass and even geothermal (in California, I believe)  and some wind turbines but I think you can now see why wind is the preferred renewable energy source. Wind turbines are still unsatisfactory but they are not unsatisfactory as PVs.     

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The U.S., though, is a patchwork of state and local governments with different rules on development, and opposition to projects has mounted for myriad reasons. Increasingly, many communities are concerned that the rapidly expanding size of wind and solar farms will irreparably alter the complexion of where they live.
In a pattern familiar across the U.S., Kansas wind developers years ago snapped up the rights to tracts of rural land in the less-populous western part of the state. That filled capacity on large transmission lines that deliver electricity over long distances, pushing newer projects east into more-populous areas such as Douglas County, a place where many people commute to jobs in Kansas City and Topeka and large farms are interspersed with smaller plots.
Market demand and economies of scale have pushed solar and wind farm size to hundreds or thousands of acres. They may not sit on contiguous parcels, but instead spread throughout a community, increasing the odds of friction. 

Just saying!

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A report came out saying it would take 30 billion to plug and clean up wells left by the oil and gas industry. Wind and solar are no different. Corruption is rampart and prevalent in most industry. This is where weak politicions let both green and FF industry save billions by not being required to clean up their own messes. Banks over lending  without due diligence is what, non corruption? A third of our current government is tied to a Coup if you listen to our media. My Swedish Lutheran emmigrant farming grand parents would roll in their graves. They fought in both world wars and missed very few Sundays in church. The nation has a problem with morals and the rule of law. Russian and Chinese morals of cheat your neighbor first seems to be taking over. social media unearthed the termites eating the infrastructure of our democracy. Long live the idea of the golden rule. 

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(edited)

8 hours ago, markslawson said:

To start at this point, well, no, there are certainly plenty of companies looking at these areas but so far commercial quantities of meat grown in a lab has proved an elusive dream (as opposed to the stuff made from plants). I draw your attention to this report by someone who's looked extensively at this area. There are fundamental problems with scaling up the known processes.

As for your calculations, I'll only touch on one of the basic problems. I think (this point is not explored in the post) you're using the rated, installed capacity of each panel and assuming that power is produced through the day and night. PV panels produce their full power for only a couple of hours during the middle of the day and obviously don't do anything at night. At a first glance, then, you'd need 12 times the space you estimated plus a humongous amount of pumped hydro storage which would probably take up many times the space of the PVs if ever it was built.. Now it won't be as bad as that because there is plenty of existing hydro power, as well as biomass and even geothermal (in California, I believe)  and some wind turbines but I think you can now see why wind is the preferred renewable energy source. Wind turbines are still unsatisfactory but they are not unsatisfactory as PVs.     

Deploy a proportion facing east and west. You only get a 12-15% fall in output and shift the peak times to 10am and 2pm for east and west respectively. 

The panels on my roof are orientated this way and it works well as I don't get any export payment. Any surplus goes to hot water. 

Edited by NickW

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7 hours ago, NickW said:

Deploy a proportion facing east and west. You only get a 12-15% fall in output and shift the peak times to 10am and 2pm for east and west respectively. 

The panels on my roof are orientated this way and it works well as I don't get any export payment. Any surplus goes to hot water. 

"brilliant", make your power 2X as expensive is your solution... pure brilliance

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(edited)

1 hour ago, footeab@yahoo.com said:

brilliant", make your power 2X as expensive is your solution... pure brilliance

Don't be so harsh here, that work took some effort. More importantly it begins to lay out the pure enormity of such task. It does allow questions as to logistics, implementation and of course design criteria...Then there is weather patterns,public input...etc etc etc.

Next up battery size and design, uniformity and delivery time..Oh cost to while we're here.

And grid design.. At this point the Manhattan project comes to mind. With a rather significant difference..one goal..I do believe a project of this nature would have 1000's of benchmarks.

Sounds like a project in need of quantum computing guided by AI merely for a conceptual design.

Edited by Eyes Wide Open

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(edited)

3 hours ago, footeab@yahoo.com said:

"brilliant", make your power 2X as expensive is your solution... pure brilliance

'Makes our power more usable by spreading its production across the day'

Our household barely uses any electricity between 7am and 6pm from mid April to mid October. In the same period all out hot water comes from solar. 

Since the beginning of April we have used 12m2 of gas and average electricity daily usage is 4kwh. 4 bedroom house, 3 occupants

BTW - I don't have a south facing roof space so its not an option anyway. 

Edited by NickW

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3 hours ago, footeab@yahoo.com said:

"brilliant", make your power 2X as expensive is your solution... pure brilliance

If you take a look at this peaks for east and west facing panels they occur at 9am and 3pm. 

JRC Photovoltaic Geographical Information System (PVGIS) - European Commission (europa.eu)

With feed in tariffs being phased out there is virtually no money in exporting electricity so if you are going to use it inhouse then this set up works much better for a typical household unless you want to spend $$$ on batteries. We decided to forgo that and buy a diverter to hot water immersion (£150) that sends surpluses to the water cylinder (offset there is about 11 pence kwh given current gas prices). Later this year the Mrs will be getting an electric company car so that will soak up much of the surplus. 

 

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(edited)

Nick W is this conversation centered around the US power generation or your own personal experience with your power generation system. 

Personal systems vs municipal systems are two entirely different worlds.

Edited by Eyes Wide Open

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41 minutes ago, Eyes Wide Open said:

Nick W is this conversation centered around the US power generation or your own personal experience with your power generation system. 

Personal systems vs municipal systems are two entirely different worlds.

East -west orientations work well in grid situations too as they spread the peak outputs and its not all concentrated a couple of hours either side of midday. In any case most solar installations are inbedded supply anyway where the production is primarily intended to be consumed onsite with surpluses exported. 

Take a look at Europe over the late spring - summer and early autumn months  - from about 8am to 2pm solar is the biggest single contributor to the grid. 

 Wind Power Numbers | WindEurope - hourly electricity mix. 

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(edited)

That means restructuring the grid. After installing a 10kw system in the landyacht I am getting a grasp on this power. It's very old tech and very high dollar. 

I find it quite odd why the winder power community has such a difficult time with clear paths for sustainable energy. My god Europe has regressed back to the 16th century..

The most eyepopping experience I've had recently was getting a bid on a ev system. 10kw generator 10k 10kw electrical system 25k....

Edited by Eyes Wide Open

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(edited)

23 hours ago, markslawson said:

As for your calculations, I'll only touch on one of the basic problems. I think (this point is not explored in the post) you're using the rated, installed capacity of each panel and assuming that power is produced through the day and night.

The 'assumption' is that PVs produce the equivalent of their rated capacity for about 5 hours per day. This is where 6000 x 5 comes from. Even if peak output is only 67% (2/3rds) of rated, the area required simply expands to cover the whole roof.

At 500 watt-hours per liter, an LFP storage battery would need to be 60 liters to hold enough charge for one person for one day. A cubic foot holds roughly 27 liters. So one day's storage for one person would occupy a bit more than 2 cubic feet, and the storage for 2.5 people would therefore require 5 cubic feet. A '500 watt-hour per kilogram' battery stores about 1300 watt-hours per liter, so at that density the single person storage would be less than one cubic foot. However, the 500 watt-hour per kilogram batteries are still 'almost available'.

Covering even a tiny fraction of the farmland in the US at only 50% is enough to run the country many times over. However integrating agriculture and solar power isn't necessarily easy.

Edited by Meredith Poor
Move 'however' to beginning of sentence

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19 minutes ago, Meredith Poor said:

The 'assumption' is that PVs produce the equivalent of their rated capacity for about 5 hours per day. This is where 6000 x 5 comes from. Even if peak output is only 67% (2/3rds) of rated, the area required simply expands to cover the whole roof.

Okay so your calculations weren't hopelessly optimistic just wildly optimistic. Two hours a day makes more sense - the industry accepted average output is about 18 per cent - and, no, pumped hydro is the only possible form of storage on the scale you are imagining at the moment. Batteries on the scale and in the volumes you propose are the stuff of fantasy. And we haven't even touched on the problems of replacing batteries and PV panels. You will probably find that the energy required to manufacture new batteries and PV panels to replace them as they age will consume a large part of your energy output. Sorry, but your fantasy energy utopia is just that, a fantasy. Interesting though.. leave it with you. 

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15 hours ago, NickW said:

Deploy a proportion facing east and west. You only get a 12-15% fall in output and shift the peak times to 10am and 2pm for east and west respectively. 

The panels on my roof are orientated this way and it works well as I don't get any export payment. Any surplus goes to hot water. 

Nick - although that is a useful observation and, of course, the investment is advantageous for you, it doesn't change the overall problem much. The recognised average output for PV panels is about 18 per cent (over whole day). Motorised panels which follow the sun may change that somewhat, but I don't think you're looking at much more and its a big increase in investment. Anyway, a thought.

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58 minutes ago, Meredith Poor said:

Covering even a tiny fraction of the farmland in the US at only 50% is enough to run the country many times over. However integrating agriculture and solar power isn't necessarily easy.

I'll return to the debate briefly just to point to this article  originally from the Wall Street Journal, pointing to the backlash in rural communities over the use of farmland for clean energy projects and transmission lines. The time for the calculations you make is now past. Now I'll leave it with you. 

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7 hours ago, markslawson said:

Nick - although that is a useful observation and, of course, the investment is advantageous for you, it doesn't change the overall problem much. The recognised average output for PV panels is about 18 per cent (over whole day). Motorised panels which follow the sun may change that somewhat, but I don't think you're looking at much more and its a big increase in investment. Anyway, a thought.

The cost of panels is so low now that its usually more cost effective to orientate in a range of directions - E, ESE, SE, S, SW, WSW, W rather than employ motorised trackers which come with the added complication of moving parts and more complex installation processes. In some localities the grid operators have required new installation to orientate in such ways as a condition for connection. 

If you take a look at the attached picture for Europes electricity mix yesterday solar is the biggest single contributor during the period of the day when demand is highest. The impact on other systems is minor. Hydro flexes back to accommodate the solar as does gas but to a much a lesser degree. 

Europe electricity mix 090523.jpg

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14 hours ago, markslawson said:

the industry accepted average output is about 18 per cent

18% per day is a useless metric. No one expects solar panels to work in the dark. Solar panel conversion efficiencies run from 17% to 25% at 'full illumination'. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) indicates that a 'tilted flat plate' (fixed angle) receives the equivalent of about 5 hours 'peak' illumination. This is different in different parts of the country, with the American Southwest being closer to 6 hours.

Perhaps you can explain how much power a 10Kw array is expected to produce during one day using your figures.

The Wall Street Journal is a Rupert Murdoch property. His media outlets in Australia hammered on renewables for years until his advertisers boycotted his properties. At that point he fired all his anti-green talking heads. This occurred after wildfires and floods decimated large areas of the more populated areas of southeast Australia. Can you find any stories like this that aren't produced through News Corp. media sources?

There is plenty of NIMBY on wind turbines Some of it is justifiable. I live in Florida, and solar installations here are easily found - just go on Google Maps and look 'just west of I-95' next to cities up and down the Atlantic coast. If there is any pushback on solar here, I haven't heard about it - most people here think we should 'make all our power solar'. These 'farms' are all utility scale. If these aren't any good, why are the Florida power utilities building them as fast as they can?

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14 hours ago, markslawson said:

I'll return to the debate briefly just to point to this article  originally from the Wall Street Journal, pointing to the backlash in rural communities over the use of farmland for clean energy projects and transmission lines. The time for the calculations you make is now past. Now I'll leave it with you. 

 

FPLLetsGoSolarTogether.png

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USING USA made panels and controllers at USA prices...

Anyone 35S and below who is not at least thinking of doing solar is an idiot(winter variation is brutal still).  Anyone 30S is beyond stupid if not doing solar.  Throw in theft(cough... subsidies) and it is a slam dunk.

In Europe with their insane power prices and subsidies for solar, anyone not in the UK or Germany northwards etc who is not doing solar is an idiot(open a damned coal mine or 3 + more nuclear).  Italy, if they had a brain<<Never met an Italian yet who did>> would be putting up solar everywhere and exporting.  Winter is still a massive issue, but... Europe's prices are +3X the USA's/China's at this point so...

Anyone in Middle east, SW. Africa, W. Australia/Central, N. Chile not doing solar doesn't even have a brain at this point.  Forget being an idiot, just no brain present. 

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15 hours ago, NickW said:

The cost of panels is so low now that its usually more cost effective to orientate in a range of directions - E, ESE, SE, S, SW, WSW, W rather than employ motorised trackers which come with the added complication of moving parts and more complex installation processes. In some localities the grid operators have required new installation to orientate in such ways as a condition for connection. 

NickW - look, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but ask yourself how many people actually do it that way, then go and look at the independent material on the cost and likely returns on household systems. See this very recent article in Forbes. The returns listed in that article  are, in my view, only just commercial and that's with a tax break and whatever state incentive programs there are. I fear you might have misunderstood the  cost of PV panels. There is not going to be money to spare for these additional panels you mention. As for the calculations by Meredith Poor and others I can recall similar calculations being made 20 and more years ago, and we still haven't seen the mass use of PV panels to meet our energy needs. We have seen the mass use of wind generators which are of more use, but are now running into real community opposition to those generators spreading everywhere. Its time to give these calculations away and admit the so called energy transition is a fiasco. Thanks for the discussion but leave it with you.  

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8 hours ago, markslawson said:

NickW - look, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but ask yourself how many people actually do it that way, then go and look at the independent material on the cost and likely returns on household systems. See this very recent article in Forbes. The returns listed in that article  are, in my view, only just commercial and that's with a tax break and whatever state incentive programs there are. I fear you might have misunderstood the  cost of PV panels. There is not going to be money to spare for these additional panels you mention. As for the calculations by Meredith Poor and others I can recall similar calculations being made 20 and more years ago, and we still haven't seen the mass use of PV panels to meet our energy needs. We have seen the mass use of wind generators which are of more use, but are now running into real community opposition to those generators spreading everywhere. Its time to give these calculations away and admit the so called energy transition is a fiasco. Thanks for the discussion but leave it with you.  

I haven't misunderstood at all. I have purchased and installed 12 panels to my house along with the GTI and cabling. GTI's are now made to take panels from two different directions 

As regards east - west orientations loads of people since the cut in the feed in tariff - its blatantly obvious in the town I live in where solar is going up everywhere. UK houses usually only have 2 roof orientations directions so if they are east west they don't have the south facing option. 

Coincidentally -people opposite me right now having panels fitted to their west facing roof. Looking up the hill from my house can see installations on two properties facing westwards. Where people are only going to have one direction covered west is normally preferred as this, at least in the summer months this overlaps the households evening time peak aided by clocks going fwd one hour in the summer. 

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8 hours ago, markslawson said:

NickW - look, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but ask yourself how many people actually do it that way, then go and look at the independent material on the cost and likely returns on household systems. See this very recent article in Forbes. The returns listed in that article  are, in my view, only just commercial and that's with a tax break and whatever state incentive programs there are. I fear you might have misunderstood the  cost of PV panels. There is not going to be money to spare for these additional panels you mention. As for the calculations by Meredith Poor and others I can recall similar calculations being made 20 and more years ago, and we still haven't seen the mass use of PV panels to meet our energy needs. We have seen the mass use of wind generators which are of more use, but are now running into real community opposition to those generators spreading everywhere. Its time to give these calculations away and admit the so called energy transition is a fiasco. Thanks for the discussion but leave it with you.  

The solar panel pricing in that article is well out of date (massively over priced) which of course affects the whole calculation. 

 

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8 hours ago, markslawson said:

NickW - look, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but ask yourself how many people actually do it that way, then go and look at the independent material on the cost and likely returns on household systems. See this very recent article in Forbes. The returns listed in that article  are, in my view, only just commercial and that's with a tax break and whatever state incentive programs there are. I fear you might have misunderstood the  cost of PV panels. There is not going to be money to spare for these additional panels you mention. As for the calculations by Meredith Poor and others I can recall similar calculations being made 20 and more years ago, and we still haven't seen the mass use of PV panels to meet our energy needs. We have seen the mass use of wind generators which are of more use, but are now running into real community opposition to those generators spreading everywhere. Its time to give these calculations away and admit the so called energy transition is a fiasco. Thanks for the discussion but leave it with you.  

People with your 'expertise' were confidently assuring us 10 years ago that solar / wind wouldn't supply 1% of global electricity by 2020😄

From 2016 to 2022 installed PV capacity grew from 306TW to 1050 TW (meeting about 5% of global electricity demand). Looking forward to 2040 IEA are estimating a 13% year on year growth which will take the world to about 8500TW of capacity. 

Taking account of growing electricity demand and the trend towards electrification (EV's / heating) I'd be surprised if solar isn't contributing more than 15% of global electricity needs.  

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