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Solar News

Solar Panels: On Our Roofs or In Our Fields?


Possibly it is a reflection of the maturing of the solar industry that the debate has shifted from whether to go solar to where to go solar, like in whether to put solar panels on your roof or in a huge array in the desert.  Energy consultant Bill Powers is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle  as arguing that solar plants in the desert are "albatrosses."   The Chronicle contrasts these two views:

Powers, an engineer and energy consultant, argues that California should cover every available rooftop with photovoltaic solar panels, especially commercial buildings. The panels can be installed quickly, unlike large solar power plants that take years to win government permits. They don't require big new power lines. And their price has dropped about 40 percent in the past year.

Citing the statistics from the California Public Utilities Commission, the Chronicle indicates that just since the beginning of 2007, the capacity of the solar panels on homes, office buildings and warehouses  is 277 megawatts . But the Chronicle points out that most energy experts argue the small-scale approach won't work.

The hunger for energy, they say, is too huge, and it will keep growing. Solar panels are still a relatively expensive way to generate electricity. They cost more than large solar thermal plants, which use a different technology ill-suited to rooftops.

And so solar farms keep on cropping up all over the United States. Here is a report of a new solar farm consisting of a 700 panel array in Michigan.

[The developers] built the 700-panel solar array from scratch, even digging the trenches. Currently, it's the biggest solar project in the state, providing enough electricity to [the local utility] to power 20 to 25 homes. They're hoping the grand experiment succeeds and that a pilot program by [the utility] to put renewable energy projects on the grid and pay owners a fixed price for 12 years will make the venture profitable.

Michiganders pay an average of 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, mostly from coal. Consumers' experimental program will buy renewable energy from homeowners and companies at 45 to 65 cents per kilowatt hour. The program has filled up quickly and now has a waiting list of eager sellers.

There is opportunity and potential for both rooftop solar and solar farms. That experts are arguing which is more efficient shows that the solar industry is maturing.