So how does solar efficiency stack up vs competing fuels? You may be surprised! ….. Commercially available solar (photovoltaic) is currently pushing electrical efficiencies that rival gas, coal, oil and nuclear in terms of the amount of sunlight able to be converted into electricity!
One can choose to build either a renewable business or a non-renewable business. There is no in between. Participating in a non-renewable business is like being locked in a room with a limited amount of oxygen. Over time, that oxygen slowly depletes – until one day you have simply have none left!
And this is the reality for hydrocarbon fuel companies.
In many cases the cost of extraction, mining and burning has doubled and in some cases tripled over the last 5 x years…. and we find ourselves venturing further and further offshore in our quest for oil..
At this point we are more or less just debating over what date in the future fossil fuels will run out, or become prohibitively expensive… Have you read anything on peak oil lately?
Anyways, They will run out for sure.. Yes, there are some time extensions on the game i.e. shale gas extraction etc …. But the game will be over one day. Full stop, end of sentence…
The sun will be around for at least a billion years (no problem), yes our little yellow thing in the sky is solid for at least a billion!
Let me state now what everyone already knows – but does not know….. That our entire planet is already solar powered.. Think about it – the fossil fuels that we currently burn are really nothing more than stored sunlight.
Some quick math;
One square kilometer = one million square meters. And one kilowatt per meter of solar radiation hits the planet in many areas of North America daily. Therefore 1 square kilometer (in these areas) receives a gigawatt of solar energy daily!! Soooo, a few square kilometers properly harnessed could power North America.
We need to accelerate the transition towards renewables, and the best way that I know how to accomplish this, other than installing a heck of a lot of Unconquered Sun Solar systems across the country – is through enlightening discourse. So let’s get started and talk efficiency!
So how do we define solar efficiency?
Before we discuss solar efficiency as a fuel, let me define what efficiency means for comparison sake. For the purposes of this article I will define efficiency in the most important, useful and relevant context I know of. – as the amount of energy potential that a fuel is able to convert (through existing technology) into useful work (in our case electricity).
I.e. a car engine only converts about 20% of the fuel energy from gasoline into useful (movement of the automobile) and the rest is exhausted as waste heat.
So, in our context, a fuel or more broadly, a technology with 100 percent efficiency would convert all the fuel that goes into it — whether it’s coal, wind or solar energy into useful electricity. A fuel/ technology with 50 percent efficiency would only convert half the input into useful electricity and lose the rest of the energy potential. With many fuels, coal, gas etc.. this loss is typically in the form of waste heat.
This image is real! ….. (really nasty)
Most energy resources however, come with a lower conversion efficiency. Coal and Nuclear plants typically have between 30 and 40 percent efficiency. The most efficient wind turbines make it up to 55 percent. Hydropower is one of the most efficient generation resources, with as much as 70 + percent.
Currently , commercially available solar panels – some of the latest in development, are pushing 30 + percent efficiency.
In fact, some recent innovations have resulted in panels with efficiencies of up to 44.5 percent, researchers have achieved these results by stacking multiple materials which absorb different parts of the solar spectrum. Unconquered Sun Solar Technologies Inc. has been involved in many studies utilizing our manufacturing facilities and testing equipment. Some of these studies have involved the addition of adjunct materials within the lamination of the panel for better production. Currently there is a movement in Germany to retrofit and optimize many existing solar installations with mirrors, as researchers have found that this practice realizes an overall production increase of 14% annually per panel. As technologies and practices like this become commercially available and repeatable, the efficiency of solar panels will improve substantially.
Another interesting comparison is Solar vs Nuclear in terms of the land area required for electricity generation. Aside from the many negative environmental potentials the nuclear option brings to the table, there is a legitimate mathematical argument for solar over nuclear in this regard.
Most nuclear facilities incorporate a 5km safe perimeter, where population location is prohibited etc. surrounding the plant..
Sooo, if you take the area of a nuclear power plant then add the entire clear area required for safety around it… the resulting sum equates to a vast amount of land….
If you were to carpet that same land area with solar panels, then calculated the efficiency of electricity produced in terms of the geographical area required for production – Solar beats nuclear hands down right now, today!
How much does electrical efficiency matter?
The efficiency of electricity production is just one factor to consider when determining how effective an energy resource is. Some of the radical differences that separate solar from other generation technologies prove that in many cases electricity production is not the most useful metric when comparing solar efficiency with that of other resources.
What about Cost?? –
You will save a ton , cause you don’t pay for sun!
Solar power has no feed stock, or operational maintenance costs.
If you’re comparing solar energy to a fossil fuel or nuclear plant, it’s important to remember that sunlight is free, while natural gas and coal are not. Once you install your solar panels, you do not have to pay for sunlight to fuel them. You no longer pay residual costs for material, and you are henceforth insulated against the rising cost of ___(insert fuel name here)__ You don’t lose any money if some of the solar energy dissipates as waste heat. The only thing you may lose is energy potential. For instance, at Unconquered Sun we simply refer a solar energy spill as a nice day! For more information on this subject check out my article on the cost of solar for your home.
Conversely, you do have to pay for fossil fuels, whether they produce electricity or not. So…, for all of the fossil fuel sources mentioned above we pay 100% for the fuel, plus we pay for the negative externalities of the fuel (an additional 100%). In fact, for carbon based fuels the CO2 emissions are two to three times the mass of the fuel inputs. So it is arguable that we are paying for 300% of the fuel, but only getting 20% to 50% of useful electricity production in return!
It must be said that the water that powers hydropower plants, and the wind that powers turbines are both also free, so you do not lose money with these technologies when you lose energy potential.
However, solar is much less location-dependent than hydropower and wind. Dams need super specific conditions to make any sense: namely, a body of water and a large area that can act as a reservoir (try that in your backyard!). Wind farms also need large open spaces.
Solar panels on the other hand, are good to go anywhere that sunlight can hit them. Homeowners can install them on their roofs or on the ground without taking up too much space. By contrast few homeowners have room for a wind turbine or a dam on their property.
Solar panels are one of the few energy resources that allow customers to take control over their electricity generation, which can save them large amounts of money. Having your energy source so close to where you’ll be using the energy — for example, on your rooftop or elsewhere on your property — means there are no energy losses during transmission and distribution, as there are in most other cases.
How can solar eliminate electrical costs at my home or place of business? What is the process?
Two words to remember – ‘Net Metering’
Net Metering is an extremely popular renewable energy program designed for solar and available throughout Canada. Net metering for solar essentially allows your property to become electrically ‘net zero’ without the need for batteries. You simply export the electricity produced from your solar panels into the electrical grid, then draw from it when needed. To boot – you receive credit from your local distribution company for the electricity if you produce a surplus!
In a nutshell:
Canadians are now able to reduce or eliminate their electrical costs by exporting generated electricity (from their solar panel system) back to the utility grid for a credit against the electricity that their property consumes.
Future improvements in solar efficiency
Research and development in the field of solar energy are far from over. Solar technologies are continuously advancing and becoming more efficient. As mentioned earlier, researchers have now developed a solar panel design with electrical production efficiencies pushing 44 percent.
We will continue to see solar energy become more efficient with the coming years, and hopefully Unconquered Sun Solar Technologies Inc. will continue to play a large part in the advancement of the technology!
In the mean time…..
Check out this quick vid;
Getting started with solar
**Reminder to self** Insert a shameless plug for the company here! Sorry if this next part sounds a little promotional but it is accurate.. At Unconquered Sun Solar Technologies Inc. our qualified team of professionals are standing by to advise you with a FREE no obligation solar analysis design and quote for your home or business. A USST professional will recommend a solar panel system which is tailored to your home or business, advise you on the size, any costs, required documentation and approvals.
Also I believe the quality of design, system components and installation here at Unconquered Sun to be absolutely beyond compare. And our 1.9% financing available to all USST clientele is without parallel in the solar industry!
So, If you are ready to Go Solar, then let’s get started!
- Request a FREE solar analysis, design and quote
- Pre approve yourself for USST’s exclusive No Money Down, 1.9% un secured financing option!
Well, this concludes the Solar Efficiency vs Competing Fuels edition of the Ultimate Solar Guide from Unconquered Sun!
Hopefully this article will serve as a valuable reference on your solar journey. I truly hope you have found the content helpful. Please feel free to respond with any comments or suggestions you may have!
More to come!!