Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Click on the title of this post to open the comments section. [iii] “Nuclear Energy — The Dream that Failed” in The Economist, March 10th – 16th 2012, page 54f [iv] See “Reinventing Fire”, this blog, http://blog.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com/2012/01/04/reinventing-fire.aspx [vi] See “Energy Efficiency Audit – a No-Brainer”, this blog,
Solar Energy and the Smaller Manufacturer
Today, solar energy is in what I think of as an adolescent phase. While solar energy is a commercial reality, it constitutes only about 1% of America’s energy supply[i]. At the same time, solar energy is one of its fastest growing industries — America added 1,855 megawatts of photovoltaic (PV) capacity in 2011, 109% more than in 2010![ii] This rapid growth is accompanied by a continuing stream of technical innovations and with a breath-taking decrease in costs. Solar panel supplier’s prices nose-dived over 50% in 2011 alone as volume and competition increased.
Further, this is a global industry. Demand is global: America’s 1,855 megawatts constituted about 7% of global installations in 2011. Supply is global: China and the U.S. are now in a trade row over panel prices. And technical innovations seem to be coming from everywhere.
Trends and Directions
Photovoltaic solar (PV) power generation is intrinsically modular. It can be deployed as utility – sized installations feeding regional or national power grids. It can be deployed locally as a power source for individual applications, like traffic signals or garden lighting. And it can be deployed on almost any scale in between.
Today’s aging electric power grids are being re-examined to an unprecedented extent. Last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan has called nuclear power generation into such question that Germany has decided to phase out all nuclear power plants by 2022, and to replace them with renewable energy. Other nations may well follow. A recent 14 – page special report in The Economist[iii] discusses this in detail. Coal fired power generation remains under environmental pressure (including a carbon tax on new coal fired facilities, announced as this post is being written). In the U.S., nuclear and coal fired facilities are source to 10% and 48% respectively of U.S. electric power. Many of these power plants are nearing the end of their design life.
The modular nature of PV solar power generation makes it practicable to replace highly centralized coal fired or nuclear facilities with smaller, localized power sources. Utility scale facilities would complement roof top installations. Of course, the architecture of such a power grid needs more than PVs, and the costs involved have to be viable. As mentioned before in this blog[iv], the folks at the Rocky Mountain Institute[v] have published an extensive study on how this transition can actually be accomplished.
What Does a Smaller Manufacturer Do?
It appears that manufacturing, at least in America, is actually emerging from a long and bitter recession. Upon emerging, manufacturers are finding that today’s economic realities are much different from those of the boom days prior to the financial meltdown. Globalization, Sustainability, constrained resource availability and $100+ oil are a few of the factors that have moved from peripheral concerns to mainstream issues.
… Chuck Harrington
P.S: When you are ready to address Sustainability planning in your business, contact me at: Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com
Download a PDF version of this post at: http://app5.websitetonight.com/projects2/4/9/9/4/2164994/uploads/Blog_Post_-_Solar_Flair_-_29_March_2012.PDF
Solar panel photo courtesy of Matt Bonnstetter, www.SolarWorksAZ.com
Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Click on the title of this post to open the comments section.
[iii] “Nuclear Energy — The Dream that Failed” in The Economist, March 10th – 16th 2012, page 54f
[iv] See “Reinventing Fire”, this blog, http://blog.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com/2012/01/04/reinventing-fire.aspx
[vi] See “Energy Efficiency Audit – a No-Brainer”, this blog,