By Sarah Lozanova, Clean Energy Writer
2022 is shaping up to be an exciting year for truck lovers as more truck manufacturers roll out their new electric models. In the third segment of our four-part series about new EVs in 2022, we’re exploring the soon-to-be burgeoning electric pickup truck market.
Pickup trucks are the lifeblood of the U.S. auto industry. In fact, Ford’s F-series has been the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. for 39 consecutive years, and pickups made up 20% of all new vehicle sales in 2020. Certainly, pickups have unmatched off-roading, towing, and hauling abilities and excellent ground clearance for snow.
But with all these capabilities, pickups aren’t the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the market. For example, the 2021 F-150 gets between 15 and 25 miles per gallon, with hybrids on the higher end of the fuel economy spectrum. Going electric is certainly an excellent way to reduce emissions, but the new electric pickups coming out now also have some awe-inspiring qualities combined with long driving ranges.
Ford F-150 Lightning
Ford’s all-electric version of the popular full-size F-150 pickup should hit the market in spring 2022, with a starting price of $39,974. The standard electric pickup has a range of 230 miles and 426 horsepower. The extended-range version goes 300 miles on a charge, delivers 563 horsepower, and has a towing capacity of 10,000 pounds. Both models feature a military-grade aluminum-alloy body, a dual-motor all-wheel-drive setup, and can go from 0 to 60 mph in roughly 4.5 seconds. The F-150 Lightning also has one of the most impressive frunks (front trunk) in the EV industry.
One imposing new feature is Intelligent Backup Power, which can provide 9.6 kW of energy for use by a home, tools or appliances. During a power outage, it can power the home from the truck’s battery pack through the hardwired wall charger to the electrical panel. This sounds far cleaner and quieter than using a backup generator. The F-150 Lighting also features outlets in the cab, bed, and frunk to power electronics and appliances on the go.
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Writer
Are you thinking of going electric and purchasing an EV? There are now more models on the market than ever before. Vehicle range is increasing as battery technology advances, and there is a more extensive charging infrastructure than ever before. In fact, there are 930 publicly available charging stations in Georgia. To make driving an electric vehicle as green as possible, it is vital to consider the type of electricity used for charging.
In Georgia, nearly half of our power comes from natural gas and 20% from coal. Unfortunately, less than 10% comes from renewable sources. Therefore, installing solar panels on your roof is an excellent way to power your electric vehicle from the sun and save money!
Solar energy panels are more efficient than they were even a decade ago, so most homeowners have enough space on their roofs to generate most or all of their own electricity. As clean technologies become more common and widespread, many homeowners are looking at how to combine them. What’s great about installing solar panels is that the sun will power both your home and your car, also saving on fuel expenses.
How many solar panels do I need to charge my electric vehicle?
The answer to this depends on several factors. The Solar Plus team is skilled in properly sizing solar PV systems to get the most value out of the installation, so contact us if you would like help.
Electric Vehicles & Driving Habits
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Energy Writer
As solar energy deployment increases, solar farms are becoming bigger than ever before. Large-scale solar farms have ground-mounted solar panels. Therefore, the way developers plan and manage those impacts wildlife and local ecosystems. How can solar professionals minimize the ecological impacts of solar farms?
It is essential to examine this question throughout all phases of solar farm development, from the initial planning phase to decommissioning.
Alternatives to Mowing
It is critical to minimize or eliminate shading on solar panels to boost electricity production. Therefore, many solar farm managers mow around the solar panels with gas-powered mowers and use herbicides. Unfortunately, these produce carbon emissions, burn fossil fuels, and contaminate air quality and water quality.
Using sheep to graze around the solar panels reduces or eliminates the need to mow and apply herbicides. Sheep are excellent at removing vegetation, even between solar panels. This prevents shading without chemicals or gas-powered equipment.
Often, solar farms contain non-native plants or even gravel around the solar panels. This groundcover provides little value to wildlife, especially pollinators. Planting native wildflowers can help reduce the need to irrigate the groundcover, conserving water. Likewise, it gives fodder to pollinators. Once established, this landscape can reduce maintenance, saving money. Also, pollinators can provide a lot of value to farmers. If there are agricultural farms located nearby, native plants can help maintain pollinator populations, which can sometimes help protect crop yields.
Promoting Soil Health
Grazing sheep, cultivating native plants, and not apply herbicides all help maintain soil quality. In fact, soil health is critical for healthy ecosystems and productive farms. Solar farms may become cropland or wilderness areas after the solar farm is decommissioned. Thus, promoting soil health can help promote productive use of the property several decades from now.
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Writer
The United States now has enough installed solar energy capacity to power 17.7 million homes. Although this is fantastic for air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, it means there is a looming e-waste issue on the horizon. At some point, the photovoltaic panels will no longer generate enough energy. Is it possible to recycle solar panels when they have reached their end of life?
The design life of solar panels is 25 to 30 years. Over time, solar modules become less efficient in converting sunlight to electricity due to degradation. Most of the solar panels in the U.S. were installed in the last decade. The efficiency of the panels will decrease and need to be replaced. Broken solar panels are good candidates for a refurbishing program.
Currently, only a small fraction of solar panels are recycled. The lack of governmental policies, infrastructure, and foresight in the module design process makes solar panel recycling expensive and arduous. For solar energy to truly produce clean energy, we must recycle solar panels effectively.
What materials are in solar panels?
When exploring recyclability, it is helpful to consider the components that make up a solar photovoltaic (PV) panel. Silicon-based modules are comprised of glass, plastic, aluminum, and silicon. Unfortunately, they also contain trace toxic compounds, such as lead, which can leach into groundwater if not properly disposed of. Cadmium telluride (CdTe) is found in thin-film solar and is toxic and a carcinogen. Because thin-film currently constitutes less than 5% of the global module market, it is a smaller-scale concern.
How are solar panels recycled?
To recycle the modules, they must be disassembled to remove the glass and the metal components in the frames and junction boxes. Unfortunately, the remaining materials make a low-value product that is largely downcycled into low-value products. As a result, material recovery rates are often around 85%, and the demand for the recycled materials is low.
How can we improve solar panel recycling?
Extending the life of decommissioned solar modules through refurbishing is an appealing option when possible. Such initiatives create a secondary market for solar PV materials that can help keep prices down while reducing waste.
To achieve dramatic advancement in recycling initiatives’ value and recovery rates would require the direct reuse of materials in the frame, glass, tabbing, and solar cells. The copper, silver, and silicon also provide a valuable opportunity if they can be effectively recovered. For example, silicon could be recycled back into solar panels or the anodes of lithium-ion batteries.
If achieved, this could reduce waste while conserving energy and resources.
Where can I recycle solar panels?
Although the U.S. lacks a national network for solar panel recycling, there is a patchwork of recycling options. The Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA’s) National PV Recycling Program has designated Preferred Recycling Partners that meet certain standards. Two solar manufacturers lead the way in their recycling efforts: First Solar and SunPower.
By Sarah Lozanova, Renewable Energy Writer
The energy mix in the United States has shifted significantly in recent years. Wind and solar energy capacity has skyrocketed and continues on an upward trend. Wind energy generated 7% of the total electricity in the United States in 2019. Since 2008, the use of coal-fired power plants has declined, as the use of renewable energy and natural gas has increased. Wind energy is an excellent way to reduce carbon emissions, but what happens when the wind turbine blades wear out? Is there a looming waste disposal issue?
Looming Waste Management Issues
The design life of wind turbines is about 20 to 25 years. The longest wind turbine blade to date is 350 feet, almost the length of a football field. Although certain parts of wind turbines can be relatively easily recycled, others are not designed for recyclability. In particular, wind turbine blades present the biggest waste management challenge, but researchers from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in partnership with Arkema Inc. are making progress in this area.
Most wind turbine blades are currently constructed with composite material infused with a thermoset resin, which makes them highly durable to withstand storms and the elements. Unfortunately, thermoset plastics are almost impossible to recycle, so the blades do not have much scrap value and are not very appealing to recyclers. Therefore, many spent turbine blades are piling up in landfills, although some reinforced plastic blades are downcycled into cement products.
Promising Turbine Blade Research
The good news is that researchers have developed a blade out of thermoplastic resin (instead of thermoset resin) that is low-cost, lightweight, and seems to be recyclable. If the new blade also proves to be durable, this could be a gamechanger for the offshore and onshore wind industry. Lower costs also could help boost wind energy deployment, reducing the use of fossil fuels. A lightweight blade is easier to transport and uses less fuel. It also seems easier to recycle and uses less energy in the manufacturing process. These are all wins for the environment and the wind energy industry.
“With thermoset resin systems, it’s almost like when you fry an egg. You can’t reverse that,” said Derek Berry, a senior engineer at NREL in a press release. “But with a thermoplastic resin system, you can make a blade out of it. You heat it to a certain temperature, and it melts back down. You can get the liquid resin back and reuse that.” This means that the blades could be recycled instead of downcycled into lower-value goods.
So far, the thermoplastic resin blade durability looks promising. “The thermoplastic material absorbs more energy from loads on the blades due to the wind, which can reduce the wear and tear from these loads to the rest of the turbine system, which is a good thing,” said NREL researcher Robynne Murray.
Although the research looks promising, progress will be slow. Most wind farms being constructed today will be decommissioned in a few decades. The benefits of recyclable blades are still decades away at best. The decommissioning of wind farms and the associated environmental impact has largely been a blind spot for the industry. Hopefully, recent advances will help make wind power even greener. Despite the waste issue, wind power is still one of the most sustainable sources of energy.
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Writer
Technological advances have transformed the solar energy industry in recent years. Solar panels are significantly more efficient, producing more power in the same amount of space. Meanwhile, prices continue to fall, reducing the cost of solar electricity.
But with the introduction of new technologies comes uncertainty. Which solar panels are the most reliable and durable? What technology creates the least amount of pollution in the manufacturing process? Do panel manufacturers use recycled components or provide solar panel recycling options at the end of life? Let’s explore some of these critical issues in the pursuit of the best solar panels on the market.
We compared the efficiency, warranty, environmental performance, and more of the following solar panel models in the comparison chart below.
A Dynamic Industry
At times, supply delays and surpluses have plagued the solar industry. For example, China slashed solar subsidies for domestic solar installations in May 2018. This move created a lag in demand, causing a surplus of solar panels and falling prices across the industry. More recently, the Trump administration enacted a U.S. solar tariff on panels, but this is tapering down. Also, the federal tax credit was extended by two years at 26%, effective in 2021.
Because solar panel technology is advancing, the market is very dynamic. New products are frequently being released as others become obsolete. The cost of advanced solar batteries has been dropping as demand has surged. The most efficient solar panels on the market today will probably not seem so efficient in a decade as the technology matures. Companies that are relatively unknown could capture a larger share of the market.
Solar Panel Considerations
Solar panels have become significantly more efficient in recent years. And the more efficient a solar panel is, the more electricity it generates in a given space. Space becomes more critical when there are constraints due to the size of your roof or property.
Unfortunately, more efficient panels typically cost more. If space isn’t an issue, efficiency becomes less crucial. For installations limited by space, panel efficiency is an essential consideration. It is also important to consider the long-term efficiency of solar modules.
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar PV Writer
U.S. solar generation capacity is soaring. Construction began recently on the Samson Solar Energy Center, the largest planned solar energy farm in the United States. When completed, the solar farm will have 1,013 megawatts of generating capacity. This solar farm will be considerably larger than the 690 MW Gemini solar project with battery storage under construction outside of Las Vegas, which had been the largest project in the U.S.
Invenergy is developing the Samson solar farm, which will span three counties in Northeast Texas near the Oklahoma border. The project will create an estimated 600 construction jobs and $450 million in tax revenue and landowner lease payments. Developers are planning construction in five phases, with a 2023 expected completion date.
Texas is a leader in renewable energy production in the U.S. due to its excellent solar and wind energy resources. It leads in the nation in installed wind energy capacity and trails California for installed solar energy capacity.
Who will purchase the solar energy?
Corporations have already signed virtual Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for Samson’s solar electricity. “The Samson Solar Energy Center is the latest example of what can be achieved when companies and utilities seek an innovative partner to meet their sustainability goals and invest in a clean energy future,” said Ted Romaine, senior vice president of origination at Invenergy.
The largest share, 500 MW, will go to AT&T, which says it will be the biggest corporate U.S. solar deal to date. This agreement is a big step forward in AT&T’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2035. The corporation’s multi-facet plan includes transitioning to a low-emissions fleet, increasing energy efficiency, and purchasing carbon offsets.
In addition, Honda has an agreement for 200 MW, McDonald’s for 160 MW, and Google for 100 MW. AT&T, Google, and Honda have already been leaders in renewable energy use. According to the Renewable Energy Buyer’s Alliance Top U.S. Energy Buyers of 2019, Google ranks second, AT&T third, McDonald’s ninth, and Honda tenth.
Tech giants have helped lead the way with sourcing renewable energy, due in part to consumer and investor concern over dirty energy powering data centers.
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Energy Writer
Many homeowners want to install a solar electric system but don’t know if their roof gets enough sunshine. The return on investment from the solar panels and the positive environmental benefits are highly dependent on the energy production.
Here’s the essential information to determine if a house has ample solar potential.
Solar energy systems generate the most electricity when the panels are pointed south. If the orientation of the roof is slightly off from due south, it won’t have a dramatic impact on the total energy production.
If the solar panels face east, they will generate more energy in the morning. Conversely, if the panels face west, the system will have excellent afternoon production but little in the morning. It is not recommended to install panels on a north-facing roof (in the northern hemisphere).
To determine the energy loss due to orientation, go to the PVWatts website and edit the azimuth field.
Shade from Trees and Buildings
Although trees are wonderful, they can have a negative impact on solar production. Buildings and trees located east, west, and especially south can hinder electricity output. The most crucial window is the mid-day hours, between 9 am and 3 pm. Thus, obstructions on the south side of the home can have the biggest impact. If trees are an issue, trimming certain branches might be highly beneficial.
Evergreen trees can have the biggest impact on solar panels because they create shading throughout the year. Deciduous trees tend to not have leaves when the sun is lower in the sky during the cold weather months. When planting new trees, select shorter varieties or plant them on the north side of the home.
Image Credit: Sundog Solar
Do solar panels work on shaded roofs?
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Energy Writer
A big concern with large-scale solar farms is the impact on land use. Solar developers often site projects on agricultural land that is taken out of production. Also, the vegetation around solar panels needs to be maintained to prevent shading. In some cases, herbicides are used, contaminating waterways, and mowing generates pollution. If the developer applies gravel or plants turfgrass, the land has little wildlife value.
As the local food movement gains steam, isn’t it counterproductive to turn productive cropland into an energy plant? How can the solar energy industry embrace biodiversity while producing clean energy? Is dual use of a solar site possible?
Solar farms can be managed to increase pollinator habitat, improve soil quality, and even for livestock grazing. Innovative land management approaches enable solar projects to serve multiple purposes, benefitting the local economy. Keeping honeybees, grazing sheep, and even cultivating mushrooms can all complement a solar energy project.
Native Wildflowers Boost Pollinator Habitat
Researchers with the Argonne National Laboratory are examining the economic benefits of establishing native vegetation, including wildflowers and prairie grasses, on nearby cropland. Native vegetation attracts crucial critters like bees, flies, bats, birds, wasps, moths, and butterflies, which can be beneficial to crop yields.
Researchers with the Argonne National Laboratory are examining the economic benefits of establishing native vegetation on nearby cropland, including wildflowers and prairie grasses. A diverse array of native plants benefits wildlife diversity, especially pollinators. These crucial critters include bees, flies, bats, birds, wasps, moths, and butterflies, and can be beneficial to crop yields.
Image Credit: Danny Piper of Sundog Solar
By Sarah Lozanova, Clean Energy Writer
If you don’t already own an electric vehicle (EV), you might soon. Most automakers are ramping up the development and production of electrified models, including SUVs and pick-up trucks. EV ownership is predicted to skyrocket in the next few years. Because these vehicles need to charge, it is important to figure out the best approach.
When considering an EV purchase, it is wise to consider how you will charge it. The length of time it takes to charge depends on the battery capacity and the speed of the charger. It takes longer to charge a car with a larger or more discharged battery — or from a slower charging device. The way that many EV owners charge their vehicles is similar to how they charged their cell phones before quick chargers became widespread. They give the EV a full charge overnight and top it off as needed throughout the day.
Ideally, owners can charge their electric vehicle at home in a garage or driveway. This is typically the most convenient, especially when using slower units. Let’s explore the different types of chargers available.
Level 1 Chargers
These devices work from a standard 120-volt wall outlet and all EVs come with a standard home connector kit. However, Level 1 chargers require more time to charge the vehicle than higher-volt alternatives. Many EV drivers use this option if they are not in a hurry to charge because it doesn’t require an investment in additional equipment or electrical upgrades. It can also be convenient on the road because it requires no more than a standard electrical outlet.
Level 2 Chargers
For faster home charging than the standard wall units, some EV owners upgrade to Level 2 chargers. These units run off of 240-volt currents, allowing the vehicle to charge in several hours. From an electrical perspective, the chargers require the same voltage as many electric ranges, dryers, and water heaters.
Image Credit: Ivan Radic
Freelance renewable energy writer