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, Solar Panel Writer
The U.S. has more than 2 million solar installations. This means there are tens of millions of solar panels on roofs and racking systems. Solar energy is fantastic for reducing carbon emissions and promoting energy independence, but what happens at the end of the panel’s 30-year lifespan?
There is a looming waste management issue as solar systems age and will eventually be decommissioned. Is the U.S. prepared for large-scale solar panel recycling?
“Installations two decades ago are nearing their end of life, and that becomes a challenge for the waste industry,” says Garvin Heath, a senior scientist in the Strategic Energy Analysis Center of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “Because it takes a long time to develop technology and policy and solutions to dealing with end-of-life products, this is something we need to start to address today.”
According to Heath, solar panels could comprise more than 10 percent of global electronic waste by 2050.
Solar panel recycling presents an economic opportunity and can spawn new industries. A study by the International Renewable Agency (IRENA) estimates that by 2050, $15 billion could be recovered from recycling solar panels. There are also repair and reuse opportunities for solar panels that fail prematurely. These repaired solar panels are often sold at a discount, creating opportunities in new markets where affordability is an issue.
What Parts of the Solar Panel Can Be Recycled?
Glass, plastic, aluminum, and silicon comprise 99 percent of the silicon-based solar panels.
Image Credit: Nichole McClure
By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Panel 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? Let’s explore some of these critical issues in the pursuit of the best solar panels on 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 energy can be generated in a given space. Space becomes more critical when there are constraints due to the size or 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 important consideration. It is also important to consider the long-term efficiency of solar modules.
Long-Term Power Generation
Like most other things, solar panels degrade over time. They become less efficient in turning sunlight into electricity. This is important because solar panels can last 30 years and you want your solar system to be churning out a lot of energy a couple of decades from now, even if someone else owns the home.
Solar panel manufacturers offer a power production guarantee to ensure a certain level of output over a given time. Many solar panel manufacturers provide a guarantee of 90 percent production for 10 years and 80 percent for 25 years.
Image Credit: Nichole McClure
By Sarah Lozanova
The U.S. has enough installed solar energy capacity to power 4.6 million homes. Solar energy accounted for 32 percent of total new power generation in 2014, exceeding coal and wind energy but lagging behind natural gas. In just nine years, the installed cost of solar energy has fallen by more than 73 percent – setting up the industry for explosive growth.
TriplePundit spoke with Vikram Aggarwal, founder and CEO of EnergySage, the so-called “Expedia of solar,” about solar energy trends and what to expect for 2016 in the residential market.
1. Unprecedented boom continues
Last year, analysts predicted that solar would grow by 57.4 gigawatts in 2015. The recent five-year extension of the investment tax credit (ITC) in the U.S. for both residential and commercial installations further enhances the growth trend. Now that solar manufacturing capacity has expanded significantly, the price of solar equipment has plummeted – making solar energy cheaper than grid-supplied power in many markets.
“The residential solar market is a vibrant $7 billion industry, and on track to generate more revenue by year-end 2016 than Major League Baseball,” Aggarwal said. “The economics of solar are rapidly changing for solar shoppers, installers and financiers alike.”
Google is leading the clean-energy revolution like no other company. It has invested in 22 renewable energy projects to date. In fact, Google is the biggest corporate purchaser globally of renewable energy, with a hand in utility-scale wind and solar projects that span the globe. Google has a goal to power 100 percent of its operations from renewable energy, and it is well on its way.
“We’re really trying to lead this transition to a cleaner energy economy,” said Michael Terrell, principal for energy and infrastructure at Google. “It’s transforming anyone who touches the energy space. It’s not just about data centers or tech companies.”
The Google approach to renewable energy is not unlike how many utilities purchase power. It often enters into power purchase agreements: long-term financial agreements, typically with wind farms, to buy power. The projects that Google has been involved with span the globe, including in Sweden, Iowa, Oklahoma and California, along with a recent $12 million investment in the largest solar energy project in South Africa.
by Sarah Lozanova
Installed solar energy capacity in the U.S. is growing dramatically, with numerous record-shattering years in a row. There is now enough installed solar energy to power over 4.6 million U.S. homes and a new solar project is installed every two minutes. Meanwhile, the cost of solar has fallen significantly, helping to fuel this unprecedented growth.
Solar energy (r)evolution
Since 1998, the cost of residential and commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) systems has fallen every year by an average of 6 to 8 percent, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Since 2006, the installed cost of solar energy has dropped more than 73%. Once a market dominated by environmental motives, many people are now installing solar PV to save money.
This 36-unit community may be the nation's first planned development built around Passive House green building standards.
By Sarah Lozanova
Even from the layout of the homes, visitors can tell something is unique about Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage. “Where are the driveways?” one guest asks. “How strange, these houses don’t have any driveways!”
Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BCE) is a 36-unit intentional community on 42 acres in Midcoast Maine. Members designed the community from 2008 to 2011, before breaking ground in 2011; GO Logic, a Belfast-based design-build firm that specializes in sustainable building, designed the units and site plan and served as general contractor.
The homes are clustered, and a pedestrian path, not a road, runs through the six-and-a-half-acre built area. Despite being a rural property, all the homes are located in two- to four-unit buildings and range from 500 to 1,800 square feet with one to three bedrooms. The community layout encourages social interaction, offers safety for children, and provides open space for food production, wildlife and recreation. With PV solar systems, these highly efficient homes are near net zero.
PASSIVE HOUSE DESIGNS
When one enters the homes, it becomes obvious that the lack of driveways is only one of many differences between these houses and the average code-built home. Despite being located in Midcoast Maine, the houses have no furnaces.
Freelance clean energy writer