In Arizona, where daily peak power demand typically coincides precisely with expected solar cell output, less than 1% of electric power is solar. Supplemental power from solar cells would appear to be perfectly matched, timing-wise, with Arizona’s needs, almost year around. Arizonans raise the price of energy during peak demand. Is it “big oil” which blocks solar power in Arizona?
Compressed air seems to be a leading long-term bet for storing energy from solar cells. The requirement to be able to store the energy output appears to be a critical consideration, even in Arizona. Efficiency of compressed air energy storage would appear to be around 65%, but I think we should expect this number may be optimistic (Wikipedia source).
Perhaps the biggest reason Arizonans don’t use more than a trickle of solar power from direct conversion is called “shadow” or “intermittency;” it has nothing to do with “big oil.”
But don’t let that discourage you from putting our nation’s energy egg in the Arizona solar cell basket, Al Gore. If food for the world means nothing to you (Al Gore’s Ethanol From Corn), then why should energy for the world?
Arizona works to become the solar-power ‘Saudi Arabia’
Submitted by administrator on Thu, 12/20/2007 – 14:26. By TOM BEAL, Arizona Daily Star science and technology western news
TUCSON, Ariz. — tThere is a shadow over the bright future of solar power in Arizona, cast by the clouds that blanket metropolitan areas when demand for electricity is greatest.
They call the problem “intermittency,” and it could have its biggest impact midafternoon in midsummer, when everyone is running air conditioners to counter the heat.
Whether those solar panels are part of a big power plant or distributed across the rooftops of Phoenix and Tucson, they will lose their power source just when the electric grid needs it most.
If Arizona is to become “the Saudi Arabia of solar energy,” it needs to find ways to keep the electrons flowing through those summer storms and during the total lack of sunshine at night.
Scientists say that planners simply need to expand their vision of what constitutes a storage battery to include lakes, caverns, tanks of heated liquid and fleets of parked electric cars.
In the future, Arizonans might use solar power when it's not in demand to compress air and store it underground, releasing it to spin turbines when the clouds come by.
Other solutions include fleets of privately owned electric cars whose batteries can be plugged into the electric grid or bi- level lakes where water is pumped uphill when power is plentiful and run downhill through turbines during peak demand.
Add to that the proven solar technology of solar troughs, which use mirrors to focus the sun's warming rays on liquid-filled pipes that in turn heat and vaporize gases that power turbines.
Scientists say a mix of these strategies will be needed if solar is to become a dependable solution to the urgent need to find power sources that don't give off greenhouse gases.
The solutions are a few years off, but so is the problem. Arizona's utilities aren't generating vast amounts of power from renewable sources right now because of solar's other impediment — high cost.
Still, the intermittency of renewable power sources is already a technological problem, said Tucson Electric Power spokesman Joe Salkowski.
At its Springerville power plant, where coal is burned to produce 760 megawatts of power, TEP adds another 4.6 megawatts to the same transmission lines from a photovoltaic array.
Olgierd Palusinski, of the University of Arizona's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, is working on a cure for the hiccups, and perhaps for the entire problem.
Working with researchers from Arizona State University and the University of California-Irvine, Palusinski is electro-plating metals into the extremely small pores of a non-conductive membrane, creating a storage battery that doesn't need the wet chemistry of standard ones. It simply stores electrons.
If it works, it will be more efficient, smaller, less costly and longer lasting than a standard battery, he said. An array of the devices could store enough electrons to provide 24-hour power from solar, he said.
Ben Sternberg, a professor in the UA Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, proposes a survey of underground caverns where compressed air can be stored for days before its pressure is released to spin turbines.
Tom Hansen, a vice president for research at TEP, said the anticipated phenomenon of power loss at peak demand during Arizona's monsoon season is one of the biggest impediments to growth in solar generation. His company, along with other Arizona utilities, has been ordered by the Arizona Corporation Commission to generate 15 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025.
Solar is the best bet for meeting that goal, he said, and for supplying even larger levels of power in the years to come, as oil and gas supplies dwindle, and coal falls into disfavor as an energy generator.
The Arizona Corporation Commission knew of the intermittency problem when it ordered Arizona's utilities to meet the 2025 goal, said Commissioner Bill Mundell, but dismissed the utilities' argument that it would keep them from meeting the goal. He is betting that technology will solve the problem well before the goal is met, and he predicts that, by that time, solar will also be a cheaper source of energy than others. The price of oil and gas is going up, he said, and some sort of carbon tax on coal burning is inevitable.
The basic technology for capturing sunlight for electricity is good and increasingly reliable, Hansen said.
TEP's array of photovoltaic panels near its coal-fired plants in Springerville has been generating electricity for six years and TEP has had to replace only 150 of the 34,000 modules in that time. It costs the utility $5,000 to $10,000 a year to operate the array, Hansen said, and most of that cost is for cutting the grass.
Wind turbines are already competitive with natural gas for generating electricity, said Mundell, but the state has very few areas with sufficient, consistent wind. He said solar is the future.
Contact reporter Tom Beal at firstname.lastname@example.org.