Monday, March 13, 2006
Big solar or small solar? That is the question.
I was checking out the always informative Energy Blog(by James Fraser) and a recent post about a huge solar concentrator dish being tested in Israel, which made me think of the debate over whether solar is better applied on a large, centralized scale or a smaller, decentralized scale.
I guess you have to deal with two big issues: environmental impact and cost. I've always leaned toward the small model--a solar panel system for every rooftop--over the large, power-plant sized solar installations, mainly because the closer you produce the power to your house, the less distance it has to travel(less transport=less electricity/heat loss as it travels over power lines). The benefit of large-scale solar is that it could be cheaper. According to the source cited in the above post at the Energy Blog, Israel says they can produce electricity at $1,000 per kilowatt, about the same price as traditional power plants. If this is true when put into practice, that looks great compared to the $6,000 per kilowatt you pay to put panels on your roof(after rebates).
Then the question is how much electricity could we produce and transport using those power-plant sized solar installations, and how much land area do we have available for that in megawatts of electricity? How much "rooftop" space do we have available to do solar on a smaller scale and how many megawatts would that space produce?
Some combination of the two will have to be worked out. Which one will win in the end? Up to this point, almost all solar production is geared toward panels, or smaller-scale solar, and no centralized,large solar plant currently reaches the size of a small/medium fossil-fuel power plant(500 MW). As with the newer "thin film" solar technologies, the total number of large scale solar power plants will need quite a bit of time to get built before they reach today's total MW production of small solar panels.
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