Why Solar is Exploding – in Maine
October 25, 2011
ARUNDEL – On the lawn behind the Solar Market offices here, 144 solar-electric panels are mounted across a 100-foot-long run of wooden racks. No surprise, really, to see a photovoltaic system outside a company that sells the hardware
But this set-up is way larger than needed to run lights and appliances. And therein lies the surprise: These solar panels generated enough power last winter to supply nearly 70 percent of the building’s warmth — with electric heat.
The falling price of photovoltaic panels, along with the advent of special heat pumps and super insulation, is creating an opportunity in Maine that energy experts could hardly imagine a few years ago. Now some of the state’s leading solar installers, including Solar Market, have begun installing so-called PV panels on homes and businesses to harvest sunshine for baseboard heaters.
The new economics of PV panels also has some companies moving away from promoting solar-thermal collectors designed to heat water, a mainstay of the business in Maine for 30 years.
“We stopped selling solar hot water three years ago,” said Naoto Inoue, who owns Solar Market and has hot-water panels on his house. “I would never do it again. I would put up all PV.”
What’s starting to happen in Maine reflects an era of dizzying change taking place in the global solar industry.
PV module prices are down 50 percent in the past three years; they’ve fallen by roughly one-third in the past 12 months. Manufacturing growth in China, among other factors, has led to overcapacity and financial losses. Trade publications predict that competition will continue to drive down prices next year, as the industry struggles to consolidate and match supply with demand.
Why some of the Coldest Areas have Best Solar Potential:
According to a new study, some of the coldest geographic locations on earth have the best solar power generation potential if using photovoltaic panels.
Some of the regions include the southern Andes and the Himalayas.
The two main reasons why some of the coldest regions on earth have the best solar power generation potential are:
- They are at high altitudes, which are exposed to more sunlight.
- Some types of solar cells (the electricity-generating part of solar panels) generate electricity more efficiently at cold temperatures. Traditional silicon wafer solar cells are affected by heat more than others and, like all solar panels, are exposed to reasonably high temperatures all day long.
I should also add that, according to a study, heat from solar radiation (sunlight) is what degrades solar cells as well as the transparent panels that they are protected behind, and more so than any other environmental factor by far. Heat is almost the exclusive destroyer of solar cells. Because solar cells do not exhibit any measurable degradation without much heat, it is reasonable to assume that they will last longer in colder climates.
One of the emerging components for electrical heating in northern areas is Ceramic Thermal Heat storage:
Electric Thermal Storage (ETS) is a heat storage technology which converts lower cost, off-peak electricity to thermal energy, or heat. An ETS system is odorless and exhaust free, and its heat is safely stored in specially manufactured, dense ceramic bricks. As heat is needed (either for domestic hot water or space heating), a blower moves the heat from the bricks to whichever application is called for.
Off-peak hours are those times of the day or night when electric power is generally less expensive. And to the degree that the electricity is derived from renewable sources like wind, hydro, biomass or tidal power, heating our homes, our domestic hot water and our businesses helps reduce Maine’s dependence on fossil fuels.
ETS equipment is easy to operate and requires very little maintenance. The amount of heat stored in the brick core of the heater is regulated (either manually or automatically) according to seasonal weather conditions. The on-board room temperature thermostat is set to your desired comfort level and controls the delivery of heat from the ETS heater. “Fan Forced” units, such as individual room heaters, have the ability to quickly discharge vast amounts of heat as required.