On our present road trip, we are seeing a new kind of farmâ€”solar farms. Over the vast stretches of deserts and high plateaus, extensive acres of photovoltaic (PV) panels bask in treeless fields, soaking up solar energy to harness the sunâ€™s power. This is different than rooftop or ground-mounted installations for private homes or businesses. These solar farms are, essentially, power plants. As we deal, more and more, with the problems of â€ścentralized power,â€ť these solar farms are a â€śbright lightâ€ť in the future of electricity production.
A Little History
A couple years ago, I wrote an article called â€śThe Old Grey Grid She Ainâ€™t What She Used to Be.â€ť It explored the condition and vulnerabilities of our electric infrastructure, noting the United States has only three gridsâ€”the Eastern, Western and Texas grids. These grids, or electricity distribution networks, are mainly powered by fossil fuels.
Natural gas is the largest source of fuel for the production of electricity in the United States, providing 40% of the generation of power. Coal is a close third, producing 19% of our energy. Biomass, like animal dung, accounts for 1.4% of the total U.S. electricity generation. Surprisingly, petroleum is the source of less than 1% of our electrical production.
Non-fossil fuels that power up our country are topped by nuclear power, our second largest source of electricity. Using the energy produced by splitting the nucleus of an atom, nuclear power provides 20% or one-fifth of the energy used in the United States.
Wind energy, spinning a turbine connected to a generator, is the source of 8.4% of our harnessed electrical energy. Hydro power uses water to spin a turbine. Hydro power plants produce 7.3% of the U.S. electricity generation. Solar power provides 2.3% of the nationâ€™s power. Geo-thermal comes in last at 5%.
Despite the varied power sources available, the electricity generated by these sources is funneled into just those three distribution networksâ€”the Eastern, Western and Texas Grids. This kind of centralized power leaves an electricity-dependent society vulnerable. Itâ€™s dangerous.
Badla Solar Park in India is the largest solar park in the world and is driving economic growth and job creation in surrounding areas.
A New Cash Crop
Sumit Chakrabati, writing for solarfeeds.com, reports, â€śThe largest solar farm in the United States is Solar Star in Los Angeles and Kern counties. It generates enough power to serve 255,000 homes. According to Solar Start, it has 1.7 million solar panels spread out in more than 3200 acres in Kern and Los Angeles Counties, California. That is nearly the size of 142 football fields or four times the size of Central Park.â€ť
According to the California Energy Commission, the solar panels use a single-axis tracker to follow the sunâ€™s movement throughout the day. This feature makes the panels nearly 25% more efficient than motionless panels. The net environmental impact of this clean energy project is significant. The electricity produced by the farm is sold and distributed through the Western grid.
Bhadla Solar Park in India is the largest solar farm in the world to date. Located in the village of Bhadla in the Jodhpur District of Rajasthan,Â it is built across 14,000 acres. It produces a staggering 2,245 megawatts (MW) of power. By 2022, Vivani Ratul, the parkâ€™s manager, says their goal is to power 75 million households!
It is interesting that the location of Bhadla Solar Park is a geographically harsh area as are the fields I just saw in eastern Utah, western and central Colorado, and central Arizona. It is hot and dry andâ€¦.very sunny. Perfect solar farming conditions. Because it is often windy in these places, dust accumulating on the panels can impair the capacity of the technology to absorb the sunâ€™s energy. At Bhadla, robotic equipment keeps the panels clear of dust.
According to climateinvestment
funds.org, â€śBhadla Solar Park is driving economic growth and job creation in surrounding areas. The local service industry has benefited from the influx of workers and ambitious young Indians are finding employment in the renewables sector. Bhadla is â€śwhere the opportunity is,â€ťÂ said 28-year-old Raj Kumar Gupta, an engineer with Rising Sun Energy, a firm helping to develop the site.
Solar Farmingâ€”On Water!!
Electrek.com reports, â€śSingapore-based solar energy provider, Sunseap Group, says it has completed construction of a 5MW peak offshore floating solar farm in the Straits of Johor, between Singapore and Malaysia. Itâ€™s one of the worldâ€™s largest floating solar farms on sea water.â€ť They anchor the equipment to the seabed and send the power ashore through undersea cables. Singapore takes up about one-half the space of Los Angeles, so they donâ€™t have the room for large land solar farms. â€śThe sea is a new frontier for solar to be installed,â€ť said Shawn Tan, vice president for engineering at Sunseap Group, which completed the project in January.
The Future of Solar Farming
Whether you are a backyard gardener or a commercial farmer, the technology for harnessing the sunâ€™s power is available on any scale. Itâ€™s just very important that we start de-centralizing our electric resources. Solar farms can be an important factor in creating local power grids, decreasing our vulnerability to large, regional power outages. Even if you have a generator, you need gas to run it. If there is no electricity, you cannot pump gas.
The sun, however, never gets disconnected.
Vamos a Ver!