Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Solar farms back east or out west?

I was curious about the economics of solar panel farms in the eastern United States.

Here is one such farm on the west side of Michigan.  This is a region that gets much snow and "lake effect" rain.  It hardly seems like an economical place to generate solar power.

A key question that can tip the scales involves transmission losses.

According to this document, power losses are approximately 2.6% for an 800kV, DC power line for every five hundred miles of line.

Suppose you built a huge solar farm near Garden City, Kansas (picked because I like the name) and transmitted the power to New York, City.  Would that make economic sense compared to building solar farms in Michigan, New York and Ontario?

Looking at trade-off between Garden City's 5.5kWh/m^2/day vs. NYC's 4.5kWh/m^2/day and the transmission losses:

A panel in Garden City will produce 22% more power based on the incident solar radiation.  The transmission losses over 1500 miles will be about 7.5%.  Throw in the cost of land and the proximity the transmission line would have to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh...and for me it is an absolute no-brainer.  Garden City wins hands down.

The skeptic will point out the possibility of wind damage.  Kansas = tornadoes, right?

The solution is to step up and mount the panels so they have variable tilt  Managers can lay them flat on the ground when they expect inclement weather.  This comes with a huge bonus.  The panels would then be able to track the sun through the seasons.  That amounts to 46 degrees and saves the planners from having to make some painful trade-offs.

Stationary panels are usually positioned to the average sun arc...that is, the latitude.  That means that the panels are non-optimal during peak A/C times of the year when demand spikes.  It also means that the panels will be non-optimal during the times of year when the days are shortest and the least amount of solar energy is falling from the sky.


  1. Here in sunlit Louisiana, I know several folks who have residential solar panels installed. They generate more electric power than the residence can use, so the excess power is fed into the grid. Those folks pay a minimum fee to the power company, generally $11.00 per month, which is the local rental on the meter. These panels are fixed in place, either on the roof of the residence, or on a self-standing frame nearby.

  2. Solar power stations are a moronic waste of taxpayers money. This from a guy (me) who lives off grid and depends on solar for electricity. Works fine for me and those who chose to invest and grid tie. The problem isn't the low energy density of solar but it's intermediacy. Same with wind, which on a yearly average generate less than 20% of rated power.
    For various reasons, anything more than about 25% unreliable power disturbs the grid. Very little can be done to alleviate that. Google "South Australia power issues" for a real world demonstration.
    We'll know people are serious about power once we get nuclear stations built again along with waste disposal. Until then it's just greenie BS.

  3. That would work, until the econazis start protesting all the bird kills... sigh