Could Widespread Residential Solar Change the Landscape of Renewable Energy?
What are the capabilities of Solar Energy? What are its limits? How much power could it generate? The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory has answers to these questions from a recent Federal Study.
Solar energy production is determined by a number of factors. These include the roof angle, size, direction it faces, blockage from trees, and many other variables. This information is partially available through laser-maps technology from the Department of Homeland Security. Calculated estimates from recent census data helps complete the study.
The study estimates a potential of 1,400 terawatt hours of electricity each year. This would be generated from over 8 billion square meters of panels and would account for 40 percent of the current electricity sold by utilities domestically. A similar study from the same lab a decade ago estimated this at only 22 percent. Due to improved panel technology and more extensive data we now have a far more accurate estimate and it is almost double the prior expectation.
Of the 128 cities included in the study 83 percent of the small buildings had room for a solar energy system. Therefore two-thirds of the energy would come from small residential buildings alone. The downside is that only a quarter of total rooftop space was appropriate to use (issues with roof tilt, directional facing, blockage from trees or other buildings, etc.). Developers should strongly consider this in the future when designing residential developments.
California has the largest potential for domestic solar production. The state could supply 74 percent of its current electricity if all potential buildings were outfitted with solar panels. There is a correlation between states with strong sunlight and production, but some states use electricity differently. For example, in the North East there is far less sun. However, there is low demand for air conditioning to offset the production demand.
This study give perspective on how impactful solar energy could be to our Nation. If we could produce anything close to 40 percent it would probably have a tremendous impact. While it’s not realistic to assume solar panels on every possible roof, there is a much larger potential of ground-mounted solar panels. With those installations and projects coming to fruition each year it seems it’s only a matter of time before 100 percent of US energy is from renewables. As a result solar is destined to play a major role in this endeavor.
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