Florida’s Untapped Solar Power

(3BL Media/Just Means) I've spent the summer living in historic St. Augustine, Florida. The surf is great, the people are friendly and the sun shines brightly every single day. The sun is powerful here, powerful enough it seems to produce enough solar energy for most of the nation.  In fact, a 2004 study of small residential solar arrays by the Florida Solar Energy Center found that Florida has 85 percent of the maximum solar energy potential of any place in the country, at 7.2 kilowatt-hours per day. So why isn't Florida covered in solar panels?

John Abrams, the Founder, President and CEO of South Mountain Company, the leading solar integrator in New England, says it’s all about incentivizing the market.

"It comes down to incentives for business and consumers. This is why we only pay $4 a gallon for gas. There are numerous subsidies for gasoline. Incentives for solar level the playing field, somewhat."

Rob Meyers, South Mountain's Energy Manager, also believes it's about the support of government programs.

"Solar is widely used where government programs support it. Actually, Florida Power and Light (FPL) is the main installer of solar in Florida. In Florida, it's almost all photovoltaic, large-scale installations that we don't see. I attended a panel at a conference in Florida and the Vice President of FPL reminded us that Florida owns the largest utility scale."

Unbeknownst to me, Meyers is right. FPL launched three solar power plants in 2009 and 2010, making Florida the second largest supplier of utility-scale solar power in the country. In their lifetimes, these plants will prevent the emission of more than 3.5 million tons of greenhouse gases—equivalent to removing 25,000 cars from our roads each year.  And SunBuilt, a partnership of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Home Builders Association and Florida Solar Energy Research and Education Foundation, offers rebate checks to builders who install solar hot-water heaters in new homes.  But homeowners in Florida are hesitant to commit to buying solar energy today because they think the technology will be more efficient in just a few years.

"We hear this a lot: people's hesitancy about investing into solar today because of the technology to come. Yes, it's going to get better and better, but according to physics theory. the maximum amount of the sun's rays we can convert to usable energy is 30%. Right now, we are installing panels that have a 21% conversion rate. And I'd say that's pretty damn good." said Meyers.

Sources: nrdc.org - South Mountain Company



It’s NOT about Us…. it’s about our Sun!  by Doug Linman

Everyday we wake up thinking that we are the center of our galaxy and that we hold the most important position and that we are alone in that thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth in all aspects. First, we are not the center of our Galaxy, our Sun holds that prestigious position which further supports our positioning in the “system” of planets we hold dear thus far, to uphold our continuing lives. 

As you can see the very middle of our world is the Sun, our star, and we on the planet Earth represent about 8.3 of a light year in minutes away from the Sun. OK, mathematically exact, the sun is 8.317 'light minutes' away, or about 149,600,000 km or 93,000,000 miles.  The fascinating part of our Sun is that “everyday” we are delivered a full spectrum of light, heat, warmth and incredible power. Yes, enough power in one minute to power all our needs on Earth for one Year!  All true!

What does this really mean?

Well, direct sunlight has a luminous efficacy of about 93 lumens per watt of radiant flux. Bright sunlight provides luminance of approximately 100,000 lux or lumens per square meter at the Earth's surface. The total amount of that energy received at ground level from the sun at the zenith (noon) is 1004 watts per square meter, which is composed of 527 watts of infrared radiation, 445 watts of visible light, and 32 watts of ultraviolet radiation.

At the top of our atmosphere, sunlight is about 30% more intense, with more than three times the fraction of ultraviolet (UV), with most of the extra UV consisting of biologically-damaging shortwave ultraviolet. The Sun emits EM radiation across most of the electromagnetic spectrum. Although the Sun produces Gamma rays as a result of its nuclear fusion process, these super high energy photons are converted to lower energy photons before they reach the Sun's surface and are emitted out into space. As a result, the Sun does not emit gamma rays. The Sun does, however, emit X-rays, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, and even radio waves as the chart displays.

Macintosh HD:Users:DrDoug:Desktop:46a7f250cdc0c6fe0aabb5d8e2fdcd405b5bf132_large.jpgWhat do we receive everyday?

Although the solar corona is a source of extreme ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, these rays make up only a very small amount of the power output of the Sun. The spectrum of nearly all solar electromagnetic radiation striking the Earth's atmosphere spans a range of 100 nm to about 1 mm. This band of significant radiation power can be divided into five regions in increasing order of wavelengths as published:

  1. Ultraviolet A or (UVA) spans 315 to 400 nm. This band was once held to be less damaging to DNA, and hence is used in cosmetic artificial sun tanning (tanning booths and tanning beds) and PUVA therapy for psoriasis. However, UV A is now known to cause significant damage to DNA via indirect routes (formation of free radicals and reactive oxygen species), and is able to cause cancer.
  2. Ultraviolet B or (UVB) range spans 280 to 315 nm. It is also greatly absorbed by the atmosphere, and along with UVC is responsible for the photochemical reaction leading to the production of the ozone layer. It directly damages DNA and causes sunburn.
  3. Ultraviolet C or (UVC) range, which spans a range of 100 to 280 nm. The term ultraviolet refers to the fact that the radiation is at higher frequency than violet light (and, hence also invisible to the human eye).  Through absorption by the atmosphere very little reaches the Earth's surface.
  4. Visible range or light spans 380 to 780 nm. As the name suggests, it the range that is visible to the naked eye. It is also the strongest output range of the sun's total irradiance spectrum.
  5. Infrared range that spans 700 nm to 106 nm (1 mm). It is responsible for an important part of the electromagnetic radiation that reaches the Earth.

Sunlight in space at the top of Earth's atmosphere at a power of 1366 watts/m2 is composed (by total energy) of about 50% infrared light, 40% visible light, and 10% ultraviolet light. At ground level this decreases to about 1120–1000 watts/m2, and by energy fractions to 44% visible light, 3% ultraviolet (with the Sun at the zenith, but less at other angles), and the remainder infrared. Thus, sunlight's composition at ground level, per square meter, with the sun at the zenith, is about 527 watts of infrared radiation, 445 watts of visible light, and 32 watts of ultraviolet radiation.

Being self centered what do we get out of this?

Strangely, with all this knowledge and information one would think that advancing renewable energy solutions using the Sun would have been more pervasive over all these years, but not so. Only now in the 21st Century are we truly and aggressively looking at renewable energy options using the Sun. Some of the ideas have been in front of us for nearly 50 years, but their efficiency is poor, their maintenance high and their cost to purchase not easily affordable for the masses. The solar “farms” are also so low in efficiency that very large land masses are required to support very small power outputs. So the long term planning of this technology will run up against better uses for the land, than watching mechanical panels and reflectors deteriorate and in many cases become abandoned as reported all over the world.

We need far better technology that is truly affordable by the masses, less intrusive, with higher efficiencies and contributing to our greater lives on Earth. We also need to secure careers and jobs that can only be achieved through much better business models than building any solar energy business assuming tax credits for stability. We have seen this model fail time and again, last year alone over 700 solar companies following these wrong models went out of business and many more will also fail this year. We need a complete business and technology paradigm shift and a giant leap into true renewable energy solutions, especially using the Sun.   Doug Linman Engineer/Scientist


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