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Solar should Dump Wind and Form an Alliance with Natural Gas

By Joao Peixe | Wed, 24 April 2013 20:23 | 2

Wind needs transmission, and solar doesn’t.

A bit of a revelation to some, maybe, but it actually brings with it great consequences and options for a country’s energy mix.

David Crane, the CEO of NRG Energy, one of the largest energy companies in the US, is a big believer in clean energy, including distributed solar, and recently he described the direction that he thought the US solar industry should be taking.

The basis of the argument is that currently solar is always linked to wind power as another alternative energy, yet wind power requires large tracts of land for the wind farms, and then miles of transmission infrastructure to deliver the power to homes. Solar panels on the other hand can be installed on the roofs of those very homes, doing away with the need for transmission lines.

Related article: MIT Create Solar Cells that Beat the Shockley-Queisser Efficiency Limit

Crane states that wind and solar must accept this fundamental difference and, for the good of solar, separate.

Solar needs different allies, ones who can help homeowners generate, and manage their own power needs enough to be independent of the grid, which can fail and cause blackouts; allies such as energy management companies, Nest for example.

Another ally suggested by Crane, and not the most obvious, is natural gas. Crane says that homeowners with solar panels will need an alternative form of energy for when the sun doesn’t shine, and natural gas is the perfect choice.

However he does not talk of natural gas being burnt in giant power plants, but rather piping the gas directly to homes where microturbines can generate electricity. Homeowners haven’t really felt any benefit from the low gas prices in the US because utilities tend to pocket the extra value, keeping end prices the same. Piping the gas direct to the homes would reduce energy bills massively.

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com

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  • Others on April 28 2013 said:
    Windmills dont need so much land. Each windmill need only around 100 sq. ft. of land in the base can the remaining land can be used for farming.

    In fact windmills can be installed in factories, schools. Fuel cells have much higher conversion efficiency than natgas fired power plant. So installing fuel cells at home, school, stores is also a good idea.
  • Alan on April 25 2013 said:
    The issue is what efficiency can be achieved by small gas turbine generators in people's homes. Large plants can achieve 50% using natural gas (only 50% of the chemical energy is wasted) but it's likely that small domestic machines won't achieve that.

    The article does not mention a related matter that might compensate for lowered efficiency. The wasted energy in power plants is evacuated to the atmosphere, while in the home it can in principal be used for space heating, which would be a big step forward (these schemes have a high capital cost).

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