As the need to distance ourselves from fossil fuels becomes more urgent due to climate change and pollution in general, solar power is emerging as a leading alternative. It can be scaled to be used by individuals or large utilities; and best of all- it’s renewable. However, large scale solar farms require large tracts of land that have long and regular periods of sunlight. Suitable areas can usually be found in many rural settings and deserts, but transferring that energy over lengthy power lines to more populated areas can be expensive and inefficient.
A new trend is emerging that seems like a promising answer to this inconvenience – building on retired landfills! When a landfill is full it is covered with a polyethylene cap, a thin layer of soil, and finally grass. Despite it’s more pleasing aesthetics, this brownfield ground is still mostly unusable as it is unstable and not suitable for building large structures. Because of the gasses and toxins emitted by the covered landfill the growing of crops is also not a viable option. However, this acreage is perfect for large scale solar farms. Ballasted anchors are used to stabilize the solar array to avoid penetrating the landfill cap. This specialized racking system allows for thousands of solar panels to be installed on this otherwise unusable land; producing a lot of clean, renewable energy.
Landfills are typically built outside of, but close to, city limits and already have access to the power grid. This makes transporting energy for use in more densely populated areas much easier. Right now, there is an estimated 10,000 capped landfills in the US alone, and that number is only growing. The construction of large solar farms would not only positively impact the environment, it would create thousands of well-paying and sustainable jobs on land that is otherwise sitting unused.
Craft brewers love to sell themselves as environmental activists. How can you tell a sincerely sustainable business from those looking for a selling point? One answer, solar.
The Relationship Between Brewers and Environmentalism
Millennials love craft brewers, and craft brewers are very aware of what the Pew Research Center found in 2014. Millennials look for socially and environmentally responsible businesses and are willing to pay more for sustainable products.
As Millennials are the biggest generation, marketing to them is important. Having a green (or green-washed) business brings in customers excited to support an environmentally-friendly organization.
Craft brewers also must combat the fact that they are a water-intensive industry; a gallon of beer from an average brewery requires seven gallons of water. While most customers would still drink their favorite brew despite the water consumption, water availability and quality are growing environmental concerns directly affecting and affected by breweries. An organization marketing to an environmentally-conscious generation needs to balance environmental cons with environmental pros.
Follow the Money
While craft brewers modify their businesses and processes in a variety of ways to become more sustainable, a customer dedicated to finding the most sustainable beer needs only to follow the money. Businesses who make investments in environmentally-conscious practices are using part of their profits for a greater cause.
A great way to invest in the environment is installing solar arrays. Of the 6,000 American craft breweries, only 100-150 have solar arrays, and ten of those call North Carolina home.
Check out some local breweries going beyond greenwashing
In a competitive market, coal is more expensive than both solar and wind.
In 2001, Texas created a competitive electricity market in that the least expensive resources go on the grid first. At that time, wind supplied less than one percent of Texas’ energy. As of 2018, 20 percent of the market is wind power. With technology and increased production lowering the cost of renewables, there are less arguments, than ever before, for the steady destruction of mountainous landscapes created by America’s need for coal.
Due to the competitive market, Texas has retired coal-fired plants, replacing them with natural gas which is significantly less expensive. By the end of next year, wind is expected to generate more electricity for Texans than coal as more plants are retired. However, these retired plants are largely being replaced by more efficient and less expensive natural gas plants. While natural gas beats coal in an environmentally-friendly competition, it is still a fossil fuel.
Texas’ competitive electricity market creates a fairer fight between renewables and fossil fuels when compared to other state and federal energy policies. Still, fossil fuels have an advantage. The hidden costs related to fossil fuel use like the consequences of climate change, explosions during drilling, transportation, spills and leaks, or burning process, and the pollution of land surrounding gas wells, is not included in the price comparisons of natural gas and renewables.
However, there is still hope. As we continue to burn the finite source of natural gas, it will face the same, inevitable dilemma of oil and coal. The low hanging fruit will be harvested, and the remaining sources will be difficult, dangerous, and expensive to gather while the cost of renewable energy continues to plummet. Someday, the market will favor it.
Will the invisible hand of the free market move soon enough? Don’t wait to see. Ease America’s dependency on fossil fuels by making a personal change in your energy source. Contact SolFarm Solar Co to see what you can do to save the planet.
New solar innovations pop up in the growing industry on a regular basis. Sometimes, innovations just improve efficiency by fractions of a percent, quietly helping in the climb toward higher efficiency.
However, several new findings put higher efficiency on the horizon of solar panels with flashy recreations. Today, according to Energy Sage, the best solar panels convert about 22% of absorbed sunlight into energy and cost $2.87 to $3.85 per watt.
Agency of Science Technology and Research created a compound to replace silicon. In the average solar panel, silicon converts sunlight to energy. Before now, the only possible replacement was toxic Tulluride. The compound, called CZTS, an acronym for copper-zinc-tin-sulfide could change the game of solar panels with 30% efficiency.
Korean scientists also discovered a possible replacement. Perovskite is an element that can convert sunlight to energy, but it is very unstable. Scientists added flourine to protect the perovskite layer from moisture which causes it to degrade. The panels are not perfect yet, but perovskite is more efficient than silicone. They may be the panels of the future.
Transparent Solar Panels
With new transparent solar panels, solar energy may be produced where it could not be before. Unlike the familiar silicon panels seen on roofs, these panels only absorb invisible light. On the bright side these panels can be put on any windows, smart phone screens, or any clear surface. If solar panels covered all the glass in America, these transparent panels double the potential energy solar could offer, making up almost 80% of the national energy demand.
Scientists work to improve storage batteries as well as panels. Storage batteries moved the solar industry into new territory of microgrids, an innovation themselves. Storage batteries are lithium batteries. Scientists at Berkeley found materials store Lithium in ordered and disordered fashions. Currently, batteries are made with materials that order lithium and other materials in neat layers. However, disordered organization stores more lithium. Scientists identified a criterion to use in predicting how materials will organize lithium. They also found adding flourine increases storage, stability, and fire safety.
It Takes Time
As exciting as these innovations are, they won’t make a splash immediately. New ideas often cost more. Solar roadways hit the market last December. However, the first project sold for $5.2 million for a kilometer length road. Like the very first solar panels, cost is not always effective, but with time and even more innovation, these great tools will be available for the average homeowner or community.
The cost of solar panels continues to fall, and hopefully, CZTS, transparent solar panels, and even solar roads follow the same trajection. A future is possible where solar is a part of what we drive on or in, our windows, and even our touch screens. It just requires more innovation.
Microgrids are starting to come into their own, and Tesla Owner Elon Musk is drawing attention by claiming storage can fix energy problems around the globe.
Microgrids helped small islands like Ta’u of American Samoa go completely solar. Off North Carolina’s coast, Ocracoke’s grid security was increased by a small solar microgrid. It will keep the island running along with a small diesel generator the island has had if the single transmission line from the mainland to the island is disrupted. Hawaiian island Kauai also discovered the beauty of microgrids with a solar+storage system, the island was able to go off fossil fuels altogether.
Islands are so interested in microgrids because shipping fossil fuels makes energy production more expensive than it is on continental America or other mainland countries. Many islands have jumped on the bandwagon, reducing or erasing fossil fuel use for each island.
Tesla started the year by increasing production of the new storage batteries, causing the prices to drop more than they already were. As microgrids have become more affordable, they have become a viable option for communities and municipalities.
With his factory pumping out batteries, Musk is making sure people know his product can do what fossil fuel energy plants cannot. In March, he told Australia his batteries could solve the rolling blackout issues in South Australia after a gas shortage and storms disrupting transmission and closing wind farms and power plants in 100 days. Australia took Musk up on his bet, and Tesla is currently ahead of schedule on the 100 day deadline.
Musk was so confident in part because Tesla had built a smaller battery storage system for California in three months in late 2016.
Tesla is not the only one bringing renewables to places in need. Australian company ZEN Energy proposed another project for Australia when rolling blackouts hit a city after a heatwave. Several companies and wealthy environmentalists have been making sure islands have a variety of energy options.
Plans for microgrids are being put into place for facilities like correctional facilities and hospitals where backup for power outages are vital. Microgrids are currently being set up in Puerto Rico to put hospitals back in business.
Beyond relief, Musk, in response to a tweet, claimed Tesla solar+storage systems could be the answer for Puerto Rico as the territory recovers and decides how to increase its grid security. The governor seemed to like the idea, so who knows what is in store for solar and microgrids in the upcoming year. As long as Tesla and other solar companies rise to solve energy crises, there will be evidence that solar can do what fossil fuels cannot.
Irma brought down energy infrastructure as she blew through state after state. The Carolinas lucked out compared to Florida. While Duke restored power to the tens of thousands of Carolinians without in a matter of days, Floridians who call the Keys home expected to be without power for weeks.
Of the millions without power in Florida after Irma, there were reports of one man who managed to keep the lights on. He was able to do so with the help of a solar array and a storage battery.
A combination of an array and battery creates a microgrid, a system consisting of generation and storage. With such a system, individuals use a utility company’s generation as backup when their system is not sufficient. Microgrids producing enough energy allows an individual to operate when a utilities company is down for the count.
Of course, if solar arrays are broken, ripped off a roof, or covered in snow, the microgrid no longer receives power. However, a backup plan to municipal utilities could always come in handy.
The Floridian was able to power part of his house, including air conditioning and his refrigerator. Whether looking for some extra security or preparing for the apocalypse, a microgrid rises to the occasion. With such a system, lives could even be saved as air conditioning or heat is kept on and perishable food is kept cold. Some of the crises we saw
Consider the possibilities of not being dependent on municipalities.