Engineers give solar power a boost

January 11, 2011, University of California - San Diego

The growing popularity of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems across the United States has made it more important to maximize their power input. That's why UC San Diego environmental engineering professor Jan Kleissl is working on technologies and methods that will better predict how much power we can actually harness from the sun.

In a paper recently published in the journal Renewable Energy, "Optimum fixed orientations and benefits of tracking for capturing in the continental United States," Kleissl and his Ph.D. student Matt Lave explain why it's important to strategize on solar installation, depending upon the location of the building relative to the sun. For example, Kleissl and his students at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering have improved the solar map for the state of California, which allows homeowners, photovoltaic installers and utilities to better predict how much energy they will get out of their solar systems. The map can be viewed via Google Earth for free.

"Probably the most important result of this work for California is that in all (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego) it is advantageous to install the panels facing about 10-degrees west of south," Kleissl said. "This not only optimizes , but it also improves the correlation of solar power production with the load. Panels facing southwest 'see' the sun longer and at a better angle than panels facing south, which means that the energy generated is larger during the peak demand hours (3-to-5p.m.), making the energy more valuable.

The generally clear conditions during the annual load peaks (also known as Santa Anas to Southern Californians) mean that the produce at the optimum power. On the other hand, wholesale energy prices during the peak time may be 10 times those during other days. In a future with more variable electricity rates this margin may tip the balance of economics in favor of solar energy and there will be greater incentives for installing panels facing southwest. Our maps show that there are already benefits of doing so now as the energy generation increases."

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3.3 / 5 (6) Jan 11, 2011
Every week there's a NEW DISCOVERY on improved solar power.

All these reports are apparently nonsense. It's as if Fox News is releasing these announcements: not an ounce of credibility remains.
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 11, 2011
You watch Fox News a lot then?
4 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2011
It would seem to me any kind of steering, even ten or 20 degrees of movement would give more energy than any one preset direction. That of course means mechanical engineering of some kind. But that could pay for itself in the long run if implemented cheaply enough.
2 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2011
Every week there's a NEW DISCOVERY on improved solar power.

All these reports are apparently nonsense. It's as if Fox News is releasing these announcements: not an ounce of credibility remains.

Yeah because this stuff goes from lab to store shelves just as soon as fedex can deliver it right?
4.5 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2011
Each of these incremental steps takes us a little closer to economically viable solar power. At some point viablity will probably increase exponentialy. The important thing is to continue making progress.
4 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2011
Every week there's a NEW DISCOVERY on improved solar power.

All these reports are apparently nonsense. It's as if Fox News is releasing these announcements: not an ounce of credibility remains.

How do you know this? This particular finding for example will probably result in better tweaking buy solar panel installers, and it will probably never be covered by the media. Likewise other discoveries just result in somewhat higher outputs and lower costs which are always changing.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2011
The Southwest orientation of panels is a well known fact. A tracking system that can add 15 - 20% more capture time does not equate to 15 - 20% addtional solar power because the energy captured at the early morning and late evening hours is significantly reduced.
not rated yet Jan 12, 2011
RTT is correct. I live in Canada and sell Solar installs. We benefit greatly from installing automated tracking systems here due to our northern latitude, but in california.....not really fiancially viable.
not rated yet Jan 12, 2011
I have been staring at the stars for 60 years; and no matter what the astronomers say, I have not seen the stars move. QED, Proof that nothing happens!
not rated yet Jan 12, 2011
I was hoping for some kind of fundamental improvement in the solar panels themselves. The real problem with solar is managing energy production. The only solution to which would be some form of efficient energy management, There are limits to how much power we can store, and how much energy we lose over time. If you could lock the energy away in some kind of loop, and draw on it when you needed it. Its a shame we cant just turn the energy into some form of matter that could be easily, and efficiently converted back into a form of energy we could use. Put it in a box till you need it, same principle as the loop I guess. Of course the loop kind of suggest some electromagnetic field may be involved. Those methods have to many losses over time. Even a perfect capacitor would leak off eventually electrons are slippery little devils. Any kind of magnetic/electrical field must be maintained, and there are always losses. Another limitation would seem to be space.

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