On June 4, Stephen Levy spoke on bringing solar energy into the electrical grid. It can reduce the demand for hydrocarbons; it can make a contribution to reduce carbon dioxide output from coal, gas and other fossil fuels; and we can produce solar energy collectors right here in Knoxville thus creating a local industry. He based his talk it on slides prepared for PEMDA, the company he is consulting with. While renewable energy is already being used at a modest rate in the form of water, wind, and solar power, much more can be done especially with solar, as it is a renewable energy source that is accessible rather easily to almost everyone. On hot summer
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days we are painfully reminded of this energy stream burning down on us and on the roofs of our houses. This energy, instead
of dissipating it by air conditioning that would consume coal, nuclear or other energy sources, could actually be converted into useful energy. Among other things it could power the air conditioner that dissipates the residual solar heat after a good part of it has been captured by solar panels. One problem with solar energy is that we have no control over it. We have to take what we get. Another problem is the variability of the energy consumption rate of a house that varies between a few watts consumed by some fluorescent bulbs to thousands of watts consumed by an electric range. My KUB statement of the last month showed a consumption of 650 kWh over 33 days. This energy consumption corresponds to an average rate of use of 0.82 kW. This rate of use is a small fraction of the installed capacity in my house. The electric range alone can swallow 10 to 14 kW. If this voracious monster were operated only one hour every one of the 33 days at 10 kW
it would consume 330 kWh. Then there is a water heater, a washer, a dryer, a refrigerator, numerous light bulbs, fans, and the air conditioner, if I had one. I don’t know at this moment the name plate capacities of all these appliances, but it should add up to a sizable total of kilowatts, perhaps 30 kW. We should become more aware of what all these ratings are and more conscientious of how we use these energy sinks.
A 300 m2 home (about 3300 ft2) with a roof area of about 350
m2, of which half has the wrong exposure and another quarter is unusable for other reasons, could accommodate perhaps about 90 m2 of solar panels. If about 0.05 kW/m2 can be collected, this would amount to a total of 5 kW. This is substantially more than the average consumption rate, but only a fraction of the peak consumption rates that occur during the daily operation of the house.
At present progress is being made in reducing the cost of panels (now at $5/W) and increasing their solar power to ac power conversion efficiency. At the same time the cost of conventional energy is rising. For more see www.technicalsociety.net.