Renewable Energy

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Unconventional Solar Energy Options

Conventional Options

The most common approach to harnessing solar energy is to install solar panels on one’s rood (or as a stand array).  From here, one can grid-tied or off-grid.

Grid-tied solar users generate electricity from their photo-voltaic (PV) panels and pump into the grid that which they do not immediately use.  Because Oregon is a net metering state, the producer earns credit for electricity not used and pumped into the grid. The energy builds up an account with the electrical utility which is then used during the night, or winter months when solar availability is less abundant and the generated power is insufficient to drive domestic needs.  During summer, the individual producer can generate sufficient electricity to cover their entire annual need at which point they have achieved net zero energy status and only pay to the utility a monthly fee based on the cost of the grid connection and its servicing (app $10).  The advantage to this arrangement is that the producer can rely on the grid for night-time and winter back-up when their production is absent or inadequate.  Meanwhile no battery storage is required.  Paradoxically, if the grid ‘goes down’ the solar panel owner is not independent to continue using their own generated electricity because their system also h]shits down to protect power line technicians from being electrocuted by power generated from individually-owned solar panels…unless one has  a switch to disconnect from the grid.

Off-grid users, meanwhile, have to store on-site the power they generate during ‘good times’ and use that store as a bank to power themselves overnight and winter.  The problems with batteries are: (1) they represent an extremely toxic technology (in manufacture and disposal); (2) batteries need to retain a certain percentage (maybe 10%) of their charge to remain effective so the full stated  capacity is not available; (3) batteries have a power rating that reflects how heavily they can be used to drive appliances.  Low capacity high power rating will run all appliances for a short while and high capacity low power rating will run a few appliances for a long time.  The best choice will be the high capacity, high power rating battery, but these limitations mean batteries are less than 100% efficient at turning the power generated by the PV panels into available power.   Fortunately, battery technology is a rapidly advancing field so lower toxic, high capacity high power rating batteries are becoming more available.   However, the above limitations, mean that the generation requirement will always be somewhat higher than the KWH requirement for powering appliances.  However, off-grid users are clearly independent of any utility outages.

Unconventional Options

Not everyone owns a roof or enjoys land orientation that is amenable to PV cells.  Renters are also particularly vulnerable since it would have to be the landlord who elects a solar array.  To combat these limitations, Oregon is developing rules to allow some for or community solar: a system whereby renters or homeowners can collaborate to own solar panels distant from their homes that pump electricity into the grid for which the distant homeowner earns credit.  Whether we generate and use our own solar power, or pump into the grid solar power to replace what we use, society as a whole benefits from the greening of the grid. Solarize Rogue and Sustainable Northwest gave a presentation at the March 26th SOCAN General Meeting on their plan to help the Rogue Valley enhance its solar capacity.  This program is available here in pdf format:2019-0326 Solarize Rogue – Medford Town Hall.

For more information on this program contact Ray Sanchez Pescador with Solarize Rogue (solarizerogue@gmail.com) or Bridget Callahan with Sustainable Northwest
(bcallahan@sustainablenorthwest.org).