Solar Power Distribution and Electrical Storage
Photovoltaic panels are relatively portable, and the number of them can be matched to the site requirements. It is not necessary to build a huge coal-burning or nuclear-powered plant and then link everything for hundreds of miles around with phenomenal amounts of wire just to get the benefits of water pumping, radios, refrigeration, or night-lighting to people living in rural areas. In fact, it’s simply not possible to provide electricity to everywhere on the planet’s surface this way.
On the other hand, here in North America we are used to being on an electrical “grid” – a huge electrical power distribution complex comprised of power plants, transformers and wires. In fact, it is arguable that most of our standard of living is dependent on cheap electrical power consistently delivered. True, there are pollution problems often inadequately dealt with, such as acid rain, greenhouse gases and nuclear waste; but hey, we’re learning. One of the things we’re learning is that we can produce some of our electrical requirements using non-polluting sources such as solar, wind, and ocean-thermal power…and use the grid to deliver this electricity.
Electricity produced directly from solar p.v. panels is Direct Current (DC)…flows in one direction. Electrical inverters convert DC electricity to Alternating Current (AC). Since Alternating Current electricity (at 60 cycles per second and 110 volts) is standard household electricity in Canada and the U.S., it is handier to have electricity in this form. Almost all of our appliances run on AC electricity. Still, it is possible to outfit a home or a cottage, and most definitely an RV, with 12 volt DC aplliances.
There are now inverters capable of feeding solar electricity back into the main distribution grid. Say your roof is covered with solar shingles, you’ve got good ceiling insulation and ventilation, and sufficient roof overhangs; it’s a sunny day, yet you don’t have the air conditioner on. Chances are your home is producing more electricity than you need. This excess can now be fed into the electrical grid.
Solar panels on roof Tying the Sun to Earth’s electrical grid
There’s hope of perfecting, in the future, superconductivity, and linking the electrical grid around the world. Since the sun’s always shining and the wind’s always blowing somewhere, constantly incoming solar energy could be converted to electricity and transferred around the world grid.
OFF OF THE GRID
Off-grid, however, is where many people are. Some even prefer to be there. And there are many remote situations where it doesn’t make sense to build or connect to an electrical grid. For example, marine warning buoys come to mind…much better served by solar panels than anything else. In agriculture: electric fencing, range water-pumping, irrigation. In oil companies (easily the largest user of solar panels in Alberta at the moment) remote pipeline instrumentation and relayed (by satellite) data transmission. Another familiar sight now are the emergency telephones along major highways. That box at the bottom of the pole…battery. That flat panel at the top, facing South?…solar panel, which charges the battery. That phone in the middle?…that’s for you to talk into…In an Emergency!!
Carmanah, a Canadian company, has turned a simple resin-encased solar LED dock light into a multi-million dollar business in the last ten years. Turns out they work for airports. Carmanah’s LED (Light-Emitting Diode) technology has expanded to include signage that isn’t solar, but IS the most efficient lighting around, with some cool effects.
But if you want to see something REALLY Cool, check THIS OUT!!
Light Up The World Foundation brings ultra-efficient, durable and near permanent White Light Emitting Diodes (WLED) lighting solutions powered by renewable energy to the world’s poor in ecologically sensitive and remote rural areas. Light Up The World Foundation (LUTW) is an international humanitarian organization affiliated with the University of Calgary dedicated to illuminating the lives of the world’s poor. It is the first humanitarian organization to utilize solid-state lighting technologies to bring affordable, safe, healthy, efficient, and environmentally responsible lighting to people currently without access to proper lighting.
Incoming solar energy is directly available to each of us only during the time our part of the planet is facing the Sun. (We call that “day”.) And if it’s a cloudy or rainy day, most of that solar energy is bounced away from us. So for during the times we are turned away from the Sun (we call that “night”), or on cloudy wintery days, we need some way to store previously solar-produced electricity. Remember, solar panels are not storage batteries…they convert sunlight directly into electricity. No sunlight…guess what.
One of the present drawbacks to storing solar-generated electricity is that we store the electricity in chemical storage batteries, relying on the electrical energy to produce a chemical change, which is later reversible. Things like cadmium, and sulphuric acid come to mind. Heavy metals? – try lead – though, to be fair, the battery industry now recycles pretty extensively. Anyway, these are the sorts of things we don’t necessarily want to introduce everywhere in the environment – and that makes the grid look somewhat cleaner suddenly. Buckets of acid rain continually produced and scattered in a mist over hills and lakes somewhere else? – at least I don’t have buckets of it on my porch.
Clean storage of renewable energy is at present problematic. That is one reason why connecting directly to the grid has become more common…green energy goes into the mix of electrical power sources.
Meanwhile, batteries aren’t impossible, but they do require knowledge and care. And they can be recycled.
Speaking of knowledge and care, Now is always a good time to plug Home Power Magazine, the Hands-On Journal of Home-Made Power. Download their latest issue free (that’s right, FREE!). Their archived articles include elementary electricity lessons, battery maintenance, illustrations of many real renewable energy installations, discussions on power distribution regulations, and analyses of up-to-date equipment. Simply the best “must-read” in the field. Very inspiring, very up-to-date, with all the practical information you’ll need, with the field’s finest companies advertising, to get you started toward a reliable home powered with renewable energy.