THE PLACE OF SOLAR POWER: AN ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF CONCENTRATED AND DISTRIBUTED SOLAR POWER

VANESSA ARELLANO BANONI, ALDO ARNONE,

MARIA FONDEUR, ANNABEL HODGE, .J PATRICK OFFNER, and JORDAN K. PHILLIPS

10.1 BACKGROUND

Carbon-based fuel sources are becoming a hot commodity as the domestic electric industry watches the future. Proponents of renewable energy argue that an alternative approach will allow for more sustainable energy usage, help support future growth, avoid price spikes, allow for energy indepen­dence, and ultimately help slow the progression of global warming. To help illustrate such approach, consider a solar farm composed of Stirling engines covering an area of 100 squared miles. This alone could replace all the coal burned to generate energy in the United States [1].

The Place of Solar Power: An Economic Analysis of Concentrated and Distributed Solar Power. © Banoni VA, Arnone A, Fondeur M, Hodge A, Offner JP, and Phillips JK. Chemistry Central Journal 6,Suppl 1 (2012); doi:10.1186/1752-153X-6-S1-S6. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License, http://creativecommons. org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Despite these positive externalities, the potential of major cost inequal­ity and the associated fixed costs of renewable resources fuels debates. Renewable energy must combat the already present, tested, cheap, and ultimately reliable methods currently used to generate power.

This paper examines the cost and benefits, both financial and environ­mental, of two leading forms of solar power generation, grid-tied photo­voltaic cells (PVs) and Dish Stirling Systems (DSS), using conventional carbon-based fuel as a benchmark. First, it will establish the manner in which these technologies, PVs and DSS, will be implemented in our study. Secondly, it will define a model city, its location, characteristics and con­straints, which will be used as a parameter to evaluate the benefits and costs of each technology. Finally, it will attempt to determine whether de­centralized photovoltaic farming is more effective and sustainable than a central, Stirling-engine based solar farm for our model city, with calcula­tions related to fixed costs (construction, core technology used, land) and variable costs (labor, upkeep) determining the final prices of each power source. Our ultimate conclusion will be based on which power source is better from a consumer standpoint.

10.2 METHODS

10.2.1 SETTING CONCENTRATED SOLAR POWER AND DISTRIBUTED SOLAR POWER EXEMPLIFIERS

As the still immature solar energy market has grown we have learned more about different technologies and their ideal application. On the one hand, the flat panel photovoltaic cells, typically made of silicon, are the best-known form of solar technology [2], while the Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) industry is still at its infancy. While both provide a means of electricity production, this study is concerned with finding out which is the optimal means of energy consumption for a standard, West Coast suburban area.

When designing the large scale, high-priced solar farms, CSP is much preferred due to its cost effectiveness. However, CSP requires a large amount of room and very large-scale equipment to be most effective. Ad­ditionally, most recent plant installations have shown that economies of scale are applicable and therefore, as plant size increases, capital costs de­crease [3]. Given this information we have chosen one of the most prom­ising technologies, the Dish Stirling system, as our large-scale electricity producer.

Comparatively, photovoltaic energy production is far more effective when used in a decentralized manner due to its intrinsic properties, like its smaller size, which allows for more flexibility in the size of an installation. The household installable PV cells allows for single home power genera­tion, with a surplus sent back to the grid for profit. These cells, though expensive, are often accompanied by a tax incentive. This allows for an analysis of decentralized means of power production without the large scale fixed costs of a central producer.