USA: Growth in Colder Climates
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (April 5, 2010) – In the U.S.A., there is a misconception among PV customers that the warmer, sunnier states such as Florida, California and those throughout the Southwest are more conducive to solar electricity. Not known for sunshine or warm weather, Michigan and other Midwestern states may not seem like the most efficient place for harnessing solar energy.
The future is bright for PV companies, especially in colder climates.
In reality, Michigan has an average of 4.2 hours of peak sunlight per day each year, according to Mark Hagerty, President and Founder of Michigan Solar Solutions. “Florida, the ‘Sunshine State’ only has a little over five hours. Interestingly, Germany leads the world in the percentage of electricity generated by solar, but has less than four hours of peak sunlight a day,” says Hagerty.
Peak sunlight is defined as sun intense enough that it delivers 1,000 W per square meter. “What most people don’t add to the equation is the heat factor. Solar panels are less efficient the hotter they get and actually produce more power when it gets cooler,” says Hagerty. While parts of the south may get more hours of sun, the panels produce less voltage per peak hour because of the heat.
An example of the relationship between heat and electronics can be found in computer rooms. These rooms have sophisticated climate control systems. Companies will spend thousands of dollars annually to keep these rooms cool. Why? Because it will allow their equipment to operate at its best efficiency and extend its life.
Another example of the relationship between heat and electronics can be found when a solar electric system designer develops a system. The size of the conductors must be increased to accommodate the increased power that will be generated at the lowest possible temperature for a region. Hagerty explains, “In Southern Michigan, -20 degrees F is used when sizing the conductors. With two identical systems, one in a southern state and one in a northern state, the northern state MUST have larger conductors to meet code.”
Knowing that a cool environment, with a lot of sun, has to be the best situation for solar electric production, then one of the best climates would be in the mountains, according to Hagerty. In that climate, cloud cover is rare at that higher altitude and the weather is cold enough to keep the panels at their peak efficiency.
With the addition of bifacial panels to the marketplace, these regions have another advantage. “The sunlight reflected by the snow-covered ground can be used to generate even more power. Applications like car ports, pavilions, and covered porches can generate much more power with these panels. The time is fast approaching that all panel manufacturers will soon have bifacial panels and when that happens, the price will come down substantially,” says Hagerty.
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