Jury still out on future of solar power in commercial market

Solar panels being tested in Augusta and six other Georgia cities are performing well in varied climates, but defining their potential in a demanding commercial power market will take more time.

 

“So far, we’ve seen slight differences around the state, based on humidity and weather conditions, but overall they are working pretty much as expected,” said Lynn Wallace, a spokeswoman for Georgia Power Co.

The 18-month project, launched in February 2011, is a joint effort with the Electric Power Research Institute aimed at testing the effect of various climates and environmental conditions on the solar photovoltaic power systems.

In Augusta, seven 3-by-5-foot panels were installed a year ago near the Georgia Power operating center off North Leg Road. Similar clusters of panels were placed in Rome, Valdosta, Macon, Columbus, Savannah and Conley.

Each panel, under optimum conditions and full sun, can generate about 200 watts of electricity. The power produced is fed directly into Georgia Power’s grid.

The panels are able to convert sunlight into electricity in all locations, despite the elevation, temperature, wind speed, humidity and even the effect of salt air in coastal regions.

Predictably, however, clouds will inhibit the panels’ power production significantly.

“One of the things that is being studied is the variability of output,” Wallace said. “When we have a cloudy day we see the output go from 100 percent down to 20 percent.”

The study, aimed more at research and development at this point, will help the company determine how solar generation would fit into a portfolio now dominated by coal (67 percent), nuclear generation (21 percent), oil and gas (10 percent) and hydropower (2 percent), according to a company fact sheet.

“We’re always looking at gathering data to see if solar is a viable option here in Georgia,” she said.

Electric Power Research Institute:

http://my.epri.com

Georgia Power facts and figures:

http://www.georgiapower.com/about/facts.asp

More details on Photo Voltaic Power Systems:

http://www.nrel.gov/learning/re_photovoltaics.html

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