The power and creativity of photovoltaic solar energy

Why solar photovoltaic (PV) power is one of the most significant renewable energy sources available today.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) is flexible, and scalable. It can be installed almost anywhere and is also well aligned with the way we consume electricity.

PV is flexible. PV modules can be installed on rooftops of houses, factories and commercial buildings – or even as part of a creative carport solution. Of course, solar PV modules can also be installed directly on top of ground-mounted structures, which in turn can be either fixed in a tilted position, or part of a tracking solution that follows the sun throughout the day. Each of these solutions has its own advantages.

Fixed tilt systems are often deployed on rooftops and carports, but when it comes to ground-mounted installations, trackers are usually seen as the preferred option. Because they follow the movement of the sun, trackers can certainly capture more solar irradiation and therefore produce more electricity, but that extra generation capacity also costs more. Tracking systems are more expensive in the first place, and have higher maintenance costs, mostly due to the use of motors.

Deciding which solution fits best will vary from project to project, and depends on many factors, such as location, weather (including wind and snow loads), quality of the solar resource, soil or roof conditions, project capital cost limitations, different electricity costs throughout the day and many other variables. A detailed analysis is typically needed in order to decide which is the best way to go.

PV is scalable. The same PV technology that harvests a few kilowatts from the roof of a family house can become a large solar array generating several hundred megawatts in the desert. The scales are worlds apart, but the technology is virtually the same. The beauty of PV is that it scales so easily, which supports mass production and product standardization, and eventually drives down costs.

PV can be installed almost anywhere. This is a great advantage, because traditionally we have had to generate most of our power in remote locations, then transmit it over long power lines and finally distribute it to the load centers where consumption occurs. This results in inefficiencies and power losses throughout the process, which could be mostly eliminated if we could devise a reliable way to generate sufficient amounts of electricity closer to, or even as part of a load center. And it is also obvious that isolated areas could benefit from the ease of installing a solar PV system, which would help them avoid the costs associated with erecting expensive grid infrastructure.

PV’s characteristics make it the perfect solution for distributed generation. Electricity generated closer to where it is consumed helps increase energy efficiency along the entire energy chain, and also helps our power systems reduce their environmental impact.

PV aligns power generation with consumption. PV’s peak performance occurs during those parts of the day when we consume more energy, like afternoon and early evening. This is especially true when we use trackers, thus aligning generation and consumption patterns often seen with other renewable energy sources, such as wind.

And there’s more… Solar PV also provides some additional benefits that one might not think of. For example, PV arrays can provide shade to vehicles parked under a PV carport (like the one at ABB Mexico below), which certainly increases a driver’s comfort on a hot day. PV modules on a roof can help reduce the need for air-conditioning in the building below, because they absorb a lot of the heat. PV module structures are even helping protect farmed fish from predatory birds.

Solar car park at the ABB offices in Mexico

Given all these advantages, both the obvious ones and the less obvious ones, it is not surprising that the number of solar installations is rapidly increasing around the world. Solar PV’s benefits are many and growing – and as to creativity, the sky is the limit!

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About the author

Pablo Astorga

As ABB’s Global Sales Manager Microgrids, I am responsible for developing complete microgrid solutions for our customers around the world. I have nearly a decade of extensive international experience in renewable energy and joined the company in 2006 in Spain. I lived in the U.S. between 2009 and 2014 and in 2015 I relocated back to Europe, from where I lead ABB’s efforts to address the increasing need to integrate renewable energy into hybrid microgrids.
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