Owners of small power plants will be able to sell electricity to the grid and become significant players in the market. The idea of connecting a variety of sources to electricity mains is known as distributed energy generation. Homeowners can purchase solar panels and generators to produce both heat and electricity.
Distributed energy generation is not a fix for everything. Yet, it allows creating highly reliable power supply system. An excellent example of this is Germany. According to Fraunhofer ISE, the country hit several records in solar energy in June 2014. It happened that between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. of June 6, all photocells in the country produced power of 24.24 GW. Power of 1.26 TW was also recorded during a whole week of 2 to 8 of June.
About 90% of all solar panels in Germany (mostly photovoltaic) are located on rooftops. One can find them in small villages, farms, factories, office buildings, and especially in the private housing. Modern architects even design houses so that the roofs were directed to the south.
The Germany example shows that renewable energy can cover a substantial portion of large countries needs. Generating of solar power is seasonal, yet it fits well with the wind turbines, which gives relatively stable flow in general.
Currently, there are two solar technologies, which have potential in future. One is based on the extraction of electric current through photovoltaic elements (PV). The second one is called concentrated solar power (CSP). The technology relies on heating of a heat carrier with the concentrated solar rays. Zone sequence is typical for different types of solar power plants allocation. The zonation is defined by the cost-effectiveness and functional qualities. CSPs are usually built in the equatorial zone (within 38 latitude). PV-stations can be found in the northern regions (within 55 latitude), though the technology is also suitable for equatorial parts.
In the above example, Germany proved distributed solar energy to be feasible. Why don’t we see a similar boom in the field of CSP? More than a half of the biggest electrical blackouts in the world falls on Asia and southern latitudes. Even this single fact gives a thought about more reliable energy sources.
On the one hand, price is the key issue. So far, traditional fossil-fuel power generation is the cheapest. At the same time, given the tendencies in raising prices and production reducing, it’s already worth thinking about the future. An excellent example here is Saudi Arabia. Almost all power plants in the country are using oil, and the consumption is growing each year. Chatham House report shows that if this tendency continues, Saudi Arabia could become an oil importer by 2038.
Enel’s example impresses even more. It is an international company producing and distributing electricity and gas. The group’s head said that "Direction of future growth is in alternative energy sources - not fossil fuels." That is why Enel is ready to change the concept: "We are not about wanting to shut down energy companies - what we are about is saying please transition as fast as is humanly possible to a clean energy company. "
For end consumers this means only one thing - price of energy collected from traditional sources will only grow in time. Given the constant development of renewables, a few decades later the "traditional" and "solar" energy prices may come very close to each other.
Theoretically, one can even save many on CSP installation. For example, choice of compact linear Fresnel reflector (CLFR) is more efficient both in terms of cost and use of resources, which is more. Modular flat reflectors used in the system don’t require expensive heat-exchange units or intermediate heat carriers such as oil or salt. Furthermore, CLFR can produce not only electricity, but also heat and even pure water as additional benefits.
One of the problems with distributed solar energy is uneven loads. In the case of PV elements, its impossibility of dispatching. All this leads to unequal power surge. On the other hand, CSP has an obvious advantage when the question is not about individual households, but smaller locations supplying parts of the city or small village. Jorge Alcauza, working for some renewable energy organizations (Protermosolar, CTAER, SOLAR CONCENTRA, EU SOLARIS), is providing an excellent example in one of his articles: “PV and CSP will be installed depending on the requirements of each case, if you need a 10 kW off-grid installation to be used during daylight hours, you’ll choose PV, but if you need a 50 MW power station to run almost 24 hours a day, you’ll have to choose CSP with storage or a hybrid plant.”
Generally, the CSP technology is becoming more common. There is no doubt that the commercial success of solar power will raise in future as the solar technology will develop and sunlight converting efficiency will increase. The obvious evidence of this is that first companies counting on CSP have already occurred in the world. French company Sun CNIM, for example, launched a number of pilot projects (CNIM eCare and eLlo) as a first step, one of which constitutes a major commercial benchmark. Now the manufacturer is confident in its process units’ readiness for commercial use, and has already set his sights on the relevant markets. According to Sun CNIM itself, their main target audience is located in MENA (Middle East and North Africa).
One day, electricity consumers will become producers as well, a sort of "farmers". Such progress will be a growth driver for medium and small sources of generation. And it would be better for each of us if they would be not only commercially successful, but also environmental friendly.
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