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Shedding Light on Solar’s True Energy Potential

By Herb Eckerlin


The generation and distribution of electrical energy is a complicated business. Most people don’t give it a lot of thought. For example, if the light switch works, they move on. If it doesn’t, they panic and call the local power company.


…But what if “not working” becomes a regular occurrence, what then? This question may become more common in the future.


Solar power is intermittent and not reliable. Therefore, with a 100% solar system, the light switch will only work some of the time. Is that acceptable? Are our fellow citizens aware of this liability? People have to be informed of this liability.


Where does the electricity come from?


Most of it is generated at plants powered by fossil fuels (like natural gas and coal) and nuclear energy. Smaller amounts of power may come from hydro, solar and wind.


Where it comes from is of little concern too many, the more important question is, “Will the light switch come on?”


Local utility companies like Dominion and Duke Energy have the responsibility to generate the power and deliver it to your switch. We have come to expect it.


But, with intermittent solar power, this is often not the case.


Electrical power is generated in large central stations (also called power plants) rated in Megawatts. A 900 megawatt plant is not uncommon. It has the capability of generating 900 megawatts continuously, all day long (24/7).


The point here is this: Natural gas, coal and nuclear plants are reliable …. They can deliver 900 megawatts at any time of day or night. That cannot be said for a 900 megawatt solar plant. It can only deliver 900 MW for one hour at noon on a sunny day. That’s a huge difference.


Dr. Eckerlin has over 60 years’ experience in the energy field, including experience in electric power plant operations (with VEPCO – now Dominion Power), electric utility boiler design, and solar research and design. In 1987, he founded the NC Solar Center to promote solar energy in all its forms across the United States. He is now retired and is Professor Emeritus of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at North Carolina State University.


Any views or opinions represented in this blog are for informational purposes only. They are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, or organization, company, or individual.

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