TAM Energy understands the future of solar is in all sizes, from the small cell powering your calculator to large utility-scale projects that need to be hooked up to utility lines. The solar-powered calculators have been are on the market for decades, but utility-grade solar will take longer.
Many of the biggest projects are either in Europe or involve European companies, Spain is building 50-megawatt Solnova 1, which uses parabolic trough solar technology. The plant can power 25,700 homes, or offset 31,400 tons of carbon dioxide.
U.S. solar electric capacity is still relatively small-just over 2,000 megawatts, enough to power 350,000 homes. The largest users in the U.S. are in California, including Pacific Gas & Electric (the most installed capacity) and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (the most solar watts per customer).
The key to parabolic technology are mirrors, huge ones. Solnova 1 covers 280 acres. The mirrors concentrate solar radiation onto heat-absorbing pipes carrying a super-heated liquid. Heat transfer turns water to steam, and that steam powers a turbo-generator to create electricity.
TAM Energy predicts that the price of photovoltaic cells is dropping from $2 a watt today to $1 in the near future. Along with this, it is pointed out that technical advances have made large-scale solar adoption more feasible. And there are frequent breakthroughs: An MIT group recently coated paper with solar cells, meaning you could put panels up with a staple gun.
Large Wind Technology
TAM Energy works with selected partners to increase the performance and reliability of large wind technologies while lowering the cost of wind energy. Research efforts have helped to increase the average capacity factor (a measure of power plant productivity) from 22% for wind turbines installed before 1998 to 35% for turbines installed between 2004 and 2007. Wind energy costs have been reduced from about 80 cents (current dollars) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 1980 to between five and eight cents/kWh today.
To ensure future industry growth, the technology must continue to evolve, building on earlier successes to further improve reliability, increase capacity factors, and reduce costs.
During the past two decades, many sources have worked with the industry to develop a number of prototype technologies, many of which have become commercially viable products. Today we can build 200 MW projects with more to come.