solar power Great Results - Solar Startups Shift Solar Panel Systems From Land to Sea

The U.S. solar power industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. During the depths of the recession, it still experienced double-digit growth and in 2010, the number of solar panel installations in the U.S.
April 21, 2011 - PRLog -- The U.S. solar power industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. During the depths of the recession, it still experienced double-digit growth and in 2010, the number of solar panel installations in the U.S. more than doubled from the year prior. Like any burgeoning industry, the solar sector is quickly adapting to grow and become more efficient.

A recently published report highlighted the unconventional ways in which the solar industry has developed new technologies and innovative ways to boost efficiency. The New York Times reports that some startup companies in California are working to move photovoltaic systems from the land to the sea - literally.

In Sonoma County, California, startups have begun constructing solar panel systems on ponds. Currently, there is a 944-panel system on the surface of a pond at the Far Niente Winery in the region. "Vineyard land in this part of the Napa Valley runs somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 an acre," affirmed Far Niente chief executive Larry Maguire. "We wanted to go solar but we didn't want to pull out vines."

By transitioning solar panel systems to water away from the land, startups are augmenting the available amount of clean energy and helping businesses incorporate clean energy sources more readily. In states like California where land prices are so exorbitantly high, the floating solar panel systems are a more cost effective means by which companies - and homeowners alike - can cut costs and slash their greenhouse gas emissions.

SPG Solar, Sunengy, and Solaris Synergy are all companies that specialize in the development of floating photovoltaic systems. Though the companies currently provide a niche service, analysts contend that the global market could surge over the next decade as municipalities, larger businesses and farmers look to offset rising energy prices with renewable energy sources.

The technology could potentially transform the electric grid in countries that have abundant water resources and sunshine, but have poor infrastructure, according to Sunenergy's chief technology officer, Philip Connor. SPG Solar chief executive Chris Robine said there is mounting interest around the globe for the innovative solar panel systems.

"There's a great benefit in that you have clean power coming from solar, and it doesn't take up resources for farming or mining," Robine told the newspaper. Mining companies have also expressed interest, with MDU Resources Group, a $4.3 billion conglomerate based in North Dakota, in talks with SPG Solar to install floating solar panel systems on settling ponds at one of its California gravel mines.

"We don't want to put a renewable project in the middle of our operations that would disrupt mining," said MDU vice president of renewable resources Bill Connors. "The settling ponds are land we're not utilizing right now except for discharge and if we can put the unproductive land into productive use while reducing our electric costs and our carbon footprint, that's something we're interested in."

Shifting solar panel systems to bodies of water away from land could also help expedite the often laborious approval process that photovoltaic systems must undergo before they can be built. Environmental groups have challenged the construction of large-scale solar panel systems in the past, arguing that their construction would hurt the natural habitats of various animals. Those concerns, however, would be allayed if photovoltaic systems were built on water instead.

The companies affirm they have brought the costs of building on water down so much that they now rival that of traditional land systems. Moreover, the ample water they sit upon helps cool the panels and allows for increased efficiency. University of California, Berkeley professor David L. Sedlak said the water-based photovoltaic systems also prevented algae from  growing in the ponds - another environmental benefit.

"Irrigation ponds have the potential to become algal sources and algae can cause all sorts of issues," Dr. Sedlak asserted. With the solar panel systems built on the ponds, though, that potential problem is mostly avoided, he said.

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