Maybe a break in solar is on the near horizon

Solar energy has been a tarnished hope for many years. Cheaper methods to collect it have long been promised but realizing that promise has been a challenge. This time, it might just happen. There might actually be a significant bump in cost effectiveness with CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide). This is the ‘third wave‘ of solar power according to Nanosolar.

To make the solar panels you see on a typical RV requires a plant that costs about $200 to make a year’s worth of that solar power capability. The new CIGS method might reduce that plant cost to $25 and use cheaper materials and processes, too. Nanosolar has announced that they have their plant in operation but that its entire 2008 production is sold out. Shell appears to have moved its commitment from the old type solar panel to CIGS. Other manufacturers looks to be coming on line as well.

It may be that this will put some downward pressure on the price of solar panels over the next few years. If it does, that will make solar even more attractive for the RV crowd, The problem won’t be price so much as where to put all the panels you’d like to have.

The problem, however, is that solar electricity takes a lot of real estate, said Stanberry. The sun radiates about a kilowatt of energy per square meter on the surface of earth. There are 2.6 million square meters in a square mile. Thus, every square mile gets about 2.6 gigawatts. (A million kilowatts equals a gigawatt.)

On a practical level, solar energy is only going to harvest about 10 percent of the energy that hits a large area, so it takes about 4 square miles of solar panels to generate a gigawatt, or about the same amount of electricity provided by two power plants. (page 2)

This highlights some of the reason why solar is still a specialty item. The need to cover a lot of territory and the resulting massive plant requirements are costly and have a deep impact on the environment. Solar is also an energy source and not a storage method. Batteries or some other storage are always needed to accompany a solar system. When you put solar on your RV, you also have to plan your batteries and other equipment. That means the cost is more than just solar panels and the impact on your rig and lifestyle is also significant.

Besides solar, there are other power technologies that have been promising ‘real soon now’ for a long time. Fuel cell technology is an example. Who knows? Maybe some of the technologies will start to make a dramatic influence on our RV lifestyle. If you stop to think a bit, you’d probably discover a few that already have in recent years.

The just passed US Energy Bill has provisions that may make an impact on you. See the US News and Report FAQ: The End of the Light Bulb as We Know It -|- How the Energy Bill Will Change the Car You Drive.

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