Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Will Solar Trees Sprout in Parking Lots

Part of the fine print in solar power systems is that whatever wattage number is quoted, it is usually “peak watts,’’ or the amount of electricity that the panel would deliver when the sun is directly overhead. For the rest of the daylight hours, the output is lower; a graph showing minute-by-minute production resembles a sharp mountain peak.

One way to do better is to mount the panel on a metal backbone and let it tilt over the course of the day, keeping itself pointed towards the sun from sunrise to sunset. This is called a single-axis tracker. Better yet is a two-axis tracker, which also adjusts the angle to compensate for how high the sun is in the sky. Then the graph showing output would resemble a plateau. But all of this adds cost.

Envision Solar, a San Diego company, has found a niche in the solar world by building shaded parking areas with solar panels fixed to the roofs. The panels do not track the sun, but they are angled to take advantage of it: they are usually tilted to the south.

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