The United States Could Get Up To 25% Of Its Energy Needs From Solar Panels On Roofs.
The Sun, that big ball of nuclear activity in the sky, gives enough energy to the Earth every day to meet all of our needs ten times over. Unfortunately, humans haven’t figured out all of these skills as well as other living things on Earth have.
We have a long way to go before we can compete with photosynthesis, but we are getting there. New research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that rooftop solar systems could meet 25% of the country’s energy needs on their own.
Solar panels aren’t the best choice for every roof, and the amount of electricity a roof can make depends on a lot of different things. These parameters include the average amount of sunlight in the area and how much of it can reach the roof without being blocked by tall buildings, trees, or other things that cast shade.
Researchers at NREL used this information to look at a lot of data to figure out what percentage of roofs are good for solar power generation. The study found that the United States’ roofs could produce 1,118 gigatons (GW) of power, which is enough to meet a quarter of our energy needs.
Very Strong Effect
At the moment, less than 1% of all the energy used in the United States comes from solar power. Other sources of clean energy, like wind, geothermal, and hydroelectricity, only make up a small part of our total use. Even though there have been improvements in sustainable energy solutions, more than 81% of the country’s energy needs are still met by nonrenewable energy sources.
Solar energy has recently been pushed as a possible replacement for coal. The technology needed to collect electricity from the sun is becoming much more affordable. This makes the switch from dangerous fossil fuels to clean energy sources not only good for the environment, but also good for your wallet.
“This analysis is the result of three years of research, and it’s a big step forward in our understanding of how rooftop PV could help meet U.S. electricity needs,” said Robert Margolis, a senior energy analyst at NREL and the report’s co-author.
NREL used ZIP-code-level data and criteria like light detection and ranging (lidar) data and technological generating capacity to estimate rooftop PV capacity in 128 cities. About a quarter of the country’s buildings and 40 percent of its people live in these cities. The NREL then ran two different models, one for small buildings that were less than 5,000 square feet and the other for buildings that were between 5,000 and 100,000 square feet.
Mission Viejo, California, scored 88 percent solar potential, putting it at the top of the list of cities with the most potential for rooftop PV to meet expected municipal demand. Buffalo, New York, came in second with 68 percent, and Concord, New Hampshire, came in second with 72 percent. Even though only about 20% of the roof space on small buildings in the U.S. was good for solar PV, this still produced more than 900 terawatt-hours of energy every year.
A state’s total capacity for solar PV to balance power generation was based in part on how much energy each person used. NREL says that the top six states use a lot less energy in their homes than the national average. If a state wants to get the most out of solar incentives, it should put energy efficiency first.
Many bigger buildings were ready to use solar energy, but because they usually had flat roofs, the space couldn’t be used as well as it could on sloped roofs, which are more common on homes and small buildings. NREL says that this could change if techniques like racking and module-packing make flat roofs more useful.
Estimates may also be higher because of other technological advances, such as better module performance. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) said that the efficiency of modules will be about 16%. If the number was closer to 20%, each estimate of the technical potential would go up by about 25%.
When all relevant structures were taken into account, California came out on top again. The NREL model shows that rooftop solar could power up to 74% of electricity sales in California. Even though they don’t have a lot of sun, many New England states could get about half of their electricity from rooftop solar panel.