Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oregon's Power Potential (3/8) Solar


The University of Oregon Solar Energy Center reports that solar energy is, by a substantial margin, Oregon’s most abundant energy resource. Some solar advocates claim that solar's capability to produce electricity, heat and light exceeds that of all other energy resources in Oregon - including hydro and wind. This seems to ignore factors of collection and transmission. Even if it is hyperbole, it does make the point that the rainy Oregon has a massive potential for solar power that is often overlooked.

When most people think of Or-e-gone, they think about rain. That impression comes from the heavily populated NW corner (my corner) of the state. Approximately 60 percent of Oregon is desert, receiving less than seven inches of rain annually. The picture to the right is a solar energy resource map for state for the month of July. While this picture is a little less sunny in December, the state boasts annual solar energy exceeding most of Europe, Japan, New England, the Middle Atlantic States south to Virginia, and the upper Midwest. Solar is clearly an option for Oregon. Some large projects have been proposed for the Eastern desert areas.

Solar can be harvested either as solar-thermal or as photovoltaic. Solar-thermal uses mirrored troughs to heat oil or salt brine. Another uses concentrating mirrors to a tower. This is then used to boil water. Once heated the thermal mass of the brine means that passing clouds do not cause power spikes and power can often be generated 5-6 hours after the sun goes down.
The drawback for solar is that the population centers are in the NW corner of the state, the one area where solar is the least abundant.

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