Solar Energy in Texas

“Surely some wiseacre is on record observing that there are two things Texas has plenty of: hot air and hot sun.” (Ronnie Crocker, Houston Chronicle, November 6)

Future
Creative Commons License photo credit: nosha

Texas has led the nation in electricity from wind production for the past 4 years. Now we have another bright idea. Duke Energy’s Blue Wing Solar Array has started turning the sun’s radiation into electricity for residents of San Antonio. The new solar power generator is rated at 14.4 megawatts (14,400 kilowatts).

There are more solar power generation stations in store for Texas. RRE Austin Solar has plans for one outside of Pflugerville.

Currently California leads the nation in solar electricity production, but with the new Blue Wing plant Texas might have been propelled into the top ten solar electricity producing states. As a proud Texan, I have little doubt that in the years to come, we will slowly overtake California and become number one in solar.

With all that bright sun deep in the heart of Texas, why hasn’t Texas taken advantage of solar yet?

Well, there are a couple reasons, mostly economic.

Port of San Diego's Green Port Program
Creative Commons License photo credit: Port of San Diego

Electricity generated from solar power costs far more then the same electricity generated by any of the fossil fuels. Making a solar cell is highly dependent on refined silicon. Refined silicon is used to make semiconductors and therefore it is in high demand in a number of industries, which include solar cells and computers. There are tax incentives, both federal and state, that can bring the price down, but it has to bring it down enough so it can compete with fossil and nuclear fuels.

There are concerns that an attempt to bring in solar generated electricity would cause the amount you pay for electricity to rise.

“We have concerns with energy projects that are based on government mandates and are ultimately funded by captive ratepayers,” executive director Luke Bellsnyder said in a statement. “Projects that are only financially possible because the costs will be passed on to customers — through above-market rates – are not a good deal for consumers and businesses.” (Crocker)

Even with the all the new Texas solar projects coming online, the state will still be mostly dependent on fuels such as coal. Texas uses 84,000 megawatts of electricity. All the new solar projects would bring the amount of solar produced electricity to 194 megawatts, or .2%. In contrast, wind generates 9,300 megawatts of electricity for Texas (11%).

California has 724 megawatts of solar generated electricity already installed. California has received a large amount of money from the federal government to help build a new solar plant that would be capable of generating 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

So what should we do?

In this case we can afford to wait. Every year the cost of the solar panels decreases, the efficiency of those same panels increases, and more and more people want their electricity to be generated from solar power.

Does that mean we should do nothing while we wait? May it never be! The very first thing to do is to educate ourselves about solar energy. I recommend reading the wonderful blogs on this site that are about solar energy. They have a plethora of profitable links. The next thing is to check your local library for information and your city for local projects. You might also want to take a drive out on I37 and take a look at the new Blue Wing array near San Antonio.

After that, have some fun experimenting with solar. I built a small 1 ft squared solar car using a motor, 4 wheels, plywood, and a solar cell. What can you do?

Texas Wins Big: NEED State Program of the Year

NEED – the National Energy Education Development Project – is an organization that teaches people how to teach about energy. Even though the concept of energy education might sound simple at first – too many people think that if they teach about one energy source, they’re teaching about energy in general.

In the NEED Primary Science of Energy curriculum, they discuss petroleum, coal, solar energy, uranium, biomass, hydropower, wind energy, geothermal energy, propane, natural gas and light.

Texas was selected as NEED’s State Program of the Year because of the diverse and dedicated partners providing energy education opportunities to students, teacher, and families in Texas.

HMNS, along with other Texas partners, was recognized at the 29th Annual Youth Awards for Energy Achievement for the Museum’s commitment to NEED and the programs in Texas, as well as our commitment to energy education in general.

Niagara Falls Hydro Plant
Hydropower
Creative Commons License photo credit: gobanshee1

But it’s not just about giving the teachers facts and figures. The fastest way for teachers to get students excited is to get the teachers excited -  and NEED activities do just that.

Before receiving the award, we completed a test run of their new hydropower curriculum. I spent a few hours with elementary school teachers and kids, putting together a water-powered wheel that would lift paperclips.  The exciting part was watching the kids come up with ideas and innovations to make the water-powered wheels run more efficiently and do more work.

To learn more about energy education, check out our previous entries in the blog’s Energy category.

Not to Be Long-Winded, But…

__dori__0409
Creative Commons License photo credit: __Dori__

Just can’t get enough wind energy this month. NPR featured  (recently mentioned here) T. Boone Pickens, the venerable Texas oilman, and his plans to put 2500  wind turbines in the Texas panhandle–enough to power 1.3 million homes. He is a big advocate of using more wind energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by making more natural gas–currently used to generate electricity–available for powering transportation. Pickens points out a study citing that the land available in North Dakota for wind turbines–if used for that purpose–might be enough to power the entire USA.

And for those of you who are still stuck on the idea that wind turbines are ugly, you can soon try on a hot little number designed by French designer Philippe Starck. He’s designed a plastic wind turbine that can generate 20 to 60 percent (!) of your home electricity needs. NPR reports that it will be available later this year for only $630.  Maybe you should run down to your local wind boutique to make sure you’re on the list for this one. Fashion forward AND eco-friendly. How hip are you gonna be this fall?

Bertha
Creative Commons License photo credit: CoreBurn

Speaking of wind, hurricane season is now in session, which means we’re also thinking a lot about the Gulf of Mexico – which is also closely related to our current energy crisis.

Offshore drilling on the Offshore Continental Shelf - (OCS) is an important factor in the equation which determines the cost of gasoline. Now you can actually keep an eye on the Minerals Management Service web site to see how the weather is effecting oil production in the GUlf of Mexico. For safety reasons, offshore oil rigs are shut down during dangerous conditions. But don’t worry too much, there are numerous procedures in place to make sure hurricanes don’t cause oil leaks.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (7.16.08)

Roar
Now all he needs is 20 years or martial arts
training and a lair.
Creative Commons License
photo credit: Beard Papa

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

He’s the only superhero without any real superhuman powers – unless extreme bitterness counts. So – is a real Batman scientifically possible?

Tomorrow, Texas’ Public Utility Commission will decide which of several wind energy proposals to adopt. More on the plans they’re evaluating here.

The Brooklyn Museum is in the process of putting their entire collection online – complete with photos, descriptive information and where the object can be found in the physical museum. You can check out a preview of this very cool new feature here.

Nanoparts are really small (hence the name) and it takes a really long time to build something that’s even visible out of them – much less an organ. Now, researchers at MIT and Harvard are working to find a way for nanoparts to self assemble - which would make the process of fabricating different types of organs much quicker.

Researchers at the University of Texas may have found the Achilles Heel of the HIV virus – an antibody that disables the virus’ ability to infect cells.

Just like humans, sick bees are much less productive at work.