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The Problems and Challenges of Solar Power: An Interview with Jim Raras, Jr. of Inpower Systems

written by: Charles M Bowen•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 10/29/2009

Jim Raras, Jr. discusses the current and potential problems of solar power. There are also benefits of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) using salt-based storage.

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    Current and Potential Problems with Solar Energy

    Bright Hub: Solar is of course about as "green" as you can get, but other "green" technologies have still come under attack from fringe elements of the environmental movement -- notably wind power, which critics say can harm birds. Have there been any such complaints about solar and do you think that these are just waiting to happen?

    Jim Raras, Jr.: Nothing is perfect and as with any other decisions we make in our lives we must carefully weigh the pros and cons of all of these solutions. The historic complaint about solar is that the embodied energy in manufacturing; shipping and installation outweighed the environmental benefits of the clean energy production. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. One other issue that comes up is the material used to produce "thin film" solar is typically cadmium and other hard metals--which are not exactly green. On the other hand, most PV is silcon (99% of what we install is silcon based) and that comes from sand, nothing really nasty about it.

    BH: The problem says critics, is that solar doesn't do enough when it is raining or is a cloudy day. Obviously you can't control the weather, so are there places where solar can't just work -- notably Seattle for example?

    JR: To those critics I would point them to Germany, who has pretty much led the world in the adoption of renewables. Their climate and insolation values are not at all what you would expect from the world leader in solar, but it makes a lot of sense for them when you look at the whole picture.

    BH: How resistant is today's solar technology to stand up to the challenges of weather and other environmental issues -- that is earthquakes and hurricanes for example? Obviously there must be concerns to go green if the equipment can be easily damaged or is expensive to replace?

    JR: Silcon based PV was initially designed to power satellites in space. These panels will outlast pretty much everything in someone's house with the exception of the foundation, etc. So, from a reliability standpoint solar/PV is bombproof. The catastrophic weather events you mention are potential issues, but solar/PV is effected no more than any other building product or mechanical system that we see put into buildings. All of these products and our turnkey systems are engineered to deal with hurricane winds, etc.

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    Concentrated Solar Power

    BH: And on the point about solar's downside, do you see ways that solar could be used in conjunction with other green technologies such as wind turbines?

    JR: The "killer app" that could take solar over the top is storage, which is the lynchpin. Currently they are time-shifting power produced by large CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) plants hours (several to many depending on who's data you believe) using salt-based storage. This is the stuff that is exciting and could make changes of the size we need.