The Great Solar Panel Rip-off: Part 1
The year 2011 will be remembered in New Jersey for things like Hurricane Irene, Jersey Shore and the great solar panel on a pole project. Although some might disagree on which is the greatest disaster to hit New Jersey this year, my vote would be for the solar panels since it is a direct rip-off of monies from the citizens of New Jersey. In this five part post, I will walk you through on why the project will never deliver what was promised. The New Jersey Assemblyman who has been the primary sponsor of all the legislative bills that force projects like this on New Jersey. The company and its CEO who has benefited with the awarding of close to $1 billion of no-bid contracts for this and other projects like it. Finally a summation of the facts and the questions that need to be answered, but first, lets take a look at just what is happening right now with this program.
As everyone knows these solar panels are being affixed to utility poles across the state. These panels are 2.5 feet by 5 feet and are permanently mounted at a 45% angle. PSE&G is in the process of installing 220,000 of these panels across the state. PSE&G claims that all of these panels combined will produce 40 Megawatts of power. These claims have been driving me crazy since they just don’t add up, so I ran some calculation and here are my results. Please bear with me as I walk you through them.
Since each panel is 2.5 feet by 5 feet, the square footage of a single panel is 12.5 feet squared (ft2). Scientific calculations are carried out in the metric system, the conversion would result in a single panel being 1.16 meters square (m2). One reference which offers an excellent explanation of just how a solar cell works is “Chemistry Explained”. According to them, the efficiency of a solar cell is 10% for the most common ones. Using this efficiency calculation, a square meter of solar panels will produce 100 watts per square meter. Therefore, the solar panels being installed on the poles would generate 116 watts each, at maximum efficiency. PSE&G claims that each panel will produce 220 watts per panel. If this claim is true, then the efficiency of these solar panels will be 19%. This is a very high number for solar panels since this would require the use of very exotic materials in their manufacturing, but let us say that the PSE&G numbers are correct. At this time I want to introduce one other factor; the wattage generated is Direct Current (DC). You will see soon why this is important.
PSE&G’s plan is to install 220,000 of these panels across the state. So if we multiply 1.16 meters by 220,000 panels we get 255,200 m2. Multiplying 255,200 by 220 watts we get 48,400,000 watts produced from all of the panels, if they are producing at 100% efficiency. We have to do another conversion here and that is to convert watts to megawatts output. Doing this we obtain 48 Megawatts (MW) for the total project. This is a little over what PSE&G is claiming the project can be expected to produce. PSE&G is projecting an output of 40 MW when all of the panels are installed. This difference can also be explained.
I told you to keep in mind that the electricity generated by the solar panels is Direct Current or as better known; DC. The electricity entering your home though is Alternating Current which is known as AC. Because of this, the DC current must be “converted” into AC. There if also one other little problem, the voltage must be “upped” to 120 Volts for it to be compatible with the current entering your home. Without going into details, this is done by putting the individual solar cells that make up the panel in series and then using a device called an “inverter” to convert the DC to AC electricity. This is the exact opposite of what a transformer does when it converts your home electricity to the current that can be accepted by any of your electronic devices like a computer, cell phone or I-Pad. It also has the same inherent problem, just like everything in the real world there is a price to be paid for changing something, and in this case it is a loss of energy. To do all of this converting and lose 20% is not out of the question and this would explain the difference of the calculated 48 Megawatts (MW) and the projected 40 Megawatts (MW) that is being claimed by PSE&G.
Let’s use PSE&G’s numbers for this exercise, but please keep another word in mind and that is the word, “inverter”. Trust me; it will come up later in this series. Tomorrow we will take a look at the installation of these solar panels and how they might affect the electrical generation claims that have been made for the program.