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US study shows huge potential of rooftop solar panels

US study shows huge potential of rooftop solar panels

US study shows huge potential of rooftop solar panels

A new study out of the US has shown the huge potential of rooftop-mounted solar panels, as well as other solar panels built on existing infrastructure, to help meet the world's energy demands sustainably.

Called 'Efficient use of land to meet sustainable energy needs', the paper - which was published in this month's edition of the journal Nature Climate Change - looked at what it would take to supply the state of California with power from solar sources alone.

US study shows huge potential of rooftop solar panels

It found that despite only eight per cent of the region having been developed by humans, using this infrastructure as a basis for small and utility-scale solar installations would be enough to exceed the state's energy demands as much as five times over.

Led by Rebecca R Hernandez of the Carnegie Institution for Science, the researchers estimated that photovoltaic technology - the type of solar panel found in consumer electronics - could generate 15,000 terawatt hours of energy per year for California if the state's rooftops and urban spaces were put to use.

What's more, so-called 'concentrating' solar power - that is, installations that use huge curved mirrors to focus the sun's rays, which would be most at home in parks and other large urban spaces - could create a further 6,000 terawatt hours of energy per year, the study found.

According to Dr Hernandez, solar panels built on existing infrastructure are more environmentally-friendly than those constructed in undeveloped areas because they cause "the least amount of land-cover change and the lowest environmental impact".

Additionally, concentrating solar power could be deployed in sites that are not ecologically sensitive or federally protected, including degraded lands.

"Because of the value of locating solar power-generating operations near roads and existing transmission lines ... [the study] identifies potentially compatible sites that are not remote, showing that installations do not necessarily have to be located in deserts," Dr Hernandez said.

California is currently working towards a target of generating 33 per cent of its retail electricity via renewable sources by 2020, as well as an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on 1990 levels by 2050.

Chris Field, another of the study's authors, said: "Our research can help policymakers, developers, and energy stakeholders make informed decisions.

"Furthermore, our findings have implications for other states and countries with similarly precious environmental resources and infrastructural constraints."

Last year, solar power made up more than half of global green energy spending, according to a Bloomberg report.

A total of $149.6 billion (£101.4 billion) was invested in the technology over the 12-month period, of which an impressive $73.5 billion went towards small distributed capacity - systems that generate less than one megawatt of power, as opposed to large-scale solar installations.

Collectively, this is the biggest annual investment in solar energy as a proportion of the total renewables market on record.

Michael Leibreich, chairman of the Bloomberg New Energy Finance advisory board, attributed this growth in solar panel to "huge improvements in its cost-competitiveness over the last five years".

 

Posted by Julie Tucker

Image courtesy of Thinkstock