The Kentucky Solar Energy Society

Kentucky Solar Energy Society

Will Solar Work in Kentucky?

Yes, of course!

It works in Germany, New Jersey, Minnesota and Ontario.  It's already working in Kentucky.  What you might not know:

Sunlight that strikes the earth's surface in an hour and a half is enough to supply the current world's energy needs for a full year?

Eastern KY Power Co-op has built an 8.4 Megawatt solar farm at its headquarters location in Winchester, KY, and is vigorously selling the power to its customers. LG&E-KU and Duke Energy are both aggressively investing in solar farms.

In our next door state, Northern Indiana Public Service (NIPSCO) has announced a plan to replace coal power plants for providing electricity to its 460,000 electric customers with wind, solar, and battery storage. NIPSCO said it is considering to stop burning coal entirely within the next decade.  Solar works in Kentuckiana!

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

One predicts performance of planned photovoltaic (PV) systems with the help of this map.  PV systems make electricity.  Say "solar panel" and most people think of a PV system on a roof.


This map also works with "solar thermal" systems used to make solar domestic hot water (SDHW) and space heat.  Solar thermal systems use "collectors" to harvest energy.  We speak here of "low temperature" (max 180 - 190 degree F) systems. 


The map does not apply to "concentrating solar power" (CSP) systems.  CSP systems typically (but not always) utilize parabolic mirrors and high temperature (300 - 700 degrees F) liquids to make steam to turn turbines. 
CSP does not work well in Kentucky and is more suited to the American Southwest.  It requires more sustained intense sun.  The ever-diminishing cost of solar PV has pretty much halted construction of most CSP systems.  PV has become cheaper than CSP. 

Also, don't forget about passive solarespecially if you are building a new home or contemplating a major remodel. 

Isn't Kentucky too cloudy for solar? NO!


LG&E and KU have in the past distributed materials in essence saying that solar doesn't work well in Kentucky and making their point with a concentrating solar resource map.  This mis-information may have led to a misperception that Kentucky is "too cloudy for solar." 

Kentucky is not too cloudy for solar.  It's just fine for large scale and small scale PV and low temperature (< 200° F) solar thermal.
Duke Energy operates in Kentucky.  Duke and other large utilities in places like Minnesota and Wisconsin have supported and encouraged their customers' use of solar energy.
Xcel Energy, a large multistate electrical utility based in Minnesota, has voluntarily set a goal of 80% renewables by 2050 in Minnesota, with solar playing a large part in that mix. 
   Xcel is also a major electrical utility in Colorado.  Colorado has set a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) of 30% renewables by 2020 (after previously setting 10% by 2015 and 20% by 2020 RPS standards).  Xcel customers in Colorado presently pay 0.2 cents / kWh to fund the RPS programs in Colorado.  That's only a 2% surcharge on customers' bills to achieve a 30% renewable energy portfolio by 2020!

   In large part, Xcel has offered rebates and incentives to customers who install small(technically "distributed generation") PV systems.  So everybody pays (and benefits by new capacity) a little.  Purchasers receive some assistance with their initial up-front costs. 

   The Germans installed 8 gigawatts of distributed generation solar PV back in 2012.  Kentucky can do the same.   

Present Solar Technologies are Mature
Many are Manufactured by Well-Known Companies

   Sanyo, GE, and Sharp make PV panels.  Rheem, Velux, Stiebel-Eltron and AO Smith make solar thermal systems and components.  Other less known but top quality names include AET, Canadian Solar, Solar Skies, FirstSolar and Caleffi. 

   Well designed PV and thermal systems using quality components are reliable and durable. 

   A PV (photovoltaic) system makes electrons from photons and converts about 9 - 16% of the sun's energy into useful AC or DC electricity.

   The wide range is due to possible variants in design and materials.  9% or so would be a thin-film PV system.  16% or so applies to well-designed systems using regular silicon PV panels.  These numbers take into account system inefficiency losses from dust, heat, wiring, etc. 

   The conversion efficiency of PV panels increases all the time.  The costs are also dropping. The SunShot goals have been achieved in 2017. According to US Department of Energy, "In 2017, the solar industry achieved SunShot’s original 2020 cost target of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour for utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) solar power three years ahead of schedule, dropping from about $0.28 to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Cost targets for residential- and commercial-scale solar have dropped from $0.52 to $0.16 and from $0.40 to $0.11 per kWh respectively.

Learn the basics of solar photovoltaics compliments of NREL.  

   A "solar thermal" system (hot water) converts 30% or so of the sun's daily energy into useful energy for space or water heating purposes. 
   The cost of solar thermal technology will likely not drop, nor do we see great efficiency improvements coming ahead.  Solar thermal already works really well and is cost-competitive with fossil fuels. 
   If you have an electric hot water heater, a solar thermal system pays back fairly quickly (7 - 8 years with incentives, 10 to 11 without).  The payback on a gas hot water heater will take a bit longer. 
   Once paid back, you get hot water for 20 years or so at very low cost!

Learn the basics of solar thermal compliments of US Department of Energy.

Passive solar construction is a tremendous resource, also.  The northern Europeans have led the way in this area.  Learn more at the Passive House Alliance - United States. 

Louisville architect Gary Watrous designs passive houses. So does Ginger Watkins, CPHC, out of Lexington. 

Here's an example of a passive house built in Berea by Habitat for Humanity and designed by Ginger Watkins.

 Solar energy may not be the "do all and end all" of our energy needs.  However, it meets many needs very, very well.  Systems  can be designed to perform during power failures, solar thermal and passive solar especially easily. 
   What solar can do, it should do.  

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