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A cool performer in the heat: solar can deliver the goods

Pierre Bull

Posted July 8, 2010

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Heat waves, like the record-breaking one we're having here in the Northeast, cause more than just discomfort from being outside for an extended period of time.  Such extreme events directly impact your wallet and your lungs -- an unfortunate result of cruel physics that play out when the temperatures rise.  Luckily there's already a superior technology within our reach -- distributed solar PV -- that performs like no other to keep the lights on and air conditioners humming in the heat, without detroying our lungs and degrading our kids' future.

We demand air conditioned spaces to maintain a reasonable level of health, safety and comfort.  Today's air conditioning (A/C's--window units, rooftop units, chillers, etc.) technology requires electricity to do its job. A/C's have to work a LOT harder as outdoor temperatures climb toward the extreme.

  • Solar Coolness 1: Solar PV can shade a building roof, facade and/or windows, reducing the need for additional air conditioning inside a building.

Ever more demand for electricity mounts pressure (quite literally in the need for grid voltage, see today's NY Times: Con-Ed Nerve Center Fights to Keep Lights On) on the electric delivery utility to keep electricity flowing to customers.

  • Solar Coolness 2: Solar is a highly reliable electricity producing technology when electricity demand is at its peak and most expensive.  (Figure 2-56)


Utility grid wires and transformer equipment heat up considerably as a result of the increased flow of electricity. Hot wires and tranformer equipment cause system efficiency to decrease  and reduces the life of the equipment.  We're talking specialized, made-to-order, expensive equipment that impacts your utility bill so the utility can pay the manufacturer.  (Although why should we care when utilities 'accidentially' lose track of nearly 7% of their commodity anyway? . . . Oops! [Figure 2-48])

  • Solar Coolness 3: Utilities can utilitize solar to provide localized voltage support to prevent brown- and black-outs, increase the efficiency of the grid delivering electricity, and extend the life of extremely expensive grid infrastructure (Figure 2-60).  



The utility issues an emergency for local electricity generators - numbering in the hundreds and represented by dirty, old and inefficient fuel-oil boilers to fire up to support the grid (Figure 4).  The nitrogen (NOx) and other volatile organic (VOCs) compounds in the dirty fuel oil get combusted and released unabated into our local, ground-level air that we breathe.  Under higher temperatures and sunlight, the NOx and VOC emissions form smog and ozone, which severly damage our lungs.  The smog and ozone alert days unfortunately happen a lot during the summer in the Northeast (Figure 5).

  • Solar Coolness 4: Solar produces electricity without burning anything. 

Figure 4


Figure 5


  • Solar Coolness 5: Solar produces electricity without creating greenhouse gas emissions (global warming pollution). 

Good thing, given that record highs now outpace record lows in the U.S. by a greater than 2:1 margin (Figure 6). 

Figure 6

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solar lightsJul 15 2010 11:54 AM

I never knew electricity has been LOST or unaccounted for by our electric companies before!! How frustrating. As I go along in my "green" journey, your article has really helped me understand how much solar differs from traditional and how terribly necessary it is for us all ot get on the bandwagon of "going green"!! Thanks for all your research and info.!!

Pierre BullJul 15 2010 03:03 PM

Appreciate your kind regards. Emerging clean and distributed energy technologies such as solar will undoubtedly change how our electric utilities deliver and account for electricity.

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