I recently had the pleasure of staying at a hotel in the old town of Quito, Ecuador, and saw a photovoltaic (PV) installation that would seem strange in most of the world.
We typically see PV panels tilting toward the south in the northern hemisphere or toward the north in the southern hemisphere, in order to capture the sun’s rays. A variation is to tilt toward the west in afternoon-peaking locations, such as Austin, Texas, where air conditioning drives peak loads. (Click here to read the work by Pecan Street that considers the tradeoffs between maximizing energy production and maximizing the value of that energy).
At my hotel in Quito, however, the courtyard had been covered by horizontal PV panels:
As well as being an attractive building-integrated PV awning, it was also perfectly oriented, since Quito is almost on the equator. It allowed some light through to the courtyard below, because the PV cells were mounted on a transparent support (see below), and also provided shade for the courtyard.
The combination of an old colonial building with updated decor and energy sources made for a lovely stay in this charming town.
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In May I had the pleasure of visiting colleagues at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and the Universidad de Chile, in Santiago, Chile. Like Texas, Chile is moving toward ever higher levels of renewable power, ours in wind, theirs in solar.
Universidad Catolica colleagues and I have been jointly awarded seed funding to investigate models of flexibility in power systems that are needed to accommodate higher levels of renewable integration.
Over the coming months we will work toward a larger proposal on flexibility aimed at cost-effectively facilitating the integration of increasing levels of renewables. Unlike in California and Germany, where renewable integration seems to proceed without any regard to cost or without any attention to the endowment of resources, we aim to make high levels of renewable integration cost-effective in the locations where the resources are abundant.
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While in Santiago I met with the local electricity industry and presented a summary of UT research relating to the flexibility and integration of renewable enery. (Click here to download that presentation.)
It was a great experience to meet colleagues in Chile, including old friends Hugh Rudnick and Rodrigo Palma, and my collaborators Matias Negrete-Pincetic (pictured, at left) and Daniel Olivares Quero (pictured, in center). Later this year, a Universidad Catolica student will be visiting The University of Texas at Austin to work with me, and one of my students will be visiting Universidad Catolica.
I attended The Sixth Annual Austin Electricity Conference last month, which included panels on decentralization (which I moderated), electricity business models, future grid design, and Mexican electricity market restructuring.
My panel asked: Does decentralization made sense? We had discussions about proposed “distribution system operators,” grid cost parity for renewables, increased demand response, and the increasing fraction of transmission and distribution costs.
I questioned the timeliness of distribution system operators (DSO) in the absence of nodal transmission-level pricing applied to loads and load-serving entities. Various US protagonists have proposed, or are implementing, DSOs. In the long term, this might make sense, but in most jurisdictions currently, loads and load-serving entities are charged zonal average prices, thus putting the horse before the cart. Instead, I would propose that the better scheme is to go with the low-hanging fruit first: Price load at nodal prices, getting the economic efficiencies, and then discuss a DSO at a later point.
I recently presented a seminar, “Meeting Worldwide Demand for Electricity,” at the IEEE Innovators, Engineers & Entrepreneurs workshop in Austin. My point: we can’t just export approaches that work in the west to the rest of the world, because these approaches are often too expensive. So we need to ask: What would be a cost-effective way to satisfy increasing demand for electricity without increasing emissions in the newly industrializing world?
As a first step to an answer, I wanted to rule out what is not cost-effective. For example, solar energy is often put forth as a way to produce affordable, low-emissions electricity. In some contexts, it certainly is; however, cost-effectiveness depends upon carefully keeping costs down and tailoring utilization to specific applications.
To analyze, then, the potential for deploying solar energy solutions, I used the University of Texas at Austin campus solar charging stations as a case study, supported by a “back-of-the-envelope” calculation.
My conclusion: this particular solar solution would be cost-prohibitive for newly industrialized applications.
For details, download the full presentation.