Sustainability & Energy Efficiency

Harnessing the Sun’s Clean Energy to Fuel Planet Earth

4 min read

Although the sun has beamed energy to the Earth for many years, humans just developed the technology to harness it and use it as a source of power. In 1876, scientists discovered that selenium exposed to light produced electricity—though not very efficiently. It wasn’t until 1953 that a silicon solar cell was developed that could power small electrical devices. Soon, solar power was being used to power space-bound satellites.

The push to develop renewable fuels, such as solar and wind, started during the Industrial Revolution. People began questioning the practice of an industrial economy based on nonrenewable energy that could be exhausted one day. Yet, progress made on techniques for getting solar power stalled after World War I as an energy-hungry world turned to more readily available fossil fuels. Oil and coal companies had established a massive infrastructure, stable markets and ample supplies.

Nearly a century later, fossil fuels still provide 67 percent of the world’s power. Contemporary solar engineers, including those working with Constellation, actively harness the sun’s environmentally friendly energy to better fuel our lives—our homes, our businesses, machinery and various forms of transportation.

As part of our environmental stewardship, we are working to minimize our impact on the environment, prevent pollution, preserve natural resources and promote energy efficiency.

We support many diverse efforts to leverage renewable energy—from wind power generated by wind turbines to provisioning of on-site solar photovoltaic assets. For instance, we worked with Owens Corning to develop a 2.4 megawatt (DC) solar generation project at its Toledo, Ohio world headquarters. The system is expected to generate about 3 million kilowatt-hours of energy in its first year. That represents about 30 percent of the company’s power requirement. The solar arrays are expected to reduce greenhouse emissions by 2,069 metric tons of carbon dioxide yearly, adding to Owens Corning’s corporate sustainability metrics.

Constellation Completes Arizona Solar Generation Project

One of our latest successes is the completion of a 13.6-megawatt (DC) solar project for the Mohave Electric Cooperative in Fort Mohave, Arizona. The nonprofit cooperative provides power to more than 40,000 entities in a 1,300 square mile area that includes portions of the Mohave, Yavapai and Coconino counties. It will now be able to do so more cost-effectively with renewable power as part of its purchased power portfolio.

The solar power system is ground-mounted across about 84 acres. To maximize energy output, it is equipped with a tracking system that adjusts the solar panels to optimal angles toward the sun throughout the day.

Constellation owns and operates the solar power system. It required no upfront capital from Mohave Electric. The cooperative will purchase the power generated by the solar panels from Constellation through a 30-year power purchase agreement, and Mohave has the option to purchase the system on the completion of six years of commercial operation.

Constellation’s Brendon Quinlivan, executive director of distributed energy origination, explained, “Structuring solar projects as power purchase agreements enables municipal utilities and their consumers to adopt solar energy solutions that require no upfront capital, and provide long-term fixed power costs that are less than projected market rates.”

This project is the second solar generation system completed by Constellation for Mohave Electric. It joins a 5-megawatt project that was completed in 2015 at a nearby site. Together, the systems are expected to generate approximately 38,000 megawatt hours of power in their first year. That’s enough to power nearly 4,000 homes, according to U.S. EPA data for the region.

The Future of Solar Power

Our energy future appears stable right now. However, the problems that initiated the “energy crisis” of the 1970s, when many Americans waited in gas lines—held hostage by the OPEC oil embargo—have not gone away. Our present supplies are plentiful and we continue to develop clean, efficient petroleum and coal technology.

Alternative, renewable energy technologies will be implemented in tandem with their fossil-fuel counterparts. This may ward off economic disruption when reserves run low or political instability again erupts in oil-rich regions.

Solar technology already:

  • Lays claim to a century of research and development (R&D)
  • Requires no toxic fuel and only minimal maintenance
  • Uses an inexhaustible resource (i.e., the sun will burn for another 5 billion years)
  • Is capable of becoming directly competitive with conventional technologies in many locations, with adequate regulatory support and continued reduction in the costs to install

These attributes make solar energy one of the most promising sources for many customers’ current and future energy needs.

Solar is not without its drawbacks, however. It requires large amounts of capital to implement, requires long-term commitment of rooftops, parking and/or land, and is intermittent because it’s not producing when the sun doesn’t shine.

Despite these challenges, solar energy use has surged at an average of about 20 percent a year over the past 15 years. In large part, this is due to a recent decline in prices of solar panels and gains in solar panel efficiency. And there is room for growth. While more power from the sun hits the Earth in a single hour than humanity uses in a year, solar provided less than 1 percent of the energy used in the U.S. last year.

While many solar systems are just 20 percent efficient at converting solar energy into power, as lab testing has shown, even total reliance on solar wouldn’t require that the earth be covered with solar panels. A map created by Land Art Generator Initiative, using the U.S. EIA’s estimation of 2030 global energy consumption (678 quadrillion Btu), shows that only 191,817 square miles—roughly the area of Spain—would be required. That sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that this area would be spread across otherwise vacant parcels of land and tucked away on rooftops.

Over the last decade, Constellation has served more than 80 commercial, public sector and federal government customers with approximately 300 megawatts of solar installations in the U.S. We will continue to use our position as the nation’s leading competitive energy provider to maintain clean and low-cost power generation systems.

Constellation commercial customers, universities, municipal cooperative utilities, hospitals and government agencies interested in on-site solar installations may contact us today to learn more about Constellation’s solar energy solutions program.

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