Clean Power

Published on May 21st, 2014 | by James Ayre


How Does Local Solar Stack Up Against The Grid? New Map Provides Countrywide Comparison Of Solar PV And Grid Efficiency

May 21st, 2014 by  

If you’re interested in knowing exactly where in the country solar energy is the most efficient — as compared to the local grid — then this new map (posted below) from Energy Points should be right up your alley.

The map directly compares the efficiency of the local grid to the average efficiency of solar PV, in most of the major cities of the US — as well as simultaneously mapping out the distribution of the country’s solar resources. It’s a cool map. Check it out:

Image Credit: Energy PointsImage Credit: Energy Points

The “efficiency” metric reportedly “pulls together every imaginable resource factor into one, theoretically allowing a customer to know what energy technologies will have the biggest environmental impact,” as Greentech Media‘s Stephen Lacey writes.

Unsurprisingly, the Southwest is where you have the most to gain by switching from grid electricity to solar PV — primarily due to the high solar insolation and the region’s reliance on relatively inefficient coal. Contrast that with the cloudy Northwest, where, unsurprisingly (again), the hydro-powered grid is more efficient than average solar PV.

While much of the map shows what you’d probably expect (if you’re familiar with the subject), it’s still interesting to see everything mapped out so clearly, imo.

Greentech Media provides more commentary:

Of course, there are lots of other considerations for investing in distributed energy: diminishing price volatility, increasing power reliability, or even boosting public relations. But the map provides a useful guide when considering the net energy benefit of installing solar.

The information comes from Energy Points’ database of source energy, which compiles factors such as resource availability, the local generation mix, environmental conditions and the lifecycle energy use of different technologies. The startup uses that data to help commercial or industrial customers evaluate onsite energy decisions by modeling source energy against a company’s billing and consumption data. The model could also help governments determine where to focus efforts in resource conservation and energy-related programs.

“We see ourselves as a big calculation engine,” explained Ory Zik, founder and CEO of Energy Points. “The end goal is to be the calculation that everyone uses in order to know their source energy. Most companies only focus on what they consume onsite. But the market is tied together. We bother to do the calculation on the real energy return on energy invested.”

Still, calculations like these are based on a lot of assumptions. It would be interesting to see the exact assumptions Energy Points is using to come up with its comparisons.

Nonetheless, it’s no secret that solar power is increasingly competitive. A new report from the historically conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that, by the year 2050, 27% of all the electricity that’s produced in the world will be from solar energy installations. (To be exact, that’s 27% from solar PV and solar thermal.) While the reality is that the figure could actually be quite a bit higher than 27%, it’s still interesting to see an organization like the IEA make a prediction like that.

Coming back to the Energy Points work, it seems this could help convince many more individuals, companies, and governments to go solar. But it seems that a little more clarity on what “efficiency” means here could be useful.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • JamesWimberley

    What’s the point? Very few firms (WalMart would be one, if it took its PR promises seriously) are in a position to decide where to instal solar or not. For most, their location is given, and their only option is local. The obvious fact that they could get more power for the money in New Mexico than where they actually are (in Peoria, say) is not relevant.

    The company is committed to the peculiar “energy return” method. This was sort of useful for fossil fuels and is a good way of showing up boondoggles like corn ethanol. But for practical purposes, solar investors need only consider two things: the LCOE, if they are interested in money; the saved carbon emissions, if they are interested in the climate.

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