Renewable Energy — A Location Story

It’s easy to tell when the Salzburg to Munich train crosses into Germany.  There is no visible border crossing, but suddenly solar panels are everywhere.  Germany has been subsidizing the solar power industry for years…and it is the largest Solar power market in the world.  Austria has been less generous, so the solar panels show up at the border.

This experience underlines an interesting problem, Green Energy and geography don’t always work well together.  Would you expect to find solar panels in Minnesota or southern Canada?  All of Bavaria (southern Germany) has a latitude that is higher than Minneapolis.  Munich, were it moved due west to Minnesota, would lie just a bit south of International Falls.  Solar Power, International Falls, well.. uh…OK?   Northern Germany has the same latitude as Southern Alaska.

Roofs all over Germany are covered in Solar power panels.  The efficiency of those units must be terrible.  I can’t imagine climbing up onto the roof on a cold winter day to remove the snow so the solar panels can see the sun.  Munich has only 8 hours and 21 minutes of daylight on December 21st, and the sun angle is 18.5 degrees above the horizon, the sun angle to the panels must be terrible.

A wind farm has been constructed along I-65, north of Indianapolis, an area that is considered marginal for wind generation.  All of the Southeastern USA is considered unacceptable for wind power generation.   When I think about wind power in the USA, I see very long transmission lines everywhere.  Good wind generation locations are, for the most part in remote locations…like the middle of Lake Michigan or the mountains of Wyoming.

Let’s look at some USA Energy department maps.

We in the USA put wind farms at places that are acceptable politically and not too bad scientifically.   The result is relatively inefficient wind farms.

Whenever politics and science get mixed together we should all be prepared for strange results. Solar panels at latitude 48.1333 (Munich) and wind farms along I-65 in central Indiana (it’s not on the map because it was built after 2009) are just two of my favorite examples.

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