In a Getty Images photo, France’s largest solar array rolls over undulating hills like fecund grape vines, with the Alps as a fittingly majestic backdrop. Our clean energy future is bright, shiny, and downright artful. Or is it? A more prosaic image from Belgian solar-power developer Enfinity (left) makes the facility look a little more like what it really is—an industrial site.
Why build at the base of the Alps? The location, on Puimichel plateau in the lovely-as-it-sounds Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region, is described by Enfinity as “one of the most favorable areas of France for solar exposure. In addition, the sites’ altitude of 800 meters [2624 feet] ensures ideal ventilation, which in turn guarantees an optimal output of 10 to 15 percent above average.” Not oblivious to its surroundings, “Enfinity took additional steps to integrate the PV arrays into the landscape with the novel idea of planting a variety of wild grasses at the sites to create a grazing area for sheep.”
You can probably expect to see more panels pushing up against pinnacles. New research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology suggests that “cold, high-altitude destinations like Mount Everest have immense potential for capturing solar energy.” According to MSNBC’s “Future of Technology” blog, two factors come into play: Thinner atmospheric conditions at high elevations can provide more direct exposure to the sun, and colder temperatures "increase the operational efficiency of certain photovoltaic solar cells."
That opens up a brave new solar world. As noted by UPI, the Japanese researchers found that “many cold regions at high elevations -- including the Himalaya Mountains, the Andes, and even Antarctica --receive so much sunlight their potential for producing power from the sun is higher than some desert areas.”
-- Reed McManus