You can’t have a conversation about combatting climate change without bringing up renewable energy. Replacing fossil fuels with sunlight, geothermal deposits, and the wind is one of the most obvious ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
But some of those energy sources are still impacted by nature's whims. For instance, a solar panel can see a 70 percent drop in generating power when a cloud passes over it.
Bob Boehm is a mechanical engineering professor at UNLV. He said efforts are being made to combat those problems, including creating battery storage of solar and wind power.
However, storage is a costly exercise right now.
Hamidreza Nazaripouya is a research professor in the University of California Riverside's Winston Chung Global Energy Center. He said one of the biggest challenges in any power system is maintaining supply to match demand.
He said power needs to come from a constant and controllable source. Those two criteria are a challenge for renewable energy sources.
Nazaripouya said storage is one way to solve the problem but researchers are also looking at advanced control systems.
“Using... artificial intelligence to basically better control these renewable energy resources,” he said.
Nazaripouya said that switching from fossil fuel to renewable sources doesn't just improve the environment and public health, but also increases reliability, because distributed generation is less impacted by one severe weather event. In addition, renewables are more efficient because of how the current enters homes.
Boehm explained that, currently, there are two main ways to collect energy from the sun. One example is the photovoltaic solar panels used at the solar plant near Nellis Air Force Base.
“It’s a means of basically driving out some of the electronic products of the various components that we have and making them flow as electricity directly from the sunlight,” he said.
An example of the second is the technology used at the thermal solar plant at the state line.
“The way that works, the items that are on the ground are mirrors that move and reflect the sunlight’s reflection up to the top of the tower and the tower becomes very warm. Warm enough, in fact, to run through an engine and generate power,” Boehm said.
Both technologies have been around for a long time, but until recently photovoltaic was too expensive to be a reasonable solution.
Boehm said that has changed and prices have come down. Nazaripouya added that the cost of natural gas and solar power are now about the same.
Both Boehm and Nazaripouya said energy storage will help renewable energy grow, but the cost of the technology must come down significantly to see that happen.
Bob Boehm, mechanical engineering professor, UNLV; Hamidreza Nazaripouya, research professor, University of California Riverside’s Winston Chung Global Energy Center.
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