Solar, Cities, and SolaBlock

There’s no doubt about it, solar power is booming. The amount of installations built in the United States have been steadily increasing during the past few years. By the end of 2016, 1.4 Gigawatts of PV (photovoltaic) capacity were added to the United States, which is double of what was produced in 2015, giving an overall total of 36 GW of PV power. While solar production has increased overall, it has mostly been in areas with a smaller population density. Research shows that the greater the population density of an area is, the less solar energy is produced. That means cities have a much lower solar output compared to more rural areas.  

 

Out of all the cities in the United States, New York City ranked last in PV usage. According to the report below, “Urban U.S. Solar Electric Usage and Population Density” this is due to the lack of available rooftop space, which makes solar panels less effective due to how close in proximity they are to one another. To sum up the report, because of the lack of space in cities, there is less real estate to space out solar panels, whereas in more rural areas the solar panels have the space necessary to work at full capacity.  This is an issue for a multitude of reasons. One, the amount of electricity used to power a city is massive. Two, States have solar incentive programs that aren’t being tapped into. This is partially due to the lack of solar products that would be effective in a city landscape. If solar incentives were tapped into, landlords, business owners, project developers, and tenants could potentially save money, due to tax breaks, and less electricity being consumed.

Solablock is dedicated to helping cities develop their solar potential. One of the ways Solablock can do this is by partnering with developers to build solar on developing sites. Since Solablock can be installed at the same cost, or cheaper than brick, it would be easy for developers to integrate solar without having to pay massive amounts of money to install rooftop solar panels. Even existing structures, such as college campuses, could benefit from integrating Solablock. Partnering with Solablock will help developers tap into similar tax incentives that rooftop solar has, without having to risk a ton of money building solar panels. For owners, who pay electricity bills, Solablock will also help keep overall cost of electric bills down. Finally, while cities lack the real estate necessary for rooftop solar to reach its potential, Solablock can take advantage of the abundant vertical space on the sides of buildings.

To read the report “Urban U.S. Solar Electric Usage and Population Density”, click here.

The SNOW Factor: Rooftop PV vs SolaBlock

The Snow Factor

Ever wonder what happens to solar panels when they get covered in snow? If you live in the Northern half of the US, you’ve probably noticed that snow and cold weather makes everyday life a little less efficient. Getting up earlier to shovel the driveway, slippery roads, having to wear extra layers, and using more energy to heat the house! Well as it turns out, that extra energy you need to heat the house isn’t coming from your solar panels, because snow coverage has a huge negative impact on your rooftop solar panel’s output.

But it wasn’t until recently that this was considered as a factor for the annual power output of conventional photovoltaics (PV). As it turns out, depending on where you are in the US, snow coverage can cause up to and beyond 20% losses. You might not be getting what you thought from your solar.

As you can see in the map above, snow coverage affects solar output to varying degrees across the country, but the energy losses really start to get significant the further you go north. Even a tiny patch of snow on the bottom of a panel can cause the whole panel to go offline. But that’s rooftop, how about SolaBlock?

The vertical orientation of a SolaBlock system means that snow coverage is very minimal; it’s a wall after all! Each SolaBlock is also designed to minimize any accidental bypass loss of surface area, triggered by a covered portion of the panel. SolaBlock wall systems do not suffer the same fate due to snow coverage as rooftop panels, in fact, it ends up being quite the opposite!

It turns out that snow coverage is one of the most light reflective surfaces there is, so in a snowy situation, that means your SolaBlock will generate even more power! We’re talking up to a 25% gain for locations at latitudes 45 degrees and above. So in northern climates around the world, SolaBlock performs as good as or even better than conventional rooftop PV. Did I mention that colder temperatures help SolaBlock last even longer and run even more efficiently? It’s a winner in the winter.

Want more details on snow-coverage with rooftop solar and SolaBlock? Check out our full study here

-Nathan & SolaBlock

5 REASONS WHY SOLABLOCK IS RIGHT FOR YOU!

1. We’ve developed cost-effective and practical means of interconnecting our block and tile wall systems. This has been SolaBlock’s greatest design challenge—and greatest success.

2. Instead of quartz glass, we’re employing new high-technology polymers that can’t be broken, enabling more deployment where there’s risk of damage or vandalism.

3. Instead of competing with conventional solar industry on building roofs, we’re bringing solar development to facades and other vertical structures, where our suppliers are eager to join us in the exploitation of a new sales channel.

4. Instead of creating installation challenges on the construction site, we’ve designed–and re-designed—our products to be eminently suitable for conventional installation by the trades. Masons install block and tile in a normal manner, and electricians complete the installations using existing tools and skill sets.

5. Instead of requiring energy sales over the course of the product lifetime to pay back its high capital-cost to be competitive with solar alternatives, SolaBlock is already the least-cost alternative for solar production on facades. This means that energy sales revenues go right to the customer, greatly reducing customer energy costs and improving customer bottom-line.

Where we are..

How about a bit of an update?

The next generation of SolaBlock is on the way. Yes, the real life product! We've spent months working carefully, step by step, to design the most foolproof, efficient, powerful, and safe product possible! And its shaping up to be quite the game changer. 

We're still in the final rounds of testing of materials and assembly, but before you know it, the first block will be being laid in a big way - stay tuned!

Tesla Solar Roof Tile vs. SolaBlock and SolaTile

Catch the recent solar hype? Last month saw an amazing demonstration of new roof tile technologies unveiled by Tesla as a part of its assimilation of Solar City. The tiles were shown modeled on suburban-style buildings on a Hollywood movie set.

After the announcement, we’ve received a lot of questions as to how the Tesla roof tile announcements affect SolaBlock (especially in relation to our SolaTile product). Overall, we’re very pleased to see that Tesla is converging on the same vision as SolaBlock. This is an invaluable affirmation of our mission to see solar energy production expand as it takes on entirely new forms to suit customer needs. But Tesla’s product itself isn’t perfect – here’s why.

Where Tesla Falls Short:

In fact, the roof tiles demonstrated on the Hollywood buildings were not interconnected to the grid—or even to each other. Having developed patented technologies for interconnecting solar-clad wall systems, it’s our experience that the supreme technical challenge is the wiring design.  This is especially acute with roof systems, where drilling a large number holes in a roof increases the likelihood of leaks, daisy-chaining long strings of tiles is not practical from an installer’s perspective, and interconnecting many tiles one-to-another in series creates the potential for voltage losses, corrosion losses, and hidden costs.

Secondly, the quartz glass material that Tesla is planning to use may not be ideal. It’s exceedingly expensive—think of the cost of hundreds of square feet of smartphone glass—and may be too easily broken, tempered glass can actually be shattered with a piece of ceramic the size of a pebble. It can also be broken with mild impact at the edge--with overlapping shingles exposing the edges of the glass, there are plenty of opportunities for this kind of breakage.

Third, the competitive position for Tesla is a challenge. Tesla is planning to compete head-to-head with conventional solar modules on roofs. With electricity a commodity, and conventional modules being sold on a commodity basis, Tesla is competing with the incumbent industry at its strength. Tesla adding value due to superior aesthetics can only buy advantage to a certain extent--the market will decide to what extent that is. The track record of previous solar roof tile manufacturers is spotty because of this inability to directly compete on a low-cost basis.

Fourth, who is going to install the tiles? Roofers are not qualified or permitted to perform electrical connections, and electricians are not going to readily install roof shingles. A new professional category of solar tile installers might be needed--and those newly-certified professionals may be spending considerable high-dollar hours putting up the roof systems.

Lastly, the performance of the roof as advertised is a concern. From the pictures, not a lot of surface area of each tile is devoted to solar generation—that means the higher up-front costs will need more years of electricity sales to pay back those costs. Tesla has addressed this, saying that the high cost of the roof can be made up in energy sales over the lifetime of the roof. But in so many words, Tesla is saying that lifetime energy sales from the roof will go up front to the manufacturer instead of to the customer. This eliminates a large part of the reason to install solar in the first place, energy savings!

But why SolaBlock?

Overall, we’re excited by the discussions that have arisen from the Tesla announcement. We believe that the arguments for Tesla point toward even greater success for SolaBlock. Regarding our concerns for Tesla, here are the five issues we outlined—and how we address them:

1.      We’ve developed cost-effective and practical means of interconnecting our block and tile wall systems. This has been SolaBlock’s greatest design challenge—and greatest success.

2.      Instead of quartz glass, we’re employing new high-technology polymers that can’t be broken, enabling more deployment where there’s risk of damage or vandalism.

3.      Instead of competing with conventional solar industry on building roofs, we’re bringing solar development to facades and other vertical structures, where our suppliers are eager to join us in the exploitation of a new sales channel.

4.      Instead of creating installation challenges on the construction site, we’ve designed–and re-designed—our products to be eminently suitable for conventional installation by the trades. Masons install block and tile in a normal manner, and electricians complete the installations using existing tools and skill sets.

5.      Instead of requiring energy sales over the course of the product lifetime to pay back its high capital-cost to be competitive with solar alternatives, SolaBlock is already the least-cost alternative for solar production on facades. This means that energy sales revenues go right to the customer, greatly reducing customer energy costs and improving customer bottom-line.

So Tesla may have the hype, but they don’t have the product! Meanwhile, SolaBlock and SolaTile are poised to take the industry by storm, (or by sunlight and beautiful weather rather). Stay tuned!

-Patrick Quinlan, CEO

 

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Solar power keeps getting BIGGER! Literally. Morocco's Ouarzazate Solar Power Station

If you've been following solar news around the world, you might of heard of it. It's called the Noor 1, and it's the first of three parts that will make up the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station. Situated in the Sahara Desert, only 10 km away from the city Ouarzazate, the plant has rounded mirrors that absorb sunlight during the day. Each of the mirrors is 12 meters high and redirect the light towards a steel pipeline supplying synthetic thermal oil. The liquid reaches up to 400 degrees Celsius. The steam from the process is used to power the turbines which generate electricity power. 

Noor 1 is already the largest solar power plant in the world. It is visible from space and it generates up to 160 megawatts of electricity. And this is just the beginning. Noor 1 is only part of the huge plan that Morocco has for solar power. It will be able to work 20 hours per day, generating power for over one million homes. Soon, Noor 2 and Noor 3 will become part of the solar thermal power plantation that will be built in the next two years.

This massive undertaking came at an investment of 4 billion dollars, but will make Morocco less dependent on energy imports and will also reduce emissions by millions of tons. Morocco’s investment is solar is a huge step forward, and is a great example for countries around the world planning for a sustainable future. Go Solar!

Thanksgiving Already?

It's that time of the year again! Time to hunker down for a day of family and of food. Here at SolaBlock, we're thankful for.. you guessed it! Solar Power. Photovoltaics are popping up left and right and slowly but surely pulling our world away from fossil fuels and towards a world run on renewables! So thanks Solar, and thanks to everyone who continues to support this change! And oh, I guess the sun deserves some thanks too. Happy Thanksgiving!

Solar Pyramids Report

SolaBlock announces the completion of a technical report addressing the need for solar electric generation in remote locations. Desplaines, Hicks, Kenney, Schlerman, and Quinlan introduce solar pyramids as a way to expand the solar movement and provide power stations in areas that are not connected to the grid. learn more and view the report