Central Illinois lacks sun for solar power

By Patrick Wade

In the hunt for alternative energy, two University researchers have released data concerning the viability of solar energy in Illinois.

According to that data compiled by Illinois State Water Survey meteorologist Bob Scott and collaborator Angus Rockett, a professor of Material Sciences and Engineering at the University, solar power is not feasible as a primary source of energy in central Illinois.

“We really don’t have enough sunlight,” Scott said.

According to a press release issued by the water survey last month, Rockett and Scott used information from an operational solar power array, which is a group of solar panels in Arizona as a template for power output. They combined the information with current solar cell efficiencies and retail prices, and applied solar data for Illinois to estimate power output potential. Small to medium sized solar arrays in Illinois would produce about 180 kilowatt hours per square meter of the solar array each year.

The release reports these results are not encouraging when compared with the capital costs required to generate sufficient energy to meet the needs of the typical homeowner. Rockett estimates that costs to produce sufficient energy for central Illinois residences could be as high as $0.50 per kilowatt hour, almost five times as high as the $0.11 per kilowatt hour that local utilities currently charge for retail power.

Data indicates that solar power could be acceptable to meet other special needs, such as powering billboards and remote locations. Installing just a half-mile of transmission lines for commercial power would match the cost to install a solar array capable of generating 625 kilowatt hours per month, according to the release.

“Solar power generation is a viable option at today’s current prices for those needs,” Rockett said.

Scott said that solar energy is the youngest of all the alternative energy sources, but it has potential. Although there are no signs of the cost effectiveness of solar energy decreasing in the near future, he said the technology might become more efficient soon.

“There is a lot of research going on that would change the complexion of the technology,” Scott said.