Thursday, June 23, 2011

We Stumble Upon a Solar Farm

Yesterday we were driving back from Pamiers and decided to take the back roads through the small towns in the area and we stumbled upon this solar farm.  We had known that France derives some 85% of it's electicial energy from nuclear power generation, but we don't know where the other 15% comes from.  By looking at this display of solar panels, it's obvious some of it comes from the sun.  At first, I thought "What a wonderful idea".
As we drove beside the site we realized it was absolutely enormous.  Lo and behold, we arrived at the entrance and there was an informational sign telling us the solar panel array covered 235,362 square meters.  For you Americans out there, that's a little over 58 acres. For you urban Americans, that's something like 58 football fields. In any unit of measurement it's a pretty big investment in land area that could be growing food, especially in this rich agricultural region.  Besides that downside, photovoltaics produce energy only when the sun is shining brightly, which is during the middle of the day when electric power usage is at it's lowest.  Cloudy weather, like yesterday, reduces the output very drastically.  And, there's more.  Solar energy, like other forms of generation, can't really be effectively stored except in batteries, so it must really be used as it is generated.
I'm all for solar energy, but every form of energy generation has it's downside.  We had three solar panels and four golf cart batteries at our cabin in Montana, and it was the most wonderful feeling in the world to see all that free energy pouring into our batteries on a sunny winter day.  But this solar installation seems less than totally wonderful, which I first imagined it to be.  For some interesting discussion about farms such as this one, go to this link,;topic=13973.0

They discuss many of the upsides and downsides of this type of solar array, including grazing goats in the solar farm, putting panels on buildings, and putting solar arrays over parking lots. And on another note, I reallize these photos are pretty boring and don't do justice to the subject, but it would have taken a heliocopter to get a good photo of the site.  My apologies, still click on 'em to enlarge 'em.

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