While solar power generation has increased by leaps and bounds in recent years, it still only provides a small percentage of total global energy needs. That’s because not all locations are created equal when it comes to exposing the Earth to the rays of the sun. For example, cities and major metropolitan areas in the Northern and Southern hemispheres – like San Francisco and New York – get almost all of their energy from solar radiation. Suburbs and smaller towns in the same regions get most of their power from coal and natural gas.
In this article series, we’ll examine how geographic location can influence solar power generation in a global economy that is gradually moving away from fossil fuels. To start, let’s take a look at how the layout of North America affects solar power generation.
North America’s Hottest Location
If you thought that the location of America’s capital was special, you’d be right. Washington, D.C., is the home of the world’s largest collection of art museums, historic buildings, and monuments. It also happens to be the place where some of the strongest winds in North America blow. In the summertime, temperatures can reach a blistering 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), which makes it the perfect place for farmers to grow crops like corn and wheat. It is also the spot where the summer and winter hemispheres come together, so daylight hours are at their shortest in the winter and reach their longest in the summer.
Above: The wind towers at the nearby Washington Monument have served as a meeting point for farmers and ranchers in the area since 1935. (Image credit: Stock Food/Sugarstock)
With the abundance of natural resources and a conducive climate, early pioneers were drawn to the Washington area in droves. They saw the city not just as a location for political meetings and cabinet members, but as a hub for business and opportunities as well. As a result, the area became a prime destination for entrepreneurs and developers, and the city grew at an astounding pace.
To support this growth, the city fathers constructed a sprawling grid of streets and avenues that they named after American founding fathers. This was done in an effort to ensure that the city stayed grounded in tradition while still being open to innovation and change. The plan worked like a charm. Thanks to the grid, the city is full of historic homes and landmarks that date back to the early 1800s. It also has some of the most beautiful early American buildings outside of the colonies. These days, it is not uncommon for people to refer to the city as “the hub of American capitalism.”
While it might not seem obvious at first glance, this laid-back, Northern environment has a lot to offer those who decide to live or work there. Sure, the winters are cold and unforgiving, but you’d have to work hard not to enjoy the beautiful scenery. There is also a lot of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. If you’re an adventurous type who enjoys being in the great outdoors, the city might be the place for you. In the summertime, you can go for a hike, bike ride, or swim in one of the many local lakes. Even better, the area is abundant with parks and natural areas where you can spend the day surrounded by nature.
Solar Power Generation In General
Of course, not all locations are created equal when it comes to getting solar power generation, and there are a few other factors that might influence this figure. One is the presence of large bodies of water. The more water there is, the more solar radiation there is likely to be. Since most rivers flow to the oceans, which are huge, it’s not hard to see how this element could provide an alternative source of energy for coastal locations. Another factor is elevation. The higher you go, the thinner the air becomes, which leads to more solar radiation being absorbed.
If you live at a higher elevation, you might want to consider investing in a solar attic system or a direct-contact solar water heater. These appliances sit on the roof and collect the sun’s rays for use throughout the house. They’re more efficient than conventional units, which means you’ll use less energy to provide the same or similar amount of heat. Since electricity is relatively cheap and plentiful in the United States, homeowners at higher elevations can take advantage of this and use solar power generation as a hedge against future energy cost fluctuations.
Even temperatures can play a role in solar power generation. Places with more extreme or seasonal fluctuations in temperature tend to have lower rates of solar power generation. A location that is just a few degrees south of the equator – like San Francisco – will experience very high temperatures, which might make it difficult to generate much power. The same can be said for areas in the polar regions that are close to the limit of what the human body can endure without harm.
How The Location Of Solar Panels Influences Their Output
If you decide to go the traditional route and install traditional solar power panels on your roof, you’ll want to take into consideration how the placement and orientation of these gadgets affect their output. For example, if you live in a place where the winter is long and cold, you might want to consider placing your solar panels so that they face north, which will optimize their output in the winter and minimize the effect of weather factors (such as snow and ice that might cover them up) on their output in the summer. This is especially important if your panels are not antifreeze ready – meaning they cannot withstand very low temperatures. If this is the case, you might want to consider installing them on the roof of your building, rather than on your lawn. Rooftop solar panels are more prone to damage from wind, water, and extreme temperatures. Piling everything on your roof might also prove to be impractical and expensive in the long run.
If you’re curious about how solar power generation might be influenced by the geography of the place you live in, you can use online calculators to find out just how much energy you might be able to generate. Most sites will let you plug in your zip code and see how many kilowatts you’ll be able to generate on a clear day.