New Method of Calculating Solar Potential

The University of Texas at Austin has introduced a new method for calculating the amount of solar potential, which it applied across the state of Texas. The method was published in the American Institute of Physics' Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.

The data allows people to understand how much solar radiation an area receives on average and over time, said said co-author Michael Webber, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and the associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy. Using the research, he said, “You could figure out what kind of energy you’re likely to get based on time of day and time of year.” He explained that the method they used focussed on the solar radiation at a county level. “Solar radiation doesn’t change that much over a county.”

The purpose of developing the method was to simplify the information to help people understand it in a easier way, said Webber “We tried to codify it [i.e., the information] and standardize how they talk about it. They weren’t talking about it in a consistent way. We came up with a way that graphically made easier to interpret the information,” he said.

The model developed was developed to be used by people with varying needs. It “can be used by policymakers, businesses, and the public to understand the magnitude of solar resources in a given region, which might aid consumers in selecting solar technologies, or policymakers in designing solar policies," said David Wogan, lead author and graduate student in mechanical engineering and public affairs at the school.

According to Webber, “ Data already existed in other places.” The team, he said, took data from various sources—like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and research done by others at the University of Texas at Austin, and other sources—and brought it together in an attempt to make easier to understand.

Such tools already exist, like the recently announced Denver Regional Solar Map, but they focus on isolated areas. Few, if any, cover such a large, geographically diverse area as Texas. “This is the first time we’ve seen this kind of framework used and done on a statewide area,” Webber said.

Looking forward Webber said the team wants to put the database online. “We want to bring it to the public and make it free to the public domain,” he said. The team is now looking for funding for that aspect of the project.

Image courtesy of NREL

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