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2002-03 Seminars


An engineering/economic analysis of solar photovoltaic power

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Bert N. Davis, Ph.D., P.E.
Bert Davis & Associates Consulting Engineers

Abstract

Concerns about the environmental impacts of energy use have focused increasing attention on the potential for solar and other renewable energy systems to provide economically priced energy services with reduced environmental impacts when compared to conventional energy sources such as fossil fuels. This research focuses on the use of photovoltaic power production for the commercial buildings sector via roof-integrated PV panels.

The potential for building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) power production to reduce the current U.S. reliance on fossil fuel power generation is examined from a technical and economic analysis of prototype buildings in various U.S. locations. This research first reviews current methodology involved in simulating building energy use and photovoltaic (PV) power production. These tools are then used in a combined fashion to improve current energy simulation capability. In particular this research includes the dynamic effect of PV panels on a building's mechanical and electrical systems, and their effect on peak electrical load reduction. This improved modeling capability is applied to analyzed prototype one, two and three-story office structures. These structures are evaluated with and without PV system integration. The buildings are modeled in several different geographical regions in the United States (U.S.) to evaluate building energy use and PV energy production in different climates. Associated differences in regional fuel mixes for conventional power generation also are included in the analysis.

After building energy flows are modeled and analyzed, their economic impacts are studied. The ability of the building-integrated PV system to compete financially with conventional energy production methods is evaluated for the years 2000, 2010 and 2020. The economic analysis considers the hour-by-hour production for a simulated year of operation, including the capability of the BIPV system to reduce electrical demand. The economic impact of environmental externalities is also analyzed in the context of regional power systems.

The results of this research are then used to build a policy framework.