Utah is one of 7 states including Colorado, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas that have the highest potential for PV power generation across the United States.
Looking at Utah, its southernmost counties receive the most sunlight hours and the least amount of precipitation making those areas the best places for large-scale solar harvesting. However, the characteristics of Park City also make it a desirable location.
SOLAR HARVESTING POTENTIAL
When looking at potential, the first consideration is the solar irradiance of the specified area.
Solar irradiance is the measurement of light energy from the sun hitting an object.
Solar insolation is the same as irradiance but is a representation of the cumulative energy measured over a defined period of time, usually a year.
This below is a solar insolation map of the United States.
Solar insolation is affected by the angle of the sun, distance from the sun, and the atmosphere. When there is more space, atmosphere, and clouds for the sun to pass through, solar insolation is reduced.
The less ‘stuff’ in between the sun and the area, the more solar insolation.
This is why areas closer to the equator with low precipitation have the highest solar insolation.
Based off of current solar insolation charts, Utah receives an average of 5.26 daily peak sunlight hours for fixed solar panels which makes it one of the highest rated states for solar in the nation.
PARK CITY’S ELEVATION
Park City’s unique advantage doesn’t only come from being in Utah’s dry and sunny climate. Because unlike other areas of Utah, Park City is located at 7,000 feet. Solar harvesting at high elevations isn’t a new concept and many of Europe’s most efficient facilities happen in mountainous areas like the Alps.
A few reasons high altitude harvesting is more efficient: a thinner atmosphere, meaning less solar diffusion, reduced cloud coverage, especially in Park City which is considered to be in the rain shadow of the Wasatch Front, and lower temperatures.
Temperature is important when analyzing solar panel efficiency. When sunlight hits a solar panel, most of that energy is turned into heat and not captured through the module.
When the ambient temperature is lower than the module, the uncaptured heat energy dissipates into the environment and does not negatively affect power output. However, when the ambient temperature increases and the module’s temperature starts rising above 30C, efficiency starts to drop.
Park City’s Weather
Another characteristic of Park City’s solar potential is the snow that it receives in the winter. With shorter sunlight hours and the sun at a lower southern angle, output is greatly reduced in the winter months.
When it snows and panels get covered, they do not capture any power. Since solar panels have a glass case, the friction between the snow is minimal meaning if the aspect of the roof is at a steep enough angle, the snow will sluff off. When the sun does come out, and heats the snow after a storm, even at low angles, the solar panels are the first place for snow to sluff from.
Not all solar panels are mounted in a way that provides a natural way for snow to slide off and away from the module. Although solar modules are very equipped to handle the snow load, it is important to be aware of the snow accumulation and brush off the modules to start producing power after a storm.
Park City has a local government that supports homeowners looking to install solar panels and Utah as a state has some great tax incentives. Read our other blog here if you would like to learn more about solar tax incentives. However, the home solar power production landscape is changing currently including a recent shift from local utility companies like Rocky Mountain power, who have reduced power compensation.
To conclude, Park City is a unique place for solar harvesting.
Being located in the sunny and dry state of Utah means it receives more sunlight than the large majority of the United States. Utah’s installed solar capacity has skyrocketed in recent years and we hope this change will continue as homeowners continue to realize the potential of solar energy.
Park City’s location within the Wasatch Front causes some added - but happily welcomed - obstacles with winter weather. And with Park City’s high elevation comes an increase in solar harvesting efficiency.
These geographical benefits Park City has coupled with the incentives and support from local and state governments make it a desirable place to produce solar energy.