As of 2019, solar is leading the renewable energy generation in Australia and emerging markets. Innovations ranging from half cells to bifacial are making waves in the industry. PV systems constitutes the second highest green energy generation (trailed only by Hydro). All the installation – from rooftop to utility-grade are usually at or around the mean sea level. However, what if the the installation is at higher altitude. Does high altitude solar power possess inherent advantages over their conventional counterparts?
This is an area with numerous ongoing applied research. That being said, there are multiple merits to having solar panels at high altitude terrains like mountains and plateaus. These include lower atmospheric interferences like fog and dust. It becomes even more influential in regions with cloudy weather at sea level. Recent research shows that it is possible for high altitude solar power systems to shift peak electricity generation from summer to winter. This can potentially aid in narrowing the usual energy deficit in winter and thereby lowering the dependence on additional energy storage systems. Furthermore, this research work in Switzerland surmises that at higher levels solar panels should be mounted at relatively steeper angles. This will enable them to avoid snow accumulation, and soiling from dust and dirt. Thus, yields up to 10% more energy from reflected light from surrounding snow is also feasible.
On the other hand, one of the main bottlenecks is that the concept is still at its infancy. There are factors like higher cost of power delivery, lack of grid connection in some high terrains, comparatively larger installation costs (accessibility issues) and deterioration from UV radiation to be taken into account. As with every relatively new technologies, uncertainties do exist. For example, global warming can affect the intensity of snow cover in winter and this can reduce the yield from reflected sunlight. Further R&D and prototypes of high altitude solar power systems should be able to iron out these engineering and societal ambiguities.