Should We “Mine” or “Grow” Our Energy?

Out here in the corn and soybean fields of southeastern Minnesota, I have been asked by many reporters what the advantages of solar energy are.  Some of the resulting discussion has been on variable commodity prices and uncertainty in the futures markets for corn and soybean in comparison to fixed, long-term, guaranteed lease contracts for the use of acreage for solar panels.  In many cases, solar will win out and without all of those applications of pesticides and fertilizers.

Beyond that, let’s look at the efficiency of converting solar energy into either biomass via photosynthesis or electricity via photovoltaics.  A commodity crop such as corn or soybean only converts about 1% to 2% of the total solar energy into biomass.  Digging deeper, only about 0.25% to 0.5% of the solar energy is converted into the corn kernel or soybean itself.  That is, the efficiency of a crop is less than 0.5% in producing useful energy (in this case, chemical energy).  Now, compare this to solar panels that are approximately 15% to 18% efficient in converted solar energy into electricity — quick math, this makes a “solar farm” almost two-orders-of-magnitude more efficient in creating useful energy in comparison to row crops!  Now, that’s a tantalizing return on investment.

Fortunate to have many television interviews in the past days.  Here is one that I particularly like with KIMT, Channel 3, in Rochester, Minnesota.  Enjoy 🙂

Finally, a few additional shots from the road of various solar installations from utility- to residential-scale:

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