How to Handle New Mexico Summer Heat Waves with Solar
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It’s no secret that New Mexico gets hot during the summer and every year it feels like summer lasts longer and longer. New Mexicans are looking for ways to beat the heat, and we have a suggestion — solar. After all, New Mexico is a perfect state for solar power.
Solar panels for your home bring a host of benefits. One of the benefits they provide is keeping your home cool during the summer in multiple ways. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that residential solar can help you keep cool in the desert.
Keeping Your New Mexico Power Use Low
Let’s start with the most obvious benefits of solar panels for cooling your home — lowering the amount of energy you take from the grid. Cooling is one of the main categories of energy use in America. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), around 10 percent of all electricity used in America is for cooling. This jumps an additional six percent for residential use, climbing to 16 percent of all residential electricity.
This could become a problem. American summers have been getting hotter and longer, causing unprecedented waves of blackouts across the Southwest. While New Mexico hasn’t been hit yet, it could become a problem. A study has shown that, for example, should the Phoenix power grid fail, around two-thirds of the city would be vulnerable to potential heat-related injury or death. We can expect similar numbers for cities in New Mexico, which has a similar climate to Arizona.
There are two reasons why solar can help in this scenario.
Solar Panels Reduce Energy Grid Stress
The first reason is that installing solar panels will lower the amount of stress on the New Mexico energy grid. As summers get longer, hotter, and drier, the energy system becomes increasingly stressed. This happens for two reasons. Firstly, as it gets hotter and AC systems are used more, more power is being taken from the power grid. Secondly, as it gets hotter, it gets in the way of generating electricity itself. There’s both an increased demand and a decreased supply.
How Do Droughts Impact Electricity Generation?
One of the main ways that electricity production is impacted by heat is through droughts. Many electricity-generating systems that we might not think rely on the water actually do. There are a few reasons for this, but there’s one big reason — cooling. One of the main forms of cooling throughout the world is water. This goes for cars, computers, and, yes, power plants.
New Mexico doesn’t have much hydropower, but it does have nuclear, coal, and natural gas. All three of these types of power generation rely heavily on water for cooling. Normally this isn’t a problem, but when summers get hotter and longer, that usually ends up with reservoirs, lakes, and rivers getting more and more shallow. More water needs to be pumped into cities to keep up with drinking and other uses, which further compounds this problem.
With less water being collected in these bodies of water, and more water being shipped off to other places, power plants start running out of water to cool their systems. With less water to cool their systems, they have to cut back on electricity generation. If they continued producing power at the same rate, without enough water for cooling, they risk damaging the machinery and even injuring or killing the workers.
While few power plants have had to completely shut down because of drought, the possibility of that occurring is becoming increasingly likely as time goes on. However, if less energy is being pulled from the power grid, less energy will need to be generated. This means less water is needed to keep the plant running.
Solar Panels: the Solution for New Mexico Summer Electricity Production
Solar panels help ease this burden for two main reasons. Firstly, with solar panels for your home, you won’t need to get as much energy from outside sources. Secondly, through the net metering process, the energy produced by your solar installation can be placed directly onto the grid. Let’s talk about each of these individually.
Becoming Self-Sufficient With Solar Panels
With solar panels, you are no longer required to pull energy from the grid. Instead, you produce your own power during the day. During the day, therefore, the grid will not need to power your home at all, which allows it to direct that power to other homes. The fewer homes that need to draw in energy during the summer, the less these power plants have to worry about potentially shutting down. This means no brownouts or blackouts in New Mexico.
With how hot New Mexico can get during the summer, these potential power outages could be fatal to the elderly, young children, and people with health problems. By producing your own power and lessening the demand on the grid, you reduce the possibility that these people are affected by potential outages.
You can also take this one step further by adding battery backup to your solar installation. Battery backup lessens your reliance on the grid even more. In particular, our Level 3 backup — the Tesla Powerwall — provides a significant amount of storage for your solar-generated energy. Most people, with two Tesla Powerwalls, can power their entire home without ever needing the grid. By completely eliminating your reliance on the energy grid both in the morning and at night, when your solar panels aren’t producing electricity, you don’t ever have to worry about outages during the summer.
How Net Metering Contributes to the Grid
We’ve covered lowering demand. The other way to lessen the strain on the grid is to increase the supply. The more electricity that is present in the grid, the less power that centralized plants need to produce. This power can come from multiple sources, but when it comes to solar, that’s through net metering.
Net metering is where surplus energy produced during the day is exported back onto the energy grid. In exchange, you get money or a discount on the power you draw at night.
In this way, net metering turns every individual home into its own mini power plant. Net metering reduces the reliance on large, centralized power plants that require a lot of water cooling to stay active. Each home increases the supply of power on the grid during the day, when the heat is strongest, which eases the load of widespread air conditioning.
At night, when most solar-powered homes need to draw energy from the grid, you don’t need to use your air conditioning as much. That’s a significant slice of residential power use that you would be getting rid of.
The Physics of Solar Panels and Roof Cooling
Solar panels cool your roof. No, really. Not just through powering your air conditioning but through the physical presence of the panels themselves. A 2011 study from the University of California, San Diego, found that solar panels contribute to keeping your roof, and therefore your home, cool. Let’s dive into the science.
Why Solar Panels Keep Your Roof Cool
There’s a couple of main reasons why solar panels cool down your roof and attic. These are physical reasons that have to do with the way heat travels. Firstly, having solar panels on your roof blocks the sunlight from directly reaching your roof. Secondly, having tilted solar panels provides a gap between the panels and your roof, which encourages air movement.
Solar Panels Block Sunlight From Reaching Your Roof
It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth dwelling on. Solar panels provide a solid, opaque barrier between your roof and the sun. Think of a parasol — in the past had to go out in the heat, they would bring parasols with them. These are umbrellas made not to block rain, but to block the sun. They keep you from overheating or getting sunburned during those hot summer days.
Solar panels act in a similar way to your roof. The point of solar panels is to absorb sunlight, so no sunlight will pass through the panels onto your roof. While your entire roof is unlikely to be completely covered in solar panels, nevertheless it blocks a large portion of sunlight from hitting your roof.
Additionally, solar panels provide some marginal extra protection. Because solar panels are reflective (less than windows, but still reflective), they will bounce some amount of sunlight back into the sky. Solar panels also absorb energy — that’s their job, after all — and re-emit some of that heat back into the atmosphere. While these aren’t extremely impactful for your roof temperature, both reflection and emission contribute to lowering your roof temperature a bit.
Solar Panels Allow Air Movement Over Your Roof
When you don’t have solar panels on your roof, the roof takes the sunlight and begins to heat up. There is also no air movement in your house besides fans or air conditioning. The heat builds up in your roof and then is emitted into your house. This is why your attic gets much, much hotter than the rest of your house. The lack of air movement lets that hot air sit in your home and heat up the rest of it.
Solar panels help combat this problem. Most solar panels are installed at a tilt so that they get the most sun during the day. As stated earlier, this helps reflect light away from your home. However, it has the added benefit of adding space between your roof and the panels themselves. Why does having space matter?
One of the ways in which we cool down is through airflow. When people are hot, they turn on a fan and blow it on themselves. Even if the fan is blowing warm air at you, the airflow is enough to cool you down. We can apply a similar concept to your roof. The heat from the sun gets caught up in your solar panels, then slowly begins to heat up the air underneath the panels through convection. The heat in the air is then transferred to your roof.
However, with wind, the heat doesn’t have a chance to build up in the air. Constant air movement causes the heat emitted from your panels to be spread out over a wide space. Because it gets spread out through the air, it doesn’t then flow from the air into your roof like it would if the sun was directly heating your roof. This naturally cools your home by a few degrees, lowering the amount of air conditioning you need to cool your home — which reduces your power use.
We hope that you find this information useful. With rising temperatures and longer summers, New Mexicans will be looking for every way they can to beat the heat and we’re here to help. Consider a free solar quote for your New Mexico home to get started.