Solar Power

Unlimited Free Solar Power?

The price of solar modules has already fallen by 80 percent.

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Solar Power
SEIA

"Despite the skepticism of experts and criticism by naysayers, there is little doubt that we are heading into an era of unlimited and almost free clean energy," the Stanford technology maven Vivek Wadhwa declared in the Washington Post last month. The technology that most inspires his enthusiasm is solar energy—and while solar isn't close to "almost free" yet, it is indeed getting cheaper. The prices of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules have fallen steeply by more than 80 percent since 2008.

This trajectory seems to be following Swanson's Law, named for Richard Swanson, the founder of U.S. solar-cell manufacturer SunPower. Swanson suggested that the cost of the photovoltaic cells falls by 20 percent with each doubling of global manufacturing capacity. The pattern is a product of constantly improving manufacturing processes: more automation, better quality control, materials reduction, and so forth.

But how plausible is Wadhwa's prediction that solar power will be unlimited and nearly free? To get a handle on solar's future, let's look at a measure called the levelized cost of energy. This takes into account the capital costs, fuel costs, operations and maintenance costs, debt and equity costs, and plant utilization rates for each type of electric power generation. Many different groups have tried to calculate and compare the levelized costs for building, operating, and financing coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass plants.

Let's start with the levelized cost analysis that is the most bullish with respect to solar photovoltaic. In September, the financial advisory firm Lazard reckoned that the levelized unsubsidized cost of utility-scale solar PV is as low as $72 per megawatt-hour. (A megawatt-hour is roughly equivalent to the amount of electricity used by 330 houses during one hour.) Lazard projects that these costs will drop to $60 per megawatt-hour by 2017. Meanwhile, the low-end of natural gas generation is now $61 per megawatt-hour; for coal generation, it's $66 per megawatt-hour; and for nuclear, it's $124 per megawatt-hour. With the current U.S. tax breaks, the low-end solar PV utility-scale costs is $56 per megawatt-hour. George Bilicic, a vice chairman of Lazard, concluded that utilities "still require conventional technologies to meet the energy needs of a developed economy, but they are using alternative technologies to create diversified portfolios of power generation resources."

Every couple of years the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit think tank sponsored by the electric power generation industry, issues a report on the levelized cost of energy for various power generation technologies. Its Integrated Generation Technology Options 2012 report calculates the low-end levelized cost for solar PV next year at $107 per megawatt-hour. For natural gas, coal, and nuclear, the low-end costs are $33, $62, and $85 per megawatt-hour, respectively.

The institute calculates that by 2025, the low-end levelized costs of solar PV will fall to $81 per megawatt-hour. By that time, the institute expects that coal plants will be required to capture their carbon emissions, so the levelized cost of coal will be $102 per megawatt-hour. Natural gas plants without carbon capture will face levelized costs of $44 per megawatt-hour. The report cautions that its calculations with respect to renewable energy generation do not take into account additional costs, such as back-up generation or integration into the electric power grid.

One other authoritative analysis is the Annual Energy Outlook published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). In its 2014 report, the agency reckons that in 2019, the low-end cost of solar PV will be $101 per megawatt-hour. Conventional coal, nuclear, and natural gas levelized costs stand correspondingly at $87, $92.60, and $61.10 per megawatt-hour.

Power Table

To judge from these estimates, the era of unlimited, nearly free solar power has certainly not yet arrived. But things are moving quickly. As recently as 2011, the EIA did not even bother trying to calculate levelized solar PV costs. In that year's report, the agency projected that the country would have an installed solar PV capacity of 8.9 gigawatts by 2035. As of the second quarter of this year, the figure is already 15.9 gigawatts.

In 2008, global production capacity of solar cells/modules amounted to 7 gigawatts. It is now projected to be 64 gigawatts by 2015. This rate of increase suggests a manufacturing capacity doubling time of about two years. As capacity ramped up, Lazard reports that the levelized costs fell from $323 per megawatt-hour in 2009 to $72 now. If Swanson's Law proves true, the levelized cost solar PV could be expected to fall to around $24 per megawatt-hour in the next 10 years. That would not be too cheap to meter, but it would cost far less than any of the forecasts for fossil fuel electric power generation technologies.

Of course, this rough projection does not take into account the intermittency issue (the sun doesn't always shine) that makes solar power problematic as a baseload source of electricity. On the other hand, disruptive new innovations could both greatly improve the efficiency of solar power and battery storage capacity. Will Wadhwa's prophecy come true? Perhaps not, but wagering against human ingenuity has always been a bad bet.

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283 responses to “Unlimited Free Solar Power?

  1. We won’t have unlimited solar power until we colonize the sun.

    1. The sun is by far the hottiest planet in our solar system and it would burn you if you tried to eat it.

      1. SCIENCE

        1. That’s just the defense shield. It’s actually a Dyson sphere.

          1. You are clearly wrong. The.sun is very large and would not fit in your living room, and would.in fact create more of a mess. Q.E.D.

            1. Not a Dyson fan or other Dyson Ltd. product, but a sphere around another mini sun, with planets orbiting it.

              1. Why would you want planets orbiting a sphere around a sun? Wouldn’t they get really cold?

                1. See, what we see as a sun is, in fact, the sphere. All that energy is just their defense shield. People live inside of it and have some planets inside for aesthetic reasons.

                  1. People live inside of it and have some planets inside for aesthetic reasons.

                    What goes down, must come up. Between radiative forcing and gravitational pull from the sphere, those are some pretty exciting aesthetics.

                  2. The outer sphere is just them burning their trash. Yes, they have a lot of trash.

                2. Energy form the sun is absorbed by the inner layer of statites in the sphere.

                  They radiate their waste heat out into the next layer of statites, powering *them*, all the way to the outer surface.

                  Unless the sphere’s radius is ridiculously (well, ridiculously for a mega-engineering project anyway) large, the outer surfaces of the sphere will be pretty hot.

                  Depending on where your planets orbit, they could be quite toasty.

                  Of course, you’ll need to modify yourself to see in infrared – it’ll be pretty dark otherwise.

                  1. Of course, you’ll need to modify yourself to see in infrared

                    Ok, sure. But that perk is only like 2 character points. Not a big deal.

                  2. You fail to comprehend the vastly superior technology of the Type II civilization living within the sunsphere.

                    What confuses humans is that every star is surrounded by a Dyson sphere with a heat and other radiation emitting shield. Real stars are actually much smaller than we think.

                    1. And hotter.

              2. It’s also a really good vacuum cleaner.

        2. Bullshit. The sun doesn’t emit any light, it really just sucks in dark matter.

          What you think of as “light” is really just the absence of dark. That is why when the sun finally wears out and can’t suck in any more dark matter, all that is left is a giant wad of dark (aka a black hole).

          If you want to test this yourself, just turn on a flashlight until it wears out. Then cut open the batteries. You will find they are filled with dark gunk. Proof that all the flashlight* did was suck up dark.

          The science is really rather well settled.

          * Please note I said flashlight and not fleshlight. If you don’t pay attention, don’t be surprised if the results of this experiment aren’t the same as the ones I predicted.

          1. Wait, I, uh . . .

            [turns on flashlight, waits for it to run down]

        3. By the classical Greek definition, it’s a planet, defined as a thing that wanders across the sky (from a geocentric point of view, of course).

      2. So, eat it at night! Duh.

      3. The sun is experiencing global…er, solar warming! I know because there aren’t any polar (solar?) beats there anymore

      4. When did the sun become a planet? I think the guys who downvoted Pluto have something to do with this!

    2. Isn’t Oprah shopping for acreage there?

  2. “Despite the skepticism of experts and criticism by naysayers, there is little doubt that we are heading into an era of unlimited and almost free clean energy,”

    You mean a controllable nuclear fusion energy process has been perfected?

    1. Well, in the sense that there is a giant fusion reactor in the sky, mocking physicists daily.

  3. No.

    1. Not even close.

      It will be used as an excuse by “environmentalists” to ruin huge swaths of land for all wildlife.

  4. Unlimited Free Solar Power?
    The price of solar modules has already fallen by 80 percent.

    It is just such a shame that the cost of energy storage hasn’t fallen by 80%.

    1. No problem.

      All we need to do is arrange for the sun to shine with exactly equal intensity on every square inch of the country 24/7 365 days a year.

      1. Let’s initiate a Kickstarter to fund a Dyson Sphere!

        Because there is nothing Kickstarter cannot accomplish.

        1. Other than return on investment

          1. ‘unsophisticated investors’ such as ourselves are not allowed RI – for our own good.

        2. We can’t afford a Dyson sphere under the current state of the art. However, we can afford a Tyson sphere, which is a sphere of chickens linked around the Earth, rather than the sun.

          1. A shame. I would have hoped that a Tyson sphere would have been a air-tight capsule used to Neil deGrasse in before being launched into a Molniya orbit.

            1. That kind of Tyson sphere stretches an immense ego around a star.

          2. I thought a Tyson sphere just surrounded the Sun and threatened to fuck it until it loves us and gives us power.

            1. That’s a different kind of Tyson sphere. Those also bite years off of the timeline.

            2. Why do think the sun has no ears?

          3. You’re close, but we really.just.need to start with a Bison Sphere, which just uses.the chicken wings. It’s more cost effective because of the reduced launch weight, and the fact that station keeping can be performed by the wings beating against the interplanetary blue cheether.

            1. If the sun won’t cough up enough energy, we could always threaten to surround it with a ricin sphere.

      2. Those in fact were the stated goals of the Occupy Sun Movement.

      3. …or use batteries. Much more likely.

    2. ^^THIS^^

    3. Bath County Pump Storage Project

      I’m not saying it’s cost effective enough for solar, but it does work.

  5. “The report cautions that its calculations with respect to renewable energy generation do not take into account additional costs, such as back-up generation or integration into the electric power grid.”

    In other words, their calculated cost comparisons are worthless.

    By the way, I’m getting tired of the website intermittenly losing my posts and cancelling my login when I hit submit. Someone needs to do some fixing around here.

    1. In other words, their calculated cost comparisons are worthless.

      As is the rest of the article. Noting that primary energy recovery is getting cheaper is meaningless without storage and distribution. Germany’s solar still, despite the billions spent on it, only delivers a tiny fraction of the overall energy consumed (7% as of the first six months of 2014).

      1. The most interesting thing about Germany having all that solar is that they are in a horrible location for solar installations. Too far north.

        1. Germany should have concentrated on wind over solar. But the Greens love solar, even in conditions that handicap it.

      2. But it’s the most important 7%. That is to say, it gets used during periods of peak consumption (the daytime, which happens to be when the sun is out), so that 7% evens out the peaks of grid consumption, allowing cities to delay power plant expansion. The central plant no longer has to expand to meet peak (daytime) capacity. That leveling off is a big deal, and grid reliance is dropping overall, due solar being a decentralizing force.

        Germany doesn’t need 100% solar. It probably need about 15%.

    2. Those costs are going to vary by location.

      Including those costs would be a distortion of the facts.

      1. It would be racist, too.

  6. Even if the panels were wildly efficient and close to free to build, solar still wouldn’t be a reliable source of power for most of the world because of these things we like to call night and clouds.

    They could be a part of a radically redesigned and decentralized power grid where small nuclear reactors were supplemented by solar panels on every building. That could work and be a lot more resilient and reliable than what we have now.

    1. We currently have the ability to deliver a nuclear reaction to nearly any point on the planet on a moments notice, so we’re almost there?

      Some say this could fix the Mid-east problem, as well.

    2. I really like the decentralized grid idea. But it probably won’t work until people get over their irrational fears about nuclear. There are some great designs for small, self-contained and very safe reactors.
      And if PVs keep getting cheaper, solar power could be a good part of that. especially in places that get a lot of sun.

      1. A system of small underground nuclear reactors serving small grids would be virtually immune to weather events, hacking or EMP attack.

        1. The power grid is a remarkable system for what it is, but we’d be a lot better off without it.
          Reducing dependence on big complicated systems like that which inevitably become quasi-governmental would also be good for those favoring more independence and local control.

        2. virtually immune to weather events, hacking or EMP attack

          Not that I’m against the idea of decentralized nuclear exactly, but aren’t those are about as real as giant-lizard attacks.

          How’s the outlook for earthquakes, tsunamis, and general human error?

            1. I guess I was thinking human initiated EMP attack of a nuclear (or other) power facility, but fair enough.

              Handing large-ish numbers of Americans access to small-scale nuclear devices sounds like a recipe for the same sort of subsidies as well as the prolific oversight that still allows two brothers on the FBI watchlist to set one off at the end of the Boston Marathon.

          1. Weather is also a pretty real danger. I was without power for 2 weeks once after an ice storm because pretty much everything, including big transmission lines had to be rebuilt.

            I’m no expert, but I think that there are nuclear designs now that are pretty idiot-proof and not too easy to sabotage. There are also designs that would never have failed in the way that Fukushima did after the tsunami. And that is probably about as bad as that sort of thing is likely to get (and if you don’t put them on earthquake prone coasts you won’t have that problem anyway).

            1. I’m no expert, but I think that there are nuclear designs now that are pretty idiot-proof and not too easy to sabotage. There are also designs that would never have failed in the way that Fukushima did after the tsunami.

              I think you’re referring to Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors? Or perhaps Molten Salt Reactors?

              1. Yes, I was thinking of those. Apparently the developed them in the 50s & 60s but then shelved them in favor of the nuke tech that produced lots of nice waste for the military.

                Now the Chinese are pushing to get that technology up in the next 10 years.

    3. We could just use cold fusion like what caused the “dustification” of the twin towers as explained by Dr. Judy Wood.

  7. So, the price of heavily subsidized solar power will only be double the cost of more efficient sources after the government ‘rationalizes’ the market and forces them to meet new regulatory standards that increase cost?

    Why am I supposed to care about this?

    1. Why am I supposed to care about this?

      Because somebody currently in the government thinks this is the best idea EVAH!

      1. Yea, but they are going to keep doing that regardless. This article is pretty clearly pro-solar power.

        1. What happens in a couple hundred year when they find solar power creates some as yet unknown global crisis and we have to use something else, like coal?

  8. I figure when it drops to about 1 dollar per installed watt, with battery banks, it will be a legitamate option for me; as it stands it is about double that.

    1. It’s not even close to that cheap. An installed solar system runs close to $5 per watt without batteries.

  9. Photovoltaics are not even a great way to store solar. There are emerging technologies to store solar energy in chemical bonds that could potentially blow away photovoltaic storage limitations (e.g. Sossina Haile’s work at Caltech.)

    1. You can say that again.

    2. Trees? That’s how I store my solar power.

      1. I store mine in old dinosaurs.

      2. I like mine on corn cobs.

    3. I’m already storing solar energy in chemical bonds. I sometimes use it to heat my house. And make my car go vroom. And almost anything else you can think of.

    4. You . . *don’t* store solar in PV’s – at all. Who’s saying that its a *storage* media?

  10. Photovoltaics are not even a great way to store solar. There are emerging technologies to store solar energy in chemical bonds that could potentially blow away photovoltaic storage limitations (e.g. Sossina Haile’s work at Caltech.)

    1. Oh you did.

    2. “There are emerging technologies to store solar energy in chemical bonds that could potentially blow away photovoltaic storage limitations (e.g. Sossina Haile’s work at Caltech.)”

      But would it ever be cheaper than hooking up a generator to Chuck Schumer’s mouth?

    3. MPG: What about this just announced all-in-one solar cell battery combo?

  11. WTF SRSLY?

  12. If solar power becomes the cheapest source of energy, great.

    But if the measure of cheapness is “after all the government subsidies”, we’ve only replaced the Exxon lobby with the Solyndra lobby.

    Plus, I have yet to see a calculation that has included the toxicity of the chemicals used to produce photovoltaic cells.

    1. This is where I am. If solar can really get efficient enough–along with connected technologies, like batteries–then it could be a huge boon. Probably will someday, though fusion (on Earth, I mean) and other options may end up being cheaper and/or more reliable.

      I’m certainly not opposed to solar or think it can never work, but it’s clearly not cost effective right now, especially when the subsidies are taken into account.

      There’s also space-based solar as an option.

      1. While my first love is rocks, I am not opposed to dropping photons on the planet either.

        1. Highly energized and concentrated photons?

          1. Well of course. Who wants diluted photons?

            Now, if someone, for whatever reason, did want the photons I was dropping on their house to be less concentrated, I suppose I could accommodate that (for an additional fee, of course).

    2. Plus, I have yet to see a calculation that has included the toxicity of the chemicals used to produce photovoltaic cells.

      that’s the kicker. Lot of lead-acid batteries in your average solar installation. Let alone whatever toxicity is in the PV mfg process.

      I’m not convinced its worse than the pollution and existing dangers of refining oil into gas, however.

      Plus, if we can reduce our carbon footprint, we can finally make the communists move onto some other excuse to put us into gulags.

      1. But we’ve already reduced our carbon footprint and they’re STILL bitching and trying to use AGW to put us into gulags.

      2. “we can finally make the communists move onto some other excuse to put us into gulags.”

        They’ve already got that one teed up:

        WEALTH INEQUALITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      3. Lead batteries can be quite efficiently recycled. I’m more worried about the manufacturing of the PVs.

    3. But if the measure of cheapness is “after all the government subsidies”, we’ve only replaced the Exxon lobby with the Solyndra lobby.

      And Solyndra is, on a per-unit-energy basis, vastly more effective than the oil companies. This is what I do not get about solar advocates: in the end, by demanding subsidy, they are essentially capitulating to the idea that solar must be more expensive than fossil fuels.

    4. “Plus, I have yet to see a calculation that has included the toxicity of the chemicals used to produce photovoltaic cells.”

      Fine. I assume you’ve studied the true cost of fossil fuels also??

      If so, you must be very smart since the industry itself still hasn’t gotten around to all the variables…

  13. So what has caused the reduction in solar PV cell costs?

    Is it (a) the Chinese dumping heavily subsidized cheap PV below cost on the market.
    or (b) old fashioned capitalism – economies of scale, improvements in production efficieny, and consequent plunging marginal costs?

    1. 60/40, I would guess.

    2. Either way, as long as I’m not subsidizing it, I’m good.

      1. Same here – I’m cool with the Chinese fucking over their people to give me below market products.

        1. I’m uncool with the Chinese fucking over their people to give you below market products.

          1. When the Chinese people get tired of getting fucked over, I will cheer their revolution from a safe distance.

            In the meantime, I plan to not care about whether anything I buy has some government subsidy in it somewhere in its life cycle. Because they all do, at this point.

  14. I would say that although we’re not getting away from fossil fuel sources anytime soon, we’re doing a whole hell of a lot better than anyone anticipated, and we’re building various types of equipment that require a lot less energy than they did before, too.

    Bailey mentioned geothermal as an energy source, but consider something like geothermal heat pumps. They’re not really a source of energy; they’re more of a way of limiting the amount of energy necessary to maintain room temperature.

    Depending on the climate, I’ve read that geothermal heat pumps can cut the amount of energy needed to maintain heating and air conditioning by 70%. What’s better, even considering the relatively high upfront costs, over time, geothermal heat pumps are supposed to be cheaper than everything but natural gas (and as supply of natural gas continues to stimulate demand, that may change).

    Can solar make up for that 30% of the residual energy necessary that geothermal heat pumps don’t tackle? I don’t see why not.

    Refrigerators, televisions, cars, computers, HVAC, water heating, washers and driers: consumers have access to things that don’t need as much energy as they did before. It isn’t just the energy supply side that’s changing. The market continues to deliver more options requiring less energy to consumers than they ever had before.

    1. Depends on what kind of geothermal. If it’s just the kind that uses groundwater as the sink/source for heat, you don’t gain a whole lot of energy. But if you go deeper to where it starts to get hot, you can get a lot out of it. I don’t know if that has been practically implemented yet.

      1. In the Southwest, it’s about A/C.

        I can go from 105 in the summer, say, in Las Vegas, and 25 feet down, it’s only 55 degrees.

        There are huge saving there. And, once again, we’re not talking about geothermal as an energy source of electricity. We’re talking about changing the baseline.

        In climates where it’s cooler, it isn’t going to be as efficient. There’s more room between 105 and 55 than there is between 32 degrees in the winter and 55. But that’s straight to the point. There’s more efficiency to be had on different kinds of degree days…

        If you’re in the Southwest, the day is approaching when energy for HVAC may be free–if that’s what you want to do. And when I say “free”, I mean you won’t have to pay anyone to generate it. You may have to pay for your own equipment costs, but that’s like saying Google search isn’t free–because you have to buy some kind of computer to access it.

        1. The problem is that geothermal doesn’t work worth a damn in climates that have really lopsided heating and cooling seasons (and I prefer to call these earth coupled heat pumps as to avoid the confusion with geothermal electric production, which is completely different).

          What you’re really doing is using the soil is a thermal storage battery….so all of the heat you take out of your house and dump into the ground in the summer you pull back out in the winter. If you’re in an area with long, hot summers and very mild winters, or an area with long cold winters and mild summers, the soil becomes saturated after a few years, and the efficiency of the heat pump goes to hell. After 10-15 years, it loses a significant portion of its capacity because the temperature of the ground is too far out of whack to use. This can be overcome with a large enough field of bores for the ground loop, but that’s a lot more money up front. Best case, the payback for a residential application is 12-15 years, and it goes up from there…and in many cases there is no payback.

          The fact that the soil in Vegas is 55 or 60 degrees isn’t relevant…because after a few years of having your ground loop in it, it’ll be 90-100 degrees. The outfit selling you a geothermal setup of course won’t tell you this, and by the time you feel the effects, it’s years down the road.

          1. They’re called ground source heat pumps (GSHP) and I don’t know where you’re getting this “soil saturation” from. Do you seriously think that that the ground can “store” up months of heat or cold just local to the bores with no equilibration? Umm, no. You can get get reduced efficiencies (COP) by prolonged usage of the field at one condition, but it doesn’t wear out.

            1. I’m getting it from being an engineer that works with HVAC systems and building energy use. And yes you *can* thermally saturate the bore field. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen buildings that didn’t use this type of system because the engineers knew the field would be saturated in just a few years.

      2. “But if you go deeper to where it starts to get hot, you can get a lot out of it. I don’t know if that has been practically implemented yet.”

        Interesting idea. But where to drill? Might I suggest the Holey Land?

    2. I installed a geo-thermal loop and furnace 7 years ago and have averaged approximately $200 a month in energy savings. I had an old oil furnace and saw $750 monthly bills some winters. The $20 000 investment has payed for itself and hopefully has another 10-13 years left in it.

      1. I had an old oil furnace and saw $750 monthly bills some winters.

        ?!! Where do you live that you’re burning nearly a G on heating oil? Per month?

        1. In Southern Ontario, in a big old drafty (at the time before an insulation retrofit) farm house. When I had the loop installed 2007 it was the peak of engery costs. It probably saves me even more than $200, as I now pay under $400 which includes all my electricity. Obviously some months are worse than others but that winter averaged over $500 per month Dec-Mar.

          1. I live in a big old drafty house built in 1927. And I consider having someone come in and insulating the crap out of it. At $750 a month, I would think that would have paid for itself very quickly.

            1. FWIW, this chart might be interesting to some of you.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G…..#Economics

        2. I’m almost doing that much in Maryland. But I do rent a 100 year old cheese grater and last winter suuuuucked.

    3. A geothermal heat pump is not geothermal energy, so much as using the earth/body of water as a heat sink.

      Geothermal energy is using either available access (volcano, vents, geysers) or drilling deep enough to get to real heat energy to drive electic generators.

      1. Or even electric generators.

      2. “A geothermal heat pump is not geothermal energy, so much as using the earth/body of water as a heat sink.”

        Yeah, that’s why I said, “They’re not really a source of energy; they’re more of a way of limiting the amount of energy necessary”.

        1. And, again, that’s to my point.

          We shouldn’t just look at the supply side.

          If solar isn’t a great solution because it doesn’t generate enough to power my appliances, we shouldn’t just be looking at what the market is doing for the efficiency and price of solar. We should also be looking at what the market is doing in making my appliances require less electricity.

          If my refrigerator requires 20% less electricity than it did 10 years ago, then hasn’t that effectively made solar 20% more efficient?

          Now, it’s made other energy sources more efficient as well, but at some point, solar works its way into being a viable option where it wasn’t before. And, just like everything else, solar is still going to vary by market. It’s going to make more sense in the Southwest than in the Northeast, that’s for sure.

          1. We shouldn’t just look at the supply side.

            That’s fine, so far as it goes, but you can’t conserve to zero.

            People are terrible about figuring out their actual energy consumption, because so many things are done in their name, directly or indirectly. A good example of the latter is the energy costs of keeping reason.com online, as well as all the intermediate hardware needed to get the bits to you. Similarly, grocery stores, and retail of all kinds require transportation, and the roads themselves require maintenance.

          2. We shouldn’t just look at the supply side.

            Are you proposing that some sort of behavioral model based on generation and consumption with a highly decentralized method of oversight and regulation might be the best solution to intelligently balancing energy needs, scientific innovation, labor costs, and environmental impact?

            I’m sure a quick memo to the White House would turn things right around. 🙂

            1. Just don’t call it “markets”, “capitalism”, “entrepreneurship” or “consumer choice”.

              They hate that stuff!

        2. Which still isn’t correct. If used as a heat source and not exclusively for cooling, then you are extracting heat from the ground. It just happens that you can get multiples of heat energy for the work energy you put into it. Under optimal conditions a COP of greater than 5 is easily achievable.

          1. The purpose is still to limit the amount of energy necessary to heat the air to room temperature.

            Notice, this statement was made to differentiate from what Bailey was talking about. No, geothermal heat pumps aren’t a way to generate a supply of electricity, but they’re a way to…limit the energy necessary on the demand side.

            As I wrote:

            We’re building various types of equipment that require a lot less energy than they did before, too.

            Bailey mentioned geothermal as an energy source, but consider something like geothermal heat pumps. They’re not really a source of energy; they’re more of a way of limiting the amount of energy necessary to maintain room temperature.”

            My argument is that we should also be looking at the demand side efficiencies–not just efficiencies in the supply of energy. And from that perspective, geothermal heat pumps aren’t generating any electricity; they’re more a way of limiting…you know the rest.

            For goodness’ sake, they’re basically changing the ambient temperature–if people want to think about it that way. This is in contrast to the geothermal electricity plants Bailey mentioned, that turn geothermal into electricity and distribute it via power lines.

            1. You don’t understand what the word “energy” means. Heat is energy. Using a GSHP to pump heat from the ground to heat your home using some electricity gives you access to MORE energy than just the electricity you had to begin with. So a GSHP running in a heating mode is most certainly a source of energy as much as a coal plant burning coal is.

              http://www.eia.gov/todayinener…..m?id=10271

              Space and water heating account for almost 60% of home energy use. If I can pull heat from the ground into the house efficiently, then I have more energy than I started with. It’s not a savings in overall energy consumption, but a substitution of sources.

  15. Eh, solar’s alright. Algal gasoline seems like a better bet in the long run, since it can store energy, light your house, and run your car. If want to manage CO2 levels, just produce more than you consume and bury it for the next industrial species.

    1. Algal diesel would make a lot of sense–if we could engineer a species with the right characteristics.

      If I had the time (maybe when I retire), I’d love to build myself a little bioreactor and work with some algae.

      http://www.google.com/imgres?i…..=0&ndsp=27

      I don’t really care about mass producing the stuff. If I could grow enough in a bioreactor to run a small farm, run a diesel generator for backup energy, run diesel through my truck, etc., that would be pretty cool.

      I must have ditched a class about how profitability and efficiency are more important than self-sufficiency at some point, but I still see self-sufficiency as an end in itself.

      There are so many people in this world that I deal with now (even if indirectly), that I don’t want to have deal with, for petroleum products. Why would I want to help keep the price of oil high for Saudi Arabia and Venezuela–if I could just grow algae and convert it to diesel instead?

      There’s a whole layer of government and taxes I shouldn’t have to deal with if I’m making diesel from algae on my own property, too.

  16. A good solar panel in a sunny area will provide about 30kWh per year per sq foot.

    I believe that the way solar will ever become effective is if we start building homes where as many horizontal surfaces as possible are essentially made of solar cells.

    1. Yeah, that’s fine – as long as you live in a place where it doesn’t rain or snow much.

      IN those places we *already* build houses/buildings with lots of horizontal roof surfaces.

      PV *still* isn’t close to being cost effective here without huge subsidy – even then, its typically barely break-even over a 30 year lifecycle.

    2. Sea level insolation: ~750W/m^2 (.75kW/m^2)
      Hours in a year: 8760
      Daylight hours: 4380 (assuming 0% cloudiness and peak production while the sun is up, i.e. heliostats and lying)
      1 m^2 = 3.28^2 = 10.76ft^2

      So annual output = 4380 * .75 * 1/10.76 * efficiency
      =efficiency * 306

      Meaning you’ll need at least 10% efficiency to get your 30kWh/ft^2.

      Maybe.

  17. You wanna flee runch?

    You come back nex’ week!

    Go ‘way now.

  18. Unlimited Free Solar Power?

    Short answer – No.

    Long answer – At a minimum, variability of supply (even if you even out supply inequities by paving over the desert and pushing that power to less sunny climes) over the course of the day means that, like wind power, you’re going to have to have standby *fossil-fuel or nuclear* power running to make up for shortfalls in production. These plants can’t be started and stopped on a dime and so you have significant fuel costs (for the FF plant) or you may as well just build a slightly larger nuke in the first place (which will still be smaller than the solar plant – both types of plants have to be able to supply the the same output of the solar plant anyway, or they’re not useful as backups.

    Also – solar PV is horribly inefficient. Even here, in southern Arizona, you can’t run a house off of PV, even if you cover the whole lot with cells.

    PV is a dead end for large scale generation, it *might* in the near future become cost effective to cover your roof and *lower* (but not eliminate) your electric bill – without subsidy and forcing the electric company to buy your power at above market rates.

    The *other* form of solar power – solar-thermal (mirrors heating a boiler at the top of a long tower) is just a big old ray-gun pointed at passing birds.

    1. There were some fascinating proposals for storing energy for either wind (or solar) when the demand was low. One was to pump water into towers so when the wind or sun wasn’t available, the water could be drained through turbines to generate electricity.

      Just theories of course, and undoubtedly a boatload of problems.

      1. There is also superconducting magnetic storage that might have some potential in the future. SMES technology has been around for a while.

      2. Yes, a dam-load of problems. There is no solution to the storage problem today or for the foreseeable future. Ron’s link on battery breakthroughs is FAR more expensive and impractical than the dam calculation linked above.

  19. Well, honestly, I really do hope Wadhwa is right. Cheap energy would be an enormous boon to the U.S. economy and all of our standards of living. So, if they can pull it off count me as first in line to applaud.

    That said.

    The advocates and promotors of solar technology have often borne out to be charletans promising that if we’ll just “invest” enough subsidies with them today, why they’ll bring us all to this bright shining future any day now. Any day. And whe they don’t deliver this bright shining future, we learn it was a bait-and-switch from the start, that the bright shining future was nothing more than a pretext for another agenda that had a lot more to do with opposition to fossil fuels as an end in and of itself than any rational assessment of costs and benefits.

    1. Very recently the advocates of “green jobs” were pushing for the US to impose tarriffs on Chinese solar panel imports, in order to protect the US “infant” solar cell industry.
      Of course that would drive up prices for solar cells, but when their interest is in making solar cell manufacturers profitable that’s good.

      The problem with Greens is they are so clueless about economics that they often have no idea what policies they should be advocating and often advocate policies that are directly in conflict with eachother.

      If solar ever actually got cheap enough to cause people to switch to it, they would instantly start campaigning to make it more expensive, on the rationale that the more profit the utilities make off of it the more generating capacity they will build.

  20. I’m considering getting a solar panel purely to power my Central AC, since it’s hot sunny days where it has to work the hardest anyways.

    1. If you’re in a dry climate, you might want to look into this low-power cooling system:

      http://www.coolerado.com

      It uses evaporative cooling, but it doesn’t add humidity to the air going into the dwelling. Quite clever.

      -jcr

  21. What about the climate? If you pump the atmosphere full of CO2 and prime the biosphere for growth and then suddenly remove the source of CO2, you risk a catastrophic collapse of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and subsequent collapse of the greenhouse effect. Rampant conversion to solar could lead to another ice age.

    Simultaneously, rampant amounts of free energy available to everyone will decimate world economies. Supply lines based around energy delivery will collapse and power structures created to keep that energy flowing will wither. Any pashtun with a PV panel and an AK-47 will be able to declare his own fiefdom and deprive the world of the dates and heroin his fields produce.

    Widespread famine combined with a rapid drop in the global average temperature of 1-25 degrees over the next 10-200 yrs. could well bring our species, if not our planet, to an end.

    1. I like the cut of your jib. I can see the progressives demanding massive, fossil-fuel burning plants to start bringing up CO2 concentrations because income equality.

      1. And we’d be back where we started;

        [Svante] Arrhenius developed a theory to explain the ice ages, and in 1896 he was the first scientist to attempt to calculate how changes in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect.

        Arrhenius clearly believed that a warmer world would be a positive change. His ideas remained in circulation, but until about 1960 many scientists doubted that global warming would occur (believing the oceans would absorb CO2 faster than humanity emitted the gas).

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svante_Arrhenius

        Multi-generational Scientific Consensus FTW!

  22. “Despite the skepticism of experts and criticism by naysayers, there is little doubt that we are heading into an era of unlimited and almost free clean energy,” the Stanford technology maven Vivek Wadhwa declared in the Washington Post last month.

    I had no idea that the sun constantly bombarded the earth with an unlimited amount of energy.

    Apparently, that’s science, biatch.

    1. Compared to human consumption, it’s practically unlimited. It just is spread over a huge area, which makes collecting it tricky.

      1. Isn’t “practically unlimited” like being “practically pregnant”?

        1. “practically” is a synonym for “not, actually”.

  23. Of course – once we have ‘clean’ energy too cheap to meter, the greens will start to worry about the next big environmental disaster.

    Waste heat from all those appliances and the engineering activity that didn’t happen before because it wasn’t cost effective.

    Can you say ‘sea level canal across Panama without using nukes’ children?

    1. “..once we have ‘clean’ energy too cheap to meter, the greens will start to worry about the next big environmental disaster hyped hysteria.”

      FIFY

      I heard the “Four Earths” canard again yesterday (“If everyone on the planet lived like Americans, we’d need four Earths.”). Does anyone know the origin of this bit of claptrap and what calculations it is based on?

  24. I just drove by a solar farm in the Mojave (I’m not sure it’s the same one as the picture, but the Joshua trees are indicative of the area). It’s huge, right by the freeway. There is a huge wind farm there too. It’s a very hot and windy spot.

    I was wondering how many birds meet their death there daily by being fried by the sun’s reflection off the solar panels or by hitting the blades of the wind turbines.

    1. “The $2.2 Billion Bird-Scorching Solar Project”
      http://online.wsj.com/news/art…..?mg=id-wsj

  25. How come no one is addressing the environmental impact of covering 2% of the land mass of the US in solar panels?

    1. Don’t forget the impact of grinding old beat up solar panels into new ones, albedo shifts, etc., etc., etc.

    2. I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that solar is going to be the ultimate solution for everyone; markets are all about individuals being free to make whatever choices seem best to them.

      Are you suggesting that’s what would happen if everyone had to go solar?

      Pointing out that solar may become a terrific competitor for fossil fuels in the future doesn’t mean that everyone will choose that option. We’ll still have lots of other options, even if solar does become incredibly competitive. I don’t think there’s any reason to assume everyone will choose the same option or that it will be the best option for everyone.

      Also, for solar to become so competitive that it could generate enough power to cover all of America’s energy needs, I think it would have to become a lot more efficient than it is now. If solar panels were twice as efficient, wouldn’t we only need to cover America with half as many?

      1. Did a back of a napkin calculation a while back. To replace fossil fuels in the US would require an array of about the size of North Dakota.

        Or a wind farm about the size of South Carolina.

        1. So, if they double in efficiency over the decades, we’ll only need half that number?

          On the back of a napkin, how much of America is already covered by rooftops?

          1. So, if they double in efficiency over the decades, we’ll only need half that number?

            Careful. Double in efficiency ignores a lot of the externalities that Francisco is pointing out and, IMO, represents a huge caveat that the economics behind solar like to market themselves on.

            The panels get 20% larger, 20% darker, 20% more toxic by weight, have to be recycled 20% more often, produce 100% more energy, and the efficiency of consumption drops 50%.

            Win? Will the napkin tell you?

            1. Point is that any projection of how much land it would have to cover if all of America’s energy needs were to be met by solar needs to be adjusted for how efficient those panels will in the future–by however much.

              Then you need to start mitigating other factors, like how much energy comes from hydro, etc.

              The method used to disqualify solar on the basis of how much land it would have to take up is often made using assumptions we’d never tolerate in other projections.

              Here’s a rather hilarious publication put out by the U.S. Department of Energy pointing out that the U.S. government idles three times as much farmland (30 million acres), every year, than we would need to generate all the country’s energy needs from solar.

              http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35097.pdf

              …no, I don’t think that’s an excellent reason to make the country go solar, but it sounds like an excellent argument to stop the government from idling 30 million acres of what could be productive land.

              1. So 30 million acres will supply ALL of Americas energy needs AT NIGHT?

                Really? REALLY?

                1. I don’t suppose they’d store that energy, but that wasn’t the point they were trying to make.

                  The argument that solar isn’t a realistic energy solution because it would take up too much land is a bad argument for a number of reasons.

                  One of them is because solar wouldn’t be a good solution for a lot of people.

                  There are lots of others.

                  The idea that any one solution isn’t a solution–because it isn’t the ultimate solution to all our problems? Will always have a problem with it from the get go.

                  Is there any solution to any problem that has to be the solution to everyone’s problem in all circumstances or it isn’t a viable solution?

                  I can think of transportation solutions where the gasoline powered automobile really isn’t the best solution for everybody at all times. Does that mean it isn’t a viable solution for a lot of people? Of course not!

                  There are so many ways to shoot down the observation that solar isn’t a viable solution because of all the land it would require, it’s really better to find another criticism. Even the government can think of ways to shoot it down!

                  And what’s the point of criticizing solar as a solution anyway? Is it because some people imagine the government is going to try to force everyone to use solar at gunpoint?

                  Solar is likely to become an increasingly good solution for various applications as the technology continues to improve. What’s wrong with that?

                  Find another canard.

          2. About half of what would be needed if you count roads. 43,000 square miles

            PLUS any environmental impacts associated with storage devices.

            1. Not to mention, the vast majority of these surfaces are not the best places for solar (i.e. the dessert), where IIRC, is where I assumed it would be located (giving most sunshine-days).

        2. “Did a back of a napkin calculation a while back. To replace fossil fuels in the US would require an array of about the size of North Dakota.

          Or a wind farm about the size of South Carolina.”

          Could you do the calcs on how much land and water is currently covered by fracking rigs, coal mines, tar pits and all the assorted transportation, refineries, etc?

          “In the US, between 1930 and 2000, coal mining altered about 2.4 million hectares [5.9 million acres] of natural landscape, most of it originally forest”

    3. You are confusing “Environmentalists” with Conservationists.

      The former belong to an offshoot of a cult Karl Marx started. The later like to see some parts of the world wild and unpolluted.

      1. I consider myself a capitalist first and an environmentalist second.

        I share the concerns of environmentalists, and I see the best solutions to those problems being capitalist, naturally, just like the solutions are to so many others.

        Your imaginary line is imaginary.

        1. Is it capitalism or socialism that has allowed for the biggest failure of human stewardship of the environment in history?

          1. Go fuck a duck, Tony.

            1. Why hurt the duck?

              1. The duck’s in a lake.

                Tony should jump in the lake.

              2. Valid question.

          2. Hmm, Cherynobl would like a word with you.

            (Hint, more CO2, as admitted by the actual data, HASN’T actually you know, done what you watermelons wanted it to. How sad for you.)

            1. Yes it has, and shut up before I get embarrassed for you again.

          3. Socialism.

            1. Yeah, the first places that comes to mind when I think of a clean environment aren’t Russia or China, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

              Property rights really are the most environmentally friendly concept in history, and when I try to think of a place where we have environmental problems in this country, the first places that come to mind are places where the property rights are convoluted.

              For instance, if there’s anybody that hates the Bureau of Land Management more than ranchers, it’s the environmentalists, who will tell you straight up that they don’t think the BLM exists to protect public lands from ranchers. They think the BLM exists to protect ranchers from environmentalists.

              The environment is too important to be left to the government to protect. And the government is just as incompetent at taking care of the environment as it is at everything else.

              1. The United States is by far the greatest per capita polluter. Is the United States the most socialist country on earth? Does it have the weakest property rights?

                You people need to be studied in labs. This level of delusion in favor of ideology is not natural.

                1. You’re a stupid asshole, Tony.

                  Between 2005 and 2012, CO2 emissions in the United States have dropped by 12%.

                  The Department of Energy predicts that CO2 emissions will continue to drop an average of one half of one percent per year every year until 2040. they attribute almost all of that to natural gas displacing coal.

                  That doesn’t take using natural gas in cars into account in the future; it’s mostly just based on the energy market substituting natural gas for coal in electricity production–a function of markets, again, working as they should.

                  If you weren’t already familiar with these statistics, it’s probably because your ideological overlords don’t like to emphasize that we all but met our Kyoto goals–just using market mechanisms–without signing onto Kyoto.

                  …without any interference from government at all!

                  And when those coal mining unions in those battleground states, like Pennsylvania and Ohio, pour all that money into anti-fracking Democrat campaign coffers, like they always do, try to remember that natural gas releases about half the CO2 into the atmosphere that coal does–and then go betray the environment, fight fracking, and repeat what you’re told.

                  …just like you always do.

                  1. You’re responding to a point I didn’t make. I said the US is the biggest per capita polluter. By your own claim, that makes us the most socialist and least property protecting state on earth. Or no?

                    Between 2005 and 2012 there was this little thing known as the Great Recession, which drove down emissions, which are now climbing as the economy improves.

                    1. “You’re responding to a point I didn’t make.”

                      Tony: “Is it capitalism or socialism that has allowed for the biggest failure of human stewardship of the environment in history?”

                      Ken Shultz: “[CO2 continuing to drop is] mostly just based on the energy market substituting natural gas for coal in electricity production–a function of markets, again, working as they should.

                      Ken Shultz: “We all but met our Kyoto goals–just using market mechanisms–without signing onto Kyoto.

                      …without any interference from government at all!”

                    2. Incidentally, I think that’s why progressives, like Tony, come out so hard against fracking.

                      It’s so embarrassing to see the market and entrepreneurs start solving the problem of greenhouse gas emissions–without any government interference–and they just can’t stand by and let that happen.

                      …and that’s because they don’t really care about the environment. If saving the environment means embracing capitalist solutions, they’d rather the environment went to hell–because to whatever extent they really are environmentalists, it’s only to the extent that it enhances their ideological socialism.

                    3. What caused the pollution in the first place? Capitalism is almost inherently the process of messing up the environment without cleaning up after itself. What if oil were even cheaper and more abundant than it is? What if there were enough to cheaply power the world until the pollution wipes out life? Would capitalism somehow account for the externality for once?

                    4. Tony|10.3.14 @ 8:18PM|#
                      …”Capitalism is almost inherently the process of messing up the environment without cleaning up after itself.”…

                      Yeah, asshole, the alternative is so attractive:
                      “Lake Karachay: The Most Toxic Place On Earth”
                      http://disinfo.com/2012/10/lak…..-on-earth/

                    5. “If saving the environment means embracing capitalist solutions, they’d rather the environment went to hell–because to whatever extent they really are environmentalists, it’s only to the extent that it enhances their ideological socialism.”

                      For instance, when Tony finds a thread about an environmental cause? He doesn’t look to engage the enviro-skeptics.

                      When Tony finds a thread about an environmental cause, he looks for the environmentalist and goes after him for being a capitalist.

                      …because Tony doesn’t give a shit about the environment; he just uses the environment as an excuse to go after capitalism. And that’s why there are so many people on the right who are so dismissive of environmental issues. That’s why we don’t have more support for environmental causes in this country. It’s because of people like Tony.

                      If the environment goes to hell, it won’t be because of denialists on the right. It’ll be because phony environmentalists like Tony used our issue as an excuse to argue for sacrifice and socialism.

                      I don’t know how Tony can sleep in his car at night.

                    6. If capitalism could solve this problem, I would be a dogmatic capitalist. You can’t defend your own dogmatism, so you just spew horseshit.

                    7. Citing statistics from the EIA/DOE isn’t dogmatic.

                      Pointing out that the substitutions electric utilities are making from Coal to natural gas–because of market mechanisms and without government interference–isn’t dogmatic.

                      They’re just facts, Tony.

                      You’re the one who doesn’t have any facts and only responds to the facts you’re confronted with by parroting your anti-capitalist ideology.

                      That’s dogmatism!

                      And it’s harming the environmentalist movement. Seriously, when you come here an argue for the environment (among other things), you couldn’t be doing the environmentalist movement any more harm if you tried. You’re simply discrediting environmentalism in the minds of capitalists–with your abject stupidity. People are more likely to support environmental causes the less they here from you.

                      Haven’t you noticed that you discredit everything you argue for? You argue that Rosa Parks didn’t have the right to sit in the front of a public bus–in the name of civil rights?! …and this is more of the same.

                      You don’t give a shit about civil rights, and you don’t give a shit about the environment. That’s why you attack environmentalists for being capitalists–because you don’t care about the environment. It isn’t even second on your list.

                      Well on behalf of real environmentalists everywhere, I have two words for you: fuck you. You’re so dumb, you’d do the environmentalist movement more good if you were arguing for the other side.

                    8. Tony|10.3.14 @ 7:56PM|#
                      “You’re responding to a point I didn’t make. I said the US is the biggest per capita polluter.”

                      Define “pollution”, asshole.

                  2. “Between 2005 and 2012, CO2 emissions in the United States have dropped by 12%.”

                    Thanks to the Sierra Club, The Great Recession, Cap and Trade in New England, stricter building codes in enlightened states, etc…..

                    Also, the numbers are not yet in on the so-called “nat gas reductions” as it appears that nat gas ends up being almost as dirty as coal (CO2 wise) when the well leaks and other stuff is taken into account.

                    1. You’re full of shit.

                      The U.S. Department of Energy attributes almost all of that to the substitution of natural gas for coal.

                      Oh, and in 2012, GDP grew by 2.8 percent, and the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere by electricity production fell by 3.5 percent

                      This is because in 2012, electricity from coal dropped by 215 billion Kw hours, and electricity from natural gas increase by 212 billion Kw hours.

                      Go look at the data yourself. I linked it above. You’re not entitled to your own facts. Stop making shit up.

                    2. Actually, here it is an abbreviated PDF.

                      http://www.eia.gov/environment…..alysis.pdf

                      I’d pay particular attention to p. viii.

                      It says you have no idea what you’re talking about.

                2. The United States is by far the greatest per capita polluter, IF you believe the figures available for the USSR (defunct) and the People’s Republic of China.

                  Now, explain to me why you would.

                  1. Because they are still developing countries with a billion people, most of whom don’t consume that much electricity?

          4. Tony:

            Is it capitalism or socialism that has allowed for the biggest failure of human stewardship of the environment in history?

            Oh, it has to be capitalism. Seriously. No sarcasm.

            I mean, when you compare the GDP, personal income, personal consumption, and associated CO2 emissions of people living under capitalist economic systems vs. socialist economic systems, you essentially have to give capitalism credit for practically all human consumption. In fact, you have to give capitalism credit for most of the human race existing, since they would probably be dead under socialism. In the good times under capitalism, people of all incomes make more money, live better lives, and have children, whereas the good times under socialist economic management are merely the times when millions aren’t starving to death. Hard to generate CO2 when you’re dead, you can’t heat your home, etc.

            This is exactly why the “new socialism” is defined as “capitalism + welfare state”. That’s how socialists cope with what would otherwise be constant embarrassment.

            However, I’m not so sure we can blame capitalism. Actually, socialism claims to solve every problem. OK, so when does it get around to solving global warming? Any minute now. And it’s kind of hard to persecute capitalism over all of that, when you’re implicitly giving it credit for practically all human consumption and existence as we know it. Socialism is a clean, natural form of government. It’s just stagnant.

          5. Too easy, rent-boy. Go read up a bit on the Soviets’ history of environmental disasters before you embarrass yourself like this again.

            Hint: “Lake Baikal”.

            -jcr

  26. Thanks for an interesting post.

    I note that some questioned storage and reliability above. In keeping with your closing statement about human ingenuity, here is an interesting development…an “air-breathing” rechargeable lithium battery…one that recharges from solar. From the article:

    “The new device, developed by Ohio State University, is essentially an air-breathing lithium battery that recharges via a built-in solar cell. This is significant, because one of the biggest problems with wide-scale solar power deployment is that you also need huge banks of batteries to store electricity ? to even out spikes in generation when it’s cloudy or dark ? and not only are those batteries expensive, but a lot of electricity is lost simply by traveling from the solar panels to external storage. An integrated solution is both cheaper and more efficient ? about 25% cheaper and 20% more efficient, according to the researchers.”

    http://www.extremetech.com/ext…..nificantly

    1. I just that article and came here to post it. Interesting times for solar.

      I can actually imagine a right-leaning alt-energy movement picking up, though motivated more by a desire for self-sufficiency or survivalism than environmental concerns.

      1. read*

      2. I was reading the comments below, and one of the first questioned whether or not it takes into count the difference in lifespans of both batteries and solar cells.

        Who knows…but its right to Ronald’s point that solar keeps getting better and its not always easy to see what new, beneficial development is on the horizon, which thus might reduce costs even further.

        1. account* rather than count

  27. I always wanted to create a stirling cycle engine which turns a generator that uses a solar heater to heat the hot side and a geothermal radiator to keep the cool side cool.

    1. Those of us who were around in the 1980s know that McDonald’s had the perpetual motion Stirling cycle solved but in a fit or irony, the environmentalists destroyed the dream of free energy due to.concern over CFC-blown packaging.

  28. Does this mean we can end the solar tax credits? Or would that make Elon Musk too sad?

  29. This trajectory seems to be following Swanson’s Law, named for Richard Swanson, the founder of U.S. solar-cell manufacturer SunPower.

    Pfft. That’s not Swanson’s Law. This is Swanson’s Law:

    http://www.amazon.com/Recreati…..B00DQCY7ZI

    Don’t miss the reviews.

  30. “The price of solar modules has already fallen by 80 percent.”

    Yes, but a solar power system has other parts, such as wiring, installation, frames & inverters. Most of that stuff isn’t going to get a lot cheaper and it already accounts for roughly 75% of the cost of the system. So it seems unlikely that installed solar systems are going to get a whole lot cheaper.

    Even if the modules were free, a current system would be about $3-$4 per watt vs the current $4-$5 per watt.

    Economics is a bitch and she likes your money more than she likes you.

    1. JWatts|10.3.14 @ 4:44PM|#
      “The price of solar modules has already fallen by 80 percent.”
      ————
      “Yes, but a solar power system has other parts, such as wiring, installation, frames & inverters. Most of that stuff isn’t going to get a lot cheaper and it already accounts for roughly 75% of the cost of the system. So it seems unlikely that installed solar systems are going to get a whole lot cheaper.”

      In thinking about it, I’m wondering if this isn’t predicting the costs of power generation based on the cost of, say a hydro-turbine.

  31. Ron,

    I read the link where the world record of 44.7% solar efficiency was recently achieved, and thought this new paper from MIT might provide an even more recent summation of where the efficiency is potentially headed:

    http://motherboard.vice.com/re…..solar-cell

    It’s an interesting read, and seems like it could allow for near 100% utilization of the solar energy across all spectra.

  32. “This takes into account the capital costs, fuel costs, operations and maintenance costs, debt and equity costs, and plant utilization rates for each type of electric power generation.”

    I missed the tax subsidy part of those costs, that makes me suspect bad math.

  33. wagering against human ingenuity has always been a bad bet.

    True in all cases except clean energy.

    If you can’t dig it up, burn it, and radically alter the chemistry of the planet with it, it’s not viable.

    1. Ah. Yes. Radical alterations of the chemistry of the planet.

      Increasing plant food towards levels plants prefer.

      1. Because there’s no such thing as too much of a chemical necessary for life. Like water. No such thing as too much drinking water.

        1. Tony|10.3.14 @ 7:29PM|#
          “Because there’s no such thing as too much of a chemical necessary for life.”

          Which you obviously haven’t shown in the case cited.
          But you HAVE shown there is entirely too much stupidity in the world, asshole.

        2. BS – at some point, any individual can kill themselves by drinking too much water in a short period of time.

          They knew things like this 1000s of years ago when Hippocrates noted the only difference between medicine and poison is dosage. This its also why the medical symbol is to the military is a hypodermic with a snake wrapped around it.

          And of course at some point, too much drinking water existing world wide we’d all have to live under the sea.

          Now oil! There can never be too much of that!

          1. I was being sarcastic?

            1. Serves me right for posting so late.

    2. Derp da derp da tiddly terp.

    3. “True in all cases except clean energy.”

      This is actually wrong. The story of human civilization is one of increasingly clean energy.

  34. You have no idea of what kind of havoc solar with its intermittent nature (clouds) causes grid operators. You have to compare like to like. Solar with storage to natural gas generated electricity.

    The word is DISPATCHABLE POWER. Solar is not there.

  35. Already Gen 2, frameless, glass on glass, Bifacial solar, (double sided power production) has hit the market. With up to a 21.5% module efficiency This new far more affordable technology is going to give conventional manufacturers a run for their money.

    Hyper X 2 solar offers a better PTC to STC ratio “Real World” performance according to the California Energy Commission’s performance rating listings than over 100 of SunPower’s solar panel models.

    Hyper X 2 solar panels are unique in that they produce power from both the front and back side of the panel and are less than a 1/4 inch thick. and offer sturdy glass on glass construction with no aluminum frames, so there’s nothing to corrode and no unsightly bare copper module grounding wires are needed.

    And they offer a very high 92.88% PTC to STC performance ratio. Hyper X 2 also offers a heat busting -0.31%/degree C temperature coefficient for better performance in warm/hot climates. And when it comes to aesthetics, nothing even comes close to Hyper X 2’s glass on glass, see through, frameless construction.

    With N-type mono-crystalline bifacial cells for double sided power production, up to a 21.5% efficiency rating, superior aesthetics, and a price that absolutely crushes the solar lease and PPA company’s offerings, nothing compares to Hyper X 2. http://vimeo.com/103621981

  36. The best thing about solar power is that it can decentralize electricity generation and place it closer to where it is actually sucked up the most rather than losing up to 50% of its power from wherever it’s generated. Every house, if the panels are cheap, durable and efficient enough, could have solar panels attached to the grid. Today, not every house can have, say, a coal or NG electrical generator (noise, pollution, maintenance, etc., makes it untenable for the vast majority of city dwellers).

    Of course, it’s not as simple as that. There’ll need to be sufficient backup generation in place; we’ll need to figure out better ways to store extra energy for nighttime; the proper balance of costs/income between the homeowners’ solar generators and the maintainers of the grid will need to be hammered out; etc.

  37. Swanson suggested that the cost of the photovoltaic cells falls by 20 percent with each doubling of global manufacturing capacity.

    Solar only exists as an industry because of subsidies. If it were efficient and, therefor, competitive it would be marketable. The R&D would pay for itself because people would choose to buy it.

  38. The cost of solar cells is the least of my concern with solar power. I am much more interested in the life expectancy of solar cells, the environmental cost of making the cells, the intermittancy problem, and so forth.

    I would also like to know what the environmental effect of taking large amounts of energy out of the environment via solar cells. I can’t believe there won’t be one.

    1. “I would also like to know what the environmental effect of taking large amounts of energy out of the environment via solar cells. I can’t believe there won’t be one.”

      That is an interesting observation.

      1. It’s a question I’ve been asking since the 1970’s, and to date nobody seems to have an answer. Most people I bring it up with look at me as if I had imps dancing on my ears. Many tell me that that energy isn’t doing anything. How would they know? Has anybody actually done the research?

        The most reliable places to put solar stations would be deserts. I vaguely remember that the hot air that rises off the deserts of the world is what drives the trade winds, but I’m depending on a memory of something I read back in the 1980’s, and who knows if that’s right. If we put enough solar collectors in the deserts are we going to royally screw the weather patterns?

        If we are, it will get blamed on Global Warming, I know THAT much.

    2. There isn’t one. Don’t make me do the math, I’m already grumpy.

      1. Can you explain WHY there isn’t an effect without doing the math? I’m somewhat serious. It seems to me that if you remove energy from a dynamic system there MUST be an effect. Now, maybe we won’t mind the effect, but that’s another question.

        1. Me, too.
          At the very least, any panel covering soil is going to lower the heat in that soil.

          1. The reason people look at you like you have imps growing from your ears is because you don’t lose energy in the environment. It is just mixed 2 and escapes a bit later. When you use your blender you generate heat. Your refrigerator generates heat. Your fan generates heat.

            Now as to the question of what happens when you move massive amounts of heat to different pays of the country? I doubt any solar set up would move it that far so I wouldn’t worry about trade winds. It might mess up ecosystems in very localized areas but I think they’d be screwed anyway when you built all those panels on top of them.

            1. Moves and escapes. Wtf autocorrect.

              1. If you move a massive amount of energy from desert to urban areas – and that IS what we are talking about – then you have shifted is considerably. Everybody seems to assume that this will have no effect. To me it sounds far more dubious than the Easter Bunny.

                The every in the desert is doing something. Remove it from the desert, in quantities large enough to matter, and that something will be affected. It MUST. TANSTAAFL.

                Now, find out what that effect is, because I want to see some real studies done before I sign on to the Solar utopia, thanks.

            2. PaulW|10.3.14 @ 11:29PM|#
              “The reason people look at you like you have imps growing from your ears is because you don’t lose energy in the environment.”

              Paul, I just ignored whatever else you wrote. I don’t need a lecture on conservation of energy.

              1. The original post said taking energy out of the environment?

                Didn’t suspect anyone needed a lesson just that they may have overlooked an obvious.

        2. OK, I’m less grumpy after Kerbaling.

          First some perspective. To replace all of the US power consumption with solar requires something like 2% of the land area of the US (or less) which itself is only about 2% of the total area of the Earth. Roughly 1% of the US is paved with roads for comparison. More importantly that energy is not being removed from the system. The sun is emitting that energy at the Earth no matter what. All that happens with a solar panel is that some of that energy kicks around some electrons and holes temporarily until it thermalizes, i.e. is turned into vibrations of matter (or motions of atoms/molecules in fluids like air).

          If there weren’t that solar panel, the same radiation would hit the Earth, be mostly absorbed by what it was striking, and turned into heat. Really the only difference is the difference in albedo of the panel vs. whatever it was covering up. I suspect that panels have a bit lower albedo than “average” Earth, so they would absorb slightly more of the solar spectrum, but again that is a tiny difference compared to the total. Of course there can be very local changes like the plants directly under the panel now being in perpetual shade, but in terms of energy input into the Earth system this is a rounding error.

          1. We basically just said the same thing but you said it much more intelligently.

            1. Nah, yours was more pithy than mine.

          2. The percentage that interests me is not what % of the surface area of the country must be covered. the percentages that interest me are;

            What % of the area of the desert?

            What % of the energy striking that desert area is removed (nothing free).?

            Hot air rising over the desert does something; what happens to that something if some of the heat is removed.

            For far, all the answers I’ve gotten are essentially that it won’t matter. I don’t believe that. It violates my admittedly sketchy understanding of physics.

            1. The cells are 10% efficient, so at most you relocate 10% of the energy assuming constant albedo. Wiki says desert albedo is about 0.4 and worn asphalt is 0.12, which I’m guessing is close to a panel.

              So, pristine desert absorbs 0.6*750W = 450W

              Panel absorbs .88*750 and transmits 0.1*750 for a net of .78*750=585. Make the albedo 5% higher and cell efficiency 15% and it’s a complete wash. Given how sloppy we’ve been with the numbers, that’s close enough that you call it equivalent.

              1. So 90% of the energy is still locally absorbed, regardless of the area covered?

                1. No, for desert about 60% is absorbed and for the panels I’m guessproximating about 70-80% –tweakable with small shifts in albedo and efficiency.

                  1. NotAnotherSkippy|10.4.14 @ 1:13AM|#
                    “No, for desert about 60% is absorbed and for the panels I’m guessproximating about 70-80% –tweakable with small shifts in albedo and efficiency.”

                    Let me try again:
                    Regardless of how much is transported for other use or ‘wasted’ in transport, how much is still locally absorbed?

                    1. 80-100%. With huge error bars on my approximations that is indistinguishable from 100%. The Mohave covers 64,000km^2, so we would need to cover 2/3 of it.

                    2. Sorry, should clarify. 80-120% of the original, non-panel energy.

          3. “More importantly that energy is not being removed from the system.”
            No kidding!

            “Of course there can be very local changes like the plants directly under the panel now being in perpetual shade, but in terms of energy input into the Earth system this is a rounding error.”
            That isn’t in question; it is the transport of the heat from one place to another.
            I can’t find a quick source for specific amounts, but if you are transporting megawatts of heat from some local environment to another, the little critters that live there aren’t going to like it.
            The point here is that greenies who love ‘renewable NRG’ aren’t going to like what that does to those little critters

            1. “The point here is that greenies who love ‘renewable NRG’ aren’t going to like what that does to those little critters”

              The ecotards don’t like anything that involves humans surviving. Being the statist stasists they are, the 2nd Law drives them insane.

          4. I agree, in the overall scheme of things in a large system it seems minor.

            Same with the AGW crowd, while I have no doubt increased co2 has some effect in the large system that is the climate, I really doubt that we have enough understanding of the whole system to buy what they are selling.

  39. No one ever really runs the numbers. We just get Popular Mechanics jet pack stories. THIS battery breakthrough will solve ALL of our problems. THIS web-coated solar cell DOUBLED efficiency (yeah, from 2 to 4%).

    As JWatts notes above the panel costs are already a minority of the costs of a solar installation, and the key word here is installation. Labor isn’t getting any cheaper and solar requires a lot of it for every Watt of production. That means solar is intrinsically more expensive than dense energy solutions.

    And the levelized costs which show solar as more expensive than real, practical forms of energy production are themselves wildly optimistic because they tend to assume a) CO2 sequestration must happen and b) the backup costs for solar (and wind) are NOT borne by them. The first is unlikely to happen except in socialist paradises like CA which already enjoy some of the most expensive energy in the country. The second is just dishonest accounting. And this all assumes that some smoothed solar can produce enough energy surplus to actually enable our modern society. That is a big assumption.

    Disappointed, Ron.

    1. Thanks. I was curious about the polly-annaish numbers floating about here.

      And:
      …”except in socialist paradises like CA which already enjoy some of the most expensive energy in the country.”…
      Like the engineer said of the first jet: “Don’t worry, we’ll design the simplicity out of it”.
      Not to worry, CA will find a way of running up the cost of thisk, too.

      1. That’s a shame. The Brayton cycle was a thing of beauty in propulsion thermo. It is extremely simple.

        1. Installed thrust/drag and metallurgy; sorry, reality is a bitch.

          1. I was amazed to find out that turbine blades are single crystal to mitigate creep. Short of a silicon boule, I can’t imagine anything that large being single crystal.

            1. They sure weren’t when I was involved in cutting them on what was known as ‘tracer’ milling machines.
              I think P&W were the first to ‘grow’ them.

  40. Solar as a large scale replacement energy source seems unlikely, but it could be an important part of the solution. Buildings could have solar panels on the roof. While they could not supply all the electricity needs of the building, they could definitely help reduce, say, peak load during the summer when AC units are being ran.
    There are more primitive, yet helpful ways of using solar power as well. Place a water tank on the roof, painted white, as a pre-heater type of system, and you reduce how much additional heating is required to get the temperature you want, at least in some parts of the world, including much of the Western U.S. during the summer.
    Houses are built incredibly poorly. While insulation technology has progressed by large amounts, I could, using stone age technology, build a house that stay around 69 degrees year-round, without any AC or heating. Of course, the initial cost of the house explodes.

    1. But, as our civilization progresses, more and more of our electrical power is being used for lights, communications, computers, machines, etc., than for environmental conditioning. So, I don’t think solar can ever replace other sources of electricity, unless we find a safe way to beam energy from space, where large solar panels could harvest as much energy as a type I civilization could need. But there is no reason that it can not become a large part of the infrastructure. Also, I heard that DuPont was developing a PV paint: that would be awesome.

  41. Yeah the one problem the solar freaks continually refuse to engage is not cost but land use.

    Installed Electric power generation right now is just shy of 4000 billion kwh (on it’s way up to 5000 by 2040)

    The most compact solar power generation systems available today requires 1.5 acres per gwh per year just for the cells, the actual physical plant requirements runs about 3* that (5.3 acres per gwh/yr).

    So let us assume that adding in power storage capabilities to smooth out the baseload adds nothing to the physical space and that we can increase power per acre by a factor of about 50 to get it down to 0.1 acre per gwh/yr.

    That would require 400 billion acres to replace our existing electrical generation systems.

    The entire land area of the United States (including Alaska where the sun barely shines and doesn’t at all for 6 months of the year) is only 2.3 billion acres.

    So we improve solar power to be 50x as efficient as the best we have today and then utilize 15% of our land area and we can replace all of our coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear plants with solar. Course we won’t even talk about the fact that covering 15% of our land area with big mirrors is likely to radically alter the earths climate and albedo

  42. How are you figuring the annualized load percentages and where on Earth can you actually buy a megawatt of solar 24-7 for under $1K

  43. As an engineer in this industry I want to raise the bs flag. Only reason nuke and coal are more expensive is due I govt costs. Try building a Nuke plant and it takes 10 years of approval and unnecessary over site. Remove those costs and even including waste storage it’s way cheaper than solar, for now at least. Coal costs do not include environmental costs but neither do solar. Mining heavy metals and unreliably factors such as requiring gas power to fuel off peak ie no sun times raises implications by 2 fold. To truly realize cheap reliable power requires all Modes energy sources competing with each other in a free market based on available commodities. Buying cheap material from China not cheap on the global scale but is cheap on local environmental level. Energy sources are not the problem efficiency is

  44. Good post, shotgun, effiency is the key for getting the most bang for the buck and the gov is not very efficient.

  45. It’s telling that the hosannas for solar’s “clean energy” never actually mention the process of creating these things in the first place, nor the environmental issues behind their disposal:

    http://business.financialpost……=cafd-3a5d

    Tony seems to believe these things are created magically out of thin air and their manufacturing process has no environmental impacts whatsoever.

  46. As Bailey points out, levelized cost comparisons do not capture all the “externalities” of solar power: cost shifting to non-solar power customers, millions of dead birds, huge grid management costs, grid instability, and assuming cheap battery storage is imminent.

    The best method so far in gauging renewable power has been Brookings Institution’s Charles Franks’ cost benefit analysis wherein he compares costs with the amount of C02 displaced. His conclusion is that even if the costs of solar power dropped significantly, that the sun only generates power 8 hours per day and that is not enough to compete with the newer cheaper combined cycle natural gas power plants that reduce the same or greater amount of C02 at much less cost.

    We also need to be reminded of the work of a European energy expert, Schalk Cloete, who has found that zero or near zero solar and wind energy in Europe have wrecked the European energy system resulting in actual higher costs of electricity.

    As a free market advocate, I have found Bailey’s recent embrace of cheap green power and his advocacy of higher water rates to induce water conservation (via David Zetland) to have reached the level of a “free market ideology” that runs counter to actual free market economics.

  47. Thank you, everybody who tried to answer my concerns about side effects. I really appreciate the effort. I still have a nagging feeling that something is being missed, but that may be simply because I flat out don’t have enough background.

    1. This video claims that the solar plant on the California side of the Nevada border (I drive by it on the 15 sometimes) actually incinerates birds as they fly over it.

      http://www.today.com/video/today/55902143#55902143

      They say near the towers, it gets up to “900 degrees Fahrenheit”. I know for a fact that they’re building a lot more in that area where those solar installations are.

      I don’t know how much it raises the temperature above those installations on average, and I don’t know how big the installations have to be before they start having some impact on weather or what that impact would be.

      I know that wind shifts in the Mojave Desert have a big impact on the weather in Southern California. That’s what those “Santa Ana winds” are all about.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Ana_winds

      When you see wildfires erupt all over Southern California, it’s because of those Santa Ana winds. Will those solar installations have any impact on that? …at some point, as they continue to expand?

      I have no idea, but it’s my understanding that it’s temperature changes in the Mojave that drive those Santa Ana winds. At some point, if they are superheating the surface of the Mojave, I’d think that would be a contributing factor.

      It’s an interesting question.

      1. You cannot raise the average surface temp of the Mojave, because you are not adding any energy. All of the energy of the Sun is being held constant. What you CAN do is concentrate that energy a little (but never brighter than the source, i.e. you can never get hotter than the Sun). That means some regions could hit 900F, but much larger regions would be a bit cooler. The average, more correctly the integral, stays the same.

        Now if you could come up with a 100% efficient solar panel (demonstrating why this is physically impossible is left as an exercise for the reader), then you would eventually drop the temperature of the Mojave to zero K. Again, this violates some fundamental laws and so can’t happen. You can get some similar extreme effects if you create a perfectly reflective (zero emissivity) surface.

        1. I’m not saying it’s definitely going to influence the weather; I’m saying it’s an interesting question.

          My understanding is that changing the albedo of an area does have an impact on temperature. This was an early criticism of global warming–going way back. The argument was that one of the reasons global temperatures were showing an increase was because so many weather stations from way back were concentrated around air strips, which, since they first started collecting weather data, have had paved cities grow up surrounding them–drastically changing the albedo around the weather stations and, thereby, exaggerating the temperature increases over time.

          Why doesn’t changing albedo by covering acres and acres with solar panels influence temperatures in the desert?

          And I’m not convinced that putting dozens of towers going hundreds of feet in the air and superheating them to 900 degrees and spreading them out over a huge area isn’t going to have any impact on temperature or winds.

          I’m sure there are lots of armchair reasons to argue against it having any effect. All I’m saying is that it’s an interesting question, and I bet there isn’t a lot of empirical data on it. …empirical data being what really matters here.

          1. “Why doesn’t changing albedo by covering acres and acres with solar panels influence temperatures in the desert?”

            You didn’t read my replies above. The net effect is small. Given the uncertainties it’s indistinguishable from zero. Panels only absorb in a narrow band unless you want to overpay for multi-junction panels, so if you’re really worried you can always play with the emissivity in the non-absorbing bands. This isn’t quite true for solar thermal, but in the steady state the total amount of energy lost to the environment is going to be the same.

            “I’m sure there are lots of armchair reasons to argue against it having any effect. All I’m saying is that it’s an interesting question, and I bet there isn’t a lot of empirical data on it. …empirical data being what really matters here.”

            Doing the math isn’t armchair. You can question the assumptions and the precision, but the conclusions are sound. Presumably with your appreciation for empirical data you’ll stop calling CAGW skeptics ‘deniers’ now.

            1. “You didn’t read my replies above.”

              Did your replies above contain any links to empirical data showing that–unlike all the other places in the world–changes in albedo in the desert don’t have any impact on surface temperature?

              That isn’t the way the science thingy works.

              It’s perfectly okay to say “Well, we don’t know yet–we need more data”.

              We’ve had a 4,000 acre solar installation in the Mojave desert for all of one year. …and the size of the plant is being tripled as we speak!

              Are we really going to talk about how the relationship between temperature and weather is so complicated, especially considering changing albedo, out of one side of our mouths (while responding to AGW alarmists), and claim, out of the other, that albedo definitely has no relationship to temperature out of the other–before anyone even has any data on what’s happening on the ground in terms of temperature at BrightSource?

              Why would we be so emphatic about the ultimate effects of something that complicated–when the data doesn’t even exist yet?

              You have no fucking idea, and neither does anyone else.

              1. I just told you that the albedo and energy export are within the range that can be tweaked to be essentially indistinguishable from zero effect. You’re obsessing about the 900F in an extremely localized region. Averaged over the entire collecting field there’s really no effect.

                The empirical data underpinning heat transfer has existed for decades to centuries. We don’t have to wait for more of it before we can calculate the impact. 1acre=4046m^2. 4000acres=1.6e7m^2=16km^2. The Mojave is 64000km^2. Even if the installation were a perfect black body it’s total noise.

              2. Just to show you that numbers can be fun, I poked around for some details on the Ivanpah site. Conversion efficiency is 28.72%. So even if the tower were a perfect black body, the net heat energy absorbed by the environment would be about 70%. A more likely absorptivity/emissivity is 0.9, so 0.9*0.7=0.63 or an effective albedo of about 0.37. Recall that desert is about 0.4. Gee, seems awfully close to me.

                1. Well there is one problem. Weather is not about averages. It is about local imbalances. 900F over a large area is going to create strong thermals.

                  Will it matter compared to what happens now? Unknown.

  48. just because the kind of pollution changes doesn’t mean the energy is “clean”! Will someone please conduct a detailed survey of these kinds of installations so we can plan for future problems induced by these kinds of systems?

    1. I harbor nasty suspicions about some aspects of the environmental movement. I don’t think this applies to ALL environmentalists but I have observed that, as a movement, environmentalism is only in favor of energy sources that are in no real danger of widespread adoption in an open market. This leads me to suspect that these environmentalists simply don’t want enough energy generated for everyone to have cheap access. And I recall I tale I was told about the protests organized against the construction of a Nuclear Power Plant in California (I don’t know which one). The leadership of the Sierra Club summoned a selection of the Black Power leaders from Watts and gave them The Word that the power plant was unnecessary because “We have enough electricity”

      The reply is supposed to have been “YOU have enough electricity, Honkey.”

    2. “Will someone please conduct a detailed survey of these kinds of installations so we can plan for future problems induced by these kinds of systems?”

      Wait.
      Do you want a detailed plan for climate change, global warming and the effect of existing energy sources?

      Or is that “speculation”?

      Well, so is any study done of solar, etc.

      None of this is clean. It’s just a question of the particular trade-offs. Hydro isn’t too bad, but you have a lot of altered landscapes and a limited amount. Wind is pretty easy to calculate – X amount of metal, X amount of electronics and grease, etc.

      Solar is more difficult because of the speed of the technology advances. I suspect the focused mirror stuff (Brightsource) is pretty dang clean and has few problems other than some cooked birds. PV and batteries, etc. all come with dirty manufacturing, but many of these problems are somewhat solvable.

      I don’t foresee a solar future. I see an “all of the above” future, including diesel grown by bacteria and biomass conversion, solar, wind and fossil fuels – as well as good potential in tide and wave energy later on.

      1. We waste ~$8BB/yr worrying about your CAGW bogeyman. How much is spent worrying about the effects of the supposed mitigation?

        “Solar is more difficult because of the speed of the technology advances.”

        HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Um, yeah, OK. Costs have come down because scale has gone up and China is dumping. The base technology really hasn’t moved that much. Except for niche applications we still use poly. Junction efficiencies are still in the 10-15% range for real, commercial cells, 4-6% for flexible substrates or dyes. Multi-junction efficiencies have exceeded 40% for decades but they’re economic losers. Solar thermal just isn’t going to get better. It’s just a fancy version of burning twigs with a magnifying glass. All of the innovation is in the tracking and thermal storage.

        The future is either cold or nuclear. It’s just a question of when and which version of the latter if we want to have a civilization.

        1. “The future is either cold or nuclear. It’s just a question of when and which version of the latter if we want to have a civilization.”

          I’ve won many a $$$ from folks like you who bet me that oil and gas were going to run out soon (10-15+ years ago).

          Some paid up. Some welched.
          I’ve been in the “energy conservation” biz since the mid-1970’s and was installing big systems (solar-biomass, etc.) in the late 70’s.

          I know a bit about the topic.
          You sound like an engineer….that is, most are myopic and unable to see past their particular focus. Luckily for us all, the world doesn’t work that way.

          Storage (batteries, pumped hydro storage, etc.) is a really big thing. So is cost per sq. foot. So, yeah, some parts of it are fairly mundane – then again, same could be said with smart phones. They are nothing but a combination of stuff that’s been around for many decades. But economies of scale and integration of systems has put a lot of power in our pockets.

          1. Yeah, let’s put our energy future in the hands of unicorn ranchers, not engineers.

            Just one particular topic: A cost effective method of mass storage of electrical energy would indeed be a game changer. If we ever come up with one it will be developed by scientists and engineers, not economists or unicorn ranchers. Pumped hydro is an excellent energy storage technique but is limited to a very few places that happen to have the geographic features to support it.

            The Scientific American article some years back that gave the “wishful thinking” scenario on a renewables future based its plan on massive implementation of compressed air energy storage. Who knows, it might have a lot of potential but so far it is in its infancy.

            What you really dislike about engineers is that they see their task as coming up with REAL solutions, which is a lot more difficult than half-baked “concepts”.

      2. I don’t foresee a solar future. I see an “all of the above” future, including diesel grown by bacteria and biomass conversion, solar, wind and fossil fuels – as well as good potential in tide and wave energy later on.

        Translation: I have baby dreams about unicorns and butterflies.

  49. Well let us run the numbers. Electrical use in the USA in 2011 was 4,127 TWh. Let us assume 15% solar cell efficiency and you get 6 hours a day of solar. That takes into account summer/winter and angle of the sun and other stuff. It is also probably optimistic. Let us be optimistic.

    So you get 6*365 hours of solar a year. That is 2,190 hours.

    4127TWh/2190h = 1.885TW while the sun is shining to cover all the electrical needs of the US. You will need batteries to cover the night in the summer and bigger batteries to cover the dark in the winter. But all we care about is energy. And let us again be optimistic and say we get 100w/sq ft. incoming. That is 15w/sq ft collected.

    so 1.885E12 W/ 15w/sq ft = .127E12 sq ft. = 1.27E11 sq ft.

    There are 27848400 sq ft in a sq mile. That gives us 4,506 sq miles.

    The US is 3.794 million square miles. That works out to .118% of US land area. (unless I have dropped a decimal some where). So the idea that covering 2% of the US with solar cells to provide all electrical needs is not an unreasonable assumption. Once you have the storage in hand. The 2% would cover things like rain snow, battery inefficiency, solar cell degradation over life etc. It would also help summer vs winter. ans other things.

    What this points out is that you have to generate way more than you need in order to have enough. Not a problem if the costs are right. Which we are currently quite a ways away from.

    But storage raises costs. TANSTAAFL.

    1. “What this points out is that you have to generate way more than you need in order to have enough. Not a problem if the costs are right”

      I can’t understand this all or nothing mentality. We don’t need to generate all of it with solar – never did and never will. If we can generate 20-30% with solar within 50 years we will be way ahead of the curve. Add in 20% with wind, a bunch of hydro and fill the rest in with fossil fuels and there we have it.

      Energy in itself is not a big problem. We have more than enough. The problem is of how much pollution and cost we want to pay for it.

      1. Uh. You don’t get that the grid is based on STABLE production of electricity. If the supply does not match demand the grid goes down.

        There is the day/night problem. The summer/winter problem. The cloud/rain/snow problem. For this you need hot backup. Or batteries. Hot backup wastes energy and capital and batteries are currently EXPENSIVE.

        So even if solar produced 20% of our electricity the net is about 1/10th that and you still have to build burners that can deliver about 90% of what solar delivers to make up for its unavailability from time to time.

        Or you need some very large battery installations. Which we currently have not got.

        Wind is no better. There can be days of insufficient wind over large areas.

  50. The assumption here that this is either practical or will be allowed by the powers that be is its greatest flaw. The building of these “power stations” will be opposed by the environmentalists and the existing power concerns and as usual this power will not be viable without subsidies coming from the taxpayer. Business as usual and as usual totally BULL$H!T !

    1. ” Business as usual and as usual totally BULL$H!T !”

      The world has worked this way for many centuries. If, in the end, you have to fork out to the “kings” a little bit, it’s a fine trade off for the miracle of living with enough energy. Energy is the lifeblood of advancement and innovation.

      In short, we paid the corporations for roads, oil and gas drilling and everything else….we will pay the corporations for renewables also. We still win once we have cleaner skies, water and air.

  51. Think how great it will be to leave that Middle East shithole desert forever when we don’t need oil anymore!

    1. Oil will be around for a very long time. Chicago in the winter. The battery will get drained keeping the auto occupants warm.

  52. I get so irked at energy analyses that do cost comparisons of various forms of electric energy.

    Electrical energy is not a uniform product. A kwh from a baseload power plant is a different product than a kwh from a dispatchable power plant versus a kwh from an intermittent power plant that operates only when the wind blows of the sun shines.

    It is like if solar power were a nail and natural gas power were a two by four and then you do an analysis that shows that nails are cost competitive with two by fours.

    It is a nonsensical analysis. A nail is not a substitute for a two by four!

    1. Well the ignorati need to keep hope alive.

  53. Ronald has quoted so many “authorities” to see market-driven energy usage pattern some twenty years from now, yet afresh in mind is Vivek’s starting point: how an “expert” consulting farm made totally ridiculous prediction about the prospect of cell phones. Worse still, that good-for-nothing “prediction” was sought for by AT&T, wow!

    The Sun comes to us everyday, no politician or marketeer controls it, and the pace at which solar technology has progressed and more importantly sought after by all user, irrespective of concern for global warming, makes a convincingly optimistic case whether the story-teller is an expert like Vivek Wadhwa or an experienced petroleum Engineerig subject matter expert like me.

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