Chapter 10. Here comes the sun (and it’s alright)
A popular statistic states that the Earth receives more energy from the sun in a single hour than we use in an entire year.
“Fast Facts,” Solarbuzz website. http://www.solarbuzz.com/fastfactsindustry.htm
‘The sun will be the fuel of the future.’ And the date of this article? 1876.
Popular Science Monthly, April 1877; trans. from Revue des Deux Mondes, 1 May 1876.
At the 1878 Paris Exhibition, Mouchot and his assistant Abel Pifre used a mirror over thirteen feet wide and a twenty-one-gallon boiler to power an ice maker – and received the exhibition’s Gold Medal for their efforts.
Paul Collins, “The Beautiful Possibility,” Cabinet 6 (Spring 2002). http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/6/beautifulpossibility.php
One particularly ambitious scheme is the proposed Desertec Industrial Initiative, which aims to put huge concentrated solar thermal plants in North Africa and ship electricity via massive power cables passed under the Mediterranean Sea to provide continental Europe with fifteen per cent of its electricity by 2050
“Concept: The Technologies,” Desertec Foundation website. http://www.desertec.org/en/concept/technologies/
Before you think this is idealistic posturing by eco-geeks, the partners in the project include Abengoa Solar (Europe’s most successful solar power plant manufacturer), Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley and Siemens.
“Desertec: Broad Support from All Sectors of the Economy,” Desertec press release, 28 April 2010. http://www.dii-eumena.com/fileadmin/Daten/press/10-04-28_Dii_Associated_Partners_EN.pdf
Coal plants lose over fifty per cent of the energy generated as waste heat…
“Electric Generation Efficiency,” Topic Paper #4, NPC Global Oil & Gas Study, 18 July 2007. http://www.npc.org/Study_Topic_Papers/4-DTG-ElectricEfficiency.pdf
…and up to ten per cent of what’s left can be lost in transmission down the wires (the figure was 6.5 per cent in the US in 2007).
“Where can I find data on electricity transmission and distribution losses? Frequently Asked Questions: Electricity,” U.S. Energy Information Administration website. http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/ask/electricity_faqs.asp#electric_rates2
You then burn it, but miss out on most of the energy produced, losing up to eighty-five per cent.
“Advanced Technologies and Energy Efficiency,” U.S. Department of Energy. http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/atv.shtml
‘Our kids can do their homework at night now, because there is light. They are very happy,’ says resident Elfenesh Tefera. Meanwhile the local bar can operate for longer hours and a solar fridge ensures the beer is always cold and the staff and customers no longer have to struggle with smoke from gas lamps. Since solar came to the village it’s booming. It’s the place to be with an influx of newcomers.
Tsigue Shiferaw, “Sun Energy Empowers Ethiopian Village,” BBC News, 16 July 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8150391.stm
Xcel Energy, Colorado’s biggest utility company, attempted to levy an extra charge on customers with domestic solar panels as a way to help pay for an expansion of the grid in the state.
Mark Jaffe, “Xcel Rate-hike Plan Slammed at PUC,” Denver Post, 6 Aug. 2009. http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_13001159
Two billion people live without access to reliable electricity supplies.
“Improving Lives: World Bank Group Progress on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, Fiscal Year 2006,” report by the World Bank, Dec. 2006. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTENERGY/Resources/336805-1157034157861/Improving_Lives_Low_Res.pdf
The town of Fowler, Colorado (the same state where Xcel got into trouble over its proposed solar power surcharge), announces plans to go off-grid with a combination of solar power, homegrown biofuel and gas derived from manure. “The primary goal is to stabilize utility costs and then to reduce them,” says Wayne Snider, the town manager, “but our ultimate goal is to become our own utility.”
Dan Boniface, “Colo. Town Energized to Go Off Electric Grid, 9 News, May 2010. http://www.9news.com/money/article.aspx?storyid=137546&catid=531
Work at the University of Maryland on ‘electrostatic nanocapacitors’ aims to increase battery storage by a factor of ten, and they’re already looking at integrating the results into solar cells.
“Nanotech Batteries for a New Energy Future,” Science Daily, 22 March 2009. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090320173859.htm
MIT researchers are even working on nanostructures that will hold charge indefinitely
“Springs Built from Nanotubes Could Provide Big Power Storage Potential,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology press release, 21 Sep. 2009. http://web.mit.edu/press/2009/super-springs-0921.html
The 2010 report estimates that by 2035, world energy use will rise by forty-nine per cent from 2007 levels.
“International Energy Outlook 2010—Highlights,” U.S. Energy Information Administration website. http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/highlights.html
…but still claim they can produce a solar panel seventy-six inches long by forty-one inches wide…
“Nanosolar Utility Panel Data Sheet, March 2010,” Nanosolar website. http://www.nanosolar.com/sites/default/files/Nanosolar_Utility_Panel_Data_Sheet_r2.0.pdf
…with eleven per cent efficiency…
Tom Cheyney, “Printed PV: Nanosolar Unveils 640MW Utility-scale Panel Fab, High-efficiency CIGS Cell Production,” PV-Tech website, 9 Sept. 2009. http://www.geni.org/globalenergy/library/technical-articles/generation/solar/pv-tech.org/nanosolar-uneils-640mw-utility-scale-panel-fab-high-efficiency-cigs-cell-production/index.shtml
…every ten seconds.
“Nanosolar Completes Panel Factory, Commences Serial Production,” Nanosolar press release,9 Sept. 2009. http://www.nanosolar.com/company/blog/nanosolar-completes-panel-factorycommences-serial-production
Unlike Konarka, Nanosolar is concentrating on utility scale implementations. A few days before I meet Rick, the company announces orders totalling $4.1 billion from a number of solar power plant builders.
Todd Woody, “$4.1 Billion in Orders for Thin-Film Solar,” New York Times, “Green” blog, 9 Sept. 2009. http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/41-billion-in-orders-for-thin-film-solar/
Others are less convinced, like self-confessed solar sceptic Dan Lewis, research director at the UK’s oldest economic think tank, the Economic Research Council, though even Dan allows ‘grid parity may become a reality in some sunny, major parts of the world by 2020.’
Dan Lewis, “Solar Grid Parity,” Engineering & Technology 9, 19 May 2009. http://kn.theiet.org/magazine/issues/0909/solar-grid-parity-0909.cfm
Solarbuzz, a solar industry research and consultancy firm, estimates demand for solar energy ‘has grown at about 30 per cent per annum over the past 15 years.’
“Fast Solar Energy Facts,” Solarbuzz website. http://www.solarbuzz.com/fastfactsindustry.htm
It’s instructive to look at the growth rate in Japan – one of the countries pretty much all analysts think will see grid parity in the near future. For 2009, Solarbuzz quotes a growth rate of 109 per cent.
“Solarbuzz Reports World Solar Photovoltaic Market Grew to 7.3 Gigawatts in 2009,” Solarbuzz website. http://www.solarbuzz.com/Marketbuzz2010-intro.htm