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Solar Power Prospects Dim September 7, 2008

Posted by OldGuy in Alternatives, solar.
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According to an article in Scientific American, harvesting the sun’s rays for electricity production holds the promise of producing 2/3 our current and projected energy needs by 2050.  “Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation (that falls on the USA) into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.

The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t include the costs to improve the technology.  For this magic to work means a 50% increase in efficiencies:  the article assumes 14 percent efficiency, but current state of the art is barely 10%, and efficiencies have been improving only slowly.

It also doesn’t account for the economic incentive to install that systems.  The current break-even point means that the solar generators would have to cost no more than $1.20 per watt, and the current cost is $4 per watt.  That means that when the article says it will cost $400B, the real cost is more than a trillion.

And you’d have to cover vast tracts of land, around 30,000 square miles of photovoltaic arrays. I know there’s a lot of open land in the southwest USA (the area around the Grand Canyon is pretty empty).  But you’d also have to solve transmission problems.

In short, despite the opportunities for solar power, the prospects aren’t near as bright as they’d have you believe.

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1. Solar Power Prospects Dim - September 7, 2008

[…] Go to the author’s original blog: Solar Power Prospects Dim […]


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