Monday, May 12, 2008

Do Not Fear; Solar Power Plants are Almost Here

I thought this NPR Podcast from back in March was pretty good. Ira talks to a bunch of people from the solar power industry and the message is surprisingly optimistic. Large-scale solar power plants are apparently on the verge of becoming profitable, and utility companies are getting seriously interested. The clincher is that if the ball gets rolling, they claim that a hundred 10,000 square-mile plant would be enough to provide a sustainable source of energy to the entire US (does this include the aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines?).

Maybe the imminent end of oil doesn't spell Armageddon for civilization after all. Although it's not clear how efficient fertilizer production would be without fossil fuels as a hydrogen source, and we'd still need to come up with a replacement material for the plastic in those Falcon tubes. But, unlike biofuels, solar power may provide a feasible option for a sustainable, but still modern economy.

ERRATUM: I believe I erroneously cited that a 100 mile squared piece of land would collect enough solar power for the US. I think what they actually say is 100 miles by 100 miles, or 10,000 square miles. Thus proving that you're better of just listening to the podcast yourself...


9 comments:

Ralph Klein said...

You enviro's are all the same. No logic. A hundred square mile plant? Think of the habitat destruction of one hundred square miles of solar panels.

Anonymous said...

100 square miles to power the entire US? That sounds pretty good. But you're right, Ralph, drilling Alaskan wildlife reserves sounds way better.

Bayman said...

They did a good job addressing both of those issues in the podcast. First, the use of depleted farm fields and desert land has minimal habitat impact. Second, all hundred square miles need not be in the same place, they can be spread anywhere on the power grid.

Fred Hapgood said...

While I grant you this is a second generation solution, there is no deep reason why either solar or wind farms can't be sited a hundred miles or so offshore. The engineering problems --
getting materials that are highly robust -- are hard but not mpossible.

The Doc said...

I think solar is a great idea, but I recall reading somewhere that mankind was officially using more energy than was incomming from the sun.

I may well be wrong, since I can't find a good source to back that up...

Solar is a fantastic temporary idea, in my opinion, until things like fusion become viable.

The Doc said...

(I could find this...
The total solar energy coming from the sun and hitting the earth's surface is 5 x10^17 MJ/yr). In 1997, the USA alone consumed the best part of 7.5 x10^18 J of energy). Those numbers are old, obvously, but the fact that they are in the same ball-park is scary.

rob said...

@ the doc,
Is that a typo with the MJ/yr and (J of energy (w no time unit?))
just curious since you actually looked it up for us.

The Doc said...

No... actually what I neglected to mention was that the US consumed that energy in a month - September of 1997.
I then got lazy and didn't bother converting that into any other units.

As I kinda mentioned, I don't know if that is true or not - I internet trawled for a couple of numbers then reported them very unscientifically.

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