Solar power ready to shine?

Tom Jackson
Jan 29, 2013

 

Although I like the idea of moving to green energy, I've been skeptical about the viability of wind and solar, both because of the cost and because there's no effective way yet to store the power when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.
 
It's usually environmentalists who talk up the viability of green energy. Their hearts are in the right place, but they tend to downplay the real problems with the economics and the technology.
 
However, a few days ago I ran across a piece by Noah Smith, an economist at Stony Brook University who also has an undergraduate degree in physics from Stanford.
 
Smith's blog post, "Solar: It's about to be a whole new world." on his Noahpinion blog argues that after years of criticism from conservative economists, solar power is about to break through.
 
He writes, "The cost of solar power has been falling exponentially for the past 35 years. What's more, there is no sign at all that this cost drop is slowing. New technologies are in the pipeline right now that have the potential to make solar competitive with coal and natural gas, even with zero government subsidy."
 
His post has lots of links, if you want to learn more.
 
There's a good back and forth between Smith and his critics in the comments and in the main I think Smith holds his own. 
 
Perhaps sensing that I don't have a physics degree from Stanford, he didn't answer my question in the comments about space-based solar power. I'm fascinated by the idea of harvesting solar power from space and beaming it to Earth, although it's likely I'm making the same mistake I criticized in my second paragraph, paying too little attention to the economics.
 
Here's the Web site for Edison Solar & Wind, the Milan company that installed the solar panels for the city of Sandusky's greenhouse.

Comments

Contango

@ Mr. Jackson:

Figures that a govt. paid bureaucrat would be touting a boondoggle like alt-energy.

"Even in 2035, with the most optimistic scenario, the International Energy Agency estimates that just 2.4% of the world's energy will come from wind and only 1% from solar. As is the case today, almost 80% will still come from fossil fuels."

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB...

Also, considering the fiscal aspect; as a country, we're borrowing almost 50 cents of every dollar spent, I gotta ask ya: Where's the money gonna come from?

eriemom

New technologies are in the pipeline right now that have the potential to make solar competitive with coal and natural gas, even with zero government subsidy."

What money?

Contango

Money? Energy Dept. and other govt. pork subsidies.

Alt-Energy - the Power Source of the Future (and always will be).

eriemom

I should have copied a shorter phrase instead of the entire sentence so that you would read the entire thing.
"even with zero government subsidy"

Again. What money?

Contango

@ eriemom:

The low price of nat-gas is making alt-energy non-competitive. Some utilities are even discussing mothballing their nukes.

The Big Dog's back

Better than 100%.

The Bizness

Some people will just continue to want to destroy our earth simply because it is convenient... Conservatives just hate solar because it isn't the status quo. Why else would you root against renewables?

Maggdi

As I can understand that no one should be expected to be familiar with every aspect of the technology that runs our world, I will offer that my understanding is that the hazardous waste that is produced in the manufacture of photovoltaic cells is very detrimental to starting a business in the field... unless you, you know, know somebody and can get government loans for renewable energy product manufacture...

mikel

yesterday and today would have been great days to collect solar power!

eriemom

Wind was good.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Akin to "beaming" (heh, a pun considering the sun) solar down to earth, I believe there is a similar technology to do the same with microwaves. Only instead of thawing your peas or warming your soup, the microwaves from a satellite in space would either be directly turned into electricity or boil water to turn turbines. I think working on fusion power generation would be a bigger breakthrough than most of these other forms, but even considering the concept of "cold fusion" it is still a rather distant star to reach. Heh...got a pun twofer in there.

MrSandusky

The problem is that the interconnection clearinghouse agencies that route the power across the grid require a nuclear, fossil, or gas back-up to all solar and wind power.

Us in the industry have been hearing this talk for years. Truth is that if it were really getting that cheap and easy the utilities would be buying more windmills and solar panels. They are in the business of making money, and if it was cheaper than gas, oil, or nuclear to operate trust me they would be rolling it out faster than you can say PUCO.

Oddly enough, think about who is putting up most of these windmills and solar panels...schools, government buildings, and universities...and who pays for these items? You are correct, you the taxpayer.

Trust me folks, when you see FirstEnergy cover Davis Besse in Solar Panels, you can rest assured that the fable of affordable solar energy has come true. Until then it is the fodder of little Jimmie's 7th grade science fair project, and the utopia that the Enviro's, that went to college and graduated with an english degree with no science or engineering classes, dream of.

Oh, and Tom and "The Hero Zone" we can beam energy. The military has been working on it to power drones and have successfully done it for years. It was another Tesla idea Tom Edison tried to steal.

Maggdi

I couldn't agree more Mr. Sandusky. I appreciate people dreaming of better things. That's part of how we get there. But that fact is dreaming isn't the only part of the calculation of making dreams come true...

The Big Dog's back

They better cover Davis-Besse with something before it leaks all over the place.

Maggdi

You know Dog with your vast pool of knowledge and conviction, I'm beginning to worry that we're in the virtual presents of a publicity shy mover and shaker.
Is that an oxymoron?

mikel

good one maggdi!

MrSandusky

Actually people that work downtown, or even in the Register Building itself, get hit with a larger dose of radiation that the workers at Davis Besse. Between the limestone and brick buildings downtown and the flourescent lighting systems that are installed in most businesses your background dose would be much higher than the plant workers get from working near the reactor. Remember, everything has a half-life.

Did you know you get exposed to more radiation from eating one bannana than you do if you live near a nuclear plant? Taking a cross country trip on an airplane gives you 400 times that same dose. People are afraid of what they do not understand, and only about 2% of the population understands radiation.

http://xkcd.com/radiation/

OSUBuckeye59

I would state there are several issues wrt solar power becoming mainstream. One is the solar equipment (panels, etc.) mfg'ers mainly use fossil fuels in the production of solar items. Another issue is the low efficiency of solar panels, where current silicon and indium-tin-oxide-based solar cells are approaching the theoretical limit of 33.7% efficiency. Another issue is the ROI for homeowners to invest in solar power. Adding solar panels to my current old casa is estimated to be a 15-year pay-back: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB....


MrSandusky got it right: when FirstEnergy covers Davis Besse in Solar Panels, then we all will indeed realize the fable of affordable solar energy has come true.

The Big Dog's back

That's the problem with right wing thinking, there never is a Plan B.

coasterfan

With regards to trying to explain the merits of alternative energy to conservatives, I'm reminded of my favorite saying: "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig".

They will continue to bring up Solyndra and ignore two simple facts. #1: more than 99% of the alt energy companies that received federal funding are still in existence. (Think about it: one small company is the ONLY example they can cite as evidence that we shouldn't fund green energy). #2: the failure rate of any new American company/business venture is about 30% after one year. In other words, close to 1 of every 3 new businesses fail.

Let's summarize: 99% of alt. energy companies are still around after one year, compared with 70% of all other new businesses. Anyone who thinks Solyndra is a evidence of a larger problem is someone who doesn't understand basic math. Isn't it ironic that the conservative party, which champions fossil fuels, is a party led by a bunch of old fossils?

Maggdi

Citation, please Coasterfan, on the "more than 99% of the alt energy companies that received federal funding are still in existence."

Pete

Have the Chinese closed on A123 yet? That was another fine investment by the Obama Administration.

Heck, at just $249,000,000 it isn't too bad compared to Solyndra. We should just ignore that one.

Contango

Yep! Read it yesterday.

The Chinese have been busy buying U.S. private assets where there "might" be some value and spending less on increasingly worthless U.S. Treasury bills.

http://bostonglobe.com/business/...

Pete

Did Tax Cheat Timmy sign away a our chance at getting our money back on this one too?

Contango

I wanna know why Turbo Timmy isn't doin' a perp walk.

Looks like he tipped off his buddies on WS to the Fed's rate cut when he was at the NY Fed.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2...

Pete

Same reason Eric the Gun Runner isn't. Libocrits are above the law.

Contango

Tony Mozilo (Countrywide) paid a $50M fine. There was NO WAY, Dems like Frank and Dodd wanted him coming before Congress and testifying.

I woulda given him immunity and listened to him sing.

http://articles.latimes.com/2010...

Maggdi

I know this is off topic, but I can't resist, let's not forget former Gov. Corzine! There's still $1.2 billion missing from his last job.

Contango

I know...I was REALLY disappointed that there was no televised perp walk.

The DOJ didn't press charges - how nice for him.

Sometimes, I wonder how Clinton appointee Frank Raines, the man who helped drive Fannie Mae into bankruptcy is doin' in retirement with all his millions.

None of this is too off-topic. It's about malfeasance at the highest levels, of which the DOE is front and center in many cases.

mikel

and the solar panel producer in the toledo area is sinkinggg and taking all kinds of state money with it.

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