A big news story -- if it's true

Tom Jackson
May 14, 2013


Here's a weird dispatch — a very long, very interesting article about a patent filing in which an inventor claims to have made a huge breakthrough in the development of solar energy.

The dispatch by Greg Gordon of McClatchy's Washington Bureau does a good job of explaining why the alleged breakthrough would be so useful: It claims to offer a much cheaper way to produce energy and a way to store it. If the invention is real, Gordon arguably has the scoop of the year.

If, if, if ...... the piece quotes a former U.S. Department of Energy solar energy official, Ramamoorthy Ramesh, as saying, “Who knows? It may actually be correct. But I’m an experimentalist. And until it’s proven, I don’t believe it.”

I'm old enough to remember the cold fusion hoax.  If the new "Solar Traps" are real, they would be very good news. We'll see.
I previously wrote about solar power here.



@ Mr. Jackson:

If it sounds too good to be true...

However, a break-through in energy storage would be the REAL winner.

Reminds me somewhat of the promise of "cold fusion" a few yrs. back.

The Bizness

You have such an outdated view of wind and solar that it is laughable.

There are many homes that are off grid... Oh my gosh!!! How do they do it?! Night time happens! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!


Yea, solar is SO great, that cos. have to give it away (and they're goin' broke):


Invest - put your money where your "modern" ideas are.

The Bizness

How do you know I haven't?


btw doesn't it get old always think about money? What is money if you can't go out and enjoy life in a clean happy environment? Your posts are always money centric and it is depressing to even think about living life like that.

Small, lean, sustainable, and clean is a great way to be. I never want to force anyone to live that way but I would much rather live in a 500 square foot house than a 5,000 square foot mansion.


(FSLR) only has market value - no div'd. The only way you'll ever be compensated for your risk is if you sell it.

Don't mistake a rising market for the perceived value of an individual stock. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Money is merely a means of exchange - try living without it.

When you become a senior, the difference between an old man and a gentleman will be money.

The Bizness

Money does not make a man a gentleman.

Friends, family, fun, and giving do.


Depends on the quality of life you want for yourself as a senior and whether you want to be self-supporting (gentleman) or a leech (old man).

Some day you will not be able to work or you will want to retire; you work for money and then as a senior you make money work for you.

I think Billie Holiday sang it best: God bless the child that's got his own.


How? Well, since you're always harping on what major investments SHOULD be made in Sandusky, rather than just making them yourself, that implies that you lack the means to make the scale of investments that matter.

The Bizness

I own a house in Sandusky.


That's not an investment either in an alternate energy enterprise or commercial, institutional, or public development in the city. Nor is it the scale of investment that has a significant enabling effect on any of those endeavors.

The Bizness

You have no idea what type of systems I have on my house.


I don't need to. Apparently you are confused as to the difference between "customer" and "investor." I can buy a candy bar, but that's not a meaningful investment in Hershey.

The Bizness

I would say a solar or wind system is an investment for my personal gain. If done right those systems could end up saving a lot of money.

You are just like contango, all worried about stock prices for some unknown reason.


I couldn't care less about stock prices, but pursuing your own personal gain as a CONSUMER is not the altruistic business activity of which you so glowingly speak. I've looked into buying my own wind turbine, but I don't strut around like you pretending that buying it will represent a game-changing investment in the growth of a soon to be mass market industry.

Your INDIVIDUAL success with the technology, as a highly motivated early adopter who had to put a lot of time into educating yourself first doesn't constitute a sound basis for your assertion that it's a general purpose, fully scalable answer to our energy needs for a population, 75% of whom consider it an undue burden to even learn what all the gauges on the dashboard mean but still expect to drive a car.

When Contango says put your money where your mouth is, he's talking about making a significant investment from a self-amassed mountain of capital that proves you know what you're doing, sort of like Warren Buffett has done in, oops, not solar, but natural gas.

The reality is that the total sunlight striking the earth in a given period of time isn't even close to the amount of energy humans use in a that same period. That's why we use fossil fuels - which are the stored and concentrated solar energy from thousands of years of sunshine.


IMO, having a small position (5-10%) in (FLSR) is fine as long as it is also part of the overall equity portion (say the S&P 500), of a highly diversified portfolio which is partly made up of cos. in the oil and nat-gas industries.

Most people, who aim for making "little money" from investing, tend to their ultimate detriment to achieve that goal.

I caught part of Boone Pickens interview on CNBC this morning and he said that there is an estimated 4,000 trillion of cu. ft. of nat. gas in the U.S. - probably 130 yrs. worth.


It's difficult for alt-energy to compete on a cost-effective basis with such massive numbers.

The Bizness

"The reality is that the total sunlight striking the earth in a given period of time isn't even close to the amount of energy humans use in a that same period. That's why we use fossil fuels - which are the stored and concentrated solar energy from thousands of years of sunshine."

That statement is simply not true.

In full sun, you can safely assume about 100 watts of solar energy per square foot. If you assume 12 hours of sun per day, this equates to 438,000 watt-hours per square foot per year. Based on 27,878,400 square feet per square mile, sunlight bestows a whopping 12.2 trillion watt-hours per square mile per year.

With these assumptions, figuring out how much solar energy hits the entire planet is relatively simple. 12.2 trillion watt-hours converts to 12,211 gigawatt-hours, and based on 8,760 hours per year, and 197 million square miles of earth’s surface (including the oceans), the earth receives about 274 million gigawatt-years of solar energy, which translates to an astonishing 8.2 million “quads” of Btu energy per year.
In case you haven’t heard, a “quad Btu” refers to one quadrillion British Thermal Units of energy, a common term used by energy economists. The entire human race currently uses about 400 quads of energy (in all forms) per year. Put another way, the solar energy hitting the earth exceeds the total energy consumed by humanity by a factor of over 20,000 times.



In other words:

When you can't dazzle 'em with your brilliance, attempt to baffle 'em with copy and paste bull sh*t.

The Bizness

You are officially naive.

That is copy and pasted but it is also true. You could put solar panels at their current efficiency on just 1% Arizona's land area, and it could power more than 275 million homes. That is more than all homes in the US. H

That fact is out of "Powering the Future: A Scientist's Guide to Energy Independence" by Daniel B. Botkin

But keep ignoring facts all you want.


"Officially naive"?????????? Really? Is that some sort of legal standard or government proclamation?

A lot has been said about your "investment" in alternate energy and whether it means anyone should pay attention to what you say, triggered by Contango's contention that you "put your money where your mouth is." Maybe you misunderstood what he meant. He meant place significant assets at risk to drive the progress of what you advocate. There are two aspects to this.

The first is the difference between a consumer and an investor. As an example, let's say it's 1970 and two guys, Tom and Joe are both very enthusiastic about 8 track audio technology (if you don't know what 8 track tapes are, ask your folks.) Tom thinks it's the bee's knees and runs out and buys a top of the line 8 track home stereo, car stereo, and portable unit, and amasses a huge collection of all the music he's ever going to want to hear on 8 track tapes. Joe, who is a VERY successful business man, goes out and invests several million dollars in starting a company that will produce 8 track tapes. There are two significant differences between Tom and Joe. First, Tom's purchase doesn't have much effect on the overall development or success of the 8 track industry, whereas Joe's does. Second, Tom hasn't really risked anything - when the entire industry fails with the introduction of cassettes, he still has a perfectly serviceable collection of his favorite music and the means to play it, i.e. he still has every dime of value for which he paid. Joe, on the other hand, has lost those millions he invested. To go back to the candy bar analogy, if Hershey's goes bankrupt, you still had an enjoyable eating experience for your 75 cents, but the stockholders have nothing. That willingness to place assets at risk goes a long way toward establishing the credibility of what you claim.

But, you say, you don't have millions to invest in a solar energy company. That's the second aspect. Having those assets is the other side of the credibility equation - it means you've proven that your judgement has value by investing successfully in the past. If you see two guys with fishing poles walking down the street, and one has a huge stringer of tasty fish, and the other has nothing, which one are you going to ask where to fish?

What it all boils down to is, your own personal satisfaction with your individual solar implementation doesn't add any weight to your claims, but I wish you all the luck in the world with it.


First of all, the solar flux is 31.77 watts per square foot on a flat surface facing directly at the sun with no intervening atmosphere. Throw in atmospheric losses and that drops to 18.4 watts if there are no clouds, at noon, at the equator, during the equinox. That's full spectrum, large parts of which are useless for energy production. A commercially available amorphous cell panel of 15"x14.5" produces 5 watts, so best case usable is less than 5 watts per square foot. So, given that you, or someone you trusted, pulled that 100W/sqft figure out of their backside, we can pretty much dismiss the rest of your math.

Now, if you buy anthropogenic global warming and the hockey stick graph, biomass was consuming 100% of the solar energy hitting the earth until the industrial revolution reduced radiant losses. Keep in mind that to get 5 watts out of a square foot, you have to cast a 1 square foot shadow on whatever is under your collector. That means no plant life there, food crop or otherwise. Most of the earth's surface is water - take any significant part of that solar flux and the oceans die.

That one percent of Arizona? Given what we've seen of your calculations, pardon me if I don't swallow that. Anyway, you're talking about plunging 37,941 square miles into darkness 24/7/365. When they tried to use a 100 foot wide by 50 mile strip of Nevada desert (that's 0,94 square miles) for an 8 hour motocross race, the greenies howled and the BLM said no because it would be catastrophic to an endangered tortoise species. One of the basic tenets of ecological preservation is there are no true wastelands, there is no land not being used for anything. If it's not being used by people, it's being used by other species, and those species might have in their bodies the cure for cancer.

Wind farms have been shown to have a deliterious effect on local climate. Biofuels compete with food crops for farming resources. Solar cell manufacturing creates some pretty nasty toxic wastes. There are no solar magic bullets to solve the world's energy problems. Everything comes with tradeoffs. You may be doing quite well with your own setup, but you're only able to do that because, even if you have the smallest lot in the city, globally that makes you a 1 percenter land baron in a world where most of the population can't even dream about having exclusive use of the resources of half that much land. Solar and wind have a place, but they're not the be-all, end-all you so desperately seem to need to believe they are. There is no super-sexy science fiction utopia where all energy is clean and infinitely renewable - reality is a set of choices where all the options suck to some degree, and there's rarely one that stands out as sucking significantly less. Contray to your fervent belief, the status quo and what went before is not the result of some cruel conspiracy of mean people older than you - it's the result of generations of hard, pragmatic choices of the lesser of two evils. People do the best they can, and there's always going to be suffering in the world. The people with whom you are arguing, to varying degrees, once stood in your shoes, and made the same kind of idealistic claims you are making.

I'm not trying to bust your balloon or destroy your idealism, and everyone who disagrees with you isn't bent on raping the planet just to hear its death cries. I'm constantly trying to sway the Mrs. from her preference a hulking SUV, and I'm very concerned about the impact of the Chinese buying cars like candy. My house was incandescent-free a decade ago, and now it's 90% LED, largely because it's just cheaper that way. On the other hand, there's no need for costly upheaval, replacing all our infrastructure. We could save more than all the hybrids and electric cars combined if everybody simply used a motorcycle instead of a car whenever they were traveling alone in good weather, and they'd have more fun, too.

The Bizness

Sounds like vaporware to me


What's that? Say it isn't so!!!!!
Your lack of faith leads one to wonder if you'll next accuse yourself of having "such an outdated view of wind and solar that it is laughable"

The Bizness

wind and solar tech exist and are cost compettive...this thing doesn't exist



I read the article up to the line "His claimed discoveries, which exist only on paper so far"...then I stopped.

I swear have the the cure for Aids and Cancer on paper. Would you like to write a story about me.


E=MCsquared is on paper. Could be a hoax, but bears watching.

2cents's picture

(produce electricity at about "2cents" per kilowatt-hour.)

Hey, I guess I am more than hot air LOL

Remember kids, patent law has changed, it is now first to file, not invent. Keep thy mouth shut!

Licorice Schtick

The McClatchy story is full of nonsense and appears to be poorly researched. It shreaks "scam." Skepticism is in order.

That said, solar power is commonly under appreciated. The fossil fuel and nuke industries enjoy hidden subsidies and cost externalities, and have an interest in suppressing solar and other sustainable energy sources. First Energy had to be sued to comply with the law and net meter customers who were generating wind power.

Humans are still working on the wrong things, though. The really problem is TOO MANY PEOPLE.


@ Mr. Jackson:

Speakin' of fusion:


Some have said: Fusion is the power source of the future - and always will be.