“Sahara Solar Breeders” don’t sand a chance

Or, “how to make pie in the sky using our simple recipe”. From the New Scientist, making solar power is just as easy as building a few factories in the middle of the Sahara Desert and then making solar cells out of the sand to make electricity, which will be transported around the planet by a supercooled superconductor transmission system. Gosh, impressive, and easy as pie. Watch the video below to see just how easy it all is.

The Sahara Solar Breeder Project is a joint initiative by universities in Japan and Algeria that aims to build enough solar power stations by 2050 to supply 50 per cent of the energy used by humanity.

The idea is to begin by building a small number of silicon manufacturing plants in the Sahara, each turning the desert sand into the high-quality silicon needed to build solar panels. Once those panels are operating, some of the energy they generate will be used to build more silicon plants, each churning out more solar panels and generating more energy that can be used to build even more plants, and so on.

Hideomi Koinuma at the University of Tokyo leads the Japanese end of the project. He admits that making silicon panels from the rough sands of the Sahara or other deserts has not been attempted before, but says it is a logical choice.

“From the viewpoints of quality, quantity and chemistry, Sahara sand is hard to beat for use as silicon for solar cells,” he says.

Koinuma wants to use “high-temperature” superconductors to distribute the power as direct current – more efficient than a conventional alternating current. Despite their name, high-temperature superconductors typically operate at around -240 °C, and the long power lines will require a formidable cooling system.

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126 Responses to “Sahara Solar Breeders” don’t sand a chance

  1. Adam says:

    I like it! Granted I don’t believe they’ll reach their goals, in fact I doubt they will get up to more than a few plants before funding is cut, but I like the idea of “mining” sand for silicon. Also I believe solar power has great potential, and the only way it will reach that potential is if people have sufficient motivation to improve and cheapen solar power technology. And getting the most profit on a whole bunch of solar power plants is definately sufficient motivation.

  2. Lawrie Ayres says:

    There have been suggestions from Cancun that we humans could consider carbon rationing, the introduction of wide spread diseases and mass suicide to protect the planet. While I wait for those making the recommendations to go first so we can see if their proposals are effective I suppose turning the Sahara into a giant PV is less threatening.

    I missed out on an university education and so have had to live a reasonably sucessful life using common sense and observation. At no time have I realised that my very existence was causing such heartache to the learned. OTOH we could just ignore their ramblings as they cry for relevance.

  3. Antonia says:

    The word, ‘humanity’, is an abstraction and has nothing to do with actual people’s lives.

  4. TimG says:

    Ok. Let’s assume the technical hurdle’s can be surmounted.

    How many people would even consider leaving their power in the hands of whatever thugs happen to be running the saharan states?

  5. Ecotretas says:

    For me, that could also work on planet Mars!
    These guys don’t have a clue!
    Ecotretas

  6. John Marshall says:

    Looks so easy I start tomorrow. Oops, we are snowed in at the moment so will have to put this project off.
    Looks so easy on paper, or Power Point. But near to impossible in reality.
    Best idea is to use fossil fuels and perfect bio-digestion for methane production for electricity generation. The extra CO2 will help grow more crops to feed the masses.

  7. Jack says:

    Why can’t they just be honest and call it what it really is? A perpetual motion machine.
    Still, if it is funded solely by middle east oil money, it isn’t all bad.

  8. Terry G says:

    Read “Engineers Dreams” by Willie Ley published back in the 1950,s for much easier
    ways of producing free power!

  9. H.R. says:

    “Despite their name, high-temperature superconductors typically operate at around -240 °C, and the long power lines will require a formidable cooling system.”

    I’m guessing the cooling system will need most of the energy the solar panels will produce.

  10. DirkH says:

    I thought about this breeder concept a while ago. The problem is that at the moment, producing the solar cell costs as much energy as it will deliver back in 10,000 hours of peak energy production. This might be achieved in the Sahara in about 5 years (wild guesstimate; i didn’t look up the number of sunshine hours they have their but i know it would be 13 years with Germany’s 780 peak sunshine hours equivalent per year).

    So, with what would you bootstrap the process? Why would anyone want to produce that stuff in the Sahara when it’s probably much cheaper and faster to just produce it wherever we produce it now and move it there.

    What’s lacking is not the sand, not the silicon, not the energy, not the workers – what’s lacking is a business case.

  11. Brian Johnson uk says:

    How much CO2 will be generated in providing thousands of miles of superconducting super-fluids? OMG!

    Too much grant money being generated on hopeless projects. Spend the money on Nuclear and Coal and Gas and Oil and get back to reality!

  12. NovaReason says:

    Sadly, this is about the best solar idea I’ve ever seen, IF it wasn’t for the fact that if centralized power generation with long transmission lines were that great of an idea, someone would have done it already. Keeping power lines only a few degrees from 0 K is also going to be about the most inefficient thing I’ve heard of.

    Anyone with a solid understanding of the amount of energy required to keep cool, say, 10,000 miles of power cable at -240 C should do some napkin math to figure it out… I really don’t know enough about supercold insulations, but the gradient being what it would, I’d imagine there’s at least a significant amount of heat transfer that can’t be avoided.
    I’m definitely willing to bet that given the overall shortcomings of solar power that
    1) when it’s night on the Sahara, and the solar stops flowing, the lines will have to be maintained at that temp by more conventional means, the energy drain from this will likely mean that coal or nuclear plants will need to be built to support the infrastructure, making the whole process pretty futile.
    2) It’s the Sahara… you picked it because there’s lots of sand and sun, but there’s also sandstorms… how much is the small army that will be required to keep cleaning the cells going to cost?
    3) Of course, this is assuming that this person is actually trying to build a market viable strategy… if this is another watermelon pushing an economically suicidal idea that won’t do half of what it’s planned to do, and will cost 3 arms and 4 legs each to reach 25%, never mind 50%, then it will hopefully be ignored, once we all get a good laugh at the horror story of the economics involved.

  13. Tom says:

    Wind energy fairs are always fun for this reason. There are always people there pushing their high-temp superconductors for generator windings. The conversation usually goes something like this:

    “So, I should buy a generator that uses your high-temp superconductor for my turbine design?”

    “Yes! You’ll be cool and everyone will like you! It makes the puppies happy! It’s a SUPER conductor. Don’t you want SUPER turbines?”

    “Yes, quite. So, this ‘high’ temperature, what is it exactly?”

    “Er, about 100K.”

    “And how much energy does it take to keep the generator at 100K?”

    “Not much!”

    “How much?”

    “Er, about 50kW.”

    “So, about 10% of my average energy capture?”

    “Er, yes.”

    “And what are my bearing lubricants going to look like at 40K?”

    “Er, well…”

    “Come on…”

    “Er, solid. But we can sell you super-dooper low temperature lubricants…”

    “Thanks for your time, goodbye.”

  14. 1DandyTroll says:

    I concur, that ought to be a rather simple project what with their only gonna be .0001‰ of people having access to electricity in the year 2050. The only sane people left that stuck to their guns, all living in the same walled city protected from all the crazed environuts (that would be all them poor sods that were stricken by the crazed envirohippie bug) that are roaming “free” in the country side gobbling up all the animals as the frakking please. Of course a story is nothing without the antagonists so the frakking c[r]ockroaches, err sorry crazed hippie climate communists, are still going in their lovely “mud” (they call it mud still because it used to be mud once upon a time) pie city called, of bloody course, Utopia. However they’re living on diminishing returns what with their recent bout into doom and gloom of starvation, and since they are ever so natural living one with gaia, what better snack then exist than once own neighbor?

    But pretty soon the “natural” utopians realizes that, hey this isn’t how was supposed to be? So what options do they have, but yet again influences the masses, the mobs, the animal gobblers, and attack that heinous vile despicable fusion powered (by old oil and old coal, bleh) flowery bounti-beautiful watery gardens, aptly named, after 30 years deliberations and debate until bossmann authoritarilly decided with his schtick up panzer pantz rump, instead (because there comes a time, even in manns history, when one has to take command and show who’s really the bossmann) Dystopia (which they still laugh, evilly, at, as their only inside joke, about every friday night after “Billy’s” BBQ, poking fun at that lonely coal heap of remains at the end of a hard week, so to speak.)

  15. Deekaman says:

    “Well, we can research it for $100 million yen, but gosh, we’ll need a lot more to make this happen. And hey…just make that check out to ‘cash’. I’ll take care of it. Really.”

  16. Derek Tipp says:

    Whilst my first response to this is that it sounds like ‘pie in the sky’, it would be interesting to see a detailed rebuttal showing how the costings do not stack up. I am sure there are plenty of people who will fall for this, particularly as it is in a ‘science’ magazine.

  17. JER0ME says:

    Not sure why they would not stand a chance. The technology seems that it would have to be worked out, and I’m dubious about the cost of cooling helium to send power (I’d have thought being underground at a few degrees C would be enough for DC, but hey).

    I would be very dubious about:

    1. Water to clean the panels
    2. Sandstorms (as the guy says)
    3. Political problems in that part of the world (notice none of the interested parties actually LIVE there?)
    4. Security of the power lines (related to (3)).
    5. Masses of energy in the day and none at night (when all those electric cars are being charged).

  18. Jeff says:

    Now, if only the Sahara weren’t an incredibly unstable area, politically. Any plants and transmission lines would be subject to protection rackets and practically indefensible.

  19. Juraj V. says:

    How many divisions will bee needed to guard it?

  20. Erik says:

    It’s Edison vs. Tesla redux.

  21. J.Hansford says:

    It won’t work at night and at a reduced capacity when cloudy….. and it would cost more than it is worth trying to keep the dust and sand off the solar panels…… The whole thing is impractical and laughable…. and wildly expensive…. and typical of the Green Communists.

  22. E.M.Smith says:

    Looks to me like someones ego is WAY bigger than his paycheck and he wants a sugardaddy…

    IFF I was going to do this, I’d make it solar thermal rather than PV. Cheaper to do by far and you can still make your mirrors out of sand / glass.

    The notion that folks would be building whole new ‘sand up’ manufacturing and dotting these things around the desert is just nuts. It’s far cheaper and easier to move the sand to a factory near things like, oh, water, power, transport (for all the OTHER materials you will need), labor supply (and the attendant housing and entertainment) and all the rest.

    Oh, and we’ve built a bunch of massive solar farms now (at least 2 that I remember in the Mojave alone, plus those in Spain). Last I looked none of them were making much / any money. I don’t see how putting it further out in a more hostile desert and further from markets that need the product will be improving the economics any…

  23. Damn you, Erik! Damn you, sir! You got there first.

  24. grienpies says:

    Just imagine this would really work and every one would want the solar energy. Just imagine how filthy rich those guys will get, but the worst would be the solar energy would be cheap and abundant (IF it worked like proposed, probably not).
    And then imagine how Green Peace and our greener friends will start to cry and count 1345 reasons why this form of solar energy will lead straight to Armageddon.

    Solar and wind are only “environmentally friendly” as long as they push energy prices to the sky and make energy scare.

    THOU SHALT BE HUMBLE AND MODEST

    this is what it is all about, not solving energy problems.

  25. Dave Springer says:

    “Despite their name, high-temperature superconductors typically operate at around -240 °C, and the long power lines will require a formidable cooling system.”

    Despite this being a science blog there’s often a dearth of it.

    -240C (30 Kelvin) is the transition point between traditional (BCS theory) superconductivity and high-temperature superconductivity. BCS theory predicted that 30K was the highest possible temperature where superconductivity could exist.

    In 1986 a new class of superconductor was discovered in materials where the mechanism was different than BCS. There is no theory for superconductivity in these materials.

    By 2009 at least three superconductors had been discovered that operate at temperatures above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen 77K with one as high as 133K.

    As of today the record for superconductivity is with a cupric oxide compound (Tl4Ba)Ba2MgCu8O13+. It superconducts at temperatures up to -8C (17F).

    The holy grail is a room temperature superconductor. So far we’ve got up to household freezer temperature. There is no “typical” operating temperature for high-temperature superconductors and if there was it would certainly be above the definitional minimum of 30K.

    Current record holder:

    http://www.superconductors.org/254K.htm

  26. Dave Springer says:

    E.M.Smith says:
    December 3, 2010 at 4:14 am

    “IFF I was going to do this, I’d make it solar thermal rather than PV. Cheaper to do by far and you can still make your mirrors out of sand / glass.”

    Thankfully you’re not doing it. Solar thermal is and will continue to be hobbled by the need for heat engines to convert heat to mechanical energy and then generators to convert mechanical to electrical energy. Photovoltaic is solid state – no moving parts. Comparing the two is like comparing an abacus to an electronic calculator.

  27. Joseph Murphy says:

    While I love solar, this idea doesn’t sit well with me. I believe the future of energy is personal production and moving away from the grid. Solar can be a large part of that. PV cells just need to have a better conversion rate, react with more of the electromagnetic spectrum, and cost about as much as a piece of paper. =D

  28. DCC says:

    Look on the bright side. Neither the US nor the UK government is involved in this boondoggle. We definitely saved a buck and a Pound there.

  29. Steve R says:

    Has everyone given up on Fusion power? We were promised for decades that was the Holy Grail of alternative energy. We never hear of any new ideas on that front.

  30. RockyRoad says:

    This whole concept reminds me of hair-brained plans to mine minerals on the moon.
    Apparently, “researchers” think they can extract enough valuable metal from lunar basalt to make a viable mine. The idea is ludicrous. The moon has no evidence of plate tectonic, hydrothermal, or magmatic activity, and any of these three are prerequisite processes for ore body formation–a pre-concentration process. The only viable ore that could be processed on the moon would have to come from iron-rich meteorites, and finding enough to constitute an ore body would be essentially impossible–equivalent to the merits of this Sahara Solar Breeder project.

  31. WillR says:

    I think that this should be viewed as a geo-engineeing project.

    The Solar/electrical engineering is well understood — but how about the effects of turning that much of the land mass into an electrical system and changing the albedo.

    I can imagine the amazement of future archeologists as they try to fathom the purpose of the site and the wisdom of changing the worlds weather systems.

  32. Grey Lensman says:

    The obvious “catch”, why did they choose the Sahara?

    Emotions.

    Why not Northern Western Australia or Central Australia, loads of sun sand and expertise.

    Any accurate figures on the amount of total energy needed to make a solar panel?

  33. starzmom says:

    So long as it’s not with my money, go for it. It’s the perfect laboratory for solar power. But, I repeat, not with my money.

  34. Just The Facts says:

    Also from the New Scientist, “Wind turbines make bat lungs explode”, no joke;

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14593

    and this is in addition to clipping the wings and heads of birds:

    Green energy at its finest…

  35. marcoinpanama says:

    Notwithstanding all of the BS detectors that are with good reason going off above, the original proposal I read for a superconducting power line actually made some (emphasis on some) sense. The plan was (still is?) to use electricity at the source to generate liquid Hydrogen, which would be pumped down the (underground for insulation) pipe to cool the superconducting electrical conductor. At the user end, the H2 would be drawn off to power transportation devices and the electricity used as, guess what, electricity. With massive nuclear plants producing the cheap source power, it just might work. With solar cells cycling day/night, not a prayer.

    In addition, making semiconductor-grade silicon is exquisitely difficult, which is why there was a global shortage when PV ramped up. If it made any sense at all to locate the plants near the sand, it would have been done long ago. Looney in the extreme.

    New Scientist joined SciAm on my do-not-subscribe list awhile ago thanks to stories like this.

  36. dave ward says:

    He describes it as “Probably Do-able”. So immediately seeds of doubt are sown. Further more even IF it could be made to work, the video says 100GW could provide power for half the planet. Last night the UK’s electrical demand was in the region of 44GW, so I guess lots of others will be in the dark…. And even though the Sahara spans a considerable area it will only be fully sunlit for part of a 24 hour period, so conventional generation will be needed at other times. This will be subject to the same inefficiencies as it is now when trying to cover intermittent wind power.

  37. Dave Springer says:

    Caveats:

    The OP title is “Don’t sand a chance” is still essentially correct. PV technology is still in its infancy comparable to the first transisters in solid state electronics. Morever high temperature superconductors are hideously expensive to manufacture and absent a theory to explain them improvment is entirely by trial-and-error. If there were a theory behind them then an easy-to-manufacture material could be found by design instead of by experiment and serendipity. PV technology on the other hand is progressing in the normal sequence of advance in solid-state electronics. For PV to be competitive with natural gas fired turbine generators (the most efficient means of generating electricity at this point in time) they need 3x improvement in cost/performance which for solid-state electronics is no great leap. A 10x leap can be reasonably expected and should be planned for. The fly in the ointment is and will remain in storage and distribution. Decentralized production is the way to go which requires no investment in a higher capacity distribution grid along with continued but greatly reduced reliance upon existing electrical generation to satisfy demand when and where the sun isn’t shining. The ideal solution is PV solar power sats which produce electricity 24/7 as the sun never sets in high orbit and beaming the power down to the surface whereever it is need via microwave transmission to relatively small footprint antennas on the surface. The cost of lifting mass from the surface to orbit remains the major obstacle along with environmentalist whackos concerned about minor atmospheric heating by the microwaves and possible adverse consequences to birds and bats and butterflies caught in the beam’s surface footprint.

    Biomass liquid fuel production is even more infant than PV technology but holds even greater promise for vast rapid improvement as genetic engineering knowledge and techniques improve. Genetic engineering is progressing at an extremely rapid pace. For instance just 10 years fully sequencing a human genome was a billion dollar undertaking. Now it costs $10,000 and is still dropping like a stone. Just ten years ago it was a costly error prone process just splicing a novel gene into an organism. Today a fully functional artificial bacterial genome with a thousand genes can be strung together from mail-order DNA snippets. It’s only a short matter of time until we understand enough of the molecular machinery of life before we can create artficial bacteria with any mix of capabilities found in nature and program the artifical beasts to perform tasks like the armies of self-replicating robots that they are. We live in interesting times on the cusp of new technologies that exceed agriculture, metallurgy, and solid state electronics in the capacity for beneficial use.

  38. Curiousgeorge says:

    Of course there would need to be a large workforce (read cities) to maintain all that junk. Said cities would require all the same stuff that other cities require – like water, food, infrastructure, hookers, etc., etc. I suspect that the majority of the power produced would be used within the supporting workforce and very little would be available for sale outside the immediate area. It’s very much like any other town that grows up around a mining site, oil field, or other moneymaking venture.

  39. JER0ME says:

    Grey Lensman says:
    December 3, 2010 at 4:58 am

    The obvious “catch”, why did they choose the Sahara?

    Emotions.

    Why not Northern Western Australia or Central Australia, loads of sun sand and expertise.

    North Africa is nearer to Europe and the US, and is thus cheaper to send power to (as it will cost a lot to transport). Australia is only near to China, and they won’t want power.

    Oh, wait….

  40. Rick says:

    And the West continues to steal the resources of the poor muslim countries, or at least plot to.

    After years of fixing cooling lines, repairing water channels, re-running blown up electrical lines, the project would be abandoned quickly.

  41. chris y says:

    Dave Springer-

    “Despite this being a science blog there’s often a dearth of it.”

    -240 C is a correct value for operating temperature of a high Tc superconducting cable.
    If you want to carry substantial power on a realistic superconducting cable, the current density is high. But as you know, the maximum current density (before the material transitions to normal and the resistivity increases by 1 to 3 commas) depends on operating temperature. The closer to the superconducting-normal transition temperature Tc that you operate, the lower the peak current density possible while maintaining the superconducting state. To carry useful amounts of power, the operating temperature must be well below Tc.

    As for (Tl4Ba)Ba2MgCu8O13+, it is a tantalizing research result. There’s a bit of work to do before this material shows up in a useful power cable. For starters, isolating the correct phase in a sample would be helpful, followed by forming a sample of only that crystalline phase. YBCO superconductor ceramic took more than a decade to move from Edmund Scientific educational kits into a useful power cable.

    If superconducting long-distance cables are ready to deploy, perhaps they should be used to transport electricity to the west coast from new super ultra critical coal-fired plants located at the gargantuan coal deposits in Wyoming. You can substitute coal transportation with electricity transfer on superconducting cables. The waste heat and CO2 fertilizer can be piped into massive greenhouses that produce GM vegetables.

  42. North of 43 and south of 44 says:

    Ecotretas says:
    December 3, 2010 at 1:17 am

    For me, that could also work on planet Mars!
    These guys don’t have a clue!
    Ecotretas

    Well at least it would be easier to keep that Superconductor cool enough, not so sure about getting that power line from there to here though ;-).

  43. Olen says:

    They of course can do the project as long as they don’t attempt to do us by soaking up tax dollars.
    Someone mentioned this lacking a good business case. Shouldn’t the technology be proven to work first and before that shouldn’t the need for such a project be proven.

  44. Juraj V. says:

    Once I read a book from Dick Feynmann. It was shortly after WWII and them physicians had a meeting with Army brass. They were kept in high esteem because of A-bomb. One general seriously proposed, that if Uranium can produce so much energy from limited mass, what about doing the same with, for example, silicon which is plentiful. His idea was, that tanks would take the soil rich in SiO2 from the bottom via some shovel and readily covert it into energy, so their problem with limited range would be solved. Kiddin’ you not! Wish to see those physicians that moment.

  45. Jeremy says:

    And where exactly will they get the power to keep the HTSC cold? Last I checked they’ll need to keep their conductor at about ~120K or -153 C.

    Compressors are NOT low power devices, helium compressors especially.

    Some people evidently never left fantasy-land.

  46. Jeremy says:

    Dave Springer says:
    December 3, 2010 at 4:29 am

    Current record holder:

    http://www.superconductors.org/254K.htm

    This doesn’t look like a very convincing transition to me.

    http://www.superconductors.org/254Rplot.jpg

    They have a drop of approximately 10 millivolts of a 4-point reading of 900+ mV and they consider that a Tc? Generally whenever I measured Tc I expected to see it drop to noise or immeasurable voltage, but clearly they have a measurable voltage prior to their claimed Tc. Why would this be? On the surface here, it seems like they’re bending the rules of what a HTSC is supposed to do.

  47. Paul Milligan says:

    The solutions to the worlds energy problem! They should put this on How To Do It:

  48. Jeremy says:

    chris y says:
    December 3, 2010 at 5:48 am

    -240 C is a correct value for operating temperature of a high Tc superconducting cable.

    This is also incorrect as far as I understand things; -240C is 33Kelvin. I’ve worked on HTSC coated conductors and we had them above liquid nitrogen temperatures and our standard Tc was ~90-100 Kelvin which is around -173 degrees Celsius. Also, HTSC are used in medical applications today, and my understanding is they operate much closer to liquid nitrogen temperatures than liquid helium.

  49. David Middleton says:

    The proposed Desertec system is designed to be a 100TW solar generating network built in North Africa and the Middle East. The current estimated total cost is ~$550 billion… ~$5.5 million/MW installed capacity. They claim that by 2050 it will deliver 700 TWh per year to Europe. At 15 cents per kWh (wholesale), Desertec will generate an annual gross revenue of $105 billion if it really delivers 700 TWh per year. That’s enough to cover the construction cost principle (pay out) in 35-46 years (30-40 years to build and 5-6 years of operation).

    According to Gizmag, “the project ultimately aims to achieve a solar plant with an annual capacity of at least 100 GW by 2050.” 100 GW is 1/10 of a TW…

    The Sahara Breeder will only have 1/1000 the generating capacity of Desetec. The claim that the Sahara Breeder will deliver 50% of the world’s electricity. Desertec, which will be 1000 times bigger, is designed to deliver 15% to 20% of Europe’s electricity. I tend to think the economics of the Sahara Breeder will be far worse than the already abysmal economics of Desertec.

    Cost of Electrical Generation Power Stations ($/MW installed capacity)

    Natural Gas: $600.000 to $900,000
    Coal: $900,000 to $2,000,000
    Wind: $2,000,000
    Nuclear: $2,000,000 to $7,000,000
    Solar Photovoltaic: $5,500,000 to $7,000,000

    If Desertec really had to compete with nuclear, natural gas and coal, it could only charge 3 to 7 cents per kWh (wholesale). This would push “pay out” up to about 70 years. I’m currently paying about 9.5 cents/kWh (retail) in Dallas, Texas. The proposed Solana solar plant in Arizona will have a guaranteed, long-term, 14 cents/kWh (wholesale) contract to deliver electricity to the state’s utilities.

    The economics of solar power are mind-bogglingly bad.

  50. David Middleton says:

    Correction…

    According to Gizmag, the Sahara Breeder “project ultimately aims to achieve a solar plant with an annual capacity of at least 100 GW by 2050.” 100 GW is 1/10 of a TW…

  51. banjo says:

    Whenever i see reference to New Scientist, the phrase “Now your hands please” springs to mind.
    Brits of a certain vintage might get the reference.

  52. docattheautopsy says:

    The only thing this plan is missing is the Underpants Gnomes.

    Stage 1: Build Solar panels and Superconductive power lines.
    Stage 2: ?????
    Stage 3: Profit!

  53. Coach Springer says:

    This project is one of those PV automobile experiments that you read about their race conducted once a year on a giant scale. 1 part science, 1 part mental masturbation, 0 parts practical engineering. Like the comment about using super conductivity to transmit coal genrated power from Wyoming. Why, again, is it so urgently necessary that our electricity must come directly from the sun or once removed in the form of wind?

    Probably not in the Sahara. Wouldn’t be “energy independent.”

    Probably no bio-engineered organisms either. Can’t wait for the China Syndrome movie equivalent of GM bacteria. Or was that the Blob?

  54. Ken Harvey says:

    Here in Africa, liberating copper power lines is a widespread and well organised trade. Super cooled might test the ingenuity for a week or two.

  55. c1ue says:

    Actually the goal of the project is laudable – both in creating alternative energy as well as technology transfers to North Africa and human development via education.

    However, the grimy details are what make this grandiose proposal utterly impractical.

    1) While Silicon may be the 2nd most common substance in the earth’s crust, this applies just as much to anywhere else in the world as it does the Sahara

    2) Conversion of Saharan sand to silicon doesn’t in and of itself yield commercial grade solar panels. The conversion itself costs a massive amount of money – a polysilicon plant costs in the order of $125/kg in capital. A 3000 ton/year polysilicon plant thus costs in the order of $375M dollars to build and must then achieve high or full utilization in order to fully depreciate.

    A solar panel plant is then needed to actually convert the polysilicon into a solar panel – such a plant costs in the order of $400M.

    3) Solar panels require a lot more than just sand: rare earths among others. Where is this to come from?

    4) The massive amounts of superconducting cables also require tremendous investment – both in materials and in money.

    Note the above numbers only involve a single vertical loop – and costs in the order of $1B plus operational costs in the 8 digit range.

    To scale this to cover the entire Sahara – we’re talking decades’ worth of the entire GNP of the entire North Sahara region.

  56. Neil Jones says:

    Looks like another perpetual motion machine to me. Cooling the power lines will generate more heat than we are currently worried about and the whole thing will eat power.

  57. Ric Locke says:

    Not shown in the illustration: the 750 MW nuclear plant that powers the whole mess (it’s just off to the right, beyond the edge of the page).

    Regards,
    Ric

  58. LarryD says:

    Due to their variability, going above 30% solar/wind makes a power grid unstable.

    EIA levelized cost puts solar thermal cheaper per kw/hr than solar PV.

    As mentioned, keeping solar collectors/PVs clean is a high water demand issue.

    Like several others, I want to see an energy budget for this project, because I don’t think it even works at the Energy Return On Investment (EROI) level. Which would mean that it doesn’t “breed” at all.

  59. Cold Englishman says:

    I worked in the Sahara for 5 years on oilfield surveying. One of the most difficult tasks I faced was finding sand. Yes sand for concrete which was necessary for all the oilfield installations. You’d be surprised at how difficult it is to find good quality, clean graded sand. There’s plenty of dust, and white powders from salt and other residues, but it’s just not like one of those movies with Nomads on camels wandering accross endless oceans of dunes. It’s mostly rock and dust.
    Also there are two winds, which blow most days, the one from the north can be cold, especially in winter (I have seen it snow in winter), and in summer the wind known as the Ghibli is hot and dry from the south. Both of these winds are permanently dusty, and I’d just love to see the maintenance staff keeping the solar cells clean. When the wind blows over 10 mph, it acts like a sand blaster, and erases paint from vehicles, and etches the glass on windshields.
    Yes folks, the desert looks pretty benign on nature films, but in reality it is a very aggressive place to survive, and I wouldn’t give their nice equipment much chance of surviving the first full year.

  60. Enneagram says:

    This is like selling mirror pieces and color bracelets to indigenous people. After Cancun’s debacle there will be a big, big worldwide SALE of Solar Cells, Fancy Wind Mills, and the like.

  61. Nuke says:

    If my memory is correct, isn’t this how the machines in The Matrix got their start?

  62. DirkH says:

    Dave Springer says:
    December 3, 2010 at 4:43 am
    “E.M.Smith says:
    December 3, 2010 at 4:14 am

    “IFF I was going to do this, I’d make it solar thermal rather than PV. Cheaper to do by far and you can still make your mirrors out of sand / glass.”

    Thankfully you’re not doing it. Solar thermal is and will continue to be hobbled by the need for heat engines to convert heat to mechanical energy and then generators to convert mechanical to electrical energy. Photovoltaic is solid state – no moving parts. Comparing the two is like comparing an abacus to an electronic calculator.”

    Dave is right. The German Club Of Rome has this Desertec initiative that wants to build solar thermal in the Sahara; Polly “Ecocide” Higgins works for them; Siemens and RWE are behind it.

    RWE builds a solar thermal plant in Spain ATM; this is intended to be a proof of concept plant for Desertec. The idea is to store heat in salt to be able to run generators at night on the stored heat as well as during the day.

    Now, they say, it is MORE expensive than the same capacity in PV – but with the experience they will gain they will be able to build the next plant 30% cheaper, and maybe then it will be able to compete with PV. The problem with this reasoning is that PV is getting cheaper all the time as well as silicon gets cheaper and companies are forced to live with reduced subsidies in Germany – it was the high level of subsidies that kept prices high.

    So both of these technologies get cheaper; solar thermal is behind on the learning curve. PV might well stay ahead. The price of silicon PV has already dropped so much that thin film PV doesn’t have much of an advantage anymore.

    All this being said, the generated PV electricity is still unable to compete with old fossil fuels and this might stay so for another 15 years.

    But whether solar thermal will ever become cheaper than PV is still an open question.

    Here’s a German article about the RWE project:

    http://www.ftd.de/unternehmen/industrie/:strom-aus-der-wueste-lernstunden-fuer-desertec/50181048.html

  63. Ralph says:

    G-d, these people annoy me.

    Do you think we can rely on Gadaffi and the Mslim Brotherhood for our future enrgy supplies? I seem to remember that R Reagan was bombing the place a few decades ago.

    Why is it that not a single idea or proposal from these Green-loons has any practical value whatsoever…?

    .

  64. dp says:

    What kind of power grid turns off every night? And where does all the power come from to keep the high temperature transmission lines cool after the the sun sets slowly in the west? Perhaps they could use wind energy as a backup twixt dusk and dawn, just to be on the safe side.

    If somebody were to desire a presentation to explain deceit and fraud this one would be an excellent choice.

  65. MikeEE says:

    It looks so easy…
    But didn’t they forgot the <and the magic happens here> step.

    What about the cost and materials necessary to keep replicating these plants? What about the environmental destruction from the toxic chemicals that will be used?

    MikeEE

  66. DesertYote says:

    Its 2010, were is my flying car. They promised me a flying car. I want my flying car!

  67. Ackos says:

    It will be the eco-kooks themselves that prevent future projects of this type from happening…that rare turtle, mouse, etc will prevent any construction

  68. Insulating the wires shouldn’t be that much of a problem. While cat fur may not have much insulation value, surely enough of it wrapped around the wires would serve the purpose. And to get that endless supply of cat fur we need only employ Heinlein’s perpetual fur farm. You start with a batch of rats and cats. You feed the rats to the cats, then skin the cats and feed the carcasses to the rats. Before long, you’ve got enough cat fur to insulate anything.

  69. oeman50 says:

    Does anyone realize that you cannot make PV cell manufacturing plants or superconducting power lines out of silcon? Electricity is not what you need to make a new plant, you need…raw materials and manufacuring equipment that will not be made in the Sahara! How, then can this be called a “breeder” project?

  70. sdollarfan says:

    Ralph says:
    December 3, 2010 at 8:29 am

    ” Why is it that not a single idea or proposal from these Green-loons has any practical value whatsoever…?”

    –because environmentalism isn’t so much a science as it is a quasi-religion or ideology.
    When one thinks in quasi-religious or ideological terms instead of practical scientific
    ones, the ideas that one might come up with when engaging in problem-solving are
    bound to be impractical and/or lacking in scientific soundness.

  71. Pull My Finger says:

    Those are quite literally the last two adjectives I would use to describe environmentalists.

    HUMBLE AND MODEST

  72. nc says:

    Any thought put into the ecology of the deserts, oh right nothing lives there, my bad.

    I am a retired power dispatcher and controlled power systems and understand the dynamics of interconnected power systems and the thought of trying to keep a system like this stable world wide blows me away. Besides all or most power from one or few sources would be a terrorists wet dream. Besides not enough power from that one source and would need backup, oh right nuclear backup, now there is a thought.

  73. Ric Werme says:

    In thepost:

    Koinuma wants to use “high-temperature” superconductors to distribute the power as direct current – more efficient than a conventional alternating current. Despite their name, high-temperature superconductors typically operate at around -240 °C, and the long power lines will require a formidable cooling system.

    The link to the -240°C goes to something about superconductive circuitry, power transmission is a different animal.

    I believe the SC transmission lines from American Superconductor only require liquid nitrogen, at 77K (about -200°C). Their market has been upgrading existing power distribution networks in urban areas where it would be extremely expensive to rip things up for new conduits, but they appear to be involved in Smart Grid and large scale wind turbine rotor windings. Hmm, degaussers big enough for naval vessels. That would be neat to see.

    The company is doing well enough to have a billion dollar order backlog.

  74. Enneagram says:

    Be very careful….the “Gore Effect” may turn those deserts into glaciers…

  75. Dave Worley says:

    Funny how a computer and some animation software can fool some folks into feeling “empowered”.

  76. Mark Wagner says:

    yeah….

    while you guys get this all worked out, i’m going out for a beer.

  77. John Peter says:

    So to get out of dependence of oil from “disliked” regimes they propose to get half of the world’s energy from – “disliked” regimes. Are these installations and transmission lines to be guarded by – The Marines to ensure uninterrupted supply?????

  78. Ric Werme says:

    c1ue says:
    December 3, 2010 at 6:53 am

    3) Solar panels require a lot more than just sand: rare earths among others. Where is this to come from?

    Which ones? I thought the dopants were things like phosphorus and other elements in columns close to silicon in the periodic table.

  79. Ric Werme says:

    Jack says:
    December 3, 2010 at 1:22 am

    > Why can’t they just be honest and call it what it really is? A perpetual motion machine.

    It’s not – perpetual motion machines can work at night.

  80. Henry chance says:

    Of course this will work. It is using other people money. Would a bank loan money for this? I hope not.

  81. Douglas DC says:

    It will work if they put a Nuke plant next door for the the times when the sun doesn’t shine.
    “Split Atoms,not Birds.”

  82. gary turner says:

    I figured I’d do a rough sanity check on this scheme.

    Average solar energy during daylight is 680W/m^2. OK, that’s a bunch. But the theoretical maximum efficiency of a silicon pv cell is 29%. Best case recovery? 192w/m^2. The integral from sunrise through solar noon to sunset is 5hrs×max output. Thus, that 1 square meter pv yields 986WHrs per day, but let’s call it a kWHr, or 365kWHr/year. Aside from total energy production, a poster above quoted somebody (sorry, I keep missing where I saw it), that a 100gW capacity was expected from the project. Do they really think they will cover 100,000kM^2 with pv cells, and produce twice the world’s output of energy?

    In 2005, world electric production totaled 18,235,102gWHr. To match that, 49,959,183,561 sq meters of pvs are needed. Call it 49,959kM^2 (about 19,515 sq. miles). But, (again with the buts) a given pv only give 5 hours worth of energy, so those pv farms are needed in a band around the world.

    The only reasonable latitudes for these farms are the Horse Latitudes, where circulation patterns cause an almost perpetual high pressure and clear, dry weather. That’s 30-35 degrees north and south. Higher latitudes suffer from a lower angle of solar incidence and inclement weather, and the tropics offer almost daily rain (rain forests ring a bell? and who’s going to let you cut down the trees for your pv farm?). The Horse Latitudes are the homes of the Arabian, Sahara, and Sonora deserts in the northern hemisphere, and the Kalahari, Atacama, and Australian deserts in the southern.

    So now we’re at 50,000 square kilometers of photo-voltaic farms without accounting for transmission, transformation, or other losses, nor have we any excess capacity to allow for units undergoing out of service maintenance. Plus we still have a problem with gaps in the schedule. As the sun crosses the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, capacity will be lost for several hours until the next farm comes into view, so to speak. It doesn’t help that the deserts align themselves fairly close longitudinally; Sonora/Atacama, Sahara/Kalahari, but not so much the Arabian/Australian deserts.

    I noticed the speaker in the video couldn’t seem to stop grinning, as if he were playing a massive joke. If he was really serious, he’s another example of one’s education exceeding his capacity for comprehension.

    cheers,

    gary

  83. Londo says:

    Did anybody learn anything from the Suez Canal crisis? Please tell me Europe has politicians that read anything beyond the popular press. If this gets financed by EU money and becomes nationalized be Algeria and Libya then its call to arms and revolution is a must.

  84. dave38 says:

    And if you believe this, here in my suitcase i have a very fine perpetual motion machine, and an elixir for converting base metals into gold.
    Any offers?

  85. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    The Sun is always shining on half the planet. Solar would be more viable if you could economically link both halves. Barring Tesla’s suggestions, you could, for example, link up South America and southern Africa by running cables across Antarctica. The local temperatures could help with the cooling of any superconductors. Likewise link North America, Europe and Asia through the Arctic. A bit more work on a worldwide electrical grid, make enough solar stations, then current from PV will be available 24/7, sourced from somewhere, and can properly be used for base load and displace Filthy Evil Fossil Fuel Burning plants.

    Then comes the massive super-volcano eruption.

  86. Wondering Aloud says:

    Paul Milligan
    you have nailed it. this is just like the how to do it sketch from Monty Python. What a waste of energized electons.

  87. R. Shearer says:

    Has anyone brought up the fact that sand is a finite resource? How long would it take to reach “Peak Sand?”

  88. JAE says:

    This project will undoubtedly get billion$ in support from the Dr. Chu and the current U.S. Dept. of Energy…

  89. Dave Andrews says:

    Do these people understand geopolitical realities? If the Sahara becomes an essential source of electricity for Europe , the supply lines will inevitably become a target for terrorist attacks or state takeover.

    To protect those supply lines will Europe recolonise Northern Africa?

    So many issues around poverty, health and welfare need to be tackled before any scheme like this could even begin to approach reality.

  90. DirkH says:

    Ric Werme says:
    December 3, 2010 at 10:30 am
    “c1ue says:
    December 3, 2010 at 6:53 am

    3) Solar panels require a lot more than just sand: rare earths among others. Where is this to come from?

    Which ones? I thought the dopants were things like phosphorus and other elements in columns close to silicon in the periodic table.”

    He’s right for First Solar’s CdTE Cadmium-Telluride thin film cells. Telluride is a rare earth.

  91. Roger Sowell says:

    They are going to need a lot of wind-breaks around those solar PV power plants. Saharan wind storms are vicious, and nothing like wind-blown sand to ruin a few billion dollars worth of PV cells.

    Then there is the wind-blown dust to contend with, setting aside the sand-blasting particles. Removing the dust regularly and gently will require some water or gentle puffs of air. Cannot use salt water because that leaves a residue of salt on the PV cells, which blocks some of the sunlight. Thus, must use fresh or distilled water – not plentiful nor cheap in the Sahara.

    Not to mention grid-scale (planetary scale?) power storage systems to allow power to flow at twilight and night.

    Good luck, gentlemen.

  92. HAS says:

    HTS transmission cable operates at just below liquid nitrogen temperature (77K) and losses are of the order of 1W/m of cable (not strongly dependent on capacity) plus 30-45W/kW/termination. HTS wire is currently an order of magnitude more expensive than Cu normalised for current carrying capacity (wire cost only), but that is variously forecast to fall to match Cu once manufacturing volumes increase.

    So if this application was a genuine goer HTS DC transmission cable is very likely to be the best transmission solution in the time frames being contemplated.

    It’s the rest of it you’d need to worry about.

  93. HAS says:

    Should have been clear in previous comment that losses refer to DC cable. HTS AC cables have additional losses and these are capacity dependent.

  94. Dan in California says:

    They will have to hurry, as the PV manufacturing industry is shifting away from silicon to vapor deposited thin films. http://www.solarbuzz.com/ Also, if the $5,000 per installed KW is real, it’s about twice the price of Tessera Stirling cycle solar power units. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-evkuwvKJ-c The first minute of the video is marketing; it gets to real hardware after that.

    PV is fine for small scale power plants that compete with retail electricity, but their need for inverters makes them uncompetitive at utility scale. Today

  95. One question: What is the Energy Returned On Energy Invested for this project?

    Anyone????

  96. Buddenbrook says:

    I think this is probably doable. In 2100. When the inhabitants of the region have become more civilized and mankind has made huge leaps technologically. In the meanwhile we have to rely on fossil and fission.

  97. Alvin says:

    I smell an IMF/Gov’t grant

  98. Ric Werme says:

    DirkH says:
    December 3, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    > He’s right for First Solar’s CdTE Cadmium-Telluride thin film cells. Telluride is a rare earth.

    According to http://periodictable.com/ (don’t go there, you may never get out), Tellurium is in the same column as oxygen, sulfur, selenium, and polonium, i.e. Group 6.

    It’s not a rare earth.

    Theodore Gray has some samples from Colorado. I’m not sure if Tellurium is named for Telluride Colorado or its the other way around.

  99. Rascal says:

    I was amazed that I read all of the comments so far, and nobody mentioned the problem that would be posed to the transmission lines by plate tectonics.

    Interestingly, I had read about 2/3 of the comments before anybody brought up the difficulty posed by sandstorms.

  100. David L. Hagen says:

    Give the guys a break and evaluate the real issues. These guys are at least working on the long term problem of what do we do after the oil and coal run out. Check out earlier studies:
    Energy from the Desert: Feasibility of Very Large Scale Photovoltaic Power Generation (VLS-PV) Systems (v. 1) [Hardcover]

    Energy From the Desert: Practical Proposals for Very Large Scale Photovoltaic Systems (v. 2) [Hardcover]
    Kosuke Kurokawa (Editor), Keiichi Komoto (Editor), Peter van der Vleuten (Editor), David Faiman (Editor)

    Cool Englishman above has the most important comment re availability of sand, and wind/sand erosion.

    Financing Concentrating Solar Power in the Middle
    East and North Africa – Subsidy or Investment?
    FRANZ TRIEB, HANS MÜLLER-STEINHAGEN, JÜRGEN KERN
    Submitted to Energy Policy on July 6, accepted on October 1, 2010

    There is a business case for Concentrating Solar Power in the Middle East and North Africa. The rather unexpected result of our model analysis shows that even a cost of CSP around 28 ct/kWh can be a least-cost option when compared to the average cost of power production of around 8 ct/kWh, which usually includes peak power at a much higher cost.

    ON PV payback,

    The fact is: Photovoltaic (PV) systems, like every other product, do need energy for manufacturing. But PV systems pay back this energy input within 1 to 3 years, depending on cell type and location. During its expected lifetime of 30 years, the PV system produces therefore 10 to 30 times the energy it originally consumed.

    Erik Alsema, Senior researcher at Utrecht University, The Netherlands

    For embodied energy for solar thermal troughs see:
    Embedded Energy Reflec-Tec

    The embodied energy of the ReflecTech®-based mirrors is attributed to the aluminum support substrate (62 MJ/m2), the ReflecTech® polymer substrate (22 MJ/m2), and the Reflec -Tech® silver layer (1 MJ/m2). The total is 85 MJ/m2.
    The embodied energy of the curved glass mirrors is attributed to the curved glass (345 MJ/m2, including the silver layer and the back-coated layers) and transportation of the mirrors to the project site (20 MJ/m2). The total is 365 MJ/m2.

    For PV systems

    a grid connected PV system (GCPVS) is able to produce back the energy required for its existence from 6 to 15 times during a life cycle of 30 years.

    Energy Payback Time of Grid Connected PV Systems: Comparison Between Tracking and Fixed Systems
    O. Perpi˜nan, E. Lorenzo, M. A. Castro, and R. Eyras
    Prog. Photovolt: Res. Appl. 2009; 17:137–147

    Be serious. All the “perpetual motion” gurus don’t appear to know what perpetual motion is. For those castigating superconducting power, has anyone considered insulation?

  101. Mark Besse says:

    I used to be concerned that a college education today is equivalent to a high school diploma from 40 years ago. I was wrong. Third grade looks to be the appropriate level.

    I give the the proposal a B+, for whatever third grade class this professor is teaching.

  102. Richard says:

    Ric Werme says:
    December 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I’m not sure if Tellurium is named for Telluride Colorado or its the other way around.

    It’s actually named after Tellus, Latin for Earth. Perhaps it is one of these rare earths we keep hearing about. :-)

  103. George E. Smith says:

    “”””” Ric Werme says:
    December 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm
    DirkH says:
    December 3, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    > He’s right for First Solar’s CdTE Cadmium-Telluride thin film cells. Telluride is a rare earth.

    According to http://periodictable.com/ (don’t go there, you may never get out), Tellurium is in the same column as oxygen, sulfur, selenium, and polonium, i.e. Group 6.

    It’s not a rare earth.

    Theodore Gray has some samples from Colorado. I’m not sure if Tellurium is named for Telluride Colorado or its the other way around. “””””

    Telluride CO is named after Tellurium, which is NOT a rare earth. Cadmium is in the same group as Zinc and Mercury, and those along with Sulphur, selenium, and Tellurium form the so-called II-VI compounds, which sort of mimic the III-V compounds of Gallium Arsenide type.

    Mercury, Cadmium, and Tellurium, are amongst the most obnoxious elements around, and a constantly found pollutant in water supplies. Tellurium has a nast consequence known as Tellurium breath that befalls those who work with it for any amount of time, like in the mines for example. You don’t have any idea what retching is all about if you have never gotten a whiff of something like Di-Ethyl Telluride.

    Silicon solar cells would likely require both Boron and Phosphorous for dopants; but the amounts needed are 3-5 orders of magnitude below the silicon amount.
    Silicon Carbide is of course a IV-IV compound like Si-Ge.

    You really wouldn’t need to wash the solar panels because the constant sand storms would grind off any camel dung that ended up on the panels.

    And of course those dark silicon surfaces are going to absorb the bulk of the solar spectrum, and thermalize most of it; so you can kiss goodby almost any albedo contribution; I imagine you would change the local weather/climate quite a bit.

  104. Sam Hall says:

    .Hey this guy is a genus. He has to be to get funding for his “research.”

  105. Roy Tucker says:

    Oh, gee! Quit goofing around. Build the dam across the Straits of Gibraltar:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantropa

  106. John says:

    Thorium anyone?

    http://www.power-technology.com/features/feature1141/

    why bother with locating a “world power plant” in the middle of the “western” middle east and the despots that control that region of the globe?

    As said earlier, PV is a not suitable, where is the Concentrated Solar Thermal mock ups? I mean if you are going to go to the trouble of building a solar power plant might as well be one that has a shot at producing a baseline of power and not just when the sun shines.

    The video says they will spend $12millon (equal to 100million yen) a year on this project, barely seems adequate doesn’t it? I mean if you look at the mock up I think I see a desal plant in there, don’t those run in the BILLIONS of dollars to build? Much less maintenance thereof.

    And there is the problem of the high temp superconductors, it is currently an immature technology, but, even if it were mature high-temperature superconductors are ceramics. They contain lanthanum, yttrium, or another of the rare-earth elements or bismuth or thallium; usually barium or strontium (both alkaline-earth elements); copper; and oxygen. So to make cables that are 1000s of miles long might run into a limit of how many conductors can be created.

    Just the same, this project will go nowhere for the ‘world’ perhaps for Africa it might help as a gestation, but, I doubt it, better to go with an energy source that is more predictable and useful (not to mention locally generated).

    Just think of Russia and its control over LNG supplies to Western Europe, never a good idea to put your energy cookies in someone else’s control.

  107. David A. Evans says:

    I think from the video that the psientists ability to avoid going to paroxysmal laughter is commendable.

    DaveE

  108. juanslayton says:

    Dirk H:
    …producing the solar cell costs as much energy as it will deliver back in 10,000 hours of peak energy production.

    Dirk, where do these figures come from? I don’t think they really pass the sniff test.
    John

  109. gary turner says:

    Re: gary turner says:
    December 3, 2010 at 11:04 am

    I felt something was wrong with my figures, and there was. Each 75° longitude would require a pv farm that would provide the full capacity. I had 1× capacity divided among all farms.

    Never mind transmission issues, sandstorms or politics. There just aren’t enough suitable locales for producing electricity from solar around the clock.

    gary

  110. CRS, Dr.P.H. says:

    This plan sounds like more fun to me!

    The laser and microwave research projects are two halves of a bold plan for a space solar power system (SSPS) under the aegis of Japan’s space agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

    Specifically, by 2030 the agency aims to put into geostationary orbit a solar-power generator that will transmit one gigawatt of energy to Earth, equivalent to the output of a large nuclear power plant.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=farming-solar-energy-in-space

  111. johanna says:

    This is a proposal which lacks a key validation tool – a used envelope, the back of which can be used to do a few rough numbers. Perhaps someone should post them one.

    Re telluride, the mining city of Broken Hill in Australia (copper, lead, zinc etc) has a Telluride Street. I think the main problem there is getting rid of it.

    Good to see some posters here who have actually been out in the desert – the proponents of this idea seem to have gained their knowledge from watching Lawrence of Arabia a few too many times.

  112. James Bull says:

    1-So for 12 + hours half the worlds lights go out.
    2-Who’s going to pay the little Spanish woman who has the rights to the Sun?

    Re level of education- at work we regularly got graduates who came in 2 categories either- they thought they knew everything and you could not tell them anything or they knew that they still had a lot to learn and would ask questions and listen to the answers.
    James.

  113. Grey Lensman says:

    Roy Tucker says:

    Quote

    Oh, gee! Quit goofing around. Build the dam across the Straits of Gibraltar:

    Unquote

    No need for a dam, just a series of stabilised hydrokinetic turbines set below the shipping depth. All current technology and manufacturing, can be done piecemeal and cheaply

  114. Dave Springer says:

    juanslayton says:
    December 3, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Dirk H:
    …producing the solar cell costs as much energy as it will deliver back in 10,000 hours of peak energy production.

    Dirk, where do these figures come from? I don’t think they really pass the sniff test.
    John

    That’s about right, actually, when everything from inverters and grid ties and installation costs are taken into account and converted from dollars to kilowatt hours at current market price. You get about 1500 peak production hours (more or less depending on location) per year. So it takes 7 years to recover capital costs. The service life of the PV installation is 20+ years. If it isn’t a grid tie system then forget it as the cost of a battery bank to store a few days worth of electricity so the lights don’t go out during cloudy weather makes it a money-losing proposition. Grid ties are the only thing that make it practical at this point in time.

    I don’t expect any great progress in electrical storage cost but I do expect the price of PV panels, inverters, and grid ties to drop significantly every year while the price electricity from the grid stays flat or rises. At some point in the near future it’s going to be stupid to not have PV installed wherever practical and as the price of the electronics drops the places where it’s economically practical will grow. It’s practical where I’m at right now and I’m feeling a bit stupid for not having done it already. I’m holding off mostly because I expect it’ll be less of a capital outlay every year I wait and in the meantime I’m investing in things that reduce how much electricity I consume without sacrificing creature comforts.

  115. Myrrh says:

    A question about a poorly remembered documentary. Is the technology of concentrating the sun’s energy to a point via curved mirrors a more efficient way of harnessing power from the sun?

  116. Dave Springer says:

    David L. Hagen says:
    December 3, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Hi David. How’re things going in the place whose name I cannot mention?

    “But PV systems pay back this energy input within 1 to 3 years, depending on cell type and location.”

    Maybe just the panels alone if purchased from a surplus source. Three years sounds about right for just the panels purchased off the shelf.

    “a grid connected PV system (GCPVS) is able to produce back the energy required for its existence from 6 to 15 times during a life cycle of 30 years.”

    Thirty years is a stretch for the service life. 25 years is nominal according to manufacturers and that might be inflated. By my calculation it’s 2-3 times over a conservative life of 20 years and I’m in a very good location except that power from the grid where I’m at is rather low for the U.S. @ $0.11/kwh with no limit on quantity. Anthony reported that he pays upwards of $0.40/kwh in California for any electricity used above a rather low lifeline amount. If electricity where I’m at cost that much I’d be crazy to NOT be producing more PV electricity than I use and putting the excess back onto the grid at a profit!

    The reimbursement rate for putting energy back onto the grid varies from place to place. Here I would get about $0.03/kwh and there’s no profit in that. There is however money to be saved by generating my own PV and in doing so avoid buying electricity off the grid at $0.11/kwh.

  117. Dave Springer says:

    Rascal says:
    December 3, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    “I was amazed that I read all of the comments so far, and nobody mentioned the problem that would be posed to the transmission lines by plate tectonics.”

    I was wondering about that too but somehow transatlantic telephone cables deal with it:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_telephone_cable

  118. Dave Springer says:

    Dan in California says:
    December 3, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    They will have to hurry, as the PV manufacturing industry is shifting away from silicon to vapor deposited thin films. http://www.solarbuzz.com/ Also, if the $5,000 per installed KW is real, it’s about twice the price of Tessera Stirling cycle solar power units. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-evkuwvKJ-c The first minute of the video is marketing; it gets to real hardware after that.

    PV is fine for small scale power plants that compete with retail electricity, but their need for inverters makes them uncompetitive at utility scale. Today

    Stirling engines are the latest fad in solar thermal. I looked into it last year. All those moving parts are a bit scary. The engines themselves wear out and so do the bushings on the generator shaft. There’s also a lot of moving parts to steer the dish to track the sun. Way too many failure points if you ask me. Here in south Texas one also has to plan for straight line winds exceeding 70mph once in a while and hail the size of golf balls. I doubt those mirrors could survive for long – if you park the dish vertically to avoid the hail stones that sets it up for maximum wind loading and the hail is always accompanied by high straight line winds.

    The other thing that works against this is that there isn’t any great room for future cost reductions – parabolic mirrors and generators and stirling motors and steel superstructures are not technologies that advance in cost/performance like solid-state electronic devices. So imagine you invest in one of these puppies expecting to be able to sell the electricity at a profit for the next 30 years but 10 years from now the price of PV electric has dropped by a factor of 4 making PV systems able to produce electricity for half the cost of solar thermal. You now own a dinosaur that can’t produce electricity for anywhere near the price of competing systems and have to shut it down and take a huge loss.

    No thanks. I think most investors are savvy enough to realize this is a likely outcome. Of course as P.T. Barnum famously said “There’s a sucker born every minute” so I expect there’ll be a flow of investment capital into Tessara so while some Tessara founders and other employees might make some money no Tessara customers will.

  119. Dave Springer says:

    @Dan in CA (continued)

    Where I wrote “no Tessara customers will (profit)” on second thought that’s not fair to say. If it works as advertised it probably makes sense for getting power in places that are remote from the grid and where stringing electrical lines to that place from the nearest grid isn’t practical. Lots of places with diesel generators accessable only by helicopter need electrical power. I’m less certain it can be made competitive with the U.S. grid otherwise without subsidy. But as I said the major risk is that it becomes outdated before it pays for itself. PV is just too good for decentralization. Compare having a big parabolic mirror in your backyard with concentrated light that can blind people and an engine operating with 1000 degree working fluids vs. laying flexible PV like roll roofing over the top of shingles with no moving parts and nothing getting hotter than roof shingles. That day is coming sooner than most people think. Inverters and grid ties won’t improve through technology as much as the panels but I reckon’ the inverter and tie can be at least be quickly halved through standardization and economy of scale but after that not so much.

  120. DirkH says:

    Dave Springer says:
    December 4, 2010 at 3:12 am
    “I was wondering about that too but somehow transatlantic telephone cables deal with it:”

    Sea cables do break and do get mended. You hear it in the news every time a part of Africa or India loses internet connectivity. Most of the times it’s ships ankors that break a cable, not earthquakes. The exact location of the cables is usually kept secret to stall sabotage attempts; so when a ship hits one it’s simply bad luck.

  121. James Barker says:

    DesertYote says:
    December 3, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Its 2010, were is my flying car. They promised me a flying car. I want my flying car!

    Here’s your flying car.

    http://www.terrafugia.com/

  122. bubbagyro says:

    James Barker says:
    December 4, 2010 at 7:45 am

    The flying platform is coming! Dick Tracy had one in 1940 that was powered by magnetism. His pal, B.O. Plenty said, “he who controls magnetism controls the universe”. Patience…

    As to rare earth elements, a little science can be dangerous! Writers here are off track with regard to use of RE elements in solar cells. True, scarce elements are used.

    Tantalum is a transition element used in some of the latest superconducting materials. Unfortunately, it is 20 times the cost of copper. The rare earths used in supercon technology, like Yttrium and others, are unbelievably expensive, so multiply again by three orders of magnitude, once the market supply would go “critical”. These elements are rate/cost limiting, and I don’t think anyone has built a transmission cable comprising these even a hundred yards long, much less hundreds of miles long.

    In the news recently, China has been cornering the market on RE and transition elements. So they would have us over a barrel anyway, were this “Sahara Speculation” to be feasible.

    I think supercon transmission will continue to have a place in computing and “small-scale” technology. I can’t see it going large scale. If this were feasible, T. Boone Pickens would not have abandoned his mega wind farm idea (I think that was a political position anyway, BTW), where the limiting problem appeared to have been identified as transmission of power from the remote location.

    Let’s see the proof of concept for just one phase of this Speculation, say transmission of power using superconduction for a windmill, for example. Please demonstrate one step at a time before piling on paradigm after paradigm.

  123. Gary Pearse says:

    Give us all a break. The hysteria is giving away to terrible flights of fancy. As some one who knows something about applications of silica (feasibility studies, etc), specifications for silica for use in mfg silicon and high quality glass are not lying there on the ground. For high quality silicon we are talking 99.9+ SiO2 with ultra low alumina, and a host of other oxides. For high quality glass – in addition to similar specs to the above (they like to add other high quality oxides in carefully measured amounts) they also must remove refractory grains like zircon which abounds in desert sands – these will not melt and will leave ‘seeds’ in the glass. I guess this is part of the crescendo of craziness that comes with collapse of CAGW.

  124. Gerry says:

    It looks so easy we just HAVE to do it…. uh, what do you mean the cells will be destroyed after a few years of sandstorms and wind erosion in the desert? Oh, that’s right it’s a HARSH CLIMATE in the desert…. sorry, nevermind!!!!!

  125. Steve in SC says:

    I don’t think any of the originators of this fancy are aware that you don’t just melt sand to get silicon. It is a very energy intensive chemical reaction done in a blast furnace.

    I also wonder how long solar pv cells and/or glass last when sand blasted.

  126. Policyguy says:

    December 3, 2010 at 2:13 am

    I’ve seen this general idea before in other contexts. Let’s suppose one had a point of generation of hydrogen and a use point that would justify building a pipeline that could move the Hydrogen from point A to B as a liquid.

    Let’s then suppose that electricity is available at point A that one might want to transport to the point B. If the electrical line were surrounded by the liquified hydrogen it could be transported for huge (thousands of miles) distances, super-cooled, with very little friction loss. Compare this to today’s practices where electricity transport has to be boosted at regularly placed transformer sites thus introducing huge energy transmission losses. These losses would be greatly minimized by the supercooling of the transport.

    At point B one would then have the benefit of the electrical energy transmitted with minimal transmission loss, and the hydrogen which would then be used for its own energy benefits (fuel cells etc.).

    Granted, major engineering and cost obstacles, but under the right circumstances, who knows.

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