Capture the Sun & Power America With Solar – Is There a Business Case?

black_solar_cellGuest essay by Philip Dowd

Whenever the subject of renewable energy comes up, the conversation usually turns to solar. You hear statements like: “The world receives more energy from the sun in one hour than the global economy uses in one year.”[a] You then ask yourself; “Why can’t we just capture the energy from the sun and solve our energy problem that way?” Why not, indeed?

Let’s suppose that we convert the entire American economy to “all-electric”, and we produce all of the electricity to power it from a solar facility. In other words, we stop burning carbon and capture the sun. What would this solar plant look like? How much would it cost? We can get a ballpark answer to both of these questions with a few assumptions and some simple calculations.

First we need to know how much electricity our solar power plant must generate. An analysis from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory[b] divides the US economy into four sectors – Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Transportation.

image

Total demand for energy from these sectors (in the box) is about 70 quadrillion BTU’s (or “quads”) per year. So, our solar power plant must reliably deliver the electric energy equivalent of 70 quads to run the US economy for one year, or 56*1012 Wh (56 Terawatt hours) of electricity per day[c].

Our solar facility would consist of a photovoltaic (PV) panel and a battery. (There are other forms of solar power, but PV is good for this purpose.) The PV panel would generate enough electricity during the day to power the economy and charge the battery, and the battery would power the economy at night. Our task is to calculate:

1. The size of the PV panel

2. The size of the battery

3. The cost of the whole thing.

The Photovoltaic Panel

Let’s assume the following:

1. The PV panel would be spread out in the Southwestern states, because that is the sunniest place in America[d].

2. We build in a 50% safety factor to handle any contingency

If we start with demand of 56 Terawatt hours of electricity per day and add a 50% safety factor, we find that we will then need a system that can produce about 83 TWh/day[e].

The easiest way to estimate the footprint of a solar facility of this size is to look at the operating experience of existing solar power plants. Here are several examples [f].

Facility Location Electricity Output/sq meter

Nellis Nevada 150 Wh/day

Beneixama Spain 160

Serpa Portugal 90

Solarpark Mühlhausen Bavaria 68

Kagoshima Nanatsujima Japan 170

The sample shows that actual output is in the 70-170 Wh/day per square meter range. If we assume 150 Wh/day-sq m for our power plant, then its foot print would be about 210,000 sq mi[g].

The Battery

For the battery we will use technology known as “Pumped Storage”[h].

This method stores energy in the form of potential energy of water, pumped from a lower elevation reservoir to a higher elevation reservoir. In our example, electric power from our solar facility produced during the day would be used to run the pumps and fill the upper reservoir. Then, at night, the stored water would be released through turbines to produce the electricity that would run the night time economy.

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This is proven technology. “Pumped storage hydro (PSH) is the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage available. As of March 2012, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) reports that PSH accounts for more than 99% of bulk electric energy storage capacity worldwide, representing around 127,000 MW”h. There are about 50 pumped storage plants with more than 1,000 MW of capacity in operation around the world[i] .

In 2009 the United States had 21,500 MW of pumped storage generating capacity[j]. Many of these plants were built during the 1970’s and have therefore been operating for more than 30 years.

Two good examples of pumped hydro electric energy storage in the U.S. are:

1. The facility at Ludington, Michigan[k] is built on a bluff overlooking the east shore of

Lake Michigan. It was constructed in 1969-73.

2. The Bath County facility[l] is located in the northern corner of Bath County, Virginia, on the southeast side of the Eastern Continental Divide, which forms this section of the border between Virginia and West Virginia. It was constructed in 1977-85 and is currently the largest pumped storage facility in the world.

Here are the relevant specifications (from this spreadsheet[m] ):

Capacity Capital Cost Stored Energy Footprint

(MW) ($2014/W)[n] (GWh)[o] (Acres)

Ludington, MI 1,872 0.98 25.5 1,000

Bath County, VA 3,000 1.40 43.0 820

For the purposes of this anlysis, we assumed that the night time energy demand would be about half of the daily demand, or 41 TWh. If we fulfilled this requirement with pumped storage, we would need about 1,000 facilities like Bath County , VA, or about 1,640 like Ludington, MI[p] .

If we assume the average footprint of these facilities to be 1,000 acres, the total footprint would be about 2,600 sq mi[q] for the Ludington option and 1,300 sq mi[r] for the Bath County option.

Note that for the sake of simplicity this analysis does not include a factor for energy losses during the charge/discharge cycle. Overall, the pumping/generating cycle efficiency has increased pump-turbine generator efficiency by as much as 5% in the last 25 years, resulting in energy conversion or cycle efficiencies greater than 80% (MWH, 2009)[s]. Including this factor does not materially change the result.

What Would It Cost?

Assuming today’s technology and today’s costs, this power system would cost about $65 trillion to build.

The PV Panel

Utility-sector PV systems larger than 2,000 kW in size averaged $3.40/W of capacity in 2011[t]. The capacity of a solar power plant that could generate the required 83 TWh/day of electricity would be about 17 TW[u]. The installed cost of our facility would therefore be $3.40/W times 17 TW or about $60 trillion.

The Battery

If we use the actual construction costs of the two PSH projects above, the Bath County option would cost a total of about $5 trillion and the Ludington option would cost about $3.5 trillion[v].

A few comments

1) Putting the PV power facility in the Southwest makes sense from a solar energy point of view because this is the sunniest part of America. But, this strategy has two problems:

a. The Southwest, defined as southern CA + the southern tip of NV around Las Vegas + NM + the panhandles of TX and OK, constitutes about 400,000 sq mi[w]. Our facility would therefore cover about 50% of it!

b. If a major storm covered most (or worse, all) of this, electrical output would drop dramatically and the whole country would suffer.

2) Putting our PV power plant in the “Southern states”, defined as southern CA + southern tip of NV around Las Vegas + all of NM + all states east to the Atlantic Ocean, alleviates the storm risk scenario but puts much of the panel in states that are not as “sunny” as the Southwest, and so our PV power facility would have to be larger to account for that. Even without this expansion it would occupy about 22% of it[x].

3) Some people would say that much of the land in these states is “empty”; but others would say that it is wilderness or grazing land or farm land. It’s safe to say that either the Southwest or the Southern States strategy would provoke some real push-back.

4) PV Panels on houses. There are about 89 million houses in the US[y]. If the owners of every one of them installed 1,000 sq ft (e.g 20 ft by 50 ft) of PV panel on their roof, the total area would be about 3,200 sq mi., a small percentage of the needed area.

Additional Construction Costs

Building the solar power plant is not the only cost of capturing the sun.

1) Electrifying the economy. We simply assumed at the beginning that the entire economy has been “electrified”, so that all energy is now supplied in the form of electricity, but this in itself would be an enormous project. By far the largest part of this would involve the electrification of the transport sector. The chart above shows that transportation is the largest user of energy (38%) and that almost all of it comes in the form of petroleum. Electrifying this sector would mean abandoning the internal combustion engine and converting to electricity all cars, buses, trucks (especially tractor-trailers), ships, and the entire railroad network.

2) Re-building and expanding the entire national electrical grid. Today power plants are located close to the user. Major cities, e.g. Chicago, are surrounded by a network of power plants[z]. Our new solar system, however, would locate the power plants where the sun shines the most. So, in theory, much of it would be located in the Southwest, which is the sunniest part of America. This means that the solar-based grid would be much larger than present because it must transport electricity much larger distances, for example, from Arizona to New Jersey.

3) Developing a computer network to control the whole system, the so-called “smart grid”. The solar grid must be able to react to changes in the weather. Suppose we adopt the Southern States strategy. Further suppose that on Monday the Southwest is clear and the Southeast is cloudy. On that day huge amounts of electricity must move generally west to east. Then suppose that on Tuesday the Southwest is cloudy and the Southeast is clear. On that day huge amounts of the electricity must move generally east to west. This will be happening every day as weather systems move across America. The grid and control systems to handle this do not, today, exist.

Compare the “Solarization” of America With Other “Mega-Projects”

America is certainly capable of successfully sustaining large projects over long periods of time that require solutions to major engineering problems. Three examples are:

1. The Manhattan Project. The project to build the first atomic bomb spanned 1942-1946 and cost about $26 billion in 2014 dollars[aa].

2. Project Apollo. The project to put the first man on the moon spanned 1961-1972 and cost about $130 billion in 2014 dollars[bb].

3. The Interstate Highway System. This project was authorized in 1956 and was completed in 1991, 35 years later, at a cost of about $500 billion in 2014 dollars[cc].

These are three very successful projects. What were the keys to their success?[dd]

1. A perceived threat or reward that leads to public acceptance. The Manhattan project and Apollo project were both responses to perceived threats, which compelled policymaker support for these initiatives. The interstate highway system was perceived as an enormous jobs program that would also produce a big jump in economic productivity.

2. A clear goal. Each project had a clear goal – build the bomb, put a man on the moon by end of 1969, build the interstate highway system.

3. Government money that ensures success. All three projects were funded by government. For example, the Manhattan Project consumed about 1% of the federal budget during its life, and Project Apollo consumed about 2% during its life.

How does our solar project score on these three success factors?

1. Perceived threat or reward. Climate change and/or exhaustion of fossil fuels. But, does the American public buy in to this? Recent polls suggest that it does not.

2. A clear goal. Electrify the US economy and generate the electricity with a solar-based system. But, whereas the interstate highway system (for example) generated huge benefits to Americans, it is not clear if there are any near-term benefits from, for example, converting transportation from carbon to solar-produced electricity.

3. Government money to ensure success. The government’s role in all three projects was to provide the funding. But, given the public’s lack of support, the huge amounts of money required, and the fiscal shape in which governments at all levels find themselves, governments today are in no position to fund this entire project.

What To Do?

In order to adopt solar power on a large scale today we must confront four problems associated with the technology.

1. The sun is a relatively low density energy source. Even in a sunny place like Arizona, it delivers only about 200 W/sq m over an average day[ee].

2. Today’s PV panels are inefficient at converting this energy to electricity. A typical low-cost PV panel will convert only 15-20% of the sun’s energy to electricity.

3. Intermittency. The sun shines for only about half of the 24 hour day, and is often obscured by clouds.

4. Cost. The construction cost of a solar PV facility is about $3.50/W vs about $1.00/W for a gas-fired power plant[ff]. Furthermore, whereas a gas-fired plant produces electricity 24/7 rain or shine, a solar plant produces electricity only during the daylight hours.

The efficiency of PV panels continues to improve, and panels with 20% efficiency are coming onto the market[gg], but the theoretical limit of the PV technology in use today is 31%[hh], and getting there has been agonizingly slow. More research is required to improve the efficiency of PV panels and any other technology that converts the sun’s energy to electricity.

The sun’s intermittency issue requires development of grid scale electricity storage systems that are sufficient (in this example) to power the entire economy during the night. Many new technologies are currently under development. As with PV panel efficiency, more research is required to develop these new technologies for electricity storage.

The capital cost of PV power plants is falling as the cost of PV panels drops. Today, PV panels cost about $.74/W, one one-hundredth of the cost in 1977[ii]! But the PV panel is only one component of the total cost of a complete solar power plant. The so-called “non-module” costs, e.g. inverters, mounting hardware, labor, permitting and fees, overhead, taxes, installer profit, etc, now make up at least two thirds of the total installed cost[jj]. Further reductions in total cost will require significant reductions in non-module costs. The total cost of a PV power plant today is still about four times the cost of a gas-fired equivalent, and it generates electricity for only half the day.

Finally, as with any energy plan, we must continue to work on energy efficiency. The chart above shows that of the 70 quads of energy supplied to the economy, about 47%[kk] of them are “rejected”, i.e. lost. Improving energy efficiency (BTU/$ GDP) is a must, regardless of the way forward.

A Final Comment

The intent of this exercise is to arrive at a ballpark estimate of what it would take to stop burning carbon and “Capture the Sun”. There is obviously a large margin of error, plus or minus, in all of it. One thing is certain. Eventually we homo sapiens will consume all of the planet’s supply of carbon. Long before that time we must develop an alternative to burning that carbon.

It’s a good bet that solar will eventually be a major part of our energy equation. The good news about the sun is that it is:

1. For all practical purposes an inexhaustible source of energy.

2. Free.

3. Available to everyone. No country can seize control of the sun and deny it to others.

But, it is also true that solar power today supplies only about two tenths of one percent of the energy to run the U.S. economyb. It is easy to see why when we compare the economics of solar with other options. In the exercise above I estimate the cost of building a system to power today’s economy with energy from the sun at about $65 trillion. Doing the same thing with gas-fired technology would cost about $4 trillion[ll], about 6% of the cost of solar.

Remember that this whole exercise has used today’s technology and today’s costs. Both of these should improve over time, but until they do the business case for a major push into solar does not look good.


 

REFERENCES:


[a] ”Solar Energy, A New Day Dawning?”, Nature 443, 19-22 (7 September 2006) doi:10.1038/443019a; Published online 6 September 2006

[b] Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – https://missions.llnl.gov/energy/analysis/energy-informatics

[c] 70 x 1015 BTU/yr = 1.9 x 1014 BTU/day = 56 x 1012 Wh/day = 56 TWh/day

[d] http://www.currentresults.com/Weather/US/average-annual-state-sunshine.php

[e] PV Panel Capacity

Desired output = 56 TWh/day

50% safety factor raises this to 83 TWh/day

[f] Power Plant Footprint

Nellis Powerplant (Nevada) = 30 GWh/yr on 140 acres = 150 Wh/day per sq meter, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nellis_Solar_Power_Plant

Beneixama (Spain) = 30 GWh/yr on 500,000 sq m = 160 Wh/day per sq meter, http://www.solarserver.com/solarmagazin/solar-report_0109_e.html

Serpa (Portugal) = 20 GWh/yr on 600,000 sq m = 90 Wh/day per sq meter, http://www.withouthotair.com/c6/page_48.shtml p48

Solarpark Mühlhausen (Bavaria) = 17,000 kWh/day on 25 hectacre = 68 Wh/day per sq meter, http://www.withouthotair.com/c6/page_48.shtml p41

Kagoshima Nanatsujima (Japan) = 22,000 households @ 3,600 kWh/household on 1.3 million sq m = 170 Wh/day-sq m http://global.kyocera.com/news/2013/1101_nnms.html

[g] Required output = 83 TWh/day so this divided by 150 Wh/day-sq m = 210,000 sq mi

[h] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricity

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pumped-storage_hydroelectric_power_stations

[j] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroelectric_power_in_the_United_States#Pumped_storage

[k] http://www.consumersenergy.com/content.aspx?id=6985

Ludington Pumped Storage Plant, Ludington, MI

[l] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_County_Pumped_Storage_Station

[m] Some examples of pumped storage facilities. All can be found in Wikipedia:

[n] The equation here is Capital Cost at time of construction x adjustment for inflation ÷ Capacity

For Bath = $1,600 mil x 2.6 ÷ 3,000 MW = $1.38 /W (inflation adjustment is for the period 1981 – 2014)

For Ludington = $315 mil x 5.8 ÷ 1,872 MW = $0.98 /W (inflation adjustment is for the period 1971 – 2014)

For inflation adjustment use this site: http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/

[o] The equation here is Capacity x Time to Empty Upper Reservoir

For Bath = 3,000 MW x 14.3 hours = 43.0 GWh

For Ludington = 1,872 MW x 13.6 hours = 25.5 GWh

[p] The equation here is Demand ÷ Stored Energy

For Bath = 41 TWh ÷ 43.0 GWh = 953 or about 1,000 “Bath-like” facilities

[q] 1,640 x 1,000 acres x 0.0016 sq mi/acre = 2,600 sq mi

[r] 1,000 x 820 acres x 0.0016 sq mi/acre = 1,300 sq mi

[s] http://www.hydro.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/NHA_PumpedStorage_071212b1.pdf

[t] http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2012/11/27/the-installed-price-of-solar-photovoltaic-systems-in-the-u-s-continues-to-decline-at-a-rapid-pace/

Original Source is: Tracking the Sun, an annual PV cost-tracking report produced by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)

[u] http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/tech_cap_factor.html

According to this chart, the capacity factor for solar power plants installed so far in the U.S. is about 20%. Therefore, the Capacity of a solar plant to power America would be = electricity demand/day ÷ 24 hrs/day ÷ 20% capacity factor

= 83 TWh/day ÷ 24 h/day ÷ 0.2 = 17 TW

[v] Capacity of pumped storage = night time demand ÷ 12 hrs = 41 TWh ÷ 12 h = 3.4 TW

Capital cost for Bath = $1.40/W, so Bath option CapEx = 3.4 TW x $1.40 ≈ $4.8 trillion

Capital cost for Ludington = $0.98/W, so Ludington option CapEx = 3.4 TW x $0.98 ≈ $3.3 trillion

[w] An estimate from Google Maps

[x] NV+AZ+NM+TX+OK+LA+MS+AL+GA+SC+FL ≈ 1 million sq mi according to Wikipedia

[y] US Census Bureau http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr11-20.pdf

[z] http://www.eia.gov/state/maps.cfm

[aa] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Project

[bb] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Apollo#Program_cost

[cc] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System

[dd] Analysis in this section is based on this article by Deborah D. Stine, PhD, now at Carnegie Mellon University: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34645.pdf

[ee] MacKay, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, p46

[ff] U.S. Energy Information Administration, Updated Capital Cost Estimates for Utility Scale Electricity Generating Plants”, April 12, 2013, http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/capitalcost/, Table 1

[gg] http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/20/idUS110444863620110620

[hh] Shockley-Queisser limit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shockley%E2%80%93Queisser_limit

[ii] http://www.economist.com/news/21566414-alternative-energy-will-no-longer-be-alternative-sunny-uplands

[jj] http://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/LBNL-5919e.pdf, graph on p14

[kk] From the chart on page 1:

Total energy to drive the U.S. economy (in the box) = 69.5 quads

Total energy input = total energy output

Total energy output = rejected energy + energy services = 32.5 quads + 37.0 quads

Therefore rejected energy = 32.5 / 69.5 = 46.8%

[ll] 83 TWh/day required to run the economy

Assume the capacity factor for these gas-fired plants = 90%

Then capacity = 83 ÷ 24 ÷ 0.9 = 3.8 TW

Cost to build = 3.8 TW x $1/W ≈ $ 4 trillion

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269 thoughts on “Capture the Sun & Power America With Solar – Is There a Business Case?

  1. Household heating is included in the electrification for your workings. If a new build house is well designed, then the combination of south facing windows and high levels of insulation can provide most of the heating that a property requires. This can be done without all the drawbacks that you report and should be cost neutral.

  2. In the article ‘A few comments’ it says “The Southwest, defined as southern CA + the southern tip of NV around Las Vegas + NM + the panhandles of TX and OK, constitutes about 400,000 sq mi[w].”
    Arizona would probably be happy to avoid being papered with solar panels, but should be legitimately included in the definition of ‘The Southwest’. (I know a few French fellows who seem to believe parts of Arizona are in Texas. Looks all the same from there.)

    Otherwise, even with ballpark numbers, it is really useful to understand the size of the ballpark we are talking about. Thanks for the effort.

  3. Very good breakdown! Thanks!
    Here in Germany the solar+wind subsidy fee slapped on to the price of a kWh has driven up electricity prices so much that it starts to become interesting to run a solar panel not even to harvest subsidies but simply to reduce one’s own bill – as a kind of escape from Big government’s price fixing!

  4. Although just touched upon, the cost would include the opportunity cost of closing down existing power stations and scrapping everything not running on electricity.
    To do so would be a true war on the economy.
    Every truck,bus car, heater and power station would go.
    This dollar amount would be added to the total cost of implementation.

  5. This is done every day and has been for Billions of years. Photosynthesis.
    Plants grow and over time are converted into coal or oil or gas. Use those!!!!

    CO2 is not the problem politicians and greens are.

  6. The battery concept should not only look at the surface area needed, but also the height and water depth requirements. You need to find the significantly elevated area you can flood to the needed depth by building a realistically small dam. My understanding was this type of location was both not common and increasingly being protected by environmental groups.

  7. Three other things:
    1) Transmission – how do you get the electricity from Arizona to Bangor, Maine?
    2) Back up Natural Gas Units. All intermittent power needs to be back up units.
    3) Environmental impact costs associated with the projects.

  8. Thanks for this post!

    This analysis highlights the utter futility of “going solar”. The costs you mention are only part of the costs. For example, what is the “cost” of losing a major part of the country because it is covered in solar cells? What is the “cost” of trying to build all those “batteries” all over the nation? Water and land is a scarce resource you know.

    Knowledgeable economists (not fools who write for the NYT) always tell you to look beyond the easily seen and apparent costs and root out the “unseen” consequences of your proposed actions. The “unseen” in this scenario would overwhelm even the outrageous Trillions that you calculate for the project. (and has any government project ever come in on budget?)

  9. A large chunk of the energy requirement is to heat stuff up. Solar heat collectors are around 90% efficient these days. This would alter the equation somewhat significantly. e.g. reduce the land area by 4x. Interesting exercise tho’. I also think the 50% reduction or change for night time energy use is not a good guestimate – I would think energy use at night, for approx 8 hrs would be a tenth or even less than the daytime use. thanx

  10. @ bloke – And it would take 200+, if ever, years to convert the existing house inventory to passive house design. Good thought, but will never be a player for a long time.
    I am planning a rural home and have looked at the heating options in depth. With reliability and cost in mind, I keep coming back to propane and wood for heat, with a passive, super insulated house design. Nat gas is not available. Solar cells just don’t make the grade in my list of must have’s for power supply.

  11. ”its foot print would be about 210,000 sq mi”

    For perspective: assuming every house in America (~130 million) installed 1000 sq. ft. of solar panels that would come to a total of only 4,663 sq. mi. (0.0002% of 210,000 sq. mi.).

  12. The only really good way to do solar is space based. Transmission back to earth is certainly a problem, but it’s really the only good way to collect solar.

  13. Something else to consider, that I don’t often see addressed: using that much land for solar electriciay production precludes its use for something else, like agriculture, or wildlife habitat. The environmental effects of such a plan are enormous and certainly beyond acceptable by several orders of magnitude. There are also unavoidable effects from transferring huge amounts of energy from one place (where it used to be used to be part of nature) to somewhere else.

    There is no free lunch.

    -BillR

  14. “johnmarshall says:
    July 31, 2014 at 4:20 am
    This is done every day and has been for Billions of years. Photosynthesis.
    Plants grow and over time are converted into coal or oil or gas. Use those!!!!”

    And as we all notice l, iving, plants are not very active- they don’t swing their limbs to whack animals that are trying to eat them- the plants don’t have enough energy.

  15. Sorry Mr. Dodd Your described system does not work. You need 56 TWh/day electricity plus 41 TWh/day to charge Your battery system, makes 97 Twh/day but Your capacity is only 83 TWh/day. So you can not deliver enough electricty to the consumers and charge the batteries.

  16. DirkH says:
    July 31, 2014 at 4:19 am

    it starts to become interesting to run a solar panel not even to harvest subsidies but simply to reduce one’s own bill – as a kind of escape from Big government’s price fixing!

    I think this is exactly why they do it, to convert a large portion of the population to “wanting” to pay for a solar system for their home.

  17. The obvious alternative power source is nuclear. For those who think solar and wind are the only
    inexhaustible power sources, consider nuclear to be inexhaustible as well. This is due to the coming commercialization of fast neutron reactors and the ability to extract uranium from the oceans at lower costs. And practically every nation has access to the ocean, so no one could ever control this resource. These fast reactors can extract the vast majority of energy from uranium , not just the one or two percent that current reactors consume. Just the nuclear wastes we now have can provide all of the electricity we currently consume for a 1000 years.
    The above analysis requires approximately 2300 gigawatts of capacity. Approximately 1800 nuclear plants of current design size could produce this amount of power and cost roughly $10 trillion dollars. Of course, 100 of these nuclear plants are already in operation. If 9/10th of a cent per kWhr of power produced by a nuclear plant were paid to the govt, the plant could repay the cost of is construction (roughly $5.5 bilion) within its nominal 60 year lifspan. Building this number of plants would reduce build costs significantly, although I wouldn’t guess how much.
    Current and future nuclear plant designs will also allow for load following (especially small moduar reactors) which, when coupled with some degree of pumped storage, would virtually eliminate the need for low carbon peak generators beyond hydro. It’s also true that solar panels have a useful lifespan of only several decades before needing to be replaced, whereas nuclear plants now being built are guaranteed to have a lifespan of at least 60 years, probaby closer to 80 years, during which time solar panels would have to be replaced probably 4 times. Not counting the cooling reservoir, the physical footprint for a Westinghouse AP1000 plant is roughly 50 acres.

  18. I’m fairly confident that the future will be dominated by a source that works the same way as solar, and that’s fusion (of course the sun is powered by fusion). The problem is that practical fusion power has been 30 years in the future – for the last 50 years. But great progress is being made.
    Very likely we will see large-scale fusion generation towards the end of the century. By then the idea of solar or wind power will be just a bad joke. Fusion will give us abundant, clean, reliable and cheap energy, most of which renewables can never give us.
    Chris

  19. A couple of thoughts on solar:

    Oil and gas manages to circumvent the problem of low solar energy input by stretching out time (T) in the way it captures and stores solar energy-it captures solar energy in chemical bonds over long periods of time assisted by organic processes and then crustal tectonic processes; this is largely why the relative energy output is much higher than normal solar. For solar to be effective something similar must occur, otherwise the amount of energy captured per unit of space and time is just far too low.

    Possible very speculative breakthroughs:
    1) a biochemical/organic reaction which proceeds alongside solar energy input, and adds to the overall effect. This sort of thing is not unknown in nature. Oil and gas itself is initially formed by organic photosynthesis driven by solar, prior to subsequent energy pathways.
    2) Some kind of time dilation/circumvention in the way the energy is captured and stored, the same sort of way oil and gas captures and stores solar energy but over long periods of time compared to when it is used.
    3) Some kind of space dilation/circumvention in the way energy is captured and stored, to increase energy per unit of space, this is the basic idea behind concentrated solar.
    4) A rare chemical input reaction such as occurs associated with certain types of spontaneous nuclear breakdown, which proceeds when specific certain conditions are reached; i.e. some kind of weak thermonuclear reaction which proceeds under solar input. These sort of reactions are known to exist but only in very rare laboratory conditions. None are known to be commercially viable at present, but it isn’t impossible that some kind of weak nuclear energy source/spontaneous reaction can be found which can also be utilised.

    Another conceptual example of an unusual but very weak energy source (and not nuclear ) is where phosphorous glows-this is where electrons are giving out light whilst jumping down to a lower energy shell/level, this energy is very weak, but so is gravity distortion such as on Mercury due to the effects of relativity, the possibility exists that such a phenomenon can be utilised in certain very specific conditions to produce much larger amounts of controlled energy. Nobody thought that glowing light and gamma rays from thorium and uranium were related to an energy source that under specific conditions could be used to produce an astonishing amount of energy in a chain reaction such as in an A bomb.

    I’m an optimist, and believe that there may be sources/methods of utilising energy which are not yet known which can be game changers. But these would have to be very much outside the box, otherwise they would already be here.

  20. Assuming this crackpot scheme was ever put into practice, have their been any calculations of how it would affect the weather? Surely if you are taking 25% of the solar energy out of the climate circulation that’s going to do something to the local and regional climates??

  21. Thorium is the big one. China, India and others are getting into it big time and will be streets ahead of everyone with energy production. Then people will be asking just who is forcing the energy market to be the way it is.

  22. If the transmission lines run thousands of miles, then transmission loss will be huge. That is one of the main reason power stations are distributed. The system would have to be distributed into at least 4 or 5 areas to avoid losing 30-40% of the power to transmission line loss. Far better idea is to develop things like Thorium power and better designed conventional nuclear.

  23. The sun is a relatively low density energy source. Even in a sunny place like Arizona, it delivers only about 200 W/sq m over an average day

    Yes.
    All energy comes from the Sun (except a bit of geothermal and the nuclear power, of course).
    To be economic it has to be concentrated; channelled by river valleys, compressed underground for thousands of years or just very close to where it is needed.

    The capture of energy is like hunter-gathering. You both go to the waterhole and get the good stuff or you set traps all over the place.
    Renewables (except hot-springs, rivers and estuaries) are traps set everywhere.
    • But they need to be built to for getting the goodies (the costs of being everywhere).
    • But they need to be travelled to maintenance (the costs of being everywhere).
    • They may not get any energy (they aren’t aimed)
    • They cost resources to make everywhere (they aren’t aimed)
    So, maybe if we get a step change in technology… maybe circling the Sun with a Dyson Sphere… maybe then. But not now.

  24. The usual safety factor in large electric power generation systems was 20% before deregulation. After deregulation it was reduced to about 10%. Are you making it 50% to allow for clouds etc.?

  25. As noted above, you failed to look at the issue of energy transmission. This is not surprising — it is the brachiosaurus in the room where all of the other issues are “just money”. The brachiosaurus busts the room altogether, at least so far.

    The practical limit on the distance we can transmit electrical power is around 300 miles. This isn’t a “sharp” limit — it is just that the fraction of the generated electrical power being burned in the transmission lines increases as one makes the runs longer (especially to a high-draw locale) until you are spending more to heat the transmission line than you are to provide power to businesses and houses. Limiting transmission line distances to 100 miles is better than 200 is better than 300 and 400 is just too much.

    This limit is not particularly scalable. We already transmit at roughly 1 to 1.5 million volts. In order to manage this, we have to build giant transmission towers — each one 50 to 100 meters high — festooned with arms at the end of which dangle meter-long ceramic insulators, all to keep the thick, hollow, primary conductors far enough away from a path to ground that they don’t arc over to it in a rainstorm and blow the grid in a burst of magnificent human-generated lightning. To stretch (say) 350 miles to 3500 — to get electrical power from California to Maine — we would need to go to (say) 15 million volts, towers several hundred meters high, and ten meter long insulators, and because of nonlinearities galore, it isn’t clear that even that would work.

    I haven’t studied this in complete detail (this is all riffing off of the top of my head based on the fact that I teach the physics of all of the above and have done a bit of research on the issue) but I suspect that there are already deal-killing nonlinearities preventing lines any longer from being built. For example, the transformer that produces the million volt secondary has to be isolated from grounds just as completely as the transmission line — this is accomplished with oils that have a higher dielectric breakdown than air and careful engineering. Can this engineering be scaled by another factor of 10? Maybe, but I doubt it.

    Or, consider that each power line generates what is called an “image” in the conducting ground underneath. Basically, the line acts like an antenna and couples to “receivers” like the ground so that one doesn’t JUST heat the transmission line, one heats the ground, one radiates power away in the form of radio energy. The wavelength at 60 Hz is enough longer than 100 miles that it isn’t a “great” antenna. However, the wire becomes a quarter wave antenna at around 1250 kilometers, and a half wave antenna at 2500 kilometers. The radiation resistance goes up, and a significant fraction of the energy is literally radiated away into space. How significant? I’d have to do the whole computation but it isn’t safe to assume that it is negligible as the length scales up, or that the ground coupling remains acceptable as the length (and transmission voltage) are scaled up.

    A last factor is this — if you build 3500 mile loops across the Earth’s surface, the next time there is a significant CME — coronal mass ejection — event, a solar flare directed at the Earth, it could and very likely would blow the entire, expensive, mission critical grid in a single instant of truly massive overvoltage. We already blow parts of the much smaller grid when a big CME makes a direct hit. A direct hit with a truly continent spanning fully coupled delivery system would instantly return us to the dark (pre-electric) ages for months or years. A single, undiversified, spatially coherent generation system becomes vulnerable to all sorts of ills — this is just one of them. What if Yellowstone thinks about becoming active and covers the southwest with clouds of ash? Dark age, again. If it were winter, Maine would simply die if they’d come to rely on Arizona electricity and it went away for the next century.

    In my (moderately well informed) opinion, solar can only become a viable single source of electricity if/when we can transmit electrical power not 3000 miles but at least 10,000 miles, with even less loss than we currently experience at 300, and in such a way that CMEs are not a civilization-killing risk. Practically speaking, the only physics I know of that MIGHT support this is the development of high-current high-temperature superconductors, implemented as continent-spanning underground waveguides or low-voltage (or even DC) transmission lines. And note that this isn’t really physics, it is science fiction. If we could do this, we already would be as the payoff would be enormous. If we built a heavily redundant, EMP/CME proof 10,000+ mile grid, we wouldn’t locate all of the solar plants in one place, we’d build them all over the southern temperate zone and the dry/desert parts of the tropics, and if we could stretch the lines out to 20,000 miles we wouldn’t need storage, we’d just run on the Sahara at night (for example).

    This isn’t a matter of money. It isn’t clear that we can sanely transmit electricity 3500 miles for any amount of money, at least using the technology of the existing grid, let alone the 10 to 20,000 miles we really need to be able to transmit it to make solar a viable single source. Assertions to the contrary involve science fiction assumptions or non-existent engineering that are blithely skimmed over in any sort of public debate on the issue.

    Solar does make a good deal of sense on individual rooftops, where in many parts of the country or world it is already a break-even to win-a-bit proposition compared to buying power from the existing heat-generation grid, a household at a time. When the surplus is sold back into the grid, it ekes out fossil fuel supplies and over time could drop the cost of electricity in general. Although it is still science fiction as well, a much more believable breakthrough in local storage technology could even make many homes semi-self-sufficient, especially if we use efficient technologies in those homes for e.g. lighting, cooling, heating. And what individual homes can do at break even, individual power companies can do locally at win-a-bit, and they are doing it — local solar grids are going up everywhere driven not by law or policy per se, but because power companies can make money from the grids in saved fuel and the ability to scale up daytime power to business without building expensive new heat generation plants.

    Solar won’t need a massive national project to implement in this way. As solar PV cell costs continue (we might hope) to drop, and we get some economies of scale on the rest of the PV solar hardware and perhaps some modest, believable, bumps from supporting technology and engineering based on existing physics, it will simply become cheaper to build houses with their own PV array on the roof as standard practice, amortize the cost into the mortgage, and drop the cost of electricity to the owner from $200+/month for power purchased from the grid to $100 in their mortgage. Power companies will similarly find it much cheaper to build large local grids within their existing distribution range and throttle down their coal-burning plants during sunny days. It won’t be much use in Maine, but south of the Mason-Dixon line it is likely to be a win almost everywhere if installed solar halves in price, a big win if it halves again.

    Which is as it should be. People will look out for their own best interest. If solar is in their own best interest from a purely economic point of view, why WOULDN’T they implement it? I’ve been seriously considering it because — even without subsidy — it is very close to break even on a 15 year amortization. That is just a hair too long, and the capital outlay is a hair too large, and long term solar cell reliability and accountability (using Chinese cells) is a hair too uncertain, so I haven’t bit the bullet, but it’s not like the investment is insanely out of line with the substantial investment already required for high efficiency air conditioning and heating systems, which have similar amortization of cost vs savings. My interest is also the interest of my power company and they get much better economies of scale — so even before I do it myself at home, it isn’t unlikely that they’ll cover a square kilometer or two with solar cells so that they can sell me 10 year amortized electricity at a lower price and still make a profit from it. No need for a “strategic” national policy or investment in anything but science, research and development, and perhaps pilot proof-of-concept projects to demonstrate cost-efficiency and scalability.

    rgb

  26. Putting it in perspective, at 210,000 sq mi, the solar array would need to cover most of Arizona and New Mexico, and at 2600 sq mi, the storage lake would need to cover an area about the size of Delaware.

    Then we have to consider the impacts of the changes in albedo of the surface.

  27. I noticed one giant issue with the analysis. There was no accounting for the relative difference in efficiencies between internal combustion engine transportation and electric transportation. The bulk of the “transportation” block above is going to be from typical internal combustion engines. If those were converted to electric transportation, the efficiency would go from roughly 30% to roughly 90%. That portion, 26.7 quads, would suddenly be 8.9 quads. So the initial 70 quads needed to power the US becomes 52 quads. This decreases the entire calculation by roughly 25%. There are a number of other inefficiencies throughout the entire system of using carbon based fuels that would be immediately eliminated by “going electric”.

    I agree with the sentiment of this article and its general conclusion that solar energy alone to power our entire economy is currently “pie in the sky”, but we need to be as accurate as possible in our analysis.

  28. It’s impossible to overestimate the pushback from envirogroups. The 2.2B$ Ivanpah Solar plant was built on what appeared to be the ideal “total desert” wasteland. It was sunny, but appeared totally devoid of life and use for any other purpose. It was vigorously opposed by green groups because of their perceived impact on some desert tortoise.

  29. The capital cost of PV power plants is falling as the cost of PV panels drops.

    True but only because massive government subsidies have resulted in an over-saturated market. A large project would cause dramatic cost increases.

  30. What about the desert Tortoise? With all the energy being taken out of the desert, what will happen to the micro and macro climates there? Will Phoenix become Minneapolis?

  31. What is the cost in chemical pollution making millions of tons of photovoltaic cells?

    Not pretty, I expect.

  32. ***
    rgbatduke says:
    July 31, 2014 at 5:46 am

    This limit is not particularly scalable. We already transmit at roughly 1 to 1.5 million volts.
    ***

    Pretty sure the highest US voltages are 765 kV, and only in American Electric Power service-regions. 500 kV is the highest otherwise. 1 million volts+ is employed in other countries, tho.

  33. The must read on this subject is by Pedro A Prieto and Charles A S Hall: ‘Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution: The Energy Return on Investment’, Springer 2013. It is a discussion of the solar power in Spain from 2005-9, where all the required real-world numbers are available as a matter of public record.. They show that 40% of all the useful energy is needed to make, install and maintain the solar power system over 25 years, with the cost of the solar cells themselves already only 30% of the cost. They cite other work that shows that a civilized society that can support the creative arts needs an energy system with an energy return on investment of order 10, not 2.5!

  34. rgbatduke: “However, the wire becomes a quarter wave antenna at around 1250 kilometers, and a half wave antenna at 2500 kilometers. The radiation resistance goes up, and a significant fraction of the energy is literally radiated away into space.”

    What a great tidbit. Independently of how significant the effect is, it’s one I had never thought of. Great stuff.

    With regard to long-distance transmission, here’s a far-out-there scheme. Arthur D. Little’s Peter Glaser and others figured out the economics of microwave power transmission in their solar-power-satellite work. I assume it’s not practical to have a network of satellites relay the power around by microwave. But, as long as we’re talking about blue-sky stuff . . .

  35. Sorry, but the idea that solar will ever be a major player for our energy needs is laughable. Some type of nuclear, perhaps thorium, is far more likely.

  36. NJ raised its electric rates 50% some years back to help pay for the goal of having 20% of the electricity produced from renewable resources. Strangely, hydropower doesn’t count as ‘renewable’. Most of the green power has been solar. So after years of paying higher electric rates I looked up the total power produced (I think the latest data was for year 2012) by solar. It is still under 1%.

    NJ might reach its 20% goal. Not from expanding green energy, but making power so expensive people are too poor to keep the lights on and refrigerator running. By default, that little bit of solar and wind will be 20% of the very pricey power supply.

  37. We have an almost inexhaustible supply of coal and nuclear power. What’s the problem?

  38. Add the cost of water to keep the PV panels clean. Dirty panels have a considerable drop in power conversion.

  39. Darn. Hit [CR] too soon. This post does demonstrate what an idiotically huge undertaking this would be. Also not factored in is the loss of economic activity due to the solar array using up the land, nor the ecological cost which is always conveniently ignored by the Eco-loons.

  40. I have said for some time that the best entry point initially for a conversion to solar is at the household level. It makes the most sense because the costs of transmission are eliminated. Another benefit is that it produces its energy at exactly the point when it is needed most in an average house, when the AC is running. That accounts for the worst of the summer electrical spike in electricity use. Solar panels help this one other way as well, since the suns energy is greatly reduced getting to the house it will take less energy to cool it.

  41. I calculated the cost of installing solar and wind to power my home. The initial cost of a 10kw power system came to about $48k. Since propane and electricity costs me about $2.5k a year, I determined that I would be either transferred or dead before the project paid for itself. Remember, solar panels, batteries and wind generators have a finite life time.

  42. If you put the transmission lines just under ground, you could build houses on top of them and they’d have permanent underfloor heating! Now where do I apply for a research grant ;-)!?

  43. Why wouldn’t we just put solar panels on rooftops and have people be power independent? Augment the solar with wind, which can also be on rooftops- small wind turbines (heck people do that with old fan blades).

  44. Just a thought…electrifying everything would include all aircraft as well, right? How would you do that and still maintain any economic viability for the aircraft?

    I guess “more research is needed”?

  45. Whoever gets the contract to supply the Windex needed to keep those panels clean is gonna get real rich, real quickly.

  46. Demand for carbon-based fuels will eventually drop as the global population reaches around 10 billion mid-century and then drops precipitously after that. We’re at least 70% of the way to max population globally, and well beyond that figure in the most energy intensive regions. Demand for energy will decline substantially before the end of this century.

  47. “1. For all practical purposes an inexhaustible source of energy.”
    Solar energy is not inexhaustible, because there is no such thing as ‘renewable’ source of energy. It would violate the first law of thermodinamics.

    About the possible serious environmental impacts of continental scale exploitation of solar energy:

    “…
    The theorem of the conservation of energy (the “something for something” principle) demands caution in approaching alternative energy development methods, as renewable energy development also has negative global environmental effects. It is known that the chain processes organized into earth cycle-courses are sustained by absorbed solar energy which drives them. [1,2] Look at the circulation of water, air, sea currents, or processes of living world just as photosynthesis, for example. [Today entire energy needs of earth photosynthesis is 10^19 J/day, what is a tierce part of today total quantity of human energy production per day. In this amount the oceans, tropical-subtropical forests and the subsistence of continental existence possess a quota 30-30-30%. From the need of continental existence 3×10^18 J/day, the agriculture and forestry quota is 2.5% of it (i.e. 7.5×10^19 J/day), but the energy need of nutrition 3×10^16 J/day. Finally it is reasonable to suppose that the measure of photosynthesis in 2100 will not differ significantly from the present.] Therefore, a large earth-scale direct utilization of solar energy – say at a scale of 4×10^20 Joules – would already jeopardize Gaia, geomagnetism, ecosphere and fauna, etc., as the extraction of the sun‟s electromagnetic energies may “break”, or in worst cases, may terminate the existing and interdependent cycleprocesses due to energies rerouted. [2] And if cycles break, latent energy scattering occurs, resulting in the most unexpected forms of immediate and global heat production or heat loss, and collateral physical environment pollution, etc. This perturbation would lead to unforeseeable consequences regarding the biosphere, certain biological species, weather, and climate. Furthermore, the inevitable occurrence of new decomposition and recovery poles and functions [2] would animate the propagation of certain worms, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. That is to say, Earth would close the cycles on other courses, by transforming the new decomposition -> recovery “half-cycles” created by worms, fungi, and viruses into real cycles, similarly to the energy system reacting according to the Le Chatelier-Braun principle or Lenz’s law, etc. {For the real or four poles of organic cycle-processes, see reference [2].} It is known that the Le Chatelier-Braun principle postulates that the reaction of a closed equilibrium (homoeostatic) systems is always contrary to the effect it is subjected to.
    With regard to solar energy utilization, we may mention the deterrent case of the GENESIS Project supported by the Japanese Sanyo company. (GENESIS: Global Energy Network Equipped with Solar Cells and International Superconductor Grids.) This project designs amorphous silicon solar cells of 800 km × 800 km installed in oceans, which would be connected to the international electric power circulation by high-temperature superconductor grids. This project would utilize roughly 4% of the solar energy radiation reaching the Earth. [3] This rate corresponds to 2.7×10^20 J/day what –considering the relations (1), (2) and especially the energy needs of earth photosynthesis– is a fatal quantity. This project has an alternative in which solar cells would be installed not into oceans, but the deserts of continents. As this version would still utilize roughly 4% of non-localizable energy of solar radiation, the noxious environmental effects would still not be decreased.
    …”

    Full text here:
    Milan Meszaros. “Lethal Kickback of Largescale Renewable Energy Exploitation” AGLA Proceedings 14.4 (2009): 2-10.
    Available at: http://works.bepress.com/milan_meszaros/34

    As the artice says 83 Twh/day is the required electricity need of the U.S. economy. That means 2,988×10^17 Joule/day. According to Mészáros Milán 4×10^20 J/day human solar energy use would jeopardize the Earth.
    (Sorry about my bad english it’s not my native language.)

  48. Wind power is even sketchier than solar. Imagine the acreage of destroyed habitat, the maintenance nightmare, and the millions of shredded birds.

    I hate wind power.

  49. Jason Joyce, MD, said that EV’s are 90% efficient. That is hardly the case. Conversion of battery power into motive power is efficient, but not nearly 90%. The real value to be determined is how efficient primary source power is converted into motive power. Thus the calculation has to go back to the raw material used to generate the power. This is generally known as a Life Cycle Assessment. California did a reasonable job on this for EV’s and found that an EV running on California electric grid power was only a 30% reduction in GHG emissions from an equivalent gasoline powered vehicle. But the gas vehicle can be recharged with fuel in 5 minutes vs 8-12 hours for an EV. Plus this analysis didn’t consider HVAC power demand (HVAC isn’t engaged in an emissions test). In winter, in Wisconsin, heating the vehicle can draw more power than moving the vehicle.
    There is also the battery issue. Batteries are only efficient in the 60-80% storage range. Charging a dead battery requires more power than charging a 1/2 full battery, and topping off a 80% charged battery consumes more power than going from 60-80. Others can provide details, but it has to do with internal battery resistance and IR losses. Thus, taking a CA EV to say Colorado, will increase the GHG emissions from say a Prius from a 30% reduction to a 50% increase in emissions over a gas vehicle. This is due only to the increase in grid emissions from 0.75 lbs CO2e/kW-h to 1.5 lbs CO2e/kW-h. (EPA has a site that shows the average grid emissions fro any location.)
    There simply isn’t a good replacement for liquid hydrocarbon fuels. HC fuels are so energy dense that 20 gal can move a vehicle 500 miles with ease. EV’s can’t come close to this range, nor can they be recharged quickly and efficiently (without huge costs for such things are replaceable batteries.).
    The list of reasons why EV’s won’t work are endless, so maybe a topic for a different discussion.

  50. Joe Born says:
    July 31, 2014 at 6:07 am
    ..
    ” microwave power transmission in their solar-power-satellite”
    ..
    Take a walk in a residential or urban environment today, and look at the rooftops. You will notice a lot of small circular microwave energy collection devices already installed. They usually have some identifying marks on them such as “Dish” or “DirectTV” They are collecting the energy from a solar powered satellite in geosynchronous orbit Not really “blue-sky” when it is already happening !!

  51. Joe G:

    Your post at July 31, 2014 at 6:35 am says in total

    Why wouldn’t we just put solar panels on rooftops and have people be power independent? Augment the solar with wind, which can also be on rooftops- small wind turbines (heck people do that with old fan blades).

    If you think it is a good idea to be “power independent” by using solar and wind to supply your home then disconnect from the grid and try it. Please report back on the result of being totally dependent on wind and solar.

    Richard

  52. Eustace Cranch says:
    July 31, 2014 at 6:44 am
    ..
    ” acreage of destroyed habitat, ”
    ..
    Ranchers in West Texas have noted that their cattle don’t seem to mind grazing underneath the wind turbines.

  53. chuck:

    Thanks for the laugh you gave me with your post at July 31, 2014 at 6:49 am.

    The radiated energy required to completely power a home is much, much more than the energy of a TV signal sampled by a home. Failure to maintain focus of the radiated energy would fry the home.

    If you are advocating such a system for your home then please inform your neighbours so they can move to another town before the inevitable disaster strikes.

    Richard

  54. Its a pretty silly starting assumption. Solar is one part of “all of the above” not the sole answer. and it is a good part. First, the american economy could run on less than 1/2 the energy per unit of GDP it uses today, without lifestyle sacrifice, and getting to the less than 1/2 costs much less than PV. PV is ideal for peaking power, providing peak output in close time correlation with peak demand. That is the best place to use it. Other complimentary choices include wind, wave, tidal, geothermal, nuclear etc, and they all should be exploited where best suited. I have made my house much more energy efficient, and have 9kW of solar panels (in Florida). FPL provided a good rebate, because the rebate was much less expensive for them than building a new peaking plant, and saves the fuel cost forever. There is a federal 30% income tax credit. Adding the cost of the whole job to my mortgage was OK with the bank. The energy saving pays the entire mortgage increment with 30% left over for me, so payback is in real time. In my last home, which I built, I had high efficiency, solar PV and hot water, a geothermal heat pump, and appropriate shading. There was no rebate, but the energy savings still paid the mortgage increment. Deriding a good thing with a strawman argument is stupid, regardless of how much research was done and how accurate the figures are.

  55. richardscourtney says:
    July 31, 2014 at 6:54 am

    ” Thanks for the laugh ”

    You are welcome. That was the intent of the post

  56. chuck:

    I write to correct what I assume to be the typographical error in your post at July 31, 2014 at 6:53 am. Your post says in total

    Eustace Cranch says:
    July 31, 2014 at 6:44 am
    ..

    ” acreage of destroyed habitat,

    ..
    Ranchers in West Texas have noted that their cattle don’t seem to mind grazing underneath the wind turbines.

    I am sure you must have intended to write the accurate statement
    Ranchers in West Texas have noted that their cattle don’t seem to mind grazing between the concrete foundations of the wind turbines.

    Richard

  57. oxidized carbon = plant fertilizer.
    ~300 ppm [CO2] = threat of New Ice Age glaciation. –> catastrophe
    ~600ppm [CO2] = ~1 K temp rise

    … happy plants & limited danger of extreme cold.

  58. richardscourtney: “Failure to maintain focus of the radiated energy would fry the home.”

    Dr. Glaser’s scheme didn’t involve transmission directly to homes, of course. And the reception area was large enough, if I remember correctly, as to keep the microwave power intensity at safe levels. But my memory of the details is hazy.

  59. chuck:

    re your post at July 31, 2014 at 7:00 am.

    Thanks for admitting that your post was laughable.

    Richard

  60. How many foot-acres of water would you need out there in the desert for night storage, and where would you get it.

  61. Larry Geiger says:
    July 31, 2014 at 5:15 am
    The only really good way to do solar is space based. Transmission back to earth is certainly a problem, but it’s really the only good way to collect solar.

    Well, not the only good way. As Prof. Brown says, decentralized solar on individual roofs can be cost-effective, especially if efficiency increases, e.g. with developments like this:

    Adaptive Material Could Cut the Cost of Solar in Half
    A new material, combined with a cheap tracking system, could unleash the promise of concentrated solar power.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/node/529476/

    That being said, solar space satellites are conceivable down the road, transmitting power to Earth by microwave. The big impediment, of course, is Earth’s gravity well, i.e. the cost of getting to and working in geosynchronous orbit. We need a revolution in access to space. One possibility: MagLev launchers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarTram

    In the meantime,

    Robert of Ottawa says:
    July 31, 2014 at 6:18 am
    We have an almost inexhaustible supply of coal and nuclear power. What’s the problem?

    Yep. So why is the federal government spending our tax money on alternatives? Well, we know the answer. Just read this post from yesterday:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/07/30/breaking-senate-report-exposes-the-climate-environmental-movement-as-being-a-cash-machine-controlling-the-epa/

    /Mr Lynn

  62. I went to the referenced sited and came away very perplexed. The daily solar insolation at good Sun locations (Southwest) varies from 4 kW h/m2/day to ~8 kW h/m2/day over the year, with typical year round averages of 6 kW h/m2/day.

    http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/old_data/nsrdb/1961-1990/redbook/atlas/

    That is for untracked flat ground areas. Tracking gives even more effective collection, but loses effective ground area due to shading between collectors. There is no reason that less than the 6 kWh/m2/day of average insolation should be available. The solar cell efficiency of conversion is typically 14%. This means a typical daily output of 840 wh/m2/day should be obtained for active areas. Tracking systems could do much better than this for individual panels, but due to lost active area from shading effects drop back to about this level. The values of 70 to 160 wh/m2/day thus seem to be 5 to 10 times lower than seems possible (it’s even worse than we thought). Part of this is due to less than spacing used, but there are reasons for this, and the practical limit is not much better. The need for storage is also very limiting, since suitable ground altitude variation is seldom available where needed.

    If space solar power collectors were used, even at the 14% conversion level, they would collect and convert sunlight to 4,700 Wh/m2/day (1,400 W/m2 X 14% X 24 hr.). This is about 30 to 70 times as good as actual ground based systems, and does not have the storage issue at all (it is continuous). In fact even better solar collectors are available at higher cost (20%), and the cell cost is a small issue for space. This would raise space systems 50 to 100 times ground based. Ground received power would be significantly lower (about 50%), but a net 25 to 50 times ground based systems is still probable.

    Decreasing lift costs to space may make space based systems in GEO practical in the not too distant future, if solar power is badly enough desired. Their required areas would be far less than the ground-based systems, and not have storage and long wire transmission problems (microwave to rectanna areas transmit the power). There are good arguments to use safer and more available nuclear power also, but fossil fuels will be needed for a considerable time before other technologies are practical.

  63. rgbatduke: The practical limit on the distance we can transmit electrical power is around 300 miles.

    The Pacific Intertie carries power from Celilo, Washington to Sylmar, California, a distance of 846 miles, at 500kv. Inductive/radiative losses are reduced by converting AC to DC for transmission, then reconverting to AC at Sylmar.

  64. richardscourtney says:
    July 31, 2014 at 7:02 am

    “your post was laughable.”

    Lighten up buddy, if you can’t laugh at things, I feel sorry for you

  65. Joe Born:

    re your post at July 31, 2014 at 7:02 am.

    The most efficient solar energy collection and transmission to receivers at the Earth’s surface would be by orbital mirrors. These could re-direct solar rays so they are aimed at solar boilers on the ground.

    Whatever system were used would need to provide a concentrated energy flux to the Earth’s surface because its purpose is to increase the low energy density of direct solar radiation at the Earth’s surface.

    It is hard to imagine a system which did not have severe risks.

    Richard

  66. Another missing factor: security costs. Current generation facilities are much smaller in terms of land area and are protected by fences, alarms, and armed security personnel — especially nuclear facilities. How would security be provided to this large area?

    Other points: transmission across the great distances required is impossible with current technology, it would require room temperature superconductors that could handle the load. Also operational costs related to keeping all those panels clean.

  67. chuck:

    Your post at July 31, 2014 at 7:09 am is surreal.

    I twice wrote that I had laughed at your post, and you say I need to be able to laugh at things!

    If you cannot be sensible then please stop anonymously trolling.

    Richard

  68. Finally, as with any energy plan, we must continue to work on energy efficiency. The chart above shows that of the 70 quads of energy supplied to the economy, about 47%[kk] of them are “rejected”, i.e. lost. Improving energy efficiency (BTU/$ GDP) is a must, regardless of the way forward.

    Improvements in using “waste energy” will be small and incremental. We have just about reached the maximum efficiency that a thermal power plant of ANY kind can be operated reliably. GE and Siemens both sell combined cycle gas-fired power plants that hit about 60% overall effciency, and even that drops as the components age. Steam turbine efficiency has increased quite a bit since the 1970′s, but most utilities do not replace their turbines unless there is another economic factor that decreases the payback period, like decreased maintenance or a (nuclear) power uprate that requires a turbine with a larger swallowing capacity (who ever said us engineers have no sense of humor). I have seen bottoming cycles used to generate power using just the waste heat being thrown into a condenser, but the capital cost is horrendous and the cycle uses either a now banned substance (freon) or a highly flammable one (butane/propane). Even with this bottoming cycle only a small amount of the rejected heat was used, I think about 100 BTU/lb out of a rejected steam heat content of about 980 BTU/lb was used. There have been other proposals but the capital costs outweigh the benefits, even over a 60 year lifespan. The freon bottoming cycle was only marginally beneficial and was generally used as a source of pumping power, not power generation.

    Back in the 1930′s GE tried a combined cycle coal fired power plant using a mercury boiler/turbine at the top, and a reboiler that made water steam with the rejected heat from the mercury. It was very efficient, but was very detrimental to the health of the plant workers and nearby residents. It was impossible to contain mercury vapor emissions.

  69. When you said nighttime use is half of daily use, I took that to mean it is overall 1/3. But you used 1/2. You now have a lower storage cost but a higher solar cost.

  70. Maintenance cost ? Volcano eruption like Yellowstone eruption blocking sun ? Toxic chemicals produced from panel manufacture ?

  71. Very good article. A couple of notes.

    1) 50% safety factor is way too low. We’d actually need more like 300-400%

    2) Pumped storage is not a great storage solution. You simply have to move too much water to store a KwH of energy. The energy situation is good when you are trying to divert a river to a city in the Southwest. Not so good for storing energy.
    3) There are not that many sites suitable for pumped storage. Moreover in the Southwest there is a shortage of water, and in the East, most of the suitable sites like the Shenandoah Valley have a substantial population that is not going to be easily displaced. One exception: There is about 100 meter difference in elevation between the Upper Great Lakes and Lake Ontario, and some amount of pumped storage there is probably practical although a great expansion in electrical generation between the lakes would be needed. The limit is probably the amount of short term lake level change that can be tolerated without massive lawsuits. I suspect that is maybe around 10cm.
    4. One shouldn’t overlook solar hot water heating. It’s proven technology and it is more efficient than PV to pumped storage to electric hot water. The big hang up is the lack of inexpensive, easily installed, freeze proof solar hot water equipment.

    But hot water is only a small part of US/Canadian energy needs? That’s true. But I think there is nothing wrong with tackling large problems one bit at a time.

  72. Remember, solar panels, batteries and wind generators have a finite life time

    Not to mention maintenance costs that are conveniently ignored by the ecogeeks, especially for wind turbines.

  73. Cost of $65 trillion. That is about 4 times the current US GDP in a year.

    If the solar panels last 10 years at a time, we would have to spend 40% of GDP each year replacing solar panels. That is roughly the size of the public sector.

    So, pick one

    - government (highways, garbage, water, education, military, social security); or,
    - renewable energy (solar); or,
    - 80% tax rates (the poor house, massive unemployment etc).

  74. In re wind power & habitat, I’m not talking about domestic animals. There are countless species of wild plants & animals that would not enjoy having their environment devastated by millions of windmill pylons and thousands of miles of access roads.

    For no compelling reason at all.

  75. We are rightly concerned about the dangers that EMP pose to the electrical grid. There are two types of EMP. The one caused by solar activity induces direct current into the power lines and could bring down the grid by damage to the grid’s large transformers. An EMP cause by a nuclear weapon can damage anything electronic through a very sharp (high rise time) pulse of voltage (maybe several kilovolts).

    Photovoltaic solar cells are EMP antennas and will be totally ruined by any pulse EMP. This is due to the very nature of their semiconductor structure. The power-collection wiring makes them EMP antennas.

    The problem with EMP as a weapon is that which exact piece of electronic equipment will suffer sufficient damage is a matter of probability. Only some transformers will get knocked out. It is my opinion that the mortality rate of PV power panels in an EMP attack will be almost 100%.

  76. One shouldn’t overlook solar hot water heating. It’s proven technology and it is more efficient than PV to pumped storage to electric hot water. The big hang up is the lack of inexpensive, easily installed, freeze proof solar hot water equipment.

    The cost of solar water heating equipment is very very high. It only pays if you use electricity for making hot water in a high electricity cost area, and even then only a government subsidy will make the payback period manageable. If you have propane or natural gas heat, solar is a bad choice. The payback period in is decades.

  77. Interesting.

    Prof MacKay did a similar analysis for the UK. But this was a strange analysis. he proved that it was impossible, but then urged that we should adopt renewables straight away. (He is a roaring Greenie.)

    And please note his deliberate lies over the efficiency of electric vehicles, which is still there several years after he has admitted his (deliberate) mistake:

    http://www.withouthotair.com

    .

    And finally, the scenario given in the article on this page would not work. To charge the night batteries we would need to increase the photo-voltaic array by nearly 40%. So the coverage of the southern states would increase from 50% to 70%. And the biggest opposition to this massive array would come from – you guessed it – the Greens.

    Ralph

  78. Follow the discussion of New Tech that is about to make the old debate between fossil/nuclear and renewables history, likely within months: http://www.e-catworld.com/

    Psi, I have been eharing this stuff about Rossi’s invention for several years now and how it is going to revolutionize energy production everywhere. So far, I have seen no results, and expect to see none. Rossi is a known scam artist. If it truly worked as advertised, he’d have companies worldwide breaking down his doors ordering his equipment.

  79. Local Fire Departments are increasingly refusing to approach rooftop solar units due to electrocution hazards.
    Get ready for higher insurance costs.
    Murphy lives on a solar panel roof….

  80. This is fun, after electrification a nice Carrington event and the world comes to a standstill!!!!??

  81. richardscourtney says: July 31, 2014 at 6:50 am
    If you think it is a good idea to be “power independent” by using solar and wind to supply your home then disconnect from the grid and try it. Please report back on the result of being totally dependent on wind and solar.
    _______________________________________

    If you remember, Prime Minister Cameron tried this very trick, with a rooftop windelec (turbine).

    The result?

    a. The turbine generated 15 watt-hours of electricity, providing enough energy to recharge one mobile phone.
    b. The council took him to court for breaching planning regulations.
    c. Neighbours threw eggs at his house, for creating so much noise.
    d. The turbine was removed in less than three months.
    e. The entire exercise provided much parliamentary hilarity, and cost him some £1,600
    f. He never mentioned domestic renewables again.

    A colleague tried the same trick with rooftop domestic heating (in the Uk), and the results were even funnier.

    a. Hot water was only provided 150 days a year.
    b. House heating was almost never supplied.
    c. His electric bill quadrupled.
    d. His wife divorced him, citing his inability to provide a comfortable home life.

    Oh, the laughable foolishness of fantasist Greens.

    Ralph

  82. You need to include the cost of the plants that will be needed to create all those new solar panels, plus replace them as they wear out.
    Your efficiency estimates are assuming that all the solar panels are brand new, and hence producing power at just out of the factory efficiencies. In the real world production efficiency drops as the panels age. In the real world you are going to have a mix of panels from brand new to ready to be replaced. So your overall efficiency will end up being pretty close to half-way between brand new and ready to be replaced. (If I knew what those numbers were, I would put them in here.)
    That’s going to result in a rough guess, of 10 to 15% increase in the needed area. Additionally you seem to be assuming that where ever we put these solar fields, we are going to get 100% coverage. 90% is a better estimate.
    Straight off the bat, we’ve increased the size of the total area we need by 20 to 25%.
    As the size of the field increases, you are going to expand into areas where the sun doesn’t shine as strongly, requiring another increase in total field size to compensate.
    You have noted that we are going to have to transport the electricity from the southwest to the rest of the country. Since we don’t have workable super conductors, that means a loss of 5 to 10% of your power in transmission losses. Field size has to go up to compensate.
    Through in the pumping losses that you mentioned but decided to ignore, and the total size and cost of this system is more than double what you have estimated.

  83. I didn’t read through all of the comments, but this was only a fair weather calculation. What happens when a large T-storm, tornado or hurricane hits the solar arrays? The whole country suffers from hugh brown outs until the damaged areas can be repaired. Since the repair trucks need electricity to get the workers and materials to the repair areas this becomes a big problem in that you have to work from the edge in instead of hitting the whole problem at once. Not a very good plan to provide energy for a country.

  84. Solar is excellent for remote areas where the sun shines. Solar powered stock well pumps beat the snot out of any other energy source in such areas. Less monitoring problems and transporting of fuel to and from the site and all those problems ( and time) involved in that operation. Wind, not so much.

    May have missed it in the comments but no hope for future use of Earth and/or Sun’s magnetic fields for future power?

  85. Delta County Texas, Sabine River area.
    Weather Forcast from down in the river bottoms. Where the National Weather Service nor any goverment puts temp. stations to record the temp.s .

    Looks like Sat.night we will get down to 59F. Looked at grand dads records from around 1910 to now never been that low in July.

    Today cold front and tropical like rain. 5 inches last night, looks like 4 or more today.
    Best info from grand dads records the most ever in July was 1953 at 8 3/4 “.
    Looks like we may beat that.

    Weather added up correct is climate.

  86. Solar might, might be a good idea in augmenting the power grid by some fraction. Every little bit helps kind of thing. Even then, other then the sexy green pedigree, not sure it’s worth it compared with other options.

    As a primary source of energy for the grid, I think solar will get there right at about the same time we have warp drive at which point dilithium crystals would probably be the preferred energy source.

  87. neillusion says:
    July 31, 2014 at 4:53 am
    —-
    Up along the northern tier of states (ignoring Alaska for now), nights in the winter are up to 15 hours long. And night time is when the greatest heating requirements exist. With the globalization of the economy, more and more people and factories are still active even at night. 50% is a good estimate.

  88. $65 trillion to go solar. This money could be found if urgently needed, in order to save the planet from impending global carbon dioxide destruction. Surely the banking monopoly that employs the magical fractional reserve banking system, (creating money from thin air), could find any amount for a bit of deficit spending to save us all from the Carbon Demon and keep the human race alive.

  89. Solar panels are a lot darker than desert sand.
    Adding that many solar panels is going to have a huge impact on weather systems, will probably end up shifting the jet stream by hundreds of miles.
    Not to mention heating up a non-trivial portion of the planet.

  90. Don’t panic – these boffins in Menlo Park have solved it!

    The hydrogen reactor actually turns 1 liter of water into 1kg of hydrogen! While this flies in the face of today’s basic science where even a 5th grader knows that 1 liter of water contains 111.11 grams of hydrogen and 888.89 grams of oxygen — nevertheless, numerous performance tests, including Airkinetics Inc., a prominent EPA-certified national emissions testing specialist, measured the output reactor at 50 ACFM with 93.1% Hydrogen content.

  91. You can’t grow a tree under or over a solar panel…period. (birds probably don’t enjoy nesting in/on solar panels either.)

    Has anyone calculated the CO2 absorbing capacity of a tree against the CO2 emissions reduction of a solar panel per square area, (foot print)?

  92. rgbatduke says:
    July 31, 2014 at 5:46 am

    The practical limit on the distance we can transmit electrical power is around 300 miles. This isn’t a “sharp” limit — it is just that the fraction of the generated electrical power being burned in the transmission lines increases as one makes the runs longer (especially to a high-draw locale) until you are spending more to heat the transmission line than you are to provide power to businesses and houses.
    ———-

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

    “The intertie originates near the Columbia River at the Celilo Converter Station on Bonneville Power Administration’s grid outside The Dalles, Oregon and is connected exclusively to the Sylmar Converter Station north of Los Angeles

    A 1,362-kilometre (846 mi) overhead transmission line consisting of two ACSR conductors each 1,171 mm2 in cross sectional area (1.6″ radius).”

  93. So, the “Goverment” based on lies and fraud from the “climate change fudged data” will use their power to condem all this land for building solar power.

    Better use of solar power would be to fry some of these frauds by solar power.

  94. Murray Duffin says:
    July 31, 2014 at 6:57 am
    the american economy could run on less than 1/2 the energy per unit of GDP it uses today
    ————-
    You go first.

  95. No nation can seize the sun. But they can seize all the raw materials necessary to harvest the sun’s energy. Can’t they??

    If you regard energy generation as a ‘no break in supply is acceptable’, then I think most analysts would agree that you have multiple fail-safes in a system to ensure that it is resilient to all conceivable challenges (apart, obviously, from Yellowstone exploding to a degree that the whole of the USA was covered in lava, ash and rockfall).

    Also, logically, you wish to make sub-regions of the USA energy sufficient, to mitigate against the possibility of nutcases taking over other states and declaring energy UDI/performing an ‘energy shock’ hike in prices etc etc.

    Let’s say you divided the US into 6 – 8 segments. How you do that is up to you. But the aim is to choose geographical regions capable of multiple methods of energy generation and the ability to store energy from times of plenty to cover for times of famine.

    The real question to ask is which areas of the country can’t generate their own energy……..

  96. MarkW says:
    July 31, 2014 at 7:58 am

    Solar panels are a lot darker than desert sand.
    Adding that many solar panels is going to have a huge impact on weather systems, will probably end up shifting the jet stream by hundreds of miles.
    Not to mention heating up a non-trivial portion of the planet.

    The solar panels would be darker than the desert sand, but a large part of the energy collected would be removed in the form of electricity rather than remaining in that vicinity as heat. Heating vs cooling would depend on the efficiencies of the collection equipment and whether the amount of energy exported as electricity exceeds the amount of energy that would have been reflected by the natural albedo. It is not obvious whether that arrangement would heat the area or cool the area.

  97. like I did myself, to those living in a sunny country, l recommend a solar geyser.
    The new technology, now with glass tubes, saves a lot of electricity as it produces free warm water.
    Otherwise, solar is a waste. It will probably blow up in your face one day when it ages. (fire)

  98. Stopped reading after the all electric nation assumption and the PV panel section. Outdated and static analysis is flawed beyond reason.

  99. Murray Duffin: “PV is ideal for peaking power, providing peak output in close time correlation with peak demand.”
    I don’t know what times you are seeing peak power, but it is typically around 7-9am and again around 5-6pm. PV peaking power is typically 2-3pm when that electricity power is already covered with base load generation. In summer, the PV might provide a little peaking power between 5 and 6pm, but it’s dark at that time in winter.
    neillusion: Nighttime power requirements are typically around 60% of peak power demand; not the 10% that you suppose. All those high-rise and commercal buildings that you suppose get shut down, have to have the AC running at all hours to circulate air or they can’t be occupied. Those freezers and refrigerators in the grocery stores don’t shut down when the store closes either.

  100. This needs to be a sarcastic infographic. It could start rosy but should include:
    1) cost and land use of building the PV capacity
    2) building a similar capacity in hydro storage
    3) yearly maintenance and replacement cost (a sizable portion of GDP?)
    4) an escalating cost for construction as unused flat land runs out and mountainous terrain must be used
    5) cost to convert transportation, heating, and petrochemical industries to biofuel/electric
    6) estimated number of species lost as habitats are destroyed
    7) and of course, no impact on climate

  101. The type of calculation done here is necessary to show the limits of the technology. There are modifications to the calculations and assumptions that could be made, but the result of the study is and would be that powering all our needs with solar would take too much land to be practical. It is sufficient to know that supplying the electrical needs of the US from solar would take 7% of the land area of the contiguous US for the most optimal collection conditions. That is, very approximately, 7 times the area currently occupied by urban and suburban areas. Therefore it can be concluded that solar is going to be at most a niche player in providing energy needs.

  102. If solar PV cells have a limited life, think of the gargantuan volume of junked cells with their dilute toxic chemicals leaching out. Then think of the small volume of highly concentrated nuclear waste, which might be reused in proposed fast breeders or Intellectual Venture’s proposed traveling wave reactor. Which side is really thinking about the grandkids?

  103. On the other hand, if we “just” covered all of the parking lots in the US with roofs made of solar panels, and used them to power the adjacent stores, it might be of benefit. Immediate use of the power, no storage, etc. I found an estimate of 16 million hectares of parking lots in the US. At 100 watt-hours per square meter, that’s 16 TW-hr per day. Not negligible.

  104. You do not include the maintenance costs – even just sweeping dust, leaves, snow of the panels and repairing those damaged by hail – once you are talking of thousands of square miles of panels that is a LOT of effort/cost. Normal routine maintenance will need to be in place for the electrics – hot sun is not good for most cabling. Then the life of the panels and the deterioration in power output would require identification and replacement of failing panels, probably starting 10 years after installation which will probably start be before the full installation has completed.
    It is possible that the installation cost would be less than the 20 year maintenance costs.

  105. I’m quite surprised that nobody else here has made this comment yet.
    “All three projects were funded by government.”

    Correction: All three projects were funded by tax payers. The government cannot generate money in and of itself!

    Eric

  106. Resourceguy says:
    July 31, 2014 at 8:26 am
    Stopped reading after the all electric nation assumption and the PV panel section. Outdated and static analysis is flawed beyond reason.

    We eagerly await your up-to-date dynamic analysis.

  107. The sun will not remain “free”, the utilities are going to do everything they can to tax it.

  108. Sorry tldr

    However, the article does highlight one important aspect of solar power: insolation. The other is timing demand for when the sun shines. In the northeast, demand for energy spikes when insolation is at its lowest: in the dead of winter during the night. In the southwest, demand spikes when the sun is brightest: middle of the day in the summer.

    This simple analysis alone should be enough to convince northern clime dwellers to avoid solar and for southern clime dwellers to give it some serious thought.

    The tldr version: if supply and demand are properly aligned, solar is a good option.

  109. Average residential electrical power consumption is 30 KWh/day. A factor of 6 (think of it as usable sun hours) is typically used to size arrays. So we need a 5 KW array. The most efficient production panels are 21% and produce about 20 watts per square foot (335 watts for a 61″ x 41″ panel), thus we need about 250 sq ft of panels on a roof. Not much!

    If we switch to LED lighting and upgrade appliances we can probably get closer to a 3 KW array.
    If we have space to put it on a tracker we get an additional 30% so we only need a 2 KW array, which takes only 100 sq ft.

    The panels are about $2/watt for 21% efficient ones, or $0.79/watt for 15% efficient ones (if you have the space for more panels). Figure $2k for grid-tie inverters, cabling, and hardware, and $2k for installation. So about $8k for a system that should produce all the power you need.

    For residential, we feed our excess into the grid during the day, and it is reasonable to assume that the power company can provide power at night when the array is not producing.

    Keep in mind that PV costs will continue to come down, they have been dropping remarkably.

    Average power rates are now at about $0.14/KWh, or roughly $150/mo. Here in California Tier 5 rates are about $0.35/KWh, so the payback is even quicker. Don’t forget the tax credit too.

  110. “I estimate the cost of building a system to power today’s economy with energy from the sun at about $65 trillion.”

    Unfortunately that money ad a whole lot moar has been earmarked to bailout Goldman Sachs and JPM in 2016 … and it’s of course nowhere near enough. Uncle pseudo ‘Capitalism’ needs YOU!

    But seriously, that was a good start on a sensible economic discussion of practical solar and if it can be done. I would add that it will not be done all at once in a grand scheme any more than all the roads or dams were built all at once. Solar must constantly prove itself (even if it has) plus the cheaper energy options are almost always going to be more economically expedient so solar essentially is unnecessary, for quite a bit longer yet.

    This is not necessarily true everywhere though. I come from a counry that has benefited enormously from cheap coal and zero nuclear for all my life, and its brilliant. However for China their engineers have decided this is not a viable option for them. So in on country its fine, in another it may be ecologically (but not climatically) desasterous. If so then China would have vastly greater incentive to develope and make cheap solar implementations first. If they can outcompete coal and put us out of business then good on them, we’ll buy Chinese solar panels to celebrate.

    But the idea that al countries must do the same global plan and follow the same path is clearly not going to work. Countries muct do what is economic and the greenish have to grow upand be patient and realise that energy transitions have historically taken the best part of a century. As I see it, it’ll be like any other energy transition (think 70 years) and it’s barely begun.

    However, quite often waiting can be cheaper when it comes to new technologies, early adopters suffer the ghreatest risks and cost burdens. Anyone who has bought a brand new CPU means you pay a massive premium to get not very much improvement, but if you waith 18 months you’ll get it for a few bucks. This appies to many advanced technologies.

    And as you say, the panels are getting much more efficient … soon. So why buy inefficient panels first, or even high efficiency panels soonish at extreme prices, when we can wait and get it all vastly cheaper?

    Well will thus greatly benefit from moreattractive cost:benefit tradeoffs and harm taxpayers with subsidies far less, and still “save the planet” (if we assumed it was somehow endangered), so why not wait, if carbon is not the outrageous bogeyman that we were massively and falsely scared with?

    Because choosing to wait for a better tradeoff and proceed more carefully to develop the technologies is a valid option (and potentially wise on many levels) if we simply put aside the endless greenish propaganda and emotional blackmail and guilt foisting. Plus the political environment would be vastly less conflicted in the event it was actually affordable and competitive.

    What’s the rush?

    Having said that, I find solar such a compelling technology and idea and I understad perfectly the attraction of the idea. It will come, but I don’t think its time has come, at least not for most countries.

    So I’ll watch the Chinese and see what they decide is good for them and which way they must go, as they perhaps have the greatest imperitive to transition to renewables.

    hmm …. if only China were not also as debt-ridden and criminally corrupt as Goldman and JPM? … eh? … what marvelous things they might then do. But a great contribution and thanks, as I see it market-economics and capitalism could address the transition issue and its dynamics most capably …. unfortunately crony capitalism put it in cement boots and tossed it in the east river.

    2c

  111. What will power the construction of this facility? How much co2 will be spewed into the atmosphere building it? Would this new power source ever pay back the co2 debt burned in construction? It takes an incredible amount of energy just to melt the silicon for making the wafers used in solar panels. Solar in it’s present form must be the dirtiest power there is!

    It is like corn ethanol all over again only on a much bigger scale and much worse. Why should we be burning over a gallon worth of fossil fuels to make a gallon of ethanol? I

    I bet it would take 50+ years worth of coal burning that must be burned up front to build this power plant before it ever produces any electricity, how does this make any sense? We will be accelerating the co2 levels tremendous rate. What is saved?

  112. Keep in mind that for the 12 months through April 2014, the electricity produced from wind power in the United States amounted to 174.7 terawatt-hours, or 4.25% of all generated electrical energy. That is pretty significant, with more on the way.

    Any practical energy solution will be a combination of wind, solar, hydro, natural gas, and probably nuclear, and fossil fuels.

  113. lighthearted response @RGB

    People who live in cold climates don’t tend to be dependant on the grid. That is to say, when the power goes out we don’t die. :D

    The longest stretch without grid power that I have seen during winter is a few weeks, no casualties. Most homes in Maine, even those that use primarily oil/gas/electric heat, have a wood stove. And wood is not in short supply in most forrested state in the country. As many Mainers do, I have a camp deep in the woods with no running water or electricity. The primary use of the camp is to spend the winter months hunting, fishing, and trapping. We call it ‘roughing it’, it translates to ‘fun’.

  114. Off Topic: But, if anyone is interested in real life off grid try to find a copy of the movie “Dead River Rough Cut”. You will be entertained.

  115. rgbatduke says:
    July 31, 2014 at 5:46 am
    “…it will simply become cheaper to build houses with their own PV array on the roof as standard practice, amortize the cost into the mortgage, and drop the cost of electricity to the owner from $200+/month for power purchased from the grid to $100 in their mortgage.”

    This transfers the capital asset along with the maintenance and insurance costs from the power company to the home owner. The “$100 in their mortgage” is for the capital asset. Any idea what these maintenance and insurance expenses add to the “$100 in their mortgage?”

  116. “One thing is certain. Eventually we homo sapiens will consume all of the planets supply of carbon”–Hydro carbons?

    The USGS says that the worldwide inventory of methane hydrates is 10,000Tg.

    As we use hydrocarbons, more “Carbon” is being recycled as hydrocarbons, and rising up from
    below. For an understanding of this process, read Thomas Gold’s book “The Deep, Hot Biosphere.”

  117. I notice several posters adding alternative schemes. So, please indulge me while I add a couple of my own pie-in-the-sky thoughts.

    1. Orbiting mirrors. Rather than orbiting PVCs converting the sun’s rays and then sending this power to earth, we could simply orbit mirrors which would reflect the rays to numerous earth stations (as heat) for centralized conversion to electricity. In orbit, the reflection would be near 24/7 (except when the mirrors were directly in front or in back of the earth).

    Some problems might include:
    *Clouds blocking the heat, although I expect the clouds would be “burnt” away.
    *Anything in the line of fire (birds, planes, etc) also would be burnt away
    *That much extra energy has got to cause environmental changes
    *If you miss the targeted heat collector, the concentrated heat would represent a lot of friendly fire (pun intended), although – for good or evil – that’s a potential weapons system

    2. Indirect solar through temperature reservoirs. A couple of insulated holes in the ground (say 15′x15′x15′) could store more than enough heat in the summer and cold in the winter to provide for heat, air conditioning, & refrigeration for a typical house, plus generate some electricity using a heat engine between the two reservoirs.

    *I expect the costs to be quite high compared to other energy available today, although as the government makes energy unavailable at any price, this could become an alternative worth trying.

    Please stop laughing; I’m just thinking outside the box.

  118. I wonder why people think that the sun can’t be blocked for a Country or Continent, place a solar umbrella in geosynchrous orbit and it can block the sun easily enough.
    As to using Space based Micro Wave energy, that is asking for major disasters, a Sci Fi book was written about exactly that scenario.

  119. Perhaps this is moving off topic, but it may be relevant because Ethanol is an energy source we can easily grow in the US.

    In June 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its 2002 analysis of ethanol production and determined that the net energy balance of ethanol production is 1.67 to 1.

    Even the most pessimistic assessments of ethanol’s energy balance acknowledge that ethanol is an improvement over petroleum-based fuels. Using the same analytical methods employed by some ethanol critics, Michigan State University’s Bruce Dale calculates the net energy of petroleum to be -45%, compared to the -29% that Pimentel and Patzek find for ethanol. In the worst-case scenario, burning ethanol is still more energy-efficient than burning gasoline.

    There may be more current data somewhere….

    Cellulistic is even better if we can ever get that working.

  120. Figuring that generatingefficiency will be doubled over the next 100 years and that economies of scale will halve the cost while demand quadruples, it looks like US energy needs can be supplied by solar (without consumable backup) with 2000 plants, each with 25 square miles of panels interconnected on a national grid. If we don’t get started today, it will be too late! Where’s AlGore when you need him?

  121. From the post:

    “3. Available to everyone. No country can seize control of the sun and deny it to others.”

    Except that China is cornering the solar PV manufacturing market, and the rare earth substances that go into them.

    And then there’s this:

    “In order to adopt solar power on a large scale today we must confront four problems associated with the technology.”

    There is a fifth problem – that of pollution associated with mining these minerals. As long as it’s in someone else’s back yard, eh? /snark (see: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/aug/07/china-rare-earth-village-pollution )

  122. richardscourtney “It is hard to imagine a system which did not have severe risks.”

    Perhaps you’re right; I didn’t work it out. What I believe they had in mind was 60 130-km^2 rectennas spaced an average of 300 km apart with a peak (central) power density of about 25 mW/cm^2 and 0.1 mW/cm^2 at the outside of a 1-km fenced-off buffer zone. That may have its risks, but to me it’s not self-evident how severe they’d be.

    But, again, this is Buck Rogers stuff.

  123. Louis LeBlanc says:
    July 31, 2014 at 9:46 am

    And if I flap my arms fast enough, I too could fly from Atlanta to London carrying two bags of luggage and a laptop PC and an in-flight meal ……

  124. To those who are talking about space-based solar arrays: The cost of launching an object to geosynchronous orbit using the Atlas V is on the order of 27 000$/kg.

  125. The short answer on tracking and understanding solar energy competitiveness in a dynamic sense is to routinely follow the quarterly updates from Sunpower and First Solar. These two players are closest to normal profits without subsidy in the renewable energy space. Their subsidies at this point are derived from the financing costs of the large projects. Everything else in this sector amounts to noise and wrong directions in public policy. Solar without subsidy today and in short-term projections comes from utility-scale projects with major cost reduction business plans in both panel and balance of system costs. The BOS costs are the harder portion at this point. As for battery storage, this sector is still too early to judge but $10 per kwh capital cost is a stated production goal. That sector needs two more years to clear the due diligence fog and look at the production-level costs.

  126. One more thing-

    The Russians became the largest producer of hydrocarbons by understanding that they are not fossil fuel and teaching their geologists this fact. They explore and produce hydrocarbons based on the knowledge that more is continousely rising up from great depth.

  127. The sunlight absorbed by the Solar Panels in such large scale would increase the total heat trapped in the atmosphere/earth, thereby would increase Global Warming !

  128. Quote,” richardscourtney says:

    July 31, 2014 at 6:50 am

    Joe G:

    Your post at July 31, 2014 at 6:35 am says in total

    Why wouldn’t we just put solar panels on rooftops and have people be power independent? Augment the solar with wind, which can also be on rooftops- small wind turbines (heck people do that with old fan blades).

    If you think it is a good idea to be “power independent” by using solar and wind to supply your home then disconnect from the grid and try it. Please report back on the result of being totally dependent on wind and solar.

    Richard.”

    I am happy to say that I have already participated in a 10 year real life experiment of living off the grid and relying on solar and wind power in the Southern Arizona Desert. I have to admit that the refrigerator and cooking stove were run off of propane because those two things are a huge drain on a small PV/wind lead acid battery storage system. Also, having a hot shower in the morning/at night in the winter was always something to be desired because of relying primarily on a solar water heater, but after several years of dealing with that we broke down and got a propane water heater and plumbed that in with the solar water heater.
    As far as how well the PV/wind setup was able to provide sufficient power for a 1500sqft home with a family of 4, it handled the demand 95% of the time but there was always a two week period every year during the monsoons that we had to run a generator to keep the lead acid storage batteries from being drained too low and damaging them (the strong wind during the monsoons regularly burned up brushes/motors and became too labor intensive to keep in operation so we discontinued use after a few years and several redesigns). Note: this was the older style DC setup (think 1985 style PV’s) with a single DC to AC transformer on the primary output after the batteries instead of the newer units that have the DC to AC transformers built in. It should also be noted that most of the house was wired for DC so the transformer wasn’t really that big since it only had to power things like a TV, hairdryer, mixer, etc. and anything that could be rewired from AC to DC easily was converted.
    My takeaway from the whole experience (thanks Mom and Dad for the great memories and unforgettable experiences that make up a huge part of who I am today) was that a mixed energy supply can be very efficient in providing for all necessary power demand in a home, but to rely solely on PV and wind, even with a large storage capacity, you are still at the whims of nature and will come up short at some point. Also, the amount of maintenance on the system was quite regular in order to make sure we had power when we needed it; it was definitely not a plug and forget about it kind of setup.

    -Matt

  129. We already have solar panels over a considerable portion of Earth’s surface, and great battery storage capacity. Trouble is, we can’t control the battery system. It keeps or sends heat whenever it damn well feels like it. It is just a matter of time before someone makes a 007 movie about the terrorist bastard that cooks up a scheme to rid the polar regions of ice caps via “death ray satellite guns” to let out all the heat from the battery storage unless we all send them 1.9 megagazilliontrillion dollars.

  130. If a new build house is well designed, then the combination of south facing windows
    ===============
    assuming someone else doesn’t build in front of you, and/or you don’t have trees where you live.

    the reality is you don’t own your view. you cannot under present laws rely on south facing windows except in limited circumstances

  131. Space-based arrays that aim massive amounts of radiation down to Earth.

    Yeah, what could go wrong?

  132. I have a sneaking suspicion that fusion energy will always be a pipe dream.
    So far, the only fusion reactors I’m aware of are in stars. Take our sun for instance- only about 10% of the sun is involved in fusion reactions- about 0.7% of the 10% is converted to energy, and only 1/10 billionth of the total energy is release each year.
    Plug those same ratios of 0.7% times 10% times 1/10 billonth of the amount of energy humans consume each year- and I suspect we get unreasonably high amounts of fuel NEEDED assuming our fusion reactors were about as efficient as the sun.

  133. I’d love to see this analysis repeated with wind. The Ludington Facility sits on a bluff above Lake Michigan, and the available wind there is substantial. There are several small wind farms nearby that feed into the grid, rather than supply power to the pumped storage facility. Seems to be a much more practical way to slowly veer toward re-newables. Couple of analysis suggest that the state of Michigan could, by modest rises in electric rates, supply 20% of its power this way by 2030, except when people get to the “modest rises in electric rates” no one has any real figures.

    MarkM

  134. I live above the 45 parallel, so south facing efficient housing and PV’s do not really pencil. Regardless, centralized power generation will always lead to market (read freaking expensive) rates as the citizens will not own the plant or the distribution. Self generation is the key.
    What is really going to happen will be that you will be “allowed” to have about 50% of the power that your enjoy today, as the govt will simply shut it off for you. It is good for the world you know.

  135. We’re gonna hold that orbital magnifying glass right here where we collect that intense heat energy. We’re in total control, it won’t ever move, we promise. :)

  136. Ian W says:
    July 31, 2014 at 8:50 am
    You do not include the maintenance costs – even just sweeping dust, leaves, snow of the panels and repairing those damaged by hail – once you are talking of thousands of square miles of panels that is a LOT of effort/cost.

    One thing which irks me about solar retrofitting to existing structures, and the going off grid craze is what happens when a tropical cyclone loads up these aging roofs and the extra drag of the panels pulls the whole roof off at even lower wind speeds? Or else the panels let go and frag everyone downwind?

    Let’s for now ignore the fact (this happened to me) that at that point you stand a very real chance of everyone being physically picked up and sucked/blown out of the building after the roof and into the storm, and just focus on the fact that when the storm is over you’re now off-grid and your solar panels are not coming back on in a few days or a few weeks time.

    Now scale that up to the size of a coastal city that’s “gone solar”.

    This is a serious personal and also state vulnerability.

    And if you’ve been through it you already appreciate that there are far worse options than a robust and properly maintained AC mains supply energized by hydrocarbons. After that sort of experience I came to the view that solar is terrific, I love it, but only if it’s been designed into tropical cyclone strength buildings, before the building was built.

    Which means you don’t just bolt them on, rough, cheap and nasty like, to a pitched gabled soft-wood truss roof structure. Radiata Pine trusses for instance. And yes, people do in fact still do that, it’s not yet been banned in the tropics. But one day a major storm will rip 200 square kilometers of such roofs off, and suddenly we’ll realize that we’ve been building the wrong shaped houses and using completely the wrong roof design for the tropics and incorporating the very weakest and poorest aging structural materials into them.

    Flat roofs fare better in strongest cyclones, especially if they have re-enforced steal of solid cinder block or concrete perimeters. But almost no one builds like that. Instead we’re captive to residential developers and councils, who design and approve only in terms of property values, based on what will sell, and not what will still be standing and lockable next Thursday morning.

    So the sorts of buildings (homes) and the designs which we need in order to safely incorporate solar panels in tropical residences are largely not being built, at all!

    But do the greenish protest or make representations to ensure that councils and suburban developers are building structures and roofs that can accommodate solar panels from the outset that will still function after a cat-4 cyclone passes through?

    Is that not sustainability? Look up photos of Captain Cook’s family house on Google, its 700 years old today, but it was 400 years old and fully functional when he was a boy – because they built it sustainably for the conditions.

    And we still don’t mandate that to every single house we build.

    But even then you’re left with the problem of a flat roof panel, that only works well in the middle part of the day in summer, unless you line the east and west sides of the flat roof with panels, as well. … cost goes up and efficiency goes down.

    But if we ball build in the best ways and that is what becomes what sells, then the cost will decrease and the efficiency gains over time will rise.

    It takes on;y one major storm to wipe out the solar panels and then very few will want to run that experiment again, so the imperative is the solar industry’s to make representations to local an state agencies, developers and architects to ensure the that the building designs, materials and standards are correctly implemented the first time.

    The solar retro-fitting business is not the future of the solar industry, full integration into structural designs and roof’s strength itself is what will make solar a no-brainer and highly desirable inclusion into a new tropical cyclonic storm rated home.

  137. Assuming today’s technology and today’s costs, this power system would cost about $65 trillion to build.

    Wiki says US Gross national income 16.51 trillion PPP dollars ‎(2012) Shall I call Bill McKibben to do the math?

    It would make more sense to go nuclear.

  138. Eustace Cranch says:
    July 31, 2014 at 10:08 am
    Space-based arrays that aim massive amounts of radiation down to Earth.
    Yeah, what could go wrong?

    I remember reading a defense site some years ago about US satellites being hacked via telemetry uplink and placed into unstable geometries or else shutdown and operators locked out. (few foresaw it but apparently people doing it learned of the technique via hearing of US intel agencies hijacking or listening into other country’s military satellites. May need a Nostromo mothership self-destruct sequence me thinks.

  139. Gibby:

    Sincere thanks for your post at July 31, 2014 at 10:01 am which relates your experience of using wind power and solar power while living off the grid.

    Your post is interesting and informative so I provide this link to it as a help for those who may have missed it.

    Richard

  140. The intent of this exercise is to arrive at a ballpark estimate of what it would take to stop burning carbon and “Capture the Sun”. There is obviously a large margin of error, plus or minus, in all of it. One thing is certain. Eventually we homo sapiens will consume all of the planet’s supply of carbon. Long before that time we must develop an alternative to burning that carbon.

    You might want to re-phrase the bit in bold. Now, all it takes is for a spectacular breakthrough in say nuclear fusion and voila, ‘running out’ of carbon would be very difficult. As for oil and gas there are alternatives being looked into right now that don’t involve burning food. Leftovers from algal biofuels can apparently be used as animal food.

    BBC – 12 March 2013
    Japan extracts gas from methane hydrate in world first
    ======
    How Stuff Works
    How can algae be converted into biofuel?
    …..In mid-2010, the U.S. Department of Energy pledged to invest up to $24 million in three research groups looking at ways to commercialize algae-based biofuels ….

  141. PhilCP said on July 31, 2014 at 9:53 am:

    To those who are talking about space-based solar arrays: The cost of launching an object to geosynchronous orbit using the Atlas V is on the order of 27 000$/kg.

    Well, duh! That’s why you send off the independent self-replicating robotic probes to the nearby asteroid belt, where they will assemble parts and assemblers they’ll then haul back to Earth orbit. There’s already enough materials up there, no need to source them off of this rock.

    Alternative plan is to drop the probes on the Moon, where they can set up shop and cover the surface with a solar array. But when they start making production facilities, humans will see buildings, figure there could be support for humans in the buildings, assure themselves humans on scene may be needed for critical decisions or emergency actions… And it’ll all go to heck from there.

  142. Re: Jason Joice MD says:
    July 31, 2014 at 5:47 am

    “I noticed one giant issue with the analysis. There was no accounting for the relative difference in efficiencies between internal combustion engine transportation and electric transportation. The bulk of the “transportation” block above is going to be from typical internal combustion engines. If those were converted to electric transportation, the efficiency would go from roughly 30% to roughly 90%.”

    Might wish to check your numbers there. So far as I know, power-out/power-in of no charger-battery combination yet devised by man approaches 90% efficiency and that does not include power plant conditioning and processing losses or electric transmission and distribution line loses required to deliver that power to the charger. In fact, it’s a stretch to build even a charger that is 90% efficient over the range of battery discharge conditions it must accommodate.

  143. One thing is certain. Eventually we homo sapiens will consume all of the planet’s supply of carbon.

    Some people beg to disagree. If you think about it we cannot run out of crude oil.

    Scenario: Supplies run low, prices rise sharply, alternatives (algae diesel) look better, production gets underway, what’s in the ground stays there. No? Then we have nuclear etc.

    LiveScience
    We Will Not Run Out of Fossil Fuels (Op-Ed)

    http://www.livescience.com/37469-fuel-endures.html

    We Will Never Run Out of Oil
    The Oil Supply – The Doomsday Scenarios are Flawed

    http://economics.about.com/cs/macroeconomics/a/run_out_of_oil.htm

  144. I suppose in addition to house rooftops, business building roof/sides might be utilized. Also, improvements in passive solar for heating buildings without PV panels could contribute. But, I think nuclear is the clear alternative on this side of the horizon. The cost of these is often cited, but a good measure of cost could be reduced by somehow appeasing the unappeasable, those who are against anything that might solve real problems. Nuclear electric plus the research that went into it has killed fewer than 70 people since 1950s (the UN of course projects 10s of thousands over time) and these mainly are plants that had “Edsel” technology – no modern computerized design and control. Of the 70, 56 were Chernobyl and 47 of these were workers who went into the plant to try to prevent a worse disaster, 4 were killed by a steam explosion in generator section and 1 killed in an accident, maybe not even radioactive accident in a spent fuel storage facility in France. It is instructive to note that the most nuclearized power system in the world in France has had only one death.

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

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

    China has had annual coal mining deaths that exceeded 6000 until recently. They now have reduced it down to ~2000/yr.

    All the hoopla over nuclear for over half a century with hardly mention of coal until the an_ti-civilization CO2 misa_nthropes began their sab_otage. With nuclear a clear solution to their problem, they’ve taken to ‘agonizing’ over the cost of nuclear ( – a good portion of which is cost to deal with the -nthropes themselves).

  145. I only have one question….what kind of “carbon footprint”, human caused emission scenario comes with the manufacturing, transport, land clearing, building and maintenance of such a project? And how long does it take for the “pros” to overcome the “cons”?

    The problems with thinking that the Sun is free and available to everyone are 1) as the author pointed out, the Sun is MORE available to some than others, 2) that the instruments/materials required to harness it are NOT free, and 3) governments can and will intervene in the capture and use of it by private citizens in every way possible.

  146. Eustace Cranch said on July 31, 2014 at 10:08 am:

    Space-based arrays that aim massive amounts of radiation down to Earth.

    Yeah, what could go wrong?

    Plenty. That’s why the energy from the arrays will be “transmitted” semi-conventionally, through the fixed cables of the space elevators. The superconducting carbon nanotube construction will prove ideal for the task.

  147. There are many elephants in the room.

    One is the existing out-of-grid uses of energy. In France, many train lines are electrified; it is a costly process, esp. when there are tiny tunnels in the way. Also, maintenance of the overhead lines is expensive, and they often break when it’s hot – certainly an issue with global climate warming rate change. I believe few low speed US train lines are currently electrified. Some US trains are very high, which would be a serious complication.

    What about cars? Electric battery are bulky, costly, and needs an eternity to refill. You would need battery exchanges, with battery changing robots, everywhere. (There was an Israeli company that made electric car battery changing robots that went bankrupt.)

    What about electrified highways? The whole infrastructure would need to be redone with induction emitters under the road.

    Out-of-grid is extremely difficult without carbon.

  148. All US politicians should be required to read this report. Maybe some Washington fantasies would end (But I doubt it)

  149. It may already have been said, but the article exaggerates somewhat. 27 quads are needed for transport, but most wasted as heat, leaving only about 6 actually used, which would need to be supplied to electric vehicles. So the base demand to be replaced is not 70 quads but more like 50.

    • For unconnected vehicules, you have to account for the battery losses.

      Or, you can convert all cars to trolleys.

  150. A lake equivalent to 9X Lake Meade in the DESERT SW? Hellooooooo. Do we pipe in from the Great Lakes and hope to keep the Zebra mussels out of the pumps and turbines? Can you say Keystone? A great example of an exercise in futility. I do not doubt that someone will think it’s a great idea because it will be for the children.

  151. Murray Duffin says:
    July 31, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Its a pretty silly starting assumption. Solar is one part of “all of the above” not the sole answer. and it is a good part. First, the american economy could run on less than 1/2 the energy per unit of GDP it uses today, without lifestyle sacrifice, and getting to the less than 1/2 costs much less than PV.

    Why hasn’t that no-pain cutback happened in the pioneering countries like Germany or Spain or the UK?

    Greg says:
    July 31, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Keep in mind that for the 12 months through April 2014, the electricity produced from wind power in the United States amounted to 174.7 terawatt-hours, or 4.25% of all generated electrical energy. That is pretty significant, with more on the way.

    Was that actually produced, or only theoretically? I.e., I suspect that’s based on “nameplate” capacity figures, which are about 25% of actual production.

  152. Apologies if I have missed an earlier comment, but a sample scan of responses didn’t bring it up.

    1) The concept makes the assumption that (once built) there is no “consumption” of resources to obtain the power. This overlooks the construction costs and resources required. But, even with that overlooked, the concept makes the assumption that solar cells have an eternal life at their rated efficiency. This is untrue. It is closer to say that a solar cell has a maximum number of joules/area it can generate before replacement. (Long term heat will cause molecular migration of the dopants used in the silicon to establish the photo-electric layers.) Not to mention the costs in time, labor, and other resources to keep the PV panels in repair and cleaned of dirt. According to this “once-we-build-it” argument, we should expect hydroelectric dams to have no annual costs once constructed, but indeed they do.

    2) From a military standpoint, this creates the greatest single vulnerability a nation could have: a fragile, exposed, concentrated system that is absolutely vital to the entire national economy. Nuclear weapons would impose electromagnetic pulse and air blast, to take out huge chunks and probably render the rest of it crippled. Complete destruction would not be necessary. A crippled economy cannot prosecute a war.

    3) Beware hailstorms! Snowstorms! Rain! Dust! Earthquakes! Bird droppings! Sharknadoes!

    4) And who knows what trivial and heretofore neglected animal or plant life will find the wiring insulation or support structure delectible to its taste or procreation?

    This is a solution to a non-problem, which may really have been the point of its presentation.

  153. Allow my to add one more issue with solar energy to all the well-documented ones presented here so far: sandstorms in the desert southwest.
    Sandstorm barrels down on Phoenix:

    If I had a vested interest in a solar farm in the desert southwest, I doubt if I would even want to know what would happen to it if and when a sandstorm goes barreling through. And this isn’t even considering how sand and dirt can probably be kicked up and blown onto the panels on a daily basis just from everyday winds. Nightmarish to think about.

  154. One thing is certain. Eventually we homo sapiens will consume all of the planet’s supply of carbon.

    Is this a misprint? Carbon is an element. Burning fossil fuels does not consume any carbon. I seriously doubt we will ever consume all the planet’s supply of fossil fuels, either.

    • “I seriously doubt we will ever consume all the planet’s supply of fossil fuels, either.””

      But we will consume easily accessible fossil fuel.

  155. simple-touriste:

    No, we will not “consume easily accessible fossil fuel”. That is not an economic possibility.

    But I suppose it was inevitable that a ‘peak oiler’ would use this thread as an excuse to promote their error.

    Richard

  156. Two items not in the paper. First, what will the cost of the energy be with repair and depreciation expenses compared fossil fuels? 60 T seems like something only a few times the world’s economic product and of course that cannot be dealt with by inflation so it truly has to have that much capital. Also, what is the maintenance and repair and replacement costs for the stuff? Finally, on a different note, how much albedo reduction and added heat not related to the use of the generated power will be present and what will that do to the general region in and surrounding our gargantuan solar farm?

  157. solar NEVER should have been thought of as large scale item, it should have been researched as small scale consumer sized to augment and lower the homeowners usage/bill while not affecting their quality of living.
    here in Maine (I thank the many for mentioning the issues we have up here) I could benefit for a few months of the year but once snow starts in Oct/Nov time frame until last storms in April/May they are a loss. And I also would have to deal with the 2-3 ft of snow on top of them throughout Jan-March.
    If I had a module I could snap into a bracket in the roof in June and safely remove and store in Oct I could benefit.
    If I had a small vertical wind generator I could mount on roof I could use it all year.
    I got a [275] gallon oil tank (house heat) full of #2 and 2 100 gallon LPG pigs here for heat in outbuildings and hotwater here in house.
    oil works. its simple, easy to transport and store, and can also run the diesel tractors nearby if needed to plow road.

  158. Good post and comments – Thanks all!
    ————————————————–

    John Slayton says:
    July 31, 2014 at 7:08 am
    “ … from Celilo, Washington . . .”

    Hi John,

    Not quite:

    From north to south …
    Celilo vineyard (on the Columbia River bluff, in Wash.)
    Celilo Falls (in the River, or was)
    Celilo Converter Station (1.84 miles from being in the Great State of WA)

    Google Earth 45.595841, -121.110594
    ***
    Hi to you and Nancy – I’ve been doing some trail work in the Cascades. My Nancy is still fiddling at rehab & senior homes.

  159. There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that, may-be already in a few years from now, a new generation solar panels will be on the market, that will produce twice as much, or even more, energy than the present solar panels. For that reason people who really believe in the future of solar panels advice other people NOT to buy the solar panels that are now in the market.
    That would be stupid, so they say, because long before the investment in solar panels of the present generation is paid back, new and more energy-efficient solar panels will already be in the market.
    But now for the bad news: As we all know, except for the gullible who still believe in man(n) made global warming, we are entering a new little ice age. One of the problems that this little ice age creates is that giant hail will be falling from the skies than in the past.

    http://novayagazeta-ug.ru/sites/default/files/styles/body_main_img_720/public/news/07-2014/grad_1.jpg?itok=de-W1xcY

    http://novayagazeta-ug.ru/news/u4979/2014/07/31/69704

    This is a huge problem for the future of solar panels. Solar panels are expensive and fragile.
    Hail as big as tennis balls coming down at more than a hundred kilometers an hour destructs not only greenhouses, crops in the fields, cars, windows and roofs of buildings, but it certainly destructs solar panels. Now one might say: we can pay assure our solar panels for the risk of hail damage. That will not be cheap, but it is possible in the present. But when it becomes clear that hail risk is becoming greater and greater in the little ice age that just has started, the insurance companies will refuse to insure that risk, or they will ask premiums that are so high that it will not
    be profitable any more to insure your solar panels. You might consider to take the risk yourself.
    If you are lucky and no hail damages your solar panels, you might have a profit. If you would pay very high insurance premiums, you will never make a profit. And when the hail strikes there is the chance the insurance company will not be able to pay your damage because it has gone broke. In this worst case scenario you pay so much premiums that you never get a profit out of your solar panels and when you get a lot of damage, you won’t receive a nickle because they can’t or won’t pay your damage claim.

  160. Cost is not the problem; that can be cured with the stroke of the pen.

    Simply put a BIG tax on oil and gas (and coal); I suggest starting at $1M per barrel equivalent. Then use that money to buy solar panels, and other hardware.

    There; cost problem completely solved.

    Only part I can’t seem to get around, is that solar panels run/ran around $4 per peak electrical Watt.

    With oil around $100 per barrel, it seems you can make about 25 Watt of solar panels, with the energy in a barrel of oil, or equivalent.

    With oil at $1,000,100 per barrel, your solar panels will run you about $40,000 per Watt.

    Every time I do this calculation, I get to the same conclusion. It takes too much damn energy to make solar panels; doesn’t have anything to do with cost.

    The sun is the problem; far to weak (power density) to rely on for energy.

  161. By the way.

    Nice effort there Phillip ; shows the scale of the lunacy.

    I wouldn’t be surprised, if human laborers (at minimum wage) couldn’t generate more electricity in a given space (30,000 sq. miles or whatever, riding stationary bicycles driving alternators.

    30,000 sq. miles is 19.2 million acres, which just happens to be the exact size of the entire Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, in Alaska (ANWR).

  162. Very good article and research. One problem with trying to implement the battery solution is that the area best for this type of pump storage would be in mountain valleys. The area that I live in has a great number of unpopulated valleys and river courses but the greens have been fighting any development in this area. There have been a number of proposals for smaller hydro projects but the red tape and legal challenges from the greens have just about shutdown any new power projects. The scale of the proposed pump up batteries would have to encompass some area’s that the greens would be willing to fight over, there by driving up the costs. The last hydro project to be proposed in our area has reached close to 150 million dollars in engineering and studies to satisfy those opposed to the installation. You should maybe add a number to your estimate for the legal wrangling that would come from the project to satisfy the greens if that is even possible.

  163. correction, I have 275 tank not 500.
    sorry could not edit. if a mod sees this would appreciate it if they would edit my last post.

  164. From above:

    So, our solar power plant must reliably deliver the electric energy equivalent of 70 quads to run the US economy for one year, or 56*1012 Wh (56 Terawatt hours) of electricity per day

    .
    And, a bit further down …

    According to this chart, the capacity factor for solar power plants installed so far in the U.S. is about 20%. Therefore, the Capacity of a solar plant to power America would be = electricity demand/day ÷ 24 hrs/day ÷ 20% capacity factor

    = 83 TWh/day ÷ 24 h/day ÷ 0.2 = 17 TW

    [v] Capacity of pumped storage = night time demand ÷ 12 hrs = 41 TWh ÷ 12 h = 3.4 TW

    Capital cost for Bath = $1.40/W, so Bath option CapEx = 3.4 TW x $1.40 ≈ $4.8 trillion

    Capital cost for Ludington = $0.98/W, so Ludington option CapEx = 3.4 TW x $0.98 ≈ $3.3 trillion

    But, sunshine literally, only can be collected 6 hours per day. That is, the sun is only high enough above the horizon (on an average day) between 9:00 AM and 15:00 PM (local solar time.) Before 9:00 AM, it is too low to generate heat, power, or useable energy. After 3:00 (15:00 hours) it is too low to generate power.
    Thus, you MUST generate all 24 hours of the needed power in only 6 hours.
    Worse, You must CONVERT and then STORE 18 hours of power (NOT 12!) of your average day’s worth of power in only 6 hours while you generate energy for the daily maximum use of power that day.
    Thus, at the same time as you are generating 24 hours of power in only 6 hours, you must GENERATE, STORE, and PROVIDE continuous power to the east coast (+2 hours solar time), central (+1 hours solar time), and Pacific coasts (-1 hours solar time) during the same time that you are GENERATING, CONVERTING, and STORING the 18 hours of power you will need the next afternoon, evening, and night!

    You MUST use the energy needed each hour of the day for
    (1) the worst day of the year for generating solar energy (probably Dec 22, the day of the lowest hourly solar elevation angle)
    (2) the worst total heat energy need per day of the year (This time, probably the coldest day of the year (mid-February maybe ??)
    (3) and the worst electric power need of the year (with air conditioning, that day might be late July or early August each year)
    (4) then compare those with the worst weather of the year in your solar collection area
    to get the worst requirement to determine that total solar acreage for a single day’s required collection area. It might be substantially more than a simple average year energy need divided by an average solar collection yearly generator efficiency!
    Then …

    Figure out the energy needed each hour of the worst day of the year.
    Generate enough power for the 6 hours of solar collection time. (You have an advantage here: In mid-summer in the real-world US, AC needs are high in summer but solar collections are MORE than just 6 hours per day, and each hour’s collection angles are higher in the sky, so the solar collection efficiencies are higher than in mid-winter. BUT (there had to be a “but” didn’t there?) the highest energy demand is NOT at noon, but later in the day between 3 and 7 PM each afternoon.

    Then you need to figure out the afternoon, evening, nighttime, and morning energy demands.
    Assume a collection efficiency from solar energy to electricity, a conversion efficiency from electricity to storage, and conversion from storage back to electricity. THEN, you can figure out the area required for storage, the total power needed to be stored, and the solar collector area required for generating that stored energy.

    You must build (design) a solar plant big enough to power the nation’s entire immediate power needs (plus a margin for repairs and shutdowns), storms, sand and dust erosion, replacement parts, and emergencies …. PLUS the area needed to power the “storage battery” you just calculated.

    And find a way to pump Lake Michigan up 200 feet into in the middle of New Mexico each afternoon from a second Lake Michigan in Arizona.

    Ground Area of the solar panels.
    The US is in the northern hemisphere – fairly far north in the northern hemisphere. The effect gets WORSE as you go further north, thus, again, the need to put all of the solar panels in the clearer skies of the desert (low humidity, lower cloud cover of the CA-AZ-NM deserts. Texas? Not so good because clouds increase rapidly.

    A little bit of this is covered in the article by multiplying the the “existing total acreage” for the solar projects being used as a baseline. This is good – rarely done, in fact.

    See, a “real solar facility” either with aimed panel (VERY EXPENSIVE controls and hydraulics and sensors and motors and tracking devices and arms and actuators) or a flat panel (cheapest) or a angled panel facing south, you need access between the rows of panels for a truck/washer system to keep them clean. (Plus a permanent supply of pure water to wash the panels off with!), plus a crew and supplies, etc.)
    Each panel “row” is built on the ground, which is rarely ever “flat” – and, if it is flat, it is either already a farm or ranch, or is a enviro-restricted area! If “flat” then the ground area actually needed is proportional to the solar receiver area divided by the cosine of the solar elevation angle (or latitude, for estimating purposes) at the lowest elevation angle of the year: December 22. A HIGH electric heating period!
    The further from the southern border each solar array is, the greater the area you need buy to avoid shading each array by the shadow of its next neighbor to the south. If your chosen area is not perfectly “flat” then you must ADD additional area – and each additional area requires its own Cosine (latitude) factor to avoid sloped hillside and mountain and valley shadow zones.

    Sure, a few of the potential areas are on a south-facing slope. And for every square meter of south facing slope, you get 1 acre of west-facing slope, 1 acre of north-facing slope, and 1 acre of east-facing slope. For each array you put on a favorable east-facing slope or mountainside, you LOSE that acre as soon as the sun crosses noon!

  165. Bloke down the pub says:
    July 31, 2014 at 4:16 am
    ++++++++++++++++++++
    Been there done that, but at 40 below C, nothing is “neutral”.
    +++++++++++++++++++++
    Danny V. says:
    July 31, 2014 at 4:55 am
    @ bloke – And it would take 200+, if ever, years to convert the existing house inventory to passive house design. Good thought, but will never be a player for a long time.
    I am planning a rural home and have looked at the heating options in depth. With reliability and cost in mind, I keep coming back to propane and wood for heat,
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Went through this in 2002 building a new farm house. Ended up with high density high efficiency concrete wood burning fireplace as the primary source of heat, water to water heat pump that can use ground source, well water circulated to another well or to fish pond, secondary Franklin Fireplace in the basement, and propane water heat for summer and in floor heating back up, super insulated, including basement floor, inside walls etc. , insulated curtains, gravity air circulation and so on. Most of my heat is from wood off my land, the heat pump provides hot water and in floor back up heat in the winter. I looked at both solar and wind, and there was no way that either can heat a house as economically as wood, propane or electricity. (I have a relative in the solar business.) I use solar around the farm for various things but it was/is not economic large scale at my latitude (53 40 N, 114 48 W) and weather conditions. There isn’t even enough wind to aerate my fish pond. Solar works for aeration only on sunny days and you have to keep the panels clean or the pump slows to a crawl. Solar fencers work well in the summer, but same thing, clean off the dust and snow or they quit … and the batteries don’t do well at 40 below.

    Looks to me like solar only works in southern latitudes and in states with a large subsidy. I carry a couple of solar panels when I travel down south with my horses, so they have their place, but I think it will be some time before they work well on a house in my climate.

    I keep looking at solar as my power bills have more than doubled since I built, but it still isn’t economic; in fact my propane back up generator is more economic than solar but still not as cheap as the grid especially when propane doubled in cost last winter. (A back up generator is a necessity where I live as winter and storm power outages are common – a few hours usually but sometimes 2 or 3 days.)

  166. Philip Dowd – Thanks for spelling out so well and so thoroughly the scale of the problem. A couple of thoughts (I haven’t tried to work out how significant they are in the overall picture):
    A solar panel that allowed some sun through (like a shadecloth) might in desert areas increase the productivity of the land below.
    Another suitable place for solar panels is rooftops.

  167. rogerknights says:
    July 31, 2014 at 12:42 pm
    “Why hasn’t that no-pain cutback happened in the pioneering countries like Germany or Spain or the UK?”

    Actually, electricity consumption per capita in Germany IS declining slightly – due to the high tariffs; which are on par with other global centres of lunacy – California, and Melbourne.

  168. Col Mosby ,ggm, Bruce Cobb, Robert of Ottawa, brockway32, Murray Duffin, L.E. Joiner, Leonard Weinstein, Canman, Greg, Jimbo, Gary Pearse — all lauded nuclear power in their comments above.

    Nuclear power is not a viable source of electric power due to very high costs to construct, it is unsafe as clearly demonstrated, and leaves extremely toxic byproducts (plutonium) behind for future generations to deal with.

    All these points, and many more, are clearly shown in the 28 articles published to day on Truth About Nuclear Power. The TANP series shows that no matter how the plants are designed, even fusion, small modular reactors, and thorium are not economic nor safe. One can start with the post on Thorium nuclear power, and work backwards:

    http://sowellslawblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-truth-about-nuclear-power-part-28.html

    Also for Robert of Ottawa, who stated coal is inexhaustible, it might be interesting to note that coal is depleted by 2070, at which time the world must find an alternative for the power it presently provides.

  169. I think a more practical solution would be to invade Central America and the northern parts of South America and put the PV cells there. All the people want to relocate here anyway. Just replace their homes and farms with PV and let them all come to live in the US and Canada. (Sarc?)

  170. Time for a Andrea Rossi E-Cat update, call it another speculative energy project.

    The focus remains semi-patiently waiting for the report on the multi-month third-party experiment with the “Hot-Cat.” That may be out in the September timeframe and apparently will be peer reviewed. “Progress” is being tracked at http://www.e-catworld.com/2014/07/19/e-cat-report-watch-thread/

    Also, Industrial Heat, the North Carolina company that bought development rights, is working on a 1 MW system for a US company. It’s believed to be a lot like the one Rossi built in Italy, but people will not have much to say about it until after the third party report is out.

  171. Here’s what I’ve added to my house in Seattle that’s enabled me to avoid energy-intensive air conditioning:

    1. An exhaust fan at one end of the attic. It draws air in the other end of the attic and down from rooftop vents. It’s controlled by an in-line thermostat. Weighted louvers on the outside automatically cover the fan when not in operation. All three items are sold inexpensively (about $160 total) at Amazon and big box hardware stores.
    2. Fiberglass insulation in the rafters.
    3. Blown-in wall insulation.
    4. Huge awnings high on the sunny sides of the house that keep the sun off the windows and walls. I retract them in the cooler & stormy months. (The ones I bought from Sunsetter are relatively cheap ($1600 for both) and can be installed by oneself and a helper.)
    5. Lexan (or Plexiglas) outer-window-covering. I had these and their mounting channels cut to size by a supplier, but I did the installation. (They also protect against burglary & vandalism.)
    6. An in-wall exhaust fan in the dormer.
    7. A rooftop deck over my shed-type dormer roof, which had the unintended side-effect of shading the dormer from the sun, considerably reducing its temperature in the summer.

  172. Some preliminary comments pending much more study of the posting and other comments.

    1. There’s no magic bullet. As of 2013, we have three major electric generation sources (coal, methane, uranium — 86%), two minor sources (hydro, wind — 11%), and four trivial sources (geothermal, “biomass,” petroleum, solar). The mix will change a bit over the next 20 years (less coal, more methane, more wind, more solar) but not in a big way other than coal-to-methane.)

    2. “Alternative energy” (wind, solar) depend critically on cost-effective storage. Pumped storage is not cost effective. Unless cheap, grid-scale batteries and invented and commercialized, the “alternatives” will remain sideshows.

    3. For any kind of scale, at least in the U.S., wind is far more economical than solar, but only if cost-effective storage comes online. That’s a very big “if” at the moment.

  173. rgbatduke says:
    July 31, 2014 at 5:46 am
    ++++++++++++++++++++++
    I am not sure I understand the limitations. BC Hydro produces most of its power (Bennet Dam and others on the Peace and Columbia Rivers) over 1200 km from the major users in the lower mainland and exports power to the US (and sometimes imports) through grid ties. Alberta is in the process of building a 300 km DC transmission line from west of Edmonton to Calgary (Berkshire Hathaway has applied to buy Alta-Link, the current transmission line builder).

    Most of the US is within 1200 km of the southern sunny areas with the exception of the north east states such as Maine. New England, New York, and other northern states import (for now) large amounts of hydro and nuclear from Canada. (See quote at the end.)

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/where-canada-s-surplus-energy-goes-1.1109321

    http://transmission.bchydro.com/NR/rdonlyres/83A5FDF4-F326-4AEC-ABCE-A13D2D00542B/0/BCH_Transmission_J1_2013.pdf

    As for solar, I have done the analysis both myself and had professional help – the problem with current technology is that the panels and the batteries require replacing before the costs have been recovered so solar requires constant re-investing, and no cost recovery, at least in my location. If it were feasible at my latitude, 52 40, I would have been off the grid long ago. I personally think I will be long deceased before solar is economic at household scale without a grid tie. But even with a grid tie, it does’t pay at this time.

    In Canada, we are energy hogs, because we live in a cold climate.

    “Although Canada is one of the biggest power users in the world — due in large part to home heating demands — it is also an energy exporter.

    The country generated a whopping 585,000 gigawatt hours of electricity in 2008, which is more than enough for domestic consumption (and, incidentally, more than the total annual electricity use in India).

    For many years, Canada’s surplus power has been sold to the U.S. It’s a profitable business for Canadian utilities — worth about $3.8 billion in 2008 — but it’s limited by bottlenecks in Canada’s aging transmission infrastructure.

    North-south axis

    More than three quarters of the electricity generated in this country comes from hydro or nuclear power, neither of which produce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The U.S., on the other hand, gets close to 50 per cent of its energy from coal-fired generating stations.

    The electricity business: Federal or provincial?

    In Canada, the Constitution Act stipulates that electricity generation, transmission and distribution fall within provincial jurisdiction.

    The federal government therefore has little to do with it, except with regard to export.

    Each province’s energy export licences and quotas are issued by Canada’s National Energy Board. This independent agency, established in 1959, governs international and interprovincial trade in oil, gas and electricity.

    Canada’s extensive power grid offer a stable source of clean electricity for many northern states. By purchasing this energy, as opposed to building more coal plants, the U.S. is working towards its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    Most of the states along the border are connected to Canadian provinces through an extensive high-voltage system.

    Canada’s main customers are New England, New York, the Midwestern states and the Pacific Northwest. The provinces that export the most are Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.

    Most of the trade is north-south, between provinces and states, because the distances between power plants and markets in the U.S. are shorter than the east-west distances between those plants and other Canadian cities. The value of the American dollar is also an attractive factor in north-south trade.”

  174. This post, almost all of it including the commentary is myopic in the extreme in that it has failed totally to take into account the desires and aims of the rest of the world’s peoples and nations re energy availability and use.
    The American population at around 360 millions comprises about 5% of the world’s current population of 7.2 billions .
    The rest of the World intends by every means possible to one day match the American standards of living and therefore by implication, as energy use per capita is a good proxy for the standard of living, America’s energy use per capita.

    So everything that the original poster’s simplistic scenario suggested plus all the rights, wrongs and alternative scenarios provided by the commenters has to multiplied by roughly 20 fold to give some indication of the true global scale of every one of those numerous alternative scenarios being proposed by commenters.

    Do the sums again for a global situation and see how impractical and just how irrational and far from practical reality the idea of using solar panels technology exclusively for the future global energy requirements really is.
    The same applies to the proponents of global energy supplied via wind turbines.

    Somewhere, somehow, some way, someone will crack fusion power technology one day probably not very far into the future. It could even be by 2017 or soon after if the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks transportable Fusion reactor actually works out as they and we all hope for.

    The rewards for the successful team or inventor of a theoretically unlimited in output power source coupled with an infinite supply of fuel into the never ending future is an incentive of such magnitude that mankind will persevere in this quest until he finally achieves that ultimate in the power generation goal.
    Fusion energy is the only such source of energy within our present knowledge range available to mankind and that is the course that every nation of earth should be directing their energy research, their hopes and their economic research power towards.

    Cheap, always on, dead reliable energy was the key to the beginnings if the great British Industrial Revolution in the late 1600′s, an energy revolution which continues on to this day.
    The three thousand year old wind power and water wheels were dispensed with by british industrialists as fast as they could get rid of them when the first steam powered, coal fired engines, deadly dangerous as they were, showed a semblance of reliability and proved they were capable of driving the pumps of the coal mines and the looms and spinners of the nascent textile industry that already in those times required dead steady power to run smoothly and efficiently.

    We in the industrialized countries are so use to always having this steady ultra reliable power at the flick of a switch or at our finger tips that we have completely lost sight of what it would mean for our civilization, for our standards of living, for our personal demands and comforts if our power resources became intermittent, unreliable, variable and unpredictable and for this situation to continue for years on end.

    Solar and wind everywhere, in every location and every situation they have been established have amply proven over and over again in the last two and half decades that they meet every deficient point by being intermittent, unreliable, unpredictable and highly variable in their power generating abilities and consequently have amply demonstrated their complete inability and complete unsuitability for a totally power dependent, heavily industrialised 24 hours a day civilisation which suposedly can be run using just 6 to 8 hours a day of intermittent, unpredictable, highly variable solar and wind power.

    Why bother even thinking of expanding any power generation source with that sort of record to try and provide power for an entire heavily industrialised nation of 360 millions let alone for humanity’s entire numbers of 7.2 billions.

  175. If we start with demand of 56 Terawatt hours of electricity per day and add a 50% safety factor, we find that we will then need a system that can produce about 83 TWh/day

    Too ambitious. I think a fairer thought experiment would be to envision replacement of the 4,000 tWh of electricity generated in the United States each year. That’s 11 TWh per day. A 50% safety factor — no opinion on the necessity of this — would entail 16.5 TWh a day. That’s a far cry from 84 TWh.

    A good deal of the energy use is “non-electrifiable” in this century. The light passenger vehicle fleet will be convertible if battery costs are radically slashed and energy density radically improved. This would entail a 20% increase in demand, from 11 TWh/day to 13 TWh, and from 16.5 TWh/day to 20 TWh/day with a safety factor. But a lot of other energy use isn’t so readily convertible.

    Therefore, I’d use a lower bogey. And, given that the true gating factor — economical storage — would equally enable solar and wind, I think an analysis that posits only solar is non-tenable even as a thought experiment.

  176. Ric: Please let us know if you hear any positive news about the Papp engine. That has an even crazier underlying theory, and its promise is twice as great as the E-Cat. (E.g., it could be used in transportation and it would not require a boiler to obtain electrical energy from.)

  177. Let’s print off another $65Tn in treasuries and begin construction tomorrow. The kids can pay for it later.

  178. PhilCP says:
    July 31, 2014 at 9:53 am
    To those who are talking about space-based solar arrays: The cost of launching an object to geosynchronous orbit using the Atlas V is on the order of 27 000$/kg.

    I mentioned the cost of getting to orbit above, and a possible solution: MagLev launchers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarTram

    /Mr Lynn

  179. rgbatduke says:
    July 31, 2014 at 5:46 am
    ———————————————-
    … A lot of stuff that makes sense …

    .. and then spoils it with the passage that starts with …

    Solar does make a good deal of sense on individual rooftops, where in many parts of the country or world it is already a break-even to win-a-bit proposition compared to buying power from the existing heat-generation grid, a household at a time. When the surplus is sold back into the grid, it ekes out fossil fuel supplies and over time could drop the cost of electricity in general.

    I have no problem with people generating their own power using rooftop solar or other non-invasive means and using it themselves. What I do have a problem with is people selling badly phased power into a grid that has a very high quality of evenly phased and uniform electricity thereby screwing things up for the rest of us. It is like someone with a dirty roof and gutters selling their rainwater run-off directly into the water pipes of their neighbours without any filtering or purification done. You cannot get a home rooftop system to provide properly and uniformly phased power with any kind of solution that is remotely economic.

    Power companies do a lot of things besides just generating the electricity we use.

  180. richardscourtney says: July 31, 2014 at 1:30 pm
    But I suppose it was inevitable that a ‘peak oiler’ would use this thread as an excuse to promote their error.
    Richard
    ________________________________

    More nonsense from Richard. Any finite resourse is capable of being exhausted.

    .
    .

    george e. smith says: July 31, 2014 at 3:08 pm
    Cost is not the problem; that can be cured with the stroke of the pen.
    _________________________________

    You confuse money with true wealth. Anyone can print fiat money, but if it is not backed up by real resourses, or real efficient labour, it is not worth a damn. You simply end up with a loaf of bread costing ten million dollars.

    Building a solar array of this magnitude takes real resources and real labour, not fiat money, and it can and will bankrupt an entire nation.

    Ralph

  181. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
    This is only part of why solar will never be significant. It has it’s place, and as rgb points out, it may become fairly common as an add-in, if, if, and if… Still, solar just CANNOT be a substantive share of our energy needs. We must burn the fuels. It is burn or die. Really.

  182. I’m sure someone else has pointed it out above, but how much less sunshine does the SW get during the winter? Given the fact that last winter every State in the Union had some level of snow coverage at the same time, what would happen should similar happen in regards to the astronomical demands for light and warmth during an event such as a Polar Vortex? What would happen if at the time of greatest need, the SW is socked in by cloud or even snow covering a percentage of those panels?

    Then how much will it cost to maintain per year? Just because sunshine is free, it doesn’t mean everything else is. What is the lifespan of all those millions of solar PV panels? How much to replace them all seeing as they lose efficiency every year?

    It’s all well and good using SPV or a small wind turbine on your property to potentially reduce your household energy bills, but the idea of using such a singular method based on having exactly the right conditions to be effective, on a national basis, is nothing short of suicidal on multiple levels.

  183. Why do people always ignore, the cost of land and the cost of money, Interest payments alone would exceed any fuel cost

  184. “””””……george e. smith says: July 31, 2014 at 3:08 pm
    Cost is not the problem; that can be cured with the stroke of the pen.
    _________________________________

    You confuse money with true wealth. Anyone can print fiat money, but if it is not backed up by real resourses, or real efficient labour, it is not worth a damn. You simply end up with a loaf of bread costing ten million dollars……””””””

    Well Ralph, I don’t confuse anything.

    And my point went right over your head.

    For starters, you even got your very own point fouled up.

    I said NOTHING about printing fiat money. What I did suggest was in fact stealing REAL WEALTH from those who created it; those nasty oil and gas, and coal companies. That is the piggy bank I raided. Those people are actually doing something of real economic value; their work output runs the whole planet; well most of it anyway.

    And I simply pointed out that ALL of that wealth of those energy companies is still not enough to fund that rat hole that is PV solar energy. It takes too much energy from existing viable energy sources (fossils) to produce even the most efficient solar cells.

    The problem is the sun; it is a pitiful excuse for a power source. At maybe 200 W/m^2 best case, you can get energy more densely by pedaling a bicycle (driving an alternator.)

    There are people working on “solar cells”, that are so “cheap”, you can just about spray it out of a garden hose onto your existing roof (whatever that is made of) a a penny a square foot).

    They think that is great; cheap enough for anyone to afford. They might have even achieved 0.3% conversion efficiencies. Did I mention this stuff is cheap.

    And the sun is still crawling along at 1,000 W/m^2 absolute max on the surface.

    I’ll give you all the cheap solar cells you want.

    To power up your house, you couldn’t afford the property taxes on how much land you would need.

    It’s a technological (power density) problem; not an economic problem.

    And as long as people think it is an economic problem, they will put economists to work on the solution (like my oil tax).

    If solar PV was a net energy availability system, like oil and gas and coal are; it would automatically be economical.

    The existing totality of planet earth energy sources, is self supporting; there is NOTHING ELSE to tap to subsidize it. We got here from fig trees by our own shoe laces; without subsidies.

    Free clean green renewable energy (figs) failed to get us down from the trees, and grow to our current populations. It took fire and stored chemical energy to do that . And free clean green renewable energy could never sustain the present; or any future projected world population; not to mention all the animals.

  185. Another energy-saving tip: If you take a bath in cold weather, don’t pull the plug until two hours after you’ve left it. That way its heat goes into the house, not down the drain.

  186. From Ric Werme on July 31, 2014 at 6:22 pm:

    Also, Industrial Heat, the North Carolina company that bought development rights, is working on a 1 MW system for a US company.

    Nowadays, any company that deliberately chooses a name that is too bland for a quick web search is de facto guilty of deliberate obfuscation.

    Thankfully Google can be pretty smart.

    http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Industrial_Heat,_LLC

    From the “Pure Energy Systems Wiki” it is found the founding investor of Industrial Heat LLC is Tom Darden, CEO of Cherokee Investment Partners thus someone with an image problem ducking charges of racial and cultural insensitivity if that company is not in fact predominantly owned by Cherokees.

    In the Profile section, which obviously was supplied by the company due to the use of “we”, it says:

    Cherokee Investment Partners: Since 1990, Cherokee has invested in more than 550 environmentally contaminated, or brownfield, real estate assets across the United States, Canada and Europe. Cherokee is the world’s only known ISO 14001 certified private equity manager, with a total of five investment funds since 1996, with aggregate commitments exceeding $2 billion. In addition to managing numerous brownfield properties throughout the US, Cherokee is presently investing private equity in utility-scale solar PV projects on brownfields.

    So their specialty is acquiring potential Superfund cleanup sites, which likely would be cheap. Except it doesn’t say here they do remediation and cleanup, which can be expensive and long-term. They manage.

    And their current big thing is building PV solar farms on contaminated land, thus justifying not cleaning it up as it’s in use, using private money while government subsidies are drying up, when a smart company would know solar is not competitive without subsidies like feed-in tariffs thus they’re gambling on elected politicians being willing to increase electricity rates to consumers by mandating more and ongoing preferential treatment.

    “Industrial Heat” was founded in 2012. The Wiki notes their website, http://industrialheat.co/, as of 2014 Jan 24 would default to a press release of the Rossi acquisition. It still does, to a PR Newswire page, not their own server.

    It does not look like “Industrial Heat” is actively seeking investors. Perhaps it would help if they partnered with “Industrial Light and Magic”. Then they could produce a spectacular demo video of the Amazing Efficacious eCat.

  187. “Household heating is included in the electrification for your workings. If a new build house is well designed, then the combination of south facing windows and high levels of insulation can provide most of the heating that a property requires. This can be done without all the drawbacks that you report and should be cost neutral.”

    Rebuilding the housing stock to have south facing windows in the US would be a rather expensive undertaking–so the cost of rebuilding them would have to be added to the article’s computation of expenses if you treat the computation as if it did not have to produce heating energy for those houses. OTOH, if you don’t rebuild all the existing housing, their energy requirements are properly included in the calculations.

  188. A rather grandiose project and there appears to be a much simpler way of harnessing solar power. Solar heating of the earth causes evaporation of water which leads to formation of clouds. These clouds then travel inland where they release water as rain which has gained considerable gravitational energy during the process. The rain then drains into rivers and, in many areas, there are canyons that the rivers flow through that can be dammed to produce a reservoir of water having considerable potential energy if a generator is attached to the outflow of the river. Given that rainfall is often erratic in many areas, the dam that one builds would also provide a source of irrigation water. The idea seems so simple, that it surprises me that no-one has thought of it before and people are instead proposing to carpet the SW US with hundreds of thousands of square miles of solar cells which is far more environmentally destructive than the low-tech natural solar powered pumped storage system described above.

    When one deals with watermelons, one has to negate everything they say in order to determine their true intentions. In BC, no further natural solar powered pumped storage systems are allowed to be constructed because they are “destructive of the environment” and “unsustainable”. Instead, massive bird blenders which produce a small amount of intermittent power and likely will never return as electricity the amount of energy involved in their construction and transportation, are placed on scenic mountains where they spoil the view and kill endangered species of birds by the hundreds. Such idiotic power sources are, in the opinions of the watermelons, “enironmentally friendly” and “sustainable”.

    A hydroelectric dam is a very elegant means of harnessing a very dilute energy density source and magnifying the energy density several million fold and producing a power source that is the ultimate in “sustainability”. I’ve driven through NE Washington state and the hydroelectric dams constructed there in the 1930′s took what was essentially a desert and made it into a very productive agricultural area. I’ve never understood why a massive coral reef is considered to be “natural” given the massive alteration in the local ecology that the unchecked growth of coral has caused whereas a human accomplishement such as the Grand Coulee dam are considered to be unnatural. Corals create ecology altering reefs and humans create sustainable energy sources such as dams. The fact that watermelons seem determined to destroy every hydroelectric dam in the US is so insane that one can only make sense of it if one views “environmentalism” as an anti-life religion.

  189. ralfellis:

    At July 31, 2014 at 1:30 pm I attempted to ‘head off’ disruption of this thread by ‘peak oilers’ when I wrote

    simple-touriste:
    No, we will not “consume easily accessible fossil fuel”. That is not an economic possibility.
    But I suppose it was inevitable that a ‘peak oiler’ would use this thread as an excuse to promote their error.

    ‘simple-touriste’ accepted the point and did not reply.
    But – with the same inevitability that Roger Sowell turns up to spout nonsense whenever nuclear power is discussed – you decided to again make a fool of yourself at July 31, 2014 at 8:47 pm by replying to my economic point with this

    More nonsense from Richard. Any finite resourse is capable of being exhausted.

    True, and planet Earth will be “exhausted” when the Sun turns Red Giant, but there is no reason to concern ourselves about something far in the future.

    The CAPABILITY of exhaustion of “easily accessible fossil fuel” is not the same as the ECONOMIC POSSIBILITY, and the “exhaustion” is an economic an impossibility. However, despite “exhaustion” of oil being impossible, Malthusians scare-monger about it as part of their scare-mongering about ‘overpopulation’.

    I again explain why ‘peak oil’ is impossible for the benefit of those who don’t know and so there is no reason to further side-track this thread with the nonsense of ‘peak oil.

    The ‘peak oil’ issue is part of the fallacy of overpopulation.

    The fallacy of overpopulation derives from the disproved Malthusian idea which wrongly assumes that humans are constrained like bacteria in a Petri dish: i.e. population expands until available resources are consumed when population collapses. The assumption is wrong because humans do not suffer such constraint: humans find and/or create new and alternative resources when existing resources become scarce.

    The obvious example is food.
    In the 1970s the Club of Rome predicted that human population would have collapsed from starvation by now. But human population has continued to rise and there are fewer starving people now than in the 1970s; n.b. there are less starving people in total and not merely fewer in in percentage.

    Now, the most common Malthusian assertion is ‘peak oil’. But humans need energy supply and oil is only one source of energy supply. Adoption of natural gas displaces some requirement for oil, fracking increases available oil supply at acceptable cost; etc..

    In the real world, for all practical purposes there are no “physical” limits to natural resources so every natural resource can be considered to be infinite; i.e. the human ‘Petri dish’ can be considered as being unbounded. This a matter of basic economics which I explain as follows. bold

    Humans do not run out of anything although they can suffer local and/or temporary shortages of anything. The usage of a resource may “peak” then decline, but the usage does not peak because of exhaustion of the resource (e.g. flint, antler bone and bronze each “peaked” long ago but still exist in large amounts).

    A resource is cheap (in time, money and effort) to obtain when it is in abundant supply. But “low-hanging fruit are picked first”, so the cost of obtaining the resource increases with time. Nobody bothers to seek an alternative to a resource when it is cheap.

    But the cost of obtaining an adequate supply of a resource increases with time and, eventually, it becomes worthwhile to look for
    (a) alternative sources of the resource
    and
    (b) alternatives to the resource.

    And alternatives to the resource often prove to have advantages.

    For example, both (a) and (b) apply in the case of crude oil.

    Many alternative sources have been found. These include opening of new oil fields by use of new technologies (e.g. to obtain oil from beneath sea bed) and synthesising crude oil from other substances (e.g. tar sands, natural gas and coal). Indeed, since 1994 it has been possible to provide synthetic crude oil from coal at competitive cost with natural crude oil and this constrains the maximum true cost of crude.

    Alternatives to oil as a transport fuel are possible. Oil was the transport fuel of military submarines for decades but uranium is now their fuel of choice.

    There is sufficient coal to provide synthetic crude oil for at least the next 300 years. Hay to feed horses was the major transport fuel 300 years ago and ‘peak hay’ was feared in the nineteenth century, but availability of hay is not significant a significant consideration for transportation today. Nobody can know what – if any – demand for crude oil will exist 300 years in the future.

    Indeed, coal also demonstrates an ‘expanding Petri dish’.
    Spoil heaps from old coal mines contain much coal that could not be usefully extracted from the spoil when the mines were operational. Now, modern technology enables the extraction from the spoil at a cost which is economic now and would have been economic if it had been available when the spoil was dumped.

    These principles not only enable growing human population: they also increase human well-being.
    The ingenuity which increases availability of resources also provides additional usefulness to the resources. For example, abundant energy supply and technologies to use it have freed people from the constraints of ‘renewable’ energy and the need for the power of muscles provided by slaves and animals. Malthusians are blind to the obvious truth that human ingenuity has freed humans from the need for slaves to operate treadmills, the oars of galleys, etc..

    And these benefits also act to prevent overpopulation because population growth declines with affluence.
    There are several reasons for this. Of most importance is that poor people need large families as ‘insurance’ to care for them at times of illness and old age. Affluent people can pay for that ‘insurance’ so do not need the costs of large families.

    The result is that the indigenous populations of rich countries decline. But rich countries need to sustain population growth for economic growth so they need to import – and are importing – people from poor countries. Increased affluence in poor countries can be expected to reduce their population growth with resulting lack of people for import by rich countries.

    Hence, the real foreseeable problem is population decrease; n.b. not population increase.
    All projections and predictions indicate that human population will peak around the middle of this century and decline after that. So, we are confronted by the probability of ‘peak population’ resulting from growth of affluence around the world.

    The Malthusian idea is wrong because it ignores basic economics and applies a wrong model; human population is NOT constrained by resources like the population of bacteria in a Petri dish. There is no existing or probable problem of overpopulation of the world by humans. And claims of ‘peak oil’ are nonsense.

    Richard

  190. @Ashok Patel,

    The sunlight absorbed by the Solar Panels in such large scale would…

    lower the temperature at the ground and together with the water spilled when cleaning the panels will grow a jungle which will also have to be cut back. OTOH we may plant corn on that former sterile place for bio…
    [/sarc]

  191. Philip

    150 Wh/day-m^2 looks too low. That’s about 31 W/m^2 solar insolation. The global ave. is 200 W/m^2. Check your data.

  192. The author makes various questionable assumptions and misses a couple of the big points.

    The biggest point is that we continuously rebuild our infrastructure. We will be rebuilding our power production and distribution system over the next 30 years to become sustainable. Additionally, diversity is desirable when building a system. Diversity lets you take advantage of the best local sustainable solutions, and diversity makes the overall system more robust.

    Issues that the author gets wrong include:

    1) We’re allowed to use wind and geothermal. Wind provides energy at night and
    when a storm covers the southwest united states. We’re allowed to use tidal
    energy. We’re allowed to use micro-hydro.

    2) We’re allowed to build power plants in sunny northern Mexico as well as
    the southwest united states. We’re allowed to put solar panels on top of
    existing urban infrastructure.

    3) Moving to terawatts of solar PV requires increasing the supply of PV
    by a factor of 1,000. Historically, across numerous technologies, economies of
    scale from mass production tend to decrease costs by about half for each doubling of production. We can thus expect prices to decrease by a factor of
    eight as we roll out PV to terawatt scales.

    4) Although you are describing the costs, you aren’t describing the income
    produced by the electricity.

    5) The author suggests that the United States cannot build multi-trillion
    dollar infrastructure by stating that the national highway system is a
    half-trillion dollar project. But the author neglects the existing power
    distribution system.

    6) The assumption that half of the energy would be used at night is
    unwarranted. With the massive fleet of electric vehicles described,
    the car batteries form a rather big chunk of the storage. Most of thesecars would be charged during the day while parked at work. On the existing
    electrical grid, about 2/3rds of electricity is used during the day.

    7) The author states that solar costs 16 times as much as natural gas. You
    may want to look at the EIA levelized costs
    (http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm)
    which show solar PV costing about wice the cheapest natural gas technology.
    The solar PV cost is an average from across the united states, not a cost
    taken from just the southwest united states. Even after you attach a
    large battery to solar PV, you are nowhere near sixteen times the cost of
    natural gas.

    8) http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html provides a detailed analysis
    of renewable technologies.

  193. Dr strangelove: See http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html for a detailed discussion of watts/square meter on a solar farm. Unfortunately, for a large scale desert farm, the densities are rather low. On the other hand, for an individual rooftop, densities are, as you point out, quite a bit higher; a point that the author of this article does miss.

  194. Rebuilding the housing stock is not an expensive undertaking. We’ve been doing it continuously for quite some time now. Over the course of the next 30 years — the timeframe for building out terawatts of solar PV — we will replace a substantial portion of our housing stock. Probably a bit over 60% of the stock.

  195. cesium62:

    At August 1, 2014 at 2:32 am you assert

    The author makes various questionable assumptions and misses a couple of the big points.

    No, you have completely missed the point of Dowd’s analysis, and your “big points” are trivia which do not alter his main conclusion; viz.

    But, it is also true that solar power today supplies only about two tenths of one percent of the energy to run the U.S. economy. It is easy to see why when we compare the economics of solar with other options. In the exercise above I estimate the cost of building a system to power today’s economy with energy from the sun at about $65 trillion. Doing the same thing with gas-fired technology would cost about $4 trillion, about 6% of the cost of solar.

    Richard

  196. george e. smith says:
    July 31, 2014 at 3:08 pm
    Every time I do this calculation, I get to the same conclusion. It takes too much damn energy to make solar panels; doesn’t have anything to do with cost.

    Ignoring deterioration losses for the moment, if you mad 1 million solar panels to provide the energy to manufacture another million, you can then use that 2 million panels to manufacture 4 million. The energy input hurdle you describe exponentially approximates toward zero, doesn’t it?

  197. Wayne writes: “As for solar, I have done the analysis both myself and had professional help – the problem with current technology is that the panels and the batteries require replacing before the costs have been recovered so solar requires constant re-investing, and no cost recovery, at least in my location. If it were feasible at my latitude, 52 40, I would have been off the grid long ago. I personally think I will be long deceased before solar is economic at household scale without a grid tie. But even with a grid tie, it does’t pay at this time.”

    Wayne, come visit us down here in California some time. If Solar isn’t economic for you, you don’t have to use it. Down here, Solar is economic at household scale, and our population densities are high enough that grid tie makes sense. Turns out that most of the population of the world doesn’t live as far north as you do. Meanwhile, you’ve got hydro already built. Feel free to use that.

  198. cesium62 says:

    …compared to bird deaths from cats, power lines, windows, pesticides, automobiles, …

    Well, that makes windmills A-OK, then.

    It’s amazing how so-called “enviromentalists” can justify slaughtering birds in return for highly subsidized, über-expensive, unreliable wind power…

    …not to mention that windmills disproportionately kill raptors.

  199. cesium62:

    At August 1, 2014 at 2:50 am you answer a question from Grey Lensman at July 31, 2014 at 10:00 pm; i.e.

    Why do people always ignore, the cost of land and the cost of money, Interest payments alone would exceed any fuel cost

    Your answer implies that such costs are assessed and links to a US government forecast of energy costs from various power plants.

    I fail to find any mention of “cost of land” and “cost of money” in that link. Please say where you think they are.

    Also, the link assesses cost of solar energies with inclusion of subsidies, so its estimates are a function of what it claims will be government subsidies. True costs are total coasts; true costs are not total costs less subsidies.

    Richard

  200. Boris Gimbarzevsky says:
    August 1, 2014 at 12:30 am
    The fact that watermelons seem determined to destroy every hydroelectric dam in the US is so insane that one can only make sense of it if one views “environmentalism” as an anti-life religion.

    Boris, I suspect it’s more a case they have this psychological ideal of ultimate natural perfection which can only exist if that unnatural component, the human and their technology, are eliminated from consideration and their version of natural perfection.

    The obvious antidote to their grotesque version of perfection and implicit assumption that humans are not natural, is to point out that;

    (a) Humans and every scrap of technology and the physics and chemistry of materials, are in fact 100% natural.

    (b) That we are the best current example of natural adaptation and survival of the fittest and thus have every right to alter our required environmental niche to suit and serve our survival and requirements and species natural character and inclinations;

    (c) In which niche we have the capacity for insight and benevolence to the extent that we both protect and immensely enjoy nature, plus permit such people to walk and talk as freely as they wish and hope they’ll, in time, make at least a partial recovery, or become less traumatized and rejecting of our stunning natural emergence.

  201. “It’s a good bet that solar will eventually be a major part of our energy equation…”

    No.

    Solar is a stupid way to try to make a static source of big power output over a large service area – as your model amply demonstrates. You could show the same truth for wind power generation just as well if you are so inclined.

    Need to intermittently pump a bit of water into a remote water trough for livestock? Well then a solar rig might be just the thing. But if you want to serve a civilization you better come up with something that works on rainy days [and nights], is distributed and redundant, is cost efficient [in dollars, land use and quality of life impacts], and made of upgradable, long service life, components.

    Rational men of the future will look back at us and marvel at the long gap between developing the theory of nuclear power generation and its ubiquitous use… and rightly consider us fools.

  202. “What Would It Cost? Assuming today’s technology and today’s costs, this power system would cost about $65 trillion to build.” ~Philip Dowd

    Excellent article. As with all Broken Window economic actions, part of the cost of coercive action to transform the energy sector must include the value of the coal plants, hydro, working home electric meters, etc. which would be unnecessarily destroyed.

    “From which, by generalizing, we arrive at this unexpected conclusion: “Society loses the value of objects unnecessarily destroyed,” and at this aphorism, which will make the hair of the protectionists stand on end: “To break, to destroy, to dissipate is not to encourage national employment,” or more briefly: “Destruction is not profitable.””

    ~Frederic Bestiat

  203. From cesium62 on August 1, 2014 at 2:32 am:

    The author makes various questionable assumptions and misses a couple of the big points.

    The biggest point is that we continuously rebuild our infrastructure.

    Clearly this shows you have a fundamental problem with the definitions, as clearly we overwhelmingly do not rebuild, do not demolish and scrap the old while replacing it with the new, usually in the same location.

    Instead we repair, either fix broken bits and swap them out for working bits, and enhance, when two lanes become four or a new sewage treatment plant can handle 40% more volume.

    The closest example of rebuilding infrastructure is when phone service switched to primarily fiber optics, which started decades ago, and is still not complete as local economics still makes copper to the user more cost-efficient. It also saved the telcos money, without government subsidies or mandates.

    The closest example of continuously rebuilding infrastructure is cellphone service, where they scrap the old tech to implement (and endlessly hype) the newer faster standards. But that is reaching the natural limit where nearly all users find their service to be fast enough, now they want the same but cheaper.

    Next you say:

    We will be rebuilding our power production and distribution system over the next 30 years to become sustainable.

    This shows a near-complete disconnection with reality. Utilities will increase efficiencies to increase profitability, provided the technology is time-durable, what they install today will still be usable and similar to what they will be using several decades from now, for the payback period can be decades. That is their sustainability, transformers that aren’t replaced every few years to comply with ever-stricter efficiency requirements, and grids that remain up and running at suitable capacity for years without disruption.

    “Sustainable” is a goal pursued only for itself. It runs counter to prevailing economics and expectations of reliability, offering no real benefit besides the word itself.

    So we will not be rebuilding, and there is no overriding reason for it to be “sustainable” short of government mandate, therefore neither shall happen.

  204. The key takeaways include probable snd intrinsic limits to efficency improvement. If PV has a maximum 50% improvement, and costs are 14X gas-powered today – 1/5 future costs are still 3X gas -we can expect solar to remain a niche supplier WITH SUBSIDIES unless we cripple our economy (as it is).

    A good upper limit analysis.

  205. “Eventually we homo sapiens will consume all of the planet’s supply of carbon. Long before that time we must develop an alternative to burning that carbon.”

    Not true. Now that we know that the Earth’s core is a supernova remnant and that it produced natural gas and petroleum constantly, it is indeed a renewable resource. It is no joke that wells drilled in Texas in the 1940s are still productive today. A lot of well that went “dry” are now being found to have been recharged by gas and oil from below.

  206. Zeke says:
    August 1, 2014 at 5:31 am

    “What Would It Cost? Assuming today’s technology and today’s costs, this power system would cost about $65 trillion to build.” ~Philip Dowd

    Excellent article. As with all Broken Window economic actions, part of the cost of coercive action to transform the energy sector must include the value of the coal plants, hydro, working home electric meters, etc. which would be unnecessarily destroyed.

    “From which, by generalizing, we arrive at this unexpected conclusion: “Society loses the value of objects unnecessarily destroyed,” and at this aphorism, which will make the hair of the protectionists stand on end: “To break, to destroy, to dissipate is not to encourage national employment,” or more briefly: “Destruction is not profitable.””

    ~Frederic Bestiat

    _________________
    Where were all of this government’s learned economists when POTUS implemented his infamous “Cash for Clunkers” scheme?

  207. Richard courtney
    The fallacy of overpopulation derives from the disproved Malthusian idea which wrongly assumes that humans are constrained like bacteria.
    _____________________________________

    No Richard.

    The reality of overpopulation comes from the average house size in the UK decreasing by 60 % in 70 years.
    It comes from house ownership being out of the question for most young people.
    It comes from having to stand on the train to work.
    It comes from not being able to get on the Manch-London train at any cost.
    It comes from having to eat mono-culture foods, because they are the only foods that will feed the world.
    It comes from going to a small lonely beach, and finding that 15,000 other people have had the same idea.
    It comes from going on a bank-holiday break, and not getting further than 20 miles due to traffic.

    As you know in your own heart, Malthus was right, and any organism that cannot control its own population does not deserve to call itself civilised.

    Ralph

  208. Here is how much of its electricity California got from renewables yesterday:

    http://content.caiso.com/green/renewrpt/DailyRenewablesWatch.pdf

    Solar was about 4% on the day. In the cooler spring, solar was as much as 8% per day. It is, however, expensive electricity, and would not be there without subsidies and the AB32 mandated renewable portfolio standard. Right now, even in sunny and expensive California, solar is appropriate for niche applications such as powering irrigation and daytime uses such as electricity for public schools, and for heating and air conditioning.

    It is worthwhile to review all these figures about once per year, I think. I thank Philip Dowd for his input.

  209. “””””…..Unmentionable says:

    August 1, 2014 at 2:48 am

    george e. smith says:
    July 31, 2014 at 3:08 pm
    Every time I do this calculation, I get to the same conclusion. It takes too much damn energy to make solar panels; doesn’t have anything to do with cost.

    Ignoring deterioration losses for the moment, if you mad 1 million solar panels to provide the energy to manufacture another million, you can then use that 2 million panels to manufacture 4 million. The energy input hurdle you describe exponentially approximates toward zero, doesn’t it?…..”””””

    Well, Unmentionable; it sounds as thou YOU have a solar panel system, that is so efficient, that using just HALF (50%) of its total energy output, it is able to replicate itself (or you are able to replicate it). Remember ALL of the materials and other paraphernalia, required, are out there in the universe, in their natural (in situ) state, and you solar PV energy is THE ONLY THING you have to go and get them. (and provide for whatever workforce (and their families)) you need working on the project. ALL other energies (and personnel (and their families)), are currently unavailable as they are occupied doing other stuff; which they are consuming existing energy supplies for.

    You really don’t understand what zero-based budgeting is, do you.

    NOTHING, that currently exists, but in situ raw materials, are available to you, unless you use YOUR energy to get them.

    NO! one of your solar systems cannot build two more of them, before consuming all its energy output.

    If it could, it would already be doing that.

    You have to raid other people’s resources (energy/money) to get even your one solar panel system.

    It is not sustainable.

    But what the world has now, was all built without subsidies from any extra-terrestrial sources of energy, (sun excepted) or help (from et) or et knowledge we are not privy too. We home grew it all ourselves, starting with figs.

  210. Any large scale “solar farm” as part of an “alternative energy” system, must be entirely cleared of human habitation; then fenced and guarded day and night. Well some drunk Friday night rednecker, will drive through there in his pick’m up truck, popping your solar panels for fun.

    All that “waste desert land” in the American south West, is mostly Indian (Native American) reservation land. So you are going to :displace tens of thousands of people, once again, for your poppy-cock schemes ??

    Get real.

    I like Fred Singer’s query best:

    “Who is going to clean, 30,000 square miles of solar cells ?? ”

    See Scientific American Jan 2008 front cover story, for such a “serious” proposal.

  211. ralfellis:

    re your post at August 1, 2014 at 10:36 am .

    It is an historical fact that Malthus was wrong. And what I or anybody else wants to know “in their heart” does not and cannot change that.

    As I explained in my post at August 1, 2014 at 12:53 am which was addressed to you and is here, the real foreseeable problem is population decrease; n.b. not population increase.

    The Malthusian idea is wrong because it ignores basic economics and applies a wrong model; human population is NOT constrained by resources like the population of bacteria in a Petri dish. There is no existing or probable problem of overpopulation of the world by humans. And claims of ‘peak oil’ are nonsense.

    Expensive and intermittent power sources such as solar and wind would be adopted if that were economic. Total collapse of industrial civilisation would be required before that were the case because it requires cessation of fossil fuel production.

    Richard

  212. I’d be the last in the queue to be a national solar panel salesman…. BIG ERROR!
    Solar panel prices are now more like $0.40/Watts. Not $3.40/Watt. And this price is for household volumes.
    I’m now wondering about the overall honesty over everything else now…

  213. +richardscourtney
    I disagree. Already in Africa the wildlife reserves are squeezed. Lake Victoria is also drained for agriculture and Kilimanjaro is almost devoid of ice due to massive deforestation.
    The UK cannot feed itself with 60M arable acres and 70M people. Same for many other European countries. BP stated 53.3yr’s of the black stuff left — at this rate. The land use required to grow instead of mine energy will cause the loss of billions of people.

    In the UK so much land has been surfaced and roofed. Normal rainfall results in Noah moments (flash floods) which they put down to climate change in my town of Wigan.

    Man lives in the best bits of land just like man first took the best and easiest oil. The scraggly bits of land and energy cause great discomfort and cost. Far more land is required to survive well.

    Your home would be the #1 consideration to save on resources long term if energy resources were tough to get and expensive.

  214. “””””…..Andyj says:

    August 1, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    I’d be the last in the queue to be a national solar panel salesman…. BIG ERROR!
    Solar panel prices are now more like $0.40/Watts. Not $3.40/Watt. And this price is for household volumes.
    I’m now wondering about the overall honesty over everything else now……..”””””

    So where can I go out and purchase, say a 3 KW (peak) solar panel system, for $1,200 (cash & carry).

    What would be the air mass 1.5 solar conversion efficiency of this system’s PV cells. I don’t want to use up acres for some low efficiency array.

    Not interested in rebates, or subsidies or tax breaks; just a fair arms length purchase transaction. I can install it and plug it in myself.

  215. I can say that people who lecture about population increases are totally silent about simply controlling the borders. Also, people only live on about 3% of the surface of the land.

    In agriculture, as much as 5 times the amount of food is being grown on less land. There are some European countries who have attempted to determine if they could feed themselves if imports failed. This is possible for many only with the intelligent use of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides. Those who are banning the use of these in Europe are often the same characters who are saying that these countries “cannot feed themselves.”

    This crowd can be expected to profit from forcing countries that have successful crops to decrease their yields with organic practices, and thus become reliant on imports. For example, “Scotch malt whiskey is made from two key ingredients: barley and water. To be Scotch Whiskey, the spirit must mature in oak casks in Scotland for at least three years. Barley is affected by a range of diseases that can cause considerable damage and loss of yield and quality. More than 90% of Scotland’s barley acres are treated with fungicides. Policymakers in the EU have developed new rules regarding the use of pesticides which is reducing the number of active ingredients available for farmers to use. Reduced availability of fungicides for Scottish barley farmers threatens the Scotch Whiskey industry.”

    http://pesticideguy.org/2014/06/19/high-quality-scotch-whisky-depends-on-fungicide-use/

  216. The killer stroke.

    Nuclear overall is about 4-5 times cheaper and takes up very little space.

    There is no business case for solar. There is a huge business case for nuclear.

    That’s why we have anti-nuclear ‘greens’ .

    ‘Green’ means ‘lets get the government and taxpayer to subsidise something that we dont want and dont need and dont have do do efficiently’

    Its a lot easier to fund green groups and get government money than it is to build a competitive nuke.

  217. Andyj:

    re your post at August 1, 2014 at 3:02 pm.

    “Disagree” all you like, but reality is what it is. Humans inhabit a small part of the fifth of the planet which is not covered by water. And people flock to the most desirable places where humans have been most successful, but that is not a Malthusian overpopulation problem.

    Malthus was wrong and, therefore, there is no possibility of overpopulation problems, but declining population is a foreseeable problem: I explained all this in this thread here.

    There is no need for wasteful and environmentally damaging use of solar power and wind power because there is no foreseeable shortage of fossil fuels. And if such shortage did occur then alternatives to fossil fuels would be used so there never will be a need to promote and/or subsidise adoption of some perceived alternatives.

    Richard

  218. ralfellis says:
    August 1, 2014 at 10:36 am
    As you know in your own heart, Malthus was right, and any organism that cannot control its own population does not deserve to call itself civilised.

    Malthus and disciples of doom made points, the points were counter pointed and the observational evidence is the counter-pointers were right, and Malthus was more or less almost completely wrong.

    One of the things the current neo-Malthusians never take into account, or rather can’t stand to hear the truth of, is the forests and corals regrow and that rivers reflow and that soil regenerates and that waste can be recycled, and economic dynamics makes the once unaffordable and regarded at “impossible” or impractical, actually affordable and commonplace.

    I’m not a natural-born optimist. In fact I’m quite doubtful about probably too much, but I also don’t ignore the fact that damaged and degraded things do improve, and impaired systems do repair themselves, or at least adjust in net beneficial and viable ways. The tendency to doomish collapse is in fact always and everywhere being counter-acted by natural and cultural action that easily militates and overwhelms the factors of collapse processes and renders doomish fretting irrelevant and thoroughly (and annoyingly) time and resource wasting.

    Not always of course, but close enough. Yeah, bad stuff can overtake us, but so what? Stop the planet and get off? No, we don’t work like that. We do need people who dwell on what could go wrong but we’ll never make decisions and choices on the assumption that we’re all screwed and are out of viable options.

    Look around, we don’t work like that. We’re confident we have an almost unlimited series of options available, and it’s entirely possible that we do.

    Energy supply is hardly our most pressing issue either, it’s just one component where we constantly redefine the envelope of the possible and it’s very clear that we are nowhere near the limits of that process. We’re actually at least many generations away from a true physical energy crisis (if one is even still possible, I have my doubts about that too). What we have is economic and political crisis, pretending to be an energy crisis.

    But yeah, I could do with a few billion less humans in the interim, I can’t blithely ignore the boom-bust cycle of populations in nature, and I can’t be 100% sure that technology has made a fundamental difference.

    But I won’t live in fear of us dieing as that’s beyond stupid – we ARE dieing! lol! So what? Why the hell are people in this generation and time both fear to live, and are apparently terrified to die?

    Now that really doesn’t compute. I’ve never understood why the doom-ridden fear the inevitability of their death, so much, and to such an unbalanced extent, that they pointlessly become totally preoccupied to the extent they become survivalists, and all they can think of is causing to not survive any person invading their bunker. lol!!

    Look, I’m not that attached to living, it’s been great fun, but I’m not going to assume the worst and destroy living and my options, just on some mission to survive living, when I won’t. lol!!

    OK, I better stop there, slopped coffee on my desk between giggling and writing that last sentence … I should have braced this thing a bit better when I built it.

  219. Leo Smith says:
    August 1, 2014 at 9:25 pm
    The killer stroke.
    Nuclear overall is about 4-5 times cheaper and takes up very little space.
    There is no business case for solar. There is a huge business case for nuclear.

    Coffee replenished, good to go. :)

    Leo, the business case may be ok, but what’s not OK is the fact that:

    (1) The Japs can’t disassemble Fukushima’s reactors for at least 50 years and the spent fuel is hardly in a safe location;

    (2) And the case against can not just be weighted in terms of dollars and deaths, and subjective tumor counts (which will be manipulated and downplayed btw), because;

    (3) It totally ignores the fact that towns and cities full of people have lost access to their homes, land and primary industries, like food production for market;

    (4) Which matters enormously to such a flat-land impoverished Island chain, covered in steep terrain;

    (5) And it can happen again, at any time.

    So cress quantitative economic cases and measures are hardly a sufficient justification, at least most people would think it’s a poor argument.

    Just as most people now recognize the ‘probability’ of even one reactor melting down in this way was dramatically understated, and it too is seen as a flawed and terrible argument for using nuclear energy – if you don’t absolutely have to.

    I stress the last point in that sentence.

  220. cesium62

    150 Wh/day-m^2 in this article is land area, not PV panel area. The number I’m quoting 200 W/m^2 solar insolation or equivalent to 960 Wh/day-M^2 is for panel area. For roof installation, it should be panel area. 100 m^2 roof panel (1,076 ft^2) is enough to fully power the ave. household consumption of 900 kwh/month. But you need batteries to store energy.

  221. Richardcourtney
    The Malthusian idea is wrong because it ignores basic economics and applies a wrong model; human population is NOT constrained by resources like the population of bacteria in a Petri dish. There is no existing or probable problem of overpopulation of the world by humans. And claims of ‘peak oil’ are nonsense.
    ____________________________________

    Come on, richard, who are you kidding? Even in recent eras, many populations have crashed due a lack of resources – whether caused by human or natural deficiencies. Even in Russia, which suffered a ‘minor’ economic upset due to infrastructure inefficiencies, the population crashed by ten million in ten years.

    A more pertinent example would be the Easter Islanders, who were virtually wiped out due to overpopulation and a lack of resources – trees especially. Many other ancient societies have suffered similar population crashes, because they depleted the resources if their immediate environment.

    Yes, I realise that political or religious fantasists like yourself will never consider reality, but that is one of the primary failings of the modern world. In modern politics, smoke, spin and mirrors always trumps reality.

    ralph

  222. Wayne, come visit us down here in California some time. If Solar isn’t economic for you, you don’t have to use it. Down here, Solar is economic at household scale, and our population densities are high enough that grid tie makes sense.

    Solar remains heavily subsidized in California.

  223. ralfellis:

    Ad homs. amuse we realists. Especially when they come as a reply from silly scare-mongers whose assertions have been defeated.

    Face reality. Malthus was as wrong as you. Local problems occur but they do not portend widespread disasters.

    Easter Island may have run-out of trees but that does not mean the world is running out of trees. Clearly, you must know you are spouting nonsense when Easter Island is the only ‘evidence’ you could find to cite in your daft post at August 2, 2014 at 11:00 am.

    Richard

  224. Long before a Rube Goldberg idea like “renewables” i.e. wind and solar could get started, Fusion will be here. Whether it comes in 2030, 2040, or 2050, it will be providing a growing percentage of the US Energy demand by the turn of the Century.

    When IITER light up in 2018, we will enter an era where massive spending can generate enormous progress. The Manhattan or Apollo Projects were not possible at all, until a certain threshold of scientific and engineering competence had been achieved. Fusion will be entering such a period somewhere from 2018-2025.

    You couldn’t start to release nuclear energy in a bomb, until you has a certain understanding of the Science. The same applies to Space travel.

    I predict there will be a great race to build commercial Fusion power as soon as Man and his nations can do so.

  225. Climate Resistance has a good take down on the so-called renewable energy solar promoters want us to pay for:

    http://www.climate-resistance.org/2014/07/yet-more-solar-lunacy.html

    “What is that something? Is it madness? Is it simple dyscalculia? Is it even really solar power that the solar evangelists want? ”
    “There is an interesting implication here. Whereas the emphasis of many greens is in ‘decentralised grids’, in reality, a centralised grid is much better able to absorb the fluctuation of solar output (and other renewables). In other words, solar needs coal, gas and uranium. Lots of it. ”
    As usual, Ben Pile documents the issue and cuts to the chase effectively.

  226. @ ralfellis says:
    August 1, 2014 at 10:36 am
    I know in my heart that losers tell other people what is in their hearts.

  227. rogerknights: Re Rossi & the E-Cat:

    http://www.e-catworld.com/why-i-believe-in-the-e-cat/

    This is another topic that is worthy of a few minutes review each year, but not more. A few times each year there are announcements of major new developments in the program, as well as skimpy reports of some poorly designed experiments. And there are reports of active resistance among every organization that could possibly earn money from licensing the technology and selling devices: GE, Siemens, BigOil; along with some “too secret to reveal” programs in the military.

    Maybe someday. But if the devices worked as described, they’d be available in Home Depot now, along with the 3D printers.

    Until next year: “Why someone believes”, and “Real soon now”, and “Maybe Q1 of 2015″, and “Technology development is always slow” are the watchwords.

  228. garymount, in the article that you cited: The report indicates that the median installed price of PV systems installed in 2011 was $6.10 per watt (W) for residential and small commercial systems smaller than 10 kilowatts (kW) in size and was $4.90/W for larger commercial systems of 100 kW or more in size. Utility-sector PV systems larger than 2,000 kW in size averaged $3.40/W in 2011. Report co-author Galen Barbose, also of Berkeley Lab, stresses the importance of keeping these numbers in context, noting that “these data provide a reliable benchmark for systems installed in the recent past, but prices have continued to decline over time, and PV systems being sold today are being offered at lower prices.” – See more at: http://newscenter.lbl.gov/2012/11/27/the-installed-price-of-solar-photovoltaic-systems-in-the-u-s-continues-to-decline-at-a-rapid-pace/#sthash.g5VbAHY4.dpuf

    At those prices, PV power is too expensive for applications other than a few niches, like pumping ag water and home air conditioning. The quote I got for my home last year was around $10,000 for 2kW (quotes vary according to details: this system would have maintained my connection to the grid.)

    Another note about fusion: it might be the only source of energy that has a lower output of energy for $$$$ of subsidy. Fusion may be great some day, but California gets a few thousand megawatt-hours of power per day from solar now (yesterday was rainy, but CA got 19 thousand megawatt-hours: http://content.caiso.com/green/renewrpt/DailyRenewablesWatch.pdf.) Worldwide, solar produces a few hundred thousand megawatt-hours of electricity per day If solar power prices continue to decline at recent average rates, then solar power in 10 years’ time will cost about 25% of what it costs now — of course every reader understands the uncertainties of extrapolation. Is there a realistic expectation of power from fusion in that time? Real progress (NOT ecat and confreres) looks good to me, but I don’t expect actual power from fusion in that time frame.

  229. raalfellis: Come on, richard, who are you kidding? Even in recent eras, many populations have crashed due a lack of resources – whether caused by human or natural deficiencies. Even in Russia, which suffered a ‘minor’ economic upset due to infrastructure inefficiencies, the population crashed by ten million in ten years.

    You better go home son and make up your mind!

    Do you want to talk about natural resource limitations, or do you want to talk about bad government, mismanagement, greed, resentment, psychiatric depression, waste and fraud? Russian population declined despite a great wealth of natural resources of almost all kinds (fossil fuels, minerals, water, arable land.)

  230. unmentionable: Ignoring deterioration losses for the moment, if you mad 1 million solar panels to provide the energy to manufacture another million, you can then use that 2 million panels to manufacture 4 million. The energy input hurdle you describe exponentially approximates toward zero, doesn’t it?

    I have lost the reference, but I read that one of the PV manufacturing facilities in AZ does indeed get some of its power from solar. If there comes a time when at least 90% of the power for manufacturing PV panels comes from solar, then we might say that solar has “arrived”. But not yet.

  231. Reblogged this on Centinel2012 and commented:
    Good work I ran the numbers myself a few years ago and came to the same conclusions. Add one thing to this and solar panels are black and absorb energy (of course) so large numbers of them will change the planets albedo.

  232. As always, one of the most intriguing aspects of doing something like “going solar” is what, if any, truly is the environmental impact? If you shield all that land from ever seeing the Sun or feeling its heat, WHAT are the consequences?

    I didn’t see it, but maybe it was there. When you totaled the amount of energy required to operate the entire nation as an electrical appliance – how DID you get them dang planes to fly? – did you include the amount of energy needed to move that water up that incline? I thought I saw a comment that you assumed the night time energy requirement would be a third of the day time requirement, but was that because half of the energy used during the day was used to recharge the battery?

    Regarding the comment that homes could be built with better insulation and with south facing windows, well, that might help with heating in the north, but it won’t help all that much with cooling in the south, but the real bottom line is this – not everyone can afford to tear down their existing house and replace it with your modern edifice. In fact, old houses are things that are quite often preferred since they hold up better, and retrofitting such a house would be very expensive.

    And getting back to my first paragraph, what IS the ecological impact on species living in the ground or on it, under this canopy of glass? What does the loss of heating in that area create as stress in the structure of the planet beneath it? Yes, the temperature stays quite constant when you get down some, but will it if there is no heat being transferred to the ground by the Sun?

    I like that old saw about the sum total of everything that man knows, if converted to water, would fit in a bucket sitting next to the ocean of what he doesn’t know. When it comes to knowledge, the only thing that is greater than man’s ignorance is his arrogance.

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