Saturday, January 19, 2008

A National Solar Plan

There is a new report in Scientific American called a Solar Grand Plan by Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis . Here is a little piece of it:

"Solar energy’s potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.

To convert the country to solar power, huge tracts of land would have to be covered with photovoltaic panels and solar heating troughs. A direct-current (DC) transmission backbone would also have to be erected to send that energy efficiently across the nation.

The technology is ready. On the following pages we present a grand plan that could provide 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy (which includes transportation) with solar power by 2050. We project that this energy could be sold to consumers at rates equivalent to today’s rates for conventional power sources, about five cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

If wind, biomass and geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide 100 percent of the nation’s electricity and 90 percent of its energy by 2100.

The federal government would have to invest more than $400 billion over the next 40 years to complete the 2050 plan. That investment is substantial, but the payoff is greater. Solar plants consume little or no fuel, saving billions of dollars year after year. The infrastructure would displace 300 large coal-fired power plants and 300 more large natural gas plants and all the fuels they consume.

The plan would effectively eliminate all imported oil, fundamentally cutting U.S. trade deficits and easing political tension in the Middle East and elsewhere. Because solar technologies are almost pollution-free, the plan would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 1.7 billion tons a year, and another 1.9 billion tons from gasoline vehicles would be displaced by plug-in hybrids refueled by the solar power grid.

In 2050 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be 62 percent below 2005 levels, putting a major brake on global warming. clip

In our plan, by 2050 photovoltaic technology would provide almost 3,000 gigawatts (GW), or billions of watts, of power. Some 30,000 square miles of photovoltaic arrays would have to be erected.

Although this area may sound enormous, installations already in place indicate that the land required for each gigawatt-hour of solar energy produced in the Southwest is less than that needed for a coal-powered plant when factoring in land for coal mining.

The authors finish with this:

"The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable U.S. energy system is not technology or money, however. It is the lack of public awareness that solar power is a practical alternative—and one that can fuel transportation as well.

Forward-looking thinkers should try to inspire U.S. citizens, and their political and scientific leaders, about solar power’s incredible potential. Once Americans realize that potential, we believe the desire for energy self-sufficiency and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will prompt them to adopt a national solar plan."

I have often spoken and written about the land use issue, demonstrating that we already use enough land with our existing power plants and mining areas to capture the photonic energy that surrounds us. But this is the first time I have seen it in a respected journal and report.

As forward looking as this report is, it doesn't really contemplate the kind of advancements that we will surely see in the world of photonics. It doesn't talk about power paint, or the architectural glass panels than will someday be on all commercial buildings. It doesn't include the rooftop areas found on our built infracture. It doesn't contemplate advancements in ultra capacitors. It does however assume reductions in price which are certainly achievable and necessary. And it builds the infractructure for a future Unified Photonic Energy Web.

And as I pointed out in the Opportunity Knocks post, we could have paid for this kind of future with the money we have already put into the war in Iraq. If we stop it now, we can apply the next 500 billion dollars towards the technologies of peace, not the fuels of war.

A solar grand plan is exactly the kind of future we must vision, and this one is a substantial and well considered first start.



Anonymous smiling said...

The sun'll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There'll be sun!

Thank you for bringing us this breakthrough science. It is as refreshing as the news of my first choice in Nevada for the Democratic nomination for president, Hillary Clinton. She respects science. And like JFK she is capable of attracting people with the best ideas. Such solutions to the energy crisis qualify as the best of all.

3:00 PM  
Blogger OZ said...

FM, I wish I shared your optimism on the Clinton victory. I fear the Ds are committing Hari Kari.

She can't atract the people with the best ideas, if she is defeated, and she clearly is the weakest democrat against the R's.

I hope I am wrong.

3:43 PM  

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