[p2p-research] Solar panels built into roads (vs. steam punk CSP)

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sun Aug 30 17:03:25 CEST 2009

Ryan Lanham wrote:
> http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-08/solar-panels-built-roads-could-be-future-energy<http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-08/solar-panels-built-roads-could-be-future-energy>

 From there:
"Each Solar Road panel can develop around 7.6 kwh of power each day, and 
each costs around $7,000. If widely adopted, they could realistically wean 
the US off fossil fuels: a mile-long stretch of four-lane highway could take 
500 homes off the grid. If the entire US Interstate system made use of the 
panels, energy would no longer be a concern for the country."

I personally really love that sort of idea -- still, it has not been proven 
it would be maintainable. :-) But, sure, we could do it. We could even put 
the panels above the roads. The biggest point is, we already have public 
works around the world on the scale of what we need to go all solar.

By the way, for those who like a more proven "steam punk" approach to saving 
the world: :-)
"Sunrise for solar heat power "
Earth has a natural “sun belt,” a swath of relatively empty subtropical 
deserts including the US Southwest, the Sahara, the Middle East, and much of 
Australia. By one estimate, installing CSP plants in just 1 percent of the 
world’s deserts – an area slightly larger than Ireland – could supply all 
the world’s electricity.
   The German Aerospace Center calculates that, assuming high voltage, 
transmediterranean transmission lines, just 6,023 square miles of CSP in 
North Africa could keep all of Europe electrified.
   In the US, CSP plants in the Southwest could generate 11,000 gigawatts 
(GWs) of electricity, says Mark Mehos, principal program manager of 
concentrating solar power at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) 
in Golden, Colo. That’s roughly 10 times all the electrical generating 
capacity currently in place, including coal, nuclear, solar, and 
hydroelectric – more than enough for the country’s energy needs.
   In other words, there’s plenty of sun. The real challenge is making CSP 
technology competitive with coal.
   Currently, CSP costs about 14 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), within 
striking range of current combined-cycle natural-gas plants, in which a gas 
turbine generator generates electricity and a steam turbine uses the waste 
heat to generate more. A combined-cycle natural-gas plant produces 
electricity for about 12 cents per kWh.
   Pulverized coal plants, on the other hand, generate electricity for 6 
cents per kWh – less than half CSP’s cost. But, says Mr. Mehos, if you 
assume that future coal-fired plants will require carbon sequestration, then 
that cost moves up to about 10 cents per kWh. That means CSP prices still 
need to drop by nearly one-third to be competitive with future coal plants.

Note, that's just to supply all the worlds electric, but the world uses 
maybe twice again as much for heat and transportation, so the sizes would 
need to be bigger to go all solar, even given we would never go all solar 
for reasons pointed out before (whether we use geothermal or energy 
efficiency or wind or hypothetically cold fusion or whatever).

Still, even if we don't ever go all solar or all electric, electricity as an 
energy source is interchangeable with just about every other energy source. 
You can charge batteries for cars, use it to produce hydrogen, heat homes or 
industrial processes with it, make liquid carbon fuels with it from organic 
matter, and so on. So, the price of grid electricity also puts a cap on what 
it is worth to pay for oil or other fossil fuels in the long term.

So, basically, what that article implies, in the context of what other 
people are saying about powerdowns and population crashes from Peak Oil 
(Catton), or essentially blood-in-the-streets, is that we'd rather blow up 
the world than pay a bit more for electricity using off-the-shelf 
Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) "steam punk" technology. That's what it comes 
down to -- it's just cheaper to shut down the planet and turn out the lights 
and have endless bloody wars in the dark than to save the planet and make it 
a nice place to be for humans and the rest of the biosphere. And, given the 
cost savings with a shutdown and global disaster, there are a lot of 
temporary profits to be made promoting that path. :-(

The "blood in the streets" low cost preference over a few pennies per 
kilowatt-hour of electricity of course ignores how prices would probably 
drop when we built such CSP plants in quantity. It also ignores how oil is 
really US$500 a barrel or whatever when you include in defense costs, and 
coal is I don't know how much per ton when you include in health costs 
(another aspect of the health care debate in the USA not on the table).

An article from 2004 on the hidden health cost of coal and related 
profit-taking politics:
   "Smokestacks in the Midwest send sickness to the Northeast"
   More than 30 years after the Clean Air Act targeted polluters, aging 
Midwest power plants continue to spew exhaust.
   The Northeast is simply on the wrong end of the country's tailpipe.
   Now, it's on the wrong end of the political process, as well.
   The Bush administration last summer scrapped decades of environmental 
policies that told big polluters when, where, and how to clean up their 
emissions. Its new rules would allow hundreds of aging, coal-fired plants to 
operate without pollution controls that, while costly, can strip the exhaust 
coming out of their smokestacks nearly clean.
   Officials say the health of residents is being sacrificed for a 
Republican political agenda in the Midwest.
   "These are matters of life and death for New Jersey's residents," said 
Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental 
   Campbell says the administration policy represents "a very cynical 
political choice: to give a gift to the Midwest utility lobbies that will be 
paid for by health costs in Northeastern states."

Still, in the long term, I like PV as it is quiet and low maintenance. Solar 
thermal installations are more centralized. To a degree, one of the things 
holding back renewable energy is its own promise. There are so many great 
renewable options, almost all of which would work even just with today's 
technology if we scaled them up (waves, wind, geothermal, solar electric of 
various sorts, solar thermal of various sorts, and others), that it is hard 
to know which one to invest in. :-) And, when you factor in the costs of 
defense and health issues and climate change issues related to fossil fuel 
use, almost all of them were economically cheaper than coal and oil and 
natural gas decades ago, and all certainly are now. So, the biggest issue is 
that renewables need a level playing field, with fossil fuel users paying 
the true cost of their use. That is a straightforward political issue -- a 
US$200 a barrel-equivalent surcharge on fossil-fuel use, reimbursed to all 
equally as a basic income. :-)

--Paul Fernhout

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