[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:
"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
"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. :-)
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