Monday, September 28, 2009

Considerations for Solar Energy for the World

Following up ideas from my earlier post, solar is indeed the future of California. Is solar the future of the world? I've yet to crunch my own numbers, but a popular concept floating around the renewable energy sphere is that if we put a solar panel array about 100 miles by 100 miles in the Sahara Desert, we could power the whole world.

Of course this would be ideal, but what I'm afraid people underestimate is the costs of transportation, man power, maintenance, materials, and to make this happen. Some considerations in a list:

Costs to consider for renewable energy implementation:

  1. Transportation
  2. Man Power
  3. Maintenance
  4. Infrastructure
After costs are figured, if an implementation of a solution is to do more good than harm an analysis of energy input and carbon output must be considered. For example it may take 100lbs of carbon to install a tiny solar cell on top of a house. How? Manufacturing of that crystal cell, transportation to a residence, and installation all take energy in the form of fossile fuels. If we're talking about larger cells in larger arrays located in deserts we have to consider do we have to make a new road? Chances are yes. Do we have to pour new concrete into the ground? Chances are yes. Currently concrete emits carbon back into the atmosphere, but there's hope that it won't for long.

Then there's energy transmission losses; As energy flows through a wire, friction of those moving electrons will create heat and reduce the usable electricity for the planet. How do we spread that energy coming from the Sahara to say New York? Isaac Isamov suggests wireless energy transfer, and although there's hope in that technology it's on a small (phone cells only) scale. Not to mention it would be ironic that we'd capture light from one location to convert it into a radio wave to bounce off a satellite and back to the planet. Add satellite to our analysis?

Environmental considerations for renewable energy installation:
  1. Energy input
  2. Carbon release
  3. Transmission losses
We are in a critical stage of our solution making process. A decision has to be made, and it has to be made soon. However, it must be the right decision the first time and should not threaten the economic health of the planet.

I'd like to invite anyone to comment or email me useful information on considerations I forgot, or more useful sites. I recently stumbled upon and it's a good start.

Next time I'll introduce my mindmap on solutions:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

California Energy Needs Solar Panels, but Better Ones

I just read this recent article concerning the former California governor Jerry Brown around California's environment health:

Brown also assailed Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, although pointedly not by name, for promising to suspend AB 32, California's law to curb greenhouse gases and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature environmental initiative. Last week in San Diego, Whitman, the former eBay CEO , called the measure an example of “overreaching environmental regulations that leave us at an economic disadvantage to our neighboring states.”
“That's like the Bush administration fighting California over the tailpipe emission standards,” Brown said. “It's a war against California as we pioneer environmental sustainability and clean air.”
Legislation around energy is absolutely necessary, especially in California (See Enron or California Energy Crisis). The passage of AB 32 (Assembly Bill 32 - Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) into law is California's way to show good will and comply with the Kyoto Protocol (the current global promise to reduce emissions, The U.S. not one of the 183 countries that have ratified it). However, it's one thing to make a promise, and another to make it happen.

If you follow solar technology, we are at roughly an average of 8-12% (available market) efficiency of turning solar light into usable electricity. We need 25% efficiency for the option to be economically viable (which is good, because NASA has these available, but only on spacecraft). Solar is king in California as there is not as many good locations for wind turbines as there are for solar. Other options: tidal energy, geothermal,  hydroelectric cannot be considered for the state. We have to match the solution to the problem.

The problem that AB 32 addresses is emissions. The thinking goes, if you reduce dirty power plants (coal and oil burning), then you reduce emissions. To reduce the use of dirty power plants, increase the use of renewable energy. In California, that means more solar panels. But who's going to pay for them?
The average homeowner cannot afford the upfront cost of solar panels, which varies in the thousands. And, if he/she could afford that cost, it would not pay off even in 25 years (when solar panels need to be replaced) because of the low efficiency of solar panels right now.

Governor Swarzenneger also signed into law legislation to put 1 million solar panels on California roofs. The current budget deficit of California is $42 Billion, and cuts have been occurring for years. If I recall an average installation on a home is about $7,000. That will be $7,000,000,000, or $7 Billion, or the cost to pay 35% of the teachers in California. Don't get any ideas, but we are talking about money that can collapse a state.

I'm a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. Legislation is nothing without the regular men and women to carry out the work. However, to follow what has been written may be damning if it is done.