By Walter Sorochan, Emeritus Professor, San Diego State University
Posted: June 01, 2008 Updated November 07, 2011 An update.
“ Drill for more oil and build more power plants!” are grabbing the headlines today. These are panic and short term approaches to solving our energy problems. Both options provide liquid fuel for automobiles and fuel to generate electricity. These ' bandaid' approaches do nothing to provide abundant and clean supply of energy.
This article explores using abundant solar energy to generate clean electricity.
What are the issues of harnessing solar power?
This article deals with the prospects of each of these components for solar energy. All of these components need to be solved at the same time if harnessing solar power is to happen. We need to explore the feasibility of free energy [ZPE]. This energy option may be better world solution to solving our dependence on fossil fuels in the long run.
World trend toward solar energy: The trend toward fixing the demand for energy is evident in Australia, Belgium, China, France, Germany, Israel, Philippines, Spain and elsewhere; and where communities are installing solar forms of power plants. [ Australia, DePodesta, Distributed generation, Feder, Nazza, Shieber, Silberman ] For example, a gigantic skyscraper - solar tower hybrid will generate a whopping 390 kilowatts of energy in Dubai, but even that looks like child's play compared to the 40-story solar power plant that is being built in the city of Seville, Spain, supplying power to the entire population of 600,000 persons. Germany is the leader in using solar power. It has been reported that China is building one coal burning - electric power plant each day.
USA Trends: In United States, we have disjointed spurts of activity that lack good political support. In Arizona, Abengoa Solar, a Spanish firm [ Jacquot ], will build a 280-Mw solar power plant 70 miles southwest of Phoenix. Upon completion, the Phoenix solar plant [ Solana Generating Solution ] will become the world's largest solar plant. Additional utility-scale concentrated solar projects have recently been announced for Arizona, Nevada and California, and a consortium is developing a proposal for a project in New Mexico. The three richest men in United States, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Boone Pickens [ Klump ], are investing billions in alternative power generation in Texas. Pickens plans a $10 billion wind farm that may become the world's largest. Gates's Cascade Investment LLC created a venture to build power plants in the Texas region. Buffett is part of a $3 billion partnership that is constructing transmission lines. Larry Page, of Google fame, and inventor Ray Krezweil are investing in harnessing solar power. Even President Bush’s Crawford ranch is equipped with renewable power systems. The fact a man as steeped in the petroleum industry as Bush would own such a home should tell you something. The trend, away from fossil fuels, is a slow one!
Getting energy control in California: Many cities and communities have been busy developing and implementing decentralized electrical supply systems that do away with our dependence on nuclear power and coal plants. For example, San Francisco and Marin county have legislated to implement solar power [Refer to Fenn below ]. From the North Bay to Hollywood, California communities are trying to exert more control over the future of their electrical power.
The Grid Problem: The continental United States is divided into three main [ centralized and interdependent ] power grids. [ DOE ]
Our grid system problems:
New Grid Technology: Awareness of the ineptitude of the current grid system has opened the door to find a variety of new and related technologies to fix the inadequate power grid [ Bergstein, Cascio, DePodesta, Distributed generation, DOE, Fairley, Fedor, Nazza, PNNL, Silberman ]. The trend is away from today’s centralized grid and toward Distributed Energy systems that are small-scale power generation technologies.
Decentralized power grids that are nearer to the power source and also consumers would lower the cost of transporting electricity from the power plant to the consumer by between 50 to 70 %. This would be a huge saving for consumers. Such savings would also make solar energy more competitive with nuclear and fossil fuel power plants.
Smart Grid Solar System: Imagine a small community of 1000 or 5000 home owners forming a partnership or association to use solar panel technology to provide and store electricity to themselves; but at the same time selling excess electricity to the local power grid. Another approach is to set up neighborhoods that run entirely on direct current (DC) or DC MicrogridsDOE ].
For example, California utility, Pacific Gas, [Zito ] one of several entities that has been pressured into developing an electricity grid of the future; a grid that will look more like an internet - distributed, interactive, open-source system. Other companies are implementing ways to use computer technology and software to monitor consumer use of electrical energy as well as interfacing and bringing small providers on board. A Boulder, Colorado based company, GridAgents [ LaMonica ], has developed a software system that allows utilities to better manage different kinds of distributed power generation from solar panels.
There is investment interest in renewing transmission grids. For example, the Hunt family of Dallas, through its Sharyland Utilities affiliate, is building an 800-mile electric transmission loop in the Texas Panhandle.
Current electric companies in California, Pacific Gas and Electric and SDGE, are providers of electricity to consumers. These companies do not have incentives to change hence, they loose money. We need to overcome these stumbling blocks in the delivery of electricity.
Solar Panels: The greatest advantage of Solar energy over all other sources of energy is that it is abundant and clean.[ Infinia Corporation ]The existing solar panels are an old generation technology. A new generation of solar panels are being developed that can compete with the nearest energy competitor, coal power plants.
One of these, Nanosolar [ Nanosolar ], in Silicon Valley, is a solar manufacturer that started making thin-film solar cells and modules. The wafer cells are printed like a newspaper directly on to aluminum foil. The film can be sprayed on a panel and even on a roof top tile, then the film panels can be connected to a converter and dump electrical energy into a storage battery or power grid.
Another company in Israel, 3Q [ Israel ], has invented cells that use no silicon. The cells, called "dye cells," or Dye cell photovoltaic, work differently from silicon cells by mimicking the photosynthetic mechanism through which plants convert sun rays into energy.
The University of Delaware has achieved a record-breaking combined solar cell efficiency of 42.8% from sunlight at standard terrestrial conditions. Other entities are exploring the use of nanotechnology in solar cells to improve the harvesting of solar energy up to over 80% over the current approximate 15 to 20%.
These revolutionary solar systems are expected to make it possible to produce electricity cheaper from sunlight than from coal. Although this is an incomplete review of information about technological advancements in solar panels, it illustrates the speed with which research on solar panels is taking place. New cost effective solar panels are expected to be marketable within three to five years.
Solar Power Plant Locations in United States:
The Nellis Solar Power Plant is located within Nellis Air Force Base in Clark County, Nevada, on the northeast side of Las Vegas. The Nellis solar energy system generates in excess of 25 million kilowatt-hours (kW·h) of electricity annually and supplies more than 25 percent of the power used at the base.
There are several solar power plants in the Mojave Desert which, in 2007, supplied power to the electric grid. Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) is the name given to nine solar power plants in the Mojave Desert which were built in the 1980s. These plants have a combined capacity of 354 megawatts (MW) making them the largest solar power installation in the world in 2007. A photo of one of the Mojavie SEGS solar plants built near Barstow, Ca., is below.
Numerous ground-mounted solar plants, larger than 1 MW , are either operating, under construction or under development in the United States, as of October 24, 2011. These would feed 2223 MW of electricity directly into the Grid system.
An argument against building solar power plants is that these require a lot of land space and they would make the land an ugly scene.
Although such power plants do require space and land, there is an abundant amount of unused land in United States. Solar power plants can be built adjacent to consumers, thereby minimizing the cost of transporting electricity. Solar energy becomes a trade off between abundant and clean energy versus dirty and hazardous to health and the environment energy.
Storing Electricity: Storing electricity in the Power Grid is a problem at the present time. It is stored electricity that is needed at night time! The Solar Two plant in California [ Barstow ] has demonstrated success in storing solar energy in molten salt storage tanks. But storing heat and then converting it into electricity is not really storing electricity. Electricity needs to be stored in and retrieved from the power grid and this appears to be a temporary problem. This storage problem should be solved in a few years. For example, a company, EEStor Inc, in Cedar Park, Texas [ near Austin, Texas ] [ Clayton, Hamilton ], has been trying to invent a battery for storing electrical energy that is totally different from the usual chemical batteries we use in flashlights and automobiles. The new battery, called an ultracapacitor [ Hamilton ] , was to have been used to provide electricity to the Zenn car being built in Toronto, Canada [ Clayton ] . The new battery is already driving a small Zenn car. Unfortunately, the Austin, Texas, capacitor battery builder has had problems building a commercial working storage battery.
But this same ultracapacitor technology is anticipated to be used across the distributed power grid to provide cheap electric storage for wind and solar power. Energy storage is going to make harnessing solar energy a distinct advantage over fossil and nuclear power plants.
A major disadvantage of installing solar panels in homes is that there is no effective working system to store solar generated electricity in storage batteries for night time use . Most solar generation in homes is linked to the local, old electrical grid and the excess electricity is sold to local utility companies. Thus, most electricity from solar panels is NOT available to home owners at night time!
A False Transition Finale: Solar power is not an immediate and “ALL" solution. Since the future trend is shifting from liquid fuel to electricity in automobiles, the autos will be relying on a constant supply of electricity to recharge their batteries. This gives a false perception that we would be saving energy, when in reality electric autos would need electricity generated by fossil burning power plants to recharge their batteries. We would still be dependent on fossil energy!
We have made very little progress toward electric autos since 2008. Although the technology is here, the economic - political will is not! Retooling the auto industry and phasing out and replacing the internal combustion engine with electric engine cars will take a minimum of 20 years time. Meanwhile we will need to rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity to re-charge batteries in electric cars.
Providing and adapting to solar energy will not be enough. The real transition needs to be both cultural as well as energy.
Richard Heinberg [ Heinberg ], author of Party’s Over and Power Down, points out that the transition toward sustainable and clean energy will entail an almost complete redesign of industrial societies. We need to redesign the communities we now live in into more energy saving transportation modules where people use rapid transit and where work sites are decentralized.
The point being made about sharing technological energy advancements is that we need to view solutions with hope and with an open mind. From a utility point of view, we need to convert from the old electric grid to a decentralized SuperGrid and also develop supercapacitor storage batteries. New technology allows us to think outside the traditional constraints of how to generate, supply and use energy. A few of the technologies briefly reviewed are just a few years away from being practical. But this is not a problem. Technological solutions are accelerating at a pace much faster than implementing technology. Here is an explanation of this phenomenon.
The inventor of voice recognition for computers and advisor to Bill Gates, Ray Kurzweil [ Krezweil ], points out “that innovations are affecting future innovations exponentially, much like a domino-effect!” Since nanotechnology and solar panel technologies are more informational than technological and therefore subject to what Kurzweil calls the "law of accelerating returns;" a continual doubling of capability occurs about every year. Such acceleration evolves a tipping point at which energy from solar panels will actually be less expensive than fossil fuels in only a few years time. According to Kurzweil, “ the power we are generating from solar is doubling every two years; at that rate, it will be able to meet all our world energy needs within 20 years. “
The implication of Kurzweil’s time compression observations is that solar conversion issues of today will be solved within a few years, thereby making solar energy very competitive with coal power plants. There will be an accelerated transfer of learning from solar energy production to battery storage in distributed small smart power grids. If we plan and invest in solar energy now as solar technology’s products become more efficient and economical, we will have valuable start up time instead of squandering time and money building more pollutant power plants or doing nothing. We need to invest our time in planning for the transition into solar power and electrical transportation.
The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable U.S. energy system is not technology or money. It is the lack of public awareness that solar power is a practical alternative. The second obstacle is lack of political will and muscle to do the right thing and do it NOW! A third obstacle is getting safe and non polluting fuel technology for transportation, which is linked to the electricity supply.
Finally, the public and especially the politicians “need to think outside the box.” The old way of thinking is stagnant and unproductive. It is not enough to sit back and let a few local solar system contractors and entrepreneurs do all the work. Big oil has done a lot over the years to impede progress in alternative energy solutions. But the demand is too great now for even them to keep it under control. Today, it is local electricity providers and Grid Power companies that are resisting change and transitioning to new more efficient delivery of electricity to consumers.
Local Politicians need to evolve county projects where solar energy systems will defray the cost of electricity to county and city buildings. "Energy Independence is a specific, time-sensitive opportunity to respond to Climate Crisis and Oil War with a massive new public works project." [ Paul Fenn ] Hatch a bold plan now to bring change to how we make and use electric power. There is a need to mount a galvanizing public awareness campaign and get the uninformed public to support the trends of the future. Put the right spin on clean and abundant energy.
The world faces an energy and economic crisis! Dependence on dirty fossil fuels and risky nuclear energy to supply electricity to billions of people is not a sustainable long-term alternative! We need to consider harnessing clean, safe and unlimited free or radiant energy. For more information: Harnessing free energy
Finally, United States needs a master energy plan that becomes the hub to coordinate and support all the inter-dependent energy activities. The time for change and solving problems is now. We need a brighter outlook for the future!
Information about Paul Fenn, a change agent, contact and ask for help. Fenn Paul, “Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Local Power,”
Measuring Electricity: 1 Mw services about 625 homes with electricity. kilowatt (symbol: kW), equal to one thousand watts megawatt (symbol: Mw) is equal to one million (106) watts.
One megawatt is enough electrical capacity to power 1,000 average California homes. (Assuming a loading factor of 0.5 and an average California home having a 2-kilowatt peak capacity.)
For more info and references: Australia's Winning Entry for the IEEE International Future Energy Challenge 2005: Website
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“Distributed generation,” Wikipedia, 5 May 2008 Website Distributed energy resource (DER) systems are small-scale power generation technologies (typically in the range of 3 kW to 10,000 kW) used to provide an alternative to or an enhancement of the traditional electric power system.
DOE, “ “New Power Grid Concepts,” US Department of Energy, Website “ It is important to note that there is no "national power grid" in the United States. For further information about electric grid technologies of the future, see EPRI's Electricity Technology Roadmap, particularly Chapter 2, "The Power System Challenge."
Ebay, “ Foster City, CA, USA: SolarCity Completes Solar Installation at eBay Campus, “ SolarBuzz, May 8, 2008. Website SolarCity estimates that over the next three decades, eBay's solar system will offset 37 million pounds of carbon dioxide; the equivalent of planting 322 acres of trees. SolarCity also estimates that solar-generated power will save eBay approximately $100,000 in electricity costs within its first year of operation.
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Ultracapacitors store energy in an electrical field between two closely spaced conductors, or plates. When voltage is applied, an electric charge builds up on each plate. ... Ultracapacitors have many advantages over traditional electrochemical batteries. Unlike batteries, "ultracaps" can completely absorb and release a charge at high rates and in a virtually endless cycle with little degradation. ... Ultracapacitors, with their ability to release quick jolts of electricity and to absorb this energy just as fast, are ideal today as a complement to batteries or fuel cells in electric-drive vehicles.
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Heinberg Richard, The Partys Over, “ New Society Publishers, 2005. Website
“When will the actual global peak of oil production occur?"
"In the original edition of The Party’s Over, I surveyed several authoritative forecasts and, on that basis, cited a decade-long window of 2006 to 2016 as the most likely period during which the global all-time peak in oil production will take place. The latest data — from Petroleum Review and Matthew Simmons, among other sources — suggest that the peak may more likely occur during the earlier years of that window. Between now and then, we will continue to experience a bumpy ride as we leave the “petroleum plateau” that we have been on for the past 30 years. Once we are off the plateau and on the downward skid, times may get very interesting indeed."
The Hirsch Report. Commissioned by the US Department of Energy from Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and released in February, the study titled “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management,” led by Robert L. Hirsch, examines the likely consequences of the impending global peak. The Executive Summary begins with the following paragraph:
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Infinia Corporation, “Infinia on the Sun,“ Infinia Corporation, 6811 W Okanogan Place, Kennewick, Wa., 99336. Website 1 Website 2 “The amount of solar energy that hits the surface of the earth every minute is greater than the total amount of energy that the world's human population consumes in one year.”
Israel,. “Solar without silicon,” Globe: Israel Business News, April 16, 2008. Website Israel, has invented an entirely new method of solar energy production which mimics plants and uses no silicon. ... The cells, called "dye cells," work differently - by mimicking the photosynthetic mechanism through which plants convert sun rays into energy.
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“ .... Law of Accelerating Returns: We also see an exponential progression in the use of solar energy," he said. "It is doubling now every two years. Doubling every two years means multiplying by 1,000 in 20 years. At that rate we'll meet 100 percent of our energy needs in 20 years." Other technologies that will help are solar concentrators made of parabolic mirrors that focus very large areas of sunlight onto a small collector or a small efficient steam turbine. The energy can be stored using nano-engineered fuel cells, Kurzweil said. ...“There are already nano-engineered fuel cells, microscopic in size, that can be scaled up to store huge quantities of energy, he said.“
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“ We’re using the grid in ways that it wasn't designed for, and the results can be cascading outages that cripple entire regions," said Jeff Dagle, PNNL chief electrical engineer and grid reliability expert, echoing an opinion widely shared among utility engineers. "The grid architecture must be changed to support the new demands that are being placed upon it, making it more resilient to failure or attack and flexible enough to evolve as better technological solutions emerge. “
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