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Tech That Will Save Our Species - Solar Thermal Power

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the we-could-use-a-little-saving dept.

Earth 648

NoMoreCoal writes "Salon has up a story by Joe Romm, former undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration, discussing a lesser-known alternative energy solution. It's a technology that (he claims) is ready to provide zero-carbon electric power big, fast, cheap and (most importantly) right now: solar thermal power. 'Improvements in manufacturing and design, along with the possibility of higher temperature operation, could easily bring the price down to 6 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour. CSP makes use of the most abundant and free fuel there is, sunlight, and key countries have a vast resource. Solar thermal plants covering the equivalent of a 92-by-92-mile square grid in the Southwest could generate electricity for the entire United States. Mexico has an equally enormous solar resource. China, India, southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Australia also have huge resources.'" Interesting stuff, even if he does mention the Archimedes Death Ray.

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Hmmm.. (-1)

FredFredrickson (1177871) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076532)

Of course, it begs the question: How much of our current resources will it take to create/maintain these plants?

Also, I love the snippet:

"Mexico has an equally enormous solar resource. China, India, southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Australia also have huge resources."
They should continue, "unfortunately, there are a fair amount of countries that don't have access to the sun. "

Re:Hmmm.. (4, Insightful)

og_sh0x (520297) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076682)

My guess would be that it would cost less than the Iraq war. Sounds like a good deal, no?

Re:Hmmm.. (5, Funny)

internetcommie (945194) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076808)

For us humble taxpayers, yes, but won't somebody think of the weapons industry?

Re:Hmmm.. (0)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077200)

Bush is.

Re:Hmmm.. (5, Interesting)

AGMW (594303) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076686)

They should continue, "unfortunately, there are a fair amount of countries that don't have access to the sun. "

I think it's quite interesting that a lot of the poorer, indeed third world [LOL - Australia ;-)], countries of today could be the power suppliers of tomorrow. Of course that will depend to a large degree on them stopping killing each other long enough to allow the current rich nations to come in and setup the plants!

The problem then becomes one of supply - how do you get the Solar Thermal riches of the Sahara up to Europe without massive power losses. There was a Chinese scientist 5 or 10 years ago who put forward an idea for a "Super Grid" to allow us to move power around the globe more efficiently. Maybe this needs a bit more thought!

And a related problem... (2, Interesting)

sterno (16320) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077028)

I seem to recall that the sun is only available during the daytime. The one major flaw with solar power is that you need a lot of that power when the sun isn't available. This is especially true in more extreme northern and southern climates.

So you definitely need some means to switch the power, transferring from areas that have sunlight at any given moment to those that do not. Having said that, there's no reason not to start down this road. It will take us decades to build out all this infrastructure and the technology for harnessing, storing, and transmitting power will improve along the way. I don't see any substantially better options coming down the pike.

Re:Hmmm.. (2, Interesting)

martin_henry (1032656) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077042)

Haha, as a dual-citizen, I love getting questions about what Australia is like. Some people do think it's third-world! lol.

Interestingly enough, Australia derives approx. 8% of its electricity from renewable sources. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_commercialization_in_Australia [wikipedia.org]

Re:Hmmm.. (5, Insightful)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076702)

Of course, it begs the question: How much of our current resources will it take to create/maintain these plants?
Of course, if you had read the article, you'd know that these solar plants use no special material, except aluminium. Building and maintaining these thermal solar plants would probably cost a lot less than, say, building equivalent nuclear plants. And, to stay with this example, it would last longer and produce zero radioactive materials.

They should continue, "unfortunately, there are a fair amount of countries that don't have access to the sun. "
Which is a pretty ridiculous argument: by definition, all nations and all continents on this earth have access to the sun, even Antarctica. Some nations, due to their geographic position on the globe, simply have better "sunlight" than others. Event then, solar energy is available pretty much all around the world. For instance, one of the most important country in Europe for solar energy is Germany, which is not especially noted for its warm climate...

Before criticizing that type of technology, you really should read the article, you know. You might learn a thing or two.

Re:Hmmm.. (1)

FredFredrickson (1177871) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076770)

I wasn't criticizing the technology. I was criticizing the summary. And, yes, I RTFA, and yes, the first question was an actual question.

Re:Hmmm.. (2, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076988)

The problem with this plan is that it doesn't scale out. It's subject to the Windmill effect, where it's contesting with other uses for land, and eventually, it will be a source of clutter on the landscape.

We need to move our solar power generation to space. Something along the lines of this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_satellite [wikipedia.org]

Except that this, too, does not scale.

However, if we modified the satellite to act as a go-between rather than as a primary collector, and placed our solar panels in orbit around the sun rather than in orbit around the earth, that would scale out indefinitely. By the time we ran out of room to grow, we'd have a Dyson sphere and be capturing the radiant energy output of the entire sun.

This is what we should do. If we could build such, it would herald a new golden age of mankind.

Re:Hmmm.. (3, Insightful)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077248)

Is there enough material on the face of the earth to construct a Dyson sphere? Oh, and just to ask that question, I had to dig through three layers of ridiculousness. Are you sure you're not after a sci-fi forum?

Re:Hmmm.. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23077250)

The problem with this plan is that it doesn't scale out. It's subject to the Windmill effect, where it's contesting with other uses for land, and eventually, it will be a source of clutter on the landscape.

Not necessarily: We could give monetary incentive to buildings' owners to operate heliostat mirrors on their roofs toward energy company's solar tower (there can be even a competition between various "sun buyers" in single area, a multiple choice for aiming-for-dollars) and homesteads already occupy a lot of land.

Your space plan is, of course, better for all the good reasons, but we are not there yet.

Re:Hmmm.. (2, Funny)

Kedder (529127) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077280)

... and placed our solar panels in orbit around the sun rather than in orbit around the earth, that would scale out indefinitely
Come on! We just need to plug the wire directly into the sun!

Re:Hmmm.. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076904)

Building and maintaining these thermal solar plants would probably cost a lot less than, say, building equivalent nuclear plants.

Just to make something clear: there is no such thing as a solar plant equivalent to a nuclear plant, unless you build it in orbit. Nuclear plants can shake you all night long. Solar only produces well where and when it's sunny. (At least these designs have the advantage that some of them are decently efficient in partial-sun situations; solar panels won't do this until another generation or so, they don't produce good current in even partial shade.)

The difference between nuclear and solar is that nuclear by itself can solve all our power needs, and solar can not. Granted, solar plus some sort of power storage system which could include a fuel cell system, flywheels, or practically anything else could do the job. But then you get into issues of power storage which we don't need to go into here and now.

Re:Hmmm.. (5, Insightful)

BVis (267028) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077158)

But then you get into issues of power storage which we don't need to go into here and now.
Why not?

(At least these designs have the advantage that some of them are decently efficient in partial-sun situations; solar panels won't do this until another generation or so, they don't produce good current in even partial shade.)
Ah, you're thinking of photovoltaics, which the technology in question is NOT.

Nuclear is not the magic bullet you seem to think it is. There's still a few major issues I see with nuclear:

* Waste that is toxic for hundreds of thousands of years
* The profit motive leading to corners being cut and safety being a casualty
* NIMBY (not in my back yard)
* Security - these plants are prime targets for terrorism

I know that other countries have made nuclear work (France is the most cited example.) However, those countries have been able to regulate the plants more closely without conservatives jumping all over their governments for 'promoting socialism' and 'over-regulation'. Our plants are (and would be) operated by for-profit companies. More corners being cut = more profit, so you better believe they'll cut those corners.

Re:Hmmm.. (2, Interesting)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077182)

Yea, a german solar power plant bought up Nanosolar's entire production for the next 24 months. Grrrr.

NS solar tech is much cheaper than current solar tech- As in 50k->30k for putting solar power in your 2000sq' house (45 year vs 25 year payoff-- but that assumes no more inflation-- with historical inflation more like 22 vs 12 year payoff).

What exactly is your point? (1, Insightful)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076748)

First,

They should continue, "unfortunately, there are a fair amount of countries that don't have access to the sun. "


Really? There are places on earth that have no access to the sun? Where?

Second, even if it's not a suitable way of generating power EVERYWHERE, who cares? It's renewable and non-carbon emitting, and anything that reduces emissions is a good thing. And for places where it is suitable, the excess power can be sold to other places.

Re:What exactly is your point? (5, Funny)

Captain Hook (923766) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076798)

Really? There are places on earth that have no access to the sun? Where?
Caves

Re:What exactly is your point? (1)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076854)

Really? There are places on earth that have no access to the sun? Where?
North of the arctic circle in winter there is very little sunlight. So even parts of Alaska wouldn't work.

Re:What exactly is your point? (1)

krazytekn0 (1069802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076934)

Man I wish there was a "Over your head" mod... Almost every response to GP would be ripe.

Re:What exactly is your point? (4, Funny)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076974)

There are places on earth that have no access to the sun? Where?

Your mom's basement.

Re:What exactly is your point? (1)

wattrlz (1162603) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077008)

First,

They should continue, "unfortunately, there are a fair amount of countries that don't have access to the sun. "
Really? There are places on earth that have no access to the sun? Where? ...
Anywhere that gets midnight sun in the summer (Nordic/Scandinavian countries,Iceland, Argentina ...) would go through a period of, if not prolonged darkness, unsuitably low solar radiation for weeks and perhaps months in the winter.
Either that or they mean places like china which reputedly so polluted that you can't see the sun in many of the more developed areas.

Re:What exactly is your point? (1)

jgoemat (565882) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077082)

First,

They should continue, "unfortunately, there are a fair amount of countries that don't have access to the sun. "
Really? There are places on earth that have no access to the sun? Where?

I think he was trying to be funny, but you have to look at how much sun you get. On cloudy days you produce less energy, so you want a place with lots of sunny days. Outside the tropics you never get the sun coming straight down, it's always at an angle. The straighter down the sun shines on you the more energy you get in the same land area. Places like the arctic would be horrible for this because the sun would barely shine on the ground for months of the year.

Re:Hmmm.. (3, Informative)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076790)

Of course, it begs the question:
Sigh.

No, it doesn't.

Re:Hmmm.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23076912)

i came here to say that too ...

Re:Hmmm.. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23077254)

maybe you two can get a room

Re:Hmmm.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23076968)

They should continue, "unfortunately, there are a fair amount of countries that don't have access to the sun. "
Yup. England is one of those.

Re:Hmmm.. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23077016)

What boggles my mind is why places like Perth, Australia, don't build these things and use the heat for desalination instead of building a plant that requires power.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perth,_Western_Australia#Water_supply

Re:Hmmm.. (5, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077206)

It's well worth examining here what "begs the question" means in a technical sense -- and not as a usage Nazi. I understand that most people mean "leads to the question" when they say "beg the question."

"Begging the question" is to ask a question which only makes sense to ask after certain other questions have been answered. The classic example is, "have you stopped beating your wife?" You cannot expect a meaningful answer to that question unless you have established that the person being asked has, at some time in the past, beat his wife. It's not valid to ask the first question until the second has been dealt with.

In this case, the argument is that plants such as this could produce a given amount of energy does not beg the question of the resources needed to create or maintain them. It leads to that question, but does not beg that question. If we were, on the other hand, to ask the questions in reverse order, we would be begging the question. It makes no sense to consider asking how many of our current resources will will apply to these plants until we have answered how many of our current resources these plants will replace.

Furthermore, "How much of our current resources will it take to create/maintain these plants?" is a kind of catch-all question. You aren't saying, "Well this stuff requires a million kilos of unobtainium per watt produced, wouldn't that be more expensive than oil over the next twenty years?" That would be a valid question.

Asked generically, your question amount to this:Wouldn't it be easier and cheaper just to go on as we have indefinitely? This indeeds begs a question, namely, which is can we?

Re:Hmmm.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23077252)

Language evolves. Get over it.

Re:Hmmm.. (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077284)

Oh, I've gotten over evolved language. I just haven't gotten over sloppy thinking.

Maybe I should though.

Re:Hmmm.. (3, Insightful)

q-the-impaler (708563) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077236)

They should continue, "unfortunately, there are a fair amount of countries that don't have access to the sun. "
If industrialized nations decreased the demand for oil, the price would decrease as well. This means cheaper oil for the solar-challenged countries.

Solar thermal power/solar photovoltaics (5, Informative)

jmpeax (936370) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076536)

Re:Solar thermal power/solar photovoltaics (3, Insightful)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076680)

Either way, neither of the two are complete solutions like so many want to believe. Relying on the sun for power is not feasible for anything other than base load stuff. When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy. A 92 square mile station wouldn't be any more useful than a much smaller station. Solar could only feasibly be a supplement to the grid.

It's nice that people are thinking, but the problem is that the government tends to grant subsidies irresponsibly and places too much importance on any one system. The media plays up the importance of biofuels or wind power, then government pork follows and sends science off on a tangent following a single system. The money should instead be going into research on how to find the best balance of technology. We are going to have use coal for a long time, that's inescapable. There is no one solution that is capable of completely supplanting coal. It's going to require efforts in lots of fields like nuclear, geothermal, and solar. Each has its own characteristics, advantages, and draw backs. It's all about finding the right combination.

Re:Solar thermal power/solar photovoltaics (1)

mdozturk (973065) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076940)

Solar could only feasibly be a supplement to the grid.

But its possible to turn off plants no? Assume you can generate all your energy needs plus some using solar, then if you need more power you can turn on more plants. Or you can keep a couple of coal burning plants around doing nothing in case you need extra power.

Re:Solar thermal power/solar photovoltaics (5, Insightful)

BVis (267028) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076984)

Relying on the sun for power is not feasible for anything other than base load stuff. When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy. A 92 square mile station wouldn't be any more useful than a much smaller station. Solar could only feasibly be a supplement to the grid.
This of course assumes that there's no way to store energy during off-peak periods as heat or hydrogen gas (new tech, great potential. You use the power generated to crack water into hydrogen and oxygen, and store the H2.). Where are you getting the 'base load' information? And so what? That's still power we don't need to generate in dirty ways.

I have to question why you think a 92 square mile station wouldn't be more useful. More reflective area = more power.

Should we wait for the 'right combination' to magically appear, or should we start doing what we can right now and learn what works and what doesn't? This tech is dead simple, it's scalable, and it taps a power source that won't exhaust itself for 5 billion years or so.

Re:Solar thermal power/solar photovoltaics (5, Insightful)

Eevee (535658) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077056)

When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy. A 92 square mile station wouldn't be any more useful than a much smaller station.

So that's like saying if you need more water then it wouldn't be any better to pull water out of the Mississippi with a bucket than a cup because you can't make the river flow any faster?

Re:Solar thermal power/solar photovoltaics (5, Insightful)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077108)

When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy.
Yes you can. If you build your plant large enough to satisfy peak demand, throttling back is a matter of rotating or shrouding a few mirrors or PV panels. This will make the plant more expensive than a base load plant with fixed panels/mirrors, though.
Also, with solar thermal, you can store surplus heat. Plus there's the nice coincidence that in warm climates energy usage tracks insolation (e.g. airco).

Re:Solar thermal power/solar photovoltaics (3, Informative)

llZENll (545605) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077238)

Well if you would actually read the article rather than spouting off empty criticisms you would know that heat is MUCH easier to store than electricity, and you would only need a plant big enough for average load as you can store extra heat during off peak usage and use it during peak load.

Re:Solar thermal power/solar photovoltaics (1)

fireboy1919 (257783) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077244)

There is no one solution that is capable of completely supplanting coal.

Build a space elevator, and mine heavy asteroids for fissionable materials.

Assuming we can then make it to the asteroid belt, the supply should be able to more than exceed our need for fuel for the next hundred thousand years.

What you probably mean is that there is no solution using current tech that is capable of supplanting coal. But now you know one that could potentially do the trick, just not yet.

Re:Solar thermal power/solar photovoltaics (5, Insightful)

raddan (519638) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077258)

Did you read TFA? CSP can generate power when the sun is not shining due to the high thermal mass of the fluid it uses, which at present are oil or molten salt. Since you are using heat to provide the power (by boiling water to turn a turbine), it doesn't matter that you aren't generating more heat at night-- because you're using the store you created during the day. As far as CSP being the "silver bullet", the author addresses this directly:

Certainly we will need many different technologies to stop global warming
As for base load-- peak power usage is during the day, when the sun is shining. So even if this system did not have the ability to generate electrical power during the night, solar power is worth pursuing. Besides, you want to talk about subsidies? The corn subsidy may be misguided, but how about the Iraq war? That's a war fought to maintain the U.S.'s interests in the region. What interests are those? Oil. We're at $600 billion and counting for that subsidy. "Spreading democracy" is obviously a red herring, since there are plenty of places we've turned a blind eye to that were doing just that. Sometimes, we've even helped out the bad guys [wikipedia.org] .

I would love to see $600 billion poured into alternative fuels. It would be a boon to our economy, it would be a great opportunity for scientists and engineers, and it would isolate us from oil politics. Not to mention that it is an ethical thing to do, if we care about our planet.

Sunflowers (1)

PIPBoy3000 (619296) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077264)

When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy

I thought the plan was to "pull a Niven" and have the mirrors burn off all the cloud cover.

92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (5, Insightful)

tgd (2822) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076582)

Thats 246 billion square feet.

Thats somewhere between the size of New Jersey and New Hampshire.

Talk about pie in the sky... its more realistic to be talking about microwave power stations in orbit!

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (3, Insightful)

Soporific (595477) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076638)

Don't you think we've paved that much road by now?

~S

pie in the sky (1, Interesting)

JonTurner (178845) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076640)

there are many more problems. just off the top of my head:

1) How much toxic materials will be required to create and maintain a 92-by-92-mile square grid. 92 *MILES*, people. like parent said, the size of New Jersey.
2) For you environmentalist types who can't tolerate the thought of drilling for oil off the coast, what do you think a 92 square mile solar blanket will do to the native wildlife?
3) How will this power be transmitted to consumers? Voltage loss is a real issue for long-distance transmission.

Why not simply build a nuclear powerplant closer to the consumers?

Re:pie in the sky (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23076710)

1.) Mirrors are made of glass and silver.
2.) Nobody cries for scorpions
3.) Nobody lives near the hoover dam

Re:pie in the sky (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23076720)

so we simply build it *on top of* new jersey. it's about the right size, plus there's no wildlife anywhere in NJ to displace. as for the locals, who cares? it's fucking new jersey. the power can then be transmitted directly to new york city. i mean, sure theres *supposed* to be enough power to go around, but when has NYC ever fell short on a challenge to guzzle resources?

Re:pie in the sky (2, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076786)

1) How much toxic materials will be required to create and maintain a 92-by-92-mile square grid. 92 *MILES*, people. like parent said, the size of New Jersey.
And the vast majority of the American Southwest is completely unoccupied by people or farms or really much of anything.

For you environmentalist types who can't tolerate the thought of drilling for oil off the coast, what do you think a 92 square mile solar blanket will do to the native wildlife?
That would have to be studied, of course, but we're talking about a relatively small area of the American Southwest, which is mostly high desert.

3) How will this power be transmitted to consumers? Voltage loss is a real issue for long-distance transmission.
Actually, a study was done recently (with a summary published in Discover magazine about 2-3 months ago) that confirms that only a 10-15% or so increase in efficiency is required for the long-distance transmission and that the study's authors, all experts in the field, felt that this was possible by 2020.

Re:pie in the sky (1)

internetcommie (945194) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076886)

Why not simply build solar thermal power stations closer to consumers?

Re:pie in the sky (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077172)

Why not simply build solar thermal power stations closer to consumers?


"Not in *MY* backyard!" Would be why. It may not have any meltdowns or smog, but it will be an eyesore and you have to think of your property value.

We can thank our shrewd and astute homeowners for the lack of modern powerplants.

Re:pie in the sky (1)

krazytekn0 (1069802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077032)

And I always thought that 92 * 92 = 8,464 Thanks for clearing that up!

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (2, Insightful)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076664)

No, it's not. To get the same amount of power in orbit, you need a similar amount of surface area. A bit less because there's no atmospheric absorption, but even if you can improve by an order of magnitude, you still have a massive installation that has to be launched at a cost of $millions per ton. Build the plant on earth, and you can use trucks to move the installation at $pennies per ton. Plus you can use cheaper engineering because you don't need to space-harden everything, and you've got no problem preventing your orbital power station from becoming a death ray.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (4, Insightful)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076678)

For once, someone gets something close when pulling out statistics.

Using Wiki, New Jersey is 70 miles wide by 110 miles long while New Hampshire is 68 miles wide by 190 miles long.

On a side note, instead of locating the power source in one state, spread it out over southern California (they need all the energy they can get), Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and maybe Florida (hurricanes might pose an issue).

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (1)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077270)

It's a bit of a myth that Florida is the sunshine state. Being next to the ocean cloud cover is never completely absent so we never get very long periods of constant sun needed for good power generation. Desert areas in the western US would do better.

Still it should be possible to build Hurricane proof solar plant structures. Mirrors that fold up and out of harms way for example.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23076690)

a) you wouldn't do it all in one place (geographical diversity is good, both from a cloud cover standpoint and from a transmission line standpoint)
b) you've not been in or flown over the southwest desert areas, have you? there are enormous areas where one could drop a 20x20 mile plant and you'd never notice it's there.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (5, Insightful)

Gotung (571984) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076716)

Yes it would be a gargantuan task to power the entire country in this way.

Which means we shouldn't even try to build 1 plant.

Cause its hard and stuff.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076718)

Haven't you heard the story of the pet cat/rabbit/whatever in the microwave? Do you really wanna do that to whole cities at a time?

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (1)

clay_buster (521703) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076734)

Initially, Solar Thermal only needs to replace the portion of the grid currently covered by fossil fuel plants. Of course that is 3/4 of the 2006 production but hey, it means we don't have to pave over Rhode Island.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23076752)

That's 8,464 square miles of open, undeveloped land. My questions are simple:

1. Other than (maybe) the barren winter plains of Alaska, where could this possibly be built? None of the ranch owners I know in Texas are going to let go of their land for this.

2. From Jupiter, an 8,464 square mile solar array probably looks like a bullseye. What would the U.S.'s potential single-largest-energy grid would look like from China's spy satelites?

3. I wonder how the land is going to be acquired -- hopefully not through eminent domain.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076776)

Check my math here:

92 mi x 92 mi = 8464 sq mi

1 sq mi = 5280 ft x 5280 ft = 27,878,400 sq ft

8464 sq mi x 27.8m sq ft = 235,962,777,600 sq ft

235 trillion!

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (1)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076838)

Billion.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076936)

Touche.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23077086)

math is right, word selection not-so-much.

it's billion.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23077176)

yeah!

and in inches is even more!

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (5, Insightful)

nizo (81281) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076890)

Take a trip through New Mexico sometime; 92x92 square miles of empty sunshiney space is not a problem.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23077104)

I wonder how many New Hampshires and New Jerseys we've burned in oil? How deep would it be? Just think of the entire infrastructure we've built up since the 1800's in order that we burn oil for energy.

Yes, the scale is large but over time and geography is it really that big of a deal?

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23077180)

Thats somewhere between the size of New Jersey and New Hampshire.
As someone who lives in New Hampshire I vote for putting it in New Jersey.

Re:92x92 square miles? Jeez, lets get on it. (4, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077190)

Thats 246 billion square feet.

Thats somewhere between the size of New Jersey and New Hampshire.

Talk about pie in the sky... its more realistic to be talking about microwave power stations in orbit!


Yeah, and guess what the square mileage of farmland in the U.S. is? Hint: Hell of a lot more than New Jersey and New Hampshire combined.

So land-based farming is "pie in the sky", and we might as well talk about orbital hydroponics labs?

Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. We've paved over many times more than that amount of land to make our highways and Wal-Mart parking lots, a lot of it requiring dynamiting of mountains first; how exactly is it impossible to put up some mirrors on the ground? If you're imagining a contiguous 92x92 mile area, maybe that's why you're stumbling, not that it's actually any more infeasible, it's just not how it would be done.

so in other words (0, Flamebait)

OrochimaruVoldemort (1248060) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076606)

this is similar to a nuclear reactor, where heat is causing water to spin a turbine. i suspect that that this will do the same, but it will be faster.

Re:so in other words (4, Insightful)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076634)

... and without the radioactive waste.

It might work ... (1)

cpricejones (950353) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076622)

as long as we don't run our force fields at full strength. The additional pressure on the magma could create enough pressure to cause an eruption. Even the ancients knew that ...

[cf. Stargate Atlantis, season 2, episode "Inferno"]

92 square miles? (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076648)

Solar thermal plants covering the equivalent of a 92-by-92-mile square grid in the Southwest could generate electricity for the entire United States

That little line there makes me ask, "well, if I keep on burning coal, just how warm would the planet really get..."

That's nice... (1)

bhunachchicken (834243) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076656)

... now if only we could do something about the over population...

infrastructure? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23076692)

We have Kansas and Nebraska farmers who would love to plant wind farms, but no infrastructure to get the electricity they would generate to the consumer.

Is there infrastructure in the southwest to deliver all this electricity that they would generate?

My sources say the east and west half of the country aren't connected in any useful way that would allow the delivery of Nebraska or New Mexico electricity to, e.g., New England.

Answer: No. Instead we have a monkey in the white house who's giving subsidies to grow corn to make ethanol instead of coming up with real solutions.

What is worse? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23076698)

What is worse, Jews or Mudslums?

Jews kill more people and steal alot of land and resources, but Mudslums are more obnoxious about their religion. They seem to confuse their faith with a real religion. No religion that treats women like that is real.

I guess this is a question for the ages. What do you think?

Re:What is worse? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23077178)

I think we should kill them all off and the Catholics which your at it, you've got to be really fucked up to believe that shit and who knows they may even go to Heaven.

Environmental impact of the most literal kind (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076706)

What happens when we suck the heat out of a 8,464 square mile area in the southwest? It gets colder! And if you're like me you fully believe that the next great climate change will be global cooling. I don't like where this is going...

Re: Environmental impact of the most literal kind (1)

apt142 (574425) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076804)

So the answer to global warming is that we should just not try to address it because we might actually fix it?

If for some reason it negates and reverses global warming and then swings back the other way into global cooling then that's fine. We have experience with fixing that particular problem.

Re: Environmental impact of the most literal kind (1)

ductonius (705942) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077120)

So the answer to global warming is that we should just not try to address it because we might actually fix it?

No, the answer to human impact on what would otherwise be the natural world is to use technologies that minimize said impact.

In the case of power generation that means nuclear power for base-load with hydro, pumped storage or maybe even gas turbine to handle variable load.

I want to know why (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076826)

they conveniently forget about all the life that exists in a desert environment?

There are some unique species, some that can teach us on how to deal with limited resources, but I guess since pictures only show sand and cactus instead of cute little deer its ok to cover them up?

Re:I want to know why (1)

Snuz (1271620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076888)

Yes. Yes it is.

Re: Environmental impact of the most literal kind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23076978)

The best way to handle this sort of thing would be to spread it out, not to make one huge 92x92 mile plant. It could go in different locations around the South, maybe even in parts of the North too, depending. That way we can avoid massively screwing up the environment in any one area, while simultaneously distributing the generating capacity closer to the load.

And, don't forget that we have a lot of things out in the sun that absorb energy and heat up, things not natural to the environment there anyway (like asphalt). So, this could be a way of compensating for that as it would not return as much heat to the environment (it would use some of the energy to generate electricity instead).

Culture, not technology (1)

kaysan (972266) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076742)

There is undeniable potential to this technology (barring transportation over long distances & storage concerns but i believe any engineers creed is that "these things are solvable"). It does however point out the vital importance that social/cultural influences exert on energy supplies; We Europeans basically either a) look towards russia for increased dependence on fossil fuels, especially in light of Kyoto protocol implications for the proliferation of natural gas as a 'stepping stone' fuel ('cleanest' fossil fuel) or b) look towards Northern Africa/Middle east for the above AND any serious attempt to switch to solar energy.

It just so happens we we value our culturally embedded norms/values of freedom of speech/religion (they can can that one for all i care)/choice/education/etc and in our globalising/internationalising society we find more and more such norms collide with those of our potential/defacto provider nations. Technology will not save us (it will for the US). The only thing that will is finding a modus for the import and export of culture which usually accompanies the import and export of goods/services/cash/labour.

92-by-92? Impractical. (1)

Millennium (2451) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076762)

As others have mentioned, a solar farm almost 100 miles per side is completely impractical. Even a set of 13-by-13-mile farms -one for each state- might work for Texas and California, but would be much harder to pull off in Rhode Island or Hawaii just because of space concerns. Then there's the Alaska issue.

Solar thermal is a nice thought. It might even work for some states. But it's not the One Magic Bullet that people seem to be seeking.

Re:92-by-92? Impractical. (3, Informative)

arashi sohaku (228013) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076902)

Check the summary again. It says "equivalent", not one big 92x92 plot of technology. If the solar fields could be made smaller, but many more spread out over the region, you could get the same effect as if it were one large setup.

I heard about this on NPR last week, and this same concern was brought up. No one is saying that they are going to make such a huge array (can you imagine the need for maintenance workers?). However, if there are enough arrays created, it can be the functional equivalent of the 92x92 field spoken about.

Thunder

Re:92-by-92? Impractical. (1)

Millennium (2451) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077192)

Check the summary again. It says "equivalent", not one big 92x92 plot of technology. If the solar fields could be made smaller, but many more spread out over the region, you could get the same effect as if it were one large setup.
I addressed that. In terms of surface area alone, the equivalent to a 92x92 plot is equal to fifty plots of about 13x13 miles each. At this size alone you've already excluded many of the smaller or denser states. This does not, however, take into account the issue of how much sunlight falls on each region on average. The Southwest was chosen for the 92x92 plot because that area gets more (and stronger) sunlight than most of the rest of the country; elsewhere, the plots would actually have to be larger, or you would need more of them.

I heard about this on NPR last week, and this same concern was brought up. No one is saying that they are going to make such a huge array (can you imagine the need for maintenance workers?). However, if there are enough arrays created, it can be the functional equivalent of the 92x92 field spoken about.
You still need to cover at least the same surface area, and this is where things get hairy. If you used 200 of these plots -four per state- that's still 6.5 miles on a side. Even if you made 1000 plots -20 for each state- that's still 3.5 miles on each side. Suddenly you have to fit 20 of these into each state? As I said before, this might be viable for California or Texas, but not for Rhode Island (which would actually need more than this to compensate for the relative lack of sunlight) or Hawaii.

It's an interesting thought, but it does not scale to the size of nations.

What about storage and transmission? (1, Insightful)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076772)

Generating the entire US's energy needs in one central location is only useful if you have a way to transmit the power to where it's needed.

I like the idea of making more, better use of solar energy, but the operation should be more dispersed, or else we're going to need to wait for a revolution in transmission (high-temperature superconductor would be wonderful if we had it).

Re:What about storage and transmission? (4, Informative)

xaxa (988988) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077024)

Has anyone even read the summary? It says plants. That means more than one.

Solar thermal plants covering the equivalent of a 92-by-92-mile square grid

There are some pictures of the German plant here [google.co.uk] .

Re:What about storage and transmission? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23077274)

It is a lot easier/cheaper to store a hot fluid vs straight electricity in a battery.

The solar thermal plants just store hot stuff in a thermos. Then bleed pressure off of the thermos to run the turbines when the sun isn't as strong (or night time)

The key is how long they can store the hot stuff. ~15 hours means the west coast could supply the east coast with its morning power surge.

8464 square miles? (1)

Cutie Pi (588366) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076792)

Just for comparison, the state of New Jersey covers 8722 square miles.

Take a look at all those mountain top and strip mining operations that environmentalists are all up in arms about. They cover relatively small amounts of area. How would this be any better? Yeah, the southwest has lots of mostly unpopulated space, but I'm sure environmentalists would find plently of rare desert rodents and plant species that would be obliterated from such an operation.

Re:8464 square miles? (1)

jrumney (197329) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076958)

So don't build one big plant, build lots of smaller ones. And for bonus points, build them in the wasteland created by old open cast mines.

Re:8464 square miles? (1)

lorenzo.boccaccia (1263310) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077118)

we have 3,500,000 sq mi of desert in africa [wikipedia.org] and the world is plenty of hot deserts [wikipedia.org]
remains only the distribution problem. and the poor europa, without deserts...
just don't let sony store the energy, ok?

Oh geez, here we go! (-1, Flamebait)

Neuropol (665537) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076828)

You're talking about tampering with big money and business by threatening to put another energy source in front of Oil and Coal! Won't happen under our current mindset. Decades down the road, maybe. Right Now: Our leaders are marketing Coal as an alternative - for some unknown reason (pre-existing multi-billion dollar investments and stocks).

Oh, but wait, there's more! You're talking about pitching these ideas to a country who's people still believe, and are led by leaders still emulate, the essence of this place being created by a mythical being - God. God fixes every thing with prayer. God will fix the globe's crisis if we just keep praying. Reality still has not set it in yet.

It's going to take some more naturally occurring global happenings (hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, flooding, ice-melts), and finally an eventual relenting to the factual knowledge that Solar Systems are born ... and they die - pretty much every day. Every thing in the great home we call a Universe has a life cycle, and right now, we're in our middle ages. Until people can understand their place in the Universe, we're better off just heading down the path we're on now.

What ever. Ride the global marketing campaign known as Operation Global Impending Doom - AKA Global Warming. Years ago it was called greenhouse gases, you remember right? Those same greenhouse gases that allow the surface temperature to have risen to a habitable state for species growth. Yeah those green house gases. The ones that were 1000 times the level they are now during Earths volcanically active years ...

I'm all for streamlined energy. Yes. But stop selling it like it's the latest greatest thing that will SAVE THE WORLD. It's not going to happen. In 5 Billion years when our sun swells to the orbit of Mars and consumes every thing in it's path either form heat or from contact, all your efforts will essentially, mean nothing.

What people need to start thinking about is where the hell we're going to go in the next 50 years when the climate here on Earth grows to an uninhabitable state DUE TO NATURALLY OCCURRING GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE - THE SAME CHANGES THAT SHAPED THIS BALL OF ROCK AND WATER THAT ALLOWS YOU TO EAT SLEEP AND BUY MORE STUFF.

Save our Species? Oh, brother... (1, Interesting)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076850)

'Improvements in manufacturing and design, along with the possibility of higher temperature operation, could easily bring the price down to 6 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour.'
And improvements in magnetic confinement could easily bring fusion power down to 6 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour...and advances in the production of antimatter could yield power too cheap to meter...assuming it's even possible to do any of the above at all. I love how pundits can wave a magic wand at substantial engineering obstacles and make them all go away when trying to push their new pet gadget or cause on the rest of us. And when pigs fly, we can use them to power our flying cars!

Solar thermal plants covering the equivalent of a 92-by-92-mile square grid in the Southwest could generate electricity for the entire United States. Mexico has an equally enormous solar resource. China, India, southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Australia also have huge resources.
Brushing aside the question of what to do when the weather doesn't cooperate, exactly how does this fellow expect us to efficiently distribute the power harvested by this "enormous solar resource"? It's not feasible to power the entire United States from a 92x92 mile square in the middle of a southwestern U.S. desert because transmission losses to, say, the entire East Coast would be horrendous.

All of this handwaving about does an injustice to a real, clean, abundant power-generating resource that we have virtually ignored: nuclear fission. Every coal plant in the U.S. could be replaced in a few decades if we chose to do so. Japan and France have excellent safety records with this technology and power most of their country via splitting atoms. Ignoring this technology while betting on pie-in-the-sky stuff that's unproven, undeveloped, and unknown to "save our species" is just silly.

Re:Save our Species? Oh, brother... (2, Insightful)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 6 years ago | (#23076928)

And improvements in magnetic confinement could easily bring fusion power down to 6 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour...and advances in the production of antimatter could yield power too cheap to meter...assuming it's even possible to do any of the above at all.



Show me some working, power-producing fusion and/or antimatter power plants.



I'll show you some working, power-producing solar-thermal power plants.



Geez. Heating water with solar power really isn't rocket science. The improvements proposed for these power plants are mainly in engineering. On the other hand, we're still working on the science for fusion and antimatter.

Re:Save our Species? Oh, brother... (2, Informative)

tinkerghost (944862) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077166)

And improvements in magnetic confinement could easily bring fusion power down to 6 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour...and advances in the production of antimatter could yield power too cheap to meter

The big difference of course, is that there are commercially operating solar/thermal power plants running - with a cost of ~15cents/KWh. Nobody has an operating fusion plant dumping electricity into the grid - dito with antimatter.

Given that the existing plants are experimental, it is entirely possible that future plants can improve efficiency - through improved design/scale - to drop the price to between 6 & 8 cents.

The WRONG kind of solar power (1)

daswoot (1271384) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077000)

What a waste. There is a reason that this has not been developed faster. I would venture to guess that there is a LOT of heat dissipation (ie wasted energy) with this process. Also, the surface area required to obtain the same amount of energy as a solar cell must be much larger. Our resources should be focused on making more efficient batteries and solar cells rather than trying to bake the world's largest potato.

Tiny kill spot (Birds?), Microclimate? (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077132)

I know the area of intense heat will be invisible-- how big would it be?

Thinking back to wind turbines for unexpected kills.

Also, would sucking the energy out of an area (and sending it elsewhere as electricity) lower its temperature and possibly change the micro-climate?

If we put 35 billion into this technology, we would not be raising the price of food and fuel and we would not be lowering our m.p.g. by 10% either. I recently went on a trip and got "countryside real gas" instead of "cityside 85% gas" and got 35 extra miles on the same tank-- that's 3mpg (14%!). It's like a hidden tax having to fill up 1/7 more than with real gasoline.

Heat to turbine or Stirling Engine? (4, Interesting)

Roy van Rijn (919696) | more than 6 years ago | (#23077268)

This makes me wonder, is generating electricity using this method more efficient to do with heating water to go into a turbine... or using a (huge) stirling engine? I've read that a Stirling Engine is the most energie efficient way to turn heat into movement (thus electricity?).

Can anybody shed some light on this? (no pun intended)
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