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Ariz. Team Seeks Fossil-Fuel Cost Parity, Using Solar Energy Concentrators

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the all-I-want-is-a-big-solar-oven dept.

Earth 245

autospa writes "A University of Arizona engineering team led by Roger Angel has designed a new type of solar concentrator that uses half the area of solar (PV) cells used by other optical devices and delivers a light output/concentration that is over 1000 times more concentrated before it even hits the cells. This comes as a result of a broader goal to make solar energy cost competitive with fossil fuels (target = 1$/W) without the 'need for government subsidization.'"

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Which government subsidization? (5, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#35398982)

It's hard to count all the ways our oil economy is supported and subsidized by the government. And we haven't even started cleaning up the mess yet.

Bullshit. (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399060)

I keep hearing this repeated as though it were a fact.

And yet, gas taxes keep coming out the wazoo.

For the end user, those subsidies don't exist.

Re:Bullshit. (5, Informative)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399136)

Yeah, those subsidies clearly don't exist. That's why at one point Obama claimed he was going to cut $36.5 billion in them [reuters.com] .

Re:Bullshit. (2)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399284)

That's somewhat of a misnomer. The subsidies are mostly tricks to get the oil industry to invest in areas that are not profitable for them and they wouldn't otherwise be at.

In more plain terms, if the subsidies didn't exist, oil companies would not miss them, they simply would not be doing some of the things they are now at the request of the government. Eliminating those subsidies would have no real noticeable effect on price or profit.

Re:Bullshit. (4, Insightful)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399306)

And yet despite claims that they wouldn't miss them, they continue to lobby and fight against their removal.

Re:Bullshit. (2)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399660)

They do? Your right, because they can explore other areas of business and develop techniques to deal with it in the future without a large loss. However, that doesn't mean they would continue to do so if they were removed.

I didn't say there wasn't a benefit for them. I said the benefit wouldn't effect their profit or prices if it was removed. Instead, they would just go back to what's normally profitable until such time prices are high enough for them to get into those areas on their own.

Re:Bullshit. (0, Troll)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399300)

That's why at one point Obama claimed he was going to cut $36.5 billion in them.

You must have missed the memo. Let me remind you, you are writing on slashdot and are under no circumstances allowed to suggest that President Obama is a reasonable and/or intelligent human being. Furthermore in some crowds here you might not be allowed to even suggest that he is indeed a he or a human being.

Re:Which government subsidization? (1)

ynp7 (1786468) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399818)

Exactly, to get cost parity (and then some) just stop subsidizing oil.

Re:Which government subsidization? (0, Flamebait)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399858)

Which subsidy is that? The 50% tax on gasoline, or the oil windfall profits tax? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windfall_profits_tax [wikipedia.org] Oil is the most taxed industry in the US. OK, Cigarettes may have it worse, but I doubt it...

Re:Which government subsidization? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399954)

Since 1988, no windfall profit tax has been enacted in the U.S.

Also from wiki,

In January 2011, motor gasoline taxes averaged 48.1 cents per gallon and diesel fuel taxes averaged 53.1 cents per gallon.

So no, it's not anywhere near a 50% tax on gas.

Re:Which government subsidization? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399862)

As a fraction of revenue, these new renewable resources are subsidized far more than coal and oil (coal being the subsidized material you should consider). It is refreshing to see these renewable power sources nearing an unsubsidized parity with coal. That's far more important than complaining about which one is subsidized more.

Sweet! (1)

Aighearach (97333) | more than 3 years ago | (#35398986)

I knew it was hot in AZ but this is ridiculous!

subsidization? (4, Insightful)

polar red (215081) | more than 3 years ago | (#35398996)

without the “need for government subsidization.”

ALL sources of energy receive subsidy. some examples : Oil (how much did all those wars cost?), coal(damage to public health=hidden subsidy), nuclear(research since the forties)

Re:subsidization? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399270)

without the “need for government subsidization.”

ALL sources of energy receive subsidy. some examples : Oil (how much did all those wars cost?), coal(damage to public health=hidden subsidy), nuclear(research since the forties)

It doesn't matter.

A couple of months ago in Scientific American, they interviewed a venture capitalist - I can't remember his name. Anyway, he had this very interesting point: we can't have subsidies on alternative energy. Why? Because the countries where it's imperative that they adopt such clean tech do not have subsidies nor can they afford them. So, if the energy cannot be cost competitive without subsidies then it isn't worth it.

Subsidize in the beginning until it does become profitable? If that were the case, then MAYBE. But the thing is, many of these technologies cannot scale or if they can, they do not become more cost effective.

We in the West are pretty clean for the most part - it's getting India, China and other developing countries to clean up and they don't have the money to subsidize any technology.

Any green tech that can compete with fossil even with their tax subsidies will win hands down. I think it is possible - probable.

Re:subsidization? (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399542)

China appears to have plenty of money to subsidize our subsidies (low interest credit), which leads me to believe they could subsidize their own energy too.

Re:subsidization? (2)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399828)

You would think so.

However currently in China they are having ongoing problems with traffic jams made up mostly of trucks hauling coal.

In the 'western world' we have mostly gone to the power plant right near the mine model. Transmission line losses are nothing next to freight train costs, much less trucks.

China's banks also have big problems. Apparently there are some people who's loan requests cannot be turned down. US bonds are the best part of many Chinese banks assets. Corruption is endemic.

China is a leader in building photovoltaic panels, mostly for Europe.

Re: the clean West (4, Informative)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399732)

"We in the West are pretty clean for the most part - it's getting India, China and other developing countries to clean up..."

What the hell are you smoking? Or more aptly, what planet are you living on?

A person living in China is responsible for 17% as much greenhouse-gas emissions as is a person living in the United States.
A person living in India is responsible for 8% as much greenhouse-gas emissions as a person living in the United States.

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

and that's not even accounting for the fact that much of the most polluting parts of the Chinese and Indian economies are devoted to supplying the West with goods.

Re:subsidization? (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399770)

Subsidize in the beginning until it does become profitable? If that were the case, then MAYBE. But the thing is, many of these technologies cannot scale or if they can, they do not become more cost effective. We in the West are pretty clean for the most part - it's getting India, China and other developing countries to clean up and they don't have the money to subsidize any technology.

??? Dude wake the fuck up... China is currently kicking ass and taking names in both wind and solar production. The US BY ITSELF is right now responsible for half of the worlds pollution...yet it accounts for only 1/22th of global population.

We're fucking up the world more than anyone else while making other countries pay the price for our actions. "Clean" ... no I don't fucking think so.

What does $1/W mean? (2)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 3 years ago | (#35398998)

I pay about $0.10/kWh. (1000 W per Hour)

Re:What does $1/W mean? (5, Informative)

tmosley (996283) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399058)

A watt is a unit of power, a watt hour is a unit of work. The goal is $1/W which means that a 1000 W system, which produces ~8KWh per day (more further south), only costs $1000, and would pay for itself in about three years, making it economically viable for most people.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399114)

a 1000 W system, which produces ~8KWh per day

Pardon my ignorance, but shouldn't a 1000 W system produce 24 kWh per day, since there are 24 hours per day? Or is the 1000W input, and the 8kWh output?

Re:What does $1/W mean? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399150)

The sun does not shine 24hours/day... at least not on our planet.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399252)

LOL, my bad.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399522)

Does the angle of the sun come into play here? Is it really the same at 4PM as at noon? Or is 1000 W an average?

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

Xacid (560407) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399454)

Technically it does. You might just have to chase it around a little. ;)

Re:What does $1/W mean? (2)

BisexualPuppy (914772) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399492)

The sun does not shine 24hours/day... at least not on our planet.

Actually yes, it is, at the poles. Both of them beeing part of the same planet.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399878)

Well, it shines 24 hrs/day for 6 months, then 0 hours a day for 6 mths. I wonder what that averages out to?

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399686)

It most certainly does shine 24 hours/day on this planet -- if you're further north than the Arctic Circle in the summer, for example. I've seen it there in July, and it is distinctly weird. The Sun just circles around close to the horizon.

However, if you built the station there I suspect the cost of the wire to connect to the grid in Arizona would probably be prohibitive, not to mention low solar insolation [wikipedia.org] and the problem of any power production in the winter :-)

Re:What does $1/W mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399176)

Think daylight.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

ryansm1 (1396687) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399182)

He is taking into account that the sun shines about eight hours on average (hence "more further south"), giving only 8kWh energy.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399436)

The sun shines on the planet on average 12 hours per day regardless of where you are. The period over which you average changes with latitude, in the far north and far south you have to average over a year instead of a day.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399412)

No because the sun doesn't shine 24 hours per day. Also solar panels do not product 100% of their rated output if partially covered by shadows, debris, etc. Also you normally don't see solar panels that move to maintain the optimal angle with the sun except in very expensive set ups. Therefore you often need many more Watts' worth of solar panels than what you calculate your electrical usage as.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 3 years ago | (#35400028)

Divide that by pi to account for the varying angle of the sun through the typical day and you'll see it's quite close to the 8kWh they're claiming as an average.

What you're doing this: \int{sin(x)dx_{0}^{pi}} \over \int{1_{0}^{2pi}}

The assumption here being that you can approximate the output as P*{sin(x) : 0<=x<=pi ; 0 : elsewhere}

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

burni2 (1643061) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399566)

In the wind industry that way we calculate the costs per installed Watt of rated power, I think it's the same here

3,6MW would equal to 3,6 Million $

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399860)

Of course you do.

Is that how you bill your customers too?

I bet somewhere, someplace there is an evil old troll who calculates it as $/kWh

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399068)

they mean 1$ per maximum possible output wattage. (so a 1000000$ for a 1MW peak power plant)

okay, makes sense now, thanks (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399112)

I see. so 1MW system can deliver 1000 kWh every hour. At $0.11 running 24/7 it could theoretically bring in $964,000/year and basically pay for itself. Assuming everyone had to pay 11 cents (industry probably pays a lot less, these are just so numbers I made up).

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399400)

I see. so 1MW system can deliver 1000 kWh every hour. At $0.11 running 24/7 it could theoretically bring in $964,000/year and basically pay for itself. Assuming everyone had to pay 11 cents (industry probably pays a lot less, these are just so numbers I made up).

Stop being continuously wrong.

Industry doesn't pay "a lot less" - they pay comparable. Paying effectively 7-8c/kWh is not "a lot less", it is comparable considering they need their own power distribution and regulation (they get electricity at much higher voltage). They pay less because utility doesn't need to incur capital costs at point of delivery.

1MW system doesn't deliver 1000kWh every hour, it brings in 1000kWh when it is active, like you know, the sun shines? So even if you have 200 days / year at 8h/day, that gets you $176k/year revenue. Since these systems tend to last 30+ years, effective cost of generating this electricity is 2c/kWh produced, comparable to coal..

Electrical power plants tend to be priced at $/MW, not $/kWh. This is why target is $1/W, because that makes sense when you capitalize the expense as power plants tend to be capital projects.

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (2, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399456)

You are forgetting:

1) Solar panels produce direct current, not alternating current. Direct current is almost impossible to transmit across any meaningful length of electric cable.

2) Converting DC to AC is possible, however there are efficiency losses and thermal losses - these come out of your "profit"

3) At some point you are going to need to replace your solar panels - they only last 15-25 years. You need to set money aside for this, unless you plan on shutting down your plant at the end of 15 years.

4) Energy companies do not buy electricity at the same price at which they sell it to you. Often there is a HUGE discrepancy. Ahh, monopolies.

5) The obvious one - the sun doesn't shine 8 hours a day so your 1MW system will probably deliver 300kW every hour on average.

6) To provide power at night you will need some means of storing energy. Batteries work, but they need maintenance and they do wear out over time. Less profit.

Oh - suddenly it's not so profitable anymore.

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399484)

my bad - there is no edit button - point 5 should read: the sun doesn't shine 24 hours a day...

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (2)

heathen_01 (1191043) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399628)

I just assumed you were posting from the UK.

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399568)

Direct current is almost impossible to transmit across any meaningful length of electric cable.

Humorously, you have it exactly wrong. The longer the cable, the (relatively) cheaper the cost of HVDC conversion gear vs the rest of the project.

The power delivered by a AC line is based on the RMS voltage. However you have to insulate to peak, which is somewhat more. Insulation is a pretty major design constraint, as arcs to the ground or towers is kind of a waste of power...

As a very rough guess on a medium length line you can push about 1/4 to 1/3 more power for the same cost if you switch to DC.

The power levels I'm talking about are a couple GWs, distances of dozens of miles, costs vaguely around gigadollars. Capital costs of about a buck a watt per 50 miles, lets say. You can see the motivation of placing plants nearby cities, rather than in the middle of nowhere.

You can do long distance AC, and they used to, it just costs a heck of a lot more.

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (2)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399664)

Hmm? I thought the whole reason we use AC (thanks to Edison winning the argument with Tesla) was because there is less loss over long distances when compared to DC. Edison wanted One Big Plant generating power, and Tesla wanted many small, local plants. I guess I will have to re-read this - I apologize, I'm a biologist not a physicist.

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (1)

francium de neobie (590783) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399786)

That was the a century ago when people hadn't discovered how to step up and step down DC voltages. There're still problems with transmitting high voltage AC across long distances - many long distance runs are actually HVDC now.

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (2)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399920)

Back in the original AC vs DC battle it was damn near impossible to raise DC voltages and damn difficult to lower them without wasting a large part.

With AC a simple power transformer could raise the voltage on the lines. In the old days AC had a massive transmission line voltage advantage. These days it has the RMS disadvantage.

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (2)

Lloyd_Bryant (73136) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399948)

Hmm? I thought the whole reason we use AC (thanks to Edison winning the argument with Tesla) was because there is less loss over long distances when compared to DC. Edison wanted One Big Plant generating power, and Tesla wanted many small, local plants. I guess I will have to re-read this - I apologize, I'm a biologist not a physicist.

You mean the argument that Edison *lost* - he was the big proponent of DC, while Tesla and Westinghouse were behind AC.

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (1)

Mike_EE_U_of_I (1493783) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399712)

You wrote "1) Solar panels produce direct current, not alternating current. Direct current is almost impossible to transmit across any meaningful length of electric cable."

    Solar panels typically will feed into an inverter which converts the power in AC. It is only at that point that power is transmitted any significant distance.

You wrote "3) At some point you are going to need to replace your solar panels - they only last 15-25 years."

    It's more like 25-100 years, but yeah, they don't last forever.

You wrote "4) Energy companies do not buy electricity at the same price at which they sell it to you. Often there is a HUGE discrepancy. Ahh, monopolies. "

    Yes, the $1/watt goal makes solar competitive at wholesale rates. Solar is already cheaper than retail rates in some places (sunny places with expensive power)

    You wrote "5) The obvious one - the sun doesn't shine 8 hours a day so your 1MW system will probably deliver 300kW every hour on average. "

    Yes, that's called capacity factor. Solar is generally worse than that (.15 to .25 depending on how much sun a place gets).

    You wrote "6) To provide power at night you will need some means of storing energy. Batteries work, but they need maintenance and they do wear out over time. Less profit."

    If you are getting a _huge_ chunk of your power from solar, that's true. In most places today, power demand is much higher when it is sunny that when it is not. We could probably produce 10-25% of our power from solar with not much storage. That's around 100 times as much solar as we have now. But, yes, you are right, this is a huge problem if we ever want to get a large percentage of our power from solar. It's already a huge problem for wind farms. The reason is that wind farms can produce at low demand periods, when no one needs the extra power.

    Bottom line is if solar can get to $1 for every installed watt, you will be seeing solar installed everywhere, as it will simply blow everything else away, even with these problems.

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399792)

100 years? May I see a source please? Everything I have read states 25 years TOPS. And that is for regular use. When you bombard them with 1000x more light I'm sure you don't improve their useful life, either. You can't cheat entropy that way. Not in this universe, anyway.

Bottom line is if solar can get to $1 for every installed watt, you will be seeing solar installed everywhere

I agree with that, and believe me, I WANT solar to reach that price. It seems like a great energy source (after all, the sun powers all life on this planet) and a great use of wasted real-estate on our roofs. However I still think the OP's calculations were way off. You can't just take the cost/Watt x 24h x current kWh energy price and call it "profit" or "savings". It's a lot more complicated than that.

Re:okay, makes sense now, thanks (1)

EvanED (569694) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399910)

Everything I have read states 25 years TOPS

Depends on what you mean by "lasts"; they degrade gracefully, not fail suddenly. Wikipedia and other sources say [wikipedia.org] that several manufacturers warranty their panels at 80% output at 25 years. I'd consider that lasting well past 25 years.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

Dr. Cody (554864) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399098)

I pay about $0.10/kWh. (1000 W per Hour)

The figure in the OP is highly non-standard usage. In the US, only the kilowatt is a unit of energy.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

tzot (834456) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399208)

> In the US, only the kilowatt is a unit of energy.

I thought that a watt was a unit of power, not energy, everywhere in the world. Power multiplied by time (e.g. the kilowatt-hour unit) is energy.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (2, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399178)

I pay about $0.10/kWh. (1000 W per Hour)

What it probably means is they're scammers. Capital costs for coal and nuke run from $1.50 to $3.00 per watt installed. They're claiming $1 per watt. The problem is no matter how unconventional the heat source, no matter how magically free, the employee lunchroom costs $ per plant, the parking lot paving costs $ per plant, the pipes from the magic heat source to the turbines costs $ per watt, the turbine itself costs $ per watt, the water pumps and filters cost $ per watt...

PERHAPS they mean the capital cost of their magic heat source alone costs about $1 per watt. The problem is some recent historical nukes (not in the backwards USA, but civilized countries like France, etc) have come in at $1.50 per watt total plant cost delivered. So, on one side, their costs probably will decline as they are new vs the very mature nuke industry. On the other hand, can you build an entire thermal electric plant for well under 50 cents per watt? Then again, can a new tech be nearly as reliable as ancient technology nuke plant?

Re:What does $1/W mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399250)

The new EPR nuke in Finland (built by the French) cost 6.4 billion euros. It's net power is 1600W so that's 4 euros / Watt!

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399298)

I pay about $0.10/kWh. (1000 W per Hour)

What it probably means is they're scammers. Capital costs for coal and nuke run from $1.50 to $3.00 per watt installed. They're claiming $1 per watt. The problem is no matter how unconventional the heat source, no matter how magically free, the employee lunchroom costs $ per plant, the parking lot paving costs $ per plant, the pipes from the magic heat source to the turbines costs $ per watt, the turbine itself costs $ per watt, the water pumps and filters cost $ per watt...

PERHAPS they mean the capital cost of their magic heat source alone costs about $1 per watt. The problem is some recent historical nukes (not in the backwards USA, but civilized countries like France, etc) have come in at $1.50 per watt total plant cost delivered. So, on one side, their costs probably will decline as they are new vs the very mature nuke industry. On the other hand, can you build an entire thermal electric plant for well under 50 cents per watt? Then again, can a new tech be nearly as reliable as ancient technology nuke plant?

My impression (and damn these mindless 'articles') is that this is an ultimate goal. That figure isn't unreasonable even if it's cheaper than a coal fired plant. Small scale repetitive parts may well bring down capital costs compared to large purpose build structures - the employee break room is not the big ticket item in a nuc plant. Even if they don't get to the $1/watt figure, you have to remember that typical costs for nuc plants especially have enormous subsidies from the government in terms of waste disposal and insurance costs. Likely the same if you figure out the true environmental costs from a coal plant.

So, I'm not sure that they're a scam but equally unsure that it will lead to any significant commercial application.

I like the glowing ball, though. A whole field of those would be neat.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (2)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399350)

the pipes from the magic heat source to the turbines costs $ per watt, the turbine itself costs $ per watt, the water pumps and filters cost $ per watt...

RTA, there are no pipes, turbine, pumps, nor filter. It's photovoltaic. I don't know whether they can beat a nuke plant in the real world, but the relative simplicity of this system compared to a nuclear power plant is certainly striking.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (0)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399626)

the pipes from the magic heat source to the turbines costs $ per watt, the turbine itself costs $ per watt, the water pumps and filters cost $ per watt...

RTA, there are no pipes, turbine, pumps, nor filter. It's photovoltaic. I don't know whether they can beat a nuke plant in the real world, but the relative simplicity of this system compared to a nuclear power plant is certainly striking.

I did read the article, I did not believe at concentration factors over 1000 the cells would survive very long without active cooling.

Although its handling about the same heat flux as any other thermal plant, you can run colder, so the pipes and pumps can be cheapo low pressure low temp units... but that implies higher flow rates, and pumps unfortunately scale much worse than linear WRT flow rates. So the total plumbing cost is probably going to be "about the same".

If they're doing this with passive cooling, all I can say is "wow". They are concentrating sunlight at a ratio that liquefies asphalt.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399564)

Capital costs for coal and nuke run from $1.50 to $3.00 per watt installed.

Absolutely meaningless because I am damned sure a coal burning station or a nuclear power plant do not have exactly the same lifetime. When dealing with capital costs you are interested in a return on your investment. The only way to calculate this is by knowing not only how much it costs up front, but how much it will cost per unit of time and how long it's expected to work. If it stops working before you get your money and opportunity cost back, you don't invest.

Your argument about lunchroom costs is true regardless of the type of facility since all facilities need employees. Every business has its problems whether it's replacing damaged PV cells or spent fuel rods or a mandatory upgrade of the scrubbers for the smokestack. While it's very likely that the theoretical solar boys have forgotten to include a few real world practical costs, it's really an apple vs oranges comparison and you need ALL the numbers to make a decision. Your statement is just as general as the generic "cost per W".

Re:What does $1/W mean? (0)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399710)

Ahh but to calculate your NPV or whatever you have to know how much it costs up front. I think their estimate is ridiculously low compared to some proven technologies that handle/dissipate similar quantities of heat.

So long before you make the interest rate, maintenance cost, and operations cost calcs you mention, my point is their capital estimate is way low, even if their magic electricity and heat generating box were completely free (unlikely) the rest of the plant that keeps the magic box cool is going to cost alot.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399746)

my point is their capital estimate is way low, even if their magic electricity and heat generating box were completely free

On this we agree - but this is typical for anything offered by a university. Scientific knowledge != business acumen. There are bound to be oodles of hidden costs in a brand new industry which are well known in an older, established one. That's why you never want to be the first one in the pool...

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 3 years ago | (#35400024)

Slow your roll, man! "Scammers??!!!"

RIGHT NOW you can purchase thin film solar panels for $1/watt. Now, this doesn't include the inverters, which add more cost, nor labor or mounting hardware...but we are actually a lot closer to the threshold than you think.

The theory is that if $1/watt is the installed cost of solar panels, including labor and inverters, and you don't have to pay for fuel, and the maintenance costs are very small, it would be cost competitive with conventional power sources. The cost stability - fuel prices can't go up, and once you install the panels you do not have to worry about prices changing for the next 25+ years, means that solar would become the preferred source of new power plants.

Re:What does $1/W mean? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399382)

$1/W means you pay $1 to be able to produce 1 W over the lifetime of the solar cell (usually 20 or so years). Not to be confused with your kWh, we're not measuring the same thing. Just like if you use 2000kWh per month on your electric bill and try to set up a solar system, don't expect to be able to get away with only installing 2000W worth of solar panels...

Re:What does $1/W mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399526)

The installed cost of a power plant is about $500-$1000 per kilowatt for a natural gas combined cycle plant, and over $1000 per kilowatt for a coal fired plant. This includes equipment, design, construction, and owners costs like land, financing, permits, easements, etc. A solar plant at $1000 per kilowatt (or $1 per watt) would indeed give fossil fuels a run for the money, since of course there's no cost of fuel.

Crystal Ball (3, Funny)

Aighearach (97333) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399002)

I always suspected that PV technology was just missing a glowing crystal ball.

To the stars, Merlin!

Solar cells is a bad idea for concentrators (5, Interesting)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399032)

If you are using concentrators for solar power you really ought to consider a thermal cycle like a brayton turbine or a sterling engine, rather than solar cells. Thermal cycles tend to have higher conversion efficiencies, the equipment is more reliable, and their power output is more easily converted to grid voltage ( AC as opposed to DC ). Solar cells also tend to see reduced lifetimes when used with very concentrated light. The advantage with cells is pretty much that they don't need concentrators to work, since they don't rely on a high temperature. They can also be used in places where space/weight is an issue, such as on sailboats, rooftops or sattelites. Thus if you are already using a bulky concentrator to get the light intensity up, you may as well use a sterling engine.

 

Re:Solar cells is a bad idea for concentrators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399124)

Wrong! Sterling engines have moving parts which cause them to need replacing sooner than solar cells.

Re:Solar cells is a bad idea for concentrators (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399588)

But the moving parts are far cheaper to replace... a burned out PV cell can throw your whole panel off.

Re:Solar cells is a bad idea for concentrators (4, Interesting)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399168)

If you are doing a thermal cycle with concentrators, you need a *big* system. Small thermal engines aren't much more efficient than garden variety solar cells. (And presumably, concentrated solar would use high-tech cells that rival the efficiency of big heat engines anyway.) That means that you have to use a complex "power tower" arrangement with a field of precision synchronized mirrors pointed at one huge collector. You also need a big cold sink for thermal cycles; most power plants use a bunch of water for that, which is hard to come by in the desert.

The solar cell approach would also have the advantage of mechanical simplicity, and the ability to add capacity in small self-contained increments.

Re:Solar cells is a bad idea for concentrators (2)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399244)

If you are using concentrators you either take a huge loss because solar cell output drops off at high temp (and suffer shortened service life) or you end up with a cooling system for the cells. Once you have the cooling system you should just yield to the physics and accept that the best use of concentrated sunlight is in heat, not direct conversion to electricity. Solar cells only convert a few frequencies (three in the article for this story) while dumping the light over to heat uses much more of the spectrum..

Re:Solar cells is a bad idea for concentrators (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399402)

So? At the end of the day, overall net system efficiency is what matters. Heat engines will always be saddled with the laws of thermodynamics, which force them to waste much of your enhanced spectrum. Solar cells, without the limitations of the Carnot cycle, can convert more of the available energy in the part of the spectrum that they *do* use.

Solar cells also don't need to be cooled to the same low temperatures that the outlet of a heat engine requires to run efficiently. In the desert, that's much easier to achieve.

Re:Solar cells is a bad idea for concentrators (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399768)

The problem is the Carnot eff at a relatively cool nuke plant is still around/over 33%. Good luck finding a production off the shelf solar cell with decades of operating experience that can dream of reaching 33% efficiency.

If you're willing to try "exotic" PV units, I want to try "exotic" carnot units, like maybe a century old binary fluid system like the old fashioned two stage mercury and water system. Maybe something a little less toxic that vaporized mercury. A century or so ago those ran around 50% carnot eff. They were also horrific toxic beasts, but maybe with some more advanced materials... Maybe a modified cycle with yellow hot helium thru an exotic turbine, then its waste heat thru a sodium vapor turbine, then an "old fashioned" water cycle...

There is also the engineering problem.... Thermal means a very traditional water boiler design, no question marks at all except for the weird source of heat. PV means multiple areas of engineering experiment, the concentrators, the PV units, the cooling system for the PVs, etc.

Re:Solar cells is a bad idea for concentrators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35400038)

Yeah, but those nuke figures are for large reactors. You can't really scale them down well, nor can you own your own, nor can you get the cost to build one down to $1/watt. The rig pictured in the article isn't as simple as a flat roof panel, but it's a hell of a lot more simple than anything with combustion or pumps, and it scales up and down by surface area of the reflectors and chips.

Real article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399088)

The linked article is just copy taken from REhnu's site (see http://www.rehnu.com/news ). Their news page links to an article with a bit more content:
http://www.solarnovus.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2008:energy-telescope-aims-for-1watt-&catid=52:applications-tech-research&Itemid=247

Still the same problem as with all solar (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399092)

It doesn't work at night when you need electricity to power your lights. Which is especially a problem in the long winter nights when you need to heat your home. Can we please finally put this solar-for-everyone nonsense to bed?

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399108)

Would you look at this... someone who never heard of batteries. ;)

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (5, Insightful)

Aighearach (97333) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399120)

If only somebody would invent some sort of device that could store electricity for later use.

Then I could finally ditch the diesel generator I have to drag around to keep my mp3 player running!

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (2)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399228)

And then you'd have the fun and moral satisfaction of purchasing a new set of heavy duty batteries every year or two. Mind you that would be a very large set, to account for the possibility of many short cloudy winter days in a row.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399286)

No, that's why you have backup generators, usually natural gas, as do most generators of solar power.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (2)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399384)

Which sort of makes my point for me. If the power source needs a diesel backup that's going to be used often enough (ie some/most of the winter?), then it's not it's not as viable a source of renewable energy as that same diesel running on synthetic fuel would be. Unfortunately, there is not (yet) a viable large scale production capacity for synthetic fuel. Equally unfortunate is that people and research funding bodies have this solar pathology tattooed on their brains.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399380)

The deep cycle lead acid batteries used for solar systems (L-16 type) generally last 5-10 years if properly matched to a load.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (4, Insightful)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399326)

Look into the efficiency of a battery sometime. Unless you buy really expensive ones you lose about half of the energy putting it into and getting it back out. More losses if you are putting in AC and needing AC back out. And the really good (from an efficiency pov) lithium-ion batteries don't suffer many charge discharge cycles before hitting the 50% capacity point generally considered as replacement time. We currently have zero methods to store electricity that are cheap enough and effective enough for use on the grid. All electricity is generated as needed, with vast arrays of 'peaking power' generation capacity that largely sits idle. Believe me, if there were a good way to store electricity the industry would be using it already.

Worse, while electricity can be sent large distances, it is best to generate close to the point of use because of the line losses. So even if we were willing (and shot enough enviromentalists) to cover our deserts with solar arrays we would lose most of the power heating the lines getting it to where the customers are. Same for wind, it mostly occurs in areas where there aren't many people... or more accurately windmills near populated areas attracts more environmentalists.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399468)

There is. Flywheels seem to be going up in demand.

Pumped hydro is common. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399976)

You pump water up hill at night, then use it for power during the day.

Yes fish blend.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (1)

physicsphairy (720718) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399890)

The sound you are hearing is not a diesel generator, it is the background "melody" of your songs. You need to stop letting your grandchildren (whose existence I infer from your five-digit UID) upload the music which is on your mp3 player.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399218)

Energy consumption is largest during the day, and thus solar can actually help do some load leveling. Yea, you can't get all the energy from solar, but having the plant peak in power output around noon is actually a good thing.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (2)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399224)

Who ever claims that solar is for everyone despite a minority of kooks? Anyone sensible knows that you need to store excess generated energy in batteries for later or to have a backup generator for when night comes. What you are doing is the classic strawman.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (4, Interesting)

cduffy (652) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399336)

If electricity is cheap in the daytime and scarce/expensive at night, the market will figure it out.

Maybe that means people have incentive to charge their cars at work. Maybe it means entrepreneurs buy excess electricity on the spot market during the daytime, use it to pump water uphill, and use the potential energy of that water to generate more expensive electricity at night. (Is that process lossy? Sure! But the market will only reward it if it provides a net benefit, so it's all good. Same for battery / ultracapacitor / other technologies -- if they're a good fit for the problem, someone will make money using them; if not, they won't).

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399432)

It doesn't work at night when you need electricity to power your lights. Which is especially a problem in the long winter nights when you need to heat your home. Can we please finally put this solar-for-everyone nonsense to bed?

Solar concentrators heat a pile of molten sodium, sodium powers a generator, peaking in the day, but working 24/7. If the sun goes away for a week, the sodium might cool down too much to generate power, but then we have bigger problems to worry about. Are you serious that you've never heard of these type of solar installations despite numerous Slashdot articles about them? Now 'm not saying we should specialize on ANY one power source, but your arguments against solar are very uninformed.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399634)

Peak electricity demand is lunch-time and supper-time. Lunch-time is pretty much covered with solar, and depending where you live, a good chunk of supper-time is too. "Powering lights" is by no means the biggest use of energy, even if lights is all you see when you look outside at night-time. The biggest energy consumption comes from things used to make heat (cooking, hot water) and everything with a motor (cooking again, air conditioning, laundry). Your light bulbs (especially nowadays with LED's and compact fluorescents) don't actually use all that much electricity.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399674)

$1k of T-105 batteries (1.6kwhr) will easily satisfy all of my night time lighting, refrigerator and electronic needs. The problem comes with storing enough energy for the washing machine and dishwasher. This is easily alleviated with simple lifestyle changes. I'm already on a utility plan where I don't use certain high powered equipment at certain hours. The only real problem that I see is storing enough energy for night time AC use.

Batteries will have a 10+ year lifespan with care and proper maintenance.

Re:Still the same problem as with all solar (2)

cgenman (325138) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399730)

We have an energy surplus at night, due to things like nuclear facilities that run at the same output no matter the demand. Really, we need to expand our power system to handle larger peak energy during the day, when everyone is running their air conditioners. Expanding into more nuclear is politically difficult. Gas and Coal are polluting. Solar would help us during the day, when power usage is highest.

So no, no one energy source can be our only generation point. But solar could definitely help when it is needed most.

Decepticons.... (2)

kikito (971480) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399158)

... ATTACK!

... And when we get the energy ...

... GET DRUNK! [youtube.com]

CPV Isn't New (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399196)

"Instead of using expensive PV cells, the solar telescope uses commercially available triple-junction solar cells, which have three junctions that each capture energy from different wavelengths of light."
Tripple-junction cells are the expensive type, which is one of the reasons they're pretty much always used with concentrators (except on satellites). These guys [emcore.com] , for example, have been doing this commercially for years.

Our response is obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399204)

We must subsidize fossil fuels even more

This guy is an astronomer (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399264)

Roger Angel is an astronomer. He's done good work on telescope design. Hence the fascination with mirrors.

There have been many elaborate schemes for solar power using collecting optics. [solar-concentrators.com] The mirrors and supporting machinery usually end up costing more than you save by having less silicon area. Flat solar panels are simple to install, can be made resistant to high winds, and require minimal maintenance.

Clouds (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399288)

Solar concentrators have a disadvantage that they only work on clear days. On cloudy days, the light won't concentrate, and they're useless. Still useful in some areas with lots of direct sunshine, but not where I live, for instance.

strange brew that's also good for you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399310)

that would be home made kombucha(org). it's alive.

Maintenance is Good? (1)

simonbp (412489) | more than 3 years ago | (#35399330)

The article seems imply that the fact that it requires so much maintenance is good because it's all local. But no matter where the maintenance jobs are, they cost money, and thus make it uncompetitive...

This group will get broken up soon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399352)

Otherwise that would throw a monkey wrench into the globalist plans of artificially raising the price of oil to $200/bbl, opening up the Baken, Stansberry, and Gull Island reserves (where we have a few centuries worth of oil at the current consumption rate), and yet still maintaining the high price.

'high&mighty' more like wizards of odds/cowar (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399530)

cowards at best. cowardice like never before seen. even afraid of a few billion baby's.

btw robbIE, serge, all-star cowards/control freaks. spooky? must be the climate?

Thanks Big brother (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35399838)

I like how my comments about the Baken, Stansberry, and Gull Island oil reserves were deleted. There was no vulgarity, slander, racism or anything else legitimately worthy of modding my post, but you did anyway. Congrats Big Brother.

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