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US Funds Aggressive Tech To Cut Solar Power Costs

samzenpus posted about 3 years ago | from the aim-big dept.

Power 272

coondoggie writes "The U.S Department of Energy wants researchers and scientists to 'think outside the box' and come up 'highly disruptive Concentrating Solar Power technologies that will meet 6/kWh cost targets by the end of the decade.' The DOE's 'SunShot Concentrating Solar Power R&D' is a multimillion dollar endeavor that intends to look beyond what it calls the incremental near-term to support research into transformative technologies that will break through performance barriers known today, such as efficiency and temperature limitations."

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Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete techs (1)

slb (72208) | about 3 years ago | (#37853420)

At least an investment that makes sense, instead of wasting taxpayer money in subsidizing the existing inefficient solar panels (and worse, purchasing them abroad where they're produced with the most polluting industry).

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853436)

US gives money to solar tech, but the *Chinese* are cheating.

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 years ago | (#37853674)

Subsidising research and subsidising sales are two very different activities. Only one of them is economically sustainable.

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37854180)

You can keep telling yourself that but in both cases it's cutting the costs to make the product more competitive on the open market. Trust me, I'm from Europe where governments have tried every scam in the book to get away with being de facto protectionist without appearing to breech the rules against it. It all boils down to: is this product cheaper due to money invested at some point by the government or charges levied on its competitors by the government? If the answer is yes, well, if it looks like a duck and it quacks...

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (3, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 3 years ago | (#37853574)

A frightfully naive interpretation. How about this: the whole program is just a wash to put more money in the hands of corrupt politically-connected creeps. Look at the history of government funding solar power in America...any scandals come to mind?

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (5, Insightful)

derGoldstein (1494129) | about 3 years ago | (#37853634)

The natural counter-argument is the question: Should the government stop funding research simply because some of the funds will (likely) reach undeserving parties?
It's not black and white. If there's been a history of wasted resources related to this particular objective, then more strict regulation should be enacted (and the natural reply to this would be: regulation is both expensive and corruptible... I guess some middle-ground is necessary).

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853970)

It is black and white. The government should offer large cash prizes to companies who reach a goal. Working toward a goal without success would pay nothing. We do not have enough funds for everything we would like to do. The money must be spent more wisely.

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (3, Insightful)

LordLucless (582312) | about 3 years ago | (#37854080)

And then you have less research being done, and therefore less chance of success, because only those companies with enough capital to work without pay for years on end can actually participate.

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (0)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 years ago | (#37853676)

Look at the history of government funding solar power in America...any scandals come to mind?

You're the paranoiac, you tell me.

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (1)

El Torico (732160) | about 3 years ago | (#37854302)

Look at the history of government funding solar power in America...any scandals come to mind?

You're the paranoiac, you tell me.

I'll do it for DNS-and-BIND; here's one - Solyndra [chicagotribune.com] .
Here's the next one - Fisker [discovery.com]

I think you knew at least one answer when you made your post. If the US government supports a particular business, it should be on strict, well known criteria; not because some "civil servant" will personally benefit. Basically, Solyndra is a "cute and green" version of Halliburton and Steven and Allison Spinner, Steven Chu, (and others) are the Obama administration's version of Dick Cheney and Richard Perle. At least no one died from the Solyndra scandal (that we know of).

It makes more sense to simply exempt taxes on the amount of R&D that a company does for particular technologies and sales of a particular product.

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853740)

If you fund 10 startups, 7 of them will fail outright, 2 will limp along in zombie mode before fizzling, and 1 will do ok, maybe good. That is the nature of the VC game. Fund 10 solar panel startups, 9 are guaranteed to fail. So tell your political hack masters to STFU.

Something disrupt the term "disruptive", please! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853832)

Holy fuck, can these governments start funding some research group that'll come up with a new buzzword other than "disruptive"?

I thought "cloud computing" was the worst yet, but "disruptive" is far stupider. It's clearly the new hype word, with it being plastered all over Slashdot and other media articles lately.

Re:Something disrupt the term "disruptive", please (1)

Entropy98 (1340659) | about 3 years ago | (#37854048)

How about game changer?

Re:Something disrupt the term "disruptive", please (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about 3 years ago | (#37854248)

mod of +1 ARGHHH. You need to be stopped.

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853854)

While I generally agree with your sentiment,you're missing slb's point--that this situation is one of the government funding R&D, rather than production, as was the case in Solyndra. Government meddling with production is bad--see Solyndra, ethanol, wind farms, etc. Government involvement in R&D is at least debatable.

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 3 years ago | (#37854098)

How do you think nuclear got started? Once we went beyond coal, gas and hydro the cost of developing new sources quickly got too high for the market to fund. We, as a society, need this stuff to ensure our future prosperity and comfort so we have to encourage development.

You could argue that government is bad at investing in things, but part of that is because it is the only body willing to invest in expensive new technologies where the risk of losing out on your investment is high. Just look at the number of failed ideas that came from nuclear R&D.

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (4, Insightful)

necro81 (917438) | about 3 years ago | (#37854102)

How about this: the whole program is just a wash to put more money in the hands of corrupt politically-connected creeps. Look at the history of government funding solar power in America...any scandals come to mind

You could easily swap "solar power" for "defense systems". The scandals related to government support of solar power pale by a few orders of magnitude to the overt graft and fraud in military research and acquisition. What's your point? Are you suggestion that we shouldn't be funding either?

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37854212)

Yep, till solar becomes available 24/7 it will always be one of the most expensive, unreliable and inefficient ways to power a grid. Same with Wind, geothermal is probably a much better place to invest.

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (4, Insightful)

rhakka (224319) | about 3 years ago | (#37854252)

Yes. Of course the "scandal that comes to mind" ignores the what, 99%+ of those funds that were NOT involved in a scandal there were put to work as intended. Heck, let's be generous to your point and say only 90% weren't scandal-laden. Also, solar power is now beating grid parity in parts of the US, largely thanks to solar incentives and investment over the last several years getting the market going. Not just in the US, but here, in europe, and in china as well. This is a huge moment, where those with enough capital in parts of the us (including the northeast) could choose to "prebuy" their electricity for the next 25 years with PV... WITHOUT incentive... and not lose money compared to grid electricity. In a few more years it's going to be a slam dunk.

Public policy works. Funding research works. Give up the tired, weak whining that it's not perfect. Waiting for teh "free market" to fix it all isn't perfect either, and it cares a lot less for the collateral damage of a sudden catastrophic shift than we do.

http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/guest-blogs/pv-systems-have-gotten-dirt-cheap [greenbuildingadvisor.com]

Re:Definetelly better than subsidizing obsolete te (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 3 years ago | (#37853986)

The article is about solar collectors not about panels. Different things with different uses.

6/kWh (1)

psergiu (67614) | about 3 years ago | (#37853432)

"... that will meet 6/kWh cost targets by the end of the decade ..."

6 what ? 6 panels/kWh ? 6 technologies/kWh ?

Re:6/kWh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853452)

From TFA.

The US Department of Energy wants researchers and scientists to "think outside the box" and come up "highly disruptive Concentrating Solar Power technologies that will meet 6/kWh cost targets by the end of the decade."

Cents apparently. I guess the cent symbol didn't copy paste over.

6 cents (4, Informative)

earthman (12244) | about 3 years ago | (#37853454)

I admit to reading the article (sorry), thus I know it's 6 cents.

Re:6 cents (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853620)

That's still a mostly bogus number. Besides the hard facts (cents per kW under STC, usually called kWp or kW peak) that number also includes projections about the longevity of the cells and the environmental conditions of their use, which are wide open to manipulation.

The interesting numbers for solar cells are kWp/m^2 so that you can calculate the area you need and the price per square meter so that you can calculate the upfront cost.

Re:6 cents (2)

derGoldstein (1494129) | about 3 years ago | (#37853668)

The value of kWp/m^2 is a factor in the overall result. If someone managed to find an extremely cheap solution that takes up more space than usual, that's still useful in certain situations. Of course the opposite is also true -- if you find an expensive way to convert solar energy more efficiently (using a smaller footprint), there's a use for that too. Advancement in both cases is beneficial.

Re:6 cents (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853750)

Then you want to know ct/kW under standard testing conditions, not ct/kWh. I still hold that you should not mix the technical aspects (W/m^2) and the economic aspects (ct/m^2) into one number, because that combined number doesn't reveal where the advancements or pie-in-the-sky projections are. It's worse if you look at ct/kWh: You can cut that number almost in half by simply "projecting" a useful life twice as long as another cell. The price per kWh is almost devoid of information, especially as it pertains to new technologies.

Re:6 cents (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 years ago | (#37853780)

I would assume that a researcher whose job role is to create longer-lived photocells would not be able to simply fudge the projected useful life. It's kind of hard to get papers published when your methodology is "it lasts as long as I say so".

Re:6 cents (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853806)

I have a couple of CDs that were meant to last a hundred years. Guess how long I've had them and if I can still read them. When a price per kWh difference of 20% will make or break your company, and the longevity is in the denominator of that calculation, what do you think will happen?

Re:6 cents (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 years ago | (#37853742)

For materials research, I expect that $/kWh is the more important figure. Obviously you need to know the price per square metre once you start thinking about engineering a device, but this work will be tacking problems of longevity, efficiency and cost first and foremost.

Re:6 cents (3, Informative)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 3 years ago | (#37853908)

> That's still a mostly bogus number.

Um no. The article is clearly talking about LCoE, the basis upon which all industrial power pricing is compared.

> Besides the hard facts (cents per kW under STC, usually called kWp or kW peak) that number also includes
> projections about the longevity of the cells and the environmental conditions of their use,
> which are wide open to manipulation.

If that were the number they were referring to, you might have a point. But it's not, and you're wrong anyway. STC measurements are normally done at 3rd party labs for just this reason.

Re:6/kWh (1)

impaledsunset (1337701) | about 3 years ago | (#37853462)

6 virgins/kWh

Re:6/kWh (1)

GNious (953874) | about 3 years ago | (#37853950)

I was thinking Mexicans.

But 6 Mexicans per kWh is not a particularly effective conversion rate I think - them can be pretty hard working compared to others I've seen.

Re:6/kWh (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 years ago | (#37853716)

Given it's a cost target I'm going to assume "dollars".

Re:6/kWh (2, Insightful)

necro81 (917438) | about 3 years ago | (#37854150)

Look at your electric bill lately? You should thank your lucky stars that you aren't paying 6 dollars per kWh.

On a related rant: it amazes me how blithely unaware most people are about their personal energy consumption. Some might be able to vaguely guesstimate what they paid the utility company for electricity or natural gas last month, but very few could actually say "I used XX kWh of electricity last month. The cost of the electricity was $YY, and the cost of delivery was $ZZ." What is the typical cost per kWh for your electricity? Where is most of it produced? Using what fuel? About the closest people are able to come are to know what the price of a gallon of gas is near them, and how far they can get between fill-ups. That's a good start, but transportation is only about 1/3 of U.S. energy consumption. No wonder politicians can so easily manipulate the discussion about energy: practically no one knows anything about it!

Re:6/kWh (1)

MichaelKristopeitBro (2488396) | about 3 years ago | (#37854300)

6 suns/kWh ? It's a pretty demanding technology after all ;-)

Disruptive... (2)

valerio (127670) | about 3 years ago | (#37853440)

Is it me or is the word "disruptive" the new buzz word? How can a solar power technology have the word disruptive in it in a good sense anyway?

Re:Disruptive... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853486)

You mean that a Space-Based Concentrating Solar Power Mirror of Destruction is not disruptive in a good sense? Come on...

Re:Disruptive... (2)

derGoldstein (1494129) | about 3 years ago | (#37853576)

Wiktionary: disruptive - Adjective: Causing disrupt or unrest.
MW: Disrupt - verb: to break apart / to throw into disorder. Origin: Latin disruptus, past participle of disrumpere, from dis- + rumpere to break.

Contrast with: "Disruptive technology [wikipedia.org] "

But people are lazy, so they drop the context. Rather than adding the "technology", which would change the meaning (through context), they just say "disrupt" in the same way that we might say "grep" or "ping" in a non-technical conversation. It's annoying but if you challenge anyone about it they'd (probably) say that you should have deduced the context through the subject matter.

And yeah, it's totally an overused buzzword.

Re:Disruptive... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37854262)

Actually, they kept the "technologies", they just added "Concentrating Solar Power" in between to make it clear they were talking about a specific field. Given some of the marketing speak we see and some of the misuses, I'm not sure this instance really deserves too much criticism.

Re:Disruptive... (1)

srussia (884021) | about 3 years ago | (#37853702)

Is it me or is the word "disruptive" the new buzz word?

Well, it was either "disruptive" or "game-changing". Pick your poison.

Re:Disruptive... (2)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 3 years ago | (#37853900)

"Disruptive" really shifted the paradigm on buzzword market-babble.

Re:Disruptive... (1)

Hatman39 (1759474) | about 3 years ago | (#37854084)

"Disruptive" really shifted the paradigm on buzzword market-babble.

\br Is that to say that it disrupted the buzzword market-babble?

Re:Disruptive... (1)

El Torico (732160) | about 3 years ago | (#37854384)

Screw disruptive; I want to see disruptors [memory-alpha.org] !

It's a gamble... with huge potential rewards (3, Interesting)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 3 years ago | (#37853450)

That's how research investments should always work.
Either low risk, small reward (typically funded by industry), or high risk of failure, but aiming high with benefits for all of society (typically funded by government).

East peasey (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 3 years ago | (#37853466)

A bigger tub of salt would do it. It's not like we're running out of salt.

Investing in R&D is almost always wise. (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 3 years ago | (#37853490)

This is much better then dumping venture capital money in solar firms. The government has a good track record of encouraging innovation through research grants. It has a horrible track record with playing the venture capital game.

I think this research idea is great... keep it up... money well spent. Stay the hell out of venture capital.

A world leader as a disruptive patent troll? (1, Interesting)

AHuxley (892839) | about 3 years ago | (#37853492)

The tech belongs to Germany, Japan, China. They did the research and raced to the bottom with production lines churning out many solar panels.
Add in tax payer/consumer paid feed in rates around the world that made most people who wanted to get cheap units buy in.
What is left for the US to "make"? Anything the US can dream up can be understood in the EU and Asian labs and "linuxed" back into the next gen.
Anything the US tries to build can be done for less outside the US ....
Can the US return to full employment as a world class patent troll? A few cents on every solar panel shipped or no US market (or any bilateral trade deal friends market) for you...

Re:A world leader as a disruptive patent troll? (0)

Vincent77 (660967) | about 3 years ago | (#37853626)

Agree. The title of this post is also very annoying, especially the word "aggressively" - as if people with big budgets will solve this problem where people with big *brains* have been working on for ages. And also... which money is in the fund? Money borrowed from Japan and China with which the USA tries to force to default with? Come on, USA, focus! Focus!

Re:A world leader as a disruptive patent troll? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 years ago | (#37853836)

as if people with big budgets will solve this problem where people with big *brains* have been working on for ages.

The fund will provide research money to those big brains, so that they can keep doing their brain thing in an increasingly sterile funding environment. It's not startup money.

Re:A world leader as a disruptive patent troll? (5, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 3 years ago | (#37853886)

Why are you talking about solar panels? This article is about concentrated (thermal) solar, not PV. Better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than hammer out a post and remove all doubt, eh?

Re:A world leader as a disruptive patent troll? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37854118)

Concetrated Solar can be thermal or PV. Haven't read the artical though.
Look at Zenith Solar ( Israel) and Cyrium Technologies ( Canada). They use a lense/mirror to concentrate the light on a special PV cell. Unfortunately lots of heat is also generated, which needs to be drawn off to get better efficency from the Cell. That waste heat can be used for heating purposes though, increasing the useful output.
interesting stuff.

Re:A world leader as a disruptive patent troll? (1)

delinear (991444) | about 3 years ago | (#37854350)

That assumes that the only way the US can benefit from advances in the technology is if US companies are producing the technology. In fact, cheaper solar is a massive benefit to all countries, no matter who builds the tech. In my ideal world governments would do far more of this and they would share the results of the R&D far more openly and leave companies to compete by doing what they do best (taking the tech and either marketing it well, enhancing build quality or reducing costs further).

Thinking outside the box (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853522)

Limiting the scientists to solar power isn't exacly thinking outside the box is it?

Re:Thinking outside the box (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 years ago | (#37853798)

So you think the DOE should distribute research funds on the time-tested "throw the money into the air and see how much people can catch" approach?

Re:Thinking outside the box (1)

necro81 (917438) | about 3 years ago | (#37854168)

Not only that: it is limited to concentrating solar thermal power.

They need NASA's help (1)

briancox2 (2417470) | about 3 years ago | (#37853530)

...in order to harvest the power from space, concentrate it and beam it down to Earth.

Re:They need NASA's help (2)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 3 years ago | (#37854050)

This will never, ever work. Even in theory.

http://matter2energy.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/the-maury-equation/

Re:They need NASA's help (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about 3 years ago | (#37854322)

At what cost point per oil barrel does this become worth it? You'll need to walk to the lunch pad by that point I guess. The cost to drive will be "excessive".

Re:They need NASA's help (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 3 years ago | (#37854372)

As soon as we have the space elevator, launching into space will be dirt cheap, and the equation will look different! ;-)

The other costs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853534)

Even if solar panels were free, solar electricity still has a high hurdle to jump before it becomes competitive with other sources.

The costs include the mounting structure and the power inverter.

The thing that makes solar power feasible may, strangely, be a change in fossil fueled power plant design. As it stands now, fossil plants must stay fired up even when much power is coming on grid from windmills. If those plants were re-designed to be able to do a fast cold start, we could start saving a lot of fossil fuel.

Re:The other costs (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about 3 years ago | (#37853630)

If a smart grid were able to switch some devices based on simple rules the devices could only be on while there is much power.
IE:
  • If there is a shitload of power, the freezer will cool if it's warmer than -26 C
  • If there is enough power the freezer will cool if it's warmer than -18 C
  • If there is not enough power the freezer will only cool if it's warmer than -5 C.

These projects have started and they might just save us, for they wil concentrate the usage of power on the peak supply moments.
I am just weirded out on why the US's outdated grid is the base for this. In the Netherlands everyone who needed a new power meter also gained an internet connection for years (albeit one they can't use). This data channel could be used to send the data to the home and a different power meter with some relays could do the rest.

Re:The other costs (4, Informative)

hrvatska (790627) | about 3 years ago | (#37853632)

Even if solar panels were free, solar electricity still has a high hurdle to jump before it becomes competitive with other sources.

The costs include the mounting structure and the power inverter.

The article isn't about electricity from photovoltaic panels mounted on roofs. It's about large industrial scale solar concentrators like this one. [ieee.org] It has the potential to be cheaper than PV generated electricity and it keeps producing electricity after the sun goes down.

Re:The other costs (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 3 years ago | (#37854074)

"The costs include the mounting structure and the power inverter."

This is called "Balance of System", or BOS. Right now it breaks down roughly like this:

$1.25 for the panels
$0.40 for the inverters
$0.30 for the racking and install

This is for small systems, larger systems reduce that roughly linearly by 30 to 50%.

So if you're trying to reduce the cost of solar, clearly hitting the panel cost is the way to go. For instance, if the panels drop in price by 1/2, then the total system cost goes from $1.95 to $1.33. If you reduce the cost of inverters by 1/2, the cost goes from $1.85 to $1.75. Which would you prefer?

Why not 1/kWh? (-1, Flamebait)

Coolhand2120 (1001761) | about 3 years ago | (#37853616)

Again the government is coming in and choosing winners and losers. Why can't I focus on cold fusion? Why can't I focus on geothermal? What research does the DOE have that tells it that solar is where we should be concentrating our research? (none) But then there is no metric for this decision other than "Obama like solar" which is about as vapid as any other "green program" I've seen come out of the DOE. I wonder if it ever occurred to the well meaning busy-bodies in the government that the professionals in their respective industries might just know a little bit more than they do? And why 6? Why not 3? Shit why not 1? I mean, if there's no real metric for the demand other than "it would be cheaper" why not demand it be a lot cheaper?

While were at it why don't we demand that all cars get 1000mpg? Oh it can't be done with existing technology you say? You're just thinking inside the box! If you think outside the box then you'll see it's a reasonable demand. I'm not sure what box they're referring to, maybe it has to do with the social security lock box. Oh I get it. Think outside the box! Pff - I wasn't thinking outside the box!. I now understand!: .75 on every dollar contributed to social security is immediately borrowed by the government and .25 goes to current recipients, so: Think about all of your money we're taking outside of the social security lock box and spending it stupid ass bull shit!

Required reading:
I, Pencil: My Family Tree [econlib.org]
The Law by Frederick Bastiat [constitution.org]

Re:Why not 1/kWh? (2)

Arlet (29997) | about 3 years ago | (#37853692)

I wonder if it ever occurred to the well meaning busy-bodies in the government that the professionals in their respective industries might just know a little bit more than they do?

Probably. But they've tried the "let's wait until industry solves it" method for a few decades, and nothing has come out of it, so they're trying something new.

Re:Why not 1/kWh? (5, Insightful)

vadim_t (324782) | about 3 years ago | (#37853722)

Why can't I focus on cold fusion?

Because cold fusion doesn't seem to be coming any time soon. If it's possible at all, it's a very long term investment, which this isn't.

Why can't I focus on geothermal?

In my understanding, there are no problems of this kind to solve in geothermal energy. Drilling is well developed, heat exchange too. There's no particular challenge in manufacturing that could make it a lot cheaper if solved. There's nothing much to throw money at.

And why 6? Why not 3? Shit why not 1? I mean, if there's no real metric for the demand other than "it would be cheaper" why not demand it be a lot cheaper?

RTFA. ""The overarching goal of the SunShot Initiative is reaching cost parity with baseload energy rates, estimated to be 6Â/kWh without economic support, which would pave the way for rapid and large-scale adoption of solar electricity across the United States."

While were at it why don't we demand that all cars get 1000mpg? Oh it can't be done with existing technology you say? You're just thinking inside the box! If you think outside the box then you'll see it's a reasonable demand

Because the result woudln't be something that can be driven on a real road. It would be a single ocupant tin can without AC or anything else.

Re:Why not 1/kWh? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 years ago | (#37853790)

In my understanding, there are no problems of this kind to solve in geothermal energy. Drilling is well developed, heat exchange too. There's no particular challenge in manufacturing that could make it a lot cheaper if solved. There's nothing much to throw money at.

Besides which, there's nothing to preclude a DOE funding project for geothermal research.

Re:Why not 1/kWh? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 years ago | (#37853814)

I wonder if it ever occurred to the well meaning busy-bodies in the government that the professionals in their respective industries might just know a little bit more than they do?

And this funding drive will interfere with their ability to continue that research how, exactly? If you don't fund this research, the outcome is "whatever private comes up with", and if you do fund this research, the outcome is "whatever private comes up with, plus better solar". That seems like a gain to me.

Re:Why not 1/kWh? (1)

Coolhand2120 (1001761) | about 3 years ago | (#37854014)

It's a version of the The Broken Window Fallacy [wikipedia.org] on two levels. You're taking money from the public in the form of taxes that would have otherwise been spent on something besides whatever the government has planned. It might be that someone was doing something more important with their own money than this weeks boondoggle [wikipedia.org] . But now we'll never know.

The other way it's like the The Broken Window Fallacy is that it's taking from the overall research pie and assigning it to something that it would not have otherwise been researching. And so what if "they say it's worth researching" - who the hell are they? What the hell gives them the right to piss away everyone's money on whatever their political agenda demands? And if you subscribe to the idea that these new "green initiatives" aren't politically driven then you're being intellectually dishonest. If this thing is driven by politics that means it's not driven by science.

The science overwhelmingly says nuclear, but the EPA has prevented any new nuclear plants in the last 3 decades. What do you think that does to the cost of all energy products? I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir on nuclear, but step back and see the fetters the government places on us before we celebrate some yet-to-be-misspent taxpayer money. Every year dozens of people die in the installation and maintenance of solar panels and wind generators, that may not mean much to you, but I'm sure it means quite a lot to the people who knew the dozens of dead people and absolutely nothing to the dead person. Meanwhile nuclear has caused zero deaths in its history in this country - but somehow nuclear is unsafe and we need to devoting more resources to solar? What a load of shit! All I see is the government always in the way and what if any solutions they create quickly fall victim to corruption, nepotism and the law of unintended consequences. Rather than dictating from Washington D.C. what all us should be doing, we would be much better off left to our own devices.

Re:Why not 1/kWh? (1)

Ironhandx (1762146) | about 3 years ago | (#37854230)

You are espousing another fallacy.

Likely if that money hadn't been taxed away it wouldn't have been spent on research at all.

Arbitrary targeted research into any somewhat promising field from a government trumps no research at all and that one simple fact invalidates your argument.

Re:Why not 1/kWh? (1)

DrBoumBoum (926687) | about 3 years ago | (#37854284)

Every year dozens of people die in the installation and maintenance of solar panels and wind generators

That argument comes back all the time but it sounds completely ridiculous to me. How is handling solar panels or wind turbines more dangerous than working on a nuclear power plant construction site, or any power plant for that matter? Just enforce similar security measures for workers and you'll get similar fatality rates.

Meanwhile nuclear has caused zero deaths in its history in this country - but somehow nuclear is unsafe and we need to devoting more resources to solar?

Fukushima went inches away from collapsing Japan as a country [guardian.co.uk] it seems. Would the wind have blown in the wrong direction (i.e.,inland) during those fateful few days, Tokyo might have had to be evacuated for decades possibly. That's where nuclear energy is unsafe, markedly more than any other form of energy generation.

Now you may say that newer designs, or more probably future designs do mitigate the risks, but unless you can come up with a design that cannot possibly lead to any widespread contamination, even in the face of human stupidity [wikipedia.org] , corruption [wikipedia.org] and greed [wikipedia.org] , all of which we are not going to get rid of anytime soon, then you're disingenuous IMHO if you deny the inherent risk with nuclear energy.

Risk by the way that the people who make a living from estimating risks, i.e., insurers, have properly assessed, and thus simply refuse to bear.

Re:Why not 1/kWh? (1)

foniksonik (573572) | about 3 years ago | (#37854380)

Are you seriously trying to propose that nobody died during the construction, maintenance and everyday operation of a multiple major industrial power plants? What you are probably stating is that nobody has died from radiation from a nuclear power plant. I suspect the same is true of solar. No deaths from runaway solar power generation.

Nice try though.

Re:Why not 1/kWh? (1)

vawwyakr (1992390) | about 3 years ago | (#37854370)

I wonder if it ever occurred to the well meaning busy-bodies in the government that the professionals in their respective industries might just know a little bit more than they do?

Actually they talk to a lot of professionals in the industry before making such decisions. It's not some magic number they research find out things like what cost level would be needed before the industry would be viable, what cost numbers are achievable, and how long the industry professionals think it would take to achieve these goals. I know its en vogue to assume government is some sort of nameless entity full of stupid but in reality there are actually lots of well educated hard working people there trying their best. Sometimes they get it wrong but sometimes they don't too. Just like enterprise.

Other ways of spending money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853638)

Thermal technology, drilling into the earths core or close to it works, and is what I would consider clean energy. I always laughed at nuclear power being a clean source when you have tons of radioactive waste, does not seem very clean!
And I cannot remember how or why the federal government got themselves into the debt they have had for years? Oh yeah they like throwing money away, companies already have R&D and investment into up coming technologies to further advance what solar panels can achieve. Just like any other technology there is already a demand and companies competing for better, lower costing panels. Spending this money seems more like a PR stunt then a sound decision, companies already have motivation.

Dah (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853682)

For 1/4 the cost of War in Iraq all of US generation could have being switched to current generation tech solar/wind.

Dah indeed (1)

fnj (64210) | about 3 years ago | (#37853920)

Out of which orifice did you pull that figure? And how many multiples of current retail cost per kWh would it be costing us steady state? We'll never know, because you didn't offer anything in support.

Re:Dah indeed (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37854314)

That's okay dear, Bush didn't offer anything in support for why he spent it the way he did either.

Produce them in the Sahara (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853748)

Plenty of raw material and you can use solar energy to power the plant...

Sweet! Finally! (0)

argStyopa (232550) | about 3 years ago | (#37853782)

That's awesome, I'm going to start a new Solar Power company to assist in this research effort.

What should I call it...I was thinking "Solyndra" since that's no longer being used?

Fundamentally hard problem... (2)

msevior (145103) | about 3 years ago | (#37853898)

Achieving 6c/KWHr for baseload ie available any time you want it 24 hours a day, with solar is a fundamentally hard problem. You're up against the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Solar energy is both dilute and intermittent.

Nuclear is far easier. It is starts out incredibly concentrated. Third generation plants like the AP1000 are extremely safe. If you don't want to reuse the waste it's easy enough to bury it 1 km underground where it won't bother anyone.

It's far easier to change the minds of people than the laws of Physics.

Looks like the USA and Europe will leave it to China to develop cheap nukes and become the driver of human civilization in the 21st century.

Re:Fundamentally hard problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37853990)

Yeah that's what the world needs cheap nukes made in China...

Re:Fundamentally hard problem... (2)

Hentes (2461350) | about 3 years ago | (#37854026)

Yes, the biggest problem with energy today is not production but storage and transportation. But nuclear has similar problems as its output can't be changed effectively. Consumption changes rapidly, and the only way to solve this today is a mixed system, where the constant part of electricity is produced by nuclear and coal while the dinamic part is produced by gas and water.

Re:Fundamentally hard problem... (1)

delt0r (999393) | about 3 years ago | (#37854234)

Modern or new Nuclear can load follow as much and as fast as you like (aka *not* PWR or BWR that suck on every metric). Just because 40 year old designs couldn't does not mean they can't.

Re:Fundamentally hard problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37854260)

Nuclear doesn't have this problem, neither does coal. The point of power production is not that it always matches demand. The point of power production is that always exceeds demand. You want to minimize your inefficiencies (excess production), but alas, that's not the largest problem. System stability is the largest problem, and this includes stable production and costs of fuels.

Large scale storage is virtually an impossible problem. The only system we have that is efficient enough is gravity and that only works in certain areas for limited population (eg. Iceland, Switzerland). These systems fail when you need to store power for 100s of millions.

Large amounts of PV will drive PV into the ground if it has to compete with base-load, especially independent producers. Spot prices for sunny days during daytime will collapse, while on cloudy days or night, spot prices will jump sky high. Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't spell reliable (unless you live in Sahara or Nevada or other desert areas)

Finally, if you look at EPR (nuclear reactor), it can rapidly change its output from 900MW to 1600MW so your point is not only moot it is wrong.

Consumption changes rapidly

Not really. Average demand over large population is very predictable. How else do you think power companies can do with only a few percent margins?

Re:Fundamentally hard problem... (3, Interesting)

w_dragon (1802458) | about 3 years ago | (#37854206)

This is solar thermal, not photovoltaic. The basic idea is to grab a large area where the sun is pretty much always shining during the day (you do have a desert or two, you know), set up a lot of mirrors, and heat the top of a tower. Fill the tower with some form of salt that will become liquid at high temperature, and will hold heat well (solving the night time issue), and they use the heat from the salt to power a conventional steam generator. There are a few installations of this sort, and it works well. They're just looking at how to make it a little cheaper.

Quiet. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37854266)

Sssh, not so loud. You will bring Doc Ruby over here to spew his incoherent anti-nuclear FUD.

You know, I have always pictured Doc to appear like RMS, except more slovenly.

Anyway, I just hope I live to see the second golden age of nuclear plant construction in the US. Then again, I'm already 31 so this is likely insanely optimistic.

Water is the real problem (1)

Idou (572394) | about 3 years ago | (#37854330)

I recently heard that the reason solar is becoming so popular is that water costs in certain areas are starting to increase significantly. That means the cost of any power generation that requires water for cooling (like nuclear generation) are seeing their costs uncontrollably increase.

Add to that the fact that more and more people are starting to work from home and small/distributed power generation (like solar plants) starts to become more and more cost effective.

Absolutely Useless (1, Interesting)

alphatel (1450715) | about 3 years ago | (#37853954)

This is the definition of a waste of time and money. Several million dollars to exceed the current roadmap target and drop kWh to $0.06 ?
The mean street value of such an advancement in technology is over a billion dollars, easily. But we, the federal government, will pay half your R&D costs up to $2m because we think this is a neat objective and maybe we'll all have fun getting there? Please! That's exactly what Solyndra received over $500 million in loan guarantees for and they produced nothing.

Can you imagine offering Exxon 2 million dollars to find a way to reduce gas prices to $1 per gallon? Oh, they'll take your money no doubt. But I have a feeling you won't get what you came for. Your government, working hard to make sure the buck is passed and no one's accountable. Happy Halloween!

Volume (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37854316)

It's not success or failure that makes the business of government lucrative for the elite at the top -- it's volume. The more money passing through their hands, the more leverage they have to exploit that cash flow for personal gain. It doesn't matter if the project fails outright. As long as that money passes through their hands, they win.

Lo and behold, this is precisely why all governments expand in power and revenue throughout their lifetimes, never willingly or permanently relinquishing power or revenue. For the elite at the top of the pyramid, the only thing that matters is keeping that cash flowing.

The end of the golden age of oil and coal and gas (2)

roman_mir (125474) | about 3 years ago | (#37853982)

I suppose somebody in government watched this video. [youtube.com]

But the gov't shouldn't be subsidizing anything, it shouldn't be taxing/borrowing/printing and subsidizing with that money. It should leave people alone and should allow them to work it out in the market.

How would gov't know that the best course of action is these solar panels or anything for that matter? What gov't should be doing is stepping out of the way, dramatically shrinking its own spending (now 10% of US population is working for gov't, this includes contractors and military, this gov't force should be 100 times smaller).

But the point is that private sector has to figure out the way, companies must try and fail, most of them will fail, somebody will figure something and if that doesn't happen, then there is no way, and gov't spending is just a waste and another resource mis-allocation.

They really shouldn't be preventing private companies and people from trying more stuff with nuclear power, that's most likely the only true source of energy that we will be able to use once oil and coal and gas run out. Nuclear and at some point thermonuclear. Solar is great for local applications, but it will not replace the constant need for energy that only things like oil/coal/gas/nuclear/hydro can supply. At some point this will become the revelation that people don't have a choice and they have to rely on nuclear.

As I said many times - I want my nuclear car.

Re:The end of the golden age of oil and coal and g (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about 3 years ago | (#37854006)

[T]he gov't shouldn't be subsidizing anything, it shouldn't be taxing/borrowing/printing and subsidizing with that money. It should leave people alone and should allow them to work it out in the market.

Oh the irony of reading this on /.

Re:The end of the golden age of oil and coal and g (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 3 years ago | (#37854040)

There is no irony, this could be any forum on any network that didn't have to be specifically using the packet switch protocol designed with a gov't subsidy. It's not like there were no networks before TCP/IP was created.

With DARPA the gov't had a goal of using it for its military, and you don't know how much money is spent that is wasted and never transforms into anything. Sure, TCP/IP is a success in itself, it doesn't mean it had to be this specific protocol.

Re:The end of the golden age of oil and coal and g (1)

rhakka (224319) | about 3 years ago | (#37854348)

You can always pretend the free market "would have" done something. Electric infrastructure. Roads. Internet. Pure research. But that doesn't mean it will. If you want viagra, the free market will deliver that. If you want to avoid a catastrophic shock to the system when energy prices spike with no ready to deploy alternatives already going, however, it can't. That takes years and years of development and deployment and a serious focus to get going, in conditions that are not yet "economical". But then, the day it IS economical, you just blunted a serious depression or even complete societal collapse that could have occurred when oil spikes to $200/barrel for an extended period of time, because you have a solution that can be deployed and in fact is ALREADY BEING deployed.

PV is there, today, in many areas of the US. It will be cheaper than grid electricity more and more often over the next several years. That would never have happened without government subsidies and incentives. and it very well may save mankind in the next few decades, with no hyperbole at all. Maybe it won't, and we'll only have renewable energy to help make the earth cleaner and healthier... shucks. what a waste.

Re:The end of the golden age of oil and coal and g (1)

edxwelch (600979) | about 3 years ago | (#37854094)

What have you been smoking? The only reason nuclear power exists is because of massive government subsidies - http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_and_global_warming/nuclear-power-subsidies-report.html [ucsusa.org]

Re:The end of the golden age of oil and coal and g (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 3 years ago | (#37854110)

The only reason that nuclear power was introduced when it was introduced and the reason it works the way it works were government subsidies, that's true. But it's false to say that nuclear power exists because of government subsidies. People were working on this outside of government, the physics and mathematics of this were being discovered and the work was done privately.

What I am talking about is gov't stepping out of the way and removing its subsidies and allowing the market to set prices correctly thus allowing the proper credit to be allocated into the necessary businesses, who then will try to make profit by looking at all different ways energy can be generated. Gov't can always step in and subsidize something it THINKS has to be subsidized, but it doesn't know, doesn't have any idea what market would choose for and at what prices.

Re:The end of the golden age of oil and coal and g (1)

edxwelch (600979) | about 3 years ago | (#37854196)

No nuclear plant would ever be constructed without the insurance cap. And that's just one of the many subsidies that nuclear power gets.

Re:The end of the golden age of oil and coal and g (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37854178)

How would gov't know that the best course of action is these solar panels or anything for that matter?

Easy - the US government is (de facto) run by corporations, and corporations are of course private entities.

See, Americans love capitalism. They worship private entities. They see private business as the greatest and most capable entity to make decisions: free market, competition, taking risk, all that jazz.

So Americans see big business as the paragon of capitalism - people who competed and made it to the top by the virtue of their ability to make good decisions.

So people trust the rich to make all the decisions. Those protestors saying "We are the 99%"? I'm sure they are, and I'm glad it's not the bottom 99% who make the decisions - why would we want anything but the top, and therefore the best, 1% to make the decisions? You going to trust the country to some kid who choose the wrong degree, can't find a job, can't start his own business, can't manage his own finances, and can barely maintain person hygiene?

No, we should trust government. Trust big business. Trust the people who through their smarts and good decision making skills, got themselves so rich in the first place. Big Government is Love!

But.... (1)

koan (80826) | about 3 years ago | (#37854034)

China's blue army hacked the plans, ramped up the factories and started selling the panels before the USA got their second beer open.

A ha! (1)

Cornwallis (1188489) | about 3 years ago | (#37854232)

"come up 'highly disruptive Concentrating Solar Power technologies..."

So they can be used as weapons!

What (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37854364)

Here we go with the 'disruptive' shit again. What the fuck?

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