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Existing Solar Tech Could Power Entire US, Says NREL

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the could-but-won't dept.

Power 589

derekmead writes "A new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds that solar holds more potential to generate more power (PDF) than any other clean energy source. The NREL broke things down into four groups: urban and rural utility-scale photovoltaics (giant solar plants, basically) as well as rooftop solar and concentrated mirror arrays. Between those technologies, which are all already on the market, the NREL reckons there's a proven potential for solar to hit a capacity of 200,000 gigawatts in the United States alone. For some perspective, 1 gigawatt is what a single nuclear power plant might generate, and it's more than most coal plants. A gigawatt of capacity is enough to power approximately 700,000 homes."

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Such a thing! Such a thing indeed! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40848979)

Something amazing just happened to me: a fart was just expelled directly out of my own asshole. Wow! Now that is the scrump of ultimatum!

pissoutyourass (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40848993)

fart

We will get solar when there's a profit. (5, Insightful)

fustakrakich (1673220) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849009)

In a capitalist society, abundance is not a feature.

Re:We will get solar when there's a profit. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849099)

...and if every home can generate their own power at point of usage.. Well there is no long term market in that except panel cleaning.

Re:We will get solar when there's a profit. (3, Interesting)

zlives (2009072) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849435)

replacement, repair, also sun goes down and sometimes is cloudy. so you still need power infrastructure just not so much of it... so accordingly price adjusted for the power companies

Re:We will get solar when there's a profit. (2, Insightful)

Razgorov Prikazka (1699498) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849221)

<quote><p> In a capitalist society, abundance is not a feature.</p></quote>

True, its actually a bug!

Re:We will get solar when there's a profit. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849381)

Uh, we don't have a problem with people refusing to sell us stuff to protect financial interests. The problem is that nobody wants it because it's more expensive and isn't as useful. So, as people have been saying for decades, come up with something better first. We'll use it. And anything we'll buy, there'll be a market for.

Re:We will get solar when there's a profit. (1)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849523)

There are many places in the USA in which solar at current prices is a better deal than the power company's electricity

You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dead.. (5, Funny)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849011)

Don't bother us with your pathetic alternative energies. We have to burn every fucking ounce of long-chain hydrocarbons, use up every ounce of radioactive ore, burn every ounce of methane and other simple hydrocarbon, before we even consider your pathetic green hippy alternative energy sources. Only fags and Commies believe in generating electricity by anything other than CO2-vomiting power plants. Oh, and CO2 is totally harmless, no matter how fucking much of it you puke out.

God bless oil! The only way oil could be better is if I could fuck or eat it! Now get off my lawn, you pathetic Marxist hippies.

Re:You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dea (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849085)

I see you've abandoned all attempts to actually discuss alternative power, in favor of just making up stupid shit to say about other people. Well done.

I would welcome better reactors before going straight to $7,000/kwh and covering everything in sight with horribly inefficient pv's.

But I guess I'm just some kind of hate spewing, earth destroying, hyper-religious jackass. Don't mind me.

Re:You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dea (2)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849097)

We just have to burn more than we can pull out of the ground and you'll immediately see prices spike, as governments ration oil to make sure that farms, commerce, and armies get first grabs at it. Personal automobiles may bid up to $10/gallon for whatever's left over.

Cost is important! (4, Insightful)

xzvf (924443) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849373)

I've looked at putting solar panels on my house, and it will cost $30K after tax breaks and credits. The life span of a solar panel is 15-20 years with a denigration of efficiency of about 25% over that period. Then they will have to be replaced again. The payback period is roughly 10-12 years, so I'd come out ahead, but I have to make a significant capital purchase and live in the house for over a decade. What happens if I get a new job that requires me to move next year? The $30K investment in the house doesn't raise it's value that amount. For this to work, the payback period will have to drop to 5-6 years, and solar panels will have to be considered a viable option. Geo-thermal heat pumps, vertical wind turbines, efficient appliances, zone cooling and heating, tankless water heaters and (to channel Jimmy Carter) sweaters have more reasonable payback.

Re:Cost is important! (5, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849453)

No, it doesn't. So long as the solar panels pay for themselves, they're viable. It may not be viable for an individual to put them on his roof (mostly because they are undervalued in the market, if what you say is true) but that has nothing to do with whether you can go and build solar power plants to replace coal, nuclear, gas and oil.

Just because one specific type of solar installation might not be perfect (for you) doesn't mean solar itself won't work.

Re:Cost is important! (1, Informative)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849537)

Wish I had mod points for you. I had a similar experience when I looked into it. The numbers just didn't add up and the upfront cost is crazy. If you could get solar panel costs down to about 10% of where they are now. you could get some traction. But right now, it's just too much for most of us.

Re:You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dea (-1, Troll)

TomorrowPlusX (571956) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849103)

I didn't realize Ruch Limbaugh was on Slashdot...

Solar Power + Sewage = Diesel Fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849105)

As soon as they perfect algae to diesel, you will be able to get a perfect substitute for diesel fuel. Go ahead, fill up your lifted 4X4, there will be plenty to go around!

Re:Solar Power + Sewage = Diesel Fuel (2)

drwho (4190) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849361)

yes, algae fuels would help the petroleum fuel shortage. Particularly Botryococcus braunii: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botryococcus_braunii - but there are far better solutions generating electricity.

Re:You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dea (0)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849109)

More seriously, solar isn't going to substitute for the 160 exajoules provided to the world each year by oil any time soon, and transitioning to a lower energy culture isn't going to be painless. Still, it's better than nothing. Ubiquitous solar on every rooftop and on every building where it made sense would go a long way towards making powerdown less painful.

Re:You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dea (4, Informative)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849487)

Actually, unless I messed up the math, this study is saying that the solar technology we have right now could be deployed to easily generate that much power, in the US alone.

Gas Baby! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849113)

With the abundance of gas around the World - especially here in the Good 'Ole US of gassy A - and subquently it being dirt cheap, we won't be seeing market driven adoption of solar for a few decades.

Dinasour farts for the win!

Re:You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849117)

Yeah, because we haven't thrown money at the solar industry just to watch it go up in flames with no ROI.

Sorry, but if you want me to ante up my money I need something better than what we've seen. I have no problem with pulling subsidies from carbon burners but I need a solid solution first and it's just not looking good.

Re:You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dea (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849431)

Yeah, because we haven't thrown money at the solar industry just to watch it go up in flames with no ROI.

No, we haven't. And no, Solyndra isn't proof that we have.

Re:You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dea (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849309)

Don't bother us with your pathetic alternative energies. We have to burn every fucking ounce of long-chain hydrocarbons, use up every ounce of radioactive ore, burn every ounce of methane and other simple hydrocarbon, before we even consider your pathetic green hippy alternative energy sources. Only fags and Commies believe in generating electricity by anything other than CO2-vomiting power plants. Oh, and CO2 is totally harmless, no matter how fucking much of it you puke out.

God bless oil! The only way oil could be better is if I could fuck or eat it! Now get off my lawn, you pathetic Marxist hippies.

I'm sure I've been past a few places in the last month where the people are entirely off the grid. I think they are laughing at everyone who doesn't have the luxury of a location suitable for wind or solar, because it really can cut our generated needs. I'm pretty sure at least one was a commune.

Re:You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dea (1)

suburbanmediocrity (810207) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849351)

Wow, the quality of slashdot comments has really declined over the years. Reposting the same canned responses as I can find on any other newsite.

Re:You'll Have To Claw That Oil Out Of My Cold Dea (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849421)

"The only way oil could be better is if I could fuck or eat it!"

RealDoll? Edible oil product?

(yes, I know that last one is not petroleum, but... are you sure?)

I bet (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849015)

And we just need to pork a few more billions to the solyndras of the world, too.

Re:I bet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849409)

Your alternative is billions to Exxon, BP and AramCo.

Sorry, but you won't get a free lunch, and despite Republican blindness, Solyndra built their factory and had a product. China's products were just too much cheaper.

Re:I bet (1)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849551)

No, what we need is a feed in tariff. So we can reward those who are actually producing the electricity

Not really news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849017)

We've know for a while that the US receives enough sunlight to provide all the power we need. The problem is the cost of building all that infrastructure. Dealing with the variability of solar power and it's inability to follow load along with providing storage or other renewable sources to provide power at night. I'd also wonder if we have enough rare earth minerals to cover the construction of that many solar panels.

Re:Not really news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849063)

I'd also wonder if we have enough rare earth minerals to cover the construction of that many solar panels.

The longer we drag our feet, the more the answer is "no".

Solar power at night is easy (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849181)

They have tested and proven that "molten salt" can be produced by aiming a field of mirrors at a high tower. The salt is double the temperature of boiling water. It gets stored underground in big tanks or caverns. Then a portion of the heat is used (24 hours a day) to boil water and run a conventional steam turbine hooked up to a conventional generator. The system can run for 3 days with no sunlight.

Re:Solar power at night is easy (4, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849235)

So, it's a fancy battery (just storing thermal energy until conversion to electricity, instead of storing the electricity).

Re:Solar power at night is easy (1)

chilvence (1210312) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849439)

You are a muppet, it is a method to generate electricity from mirrors, water and salt. All of which predate all sorts of power sources! They could have used this in the dark ages without it being out of place, but they didn't happen to have any ipod's they needed to charge...

Re:Solar power at night is easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849475)

Great! Let's build one next door to your place!

Summary: "We Like Money" (0, Troll)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849071)

I'd like a $10-trillion hand-out, too.

Re:Summary: "We Like Money" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849081)

Believe it or not: a fart just shot out of my asshole faster than I could comprehend.

gigawatt...ho hum (5, Funny)

CrowdedBrainzzzsand9 (2000224) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849073)

1 gigawatt is what a single nuclear power plant might generate, and it's more than most coal plants

On the other hand, that's barely enough for one jump back to the future.

Re:gigawatt...ho hum (1)

zlives (2009072) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849479)

1.2 gw

Re:gigawatt...ho hum (2)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849559)

1.21 Gigawatts!

Wow (0)

ilsaloving (1534307) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849091)

They throw around some mighty big numbers. I wonder how those numbers look when the sun sets.

Solar is, and will continue to be, nowhere near it's full potential until battery technology catches up.

Solar power will not catch on until you can get a bunch of solar panels and a decent battery together for a price low enough that it's a no brainer to install them. Until then, solar will be limited to the world of rich eco-friendly types.

Re:Wow (5, Informative)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849195)

Solar power towers [wikipedia.org] can store energy efficiently in molten salt and achieve continuous output.

Cloudy days (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849459)

Solar power towers can store energy efficiently in molten salt and achieve continuous output.

True but how well do they work on a cloudy day? Solar cells will still produce power - albeit less - on a cloudy day. It seems unlikely that this is the case for solar towers.

Re:Cloudy days (2)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849621)

According to the laws of thermodynamics the answer to your question "how long can it run without solar input" varies based on the size of the pool of salt. We have cubic miles of salt.

Re:Wow (1)

Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849249)

Solar power will not catch on until you can get a bunch of solar panels and a decent battery together for a price low enough that it's a no brainer to install them.

I just bought some land for some serious off grid living. So I have been looking at solar and wind power for my little get away place. I have found that the power generation systems have come down to an affordable price point, but the storage tech still needs significant improvement, and needs to come down in price a long way.
I will be keeping a small backup gas generator for quite a while I expect.

Re:Wow (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849473)

Might want to look into methane digester [google.com] if you have a few animals (cattle, sheep, chickens, etc) around on your off grid place.

Re:Wow (2)

DigitAl56K (805623) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849265)

They throw around some mighty big numbers. I wonder how those numbers look when the sun sets.

Even without storage, having that power to tap during daytime hours when businesses and homes need it most would be very helpful. I imagine that demand is most high when it's hottest (for AC), which would also be when this technology performed best.

Until then, solar will be limited to the world of rich eco-friendly types.

Not if the government/utilities build it. And hey - you already pay a massive premium for on-peak power, I bet there is funding for this in there somewhere..

Re:Wow (1)

msauve (701917) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849355)

"Solar is, and will continue to be, nowhere near it's full potential until battery technology catches up."

You appear to be ignorant of the many other forms of grid energy storage [wikipedia.org] which are available. Also, electrical energy could be converted to other useful forms, such as hydrogen, to replace existing hydrocarbon uses.

Re:Wow (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849529)

You're only considering solar panels on individuals' houses. We don't all use diesel generators all the time, so why would solar have to be locally installed?

Who pays? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849101)

I see they forgot to include the total cost.

I think you will find, its more than the planet is worth at this point.

Thorium (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849125)

We could just design and build thorium reactors for a lower cost.

They are safe.

They do not take up valuable farm space or displace native creatures and plant life.

Re:Thorium (2)

drwho (4190) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849305)

Yes, I think Thorium is the way to go. Of course, the DoE join-development project of LFTR with China should just about kill US ability to use it.

Re:Thorium (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849405)

The thorium fuel supply is limited, however. We'll eventually need to go directly or indirectly (wind, hydroelectric) to solar anyway. Well, either that or fusion, if we can get it to work at large scales with only deuterium (as opposed to tritium). Still, fission might be worthwhile as a stopgap measure.

Re:Thorium (3, Interesting)

rmstar (114746) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849547)

We could just design and build thorium reactors for a lower cost.

They are safe.

Of course they are not. Extracting a lot of energy from something with high energy density is never safe. This is particularly so when the scheme involves radioactive goo.

This is of course compounded by your standard array of corrupt, stupid and greedy nuke plant operators. And you don't get a different brand of them unless you drop your libertarian wet dreams.

So, no. Thorium reactors are currently not an alternative.

Sustainability? (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849159)

The raw materials (silicon and trace elements) are virtually unlimited and highly recyclable, so that's not a problem. The problem is that photovoltaics have a limited lifespan.

What's the energy input to replace a panel? I do believe it's favorable. In other words, I think it's worthwhile to make the cells whereas ethanol is actualy a net loser. I just don't have numbers. Google time...

Re:Sustainability? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849323)

I believe you may be wrong on this, afaik you need rare earths to make these and you would need to dig up an area bigger than the entire US to actually make that many panels. Yes, once you had them, they could be recycled, the point is getting that much the first place.

Re:Sustainability? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849635)

While you're at it, google up the refuting of the study that alleged to show that Ethanol consumed more fossil fuels than it replaced. Turns out they were charging all of the inputs of the field to the ethanol output, when most of the field's products went to animal feed.

Does Ethanol have some waste? Probably, the laws of Thermodynamics guarantee it, there's no perpetual motion machine around for a reason. But a lot of it is overcome by the inputs that aren't charged, because who cares when the sun is producing more energy and you can't do anything about it?

I suppose I could complain about the eventual heat-death of the universe or something, but that's a bit silly.

Pshaw (4, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849165)

Like these so-called scientists know anything. I heard on the radio today that solar energy is baloney and if the radio says it, then that's plenty good enough for me and anybody who says different is obviously biased.

Re:Pshaw (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849611)

It's not baloney.

Inefficient at this point in its development, resource and energy dependent at this stage of its development, way expensive at present, and with storage capabilities in dire need of further development that make it practically uneconomic without even more massive subsidies, definitely. If they could get the system cost down to something on the order of 15 cents a generated kilowatt hour including overnight storage they might have something. Til then, the only real solar power that's worth it would be a solar power satellite built in space from offworld materials.

Scenery (3, Insightful)

verifine (685231) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849169)

I for one am looking forward to that day when I can see nothing but solar cells. Desert? Heck no, solar cells! Mountains? Nope, amorphous silicon as far as the eye can see.

700,000 homes (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849173)

Not that I think solar's a bad idea, but there's an assertion made in this (stated as if it were a fact) that a gigawatt of electricity is enough to power 700,000 homes which I think may not bear scrutiny.

First, you need more peak energy production with solar than with fossil fuels or nuclear, because you also have to be storing up energy for dark hours/cloudy days.

Second, that sounds like it's estimating some pretty low consumption per household, which probably isn't realistic. Electric consumption per household is on the increase, and I'd expect this to continue. More so if there's a move toward electric/hybrid vehicles recharged at night.

bear scrutiny (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849321)

Yogi, or Smokey?

Fund Solyndra (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849199)

We need to be pumping more taxpayer money into these cutting edge new energy companies. It's definitely a safe investment.

Re:Fund Solyndra (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849343)

What's it like living in an alternate universe where all solar companies are Solyndra?

duh (1)

farble1670 (803356) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849207)

The NREL broke things down into four groups: urban and rural utility-scale photovoltaics (giant solar plants, basically) as well as rooftop solar and concentrated mirror arrays. Between those technologies, which are all already on the market, the NREL reckons there's a proven potential for solar to hit a capacity of 200,000 gigawatts in the United States alone.

oh great. i guess all we need is the bazillion dollars needed to build and maintain these massive solar arrays.

duh.

Re:duh (5, Insightful)

Fished (574624) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849239)

Seriously, building such things is not a "cost" but an investment. Just allocate the whole cost of the past several Middle-Eastern wars to your power bill and see how it goes for ya.

Re:duh (0)

farble1670 (803356) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849333)

the best you could hope for is to have a system in place that's as profitable as the existing oil / coal infrastructure. sure, safer and less polluting, but what corporation gives a crap about that?

of course, that's the best you could hope for. the whole thing could go belly up at a total loss (solyndra).

good luck.

Re:duh (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849607)

"but what corporation gives a crap about that?"

That's why we have these things called laws. To make them care.

Re:duh (1)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849389)

Those wars weren't about oil, they were about pumping two and a half trillion dollars from taxpayers to the well connected.

Re:duh (3, Informative)

stevew (4845) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849257)

I did a quick calculation. Using 100W = 3 square feet.

That is roughly 3.2 square miles/gigawatt of solar cells.
200,000Gigawats would be 640,000 square miles, or roughly 16.8% of the US land mass.

I'm just saying - the numbers they are throwing around are a bit amazing. Further - what happens at night? Do they have a decent storage system for this juice?

Re:duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849591)

Interesting that rather than discussing this everyone would rather say oil companies are keeping it from happening (despite oil companies having huge investments in solar).

Problems:
*Actually constructing all the panels, financing them, and the time it would take to do even if we wanted to
*Maintaining the equipment (washing dust off, repairing from storm damage & natural disasters, replacing failed panels)
*Storage of energy to protect against: night, lengthy cloudy periods, and other systematic issues
*Replacing after useful life is over (some think is a one time investment i.e. Spend the X budget on solar and we are done)
*The knowledge that higher efficiency panels will come out the day after you buy the current panels (i.e. you will always lose to the next guy)
*Opportunity cost of the space used (turn a corn field into a solar farm and you can't grow crops)

Basically solar is great for many applications but it is not useful as a large percentage of our power in its current state. The great swaths of land that the equipment must be spread over will greatly increase the cost of security and maintenance compared to centralized power production. A large hail storm could damage a huge number of panels causing more issues. The water needed to keep the panels and mirrors clean and operating efficiently would consume our entire water supply if we could even keep the panels clean. Millions of tech school education level electricians will be needed to run around installing and repairing these things yet everyone in america wants a higher paying job.

Seems to me like solar (with today's tech) is far to inefficient if viewed outside of isolation. A homeowner maintaining a few panels to provide a fraction of his energy use is OK, its just another chore. Having a nation of people who all maintain solar equipment for a living is insane.

Raw Materials? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849233)

What are these cells made of, how long do they last, and how abundant/available are the raw materials needed to produce them?

Something is wrong here (0)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849279)

The math smells. "200,000 gigawatts in the United States alone" has to mean 200,000 gigawatts per hour since it is being compared to a nuke plant generating 1GW, otherwise they instantly fail, am I right? But the first link I hit on google says only 12,211GW of solar energy hits the whole Earth. See the problem? Guess math is hard for greens.

Re:Something is wrong here (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849437)

That 12,000 GW of energy is -per square mile-. Multiply by 197 million for total potential solar.

http://www.ecoworld.com/energy-fuels/how-much-solar-energy-hits-earth.html

Re:Something is wrong here (1)

hknust (67528) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849451)

No, the numbers work out. I think you missed the per square mile aspect of the number you are quoting

With these assumptions, figuring out how much solar energy hits the entire planet is relatively simple. 12.2 trillion watt-hours converts to 12,211 gigawatt-hours, and based on 8,760 hours per year, and 197 million square miles of earth’s surface (including the oceans), the earth receives about 274 million gigawatt-years of solar energy, which translates to an astonishing 8.2 million “quads” of Btu energy per year.

Source: http://www.ecoworld.com/energy-fuels/how-much-solar-energy-hits-earth.html [ecoworld.com]

Re:Something is wrong here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849491)

From the article, it states an assumption which you are making fact. The actual number is much higher than 100 watts per square foot but a case of simple math it uses 100 watts. Check the facts, not just the first link.

Re:Something is wrong here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849497)

The math is overly optimistic, but not by nearly that much. In terms of rated panel capacity, ~7000GW would probably suffice. At $1/watt that would be a 7 trillion dollar investment, or ~280 billion a year over 25 years.

Re:Something is wrong here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849617)

The 12,211 GW/hours is per square mile per year.

Re:Something is wrong here (2)

Bovius (1243040) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849501)

has to mean 200,000 gigawatts per hour

Oh my. I really hope this was a troll, but I'm going to bite anyway. If not, know that you are in good company; most people struggle with the idea that watts already include "per unit of time". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watt [wikipedia.org]

Of course, this is from the same person that wishes the power company would stop using kilowatt-hours to report my electricity usage and start using kilo/mega/gigajoules.

That being said, you may have some legitimate arguments if you have the units straightened out.

Re:Something is wrong here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849517)

Their math is correct, your understanding of the unit Watt is incorrect. Watt is a unit of power, and is therefore Joules/second.

Note that the solar irradiance on earth is on the order of 1.3KW/m2. Therefore we can expect based on the Earths radius that the total solar energy hitting the earth 1.73x10^17W or 173,000,000 GW.

Re:Something is wrong here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849539)

The math smells. "200,000 gigawatts in the United States alone" has to mean 200,000 gigawatts per hour since it is being compared to a nuke plant generating 1GW, otherwise they instantly fail, am I right? But the first link I hit on google says only 12,211GW of solar energy hits the whole Earth. See the problem? Guess math is hard for greens.

As hard as remembering to take account for all the units, right?

Maybe you should read the link, instead of just coming to a quick conclusion.

Especially when it even SAYS the details:

With these assumptions, figuring out how much solar energy hits the entire planet is relatively simple. 12.2 trillion watt-hours converts to 12,211 gigawatt-hours, and based on 8,760 hours per year, and 197 million square miles of earth’s surface (including the oceans), the earth receives about 274 million gigawatt-years of solar energy, which translates to an astonishing 8.2 million “quads” of Btu energy per year.

In case you haven’t heard, a “quad Btu” refers to one quadrillion British Thermal Units of energy, a common term used by energy economists. The entire human race currently uses about 400 quads of energy (in all forms) per year. Put another way, the solar energy hitting the earth exceeds the total energy consumed by humanity by a factor of over 20,000 times.

Of course not all of that area is usable for solar panels, but face it, at that point it's a margin of error that's not worth worrying about.

Re:Something is wrong here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849563)

Your off by 4 orders of magnitude . The earth has a cross section of 127,400,000 km, with the solar constant being 1.412 kW/m results in 1.740×10^17 W = 174'000'000 GW of solar power for the whole earth. I guess the hardness of simple math is independant of the political view.

Re:Something is wrong here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849599)

Wikipedia says you get 1 * 10^3 W/m^2 on the surface. If we assume that the earth is a sun-facing disc (an underestimate of the total illuminated surface area), we get a surface area of ~1.2 * 10^14, which gives a back-of-the-envelope estimate of 10^17 W of total solar energy. While obviously just the United States would get significantly less than that 200,000 gigawatts plenty of orders of magnitude smaller than the total amount of sunlight hitting the earth, and way above your 12,211GW number (maybe your source meant 12,000 petawatts? That's in around the right range).

Someone above you did some other math (at 100W/3 sq. ft.) and found that you'd need 640,000 square miles of collector area - unreasonably large, perhaps, but nowhere near the total surface area of the earth.

Re:Something is wrong here (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849603)

Yeah, there is no fucking way you're getting that much power out of existing solar tech. I'm embarrassed I had to scroll down this far on /. to see someone questioning those laughable numbers. They've got to be off by several orders of magnitude.

Re:Something is wrong here (1)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849639)

Replying to myself. Never trust a green website. Just did my own math. The amount of energy hitting the ground averages 1361 Watts per square meter. US peak electrical generation in the summer (which happens to be peak sunshine) needs 1017GW. So my math says 747 square kilometers receive that much energy. So if you could cover that much territory 100% (and get the greens to allow totally darkening that much sky) and achieve 100% conversion (not!) then you could power the US entirely with solar. Discounting the need to have some way to power us at night since there wouldn't be any spare capacity to store.

So since you aren't likely to get anywhere near even 50% efficency on the conversion and you will need to allow some light past lets multiply the area needed by ten. So an 86x86 kilometer square would be a good starting point for powering the current US grid. Reality would probably need to at least double that again. So the questions are two:

1. In what alternate reality will the greens allow paving over that much of the Earth?

2. Anyone care to guess how much in dollars, labor and natural resources would be involved in such an epic project?

The problem ain't the gigawatts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849281)

The problem with solar isn't generating enough power. The problem is having enough power STORAGE to sustain us at peak times which just so happen to be when the sun is down. Battery tech, and more importantly battery price, needs to advance before we can go 100% solar

Re:The problem ain't the gigawatts (1)

chilvence (1210312) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849623)

You are looking at it the wrong way. The problem is that we take power so much for granted that we judge any alternative power by whether or not it is capable of running all our 100w bulbs, or letting us boil water at 2 AM, rather than use the power when it is available. Why dont we try thinking outside the box and store the hot water instead? Who's houses lighting requirements couldn't be fulfilled by a single charged lead acid battery these days? Why do you need so much power after dark anyway, can't you live without your iron?

Stick it where the sun doesn't shine... (2)

drwho (4190) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849289)

I am very skeptical. Maybe I'll be more convinced when I finish reading the report. But 1) what about when it's dark? 2) there's significant losses when transmitting electricity over long distances. This can be minimized by the use a very-high voltage transmission lines, but that requires greater expense, and bigger, uglier towers. 3) What land use is going to be lost when we have so much of the country covered with solar panels? 4) photovoltaics don't work as well in the heat as the do in the cold. How are you going to fix the problem of their heating? 5) some of the newer technologies use Indium and other rare metals - are these going to become even more scarce? 5) China has killed the PV cell business in the US. 6) wind 7) nuclear

Re:Stick it where the sun doesn't shine... (4, Informative)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849463)

1) Today's systems are cheep enough that the lack of production at night doesn't keep them from being profitable to install. In addition solar's best energy producing hours are peak energy drawing hours when electricity can be more expensive.

2) Residential solar systems can be grid tied into local power systems, or a system of batteries at the place of installation.

3) The United States Government owns huge tracks of land. Google "government land map" and you should see. Those desert areas would be perfect for solar plants.

4) Eather the drop in solar panel prices will be enough to offset their loss of efficiency in high heat, or a new design that will be efficient in the heat will come out.

5) Maybe

6(2nd 5?)) They've caused the price to fall like rock. That's awesome from the home solar installer's perspective. I've seen systems as low as $0.82 per max watt output most recently, and prices are falling even further. The business isn't over, but it's a bloodbath of companies getting out classed.

7(6?)) Unless there are amazing drops in prices I see solar staying the more economical option.

8(7?)) Nuclear reactors take 20+ years to build. The cost of solar will long since be cheaper than nuclear by the time any plant could be built.

Solar vs. Nuclear: Mars Rover Edition (4, Interesting)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849325)

Spirit and Opportunity were powered by solar panels delivering 140W.

Curiosity, 5 times heavier, has a radionuclide battery delivering 125W.

Despite being much heavier, Curiosity will be faster and more effective than either Spirit or Opportunity.

The difference, of course, is that nuclear power is being delivered constantly, while solar power needs sun shine, varies over the day and depends on weather and season.The 1GW of propaganda power is what you get under ideal conditions - in other words, never. A nuclear power plant rated at 1GW will deliver this and is capable of delivering it for months without a break. On a yearly basis, 1GW in the shape of a nuclear power plant will deliver 10 times as much energy as 1GW of solar power in Germany (about 5 times more for solar power in deserts/arid areas).

And that's without considering the need to store energy from solar power plants in order to use this power when it is needed. Both in terms of the cost in money and energy.

If you compare solar power with anything else in the way this article does, you're deliberately deceiving the readership and nothing else.

Re:Solar vs. Nuclear: Mars Rover Edition (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849411)

Funny the first rating is "troll". I'm merely taking the exact same position as the article and explain what's wrong about it, but all of the sudden, I'm a troll. Maybe the article is.

Re:Solar vs. Nuclear: Mars Rover Edition (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849481)

Also the comparison number in the article is wrong. A typical nuclear plant produces 2-4 GW power, not 1 GW. 1GW might be the amount per generator for a multi-generator plant. These sorts of articles would be more convincing if the advocates of solar power didn't understate the amount of power produced by competing sources, or underestimate the amount of power required per household, or (in this case) both.

Re:Solar vs. Nuclear: Mars Rover Edition (1)

spitzak (4019) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849557)

Actually Curiosity will be slower than Spirit/Opportunity, according to the pdf I read. However it is able to get over obstacles that would have stopped the older ones.

Sooooo...... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849367)

I call bullshit.

The US is 9,826,630 sq km. Sunlight hits the earth @ about 600 W/m^2, or 600e6 W/Km^2.
At 15% conversion efficiency that's 8.843e14 W if the whole US were covered.

To reach 200,000e9 Watts, you would have to cover 22.6% of the entire country with solar cells.

And OTOH: 200,000 GW would also be enough to power 140 billion homes.

Nuke plant 1GW? Disinform much? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849443)

The nuclear plant outside Phoenix produces over 3.3 GW. Stating that a nuclear plant "might produce" 1 GW to make your photovoltaic inefficiency sound better is disingenuous at best. Also, last time I checked urban rooftops are already cluttered with equipment, not just sitting there waiting for someone to exploit that real estate, and rural areas are often full of food producing, recreation having, wildlife harboring land. Why you'd want to cover that with vast arrays of shiny glass and metal I can't say. Just remember, all those arrays need plenty of grease, and petroleum products to keep them operational. They'll still result in plenty of pollution of their immediate footprint, which is enormous.

Re:Nuke plant 1GW? Disinform much? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849633)

The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station outside of Phoenix has 3 reactors producing combined 3,875 MW.

Fails to account for ALL other clean energy source (1)

pubwvj (1045960) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849447)

This:

"A new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds that solar holds more potential to generate more power (PDF) than any other clean energy source."

and this:

"The NREL broke things down into four groups: urban and rural utility-scale photovoltaics (giant solar plants, basically) as well as rooftop solar and concentrated mirror arrays."

don't jive. They're leaving out a lot of other technologies such as wind, hydroelectric (micro through major), wood (which is very clean), etc. Solar's great but it's not enough to do everything everywhere. Quite frankly, I don't want to be dependent on far away supplies. Remember OPEC? I like harvesting my own energy as much as possible right here in my backyard.

I have a few questions... (5, Interesting)

SternisheFan (2529412) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849513)

Wouldn't it be great if the U.S. started a public works program (not unlike the Hoover Dam project) that provided unemployed Americans jobs building solar/battery systems? Wouldn't that be a fantastic use of taxpayer's dollars? Why isn't that already happening to help out of work Americans?

Just imagine... (1)

dave562 (969951) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849531)

What if during the housing boom, there was a mandate in place that all new homes had to be built with solar panels? Imagine how much power those acres upon acres of vacant homes around Vegas would be producing right now.

In order for solar to be viable on a large scale, it needs to be mandated by the government and the utilities need to be coerced into allowing homes to feed back into the grid. During the day when people are at work, their homes can be powering their offices. When they are home at night, they can tap traditional power sources such as gas and nuclear.

There will obviously be challenges managing the transition from day to night. Power plants do not just start and stop at the flick of a switch. They will need better control systems to adjust to dynamically shifting loads, both in any given 24 hour cycle, and seasonally.

We have historically high levels of unemployment. The first shots of a major trade war with China have already been fired. We have the Chinese making huge in roads into Africa and the Middle East with an eye on all of the natural resources there. The "cost" of a solar panel is practically irrelevant given the current state of the economy. Rather than pumping billions into the banks and hoping they eventually get around to lending it out, the government could be financing major public works projects. With the right level of tax incentive, we could probably put a solar panel on every private residence in the country within a decade and employ hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people while doing it.

Of course that will never happen. Between the, "But solar can't do it all." whiners and the "Government spending is bad" whiners, the idea of spending "money" (an artificial concept anyway) to improve the lives of everyone never takes off. Instead we stand here static, whining and crying about how our economy sucks.

A few people have brought up the cost of replacing panels. So what? Is that really an argument? Our entire society is disposable. How often to people replace cars? Tires, brakes? Windows on their homes? Clothes? Cellular phones? If only we had the ability to manufacture things.... Oh wait, we do. What the fuck do you think an "economy" is? You make things that society needs. That's the whole fucking point! You find something society needs, you train people to produce it, those people earn a paycheck, that paycheck enables them to buy things, those things need to be made by other people... those other people buy other things....

The next energy source (1)

louzer (1006689) | more than 2 years ago | (#40849569)

It is not enough that the next energy source can replace oil. The next energy source must beat oil in terms of $/KWh. Only then will people switch.

Every year, the objectors have to be more extreme (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40849583)

cause every year, the case for solar/wind/geothermal/conservation gets stronger, and the case for strip mining the western US and Alberta CA tar sands gets weaker.
Every year, the naysayers have to retreat from their prev pathetic arguments to new, even more pathetic arguments (..sun doesn't shine in hte night. As paul krugman says, if you think I've made a simple obvious error, your are probably wrong..)

I wonder, 10 years from, if a single solitary naysayer will actually admit that they were, over many years, loudly and vociferously wrong...

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