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Solar Power Headed For 45% Annual Growth

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the a-photovoltaic-industry-growing-oh-the-hilarity dept.

Power 402

mdsolar writes "USA Today is running a pretty good article on solar power that gives an overview of the current state of the industry. Highlight include production costs of $1.19/Watt for First Solar, 40% annual cost reductions over the last five years, revenues expected to triple in three years, and a prediction for 2014 as the year when solar photovoltaic power plants become cheaper than other forms of generation. From the piece: 'Like wind power, solar energy is spotty, working at full capacity an average 20% to 30% of the time. Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks. And it can be located at homes and businesses, reducing the need to build pollution-belching power plants and unsightly transmission lines. In states such as California, with high electricity prices and government incentives, solar is already a bargain for some customers. Wal-Mart recently said it's putting solar panels on more than 20 of its stores in California and Hawaii. Google is blanketing its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters with 9,212 solar panels, enough to light 1,000 homes.'"

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hurray (1)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376607)

2 thumbs up for the frigging mythical global warming...

Re:hurray (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377165)

True, global warming is a myth, but Peak Oil isn't, and Peak Oil will affect us all within the next TEN years, BIG time.

http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/ [lifeaftertheoilcrash.net]

I'd suggest we all stop taking holidays abroad on aeroplanes, for a start, because when the oil even STARTS to run out, prices of everything will go up insanely in a VERY short time, and the whole world will have to change.

The good thing is that at least it means no more feckless third world parasites will be able to afford to board a plane and invade Europe, against the wishes of the majority of the indigenous population, and we'll happily use our last drops of oil to send their 'brothers' back to live with them.

When the oil runs out, there will be no room in any European country for feckless, criminal third world parasites, and they will ALL be run out, thank god.

So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20376617)

It's going to go from 0.00001% to 0.000015%. Great!

Dude, learn your math (2, Funny)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376629)

It's going to go from 0.00001% to 0.000015%. Great!

No, silly, its gonna go up to 0.0000145% :)

22 years to replace net generation (4, Informative)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377123)

There were 1.7 GW installed in 2006: http://www.solarbuzz.com/Marketbuzz2007-intro.htm [solarbuzz.com] bringing the world up to about 6 GW. At a typical 5 hours per day equivilent peak generation that comes to 11 billion kWh per year. World net generation was 16,590.6 billion kWh per year in 2004: http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/txt/ptb1116.html [doe.gov] , so your fraction should be 0.07%, off by about 4 orders of magnitude. At 45% growth, how long would it take to replace world net generation? Somewhat less that 22 years since 1.45^22=3550 which would imply that more than half of the worlds net generation would be fabricated in the year 2028, with the rest fabricated prior to that year. Since panels last 25 years or longer there would have been little need to replace existing solar PV capacity by that time.
--
Rent residential solar power: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]

Re:22 years to replace net generation (1)

smilindog2000 (907665) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377497)

It's interesting to speculate what could happen when solar becomes cheap enough. If it becomes cheaper or more desirable than alternatives, we could afford to increase the world's installed panels by 10X in one year, here in the US (obviously, we'd have trouble building that many factories in one year). So, we could potentially see a lot higher than 45% growth for a while.

independence ! (0, Troll)

polar red (215081) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376641)

finally at my fingertips ... I just need a good battery now. f*ck you, corporations.

Re:independence ! (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376689)

Trojan 105's are a pretty favorite battery. Or, if your pocketbooks were enormous, you could go with submarine batteries. Single-cell, so 2.3V each, at 5000 or so amp-hours, and they're made to be maintained and kept going forever. Hook 24 of those up in series to your 48V inverter...

Re:independence ! (2, Interesting)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376807)

Trojan 105's are a pretty favorite battery. Or, if your pocketbooks were enormous, you could go with submarine batteries. Single-cell, so 2.3V each, at 5000 or so amp-hours, and they're made to be maintained and kept going forever. Hook 24 of those up in series to your 48V inverter...
Actually unless they have changed Submarine batteries are not meant to keep going forever. The Guppy and Sargo cells had a service life of around two years. They where made for high performance not really super long life.
Running light duty cycles they should last for a pretty long time.

Re:independence ! (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376695)

I just need a good battery now.

Keep your eye on these folks [google.com] .

Re:independence ! (1)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376739)

Yes, EEStor has potential. Now if we can just get an update on their progress. I just hope they don't turn out to be the next Segway.

Re:independence ! (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376847)

"I just need a good battery now. f*ck you, corporations."
Yea I am sure you will get some super efficient solar cells made by local craftsmen at the co-op..
Last time I checked BP was one of the big names in solar cells.

In related news... (3, Funny)

AssCork (769414) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376653)

Solar Output to lessen by 45%

Lots of solar activity these last few years... (4, Informative)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376655)

Plus, there's the guys doing electricity by converting solar heat using sterling engines http://www.stirlingenergy.com/default.asp [stirlingenergy.com] and the work converting heat into electricity using an intermediate sound conversion step http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/07060 3225026.htm. [sciencedaily.com]

Understatement (5, Interesting)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376675)

Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks.

Solar's big advantages are that it is essentially pollution free, doesn't up CO2, reduces petroleum requirements which means more lubricants, plastics and so on at reasonable prices, reduction of political leverage of oil rich countries, increase in ability to operate independently at every level from national to individual, and over the long term, it costs less.

Combined with ultracaps, hopefully to be seen as practical power storage come this fall (via EEStor [google.com] ), the power supply landscape may change significantly in the next decade or so.

Re:Understatement (2, Informative)

Seumas (6865) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376743)

Of course, solar power only has advantages in certain environments. Almost no power source is universally producible. For instance, only some parts of America can provide significant natural gas resources. Only certain portions are capable of coal or oil. Likewise, there is a limitation on places that can provide significant resources for wind-power or solar-power.

This isn't to suggest that it isn't worth the effort, but I am unclear whether we have the potential to expand facilities in those appropriate areas enough that they could power the entire country well into the future. (For example, solar power in Portland, Oregon is relatively pointless for mass-consumption since you need actual sunlight to generate the electricity).

Re:Understatement (2, Informative)

polar red (215081) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376779)

As production increases and technology improves, the northern limit of the area where it's economically viable to use solar cells, will expand more and more northward.

Re:Understatement (4, Interesting)

Mr. Sketch (111112) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376851)

I am unclear whether we have the potential to expand facilities in those appropriate areas enough that they could power the entire country well into the future.
Yes, but we don't need a whole lot of solar plants placed everywhere. This map has just a handful of locations marked that if they had solar panels it would provide enough energy for the whole world:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Solar_land_area .png [wikipedia.org]

Granted, those locations are huge, but consider all the empty spaces in the deserts of the world that get tons of sunlight but are otherwise useless. I have seen updated maps with smaller locations that assume a higher efficiency solar cell, since this map only assumes 8% efficiency, and normal panels have about 15% with research being done in the 30-40% efficient range.

Re:Understatement (1, Troll)

Gogo0 (877020) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377119)

How about all the wildlife in those large "useless" plots of land?

is there going to be a huge PETA backlash against solar energy because the desert scorpions are being threatened?

Relocation (2)

benhocking (724439) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377235)

If we promise to relocate the scorpions to Michael Vick's jail cell, I think we can cut a deal with PETA.

Re:Understatement (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377209)

My question is-- what is going to be the effect of putting those huge areas into shade?

Would they turn back from desert to green in time?

Re:Understatement (1)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376767)

the power supply landscape may change significantly in the next decade or so.

I hope you're right. I want to be able to supply all the power I need (maybe even enough to charge up my efficient electric car and run my entire household) with solar power I collect using my own solar arrays. I'd also like to be able to do this on a standard family home without covering my entire lawn with panels. However, I've been waiting for that for at least 20 years, and it's always been about 10 years away, so I'm not holding my breath.

Re:Understatement (4, Insightful)

Once&FutureRocketman (148585) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376783)

Yeah, well said. But let me point out that increase in ability to operate independently at every level from national to individual, while a very real benefit (to society) of solar power is NOT seen as an advantage by the powers-that-be. The energy industry is still fixed on the big-central-plant-generation/regulated-utility-dis tribution model, and there is a lot of money and many careers that depend on the continuation of that model. Solar and other forms of small scale, distributed generation, not all of which is even renewable (e.g. cogeneration, aka. combined heat and power), are a very real threat to those vested interests. Which is one reason (of many) that adoption of these technologies has been so slow.

Crap on... (1, Interesting)

Goonie (8651) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377489)

The reason why the big-central-plant generation model is still favoured by most over distributed generation is that distributed generation is way more expensive, particularly if the grid is already built.

Have you gone off-grid yourself? How much did it cost, and have you micromanaged your energy consumption to make it work? If you haven't, might I suggest you investigate the costs and then get back to us?

Not quite (1)

ArchieBunker (132337) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376801)

Ever see what goes into producing silicon solar cells?

Re:Understatement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20376811)

That was the advantage compared to the wind power.

Re:Understatement (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376917)

reduction of political leverage of oil rich countries
Nope. Not unless everyone switches to solar or the US dollar loses it's reserve status and isn't required for oil purchases.
 

Re:Understatement (2, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377145)

Solar energy isn't polution free - it just doesn't add to the horrible high energy radiation coming from that great big fusion plant in the sky. Go and sit outside for a couple hours over midday and see what the sun does to you. If someone was to invent the sun today, he would be sued up the wazoo for causing cancer and other problems...

Decentralized (1)

ithmus (70077) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377371)

There is also something to be said for the military advantages of decentralized power generation. Look at the way we make war:

Step 1. Destroy utilities, power plants, hospitals.

Result: Population is crippled, and unable to fight back.

How many power plants would you have to take out to cripple New York City? Not that many I think. If all of our electrical power is generated on rooftops, our infrastructure is less attackable.

Storms can also cause huge problems: Katrina.
Or what about accidents? remember that huge east coast blackout a couple of years ago?

Re:Decentralized (1)

shmlco (594907) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377525)

"How many power plants would you have to take out to cripple New York City?"

Okay, but how many water-treatment plants would you need to take out? Two?

Used batteries from cars (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377419)

I came across an interesting article explaning how California utility PG&E is entering into a contract to obtian used batteries from electric cars: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/business2/business2 _archive/2007/08/01/100138830/index.htm [cnn.com] . They'll use these for stationary storage. If the current fleet is converted to electric, I calculate that these used batteries can store about half a day of our energy use: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/08/roof-pitch.htm l [blogspot.com] . That does not cover seasonal variations in solar power, but it does look more like getting base load as well as peak from solar.
--
Save money by renting solar power: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]

Re:Understatement (3, Interesting)

Dr Caleb (121505) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377429)

"Solar's big advantages are that it is essentially pollution free, doesn't up CO2, reduces petroleum requirements which means more lubricants, plastics and so on at reasonable prices, reduction of political leverage of oil rich countries, increase in ability to operate independently at every level from national to individual, and over the long term, it costs less."

Excellent points, but it's advantage is also it's disadvantage. Imagine trying to run a steel foundry on solar power. Now, imagine running a third world steel foundry on solar power. That's the gripe many developing nations have with Kyoto - how are they supposed to enter the 20th century if they can use coal fired power?

Political Power (4, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376703)

Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks.

I like the advantage (over petrofuels) that its fuel is free, without forcing the US to kowtow to foreign tyrants who sometimes try to kill us, and sometimes need to get rescued from people trying to kill them, and nearly always are at the center of global warfare.

Re:Political Power (1)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377095)

Note that the comparison was with wind power, which also has all those advantages except the supply doesn't usually peak with demand.

$/Watt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20376725)

$1.19/Watt??? maybe $/Joule or $/Wh

Re:$/Watt (3, Insightful)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376777)

Nope, $/W.

It's how much it costs you to get a panel capable of producing electricity at a rate of 1 watt.

If your panel can produce 100 watts, and you spent $400 on it, that's $4/watt.

Re:$/Watt (0)

abfan1127 (784663) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376895)

You don't buy power per watt. You buy it per watt-hour.

Re:$/Watt (1)

cyfer2000 (548592) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376971)

You have a solar panel can produce X watt, it cost you Y dollar, you use it for Z hours. now you produced X * Z watt-hour energy. But you bought the panel of X watt for Y dollars.

Re:$/Watt (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377149)

that's completely wrong jackass

If you're buying from your electric company... (3, Informative)

benhocking (724439) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377211)

If you're buying from your electric company, you don't buy power at all. You buy energy (which would be Joules, Watt-Hours, or, typically, Kilowatt-Hours). If you're buying your own power generation source, then you're very likely buying based off of how much power can be delivered — which is measured in Watts.

Re:$/Watt (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20376995)

Quite unappropriate factor as a cost of energy measure (as the article suggests). When time goes to inf., the cost of energy goes to 0 ;).

Let's say we buy 1kW panels (paying 1190$ for them). The cost of 1KWh is about 15cents per kWh (here in Europe). So the reimbursement period is about (1190$ / 0.15$) ~= 8000h (less than a year).

After 10years of use the cost of kWh drops to =~1.5 cent per kWh. Why nobody buys them? :) Of course I made an assumption of constant 1kW use&production what might not be always true.

Re:$/Watt (2, Funny)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377113)

So the reimbursement period is about (1190$ / 0.15$) ~= 8000h (less than a year).

Doesn't the 24 hours of sunlight per day you get in Europe interfere with your sleep?

Re:$/Watt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377157)

> Doesn't the 24 hours of sunlight per day you get in Europe interfere with your sleep?

No, esp. when you live in the north Norway during summer.

Re:$/Watt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377365)

and how much is that '1kw' panel producing during that time? prolly closer to 0w than 1kw

Re:$/Watt (1)

Fry-kun (619632) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377191)

...and the assumption that you will get 1kW at night :P

Re:$/Watt (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377389)

Why nobody buys them? Because outside of Russia, people realize, money has interest cost. If I spend 1000 to install panel, but I must borrow at 7 percent, I pay 70 additional dollars in first year for to borrow money to save on energy! Even if I buy with own money, I am giving up chance to lend money at interest, which is opportunity cost to me.

If you want to get rich and don't care about time, you put money in savings account and wait infinite time. Then you buy Russia!

Re:$/Watt (1)

netsavior (627338) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377009)

just want to add: remember that solar is basically a 1 time cost, so by the hour has no meaning.

now if you were to amortize the up front cost with the expected life span and include batteries/capacitors and their life span, you could get a much more accurate idea of the actual cost, but most people don't really care about that. The truth is the math/price point is not quite there yet for an off grid solar solution (power stored on sight with batteries or capacitors). But those who use a "run the meter backwards" grid-tied solar solution are already enjoying real cost savings. Batteries are (and will probably always be) the big cost offset because batteries still suck, A LOT. Run on the grid, and share power during the peak and we vastly augment our thirst for oil, but we can never truely become independant unless we figure out a way to vastly improve power storage. The solar panel cost is rapidly becomming trivial, which is a great step, but not the hardest or most important one, IMO.

Overlooking a major point (1)

Zatchmort (1091857) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376759)

Here's the thing, though: Photovoltaic cells aren't the best way to utilize solar energy. As a trivial example, the Boston MoS featured an algae tube that produced hydrogen in the sunlight. Using that H2 to produce power is a lot more efficient than a standard PV cell. The only trouble* is "but that's not the way we do things nowww!" so it hasn't caught on. Once the infastructure is in place, though, I foresee fields of this stuff. *Plus, y'know, it's algae. "Ewww, slimy!" :D

Re:Overlooking a major point (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376977)

Great. Produce that technology in something you can install on your roof, and basically forget about for 30 years, and at a competitive cost to PV cells. You'll be a very rich person.

Tech already exists (1)

Goonie (8651) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377441)

Assuming you live in a developed country somewhere near other people, chances are very good you have a magic technology that allows you to outsource the "keeping it on your roof" part.

It's called the electricity grid, and for most people, you can buy "green power" (that is, for every kwh you consume, the utility buys a kwh of renewables, usually wind), from it far cheaper than you can put a solar system, even a grid-connected one with net metering, on your roof.

Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (2, Interesting)

Ron Bennett (14590) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376763)

Many people tout solar as the solution to the world's energy problems - yet most neglect the issue of its low energy density ... it takes a lot of solar panels to match the power generation of even a small coal power plant let alone a nuclear power plant, etc.

Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...

And on a related note, neither windmills nor solar panels are benign - they both have a subtle effect on the environment ... there's always a tradeoff with energy generation.

With all that said, for personal / household use solar has much promise, assuming the price can be reduced further, such as panels on roofs, etc to help people augment their energy needs.

Ron

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376825)

Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...
yeah, that's why they voluntarily choose to live close to city centers and highways.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376859)

The great thing is that we have a loooooot of land available for solar cells. Folks who live on the Eastern seaboard, or the Southern end of the West coast don't realize it, but the rest of the country has lots and lots of space.

Not only would most people not mind seeing solar cells on rooftops, they certainly wouldn't mind seeing them in the relatively empty areas. Look at maps of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and parts of Texas and Utah. There's a whoooooole lot of land just waiting to be filled, in areas where folks won't mind it, and they'll produce a good amount of electricity.

Sure, wind and solar power generation have subtle effects on the environment (so do farts, for crying out loud), but they're nowhere near the effects of traditional power generation.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (3, Informative)

MtViewGuy (197597) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376945)

In fact, if you go to western Texas, wind turbines are going up almost as fast as weeds. :-)

But with developments in nanotechnology, we could see a drastic drop in the price of solar panels within the next ten years. A solar panel setup that costs US$30,000 now could cost as little as US$3,000, which would suddenly make home power generation very viable indeed. And with MIT and several private groups working on supercapacitor battery packs built from carbon nanotubes, that also makes it viable to store all that power generated in the daytime for use at night.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377239)

Solar PV works better in cold sunny place. Don't be fooled into thinking desert like terrain is the best place for them, it's not. PV loses efficiency the hotter it gets.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (2, Insightful)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377281)

But there are a lot more hot, sunny places than cold, sunny places. Say your efficiency drops by 15%, but your daily insolation goes up by 30%... you still win out.

I think you are wrong. (1)

cyfer2000 (548592) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376939)

The energy density can be 200+W per square meter. I consider this is very high. http://www.ez2c.de/ml/solar_land_area/ [ez2c.de] has more information.

I don't know how much people can be consider "most". But I know all the people don't want to pay utility bills.

Solar and windmills make subtle effect to environment while coal power plant makes significant if not dramatic effect on the environment.

Solar and fusion may ultimately solve our energy quest together.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20376951)

And on a related note, neither windmills nor solar panels are benign - they both have a subtle effect on the environment ... there's always a tradeoff with energy generation.
Now compare this with the effect gasoline, diesel, and even hydro have on the environment and suddenly it doesn't look too bad does it.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (2, Insightful)

maynard (3337) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376961)

While true, I think this argument misses the point. No doubt that a meter squared of sunlight does not match the energy density of a centimeter cubed in volume of enriched uranium or plutonium. No doubt, per unit space nuclear wins. But your argument takes that fact and then extrapolates a straw man:

> "Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see..."

Which is not how photovolatic deployments are envisioned. The roof on my house - in Boston, certainly not in a prime solar latitude - could easily offset 30%-40% of household electric consumption, which would be produced during peak demand. Thus, it functions to offset consumption though doesn't completely replace commercial power generation.

So... the only issues are: initial investment, projected return, and the rate of return. When the numbers add up for Boston, I'll buy in. Renewables will be deployed in conjunction with traditional power generation, because in certain locations they will be cost effective.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (4, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377051)

Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...

As opposed to... suburban rooftops and utility poles as far as the eye can see? Are black shingles really that much more attractive than black solar panels? Are windmills so much more unsightly than utility poles and power lines running everywhere?

All the large-scale wind farms I've seen are in places where there's barely anyone living anyway. I really have to wonder who is complaining about it.

And on a related note, neither windmills nor solar panels are benign - they both have a subtle effect on the environment ... there's always a tradeoff with energy generation.

The only one that springs to mind is the industrial processes to manufacture solar cells, and that's bad but seriously, industrial pollution is rampant and people who act like the production of solar cells/hybrid car batteries are a deal-breaker never seem to account for the processes involved in mining coal, building a car, or whatever the status quo is in addition to the pollution created by using said coal plant or ICE car.

Or did you mean something like the solar energy being turned into electricity instead of warming the environment? Because it's all going to be released as heat in the end anyway.

Wind power I'll admit has a subtle effect, as you're taking energy from the wind... Frankly I find it hard to imagine we could put up enough windmills to counter the effect of all the trees we've chopped down, but of course that's just speculation and we aren't putting windmills only where trees used to be.

With all that said, for personal / household use solar has much promise, assuming the price can be reduced further, such as panels on roofs, etc to help people augment their energy needs.

Depending on where you live, solar panels are already a good option if you can afford the up-front investment; they will more than pay for themselves by the time they need to be replaced. Lowering the price will certainly make them even more appealing, and also I think we need to come up with better small (as in household) scale energy storage so that you aren't as dependent on the weather that day. There are a lot of folks working on both problems; neither seems out of reach at this point. I'm very hopeful about the future of solar power.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377267)

What I'd like to see is the widespread use of photo cells in desert cities that could use the shade. I was in Phoenix, and it was nearly impossible to use any of the sidewalks and actually walk or bicycle somewhere, because of the intense heat coupled with bright sunlight. If the sidewalks were all covered with roofs that were covered in photo cells, then peds and cyclists could travel in the shade, and the city would have 100s of miles of power generation, located within the city and near the consumers of the energy. People could drive less, run their air conditioners for free, and all that.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377269)

> Many people tout solar as the solution to the world's energy
> problems - yet most neglect the issue of its low energy density ..

Nope, they don't. Anyone who has even been in the periphery of the Solar Industry (Solar Hot Water or Photo-voltaics) will ALWAYS, 100% of the time tell you "Before the panels go up, insulation should go in the roof."

Conserving energy is THE cheapest solution. Kill your wall warts. Install a set back thermostat. Change to compact fluorescents or better.

If the fuckers in the east coast would add some r-value, we could seriously reduce our consumption of fossil fuel. Not to mention kicking anyone in the balls who drives a big truck who doesn't need it (as opposed to wanting it. And sorry, humping your boat around doesn't fit the definition of NEED), we would be well on the way. Include solar power, and the picture starts getting a little ... erm ... sunnier.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (1)

drix (4602) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377311)

But most people don't want to live in the middle of the desert, which just happens to be is where areas of maximum insolation [etaengineering.com] are. A 100x100 mile patch of solar panels plopped in the middle of the Mojave desert could power the entire United States [stirlingenergy.com] . I agree that there is always a tradeoff, but the tradeoffs associated with this approach would appear to be much lower than meeting demand over the coming century with coal or nuclear.

Re:Solar is Limited due to its Low Energy Density (2, Insightful)

Target Drone (546651) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377353)

... it takes a lot of solar panels to match the power generation of even a small coal power plant let alone a nuclear power plant, etc. Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...

True, but you can stick them on roof tops. The average suburban roof top can easily hold a few kilowatts of solar panels. You need about 7 square meters per kilowatt (75 square feet) based on current 15% efficient solar panels. So a million homes (not including businesses) could produce several GW of power. About the same as a couple nuke plants. Although granted the nuke plants run 24/7.

45% Annual Growth (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20376787)

Great. So we're just going to use up the sun's energy faster.

I hope you bastards freeze in the dark.

It's been 30 years.. (3, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376797)

since the first serious calculations were done to determine the feasibility of orbital solar power plants. The results *then* indicated that it was the only economically feasible way to supply the world's future energy needs. Since then, both space and solar cell technology has improved dramatically. Meanwhile, billions of dollars is being sunk into fusion research and there's no expectation that a clean fusion reactor will be developed in the next 50 years.

Re:It's been 30 years.. (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376911)

The really nifty thing is that if we didn't want to, we wouldn't have to go to space or fusion. Between solar and wind, we can already produce very nearly all of the power we need, just not as cheaply as we can with coal. Improvements need to be made to the grid to more robustly pass power around the country (from windy or sunny spots to the others), but it can be done. And, prices do continue to drop as time goes on.

Even ignoring environmental considerations, I'll bet that a lot of people would rather make a monthly payment on their solar panels than give that same amount of money to the power company.

Seriously (4, Funny)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376817)

>> USA Today is running a pretty good article

Also, pigs soar above the frozen wasteland that was hell.

Re:Seriously (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377017)

LOL +1 FUNNY

Where are PV cells from? (2, Informative)

abfan1127 (784663) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376867)

Oh, that's right. one of the worst factories ever with regard to the environment; an Integrated Circuit Fab. I like it when hippies talk about how perfect solar is. Let's not forget that we need nasty chemicals like Arsenic to make solar cells.

Re:Where are PV cells from? (3, Informative)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377013)

There's plenty of arsenic in coal ash. Probably orders of magnitude more than goes into making solar cells, but I'll admit to not having done the math.

Dude, you're 30 years behind. (3, Informative)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377053)

Oh, that's right. one of the worst factories ever with regard to the environment; an Integrated Circuit Fab. I like it when hippies talk about how perfect solar is. Let's not forget that we need nasty chemicals like Arsenic to make solar cells.

*ahem ahem*

Berkeley Scientists Synthesize Cheap, Easy-to-Make Ultra-thin Photovoltaic Films [lbl.gov]
40% efficient solar cells to be used for solar electricity [physorg.com]
Titania nanotubes could boost solar cell efficiency [nanotechweb.org]
Pink solar cells provide green power on the cheap [engadget.com]
Carbon nanotubes could help make nanoparticle-based solar cells more efficient and practical. [technologyreview.com]
Quantum Dots Enables New Advances in Solar Cell Industry [evidenttech.com]

Green and cheap enough for ya?

Re:Where are PV cells from? (1)

onkelonkel (560274) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377121)

You're not seriously suggesting that energy from solar will release more toxic heavy metals into the environment than coal fired plants (which are the current alternative)?

Not on my roof (2, Insightful)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376889)

Investing in panel makers? Maybe. Investing in a home installation? Call me when the break even point drops below 10 years. How many people even live in their houses for that long anymore? Sure, it may add some equity to your home, but not much, especially if the prices DO fall and/or the efficiency of the panels increases significantly during that 10 years. Imagine trying to include your 5 year old computer as part of your home's equity. You're risking a very similar situation with solar.

You're also betting that grid power won't get any cheaper, which may or may not be a good bet, depending on the fuel source of your local power plant. If solar/microgeneration takes off, there could be an abundance of grid power, causing prices to plummet, especially if people start generating more power than they use -- unlikely, but certainly possible if panel efficiencies increase. The only advantage you have is that grid power can never drop below the cost of maintaining the plant and the distribution network, no matter how cheap the fuel. Nonetheless, my feeling is that there's no time like the present -- to put off a solar installation.

Re:Not on my roof (4, Interesting)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376947)

In areas with the highest electricity costs and the highest rebates/incentives, ROI can happen in 5 years.

In tiered markets, where the higher usage of electricity costs you much more than the base usage, a properly-sized solar outfit can do it in 3 years.

As for taking a loan on your solar outfit, look at it this way: Pay money to some electric corp every month, or spend the same amount of money on your solar cells. In the first case, you'll pay forever. In the second, you'll pay for a while, then get to enjoy the benefits. It's like leasing vs. buying a car.

Here's your call. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377097)

10 years? I'm looking at a 5-7 year ROI in Southern California.
(Less if you figure the asset value in the house.)

As for betting on future (grid) energy prices, I'm going to bet that it's not going to get cheaper over the next 10 years. You are free to bet on the utilities lowering prices, alternate fuels being cheaper, overproduction of solar energy, and Unicorns.

Careful what you wish for! (1)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377169)

Maybe. Investing in a home installation? Call me when the break even point drops below 10 years. How many people even live in their houses for that long anymore?

There is growing evidence that CA suffered shortages and blackouts because generators wanted higher prices for themselves. They got those prices and more!

Re:Not on my roof (2, Insightful)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377173)

i bought this house in 1980, why move when it is paid for, plus i like it here...

It depends where your roof is. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377295)

The first thing to bear in mind is that conservation is almost always more economical than production.

In the area where I live, the local power company has to pay $0.40 / kWH for any solar power you pump back into the grid. At that rate, the payback is real fast.

As an extreme example, I once installed pv solar panels in the high arctic where the sun only shines for eight months. Because of the expense of any other kind of power, the system paid for itself in one season! (The alternative was to fly batteries into a remote site by helicopter at $400/hr.)

One of the things that most people forget is that the money you save is after tax dollars. If I save a dollar, I have an extra dollar. If I earn a dollar, I have half a dollar because of taxes. In other words, it makes more sense to invest in solar power for my house than to invest my money in stocks or bonds!

Global Warming Absorber (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#20376913)

I wonder how much sunlight would have to be absorbed by power cells instead of all being converted to heat by the usual materials that currently absorb it, before it makes any dent in the increase in global warming.

Re:Global Warming Absorber (1)

fizzup (788545) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377021)

A handwaving argument based on conservation of energy and positive entropy shows that any light not reflected by the Earth's surface winds up as heat in the end. The less reflective the surface of the Earth, the warmer it needs to be to radiate the energy. Therefore, if PV cells are more absorptive than the land or water they cover, they will raise the Earth's temperature. I estimate that the effect is small.

Global Warming Reliever (1)

cyfer2000 (548592) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377055)

No matter which way the sun light goes, it ends up as heat and radiate back to the universe in the infrared spectrum. And there are some molecules like CO2, CH4 and water can absorb those infrared, so this is the green house effect. If there are too much CO2 in the air, we get too much heat preserved on our planet. But using photovoltaic, we can cut down the amount of CO2 we dumped into the atmosphere, so solar energy can reduce the green house effect. And relieve the so called global warming.

Solar cells increase global warming (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377065)

That has a nice irony about it.

It all ends up as heat anyway, and yes, you're absorbing more energy from the sun than you would be otherwise. The question is, is it more or less than the equivalent CO2 produced by conventional generation.

 

Re:Global Warming Absorber (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377307)

Hmm, solar panels are basically light frequency converters. They take light at a blue colour and convert it to electricity, which is then mostly converted to infrared and radiated to space in a different location. So, what will happen is that photo-voltaic cells in a desert will make the desert slightly colder and the urban area where it is used a little bit warmer.

Re:Global Warming Absorber (1)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377463)

> I wonder how much sunlight would have to be absorbed by power cells instead of all being converted to
> heat by the usual materials that currently absorb it, before it makes any dent in the increase in global warming.

Can't possibly help against GW.

1. Any heat converted to electricity will almost be converted to heat when the electricity is used. If the device doesn't directly convert it to heat it will convert it to comething (such as EM radiation) that will end up heating something else. Ya no canna repeal the laws of physics.

2. GW isn't a science problem anymore, it is a political/religious problem and thus immune to facts. The only 'solution' to GW is massive government intervention in the market and everyone's lives. i.e. Socialism. Any proposed solution that doesn't include the all important Socialism component will be instantly rejected by 100% of the GW Cult.

Presidential Memo To Slashdot: +1, Top Secret (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20376923)

By the power vested in my pedigree; college binge-drinking; and well-known cocaine use, I, George W. Bush, do hereby suspend the
the IP address of the infidel web site known as "Slashdot" until you disavow all energy sources EXCEPT oil.

Sincerely,
President-VICE Richard B. Cheney for "President" George W. Bush [whitehouse.org] .

Be Patriotic: Keep buying those SUVs and trucks.

Cheaper Grid-Tie Inverters && Better Stora (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20376981)

I have been looking into building a small solar electric system, the problem I came into was how to store the energy. A grid-tie inverter is not a cheap thing if you want to build a small system. The other problem is that in a battery array age and type of the batteries are important. (those Trojan 105s look like a decent battery though). I am more likely now to build an electric car and charge off an array (would be for around town I commute ~80 a day so no go for an electric rig until storage gets better). For now I suppose I will just get a few 6 volt batteries and run a 400w inverter for lights, fan, electric fence charger...

Why solar when there's wind? (1)

Loke the Dog (1054294) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377033)

Yay, google has coated its building with solar panels. Meanwhile, the wind blows freely over some farmers fields. But I guess spending all that money to impress some farmer just isnt worth it when you can impress anyone who visits Google HQ, even though wind power is actually a better way of generating electricity.

Re:Why solar when there's wind? (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377347)

Neither technology, taken alone, is adequate... but together, they make a VERY good team. The main benefit that solar has over wind is that you don't have to erect a tower.

As you probably know, trying to make power with wind is pretty useless unless you're 30 feet, 50 feet, or higher *above* nearby structures/trees/etc.. If you're in a city, there is no way you're going to get a permit to put a wind generator on top of a 50- or 100-foot tower in your back yard, but putting panels on your roof is no problem at all.

It's the grid that's the issue! (2, Interesting)

plawsy (174981) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377039)

Sure, PV modules don't convert all they see to useful electricity. Where they really shine (sorry) is that they generate that power AT THE POINT OF USE.

Look at the chart on p 8 (of 41) of this pdf from Lawrence Livermore National Labs [llnl.gov] .

Note that of the 38.2 quads (quadrillion BTUs) of electrical energy produced in the USA in 2002, fully 26.3 quads never get used! That's where the real power (sorry again) of solar is found.

Re:It's the grid that's the issue! (2, Informative)

plawsy (174981) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377101)

Here's an easier URL for the chart:

https://eed.llnl.gov/flow/02flow.php [llnl.gov]

"unsightly transmission lines" (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377137)

Nope - unsightly is a small scale NIMBY problem - the real grief they cause is the losses incurred due to transmission and the investment in step up/line/step down infrastructure (which costs a large amount of money to install and maintain).

1000 homes? (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377185)

Google is blanketing its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters with 9,212 solar panels, enough to light 1,000 homes
So how many "Google DataCenters" do 1000 homes equate to?

Transmission lines? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377223)

Solar power has to do with distribution lines (4kv-21kv), not transmission (60kv-750kv). And if there were no distribution lines no one would reap the rewards from the power company paying you for producing power. The effect of solar power is and will amost always be minimal.

The real question (1)

laplace_man (856560) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377249)

is if solar panel this days is able to produce enough energy to create another solar panel. Energy from PV is clean but what about process for producing solar panels? Is it clean ? It's the same story with electric cars...etc. Just think !

100k houses per annual Iraq war. (1, Interesting)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377263)

I did a napkin calculation a year or so ago and at that time, you could give 100k houses free 1.5mw solar power (with inverters, trackers, and batteries) each year for the cost of the Iraq war.

Sounds like a lot- but it's really not.

However... the price is dropping. At some point very soon- you could give 1 million houses free solar power each year. And then they question is why are we wasting blood and treasure in a foreign land.

OTH- I think that solar will not get much cheaper than oil for a long time.

If solar is cheaper, the producers, or the government will be more likely to take extra profits or taxes. So if oil power is $2 bucks a unit, then solar power is going to be roughly $2 bucks per unit.

Re:100k houses per annual Iraq war. (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20377401)

Even ignoring the war, we pay a TON of money on an ongoing basis in military budgets to protect the oil assets in the Middle East. By spending on solar, wind, or other renewable generation inside the country instead, we could break even *at worst*.

The math doesn't make sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20377475)

The article states "...prices still have fallen about 90% since the mid-1980s -- 40% annually the past five years...".

This doesn't make much sense.

Let's say that 5 years ago, it cost $1.00 to create a particular amount of electricity via solar.

Now, if that falls 40% per year, we have

Year 1: $0.60
Year 2: $0.36
Year 3: $0.216
Year 4: $0.1296
Year 5: $0.07776

So that would mean a ~92% reduction in cost per watt in the last 5 years alone. I doubt that production cost was stagnant from the mid-1980s until 5 years ago. Given that these numbers are apparently from the same source, and apparently in conflict, I don't trust either of them.
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