Powering the World with Solar

AreaRequired1000Solar panels take space, but just how much land area would need to be covered with solar panels to provide 100% of this planet’s power needs (including transportation)?  The answer is pretty surprising, as the image here shows (click on it for a larger version).  It helps show just how much energy the sun is sending our way, and what a small percentage of that is actually required to power our civilization.

There’s still a matter of energy storage with solar panels, but I wonder, if long range transmission efficiency could be boosted to the point where we have a global power grid?  The sun is always shining on about half the planet…if that power could be transmitted to the dark side of the planet, there would be no need to store electricity.  Nikola Tesla suggested that just such a system could be possible.  The drawbacks are obvious though…it would be difficult or even impossible to employ Tesla’s system in a way that would allow companies to control who uses that energy.  The business model falls apart, sadly, and we live in a world controlled by business and profit.

(image credit)

Energy payback of solar (PV) panels

Does the production of solar panels require more energy than the panels will produce in their lifetime?  That’s a question you may hear now and again, especially when talking to those who aren’t really on board with this whole clean energy idea.  So, time to set the record straight.  There’s a great article over at Care2.com that addresses just this subject.  The bottom line is that depending on what technology of panel you’re talking about, the energy payback point (they’ve produced as much energy as it took to manufacture the panel) is from one to four years.  Check out the full link above if you want all the details.

Low(er) cost solar

The cost of solar/PV energy production continues its sharp decline…with the latest advancement being a California company named RSI that has found a way to produce large thin film PV modules at about one third less cost than current technology.  This cost target wasn’t expected to be reached by the industry until 2017…and RSI plans to deliver modules in 2014.  The industry is seeing lots of steps like this in both energy production and storage…things are changing fast and that bodes well for our future and the future of this planet…the big question is how quickly clean energy can be implemented and CO2 emissions eliminated…

via CleanTechnica

Apple’s Data Centers 100% powered by renewable energy

Apple has reached a cool milestone…their data centers, historically facilities of massive power consumption, are now powered by 100% renewable energy!  It has accomplished this by building large solar arrays, building a fuel cell power plant, and also purchasing renewable energy credits from its energy suppliers.  It’s not just good for the environment…the more a company can rely on already-installed solar panels, the more predicable (and lower) operating costs become over the life of those panels.  It just makes good business sense, if you can afford the initial investment.

Abu Dhabi now home to the world’s largest Concentrated Solar Power Plant

shams-1-21-537x331The world’s largest concentrated solar power plant has been switched on in Abu Dhabi recently.  At a cost of about $600 million, it covers almost a square mile and will generate enough electricity to power around 20,000 homes.

Read more at inhabitat.

Don’t expect this ‘world’s largest’ title to last though.  California will soon be home to some mega-plants, each powering around 100,000 homes (though not expected to be operational until 2016).

Small-scale investing in solar

Interested in investing in solar, but at a smaller level than some multi-megawatt facility?  Then check out Mosaic.  I’m not affiliated with them and am not a current investor, but it’s a neat business model that I thought I’d pass along.  They treat your investment like a loan, to fund smaller scale solar energy projects.  Most projects listed are returning 4.5%, so it’s not some get rich quick scheme, but not a bad investment all in all.

Continual drop in solar energy prices – grid parity

Solar electricity is moving ever closer to grid parity, meaning the cost is comparable to existing grid supplies (coal, gas, etc).  This is a pretty significant milestone, as politics have failed (and will continue to do so) in substantially reducing CO2 emissions…but if solar becomes less expensive than fossil fuel electricity, market forces will take over where governments have failed.  A project in Spain recently achieved grid parity with a group of fourteen rooftop solar panel arrays, and in the US, a project by First Solar is producing at less cost than coal.  I think we’re moving into a new electricity marketplace, where people are going to start asking why we’re not looking at solar to cut costs, rather than asking why we should pay *more* for solar, as has been the case in past years.  I wouldn’t expect your utility bill to decrease though, as the gradual decommissioning of fossil fuel plants is not going to be cheap.  But, a big win for the environment – if we can move quickly enough on this.

Also in solar energy news, the world’s largest solar thermal plant, being built in California, recently passed a big test proving that it’s ready to enter commercial service.  Solar thermal technology is significant as the thermal energy it collects can be stored to provide energy when there’s a shortage of sunlight (cloudy days, or at night).