A couple of interesting solar stories this morning, as well as a new blog covering solar power. First, the new solar-focused blog by Paul Symanski. Paul has experience in the solar industry, and many of his early entries are concerned with solar energy economics:
From Paul’s first entry in May – There is No More Important Energy – he writes:
The Rate Crimes conversation centers on solar electric energy because of its importance to the future of our society: a society that is defined by electric energy as much as by the fuels that currently provide us mobility.
Solar electric energy has myriad advantages over the traditional fuels that provide us with electricity. Solar energy is plentiful, clean, immediate, proximate, distributed, mobile, scalable, unobtrusive, long-lived, durable, gathered, simple, safe, unassailable, independent, equitable, and profitable. And, like no other energy source, solar energy has the potential to become ubiquitous.
Solar energy is plentiful. Enough solar energy falls on the Earth in one hour to power the whole planet for an entire year. Resources for exothermic reactions (e.g. combustion, fission) diminish. As this occurs, these traditional fuel resources will no longer be able to meet our demand for energy. Energy generated by the photoelectric effect will supplant the traditional fuels.
Next, a pair of headline stories this morning about solar power:
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Utility officials announced plans Thursday to build a giant solar energy plant in the New Mexico desert in what is believed to be the largest such project in the nation.
The 92-megawatt solar thermal plant could produce enough electricity to power 74,000 homes, far exceeding the size of other solar plants in the United States. The largest solar thermal plant in operation now is about 70 megawatts, said Dave Knox, a spokesman for New Jersey-based NRG Energy, the company building and running the facility.
“This is larger than anything in existence in America so far today,” he said.
It will be similar in many respects to a steam plant, using the sun instead of fossil fuel to generate steam and produce electricity, said Michael Liebelson, president of NRG and chief of development for its low-carbon technologies.
I have been thinking a little about the intermittency issue. I wonder if you could have a natural gas tie-in, and whenever your thermal mass starts to cool off after the sun goes down, just keep it heated up with natural gas. I haven’t heard of this being incorporated into these solar thermal plants (although maybe it is?), but it seems to make sense to me. The capital costs would be higher, but you then have a plant that can run 24 hours a day – with solar contributing perhaps 2/3rds of the power. Of course if you have enough thermal mass, you could potentially keep the plant running overnight anyway before things cooled off to the point that you can no longer produce electricity.
[Note: A reader sent me a link to show that yes, someone has started to build a hybrid plant incorporating the elements I mentioned above: FPL Breaks Ground on First Hybrid Solar Plant]
The second story is from India:
India is about to publish eight climate “missions” to boost efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable development. “We hope that will be completed in the next few weeks,” said [Shyam] Saran [RR: Saran is special the climate envoy to Prime Minster Manmohan Singh]. One policy aim is to install about 20 gigawatts of solar power by 2020, he told Reuters.
“It’s around 20 gigawatts, that’s something we’ve been talking about.”
The world now produces about 14 gigawatts (GW) of solar power, about half of it added last year. Analysts said they want details of the Indian plan before hailing what would be a big lift to a small but burgeoning market.
Regular readers know that I am bullish on solar power in the long run. I think our long-term future will consist of electricity produced from solar, wind, geothermal, and nuclear (it is going to be a while before coal usage is substantially impacted) and liquid fuels produced from gasification and hydrocracked lipids. Even if we see lots of electric cars hitting the roads, we are going to continue to need liquid fuels for the airline industry and for long-haul trucking. Short term (say, the next 20 or 30 years) I still think fossil fuels will be our primary source of energy.