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Power Science Technology

DOE Shines $14M on Solar Energy Research 164

Posted by samzenpus
from the government-heliotrope dept.
coondoggie writes "Eleven university solar research projects aimed at developing advanced solar photovoltaic (PV) technology manufacturing processes and products got a $14 million boost today from the Dept. of Energy. Photovoltaic-based solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity, and are made of semiconductor materials similar to those used in computer chips. When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity."
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DOE Shines $14M on Solar Energy Research

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  • by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:14AM (#22737032)
    Once costs are the same as that of power from the grid then people will use this. It will help the environment and energy security. The only worry is that peak power production will still have to deal with night-time demand. We need to look at efficient, cheap energy storage.
    • by cyberon22 (456844)
      Wasn't Gore proposing this back before 2008?

      What was the US deficit on oil between 2000 and 2008 anyway?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Wasn't Gore proposing this back before 2008?

        Funny enough, Bush proposed this back in 2001 [whitehouse.gov], right after he took office. But everybody was so upset that Bush and Cheney would talk with oil companies when drafting an energy.
        Yet another case where Bush did a lot but nobody noticed, like aid for Africa [time.com].

        • by aurispector (530273) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @08:33AM (#22737748)
          $14 million? A whole $14 MILLION? Gosh, I didn't think that much money existed in the whole world! Wow! All our problems are solved! Thank goodness the government is stepping in to save us! FOURTEEN MILLION DOLLARS!!!!!

          You know, I've tried to be objective when evaluating Bush and his aid to africa package did not escape my notice. Unfortunately the TRILLIONS that will be spent on the iraq war make everything else pale in comparison. Especially when toilet paper is worth more than the dollar. My kids will be paying for this and I happen to love my kids. Right now I'm fucking pissed off. Thanks, George! And I'm a conservative!

          $14 Million my ass.
          • by jo42 (227475) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @09:37AM (#22738318) Homepage
            $14 million is barely over an hour of the cost of the US occupation of Iraq: senate.gov [senate.gov]
            • Damn you beat me to this. But yea, 1 Hour! Really, I think that in times of war, government agencies should have to report budget numbers in war hours. That would really put things in perspective for all those people who like to complain about relatively insignificant things like welfare moms and government officials spending $80,000 on prostitutes [wikipedia.org] ( ~20 secs of Iraq war time! ). Those are definitely a waste of taxpayer money, but there isn't even a comparison to be made to money being thrown away in unnece
              • It was his own $80,000. He should have gone to the Bunny Ranch or Amsterdam.

                When I was stationed in the Philippines the DoD paid to provide health screening for the Pros off-base. $5 for 1/2 hour in the back room or $15 to take her home. Much better prices!
          • There is a new book out-- "The Three Trillion Dollar War".

            Basically.. the cost of supporting all the injured vets (who are surviving some pretty horrific injuries compared to past wars) and other cleanup type activities means this war is going to cost us 3 trillion.

            I think they are going to stiff the vets for their benefits personally. That's what they usually do.
          • And yet I get the feeling you voted for him twice...
          • by jmerelo (216716)
            That's exactly peanuts. A single integrated project (IP) in the European Union 7th framework program would get about that amount of money.
        • by Jeremi (14640)
          Funny enough, Bush proposed this back in 2001, right after he took office. But everybody was so upset that Bush and Cheney would talk with oil companies when drafting an energy. Yet another case where Bush did a lot but nobody noticed

          What exactly has Bush done to promote renewable energy? Simply writing a proposal doesn't count as doing anything. Hell, in his 2000 campaign Bush promised that he would put carbon emissions caps in place to stop global warming. Time and experience has shown that Bush's wor

    • by Aglassis (10161) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:35AM (#22737088)

      Once costs are the same as that of power from the grid then people will use this. It will help the environment and energy security. The only worry is that peak power production will still have to deal with night-time demand. We need to look at efficient, cheap energy storage.
      I think the first solution should be to rush into production the superconducting electric grid part of the Grid 2030 project. Being able to efficiently transport power across the country would significantly increase the stability of the electric grid which would allow more solar and other renewable energy projects to come online. This would also be a lot cheaper efficiency-wise and capital-wise than the massive civil engineering projects that will be required for pumped storage [wikipedia.org]. It would also give a lot more flexibility in the use of peaking plants for nighttime use. Until an efficient electric grid is implemented where you can easily and economically transport electricity thousands of kilometers (such as with a high voltage DC grid or a superconducting electric grid) you are still going to need tons of local peaking plants and your renewable energy plants (excluding hydropower) are only going to occasionally cut into the load of your base load plants which will make them less economical. The Albany superconducting line seems to be working well so it is time that a larger system is implemented.
      • World Grid? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chrisq (894406)
        Of course a superconducting world grid could solve the problem of darkness at night-time. I would imagine that we are half a century off this technically and who knows how far off politically though.
        • by Culture20 (968837)
          Infinitely far off. If any sovereign nation relied on "the World Grid", they wouldn't be sovereign long.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hcdejong (561314)
        A superconducting grid would be nice, but (assuming current-day superconductors which require liquid nitrogen for cooling) is decidedly nontrivial to build and maintain. Copper/aluminium wire can easily be strung between towers. A superconducting wire has to be enclosed by the cooling medium, making the 'cable' assembly unwieldy and I suspect putting the assembly underground becomes the only option.

        There's also the failure modes to consider: losing the cooling probably means the wire will melt.
        • by MightyYar (622222)
          I wonder if the hydrogen economy ever comes to pass... if they will be able to run superconducting power lines through the hydrogen pipelines.
          • by hcdejong (561314)
            Brilliant. If the power line fails, then the surrounding hydrogen will explode.
            • by MightyYar (622222)
              Well, you would need some oxygen...

              But I agree - there would need to be a lot of engineering to make it safe. Perhaps they could just run it alongside the pipeline - at a safe distance - and run taps of liquid hydrogen over periodically. My point is that if you have ubiquitous liquid hydrogen, perhaps superconductors become more feasible. It's colder than liquid nitrogen, though not as cold as liquid helium.
      • I think the first solution should be to rush into production the superconducting electric grid part of the Grid 2030 project

        I don't think this is realistic with current technology (although I haven't been keeping an eye on what is state of the art).

        Superconductors are limited in the amount of current they can carry. IIRC high temperature superconductors are particularly poor in this respect as well as not forming very good wires. But liquid He is so expensive, rare, and energy costly to produce that "normal
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Aglassis (10161)

          I think the first solution should be to rush into production the superconducting electric grid part of the Grid 2030 project

          I don't think this is realistic with current technology (although I haven't been keeping an eye on what is state of the art).

          Superconductors are limited in the amount of current they can carry. IIRC high temperature superconductors are particularly poor in this respect as well as not forming very good wires. But liquid He is so expensive, rare, and energy costly to produce that "normal" temperature superconductors aren't going to be efficient either.

          Tim.

          The Albany Project [energy.gov] (pdf) used a high temperature superconductor that was cooled with liquid nitrogen and the cable was able to carry a significant load (several times higher than that of conventional high voltage cables).

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by kcdoodle (754976)
        The grid has very low losses.
        Even over long distances, the losses are only around 2-3%.
        Given that 2-3% is actually a very large amount of energy, it still would not justify the energy (and dollar) losses of maintaining a super conducting grid.

        Huge mass production of cheap, fairly efficient solar cells could might all of the worlds energy problems.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Well - photovoltaics is excellent for powering air conditioning and offices. Maybe there is a business model here: Sell excess power to a storage company that stores the energy, and then sells it back at a slight premium at night? I think that may very well be more cost-effective compared to installing large battery capacity in each house (consider unused storage capacity).
      • by necro81 (917438) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @09:16AM (#22738118) Journal
        Another business model is to do energy-intensive things at night, when electricity is cheapest. A local school district, in their new elementary school, has an AC system that produces huge amounts of ice overnight, then uses that to produce cool air during the day. I believe some high-rises are starting to do this, too, because the cost of electricity for cooling during peak hours of the day is exceptionally high. More large buildings would probably do this, but are too short-sighted to see that a larger capital expenditure up front can be cheaper over the long haul.
      • That business would be doomed to fail. Selling the power back at night? The price is lowest at night and hign durring the daytime. Air conditioning is the magor user of power. Solar power works well because you get the most power just when it is needed, on hot sunny days.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      look into beacon power systems...

      they're making large flywheel systems to store off peak power to release during peak demand... DOE funding them too.

      • by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @07:32AM (#22737472)
        Who modded this down? This is a genuine aid to small short-term variations. See beacon power [beaconpower.com]. I am not sure that such technologies could cope with day/night fluctuations though, for these long period variations probably pump storage hydroelectric [wikipedia.org] may be better. They are probably complementary technologies, as it takes a pump-storage plant about a minute to reach full load from stand-still, or 15 seconds from "hot standby", where the turbines are kept spinning under zero load.
    • We need to look at efficient, cheap energy storage.
      well the night-time consumption drops off quite a bit, especially on residential circuits so that helps quite a bit, so I'm going to say something most with bristle at at first and that's screw efficiency and go for cheap. I think the good old NiFe battery [wikipedia.org] is the way to go. This is a really good battery to hook-up to keep you off the grid, it's cheap, tolerant of abuse and long-lived, it's not good for large surge current or at cold temperates so it will no
    • by dasunt (249686)

      Once costs are the same as that of power from the grid then people will use this. It will help the environment and energy security.

      Does anyone have the numbers for heavy metal pollution from the manufacture & disposal of PVs?

  • by kaos07 (1113443) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:18AM (#22737038)
    $14 million spread across 11 universities = $1.27 million dollars. It is definitely a start but when you compare it to the $2 billion the DOE was going to spend in developing new rural coal plants you have to ask where their priorities lie.
    • by patio11 (857072) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:27AM (#22737074)
      It would appear that their priorities lie in "generating cheap, reliable power", something which has not happened with solar despite us being "really close now!" for the last 25 years and billions in federal R&D. ($159 million in 2007 alone.)

      The Department of Energy estimates that, in 15 years, America will get a whopping 2-3% of its electricity generation from solar power. It isn't hard to understand why: it is expensive, the technology takes a stupidly long time to go energy-positive (and longer to achieve ROI), and solar is and *always will be* hostage to weather conditions which make it impossible to as a main power source in the overwhelming majority of this country.

      If you want cheap energy, go coal. If you want cheap clean energy, go nuclear. If you want the undying love of people who understand neither engineering or economics and are not willing to learn either, go solar.
      • by kaos07 (1113443) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @06:03AM (#22737198)

        If you want cheap energy, go coal

        The cost of setting up a plant is hardly "cheap" and what happens when coal becomes scarce? It IS a finite resource - unlike the sun.

        If you want cheap clean energy, go nuclear.

        Once again the cost of setting up a nuclear power plant is in the billions. Fissile materials are also finite, when they begin to run out we'll see huge increases in price. See the case of oil now.

        I also take issue with your point that nuclear energy is "green". Even if we say that plants are entirely safe (Which seems to be the Slashdot consensus) there are many other issues. First of all, what does one do with the waste? Plutonium 239, the most common material used, has a half life of 24,000 years. That's longer than civilisation has so far existed. None of our current methods of storing waste are viable and many have been proven useless.

        http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0606/S00198.htm [scoop.co.nz]

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/cumbria/4589321.stm [bbc.co.uk]

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7068041.stm [bbc.co.uk]

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/jul/18/japan.justinmccurry1 [guardian.co.uk]

        http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003816157_webhanfordleak01.html?syndication=rss [nwsource.com]

        Let's not forget the insane amounts of energy required to both commission a plant, continually mine and transport uranium and then decommission it.

        I don't understand how you can argue that replacing our dependence on finite resource that pollutes the environment with another finite resource that pollutes the environment is a good thing. I suggest you read the recently commission Garnaut Review (Professor Ross Garnaut is an economist at the Australian National University) which states that nuclear is a non-viable option and the world must develop renewable sources of energy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garnaut_Report [wikipedia.org]. Or the Stern review (also made by an economist) which reaches a similar conclusion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_Review [wikipedia.org]. I do believe these two in particular have a broader depth of knowledge surrounding economics than you do.

        • by polar red (215081)

          Even if we say that plants are entirely safe (Which seems to be the Slashdot consensus)
          _I_ don't agree with that. entirely safe is just not technologically possible i think, even the most tiny screw can fail. And even if there's a 99.999% safety level, there will still be a one-in-a-million chance on a major meltdown. Anyone wanna calculate the cost on that ? It is no coincidence that you can't get insurance on a nuclear plant.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by kaos07 (1113443)

            Sorry, I guess I wasn't clear.

            I personally do not believe they are safe but I have noticed that whenever this is brought up on Slashdot dozens of posts are sent in reply claiming that nuclear has "Come so far" since Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island and "nothing like that could ever happen again". Instead of getting bogged down on whether or not a nuclear power plant is likely to go into meltdown I thought it was better to stick to the inarguable facts.

            • by polar red (215081)
              you were clear, and i agree completely with you - my comment wasn't meant as an attack on you, more on the people who just swallow the nuclear industries' PR.
            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              I personally do not believe they are safe but I have noticed that whenever this is brought up on Slashdot dozens of posts are sent in reply claiming that nuclear has "Come so far" since Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island and "nothing like that could ever happen again"

              It always amazes me how people stick to that line of reasoning. I hope they realize that there are _still_ RBMK reactors (Chernobyl-type) operating today in Russia. Some of them had accidents with partial core meltdown in the past (The "Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant").

            • by dasunt (249686)

              It is ironic that you have to site 3 Mile Island as an "unsafe" nuclear reactor.

              With the amount of radiation that was vented to the outside, and using the (probably vastly overestimating) linear regression model, it is predicted to result in one death.

              There are under a thousand coal power plants in the US. They are estimated to cause about 24,000 deaths a year [msn.com]. That's over 240 deaths per plant per year! But with current technology, almost 22,000 deaths a year would be preventable. Which means tha

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by baker_tony (621742)
          > First of all, what does one do with the waste? Plutonium 239, the most common material used, has a half life of 24,000 years. That's longer than civilisation has so far existed. None of our current methods of storing waste are viable and many have been proven useless.

          What?! You're on Slashdot and you're not thinking "hmm, wonder what will happen with technology in the future?".

          Do you seriously think that in the next 24,000 years of human science we WON'T come up with a solution to handle nuclear wa

        • by sabaco (92171) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @07:48AM (#22737526) Homepage Journal
          Check out Integral Fast Reactors. They are passively safe (they can't go into meltdown, even if the entire system fails, because the reaction slows down as the temperature increases), they use several orders of magnitude less fuel, and work perfectly well getting fuel as un-enriched uranium or thorium or even depleted uranium and normal nuclear waste (which means that they easily have more than 3000 times as much fuel available as the light water reactors that are currently most common), and they produce orders of magnitude less nuclear waste (on the order of 200 times less) which also has a half life in the range of 200 years (instead of thousands of years). Oh, and did I mention that waste is treated on site, rather than being shipped to some distant storage facility? They are still considered experimental because the only one to operate in the US was canceled because of pressure by John Kerry (thanks a lot) after operating for 30 of the planned 35 years. The only reason that IFRs weren't considered competitive with light water reactors is because waste disposal is essentially free for utilities. (The cost of operations outweighs the improvement in fuel efficiency, but not the real cost of waste disposal.)

          We should be building some of those, not more of the current (ancient) reactor designs.
          • I have a worry of thermal pollution with nuke plants though. Hasn't there been numerous times where the water used for coolant has been too hot for the plant to use as coolant? That heat energy put into rivers has to go somewhere and I'd imagine evaporation can only do so much based on humidity and air temperature.
          • by Bryansix (761547)

            They are still considered experimental because the only one to operate in the US was canceled because of pressure by John Kerry (thanks a lot)

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_Fast_Reactor [wikipedia.org]

            Sen. John Kerry (D, MA) and O'Leary led the opposition to the reactor, arguing that it would be a threat to non-proliferation efforts, and that it was a continuation of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project that had been canceled by Congress.

            Great, one more reason to despise John Kerry. Didn't the moron unders

        • by Alioth (221270)
          Plutonium reacts just fine in a power reactor designed to use it. Instead of burying the Pu, use it in a reactor.
      • by mhalagan (1078415) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @06:39AM (#22737312)
        As far as the USA is concerned, weather is not as large a factor as it is made out to be.

        Considering that Germany(the solar capital of the world) recieves roughly the same amount of sunlight as Seattle. Almost all of the USA could take advantage of solar energy.

        Also the average home in the USA recieves enough sunlight on its roof to power itself for 2-3 days worth of energy consumption. (assuming the sunlight was harnessed)

      • How are you defining price?

        If the global warming people are right (and they're somewhere in the ballpark) then the cost of coal power will be "all the major cities of the world".

        Not what I'd call "cheap".

    • by Dachannien (617929) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:37AM (#22737100)
      I agree, inasmuch as any money invested in non-oil power and fuels (even sequestered-carbon coal technologies) is bound to have some significant returns to the public, given where oil prices are headed (some estimate $125/bbl oil in the near future). However, there's a big difference between research at the academic level and actual development. $2 billion may seem like a lot of money, but when you're actually building power plants, it doesn't go that far, while $1.27 million for a small university-based research team is quite a prize (and many groups wouldn't be able to spend tens of millions of dollars on pure research even if you offered it to them).

      Still, we can only hope that these groups meet with quick success and that their work can be brought into development in the near future (not to mention the various other power sources that are much farther along).
    • by ILongForDarkness (1134931) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @07:31AM (#22737466)
      Exactly my thoughts. 1.27M per research group will be about enough to setup a lab and run it for 1-2 years. Yippy. They might be able to buy enough solar cells to power there computers :)

      There is a big push to use coal power because the US has so much natural reserves of the stuff and it will help develop the some of the areas of the country that currently have little job prospects. I think the worry with solar is that you'd find a great way to manufacture the cells, but then all the manufacturing would go overseas. Less US jobs created + you still don't have energy independence.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by cpricejones (950353)
      Yes, clearly 14 million dollars amounts to very little. If the DOE was interested in getting off oil and other nonrenewable resources, they would clearly put more money (billions) into solar energy.

      Then again, it's going to take nonrenewable resources to fund the research on solar energy ... the DOE being the greatest department, knows this of course. Brilliant!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HangingChad (677530)

      It is definitely a start but when you compare it to the $2 billion the DOE was going to spend in developing new rural coal plants you have to ask where their priorities lie.

      Or maybe I should call it chimp change. 14 million when you're talking about a nation dependent on a line of oil tankers that stretches half-way around the world and pumps billions of dollars a day into one of the most oppressive governments on the planet. A country that just happens to supply the bulk of working terrorists in the wo

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by afidel (530433)
      Another way to look at it is that it's equivilant to one hour and ten minutes in Iraq. Yep, we are spending a little over $12M per HOUR in Iraq! oil's pretty freaking expensive, isn't it.
    • by dave562 (969951)
      Did you read the article? It does a really good job of detailing the exact projects that the $14 million is being invested in. Having skimmed the article, it seems like the DOE is throwing money at projects that are already well on their way and could use some extra cash to get to the next level. In addition, this is just a single infusion of $14 million into the realm of solar power. There could easily be another $14 million next year, and again the year after that.

      While I agree that this is chump chan

  • When the solar energy knocks those electrons loose, they travel out into the power grid, but unless there is some way to replenish those electrons, we're looking at a dwindling amount of electrons in the substrate. Normally, the additional electrons would be supplied via an electron-rich compound such as water or liquid mercury, but these advanced solar panels are turning solar energy directly into electrical energy, so there can't possibly be any extra electron replenishment without significant reduction i
    • This issue was solved long ago:

      $ fortune -m "electron buildup"

      Electricity is actually made up of extremely tiny particles, called electrons, that you cannot see with the naked eye unless you have been drinking. Electrons travel at the speed of light, which in most American homes is 110 volts per hour. This is very fast. In the time it has taken you to read this sentence so far, an electron could have traveled all the way from San Francisco to Hackensack, New Jersey, although God alone knows why it wo

      • by Thanshin (1188877)
        Actually, the electron loss is very useful in the production of ChargedMilk(tm).

        ChargedMilk(tm) has between twice and three times the electrons of normal milk. A single 10ml bottle ($69.99) will cover 13% of your daily intake of electrons.
  • by bhima (46039) * <Bhima.Pandava@NOspaM.gmail.com> on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:23AM (#22737062) Journal
    I'm a fairly ecologically minded guy and I do think we need to develop energy sources which don't have us polluting or dealing with unsavory governments. However I question the wisdom of backing specific technologies over others. I think it would better to simply remove all the subsidies on coal mining and coal burning power plants. And then punitively tax ecologically unsound processes or activities. This will bring a parity to energy costs also and it removes the artificial motivations to pursue inferior technologies and cling to outdated ones.
    • by Gauchito (657370)
      I second that. Federal involvement should be focused on correcting the market failure in pricing oil/coal/etc. The price of those commodities correctly accounts for their scarcity, but there's no scarcity of allowable emissions, so they are undervalued (of course, current subsidies further distort this, but even without them, our current lifestyles would still be too cheap). Essentially, by currently burning them at existing prices, we're borrowing money at an unknown rate (because we can't precisely val
  • $14M? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bo'Bob'O (95398) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:38AM (#22737104)
    People spend more on their houses then that, and this is what our country spends on it? Photovoltaics might not be a silver bullet, but there are millions of rooftops that could be taking the edge off of our demand for energy, a demand that helps fuel the conflicts in the middle east, and we spend less money for a year on research then two hours on Iraq? $14M isn't news. Tell me when that M is a B.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BlackPignouf (1017012)
      As you said, photovoltaics is surely not a silver bullet, for the simple fact that there isn't any.
      Actually, the only one that we could have would be the Negawatts obtained from energy savings here and there.

      Anyway, solar energy appears to be the only scalable renewable energy source. You sure cannot obtain 100% of electricity production from it, but after some energy savings, 50% nukes + 50% solar panels could be a possibility for most countries.
      It is just impossible to obtain more than a few % with either
      • by polar red (215081)

        is just impossible to obtain more than a few % with either biomass, hydropower, windpower or geothermal sources.
        your SOURCE on that ?
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by BlackPignouf (1017012)

          your SOURCE on that ?

          Well, mostly :
          - the amount of PWh needed
          - some common sense
          - and the research center [zafh.net] I work in.

          I guess it's still not enough for you, so:
          - hydropower is at its peak in many countries (e.g. in the EU) and comes with some massive environmental drawbacks (e.g. "Three Gorges Dam").
          - biomass is surely interesting, but should not put more pressure on food supply chain and should be almost carbon-neutral. In Germany, customers already need to import wood pellets from Italy and France in good ol' diesel tr

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by polar red (215081)

            - windpower provides between 2 to 5 times as less GWh/(km.year) as photovoltaics panels.

            errr... right, I'll try to understand what you mean: You're saying that per square km, the amount of energy produced is 2 to 5 times lower ? That's totally irrelevant. In current state of tech, windpower is one of the cheapest available. People say it is intermittent (it is NOT... more on that later) so let's assume max 20% of energy production wind : that's still 20% CO2 reduced ? right ?

            Plus, you cannot use it right next to where it's needed.

            huh ??? there's a thing called 'Electrical wiring'
            On intermittent availability : Wind 'turns' around high and low-pres

            • 1. Yes, you got it right. Sorry for the km that should have been a km^2. I do think it *is* relevant that you got 5 times more energy for a given surface with photovoltaics. And yes, some % from windpower are always better than nothing, but once again, it won't have a big impact on the whole energy mix.
              For example, Germany and Danemark have the 2nd and 3rd worst value of gCO2/kWh of all the European Union, even though they have around 20% (power peak) of installed windpower. Those 20% only accounts for 6%
              • by polar red (215081)

                e energy mix would have a severe impact on our visual environment.
                anyone saying that has no right to use the highway. or trains. or a house. or ...
  • Meanwhile ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by daveime (1253762)
    Meanwhile, in other news, the cost of the war in Iraq is approximately $275 million USD per DAY. http://www.nationalpriorities.org/costofwar_home [nationalpriorities.org]

    So that $14 million is about an hour and a halfs worth of investment, on one of the technologies that would stop us having to fight any more "wars for oil" ever again.

    Makes you think ...
  • by ruinevil (852677) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @07:30AM (#22737462)
    Solar and wind, as they are now anyways, will never be stable energy sources, they are too dependent on the other variables, like the weather. Nations need a constant baseline of energy that solar and wind cannot provide reliably. Solar and wind are useful for summer days or the Super Bowl, when energy use goes above our usual baseline. We need to do more research in one of two fields, increase energy efficiency, so we have a lower baseline, and research cleaner, renewable, but most importantly reliable energy sources. I think, right now, nuclear is our best bet for that.
    • by kaos07 (1113443)
      Please provide evidence that nuclear is "clean" and "renewable".
      • Please provide evidence that it is not. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your point, and I am not trying to be combative; however, it's silly to ask someone to provide evidence for something that you won't/don't provide yourself, even if you think the topic is so obvious that no evidence need be provided.

        Personally, I'd like to see evidence based on new and modern (past 10 years) research and implementations, not pictures of mutants from Chernobyl, etc or anecdotes from Three Mile Island. It seems li

      • by neomunk (913773) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @08:46AM (#22737840)
        Lesee.... It's clean because if you stand a mile or so from the materials used you won't notice any negative effects. And... (this one's harder) umm... oh, it's renewable in the sense that if we get hit with a stellar core fragment from some supernova somewhere it will renew our supply of fuel...(?)

        Yeah, that's the ticket. :-D
        • by clonan (64380)
          Actually, uranium is a renewable resource for all practicle purposes...

          Uranium is actually fairly abundant, it is found in trace amounts in most soils and is actually fairly high in sea water.

          All the math suggests that the uranium dissolivng into sea water will more than cover any we use for energy and continue to do this into the foreseeable future, especially if we start reprocessing the fuel. True there is a finite amount of Uranium in the earths crust and through our use as well as it's own native radi
        • by dasunt (249686)

          You can consider nuclear renewable because 1. the cost of fuel for a nuclear reactor makes up a tiny fraction of its budget, 2. at a higher cost, it becomes possible to extract nuclear fuel from seawater, 3. due to erosion and plate techtonics, minerals in the ocean are replaced.

          :p

          I'm not a huge fan of renewable though. If it lasts for even a hundred centuries and is clean, I think it is worth it.

      • Compared to fossil fuel technologies, how can you claim nuclear isn't clean? It doesn't kill tens of thousands of people per year due to particulate pollution and it doesn't spew tens of tons of U and Th ash into the atmosphere every year. Nuclear power from properly designed [wikipedia.org] reactors is about as clean as you can get. 1/100 the amount of waste, with a needed isolation time of centuries rather than eons, and full utilization of the fuel's potential rather than the pitiful 2-5% acheived by most present reacto
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Solar and wind, as they are now anyways, will never be stable energy sources, they are too dependent on the other variables, like the weather.

      That's why the solar installation needs to be above the weather (in orbit). A solar satellite would receive solar radiation about three times as intense as on the surface, and would never be affected by adverse weather conditions.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Which is nice in theory, but the energy cost of putting an installation in orbit tends to make the already-unattractive ROI for solar completely unacceptable.

        We need space elevators for cheap orbital lift. :)
      • by dgatwood (11270)

        No, that's why solar installations need to be geographically distributed. If everyone had PVs on their rooftops, regional weather wouldn't be a significant problem. Well, you'd also need to have a bunch out in the middle of the desert to get the distribution reasonably even, but you get the idea.

        As for the cost of PV cells versus the grid, it depends on where you live. Here in CA, much of my power is billed at $0.33 per kW*hr. At that rate, solar is a fraction of the cost. It pays for itself in somew

    • by bkr1_2k (237627) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @09:48AM (#22738444)
      Why do people seem to keep assuming a "one size fits all" solution when these subjects come up? If we individually moderate our consumption (yes I understand that's not very likely to happen) and we incorporate several forms of renewable technology we will reduce our dependence on non-renewables drastically. Each house in the US could be retrofitted with a reasonable solar array for something like $50k. That won't solve all the owner's power needs, but it will put a large dent in them.

      Combine that with geothermal heat pumps that drive a radiant heating system (preferably built into the floors for maximum efficiency) and some wind power (a few small wind generators won't do too much damage to the local environment but can help a little bit) and some heat recovery methods built into the plumbing of the house and most people will reduce power consumption by as much as a third or even half since most of our energy usage actually comes from heating a house or water for our personal comfort.

      Solar doesn't have to be the "silver bullet" that so many opponents use as a reason not to fund it. It just has to be part of the solution.
      • by sherriw (794536)
        Thank you! Wow, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who gets this concept. Exactly, it's not all or nothing!
    • by sadtrev (61519)

      Solar and wind, as they are now anyways, will never be stable energy sources

      They don't have to be stable to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We have adequate weather forecasting to allow wind and sunshine to be predicted. We have the technology, but seemingly not the political will, to integrate a lot more clean generation capacity than we do, into an advanced national grid.

      Whilst we're burning coal when its sunny in Arizona or windy in Maine, then these baseline arguments are irrelevant.

  • by Jameson Burt (33679) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @09:25AM (#22738210)
    As I recall, 60% of all the world's solar energy is being generated in Germany.
    So, rather than look around the U.S., one should see how Germany harnesses solar energy.
    Two technologies have made solar technologies much less expensive.
    1. Solar concentrators.
          When sunlight hits a solar energy device,
          that device needn't convert immediately to electricity or heat.
          Split the use of solar energy into two steps,
          a. Concentrate/divert the solar light with what looks like a mirror
                or microwave antenna, but several meters in diameter.
          b. Focus the solar mirror onto your solar energy converter;
                essentially our solar cells of today, but able to withstand
                large amounts of solar energy.
          Producing solar mirrors is far less expensive than producing solar panels.
          This concentrator method is being claimed by some Israelis.
          They claim that 3 such concentrators save enough energy costs
          to construct a new concentrator in 3 years,
          thereby bootstrapping the economics of constructing solar concentrators.

    2. Thin solar panels.
          Thin is cheaper than thick.
          Germans have developed this technology.

    Germany is one of the last places you'd expect to have half the world's solar power.
    From the same solar setup, you can get about twice as much energy near the equator
    (eg, Israel) than in high latitude Germany.
    Indeed, if we covered the Sahara Desert with solar panels,
    we would produce as much energy as used by the whole world.

    People on this blog mention that solar energy isn't storable.
    But everything on earth is the result of solar energy
    -- previous stars exploded to produce uranium and all the other elements besides hydrogen,
    oil and coal are sunlight stored in carbon chains.
    Which storage method used by nature could we use ourselves?
    We could heat water then store it underground,
    we could create carbon chains like oils,
    we could move Sysiphus proverbial rock (or water) uphill then retrieve it downhill.
    Dams once provided much of America's energy,
    and now solar energy could move lake or sea water up into dams for later use.
    If we go to mostly battery driven cars,
    100 million big car batteries can store a great deal of solar energy.
    Solar energy can be stored;
    but perhaps the greatest technological challenge is not the acquisition of solar energy,
    rather the storage of this energy.
  • by swm (171547) <swmcd@world.std.com> on Thursday March 13, 2008 @11:05AM (#22739324) Homepage
    In 1974 my 8th grade class went to Washington D.C.
    One day they took us to the Capitol, and after the obligatory tour, they turned us loose.
    In the Capitol. To look around. Really. It was a different world back then.

    Anyway, I picked a hearing room at random, wandered in, and sat down.
    This was during the first energy crisis, and someone was testifying to the committee about solar cells.
    He was explaining that just as advances in IC technology had brought down the cost of ICs,
    advances in the solar cell technology would bring down the cost of solar energy.

    It sounded plausible, but it was completely wrong.
    And for reasons that anyone testifying before congress should have understood.

    It costs a certain amount of money (~ $1K) to process a silicon wafer.
    We brought down the cost of ICs by making them smaller, so we get more of them for our $1K.
    But that trick doesn't work with solar cells.
    Solar cells collect photons over their surface.
    You can make one smaller, sure, but then it collects fewer photons and produces less energy.

    The only way to make solar cells cheaper is reduce the cost of the wafer and the processing,
    and that's *hard*.
    We've been working on it for 40 years,
    and they still aren't competitive with coal/oil/gas/nuclear powered electric generators. (~ $0.10/KW-hr)
    • by sherriw (794536) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:15PM (#22740144)
      You're looking at it wrong.

      Too often, the cost of energy is examined as just the $ that the consumer pays. By that measure, solar, is much more expensive than oil/coal/nuclear for example, and getting it below that cost may be close to impossible.

      But, that price of the coal/oil/nuclear is not the REAL price of that form of energy. Much of the costs are offloaded onto the environments they are drawn from in the form of damage and pollution. Other costs are offloaded onto the people who live where the resources are mined in the form of land loss and damage, and low wages.

      It is also offloaded as risk. Nuclear is cleaner, but you have greater risk. Risk of an attack/failure at the reactor, risk of what will happen to the waste for the next several thousand generations, risk with the radioactive fuel materials falling into the wrong hands. Etc. These may have higher or lower probabilities but they exist.

      So yes, coal/oil/nuclear are cheaper in dollars and cents, but not cheaper when you factor in the hidden costs to society as a whole.

      Moral of the story: as we move to cleaner energy sources in the future, the dollar cost may be higher, but there will be fewer hidden costs.
      • Just to play devils advocate,

        So yes, coal/oil/nuclear are cheaper in dollars and cents, but not cheaper when you factor in the hidden costs to society as a whole.

        Other than a good feeling for reducing hidden costs to society, how do you get people to pay more for power from solar or other renewables?

        I've heard the idea about taxing coal/oil ( not so much on nuclear ) but that seems prey to the will of the voter. Reducing subsidies for non-renewables has the same problem if it results in higher prices.

        I'd p

    • by amorsen (7485)

      It costs a certain amount of money (~ $1K) to process a silicon wafer.
      We brought down the cost of ICs by making them smaller, so we get more of them for our $1K.
      But that trick doesn't work with solar cells.
      Solar cells collect photons over their surface.
      You can make one smaller, sure, but then it collects fewer photons and produces less energy.
      Yes, this is why 50" TV's still cost $10,000.
    • by Mike_K (138858)
      Short answer: mirrors.

      What you are saying is that the cost of covering a certain area completely with solar cells will remain expensive because cost of basic materials (silicon wafers) remains high. The answer is that you don't need to cover an area completely - you can cover it with mirrors and shine a very powerful beam of light at a smaller solar cell. I'm sure there are limits to the rate of concentration, but better technology may give us higher limits.

      m
  • Piddling crap.
  • "YOU Pay For Solar Energy Research" (whether you wanted to or not).
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:37PM (#22740392) Homepage

    Last year, I heard a VP from Applied Materials give a talk on their solar panel operation. Applied Materials is a big, profitable company that makes a big fraction of the world's semiconductor and flat panel fab gear. Key points:

    • From their perspective as a semiconductor wafer fab equipment builder, this looks like a nice business. Their costs are going down, and the competition (oil, gas, etc.) has costs that are going up. The market is nowhere near saturation. They see big profits in the near future.
    • Charts of costs per watt vs time show a steady decline, like most other things in semiconductors. Their costs fell below other energy sources in very sunny areas around 2006-2007.
    • Half the installed cost of a solar system is installation. They need better technology at that end than "a guy with a pickup truck". They're working on panels that form roof, wall, or window sections, rather than just being bolt-ons.
    • Applied Materials is ready to build a "gigawatt fab", one that makes a gigawatt worth of panels a year. (One such fab could build enough panels to power most of Southern California's air conditioning load in a decade.)
    • Their solar technology is derived from their flat-panel display technology, where they make five square meters of panel at a time.
    • Applied Materials has much better quality control than many solar-only companies, because their technology is derived from IC and display fab, where the allowed defect level is very low. Their whole production process is heavily automated and monitored under tight software control, using Applied Materials software and sensors from semiconductor fab control.
    • It takes two years worth of energy output to pay back the energy used to make an Applied Materials solar panel. They think this can be brought down to six months worth of energy.
    • They bought a "roll to roll" process company because they think that approach might eventually be cheaper, but for now, the flat-panel like fab is better. They see R&D as steady process improvement, as with semiconductors. If somebody develops a breakthrough technology, they'll buy or license it and make it work in volume. If not, they'll continue to improve their processes.
    • Their business goal is to have 75% of the world's solar panels made by Applied Materials machinery.

    This was a big-company manufacturing executive talking. He never mentioned "green" or "eco" anything; he focused on volume and profitability. That's encouraging. This is finally happening for real.

What this country needs is a good five dollar plasma weapon.

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