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Power Earth Technology

What Gore Didn't Say About Solar Cells 574

Posted by timothy
from the there-would-be-this-large-ball-of-gas-in-space dept.
AmericanInKiev writes "Computer World posted a piece on Al Gore and his claim that solar cells will improve at the same rate as microprocessors. Vinod Khosla on the other hand has expressed disappointment that the doubling rate for price/performance of PV is 10 years rather than 18 months for transistors. Which of these two has the facts on their side?" Before anyone has him inventing the Internet again, note that Gore's claim as related in the article is much milder than that Moore's Law applies to solar cells per se -- namely, he's quoted as saying "We're now beginning to see the same kind of sharp cost reductions as the demand grows for solar cells." An optimistic statement, but not a flat-out silly one.
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What Gore Didn't Say About Solar Cells

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  • Here we Go.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by COMON$ (806135) * on Sunday July 27, 2008 @11:57PM (#24364015) Journal
    Queue the flamewar in 3...2....1....

    But to start us off on topic, is there any evidence that the cells will increase beyond their current 10% conversion rate?

    • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by AmericanInKiev (453362) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:10AM (#24364087) Homepage

      37% is available. Oh did I mention they cost 100 times as much ;)

      • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TornCityVenz (1123185) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:33AM (#24364201) Homepage Journal
        There is a lot of research going on into improving not only the output of solar but into lowering the cost of manufacturing them. Nanotechnologies have in lab tests have shown certain avenues of current research may have the ability to increase performance of basically existing tech by as much as 25%, sure they are a ways to go before any kind of mass production can be done with this research but it's there. Increaseing acceptance by the population as to the usefullness of the equipment will of course generate more investor dollars into this research, and frankly I'd much rather see this than more research into increaseing payload output of bombs. Some areas stil have much they could do to encourage the adoption of solar too. being able to sell engery to the grid rather than just offset the cost of what you bought for instance in California alone would be a boon to the industry.
        • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by AmericanInKiev (453362) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:41AM (#24364243) Homepage

          Given that we have technology like CSP using mirrors and standard steam turbines, What do you feel is the best balance between improving what has already proved functional, or dickering around with a test tube? I see MIT has dye-impregnated acrylic, you have an asbestos, er nanotech, based material and some theories, while the European are building real working Solar plants at Utility scale.

          I dunno, it just seems we're a bit heavy on the science experiments and little to slow on the Yankee Ingenuity these days.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Bazer (760541)

            I dunno, it just seems we're a bit heavy on the science experiments and little to slow on the Yankee Ingenuity these days.

            That's coming from a guy with a homepage on "WaveBlankets" [windwavesandsun.com].

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        what if you use that dye-acrylic stuff to distribute your light to the edge of the panel, then line the edge with 37% efficient cells? That could make for some nice cheap panels.
        • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 28, 2008 @01:42AM (#24364551)

          No need to get so fancy. Normal lenses ("concentrators") and used with high-efficiency triple-junction cells to collect light from a large area (see Emcore's page [emcore.com] for an example). In fact these cells perform better with higher intensity light anyways.
          Fraunhofer is using a slightly different approach that looks to get better and better as light intensity increases: article [compoundse...ductor.net]

          • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by VagaStorm (691999) on Monday July 28, 2008 @03:03AM (#24364969) Homepage
            Any one that has tried using a magnifying glass to light tings on fire, should know that you have to aim it pretty well for this to work, which means you will have to have a solar setup that can follow the suns movement, or your actual cell will get out of focus quite fast and you will have -no- efficiency, as opposed to regular cells that can absorb energy from a wide angle(I don't know anything about the efficiency of regular cell when the angle becomes steep).
            • by SnowZero (92219) on Monday July 28, 2008 @03:36AM (#24365179)

              Any one that has tried using a magnifying glass to light tings on fire, should know that you have to aim it pretty well for this to work

              So, what you're saying is that we should hire 7-year-olds to control the lenses, and put ants around the high efficiency cell. Got it.

      • by bunratty (545641) on Monday July 28, 2008 @08:03AM (#24366683)

        did I mention they cost 100 times as much

        The cost will be reduced sharply as demand grows.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by deKernel (65640)

          That might not be necessarily true. If the manufacturing technique required to produce such items does not scale well, then the demand could go through the roof, but the costs will also.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          See - this is the problem;

          Everyone makes this immediate leap that prices will move against the first rule of supply and demand.

          I would submit that prices move against supply/demand only when their are breakthroughs in production or material constraints. Computers went from hand production to pick and place production, whilst transistors got smaller and smaller.

          The problem is that these 37% cells are already being produced on the best equipment. So those gains in cost are already priced in...

          AIK

    • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:37AM (#24364221) Homepage Journal

      Gallium is vastly superior to silicon, in much the same way as it is as a semiconductor. Cost is a problem, though If we assume that all superior semiconductors are superior in solar cells, graphene should prove interesting once it matures. At present, solar technology that converts light into heat (solar heaters, solar stoves) are much more efficient than devices that convert light into electricity. Since heating and cooking consume enormous amounts of power, there may be ways to use this type of implementation to reduce the demand for electricity in the first place, rather than to inefficiently provide for that demand. Such methods aren't terribly portable, but neither are houses, restaurants or public baths. So long as you can store the heat without too much loss, reducing demand would seem the most sensible way to solve the energy problem.

      In parallel with solar methods for reducing demand, there is the question of energy wastage. I've already mentioned heating water is a big consumer of electricity. The heat required to raise water even one degree celsius is enormous. Most coal, gas and nuclear power stations have staggeringly large cooling towers in which water is converted to steam and released into the atmosphere for that very reason - turning cold water into steam requires a staggering amount of heat, which reduces the temperature of whatever they want to keep cool. Very elegant. Also very wasteful. Rig the cooling towers to a pipe system and you've the biggest, hottest hypocaust ever made. The water is still carrying the heat away, so the towers still work as intended, all you are doing is making that heat available for domestic and industrial use rather than pumping it into the atmosphere.

      Spent nuclear fuel also emits significant heat, it would seem more logical to recycle the fuel rods as water heating devices than dump them somewhere and ignore them, although preventing contamination would be extremely hard. Hard is not impossible, however, and it seems better to try and solve a hard problem (and risk succeeding) than to do nothing and face impossible energy demand problems year-after-year.

      • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by AmericanInKiev (453362) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:59AM (#24364349) Homepage

        Almost.
        The cooling tower has a very important job in any heat cycle engine since energy = hot side - cold side. Take away the cold side, and you've got bumpkiss. The plant re-uses the water. In an Open cycle, some water evaporates, but much of it is reused - in a closed cycle plant, all of the water is recycled and only air passes through the cooling tower.

        Yes, this heat can be used for things, but its tricky to find a customer for that much heat all of the time. Food processing plants use a lot of low-temperature steam, and some other industrial processes, but that's been a strategy for a long time, and it's not exactly solved the riddle yet.

        • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday July 28, 2008 @01:33AM (#24364509)

          Yes, this heat can be used for things, but its tricky to find a customer for that much heat all of the time.

          I wonder if it would make sense to run the leftover heat through a series of heat engines, with each optimized for smaller temperature differentials than the last. E.g., steam turbine -> sterling engine.

          • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:5, Informative)

            by slittle (4150) on Monday July 28, 2008 @01:53AM (#24364609) Homepage

            sterling engine

            Sounds like something that solar thermal plants might have a lot of. Some {coal,gas,nuclear} plants already sell their excess heat to industry during the day, but they could also keep solar plants from going offline overnight..

          • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Captain Nitpick (16515) on Monday July 28, 2008 @03:44AM (#24365211)

            I wonder if it would make sense to run the leftover heat through a series of heat engines, with each optimized for smaller temperature differentials than the last.

            It's referred to as a combined cycle. Many gas power plants recover the heat from the gas turbine and use it to run a steam turbine. GE claims 60% efficiency for their combined cycle turbines, where a standalone gas turbine would get around 35%.

            It does not make sense to continue the process indefinitely. Eventually one will reach a point where building the equipment requires more energy than is produced from the ever-dwindling temperature difference.

        • by Joebert (946227)
          What if we line the cooling tower with peltiers ?
        • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by QuantumRiff (120817) on Monday July 28, 2008 @02:30AM (#24364795)
          In my town they built a natural gas power plant called the Cogen [ppmenergy.com] that takes the steam, and runs it to a large lumbermill next door, to power the equipment. Most lumbermills still use steam to drive saws and such, as it is more efficient (and cheaper) than straight power saws.. Kind of a neat idea for a "dual use" system
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Kharny (239931)

          http://www.energy.rochester.edu/nordvarm/env/ [rochester.edu]
          http://www.energy.rochester.edu/uk/chpa/commheat/eursuccess.htm [rochester.edu]

          Already done on a quite large scale in finland, norway and sweden.

        • Re:Here we Go.... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by infolib (618234) on Monday July 28, 2008 @03:44AM (#24365213)

          Yes, this heat can be used for things, but its tricky to find a customer for that much heat all of the time.

          In Denmark, 60% of housing is connected to district heating. [inist.fr] 95% of that heat is "waste" from power plants. If you have cities of more than a few thousand people in temperate/cold areas it's a viable strategy.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by apoc.famine (621563)
            Well, if you're a backward and dangerous nation, that is. Here in the US, we're smart enough to locate our power plants far from where people live. Along with our stores, jobs, public transportation lines, etc. Our single-use zoning is a wonder of modern society.
      • Sorta (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Moraelin (679338) on Monday July 28, 2008 @05:16AM (#24365659) Journal

        Gallium is vastly superior to silicon, in much the same way as it is as a semiconductor. Cost is a problem

        The problem, though, is that we don't have much gallium. Definitely not enough to build whole square miles worth of solar panels.

        Gallium is only found in trace amounts in Zinc and Bauxite ores. There is no gallium-high ore. Mostly we get a little of it as side effects of producing aluminium. It's enough for silicon doping and leds, but that's about it.

        Even at the rate at which we're already using it, there's an estimate that the (easily accessible) reserves will be depleted by 2017. Can you imagine the rate we'd use it up for solar panels? Not to mention we'd need to dig out and process a _heck_ of a lot more bauxite than we currently do, to get that much of it.

        So it seems to me that that plan is dead right there. There is no obvious way how to get lots of it, and the price will likely only go up from here.

        . At present, solar technology that converts light into heat (solar heaters, solar stoves) are much more efficient than devices that convert light into electricity. Since heating and cooking consume enormous amounts of power, there may be ways to use this type of implementation to reduce the demand for electricity in the first place, rather than to inefficiently provide for that demand.

        Err, not really. You can use steam to produce electricity. Nuclear power goes the same route, btw. IIRC some 80% of the world's electricity is produced by steam turbines.

        So, I don't know... any particular reason why we _can_ use heated water to produce electricity, if we heat it with coal or a nuclear reactor, but not if it was heated by the sun? It's the same process and with the same efficiency.

        Plus, it seems to me that, from a pragmatic point of view,

        1. A significant part of the world would rather have convenience, rather than sacrifice themselves for the greater good. I'd rather have a small stove in the kitchen, rather than a huge solar contraption. Plus, I'd rather cook when I want to, not just when it's sunny outside.

        2. The world seems to have decided already that it wants solar-produced electricity.

        3. We're actually pretty good at producing electricity from steam in the meantime. The big power plants get about 40-45% of the energy out of the fuel and converted into electricty. That's good enough.

        But more importantly, it's better than what even the best uber-expensive prototypes of solar panels can do. So I'm kind of wondering, dunno, what's with the obsession with solar panels?

        4. Transporting hot steam or hot water is pretty wasteful too. _Storing_ it, even more so. It needs a lot of insulation, and even so there are losses.

        And it's done already, btw. I live in a town where the power plants also provide the hot water.

        Let me tell you, when I want to take a shower in the morning, I first have to waste some cubic metre or two of water (no, seriously) just so I actually get hot water. Everything that was past the big insulated pipes, comes out as cold water first.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gormanw (1321203)
      This is very typical of Al Gore and many of his ilk. While he is busy flying around in private jets and having his Lincoln idle for 20 minutes, he doesn't seem to have a clue about economics. I read a great series of pieces on how much many of these "green" technologies really cost. The site was http://www.economicefficiency.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com] This was the same site that had "Hybrid Hummer Hums."
  • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:00AM (#24364027) Homepage Journal
    On 9 March 1999, Gore gave an interview for CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, in which he stated: "During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system."[95] UCLA professor of information studies, Philip E. Agre[96][97] and journalist Eric Boehlert[98] both argue that three articles in Wired News led to the creation of the widely spread urban legend[99] that Gore claimed to have "invented the Internet," which followed this interview. The urban legend became "an automatic laugh. Jay Leno, David Letterman, or any other comedic talent can crack a joke about Al Gore 'inventing the Internet,' and the audience is likely to respond with howls of laughter."[100]

    In response to the controversy, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn argued that, "We don't think, as some people have argued, that Gore intended to claim he 'invented' the Internet. Moreover, there is no question in our minds that while serving as Senator, Gore's initiatives had a significant and beneficial effect on the still-evolving Internet."[101] In addition, Newt Gingrich, former Republican Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, stated: "In all fairness, it's something Gore had worked on a long time. Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness, Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet, and the truth is -- and I worked with him starting in 1978 when I got [to Congress], we were both part of a "futures group" -- the fact is, in the Clinton administration, the world we had talked about in the '80s began to actually happen." - Wikipedia

    • by Sparky McGruff (747313) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:04AM (#24364057)
      You people and your facts. Why should I bother looking up pesky facts when they just get in the way of a good argument? Facts are for losers. Rants are for closers!
    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:31AM (#24364187)

      Granted, he never said "I invented the internet", but it's not hard to get that from "I took the initiative in creating the internet". What he presumably meant was something like "I took the initiative in starting programs that ultimately led to the creation of the internet", which is sort of what the following sentence more vaguely tries to say. But just the flat-out "I took the initiative in creating the internet" does read like a claim that he, well, created the internet.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 28, 2008 @01:00AM (#24364353)

        Granted, he never said "I invented the internet", but it's not hard to get that from "I took the initiative in creating the internet". What he presumably meant was something like "I took the initiative in starting programs that ultimately led to the creation of the internet", which is sort of what the following sentence more vaguely tries to say. But just the flat-out "I took the initiative in creating the internet" does read like a claim that he, well, created the internet.

        Actually it's a language issue that created a misunderstanding of intent. In Congressional terms initiative means starting the process and has nothing to do with creation. He was instrumental in establishing the the environment that made the internet possible. No one ever argued what he said they used the spin and ignored the facts. Everyone got a good laugh out of their own ignorance of how the Congress works and it cost him the election and got us eight years of Bush. Was a joke made at his expense really worth eight years of Bush? It was really a misunderstanding of terminology not a wild claim made by Gore so is it still funny? Would there have been a joke in it if he had instead said I helped write and push through a Bill that set the ground work for the internet? Just not as funny as twisting his words. This may have been the most expensive laugh in history. It was the 4 to 6 trillion dollar laugh so I hope the people who thought the misunderstanding was funny got their money's worth. He never once said "invented" the comedians and Republicans did but everyone foolishly went along with it and sadly Gore waited too long to correct the error.

      • by MasterC (70492)

        But just the flat-out "I took the initiative in creating the internet" does read like a claim that he, well, created the internet.

        Anyone with half a notion of the history of the internet would know that the internet was not created by any one person. Cerf is often credited as the father of the internet and he himself said it was not one person's achievements. It was a slew of people that got the ball rolling.

        Many of whom are considered computer science greats: Licklider, Baran, Roberts, Davies, Kahn, Cerf

      • by hdparm (575302)
        Good thing is that he hadn't been involved with DNS RFC's. Daemon on my machine would now be called vagued and it'd be really tough to respond to your comment.

        I don't want to even think about the first post in this context.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I suspect that many people realize that when first created, the internet was closed to themselves. It was an elite ivory tower kind of thing. You know - the kind of thing a guy who rides on private jets and limosines would like. That thing - called Arpanet I think - was probably what Al was referring too. There is a world of difference between the government-edition Arpanet - and the mostly free (as in speech) Internet - which brought the printing press to the individual for the first time in history, and c

      • by Sparky McGruff (747313) on Monday July 28, 2008 @01:42AM (#24364549)
        According to Snopes.com, in addition to speaking about the importance of the nascent internet before it was widely used, Al Gore

        sponsored the 1988 National High-Performance Computer Act (which established a national computing plan and helped link universities and libraries via a shared network) and cosponsored the Information Infrastructure and Technology Act of 1992 (which opened the Internet to commercial traffic).

        He did not, however, write the Commodore 64 port of GOPHER, nor did he start up his own ISP in his basement. But it does look like he did play a role in supporting the building of a robust nationwide backbone for data traffic, and allowing those outside research institutions and the military to have access to it.

      • by GWBasic (900357) <slashdot@nOSPAm.andrewrondeau.com> on Monday July 28, 2008 @03:03AM (#24364975) Homepage

        Somehow I doubt that Al Gore played a significant role in democratizing the information age. That role would fall to a new category of leaders. And I think you of all people should know :)

        Al Gore was instrumental in securing funding for the development of the internet. One can infer that the internet was always intended to eventually make its way to public use based on its initial test: The initial test involved VOIP! (You can see the truck used for testing the internet at the Computer History Museum. http://www.computerhistory.org/events/index.php?id=1191351626 [computerhistory.org])

        Furthermore, if you take the time to watch the video, you can listen to Vint Cerf's attitude towards internet. The internet was a way to make multiple networks talk to each other. Vint seemed to indicate that he always pushed for IP to be the protocol used to connect different networks together, which is why it beat OSI.

        Thus, I think we can infer that there was always an intent to make the internet public and we can thank Al Gore for helping to fund its development. That's what Vint seems to indicate.

  • by caitsith01 (606117) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:03AM (#24364047) Journal

    ...it's the best news for the development of this kind of technology imaginable.

    You can't get (smart, institutional) investors on board on the promise of likely/possible breakthroughs in technology. However, if you can demonstrate that the price per kilowatt-hour will be competitive with fossil fuels in the reasonable near future then you will get the level of investment required to finally take these technologies mainstream.

    I believe we are already at that point. Here in Australia we suddenly have wind farms and novel renewable energy projects appearing IRL all over the place when previously they were often announced but rarely built.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by shermo (1284310)

      The cost of wind turbines has doubled in the past three years due to increasing demand and commodity prices. Of course that's less than the increase in electricity prices, so it's cheaper relatively.

      However, I don't think oil/electricity price is the sole or even primary factor behind the renewables craze. Our government has had a '90% renewables target by 2025' for more than a year. ie, when oil was $70 a barrel.

      There's a lot to do with public perception, and that's much more in favour of wind power nowada

  • by spoco2 (322835) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:04AM (#24364061)

    It would seem the choice of attacks against Mr Gore would be strawman arguments. Does that suggest that people are finding it hard to tackle his views directly or fairly and so have to resort to such ridiculous attacks?

    (I actually know very little about Gore, this is really just a question based on him being the target of such things so often)

    • by introspekt.i (1233118) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:22AM (#24364147)
      It is not so much Gore's views as it is Gore himself. I for one think the message is worth hearing, considering, and acting upon. However, it seems like Gore comes off as pretty pompous, overblown, and almost zealous with his anti-global warming stuff. What with the selling carbon credits like they were indulgences from the middle ages? How about just cutting some emissions and avoiding creating fake industries...I digress. Gore has a good message, he just says plenty of other (sub) messages that annoy the crap out of people.

      Regardless, Gore provides a voice for a real concern that can possibly affect the lives of everybody on the planet, and that's good. I'll tolerate him if it means our planet will get saved in the process :-P
      • by AmericanInKiev (453362) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:32AM (#24364189) Homepage

        If Al Gore is to the environment what Rev. Jesse Jackson is to .. well anyway, I think I'd rather hear from people who generally get their facts straight. Vinod Khosla has what one calls a pretty good record on these things - though I'd take exception to his positions in retrospect on bio-ethanol for example. I agree with you on Carbon Indulgences.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Free_Meson (706323)

        What with the selling carbon credits like they were indulgences from the middle ages? How about just cutting some emissions and avoiding creating fake industries.

        Market-priced pollution/cleanup credits are the only sane way to price these activities. Currently the cost of polluting is either arbitrarily set by some government entity or foisted upon the public. Forcing companies to clean up after themselves or pay someone else to do so will allow everyone to pay the true cost of their activities, thus allo

  • by AmericanInKiev (453362) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:05AM (#24364063) Homepage

    "Think about what happened in the computer revolution," Gore said on NBC's Meet the Press program recently. "We saw cost reductions for silicon computer chips of 50% for every year and a half for the last 40 years," he said.

    That's Moore's law to the inth degree. True, we didn't assert that Moore's law applies to PV, but He 's asking a nation to embrace an energy policy based on this comparison.

  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:05AM (#24364065)

    Moore's Law talks about the complexity, not speed or performance. That's why it doesn't apply to either solar cells or digital camera sensors.

    Digital camera sensors, especially, as it's not the complexity that kills ya, it's that it can't get physically smaller and still capture as much light (independent of the # of pixels). CPUs get cheaper because they get physically smaller, and thus require less silicon. The same deal with silicon PV cells - you don't want to make them smaller, you want to make them more efficient at converting light to electricity. Solar cells will indeed get cheaper (MUCH cheaper) very quickly (within the next few years, you'll see several competing technologies, in fact), but not due to silicon processes, but because they're going to be made without silicon (or with much less silicon, or silicon of a much lower grade than CPU-grade silicon (they've been competing for the same Silicon resources all this time)). I'm just sayin'.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      Moore's Law talks about the complexity, not speed or performance. That's why it doesn't apply to either solar cells or digital camera sensors.

      Technically you are correct. However, it has proven fairly accurate for CPU performance as well (computations/sec per dollar), and this is what people often are referring to in informal discussions. It roughly has applied to hard-drives and RAM also.
             

    • by symbolset (646467)

      Moore's law means whatever Gordon Moore means it does this week. It's more of a general idea or a visionary goal than an hard mathematical theorem. That said, Intel's darned good at delivering it, whatever it means. Except for those whole Itanium and Netburst fiascos. Nobody's perfect.

      Moore's law has been the name given to everything that changes exponentially. I say, if Gore invented the Internet,[14] I invented the exponential.

      - Gordon Moore [firstmonday.org] (by way of . [wikipedia.org])

    • Quote: "CPUs get cheaper because they get physically smaller, and thus require less silicon." Totally wrong. CPUs are cheaper not because they use less silicon. The die (the actual chip, without the encasing) of an Intel Core Duo is about the same size of that of the original Pentium. What drove the prices down is the new scalable processes in place in manufacturer nanofabrication facilities. Back in the day fabrication was done in 4 inches wafers, with a yield a much lower die per wafer ratio. Today's 12
  • So Al's Internet is responsible for all the massive datacenters causing global warming huh?
  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:14AM (#24364111) Journal
    I firmly believe that solar is going to boom in the next few years and start covering every piece of cheap land on the globe. I feel that there is a lot of money to be made in energy in the short run when solar supplements the grid. And there is money to be made in energy in the long run as we phase into plugin hybrids and the demand on the grid gets huge. Of course like most nerds, I have a "not in my lifetime" long run view of an eventual Dyson Sphere of solar power in space which probably doesn't start out trying to be one, but instead starts out as Sim City microwave power plants. On a reverse note, people think the innermost planets cannot be habitable due to their temperatures from the sun, but can't we just pull a Mr. Burns and block out the sun? We could then send energy through focused beams to collectors.
    • When you say 'cheap land', just how cheap do you mean? Seems like a simple math problem for Slashdot.

      X = width of land
      Y = length of land
      G = generation ammount per square foot for an average month
      E = electricity wholesale price

      (((X*Y) * G) * E) > (monthly rent/lease + payroll + maintenance + taxes)

      Of course, if the E (electricity wholesale price) is too low for this equation, we could fudge it enough by subsidizing solar power and or increasing taxes on all other forms of power.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mikael (484)

      If the price of solar power gets even lower and panels bceome even thinner, they might just start putting solar panels on the blades of wind turbines.

  • by Tablizer (95088)

    doubling rate for price/performance of PV is 10 years rather than 18 months for transistors.

    Ten years isn't a bad rate. It's not like oil is going down, so PV has a fixed target. We don't expect to get out of the oil addiction in 5 or less years anyhow. We need to invest in the future. Investment may hopefully speed up progress, but if not, a 10 year rate looks fairly good right now.
         

    • The rate of improvement isn't constant, but it's a hint of how close you are to the end. Diminishing returns have pretty much arrived for PV. There are lots of options, Thin film, concentrated, organic, CIGS, Nano-this, Q-that; but in the end, the price of a roof-top installation is fairly immobile at this point. So much of the cost is interred in hard work like ladder-climbing, wire-twisting, roof-screwing, and so on, there isn't much left to improve. Vinod uses the example of the zero-dollar PV - even tha

    • by demachina (71715) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:54AM (#24364321)

      Solar isn't competing against oil unless you a solar powered car. Solar power is competing against coal, natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear for electricity generation. In the U.S. oil accounts for 1.6% of electricity generation [wikipedia.org]. Don't mean to be pedantic but it drives me up a wall that people have no clue where their power comes from.

      Coal is nearly half of America's electric power. Its price is going up but not as much as oil and it is in much greater abundance in the U.S. Unfortunately coal's impact on the environment, both mining it and burning it, tends towards devastating. The Chinese are using huge amounts of coal for their electricity too.

      • by SydShamino (547793) on Monday July 28, 2008 @01:40AM (#24364539)

        Did you not see T. Boone Pickens' proposal [pickensplan.com] for reducing our dependency on foreign fuels?

        Solar isn't competing against oil unless you a solar powered car. Solar power is competing against coal, natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear for electricity generation.

        And Pickens' proposal was to create giant wind farms to generate electricity, so that we could free up the locally-sourced natural gas for cars.

        I'm not saying I agree with him on everything, but some people understand plenty well where fuel comes from, at least well enough to know that you can use the same energy source for different purposes, just like you can use different energy sources for the same purpose.

        (For what it's worth, our house is powered by wind and hydro for electricity, but natural gas for heat & water heat. I'd consider a swap to solar thermal if my HOA would allow solar anything on my roof.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Pickens is going for the $1 billion annual subsidies he'd get, not to "help the environment". Wind gets $23.37 per megawatt hour [doe.gov] of production in Federal subsidies, and most states REQUIRE purchase of all "renewable" energy that's available at whatever the peak rate is.

          .
          Pickens is no fool - he sees the political tide turning and smells a chance to make a few billion in tax dollars sent directly to his pocket.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Hasai (131313)

            ....And if he produces a few gigawatts of clean power in the process, then what exactly is your problem with this?

            Oh, that's right, I forgot. Making a profit in the U.S. is E-E-EVIL, and anyone proposing to create such a (shudder) thing is automatically dragged out into the middle of the street and shot. Please disregard the resultant stimulus to 'hard' industry, the people put to gainful work, the economic benefits, and the reduction in the petro-deficit; the thing to remember is that profit is E-E-EVIL.

            (F

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ya really (1257084)

        Solar isn't competing against oil unless you a solar powered car. Solar power is competing against coal, natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear for electricity generation.

        Lots of people use heating oil for their homes, especially in the US. According to the Dept. of Energy [doe.gov], over 8 million of the 107 million homes in the US use heating oil (roughly 7.5%) and rougly 4.1% in Canada [pwgsc.gc.ca]. Typically, they have to refill their tanks 4 to 5 times a year. Heating oil accounts for about 25% of the yield of a barrel of cr

    • Ten years isn't a bad rate. It's not like oil is going down

      Actually it's exactly like Oil is going down, since it's down below $120 a barrel again and gas prices are also coming down too (unlike in the past where reduction in oil didn't seem to translate into reduced cost for gasoline).

      Oil is a resource, and like any resource prices fluctuate. One thing to consider is that with oil prices elevated the ability to extract it from other sources (such as shale) becomes economical, and may for far more than ten

  • by Robert1 (513674) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:20AM (#24364141) Homepage

    His idea for a 10 year Kennedy-esque-moon-mission-analog of rapidly transforming our energy base from one of fossil fuels to renewable energy is not only a great idea economically for the long term but also great for the short term. Any time a country is in an economic slump, the best way to relieve it is by instituting widespread public works projects. Not only do they create short term wealth and job opportunities, but they have sustained maintenance work as well as the overall betterment of society through the finalization of said public work.

    A recent poll (I think it was from last Thursday) said that over 90% of Americans are FOR the rapid mobilization of wind and solar power. It seems everyone's on board for this.

    Except BOTH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES. Which is quite mind-blowing since the populous as a whole is ALL FOR IT and if either did support such a plan, it would net them a HUGE amount of voters from both political parties. It seems everyone I talk to has energy on their mind, a couple have said that they'll vote for whichever candidate would push for Gore's plan or one like it.

    Which leaves me to wonder, if neither Obama nor McCain seem to have any desire to embrace it, is it finally time for a viable third candidate, one who represents the publics opinion? Could we be seeing/should we deserve to see a candidate Gore?

    • Since I cringe each time the Candidates energy plans are butchered - and it happens often.

      ie. McCain has said Oboma is AGAINST a 300 million dollar (Xprizey) thing for a vehicle battery. and Oboma is opposed to nuclear.

      Well, I've never heard Oboma suggest that electric vehicles are a bad idea or anything disparaging of their development, second, I've actually heard Oboma speak rather embracingly of Nuclear - provided as he says - we can solve the storage problem.

      McCain would obviously spill oil anywhere he

    • It's often said that populations get the governments they deserve.
      So what you need to ask is: Do we deserve a POTUS who can think?
      From what I see on blog commentaries of all sorts I fear the answer is, tragically, "No".
    • is because the unwashed masses, those 90% that vote in stupid polls, are not capable of making decisions like these.

      With current technology it is impossible to convert to PV in any meaningful timescale mostly because PV has so much embodied energy.

      PV's energy payback time is something like 10 years. That means that if we set a goal to make 20% of electricity from PV, you'd have to find 2 years worth of spare electricity to make the PV.... and where's that going to come from? This problem marginalises curren

    • His idea for a 10 year Kennedy-esque-moon-mission-analog of rapidly transforming our energy base from one of fossil fuels to renewable energy is not only a great idea economically for the long term but also great for the short term.

      I just had to question the assumption here so many people make that going to all renewable energy on such a short timeframe is indeed desirable and does not bring with it great costs to the society that attempts it.

      Moving away from oil dependance is a great idea for so very many

    • by philipgar (595691) <{pcg2} {at} {lehigh.edu}> on Monday July 28, 2008 @02:19AM (#24364741) Homepage

      Any time a country is in an economic slump, the best way to relieve it is by instituting widespread public works projects. Not only do they create short term wealth and job opportunities, but they have sustained maintenance work as well as the overall betterment of society through the finalization of said public work.

      Whoa there, this statement IS NOT a fact. Public works projects can help a slumping economy, but only if the public works project is needed, and absolutely helps expand the economy. There is more to it than that, but creating jobs does not necessarily expand the economy but can result in simple wealth redistribution. For example, if the government hired 10,000 people to dig a giant ditch, and than hired another 10,000 people to fill in the ditch, jobs would be created, but would it help the economy? The government doesn't magically have money, they need to obtain it somewhere. In this instance they've created 20,000 jobs, but added nothing to the economy. In fact, under such a situation, they've likely decreased the economy. Even if unemployment is really high, some of these people are likely not doing other (productive) jobs to dig a ditch and fill it in instead. This decreases the net value of the economy. Additionally, where is the money to pay these workers coming from? They either tax the people (reducing the money they have to create new jobs, and buy goods, decreasing the size of the economy) or print money, causing inflation, resulting in an inflation tax instead.

      Of course, the real world is much more difficult, and I am not an economist, but I know not all economists believe that public works projects are good for the economy. The publics works projects in the great depression did not cure the depression, however government military spending did help bring us out of the depression (although, I imagine the average standard of living decreased during the war years, as the money was going into the war). One factor of public works projects that can also helps the economy (beyond the help the public works project itself does) in the long term, is the training that workers might receive working on the project, making them more productive afterward.

      What I do know about pushing people into public works projects on renewable resources is that it would create jobs, and result in more renewable energy. However, if the cost of the energy is greater, than everyone is paying in higher overall costs (or taxes). It must also be noted that in a slumping economy, the costs of implementing large public works projects is cheaper, as there are often large numbers of unemployed people (who in the US are often earning money from the government already from the welfare system). This means the net cost of implementing these projects is cheaper due to being able to pay lower wages, and even cheaper still because you don't have to pay these people welfare benefits.

      Maybe a real economist could plug through the numbers and predict if your proposed projects would help the economy (even than they'd be guessing). However, claiming it's a fact that public works projects help the economy is definitely not true.

      Phil

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Boronx (228853)

        Military production is the el primo example of work that has little economic value ... except that it redistributes wealth and consumes resources, two things that are good for jump starting economies.

  • by Brett Johnson (649584) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:29AM (#24364177)

    As mentioned previously, Moore's Law does not apply here.

    However, the use of nano-tech (to increase light collecting surface area), multiple layers (to absorb more frequencies), and lenses/concentrators (to focus more light on the collectors), and thermo-electric converters (to convert heat from the panels into electricity) should be able to push efficiencies well passed the 40% range at reasonable cost. Of course, these improvements will be "5-10 years out" for the foreseeable future.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Moore's law is a measure of the maximum number of transistors per single integrated circuit changing over time. Evoking Moore's law to explain greater efficiencies of production or advances in technology that produce cheaper products are unfortunately all too common.

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday July 28, 2008 @01:31AM (#24364499) Homepage

    Applied Materials, the largest maker of semiconductor fab machinery, makes fab gear for solar panels. Their CEO likes to show graphs of cost per watt vs. year, and there's a steady decline, at roughly the same rate as LCD panels. Applied Materials solar cell fabs are using technology borrowed from LCD panel fab, and they're now making 5 square meters of panel at a time. The machinery for manufacturing such huge panels is appropriately large, and that's part of what's bringing the cost down. Despite much hype, no single improvement has produced a big drop in panel cost. But the cumulative effect of continuous improvement is working.

    Applied Materials people make the point that installation is now half the cost of the completed solar system, and the solar industry needs to move beyond the "guy with a pickup truck" level of installation. Bigger panels reduce installation cost, and they're working on panels that are roofs themselves, instead of being installed on top of roofs.

    The actual rate of price drop is maybe a factor of 2 per decade. Which isn't bad. As the Applied Materials solar division head says, "This is a great business. Everybody else's costs are going up, and ours are going down. And we're nowhere near market saturation."

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Applied Materials people make the point that installation is now half the cost of the completed solar system

      I guess downgrading Pluto from planet status helped..

  • by Ossadagowah (452169) on Monday July 28, 2008 @01:32AM (#24364503) Journal

    It's important to remember what you imagined/pretended he said so you can write a response to that instead of what he actually said IRL.

  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Monday July 28, 2008 @01:39AM (#24364535) Homepage Journal

    Let's just forget about Al Gore. He may have some good points. He may have some made some bogus claims. But what really matters is the facts. Let's look at the facts and judge technologies on their own merits, not based on what Al Gore has said about them and what we think of him.

  • by JimboFBX (1097277) on Monday July 28, 2008 @01:41AM (#24364545)
    The simple solution is plant more trees. More trees is more shade. More shade is more tolerance to higher temperatures (90 degrees in the shade feels cooler than 72 degrees in the sun). More trees is more hiding places / homes / food for pray/animals. Trees / plants also absorb sunlight, reducing the greenhouse effect.

    Ok, so maybe that's not an energy solution, but I think a lot of our problems stem from urbanization and the lack of trees. The hippies are right, in this sense. Parking lots are a good place for trees, and having them for shade would help keep our cars cool as well. Trees are nature's natural climate stabilizer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by toby34a (944439)
      Trees are good, but there's a problem with one of your arguments. Absorbing sunlight does not reduce the greenhouse effect. Absorbing sunlight means more energy is added into the system that would have previously been reflected. Trees COULD reduce greenhouse effect by taking in more carbon dioxide. However, by absorbing more solar energy at the surface, you'd get more terrestrial energy emitted. The retention of this terrestrial energy IS the greenhouse effect - solar energy has nothing to do with it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      > Ok, so maybe that's not an energy solution, but I think a lot of
      > our problems stem from urbanization and the lack of trees.

      I don't know where you live, but there's more big trees in my city than in the country surrounding it. I'll bet that's true for most people reading this. Furthermore, living in the city allows people to use a variety of low-impact transit methods that are simply not useful living in the country. Unless you grow all your own food, generate all your own power, and telecommute to

  • by raftpeople (844215) on Monday July 28, 2008 @02:20AM (#24364747)
    Here's an article from a few weeks ago I remembered reading, seems relevant. They claim a 40x increase with products available within 3 years.

    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/solarcells-0710.html
  • by tsmoke (455045) on Monday July 28, 2008 @02:54AM (#24364943)

    Khosla is one of the planet's largest investor in biofuels. He has engaged in rather disheartening attacks on any plan that suggests electrons can replace liquid carbons molecules. See his recent statements on how plug in hybrids will forever be "toys."

    He may very well be right in some instances, but given the vitriol he has spilled against alternatives to his investments, it's hard to trust his statements as honest assessments.

    Gore, on the other hand, has been even handed in suggesting there is no silver bullet to our energy and climate crises.

    All that being said, PV cost and efficiency has historically been closer to Khosla's estimate than it has been to Gore's. But that has been mostly as a function of investment. Now that billions upon billions are being invested in the space, I think we'll see the cost curve start to look more attractive.

  • by ILongForDarkness (1134931) on Monday July 28, 2008 @04:54AM (#24365557)
    By definition you can't get more energy from a photovoltaic than the total energy that is being deposited on the surface. You can only go so high. While there are fundamental limits to what a CPU can do, also by definition you can theoretically shrink it many orders of magnitude more, you can make bigger chips, you can play games with the driving current, the transmission medium (photonics anyone?) etc. In short one you have control of the input the other you don't.
  • by TerribleNews (1195393) on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:22AM (#24367493)

    The efficiency numbers you see on these things are by and large the product of someone's imagination.

    The testing procedure involves the solar company building a very small sliver of a PV cell under lab conditions (not mass manufacture conditions) and then sending it to a test facility. The smaller that sliver is the more likely the efficiency numbers are inflated. The more experimental a technology is the harder it is to manufacture anything big enough for meaningful results. This means that all these reports of 37% efficient PV technology being 5 years away are probably incorrect.

    My friend works in an office that does energy retrofits of government buildings and one of the lists they have is the factor for each PV manufacturer between what the manufacturer claims their panels will do and what kind of energy the panels actually generate in the wild, based on monitoring previous installs they've done themselves.

    These efficiency numbers are all academic until you've tried the cells out in the environment from which you need to generate energy.

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