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US Funds Aggressive Tech To Cut Solar Power Costs 272

Posted by samzenpus
from the aim-big dept.
coondoggie writes "The U.S Department of Energy wants researchers and scientists to 'think outside the box' and come up 'highly disruptive Concentrating Solar Power technologies that will meet 6/kWh cost targets by the end of the decade.' The DOE's 'SunShot Concentrating Solar Power R&D' is a multimillion dollar endeavor that intends to look beyond what it calls the incremental near-term to support research into transformative technologies that will break through performance barriers known today, such as efficiency and temperature limitations."
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US Funds Aggressive Tech To Cut Solar Power Costs

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  • At least an investment that makes sense, instead of wasting taxpayer money in subsidizing the existing inefficient solar panels (and worse, purchasing them abroad where they're produced with the most polluting industry).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DNS-and-BIND (461968)
      A frightfully naive interpretation. How about this: the whole program is just a wash to put more money in the hands of corrupt politically-connected creeps. Look at the history of government funding solar power in America...any scandals come to mind?
      • by derGoldstein (1494129) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @06:28AM (#37853634) Homepage
        The natural counter-argument is the question: Should the government stop funding research simply because some of the funds will (likely) reach undeserving parties?
        It's not black and white. If there's been a history of wasted resources related to this particular objective, then more strict regulation should be enacted (and the natural reply to this would be: regulation is both expensive and corruptible... I guess some middle-ground is necessary).
      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        How do you think nuclear got started? Once we went beyond coal, gas and hydro the cost of developing new sources quickly got too high for the market to fund. We, as a society, need this stuff to ensure our future prosperity and comfort so we have to encourage development.

        You could argue that government is bad at investing in things, but part of that is because it is the only body willing to invest in expensive new technologies where the risk of losing out on your investment is high. Just look at the number

      • by necro81 (917438) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @08:11AM (#37854102) Journal

        How about this: the whole program is just a wash to put more money in the hands of corrupt politically-connected creeps. Look at the history of government funding solar power in America...any scandals come to mind

        You could easily swap "solar power" for "defense systems". The scandals related to government support of solar power pale by a few orders of magnitude to the overt graft and fraud in military research and acquisition. What's your point? Are you suggestion that we shouldn't be funding either?

        • by bberens (965711)
          This. At the peak of their research time lines the Manhattan project and the Apollo projects reach 0.4% of our GDP spent JUST on those individual projects. I would submit that this kind of commitment is what it will take to get solar/wind/whatever to "the next level." Either way the technology is going to improve and we'll eventually get "there." The question is how long we want to wait and what kinds of resources are we willing to commit to it?
      • by rhakka (224319) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @08:35AM (#37854252)

        Yes. Of course the "scandal that comes to mind" ignores the what, 99%+ of those funds that were NOT involved in a scandal there were put to work as intended. Heck, let's be generous to your point and say only 90% weren't scandal-laden. Also, solar power is now beating grid parity in parts of the US, largely thanks to solar incentives and investment over the last several years getting the market going. Not just in the US, but here, in europe, and in china as well. This is a huge moment, where those with enough capital in parts of the us (including the northeast) could choose to "prebuy" their electricity for the next 25 years with PV... WITHOUT incentive... and not lose money compared to grid electricity. In a few more years it's going to be a slam dunk.

        Public policy works. Funding research works. Give up the tired, weak whining that it's not perfect. Waiting for teh "free market" to fix it all isn't perfect either, and it cares a lot less for the collateral damage of a sudden catastrophic shift than we do.

        http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/guest-blogs/pv-systems-have-gotten-dirt-cheap [greenbuildingadvisor.com]

        • by bberens (965711)
          Solyndra was 5% of the project in question.. dunno what % the other one ways but I think the 90% is a fair number. The scandal is about some hokiness with the loan itself, nobody has mentioned whether or not Solyndra did meaningful research or was granted valuable new patents.. my understanding is that they bet big based on the commodities markets and it flopped. It's not as if Solyndra never made any serious attempts at making valuable solar technologies.. so "scandal-laden" is (potentially) just politic
        • by rubycodez (864176)
          99%+ of those funds that were NOT involved in a scandal

          Haha, you are so naive. Of course there are other scandals in the pipe from this blatant Democrat crony enrichment program (and yes Republicans are worse). Fisker and Tesla, and more to come. I'm from Crook County, IL, and I know how the scum work. You "progressive liberals" opened the sewer by voting in Obama (who is neither progressive nor liberal but a bitch to the wealthy fat cats) and now the chicago turds have flowed into washington.
      • by Frangible (881728)
        Well let's see, there was DARPA that a few years ago made the most efficient solar cell to date, and years of defense research that developed breakthrough after breakthrough for solar power for satellites to provide America with satellite reconnaissance and navigation. Things you use today.

        To campaign against these programs that given you technology you use every day and produced real results and scientific achievements, and have allowed America to maintain its technical edge for many years... you wouldn
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      The article is about solar collectors not about panels. Different things with different uses.

  • by psergiu (67614)

    "... that will meet 6/kWh cost targets by the end of the decade ..."

    6 what ? 6 panels/kWh ? 6 technologies/kWh ?

    • 6 cents (Score:5, Informative)

      by earthman (12244) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @05:42AM (#37853454)

      I admit to reading the article (sorry), thus I know it's 6 cents.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That's still a mostly bogus number. Besides the hard facts (cents per kW under STC, usually called kWp or kW peak) that number also includes projections about the longevity of the cells and the environmental conditions of their use, which are wide open to manipulation.

        The interesting numbers for solar cells are kWp/m^2 so that you can calculate the area you need and the price per square meter so that you can calculate the upfront cost.

        • The value of kWp/m^2 is a factor in the overall result. If someone managed to find an extremely cheap solution that takes up more space than usual, that's still useful in certain situations. Of course the opposite is also true -- if you find an expensive way to convert solar energy more efficiently (using a smaller footprint), there's a use for that too. Advancement in both cases is beneficial.
        • by Sockatume (732728)

          For materials research, I expect that $/kWh is the more important figure. Obviously you need to know the price per square metre once you start thinking about engineering a device, but this work will be tacking problems of longevity, efficiency and cost first and foremost.

        • Re:6 cents (Score:4, Informative)

          by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @07:33AM (#37853908) Homepage

          > That's still a mostly bogus number.

          Um no. The article is clearly talking about LCoE, the basis upon which all industrial power pricing is compared.

          > Besides the hard facts (cents per kW under STC, usually called kWp or kW peak) that number also includes
          > projections about the longevity of the cells and the environmental conditions of their use,
          > which are wide open to manipulation.

          If that were the number they were referring to, you might have a point. But it's not, and you're wrong anyway. STC measurements are normally done at 3rd party labs for just this reason.

    • 6 virgins/kWh

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Given it's a cost target I'm going to assume "dollars".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by necro81 (917438)
        Look at your electric bill lately? You should thank your lucky stars that you aren't paying 6 dollars per kWh.

        On a related rant: it amazes me how blithely unaware most people are about their personal energy consumption. Some might be able to vaguely guesstimate what they paid the utility company for electricity or natural gas last month, but very few could actually say "I used XX kWh of electricity last month. The cost of the electricity was $YY, and the cost of delivery was $ZZ." What is the typical
        • by pnewhook (788591)
          Well I just used my browser to connect to my smart meter. It says 65% of my use is off peak, charged at 5.9c/kWh. 18% is on peak at 10.7c/kWh. Total of about 1400kWh for the month. A little over half of our supply is nuclear. Distribution adds about 30-40% to the bill.
        • Off the top of my head, I spend about $0.105 per kWh, and it's 100% wind. That's a decent rate in Texas. My bill last month was about $200, of which I assume $20 was overhead bullshit and fees, so I'd guess I used maybe 1700 kWh. That seems really high, but that was the last bill for the 100+ degree stretch this summer with over 90 days over 100. My bill should drop greatly this month; the house has been stuffy because the AC hasn't been running some days since it's been so nice.

          We're about to downsize

        • by Shotgun (30919)

          Why does it matter? My sons will still leave all the lights in the house on when they leave for school, then say, "There goes Dad, again. Complaining about the $400 light bill."

  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @05:42AM (#37853450)

    That's how research investments should always work.
    Either low risk, small reward (typically funded by industry), or high risk of failure, but aiming high with benefits for all of society (typically funded by government).

  • A bigger tub of salt would do it. It's not like we're running out of salt.
  • The tech belongs to Germany, Japan, China. They did the research and raced to the bottom with production lines churning out many solar panels.
    Add in tax payer/consumer paid feed in rates around the world that made most people who wanted to get cheap units buy in.
    What is left for the US to "make"? Anything the US can dream up can be understood in the EU and Asian labs and "linuxed" back into the next gen.
    Anything the US tries to build can be done for less outside the US ....
    Can the US return to full em
    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @07:30AM (#37853886) Homepage
      Why are you talking about solar panels? This article is about concentrated (thermal) solar, not PV. Better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than hammer out a post and remove all doubt, eh?
    • by delinear (991444)
      That assumes that the only way the US can benefit from advances in the technology is if US companies are producing the technology. In fact, cheaper solar is a massive benefit to all countries, no matter who builds the tech. In my ideal world governments would do far more of this and they would share the results of the R&D far more openly and leave companies to compete by doing what they do best (taking the tech and either marketing it well, enhancing build quality or reducing costs further).
    • by ciggieposeur (715798) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @09:15AM (#37854586)

      The tech belongs to Germany, Japan, China. They did the research and raced to the bottom with production lines churning out many solar panels.

      The key ingredient to solar panels (polysilicon) has a very strong U.S. player in the form of Dow Corning's Hemlock Semiconductor.

  • by msevior (145103) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @07:32AM (#37853898)

    Achieving 6c/KWHr for baseload ie available any time you want it 24 hours a day, with solar is a fundamentally hard problem. You're up against the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Solar energy is both dilute and intermittent.

    Nuclear is far easier. It is starts out incredibly concentrated. Third generation plants like the AP1000 are extremely safe. If you don't want to reuse the waste it's easy enough to bury it 1 km underground where it won't bother anyone.

    It's far easier to change the minds of people than the laws of Physics.

    Looks like the USA and Europe will leave it to China to develop cheap nukes and become the driver of human civilization in the 21st century.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Yes, the biggest problem with energy today is not production but storage and transportation. But nuclear has similar problems as its output can't be changed effectively. Consumption changes rapidly, and the only way to solve this today is a mixed system, where the constant part of electricity is produced by nuclear and coal while the dinamic part is produced by gas and water.

      • by delt0r (999393)
        Modern or new Nuclear can load follow as much and as fast as you like (aka *not* PWR or BWR that suck on every metric). Just because 40 year old designs couldn't does not mean they can't.
      • by compro01 (777531)

        But nuclear has similar problems as its output can't be changed effectively.

        Not really. Properly designed nuclear plants (e.g. Bruce Nuclear) can do that just fine. You just adjust the power output via the steam loop rather than the reactor, neatly dodging the xenon poisoning problem.

    • by w_dragon (1802458) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @08:29AM (#37854206)
      This is solar thermal, not photovoltaic. The basic idea is to grab a large area where the sun is pretty much always shining during the day (you do have a desert or two, you know), set up a lot of mirrors, and heat the top of a tower. Fill the tower with some form of salt that will become liquid at high temperature, and will hold heat well (solving the night time issue), and they use the heat from the salt to power a conventional steam generator. There are a few installations of this sort, and it works well. They're just looking at how to make it a little cheaper.
    • I recently heard that the reason solar is becoming so popular is that water costs in certain areas are starting to increase significantly. That means the cost of any power generation that requires water for cooling (like nuclear generation) are seeing their costs uncontrollably increase.

      Add to that the fact that more and more people are starting to work from home and small/distributed power generation (like solar plants) starts to become more and more cost effective.
      • I recently heard that the reason solar is becoming so popular is that water costs in certain areas are starting to increase significantly. That means the cost of any power generation that requires water for cooling (like nuclear generation) are seeing their costs uncontrollably increase.

        Umm, no.

        Power generation that uses water for cooling typically sucks the water directly from a river, and spits out the slightly warmer water back into the river.

        And they don't meter rivers....

  • Absolutely Useless (Score:2, Interesting)

    by alphatel (1450715) *
    This is the definition of a waste of time and money. Several million dollars to exceed the current roadmap target and drop kWh to $0.06 ?
    The mean street value of such an advancement in technology is over a billion dollars, easily. But we, the federal government, will pay half your R&D costs up to $2m because we think this is a neat objective and maybe we'll all have fun getting there? Please! That's exactly what Solyndra received over $500 million in loan guarantees for and they produced nothing.

    Can
    • by vawwyakr (1992390)
      Yeah just like those waste of money government R&D funds that went into semi-conductor research, radio communications, nuclear power, etc. Bell Labs and other such historical research enterprises got government grants for research but that's just BS and we don't need to do anything like that because the government is stupid and that's all that matters to me or anyone smart enough to list to talking heads.
    • Actually, this is what I want my government to spend money on. This would be a large investment for a smaller entity, and frankly might not be worth it. For a relatively small amount (government wise), we ALL gain. There is risk. By having the gov. take that risk, we spread it around so it won't hurt any other particular entity. This sounds fine to me. Tony
    • You know we spent $720 million per day on the Iraq War, right? Sure, bad spending is bad spending, but a few million dollars to hurry up our process of disconnecting our lives from the Middle East is well worth it.

      (Yes, most of our oil comes from other places, but the global supply and global pricing is still based on Middle East stability.)

  • I suppose somebody in government watched this video. [youtube.com]

    But the gov't shouldn't be subsidizing anything, it shouldn't be taxing/borrowing/printing and subsidizing with that money. It should leave people alone and should allow them to work it out in the market.

    How would gov't know that the best course of action is these solar panels or anything for that matter? What gov't should be doing is stepping out of the way, dramatically shrinking its own spending (now 10% of US population is working for gov't, this includes contractors and military, this gov't force should be 100 times smaller).

    But the point is that private sector has to figure out the way, companies must try and fail, most of them will fail, somebody will figure something and if that doesn't happen, then there is no way, and gov't spending is just a waste and another resource mis-allocation.

    They really shouldn't be preventing private companies and people from trying more stuff with nuclear power, that's most likely the only true source of energy that we will be able to use once oil and coal and gas run out. Nuclear and at some point thermonuclear. Solar is great for local applications, but it will not replace the constant need for energy that only things like oil/coal/gas/nuclear/hydro can supply. At some point this will become the revelation that people don't have a choice and they have to rely on nuclear.

    As I said many times - I want my nuclear car.

    • by OzPeter (195038)

      [T]he gov't shouldn't be subsidizing anything, it shouldn't be taxing/borrowing/printing and subsidizing with that money. It should leave people alone and should allow them to work it out in the market.

      Oh the irony of reading this on /.

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        There is no irony, this could be any forum on any network that didn't have to be specifically using the packet switch protocol designed with a gov't subsidy. It's not like there were no networks before TCP/IP was created.

        With DARPA the gov't had a goal of using it for its military, and you don't know how much money is spent that is wasted and never transforms into anything. Sure, TCP/IP is a success in itself, it doesn't mean it had to be this specific protocol.

        • by rhakka (224319)

          You can always pretend the free market "would have" done something. Electric infrastructure. Roads. Internet. Pure research. But that doesn't mean it will. If you want viagra, the free market will deliver that. If you want to avoid a catastrophic shock to the system when energy prices spike with no ready to deploy alternatives already going, however, it can't. That takes years and years of development and deployment and a serious focus to get going, in conditions that are not yet "economical". But

          • by roman_mir (125474)

            I don't have to pretend, that's what free market DID do before intervention by government, that really started in 1913.

            Free market DID create all sorts of things and it DID provide all sorts of research. From airplanes, to cars, to telephones (so the phone infrastructure), and electrical power plants (and that infrastructure) and roads and rail roads as well, which were destroyed during the ridiculous 'new deal'.

            The transistor is all pure research, but it was useful and it was done privately. Same with tho

            • by rhakka (224319)

              If you think oil prices drops are anything but natural fluctuations on an ever-rising overall price curve, you are not paying attention to the overall trend.

              If it takes massive depression to dampen oil pricing, that is a pretty damning indicator right there. Or are you suggesting that crashing the world economy is a viable solution to energy prices?

          • by Shotgun (30919)

            But the government didn't create "The Internet" as we know it today. It provided the money to some researchers to create a resilient network for military purposes. It was the private sector that glob onto and made the network viable, and then expanded it to what we now know it for.

            Only an extremely small percenta of the packets ever transferred across the Internet touched a government router. Well, that is if you exclude the illegal and unconstitutional wiretaps.

  • "come up 'highly disruptive Concentrating Solar Power technologies..."

    So they can be used as weapons!

  • We've already hit the tipping point with $1/kw and falling PV. PV has no moving parts, a long service life and works well at the point of consumption (households). It is not so much more expensive than fossil fueled utility power after cost of carbon and power distribution is taken into account. Utility scale solar requires huge amounts of land. We should only do that after our southern facing roofs are covered in panels (or north for the aussies).

    We need better batteries, not better solar power. A cheape

    • by Alioth (221270)

      This is not about PV. This is about thermal solar collection, which also allows the storage of energy (focus sunlight on a tower, melt salt, store reasonably large amounts of energy in molten salt so as to be able to continue generating during the night).

  • Or will Obama be allowed to pull a Solyndra and funnel money to campaign contributors without the mandated oversight?

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