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Earth Power Science

Tech That Will Save Our Species - Solar Thermal Power 648

Posted by Zonk
from the we-could-use-a-little-saving dept.
NoMoreCoal writes "Salon has up a story by Joe Romm, former undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration, discussing a lesser-known alternative energy solution. It's a technology that (he claims) is ready to provide zero-carbon electric power big, fast, cheap and (most importantly) right now: solar thermal power. 'Improvements in manufacturing and design, along with the possibility of higher temperature operation, could easily bring the price down to 6 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour. CSP makes use of the most abundant and free fuel there is, sunlight, and key countries have a vast resource. Solar thermal plants covering the equivalent of a 92-by-92-mile square grid in the Southwest could generate electricity for the entire United States. Mexico has an equally enormous solar resource. China, India, southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Australia also have huge resources.'" Interesting stuff, even if he does mention the Archimedes Death Ray.
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Tech That Will Save Our Species - Solar Thermal Power

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    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Either way, neither of the two are complete solutions like so many want to believe. Relying on the sun for power is not feasible for anything other than base load stuff. When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy. A 92 square mile station wouldn't be any more useful than a much smaller station. Solar could only feasibly be a supplement to the grid.

      It's nice that people are thinking, but the problem is that the government tends to grant subsidies irresponsibly and pla
      • by BVis (267028) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:11AM (#23076984)

        Relying on the sun for power is not feasible for anything other than base load stuff. When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy. A 92 square mile station wouldn't be any more useful than a much smaller station. Solar could only feasibly be a supplement to the grid.
        This of course assumes that there's no way to store energy during off-peak periods as heat or hydrogen gas (new tech, great potential. You use the power generated to crack water into hydrogen and oxygen, and store the H2.). Where are you getting the 'base load' information? And so what? That's still power we don't need to generate in dirty ways.

        I have to question why you think a 92 square mile station wouldn't be more useful. More reflective area = more power.

        Should we wait for the 'right combination' to magically appear, or should we start doing what we can right now and learn what works and what doesn't? This tech is dead simple, it's scalable, and it taps a power source that won't exhaust itself for 5 billion years or so.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          Relying on the sun for power is not feasible for anything other than base load stuff. When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy. A 92 square mile station wouldn't be any more useful than a much smaller station. Solar could only feasibly be a supplement to the grid.

          This of course assumes that there's no way to store energy during off-peak periods

          When it comes to solar power - that's not just a valid assumption, it's practically a law of nature. Demand is highest du

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          "This tech is dead simple, it's scalable, and it taps a power source that won't exhaust itself for 5 billion years or so."

          See? That's what kills me about people. Such short range thinkers.
      • by Eevee (535658) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:16AM (#23077056)

        When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy. A 92 square mile station wouldn't be any more useful than a much smaller station.

        So that's like saying if you need more water then it wouldn't be any better to pull water out of the Mississippi with a bucket than a cup because you can't make the river flow any faster?

      • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes&xmsnet,nl> on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:19AM (#23077108)

        When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy.
        Yes you can. If you build your plant large enough to satisfy peak demand, throttling back is a matter of rotating or shrouding a few mirrors or PV panels. This will make the plant more expensive than a base load plant with fixed panels/mirrors, though.
        Also, with solar thermal, you can store surplus heat. Plus there's the nice coincidence that in warm climates energy usage tracks insolation (e.g. airco).
      • by llZENll (545605) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:29AM (#23077238)
        Well if you would actually read the article rather than spouting off empty criticisms you would know that heat is MUCH easier to store than electricity, and you would only need a plant big enough for average load as you can store extra heat during off peak usage and use it during peak load.
      • by raddan (519638) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:31AM (#23077258)
        Did you read TFA? CSP can generate power when the sun is not shining due to the high thermal mass of the fluid it uses, which at present are oil or molten salt. Since you are using heat to provide the power (by boiling water to turn a turbine), it doesn't matter that you aren't generating more heat at night-- because you're using the store you created during the day. As far as CSP being the "silver bullet", the author addresses this directly:

        Certainly we will need many different technologies to stop global warming
        As for base load-- peak power usage is during the day, when the sun is shining. So even if this system did not have the ability to generate electrical power during the night, solar power is worth pursuing. Besides, you want to talk about subsidies? The corn subsidy may be misguided, but how about the Iraq war? That's a war fought to maintain the U.S.'s interests in the region. What interests are those? Oil. We're at $600 billion and counting for that subsidy. "Spreading democracy" is obviously a red herring, since there are plenty of places we've turned a blind eye to that were doing just that. Sometimes, we've even helped out the bad guys [wikipedia.org].

        I would love to see $600 billion poured into alternative fuels. It would be a boon to our economy, it would be a great opportunity for scientists and engineers, and it would isolate us from oil politics. Not to mention that it is an ethical thing to do, if we care about our planet.
      • Oh noes! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:46AM (#23077480) Homepage
        Either way, neither of the two are complete solutions like so many want to believe. Relying on the sun for power is not feasible for anything other than base load stuff.

        So this unlimited and completely pollution free* power source can only completely provide for the base load of the entire country (if you make zero attempt to solve the problem)? Oh, how terrible!

        Nobody pushing for alternative energy is really that attached to the idea of a "complete" solution. It's the nay-sayers who are always harping on any particular weakness of any one technique and saying "well it can't do everything, what's the point?"

        It's nice that people are thinking, but the problem is that the government tends to grant subsidies irresponsibly and places too much importance on any one system. The media plays up the importance of biofuels or wind power, then government pork follows and sends science off on a tangent following a single system.

        No the problem is that people naturally stick to the status quo unless whatever the new thing is a "complete solution", so it often takes the government, for better or worse, to get people out of their comfort zone. In some cases, for better, like wind power, which is a fantastic source of power in many places (like west Texas where the farms are going up all the time), and is providing an increasing percentage of electricity, without trying to be a "complete solution". This is exactly what you seem to be asking for -- diversity, using appropriate tech where appropriate -- but it's an example of government pork gone bad?

        Not that I believe most of them are subsidized; it's apparently fairly profitable to own a wind farm even without government help.

        The money should instead be going into research on how to find the best balance of technology.

        That makes no sense. The money required to 1) develop alternative energy sources and 2) do the feasibility studies on where and how they can be deployed and 3) actually build them, is vastly more than the amount of money required to take all those feasibility studies that have already been done and decide which tech to deploy where. "finding the best balance of technology" is pointless if you haven't spent the money to develop the tech, no?

        We are going to have use coal for a long time, that's inescapable. There is no one solution that is capable of completely supplanting coal. It's going to require efforts in lots of fields like nuclear, geothermal, and solar. Each has its own characteristics, advantages, and draw backs. It's all about finding the right combination.

        Coal is not inescapable, it's not the perfect fuel with no drawbacks in theory, it is itself not a "complete solution" in practice. If you're going to put nuclear on the table, then there's your opportunity to completely replace coal right there.

        * In operation of course, not during manufacture, but seriously who cares? Our entire society is built on manufacturing, with the commensurate pollution. If they didn't build thermal solar plants, it's not like nothing else would be built. The comparatively minuscule environmental cost of building the plants is just noise compared to the benefits of running them pollution-free for years.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by OAB_X (818333)
        There is no one solution that is capable of completely supplanting coal.

        Yes there is, and it's been done. I point to France and it's nuclear power. The swiss use 0% coal too by using a mix of hydro and nuclear.

        Geothermal (in places where it would work, like Australia) also could replace 100% all coal fired power plants.
      • by gurps_npc (621217) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @10:19AM (#23077912) Homepage
        As others stated, you are entirely WRONG.

        The standard plans for buildign Solar Thermal generators include heat storage devices. More importantly, in the areas where these devices are created, what almost ALWAYS happens is that during periods of peak demand, the power output is highest. I.E. During 9-5, when businesses are up and running and air conditioners are up and running , the sun is the strongest.

        Then they actually STORE up heat during the peak demand periods, to use in the lower demand period, called night.

        Using current technology, solar thermal power plants are almost cheap enough to displace fossil fuels, at least for the southern half of the country.

        I would agree that nuclear is probably going to be neccessary for the parts of the country that don't get enough sun. But geothermal is WAY too expensive, except in extremely rare locations.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Either way, neither of the two are complete solutions like so many want to believe. Relying on the sun for power is not feasible for anything other than base load stuff. When usage starts peaking there is no way to get the sun to send down more energy.

        Well you're half-right. Photovoltaics can't run overnight without storage, and that alone disqualifies them as baseload in the vast majority of cases. However, in many locations, peak power production from PV tracks peak demand pretty well, so PV's ideal use

  • by tgd (2822) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @08:41AM (#23076582)
    Thats 246 billion square feet.

    Thats somewhere between the size of New Jersey and New Hampshire.

    Talk about pie in the sky... its more realistic to be talking about microwave power stations in orbit!
    • by Soporific (595477) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @08:46AM (#23076638)
      Don't you think we've paved that much road by now?

      ~S
    • pie in the sky (Score:2, Interesting)

      by JonTurner (178845)
      there are many more problems. just off the top of my head:

      1) How much toxic materials will be required to create and maintain a 92-by-92-mile square grid. 92 *MILES*, people. like parent said, the size of New Jersey.
      2) For you environmentalist types who can't tolerate the thought of drilling for oil off the coast, what do you think a 92 square mile solar blanket will do to the native wildlife?
      3) How will this power be transmitted to consumers? Voltage loss is a real issue for long-distance transmission.

      Why
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @08:51AM (#23076720)
        so we simply build it *on top of* new jersey. it's about the right size, plus there's no wildlife anywhere in NJ to displace. as for the locals, who cares? it's fucking new jersey. the power can then be transmitted directly to new york city. i mean, sure theres *supposed* to be enough power to go around, but when has NYC ever fell short on a challenge to guzzle resources?
      • Re:pie in the sky (Score:4, Informative)

        by Smidge204 (605297) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:46AM (#23077482) Journal
        1) Not a hell of a lot. This is solar thermal, not solar photovoltaic, so there are basically no nasty chemical processes. Some vapor deposition for making mirrors but that's about it.

        2) No doubt it would change the local environment, but considering it's currently desert the change would probably improve conditions for local wildlife. Add shade, decrease ground temperatures, maybe even help retain moisture in the soil.

        3) High voltage DC transmission can send electricity thousands of miles while maintaining acceptable losses. About 5% per 1000 miles. You can't do it with AC because such long cables have huge capacitance that makes reversing the voltage 60 times per second rather difficult. Also, there's less issues with synching the AC waveform with whoever it's connected to - local inverters do that.

        Why not simply build a nuclear powerplant closer to the consumers?
        1) NIMBY - everybody wants it but yet nobody wants it.

        2) Waste is still an issue, since the USA is scared shitless to reprocess nuclear waste (it's actually illegal in this country thanks to anti-proliferation legislation).

        =Smidge=
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hcdejong (561314)
      No, it's not. To get the same amount of power in orbit, you need a similar amount of surface area. A bit less because there's no atmospheric absorption, but even if you can improve by an order of magnitude, you still have a massive installation that has to be launched at a cost of $millions per ton. Build the plant on earth, and you can use trucks to move the installation at $pennies per ton. Plus you can use cheaper engineering because you don't need to space-harden everything, and you've got no problem pr
    • by smooth wombat (796938) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @08:48AM (#23076678) Homepage Journal
      For once, someone gets something close when pulling out statistics.

      Using Wiki, New Jersey is 70 miles wide by 110 miles long while New Hampshire is 68 miles wide by 190 miles long.

      On a side note, instead of locating the power source in one state, spread it out over southern California (they need all the energy they can get), Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and maybe Florida (hurricanes might pose an issue).
    • by Gotung (571984) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @08:50AM (#23076716)
      Yes it would be a gargantuan task to power the entire country in this way.

      Which means we shouldn't even try to build 1 plant.

      Cause its hard and stuff.

    • by kalirion (728907)
      Haven't you heard the story of the pet cat/rabbit/whatever in the microwave? Do you really wanna do that to whole cities at a time?
    • by nizo (81281) * on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:04AM (#23076890) Homepage Journal
      Take a trip through New Mexico sometime; 92x92 square miles of empty sunshiney space is not a problem.
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:25AM (#23077190) Homepage
      Thats 246 billion square feet.

      Thats somewhere between the size of New Jersey and New Hampshire.

      Talk about pie in the sky... its more realistic to be talking about microwave power stations in orbit!


      Yeah, and guess what the square mileage of farmland in the U.S. is? Hint: Hell of a lot more than New Jersey and New Hampshire combined.

      So land-based farming is "pie in the sky", and we might as well talk about orbital hydroponics labs?

      Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. We've paved over many times more than that amount of land to make our highways and Wal-Mart parking lots, a lot of it requiring dynamiting of mountains first; how exactly is it impossible to put up some mirrors on the ground? If you're imagining a contiguous 92x92 mile area, maybe that's why you're stumbling, not that it's actually any more infeasible, it's just not how it would be done.
    • Thats 246 billion square feet. Thats somewhere between the size of New Jersey and New Hampshire.

      On the other hand, that's less than 2% of Utah, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. Any one of those states has sufficient unused desert to accommodate 8500 square miles of solar plants, and it wouldn't make sense to put all of the plants in one place anyway.

      Assuming each plant can generate sufficient power to be worth building, there's no problem with finding room. Environmental impact might be an issue, but you also have to factor out the environmental damage done by the current coal plants.

  • Solar thermal plants covering the equivalent of a 92-by-92-mile square grid in the Southwest could generate electricity for the entire United States

    That little line there makes me ask, "well, if I keep on burning coal, just how warm would the planet really get..."
  • ... now if only we could do something about the over population...

  • What happens when we suck the heat out of a 8,464 square mile area in the southwest? It gets colder! And if you're like me you fully believe that the next great climate change will be global cooling. I don't like where this is going...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      What happens when we suck the heat out of a 8,464 square mile area in the southwest?

      You're kidding, right?

      Right now the sunlight hits the dirt, is partly absorbed and reradiated, and partly reflected.

      In the proposed system, the sunlight hits a mirror, is mostly reflected to a collector, at which point it is mostly absorbed and reradiated, and partly reflected.

      There will be a potentially significant local effect, and a probably mostly insignificant larger effect. The speed at which the heat is reradiated may be a little different.

  • As others have mentioned, a solar farm almost 100 miles per side is completely impractical. Even a set of 13-by-13-mile farms -one for each state- might work for Texas and California, but would be much harder to pull off in Rhode Island or Hawaii just because of space concerns. Then there's the Alaska issue.

    Solar thermal is a nice thought. It might even work for some states. But it's not the One Magic Bullet that people seem to be seeking.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by arashi sohaku (228013)
      Check the summary again. It says "equivalent", not one big 92x92 plot of technology. If the solar fields could be made smaller, but many more spread out over the region, you could get the same effect as if it were one large setup.

      I heard about this on NPR last week, and this same concern was brought up. No one is saying that they are going to make such a huge array (can you imagine the need for maintenance workers?). However, if there are enough arrays created, it can be the functional equivalent of the
  • by Roy van Rijn (919696) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:31AM (#23077268) Homepage
    This makes me wonder, is generating electricity using this method more efficient to do with heating water to go into a turbine... or using a (huge) stirling engine? I've read that a Stirling Engine is the most energie efficient way to turn heat into movement (thus electricity?).

    Can anybody shed some light on this? (no pun intended)
  • by Markee (72201) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:54AM (#23077598)
    There are many alternative concepts for low- or no-carbon energy in the drawers. Hoewever, most of them still have the status of an unproven technology. They are perceived as being driven mostly by tree-hugging nerds who can't do the math, or mad-scientist type of guys who are desperately fighting for a silly idea.
    For some this may be true, for some it certainly is not. But to know which tech belongs to which category, a serios research investment needs to happen.

    Now imaginge that a country of the size of the United States would invest just the cost of 1 month worth of Iraq war into the development of alternative energys. A research facility town in a desert, funded with anything they need to prove whatever technology promises to deliver clean energy on a larger scale, and invest what is necessary to solve the problem, or dismiss the technology, could probably do more for the world climate and world economy than most other measures.

    The Manhattan project was an example of an must-do project where absolutely anything needed to solve a complex technical problem was done, investing any manpower and money possibly needed to solve the task.

    Now think of doing the same, but this time not to build the most destructive weapon on the planet, but to get rid of oil as the primary energy source, lose the handcuffs of oil dependency, and save the climate.

  • by va.va_va.va (973230) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:57AM (#23077646)
    STP is a very common technology here in Brazil, especially in households that use it to heat water to be used in the shower (replacing our famous electric shower heads). Some industries also use it to pre-heat water that they use in the manufacturing process, saving millions of dollars every year. -vava
  • Transmission lines (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lpangelrob (714473) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @10:23AM (#23077978)
    The problem (if you could call it that) isn't so much lack of available sources of energy. Allegedly, there is enough wind energy in South Dakota also to power the country if South Dakota was fully built out with wind turbines.

    The problem is that transmission lines to move the power cost about $300,000 a mile, plus the cost of substations and transformers. It's not a stretch of the imagination to say that such an upgrade to the system would cost trillions of dollars.

    Economics say that the closer power is produced to where it is consumed, the cheaper it actually is. Which is why covering New Mexico with these is a ludicrous proposition and not worth investigating. I'm wondering if it'll work in the Chicagoland metropolitan area first and foremost, and if the costs work out for such a plant to be built.
  • ausra (Score:4, Informative)

    by AnotherBlackHat (265897) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @10:46AM (#23078238) Homepage
    Before reading the fine article, I thought it would be a PR piece for Ausra.

    If you read the stuff at their website, http://ausra.com/ [ausra.com], they answer a lot of the questions that have been, and doubtless will be asked here;

    It's possible to store thermal energy and use it to produce electricity at night.
    Some places do receive more sunlight than others, and plants built in those places would be more efficient.
    They have a nice PDF that shows (among other things) the normal solar radiation for different areas - plants work better in deserts than in river valleys, but there are plenty of places you can build them that are cost effective.
    Ausra isn't vaporware - they already build a plant in Australia, and they are building one in southern California.

    The current plant is cost competitive with scrubbed coal, and future plants are supposed to be on par with unscrubbed coal plants.
    That last may be hype, but at the very least they can already produce electricity for less than 12 cents a kilowatt, and cutting that in half doesn't seem unreasonable.

    Even so, at best these kinds of plants will only supplant oil and coal burning electric plants.
    We're still going to burn oil in our cars, home heaters, etc.

    Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Ausra, but most of my information about them comes from them, or their press releases, so take it with a grain of salt.

    -- Should you believe authority without question?
  • Riiiiiiight (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BigGar' (411008) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @12:00PM (#23079330) Homepage
    That would be 92x92 miles or 8464sq miles.
    For comparison Yellow National park is "only" 3472sq miles.

    So by undertaking the largest construction project ever and cover over that much area we can power the US with concentrated solar power.

    I can only imagine the environmental impact statement required for such a project.
    What's the backup plan for the cloudy days? Tucson,AZ has about 89 of them per year. Lots of local backup required.

    All that power generation in one area creates a transmission problem as well.

    I'd rather see a Pebble Bed Reactors or some other relatively clean nuclear power with plants spread around the the country.

    Here's another thought with centralized power, centralized damage could take the whole thing off line. A ripe target prior to an invasion/attack or just to make us spend the money to build it again. Nope, while I'm not opposed to solar power, this massive project is just plain stupid.
  • by sentientbrendan (316150) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @12:07PM (#23079420)
    that only 1 or 2% of global power needs are met by solar power at current time! Whereas, power generation techniques such as nuclear, which my hippie buddy Zed assures me are "bad" and will "be totally like Chernoble, like booom man," is account for some 20 odd percent of global power generation and is being expanded in many countries! Some places use nuclear almost entirely!

    Apparently a crazy sect of cultists called "scientists" (who I believe live in California and are led by Tom Cruise) are contradicting the knowledgeable and sagely hippies and spreading lies about how nuclear power is actually safe when done right, and waste can be stored safely at Yucca mountain for some 10,000 years. Furthermore, they suggest that spent nuclear fuel can be reprocessed so that it will have a significantly shorter half life, on the order of a few hundred years. I think we can safely ignore these crackpots, with their "Phd's" and other cultish paraphernalia, and listen to my friend Zed who works at greenpeace.

    These same crazy scientists in an effort to derail solar panel have pointed out some problems with Zed's plans to save the world. Before we can deploy solar power plants of any size, we must address these obstacles. I am not familiar with them myself, as I don't get outside much, but I read about them on wikipedia. They are called:
    1. Night time.
    2. Clouds.

    "Night time", judging by it's title, seems to be some kind of dark temporal force preventing the rays of the sun or "Sol" from reaching the earth. I suspect this does not exist, it even sounds like something out of a science fiction story. If it does exist, I am confident that if we set our best space/time physicists to work on it, we can eradicate this shadowy nemesis.

    I'm not sure what clouds are, but according to wikipedia they are "a visible mass of droplets or frozen crystals floating in the atmosphere above the surface of the Earth or another planetary body."

    I don't know about you, but this sounds like an unlikely scenario to me. I mean, water "floating in the atmosphere." Water doesn't float in the atmosphere! It stays securely packed in mountain dew bottles. I'm sure we can ignore these hypothetical "cloud" problems when building our solar panels, and they will not cause any problems.

    In any case, let's ignore these so called "logistical problems" (a term that sounds like cult speak to me!) and deploy solar power globally. Zed assures me that the primary problems facing global power right now is a lack of positive thinking.
  • by Masato (567927) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:28PM (#23081294) Journal
    Wow... Where to start with this topic. I'm by no means an expert in the subject of power, but I have been studying it for approximately a year now (as an electrical engineer) and know people who work in the industry, etc. After reading many of the comments, I just wanted to try and clear up a few of the possible issues I see with this new source of power.

    Before I get into that though, I want to briefly discuss how power is produced today, since there seems to be a lot of misconceptions about how things seem to work.

    Power utilities today have quite a few resources to generate power. The "base load" power that everyone seems to talk about these days comes from large generation units that maintain a continuous, rated power level 24/7. The reasons for this are usually economical, but can also be based out of safety concerns for things like nuclear power. Depending on the area, the remaining power is usually generated with generation units that are committed a few days in advance (although it is possible to get a generator started from a cold start in 1-2 hours) All generators have ramp rates (the maximum amount the power can change during a given period of time), so they are unable to change their power outputs instantly. In cases where the load demanded by the consumer starts to creep above that being generated by the power plants, peaking stations (normally natural gas based) can come online and are able to respond to the load change. Natural gas, while effective at being able to keep the power generation and load in balance, is expensive, so peaking plants normally don't operate unless power prices are high or it is necessary to use them.

    If the load drops for any reason, power plants are capable of throttling down their power generation (again, subject to ramp rates) to approximately 10-20% of their rated output. Anything less than this and the unit will be forced offline (because a minimum level of stream production is necessary to turn the turbine, etc) Although this is one method of regulating power, generation units have a cost curve. The rated power is where the cost of generation is a minimum. Above and below that point, cost starts to rise, sometimes dramatically.

    Alternative resources like wind are used, but not heavily due to the nature of their power production. With modern forecasting techniques, operators are able to predict fairly accurately what wind patterns will be doing 3-5 hours in advance. The major problem occurs when the wind stops blowing. Even though we know 3-5 hours in advance that we need to generate more power, it takes a lot of effort (and money) to commit a bunch of generators to make up the shortage on such short notice. Because of this, wind power tends to only make up a small percentage of total power - so only one or two generators need to come up to make up for any shortfall.

    So what does this have to do with the current topic you ask? What the article seems to suggest is replacing the multitude of fossil fuel based generators with a few solar power generators. While this may look good on the surface, in reality there are many problems.

    The first thing that comes to mind is reliability. People take for granted just how reliable the North American power grid is. In many countries of the world (such as India), power producers cannot meet demand and must make sacrifices to various areas (usually rural) to keep the load balanced. For most modern generators, it's not unreasonable to assume a 1-2% outage rate a year. With multiple smaller generation facilities, this isn't much of a problem, since it is easy to make up the shortage by bringing another generator online. Normally, the system has "reserve power" in the form of generators that are online but not producing power. These generators must be able to start producing power in 15 minutes or less. So, if a generator fails, another generator will be brought up in its place and within an hour should be producing the full amount of required power. In the ev

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