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Power Science Hardware

Solar Power Headed For 45% Annual Growth 402

mdsolar writes "USA Today is running a pretty good article on solar power that gives an overview of the current state of the industry. Highlight include production costs of $1.19/Watt for First Solar, 40% annual cost reductions over the last five years, revenues expected to triple in three years, and a prediction for 2014 as the year when solar photovoltaic power plants become cheaper than other forms of generation. From the piece: 'Like wind power, solar energy is spotty, working at full capacity an average 20% to 30% of the time. Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks. And it can be located at homes and businesses, reducing the need to build pollution-belching power plants and unsightly transmission lines. In states such as California, with high electricity prices and government incentives, solar is already a bargain for some customers. Wal-Mart recently said it's putting solar panels on more than 20 of its stores in California and Hawaii. Google is blanketing its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters with 9,212 solar panels, enough to light 1,000 homes.'"
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Solar Power Headed For 45% Annual Growth

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  • Political Power (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:41PM (#20376703) Homepage Journal

    Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks.

    I like the advantage (over petrofuels) that its fuel is free, without forcing the US to kowtow to foreign tyrants who sometimes try to kill us, and sometimes need to get rescued from people trying to kill them, and nearly always are at the center of global warfare.
  • Re:$/Watt (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NerveGas ( 168686 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:49PM (#20376777)
    Nope, $/W.

    It's how much it costs you to get a panel capable of producing electricity at a rate of 1 watt.

    If your panel can produce 100 watts, and you spent $400 on it, that's $4/watt.
  • Re:Understatement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Once&FutureRocketman ( 148585 ) <> on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:49PM (#20376783) Homepage
    Yeah, well said. But let me point out that increase in ability to operate independently at every level from national to individual, while a very real benefit (to society) of solar power is NOT seen as an advantage by the powers-that-be. The energy industry is still fixed on the big-central-plant-generation/regulated-utility-dis tribution model, and there is a lot of money and many careers that depend on the continuation of that model. Solar and other forms of small scale, distributed generation, not all of which is even renewable (e.g. cogeneration, aka. combined heat and power), are a very real threat to those vested interests. Which is one reason (of many) that adoption of these technologies has been so slow.
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:50PM (#20376797) Homepage Journal
    since the first serious calculations were done to determine the feasibility of orbital solar power plants. The results *then* indicated that it was the only economically feasible way to supply the world's future energy needs. Since then, both space and solar cell technology has improved dramatically. Meanwhile, billions of dollars is being sunk into fusion research and there's no expectation that a clean fusion reactor will be developed in the next 50 years.
  • Not on my roof (Score:2, Insightful)

    by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:56PM (#20376889) Homepage
    Investing in panel makers? Maybe. Investing in a home installation? Call me when the break even point drops below 10 years. How many people even live in their houses for that long anymore? Sure, it may add some equity to your home, but not much, especially if the prices DO fall and/or the efficiency of the panels increases significantly during that 10 years. Imagine trying to include your 5 year old computer as part of your home's equity. You're risking a very similar situation with solar.

    You're also betting that grid power won't get any cheaper, which may or may not be a good bet, depending on the fuel source of your local power plant. If solar/microgeneration takes off, there could be an abundance of grid power, causing prices to plummet, especially if people start generating more power than they use -- unlikely, but certainly possible if panel efficiencies increase. The only advantage you have is that grid power can never drop below the cost of maintaining the plant and the distribution network, no matter how cheap the fuel. Nonetheless, my feeling is that there's no time like the present -- to put off a solar installation.
  • While true, I think this argument misses the point. No doubt that a meter squared of sunlight does not match the energy density of a centimeter cubed in volume of enriched uranium or plutonium. No doubt, per unit space nuclear wins. But your argument takes that fact and then extrapolates a straw man:

    > "Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see..."

    Which is not how photovolatic deployments are envisioned. The roof on my house - in Boston, certainly not in a prime solar latitude - could easily offset 30%-40% of household electric consumption, which would be produced during peak demand. Thus, it functions to offset consumption though doesn't completely replace commercial power generation.

    So... the only issues are: initial investment, projected return, and the rate of return. When the numbers add up for Boston, I'll buy in. Renewables will be deployed in conjunction with traditional power generation, because in certain locations they will be cost effective.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:12PM (#20377051) Homepage
    Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...

    As opposed to... suburban rooftops and utility poles as far as the eye can see? Are black shingles really that much more attractive than black solar panels? Are windmills so much more unsightly than utility poles and power lines running everywhere?

    All the large-scale wind farms I've seen are in places where there's barely anyone living anyway. I really have to wonder who is complaining about it.

    And on a related note, neither windmills nor solar panels are benign - they both have a subtle effect on the environment ... there's always a tradeoff with energy generation.

    The only one that springs to mind is the industrial processes to manufacture solar cells, and that's bad but seriously, industrial pollution is rampant and people who act like the production of solar cells/hybrid car batteries are a deal-breaker never seem to account for the processes involved in mining coal, building a car, or whatever the status quo is in addition to the pollution created by using said coal plant or ICE car.

    Or did you mean something like the solar energy being turned into electricity instead of warming the environment? Because it's all going to be released as heat in the end anyway.

    Wind power I'll admit has a subtle effect, as you're taking energy from the wind... Frankly I find it hard to imagine we could put up enough windmills to counter the effect of all the trees we've chopped down, but of course that's just speculation and we aren't putting windmills only where trees used to be.

    With all that said, for personal / household use solar has much promise, assuming the price can be reduced further, such as panels on roofs, etc to help people augment their energy needs.

    Depending on where you live, solar panels are already a good option if you can afford the up-front investment; they will more than pay for themselves by the time they need to be replaced. Lowering the price will certainly make them even more appealing, and also I think we need to come up with better small (as in household) scale energy storage so that you aren't as dependent on the weather that day. There are a lot of folks working on both problems; neither seems out of reach at this point. I'm very hopeful about the future of solar power.
  • Re:Not on my roof (Score:2, Insightful)

    by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:23PM (#20377173)
    i bought this house in 1980, why move when it is paid for, plus i like it here...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:30PM (#20377267)
    What I'd like to see is the widespread use of photo cells in desert cities that could use the shade. I was in Phoenix, and it was nearly impossible to use any of the sidewalks and actually walk or bicycle somewhere, because of the intense heat coupled with bright sunlight. If the sidewalks were all covered with roofs that were covered in photo cells, then peds and cyclists could travel in the shade, and the city would have 100s of miles of power generation, located within the city and near the consumers of the energy. People could drive less, run their air conditioners for free, and all that.
  • by NerveGas ( 168686 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:31PM (#20377281)
    But there are a lot more hot, sunny places than cold, sunny places. Say your efficiency drops by 15%, but your daily insolation goes up by 30%... you still win out.
  • by Target Drone ( 546651 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:36PM (#20377353)

    ... it takes a lot of solar panels to match the power generation of even a small coal power plant let alone a nuclear power plant, etc. Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...

    True, but you can stick them on roof tops. The average suburban roof top can easily hold a few kilowatts of solar panels. You need about 7 square meters per kilowatt (75 square feet) based on current 15% efficient solar panels. So a million homes (not including businesses) could produce several GW of power. About the same as a couple nuke plants. Although granted the nuke plants run 24/7.

  • by RecessionCone ( 1062552 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:52PM (#20377539)
    The grid is actually remarkably efficient for an energy distribution system - it loses only 9% of its energy input. The vast majority of the electrical losses in this chart come from converting heat energy to mechanical energy to electric energy. Converting energy between its various forms is always expensive (those pesky laws of thermodynamics!!)
  • Re:Understatement (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:03PM (#20377679)
    I think there's a misconception about deserts. (They generally are not simply dunes of sand. There's a *lot* of plant and animal life in the Sonoran ecosystem, for example). Anyway, where I live, according to my local power company we have up to 17% solar power in the summer. I have two solar cookers which work really well for making soups and sauces. Exactly like these: []
      I also have a roof-mounted solar water heater, part of a hybrid system (I have a gas water heater but it does considerably less work when the solar heater is working, which is almost all the time.) Yes we have hot water at night. The rooftop heater looks like a skylight. Okay, so I live in a desert city with 300 days of sunshine a year. Love it.
  • Re:Understatement (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mikael ( 484 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:07PM (#20377725)
    They are desert regions - presumably they will have lots of boulders, stones and pebbles, so depending upon the position of the sun during the day, at least half the surface area will be in the shade at any time. Having an array of solar panels shouldn't make that much difference.

    Desert areas tend to cool down rapidly at night as well, due to the lack of humidity, cloud cover and foliage.

    For a desert area to turn green, it would also need a steady supply of water and minerals.
  • Re:Understatement (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mgv ( 198488 ) * <.gro.namtlev. .ta. .tod2hsals.10.mapsoN.> on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:10PM (#20377767) Homepage Journal

    Of course, solar power only has advantages in certain environments. Almost no power source is universally producible. For instance, only some parts of America can provide significant natural gas resources. Only certain portions are capable of coal or oil. Likewise, there is a limitation on places that can provide significant resources for wind-power or solar-power.

    This isn't to suggest that it isn't worth the effort, but I am unclear whether we have the potential to expand facilities in those appropriate areas enough that they could power the entire country well into the future. (For example, solar power in Portland, Oregon is relatively pointless for mass-consumption since you need actual sunlight to generate the electricity).

    You don't need to have good areas near you. You should build the power generators where they are most efficient, and send the power by grid. This applies to Solar, Geothermal, Wind, Tidal. Power losses using High Voltage Direct Current" [](HVDC) are about 3% per 1000 kilometers. So if you would have more than a 10% increase power output by putting your renewable power source somewhere else, but that place is 3000 km away, you still can get more usable power at your end by doing so.

    Obviously you don't have to do this, and with some forms or energy (eg wind) you may want generators everywhere just to load balance - Somwhere in the world, every day, the wind blows.

    But could solar power cells in the desert power air conditioners on the coast? You bet. Could solar power cells in north africa power northern Europe? Certainly.

    The technology for power transmission is here. The technology for power storage is not, as yet.

    HVDC has the potential to make renewable power sources, such as solar, work. There is no reason why you cant even have solar power feeding the grids of cities during the night. And this is going to be very important when we start to look beyond fossil fuels to power everything.

  • Re:Understatement (Score:3, Insightful)

    by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:11PM (#20377781)
    Pollution free? have you ever seen the process of producing a solar cell? they are hellish toxic to produce. This is what gets me about greenies, they seem incapable of logical thought and of being critical of any process branded environmentally friendly.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2007 @08:53PM (#20378829)

    Meanwhile, billions of dollars is being sunk into fusion research and there's no expectation that a clean fusion reactor will be developed in the next 50 years.
    And if the basic research never gets done, we'll -never- have fusion power, be it in 50 years, or 500 years.

    There's enough money for both. Especially if certain countries reduce spending on the military.
  • Re:Understatement (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tshak ( 173364 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @12:40AM (#20380439) Homepage
    For a start, why don't you come up with a less biased source then GREENPEACE.ORG.
    Ad hominem at it's finest []. "This fallacy is often introduced by phrases such as: "Of course, that's what you'd expect him to say."

    It's okay for percieved bias to cause suspicion, but then you have to follow up with that by investigating the source's information. Bias does not make their information wrong. You have to show how their information is wrong or how they're misrepresenting the facts. The rest of your post goes on about how there could be a problem but you offer little more than speculation. This doesn't counter their findings which is based on research with real world data.
  • Economic analysis (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maddriller ( 1148483 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @02:00AM (#20380873)
    I have never seen an economic analysis of solar cell production. Will a solar cell manage to produce more power than was required to make it in its normal lifetime? Hmmmmm.

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