Unforced Variations: July 2012

Have at it.

561 comments on this post.
  1. SecularAnimist:

    There are some really ill-informed comments about solar energy technology posted above. I know the moderators don’t care for long, drawn-out, argumentative exchanges about alternative energy technologies, so I will resist the temptation to launch into one.

    I will simply suggest that people take a look at what is actually happening with the solar energy industry, and actually read some of the studies like the one from NREL, instead of relying on ill-informed assumptions, back-of-the-envelope calculations, and the predictable opinions posted on pro-nuclear advocacy blogs.

    As for Jim Larsen’s view that buying solar panels today is a “HORRIBLE investment” and recommendation to wait until the technology improves and prices drop, I will just say that I have worked in the IT field since the earliest days of personal computers and saw many people make that mistake with PCs (indeed, I remember when I kept buying 80486 systems because the first crop of Pentium computers were “too expensive” — WRONG).

    The fact is, the technology is ALWAYS going to be “better” and prices are ALWAYS going to be lower “a year from now”, so with that logic, it will NEVER be the right time to buy — and meanwhile, month after month and year after year, all that abundant free energy falling on your root is going to waste.

  2. Hank Roberts:

    PS — to make clear what’s not clear from the comments above, the NREL report is not all about solar: http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2012/1948.html


    “The report … compares estimates across six renewable energy technologies and unifies assumptions and methods. It shows the achievable energy generation of a particular technology given resource availability – solar, wind, geothermal availability, etc. — system performance, topographic limitations, and environmental and land-use constraints.

    “… get a sense of scale regarding the potential for renewables, and which technologies are worth examining” …. “Energy modelers also will find the study valuable.”

    “We’ll be frequently updating the information as we get more data.”

    NREL website: http://www.nrel.gov/gis/re_potential.html

    Personally, I’m not buying consumer electric generating stuff, favoring conservation over spending.

    Disclosure: I’ve invested what I can spare for years not into solar panels (we did do a white roof), but rather into longterm speculation on improving the world’s efficiency: woody agriculture research — because Phil Rutter convinced me long ago that the future _is_ nuts.

  3. MikeS:

    Bobl, According to http://www.nrel.gov/csp/pdfs/32160.pdf, about 65 sq km is necessary for gigawatt (just under half your estimate). I’m not sure if that affects your claim (the authors of the report think solar is appropriate for baseline generation in much of the western US), but I thought I’d throw it out there.


  4. SecularAnimist:

    Recommended reading: a new report from the International Energy Agency on the medium-term prospects for renewable energy:

    Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2012 — Market Trends and Projections to 2017

    “This new annual IEA publication, Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2012, provides a key benchmark, assessing the current state of play of renewable energy, identifying the main drivers and barriers to deployment and projecting renewable energy electricity capacity and generation through 2017. Starting with an in-depth analysis of key country-level markets, which represent 80% of renewable electricity generation today, the report examines the prospects for renewable energy finance and provides a global outlook for each renewable electricity technology. The report analyses enablers and barriers to renewable energy deployment in detail, examining larger electricity market issues that have implications for renewable development, including country-level demand projections, anticipated changes in conventional generating capacity and power system integration.”

    The report’s summary is available from the link above as a PDF.

  5. Jim Larsen:

    Secular said, “technology is ALWAYS going to be “better” and prices are ALWAYS going to be lower “a year from now”, so with that logic, it will NEVER be the right time to buy”

    No. As I noted, the savings caused by waiting has to be compared to the value of the use of the product over the wait. Taking the extreme example, if the payback for solar drops to a year, waiting a year becomes insane. (currently the unsubsidized payback for solar is never.)

    Also, the benefit caused by early adopters must be considered. I bought the first Prius. (and the second one) I count my purchases as a bit of charity and so don’t sweat that the first Prius wasn’t the greatest value (though the second one is the best automotive value on the planet. 50MPG in a big comfy vehicle that requires very little maintenance. What’s not to love?)

    I use solar for little things. Hot water is a given. Nothing like free, environmentally neutral hot baths or showers! If you’re considering solar, go with hot water before PV. Also, DC fans are far more efficient, and the system controls are just switches, so my attached greenhouse uses solar. Let’s me “help the cause” but do it in a sensible, efficient fashion and WITHOUT sucking at the trough of government handouts.

    As my first post suggested, I’ll go big on solar in 5 to 10 years, when it makes environmental sense to do so. Now, solar purchasers are probably more environmentally destructive than “regular” electrical users. (Completely unsubstantiated guesstimate)

    The most important part of my post seems to have been missed. We should invest in solar tech BIG TIME! Solar production, not so much. I’m sure that with 10 years of intense effort, we could develop a solar production system that will power the world cheaply. To produce much solar before that is, well, foolish.

    And, going DC is probably the biggest not-talked-about climate issue. 90% less consumption for fans, for example. Most everything we use is DC, or could be far more efficient if made DC. Your refridgerator could have a variable speed compressor which adjusts for maximum efficiency. 50%+ savings. We need a DC backbone and DC to the home. Do that first, while developing solar.

  6. Steve Fish:

    On PV solar energy:

    Across the country, payback on grid tied PV systems ranges between 1.5 years and never. There are many regions where the sun, the utility rate, and the utility rate structure allows a 7 year payback and an investment value of 10%/yr over the lifetime of a system. Is this horrible? As utility rates go up in the future the payback time on your investment will shorten and your earnings will increase.

    Suggesting that there is a government incentive of 70% for buying solar is disingenuous. If you don’t like solar incentives then you should also be concerned about public support for fossil fuels.

    The amount of area needed for solar panels is a non-argument when the energy is free and there are many sites that are not environmentally sensitive (think parking lots and roofs) and this kind of distributed generation is just what we need.

    The base load argument is a nonstarter. Many power plants run at 100% in the day, when solar works, but only 20% at night. Adding solar now would allow spin down of polluting power plants during the day. All or none black and white thinking is not going to solve our CO2 problem.

  7. Hank Roberts:

    Ask Dr. Bryan Killett About Climate Change and GRACE

    2012-Aug-2 14:04

    Quoting the intro below; click the link and follow links therein for the real item:

    “Bryan Killett is a physicist working on the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. GRACE is a joint mission of NASA and the German Aerospace Center which collects satellite data to learn about Earth’s changing gravity field, specifically the high frequency changes associated with ocean tides. As the high tide comes in, more water is present, so gravity in that location is temporarily strengthened. These changes are detected with GRACE and used to improve ocean tide models. Dr. Killett provides the open source (GPLv3) code used to process GRACE data on his home page. Bryan has agreed to take a break from measuring gravity fields and answer your questions about GRACE and the climate changes it has revealed. Feel free to ask as many as you like but please confine your questions to one per post.”

  8. David B. Benson:

    MikeS @553 — You state “(the authors of the report think solar is appropriate for baseline generation in much of the western US)”. I don’t recall a single word about baseload in the NREL report.

    Baseload is 24/7. Even CSP cannot provide that reliably due to the potential for extended cloudy conditions. (Except at great additonal cost of course.)

    I’m just correcting an erronous impression here. Real Climate is not the best site to discuss energy options (as the other numerous errors regarding reliability, cost and cost projections demonstrate).

  9. Hank Roberts:

    Better graphic display of worse news:

  10. Hank Roberts:

    “The universe doesn’t care what you believe. The wonderful thing about science is it doesn’t ask for your faith, it just asks for your eyes.” -xkcd

  11. David B. Benson:

    Dust from Asia Fills North America’s Atmosphere
    I could have told them. The high haze has become noticably worse here in eastern Washington state during this coentury so far.