Think solar, U.S.

January 4, 2008 | By | 5 Replies More

Scientific American has just published a comprehensive article on how to switch the United States substantially over to sunlight.┬áThe headline: “By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions.”

The cost of this immense clean-energy-producing plan would be $420 billion. That’s a HUGE amount of money. Where could we EVER get that sort of money? Oh, yeah. The U.S. has already spent that much on the Iraq debacle. For the amount of money that we’ve wasted in Iraq, we could have already funded a great way to wean ourselves from mideast oil.

Now, specifically, what could $420 Billion buy if one spent it wisely? It’s an incredible investment that would pay for itself over and over. Here are the highlights of the plan, according to the Scientific American article:

Solar plants consume little or no fuel, saving billions of dollars year after year. The infrastructure would displace 300 large coal-fired power plants and 300 more large natural gas plants and all the fuels they consume. The plan would effectively eliminate all imported oil, fundamentally cutting U.S. trade deficits and easing political tension in the Middle East and elsewhere. Because solar technologies are almost pollution-free, the plan would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 1.7 billion tons a year, and another 1.9 billion tons from gasoline vehicles would be displaced by plug-in hybrids refueled by the solar power grid. In 2050 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be 62 percent below 2005 levels, putting a major brake on global warming.

The plan would include photovoltaic farms, pressurized caverns for storing the solar power, concentrated solar power (using numerous mirrors to focus the light as heat) and long-distance direct current transmission systems (because most of the solar power would be produced in the desert Southwest, far from major cities.

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Category: Energy, Iraq, Technology

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    THe major flaws in this grand scheme have to do with storing energy by compressing air, and long distance direct current transmission lines.

    A much more efficient way of storing energy for is in Thermal storage tanks or in pumped storage reservoirs such as the Raccoon Mountain facility ( http://www.tva.gov/sites/raccoonmt.htm ). Also the power loss in long distance power transmission is well documented. The reason we have AC power distribution is because of this. Alternating current can be easily transformed to a higher voltage with a lower current, and stepped down to a lower voltage with a hughe current. Because the transmission lines have an internal resistance, which becomes significant over distances of more than a few dozen feet . the cumulative line resistance over a distance of even 100 miles will limit the available power (assuming an initial voltage of 110 volts, and a linear resistance of .00001 Ohms per foot would limit power to around 2.5 KiloWatts. At 15,000 volts, the power is limited to 45 MegaWatts

    The article shows just how endoctrinated American society is with the centralised hierarchy mythology. We should really take a clue from the homes in the Austrailian outback and in New Zealand.

    While we hear a lot of praise for "high" technology, and much info discounting "low technology", but in between the two lies the realm of "intermediate technology" . Intermediate technology is the application of decentralized, devices that take advantage of local power sources. A prime example is the hydraulic ram. The simplest description of a hydraulic ram is that it is a water-powered water pump.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_ram

    Hydraulic rams are common in parts of Appalachia and have been in third-world countries to supply water to small viliages

  2. Alison says:

    All we have to do is wait for the Solar Power Industry to get as much financial clout in political circles as the Oil Industry already has. Not holding my breath.

    We investigated converting when we moved, but even with energy credits, we would take 17 years to recoup the cost of installation of a solar system at our house. The incentives are made artificially low to discourage converting to solar.

    Companies that are retrofitting cars to use alternative fuels are beginning to see lawsuits from major US auto manufacturers, and oil companies are influencing the wording of biofuel bills so that they can control the production and pricing of that as well. I'm afraid that as long as the people who profit from keeping things the same are the ones making and influencing government decisions, only individuals will be making changes.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Niklaus has not been keeping up with current power transmission technology. Prototype real-world hydrogen-cooled superconducting DC power conduits are in the works. Both electricity and hydrogen are produced at an energy source (dam/nuclear/solar array/etc) where power conversion is cheap. The superconductor is kept cool by letting part of the hydrogen evaporate en route. Some of this vapor can be burned to power a compressor and radiator for the rest of the vapor to re-inject it into the pipe.

    This system costs more up front than running overhead lines, but its operating losses are limited to the cost of the initial extraction of the hydrogen to cool the pipeline. And it is ideal for low-voltage transmission. But a higher voltage always conveys more power per amp. And there is a limit to the current that superconductors can carry and still be superconductors. But this current limit is well above what a comparable copper line at room temperature can take without melting.

    This design came about not so much as a result of electrical research, but as part of the hydrogen initiative. It is basically a way to pipe liquid hydrogen over a long distance. So why not just put a superconducting cable into the pipe?

  4. G.L. Massey says:

    Niklaus is correct about the de-centralized power production. De-centralized power production has several advantages over the proposed central plan touted in the article.

    First of which is local power production (as in each individual housing unit) does not require a power distribution grid at all. This would minimize the possibility of natural disasters and terrorist attacks affecting vast numbers of individuals.

    Secondly, a decentralized plan could be individually taylored to individual needs and would not place all of us at the mercy of the energy producers (read as power companies, oil and gas producers).

    This combined with continued development of the electric car (recharged at home most of the time) could virtually eliminate our dependance on energy companies for home energy needs and thus return control of our lives to the individual.

    These things are do-able today. I know because I have been designing passsive and active solar homes for well over thirty years.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    An old joke: "The reason we don't have solar energy yet is because the oil companies haven't figured out how to build a pipeline to the sun."

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