Saturday, September 15, 2007

Here comes the Sun

It is ironic that the force behind global warming, the Sun, may also the solution to our dependence on foreign energy sources. Recent technological advances and legislative market manipulation may allow/force us to use solar power to generate electricity closer to the point of use. The fact that it may be a good investment, or at least is attracting venture capital, is more reason to watch for developments in solar energy technology.

This is significant because while there are many MMGW enthusiasts that decry a conspiratorial subversion of the electric car for example, the reality is there won't be a market for electric cars until these problems are solved:

1) Transmission losses of as much as 7%. Power generated far away from its point of use is transmitted in a manner that is inefficient. We either have to find a way to move electricity over great distances more efficiently or move the source closer to the point of use.

2) That power, at the other end of the outlet, is most often produced with the use of non-renewable energy sources.

3) Electric cars don't have the battery range yet to allow a majority of drivers to drive with comparable confidence and freedom.

I would drive an electric car as long as I could go at least a couple hundred miles on a charge. Otherwise it wouldn't work for my business. Unless...there were ubiquitous, cheap (or free) solar-powered charging stations at each end of each trip.

Recent developments in solar power technology solve some of the issues we face as it relates to our increasing need for cheap and politically-inert energy sources.

Whereas solar photovoltaic panels are installed directly on buildings and convert sunlight into electricity, solar thermal power is more complicated: it uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight and heat liquids, which are then used to drive turbines to make electricity. can be deployed on a large scale - big enough to light up shopping malls or towns, not just a home or a building.

Three large-scale solar thermal plants have been announced in recent months in California, the latest coming from a Silicon Valley start up called Ausra.

(Ausra) plans to build a 175-megawatt solar thermal power plant at an undisclosed location in central California.

"As soon as we can build solar power projects with the same cost of capital as building conventional coal or natural gas plants," ... "we'll deliver electricity at the same cost as coal."

...the fact that venture capitalists, utilities and start ups are pouring significant money into solar thermal suggests that this technology isn't smoke and mirrors.


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