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Pave 9% of Texas; Save America - Elf M. Sternberg
elfs
elfs
Pave 9% of Texas; Save America
To absolutely no one's surprise, the National Renewal Energy Laboratory has concluded that paving over Texas would provide the United States with 11 times more electricity than is currently being used.

Sadly, it won't happen. Telling the oil-producing nations of the world to go fuck themselves isn't profitable for the energy market overlords of the United States.

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gromm From: gromm Date: August 2nd, 2012 06:55 am (UTC) (Link)
The problem is, that paving over 11 percent of Texas (I assume you mean with solar cells) would provide lots of power, but at a higher cost than any current power production method. Last time I checked, it still exceeded the cost of coal power by at least 50%.

That kind of increase in the price of a commodity, especially one that runs an economy, can cripple said economy.

So while it's possible and maybe even feasible, it's just isn't cheap enough yet. Which is why they're working on the problem as we speak.
elfs From: elfs Date: August 2nd, 2012 04:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Depends on the definition of "cost." Is that the facility cost, the resource extraction cost (nil, in this case), or the cost of covering unpriced externalities (environmental degradation and health risks of carbon-based energy sources)?
gromm From: gromm Date: August 2nd, 2012 06:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Total monetary cost, including insurance and any clean-up costs of any industrial accidents. These things have a way of getting added to retail costs one way or another in the real world, because utility companies have to make money.

Also, I was wrong about the cost increase. It seems that this very day, one could go out and actually pave 9% of Texas with solar cells and sell electricity at almost or equal retail price as one would by building a natural gas power station. In a few years, it will be even cheaper, in which case companies like PG&E will just say "screw this, we're going 100% solar over the next 20 years with the currently installed natural gas turbines as backup". Once production becomes cheap *enough*, the need for environmental altruism disappears and accounting for unpriced externalities becomes unnecessary.

Environmentalists can indeed use economics to further their goals, if they go about it the right way. I can pretty much guarantee that the people doing the research on solar panels and power towers over the past 30 years haven't been in it for the money the whole time.
gromm From: gromm Date: August 2nd, 2012 06:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Edit to add: Researchers over the *next* 20 years on the other hand, probably will be doing it for the money. And a whole lot more work will get done in this field, too.
shockwave77598 From: shockwave77598 Date: August 2nd, 2012 03:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
And which 9% are you going to cover with solar panels so no light reaches the desert floor and what life is there? Deserts aren't totally lifeless. And then put in the batteries, since you only get 6 hours of useful power even with reflectors. And who is going to pay for this and the stepup transformations and the high voltage lines spreading out?

It's one of the things that's great on paper, but isn't buildable for various reasons. Just like we could go to Mars today, if we were permitted to use Nuclear power for the engines.
elfs From: elfs Date: August 2nd, 2012 05:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I strongly suspect that nations with much more to lose if they lose the energy race will not agree with your analysis. Somewhere in the next 10 years, a major world power will contract with a tropical state to build such a facility.

The cost of desert land may well be offset by the recouping of vast swaths of geoengineering, the removal of much carbon-based pollution in our atmosphere.

I don't think we should just arbitrarily pave 9% of Texas, mind you. But the report makes clear that 280 million GWH of sunlight falls on the US every year, while the US only uses 3.8 million GWH. If 1.3% of the US land surface is currently undergoing violent environmental degredation because it's dedicated to oil, natural gas, and coal production (and I'd bet it is), then that's a trade-off I'd be willing to make.
gromm From: gromm Date: August 2nd, 2012 05:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Keeping some portion of the desert in shade is a boatload less environmentally degrading than dumping toxins on an equal portion of desert. Even if it's 1/10th of the area, it's still way less damaging. An oil pipeline for example, risks every watershed it crosses, and that's usually a lot of watersheds. Not just in surface water like lakes and streams, but groundwater, which will be affected for extremely long periods of time.

As for the amount of time that useful power is available from solar energy, that's a problem that has been solved, with heat storage for utility-scale generating stations. Power stations like PS10 and PS20 in Spain have been using this technology to keep generating power all through the night.

The problem is still that these power stations cannot generate power cheaply enough to compete with coal power plants, but progress is being made in this regard and each new power plant has been lowering its costs.

Actually, just skimming over Wikipedia's article on the economics of solar power generation, it appears that photovoltaic generating costs have reached parity with coal and natural gas at the utility/wholesale level, with the cost being about double that at the consumer level. If you lived in a sunny location, then now would truly be the time to start investing in that kind of thing (actual returns on such investments have become feasible recently), and this is also being reflected in utility-scale solar power plants that are currently under construction in the desert states. When the economics make sense, then the forces of economics make them happen.
doodlesthegreat From: doodlesthegreat Date: August 3rd, 2012 06:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've seen photos of Houston showing massive parking lots all over the place. They're already paved, so stick the panels there as a roof. There are already places in L.A. that do just that. The top of every flat building (warehouses, minimalls, office buildings) would also be good for this.

So it may not be necessary to pave over new space since so much is already covered in asphalt.
elfs From: elfs Date: August 3rd, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
61,000 square miles of the US is currently asphalted (source), almost as much as we have dedicated to growing wheat.

Laboratory-only PV technologies, if they could be made to scale with reasonable cost, would allow ~1300 square miles (a space about 35 miles on a side), if placed in an "always sunny" state like Nevada or Texas, to produce all the electricity the US needs during eight daylight hours.

The South Pacific NZ dependency state of Tokelau is replacing its diesel electricity generators with solar, and will need fuel only for vehicles by the end of the year. Tokelau is hardly a high-tech paradise with server-farm demands, but it's demonstrated some feasibility and is an important step. Let's hope other nations start to take the tech seriously.
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