When There is a Huge Solar Energy Spill it’s a “Nice Day”

by kstocker on 04/10/2012

solar panel

As someone who has climbed the face of mountains and spent a significant amount of time backpacking remote trails in the Grand Canyon, I have come to appreciate (and respect) nature is all it’s forms. Maybe for that reason I remain keenly aware of any act of man that blisters our environment. Solar panels are a no brain-er technology that we should push on every level for many, many reasons.

The sun strikes every square meter of our planet with more than 1,360 watts of power. Half of that energy is absorbed by the atmosphere or reflected back into space. 700 watts of power, on average, reaches Earth’s surface. Summed across the half of the Earth that the sun is shining on, that is 89 petawatts of power. By comparison, all of human civilization uses around 15 terawatts of power, or one six-thousandth as much. In 14 and a half seconds, the sun provides as much energy to Earth as humanity uses in a day.

The numbers are staggering and surprising. In 88 minutes, the sun provides 470 exajoules of energy, as much energy as humanity consumes in a year. In 112 hours less than five days it provides 36 zettajoules of energy as much energy as is contained in all proven reserves of oil, coal, and natural gas on this planet.

If humanity could capture one tenth of one percent of the solar energy striking the earth one part in one thousand we would have access to six times as much energy as we consume in all forms today, with almost no greenhouse gas emissions. At the current rate of energy consumption increase about 1 percent per year we will not be using that much energy for another 180 years.

Consider for a moment the effect putting solar panels on nearly every home in America coupled with electric cars could have on our security, the air we breath and society as a whole. In our cities we would not have to breath dangerous gasses that are killing us. We would make huge strides to pass on to our children a better planet than was given to us. There would be no need for the Treasure of this great nation to be sacrificed 10,000 miles away to keep our SUV’s running. The list goes on and on.

Smaller, cheaper, faster: Does Moore’s law apply to solar cells?

There is a lot of talk lately about Moore’s Law in regards to solar panels. In the computer technology field, Moore’s law says that the number of components that can be placed on a chip doubles every 18 months. According to Scientific American, if Moore’s Law were applied to solar power technology, we would eventually have the solar equivalent of an iPhone very cheap, mass produced energy technology many times more effective than the giant and centralized technologies it was came from.

Over the span of thirty years, the cost of PV cells in solar panels has reduced 7 percent each year on average. If this continues, the cost of this one form of renewable energy will be just over 50 cents per watt in 20 years. Solar panels historically have been about half the installed cost of a solar power system. With the cost of installation falling at the same rate as solar panels, the cost of solar in the U.S. will cross the current average retail electricity price of 12 cents per kilowatt hour in 2020. In fact, given that electricity prices are currently rising a small fraction per year, prices will probably cross earlier, around 2018 for the country as a whole, and as early as 2015 for the sunniest parts of America.

Any argument against developing solar panels as a main energy source in American has to be coming from a source directly connected to the petroleum industry, or worse. If solar is here to stay, wouldn’t it be great if we accelerated the installation of solar panels and applied Moor’s law fulfillment of the promise of solar in our lifetime?

Source Scientific America Author – Ramez Naam

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