Sunday, November 9, 2008

Solar Follies

There has been a lot of discussion in the last few years about “alternative” energy, which, in most cases means wind and solar as alternatives to coal, natural gas, and nuclear. The problems with wind and solar are well known to anyone with thirty minutes to spare to do a modicum of research. Unfortunately, far too many Americans are too intellectually lazy to become informed and have outsourced their thinking to radical, agenda driven environmentalists and their enablers in media, academia, and politics. They have substituted saving the earth platitudes for real world analysis of even the basics of our available energy sources.
Below is a simple analysis of solar energy that I hope even the most stubborn and ignorant Liberal can understand. I will follow up this post with one on wind energy.
According to the New American the maximum, which is far more than what is actually recoverable, amount of solar power available per acre in Albuquerque, a region of the country blessed with a lot of sunshine, is 970 kW/acre.
The largest nuclear power plant in the is the Palo Verde plant near Phoenix, AZ.
Although the entire Palo Verde facility occupies 4,000 acres, the reactor buildings, cooling towers, cooling ponds, and support facilities only cover approximately 500 acres. Palo Verde produces 3.2 GW from its three reactors that run 24/7 and only shut down for maintenance and periodic refueling.Now, to get that same 3.2 GW from a solar array operating at 100% efficiency (remember, this is a physical impossibility) the solar plant would require a little less than the same 4,000 acres, ~3,300. This sounds like a great deal but in reality the physical maximum efficiency of modern solar cells only allows a conversion rate of about 10%. The problem of maximizing power from sunlight has been known for at least 30 years, and is primarily one of physical limitations, not engineering technology.” So this 3,300 acres in reality would require 33,000 acres to produce the same 3.2 GW as a nuclear power plant. That also assumes the entire 33,000 acres is covered by solar arrays, which, again is impossible. There needs to be spacing for panel movement, personnel and vehicle traffic, and support facilities. So lets conservatively say that to generate 3.2 GW during the peak sunshine hours would require 35,000 acres. That’s a lot of acreage for a plant that would only be able to produce electricity for 8-10 hours on a good sunny summer day. What then to do at night when the sun isn’t shining or in the winter months where the available hours falls significantly? What are the options for areas of the country that don’t have the available number of sunny days Albuquerque has? What options are available for the vast majority of the country that doesn't have land for solar farms? What are the environmental impacts to wildlife and plant species of tens of thousands of acres being hidden from the sun under vast arrays of solar panels? Due to the area required, the inefficiency, and limited availability of solar energy, solar energy can never be more than a supplement to more traditional and reliable sources of energy.

3 comments:

Dymphna said...

congratulations on new job. I hope it is satisfying and productive!

Definitely a Thanksgiving to be grateful for.

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