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TimG

Windmills, Oilspills and Bird Deaths

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You are somewhat overstating the case against solar TimG. For one, the article you quoted assumes that solar cells are only ~10% efficient (it uses 70 mW/sq.in. which is 108 W/m2) and that this power is only available for 5 hours a day. Fact of the matter is that in sunny parts of the world you can get a lot more than 5 useful hours of sun per day, and also that solar cells can be much more efficient than 10% and that these efficiencies are still improving. Additionally, solar thermal technology (which is more efficient and cheaper than photovoltaic) can be used to heat water to provide for showers/baths/handwashing/washing machines as well as hydronic heating. Larger solar thermal installations can also heat water to power steam turbines, generating electricity that way (though that is not an individual home scale project).

There are certainly fundamental physical limits to the utilization of solar energy but we aren't close to them yet.

Edited by Bonam

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The problem is these components need materials like copper and steel. The components cannot be replaced with plastic or better chips - the way most cost reductions have been achieved with consumer products. This means there is a limit to the cost reductions that can be achieved. Also most of these kinds of components have been produced in mass quantities for decades for use inside factories so there is not as much room for improvement as you might think.

Nuclear plants can be built on a commercial bais today with no subsidies and sell power at market rates. The only help the ask for in the US is loan guarantees because of the hostile regulatory environment.

What matters is the subsidy per KWh of energy produced. They are nearly non-existant for those sources today and that is why they are economic.

Not one inch of electrical grid will eliminated by residential solar PV because people will not want to go without power on cloudy days. They also will want a/c which cannot be supplied by solar PV.

We know enough now. As I said, there are fundemental laws of physics that impose minimum size limits on the solarpv and the support infrastructure. The large physical size means transport and labour costs matter and do the costs of the raw materials like copper which are required to make the components.

Nuclear plants can be built on a commercial bais today with no subsidies and sell power at market rates. The only help the ask for in the US is loan guarantees because of the hostile regulatory environment.

The nuclear industry hasnt sold a plant in North America for almost 30 years. Private investors wont touch them. The only countries that have been building them are countries like France with no coal and gas, and the programs are massively subsidized, and consumers pay more for energy than you or do.

What matters is the subsidy per KWh of energy produced. They are nearly non-existant for those sources today and that is why they are economic.

Yeah today... after a hundred years of heavy development and massive public subsidies. Applying that standard you could have declared every new technology in recent history unviable because it couldnt compete on price points with well established alternatives. You would have been saying the exact same thing about nuclear energy while it was in the R&D phase... watts produced up to that point had been way more expensive than established energy sources.

We know enough now.

Not even close which is why people who know a fuck of a lot more about it than you and I are still working to develop this and other technologies.

Not one inch of electrical grid will eliminated by residential solar PV because people will not want to go without power on cloudy days. They also will want a/c which cannot be supplied by solar PV.

Iv already built completely off-grid homes and thats with TODAYS technology and they dont go without power on cloudy days. The technology already works the problem is the panels and components still cost way too much, but prices are dropping fast with the price being cut by more than 1/2 in the last 20 years.

Edited by dre

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Iv already built completely off-grid homes and thats with TODAYS technology and they dont go without power on cloudy days. The technology already works the problem is the panels and components still cost way too much, but prices are dropping fast with the price being cut by more than 1/2 in the last 20 years.

I recently got lucky enough to get my hands on about 13 kW worth of space grade triple junction GaAs solar cells which were rejected from commercial use because they were "defective", in that their efficiencies were a few % below spec or they had little cracks or blemishes/contaminants in them. Tested em and almost every cell works perfect. Got them without backings so they are super fragile, they can shatter at the slightest touch if you aren't careful. Hopefully I'll have time to set them up in a useful solar array at some point... if only I lived in a house not an apartment.

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The nuclear industry hasn't sold a plant in North America for almost 30 years. Private investors wont touch them.
They won't touch them because of hostile regulatory environment that makes it impossible to predict when a plant will get all the approval it needs. Asking for loan guarantees is a cleaver way to ensure the government keeps the red tape to a minimum. Japan can build nuclear plant in 4 years. China is about the same. If other jurisdictions could offer than kind of regulatory certainty then nuclear would be a good bet there too.
The only countries that have been building them are countries like France with no coal and gas, and the programs are massively subsidized, and consumers pay more for energy than you or do.
And how much is due to a government owned corporation that has cushy deals with unions?
Yeah today... after a hundred years of heavy development and massive public subsidies. Applying that standard you could have declared every new technology in recent history unviable because it couldnt compete on price points with well established alternatives.
The difference is there was always a reason to believed that nuclear would be cost effective in the long run because of large amount of energy that can be produced from a single plant.
Not even close which is why people who know a fuck of a lot more about it than you and I are still working to develop this and other technologies.
Manufacturing is my business. My understanding of process of reducing the cost of manufactured goods exceeds that of the average pundit. That said, I could be wrong or there could be a game changing invention. But based on current trends I do not think that solar/wind/tide renewables will ever provide more than 10% of our energy needs.

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I recently got lucky enough to get my hands on about 13 kW worth of space grade triple junction GaAs solar cells which were rejected from commercial use because they were "defective", in that their efficiencies were a few % below spec or they had little cracks or blemishes/contaminants in them....

Great find if you got them on the cheap. We see much more adoption of far less sexy passive solar for heating water. Initial costs are low and lifecycle costs even lower. Solar water heating is the first thing to do.

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Great find if you got them on the cheap. We see much more adoption of far less sexy passive solar for heating water. Initial costs are low and lifecycle costs even lower. Solar water heating is the first thing to do.

Got them for free actually :) Wouldn't have bothered otherwise given that I have no immediate use for them. And yeah solar water heating is definitely the first thing, cheap, easy, and efficient.

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You are somewhat overstating the case against solar TimG. For one, the article you quoted assumes that solar cells are only ~10% efficient (it uses 70 mW/sq.in. which is 108 W/m2) and that this power is only available for 5 hours a day. Fact of the matter is that in sunny parts of the world you can get a lot more than 5 useful hours of sun per day, and also that solar cells can be much more efficient than 10% and that these efficiencies are still improving. Additionally, solar thermal technology (which is more efficient and cheaper than photovoltaic) can be used to heat water to provide for showers/baths/handwashing/washing machines as well as hydronic heating. Larger solar thermal installations can also heat water to power steam turbines, generating electricity that way (though that is not an individual home scale project).

There are certainly fundamental physical limits to the utilization of solar energy but we aren't close to them yet.

Yeah they can build cells up around 40% efficiency now and they should hit the market within the next few years. Theres been a steady stream of breakthroughs now that theres some capital around for solar research. Parabolic trough plants show a lot of promise as well, and theres already some in production.

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I recently got lucky enough to get my hands on about 13 kW worth of space grade triple junction GaAs solar cells which were rejected from commercial use because they were "defective", in that their efficiencies were a few % below spec or they had little cracks or blemishes/contaminants in them. Tested em and almost every cell works perfect. Got them without backings so they are super fragile, they can shatter at the slightest touch if you aren't careful. Hopefully I'll have time to set them up in a useful solar array at some point... if only I lived in a house not an apartment.

Thats a pretty penny worth of panels. Good score!

But yeah... tough to use in an apartment :(

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They won't touch them because of hostile regulatory environment that makes it impossible to predict when a plant will get all the approval it needs. Asking for loan guarantees is a cleaver way to ensure the government keeps the red tape to a minimum. Japan can build nuclear plant in 4 years. China is about the same. If other jurisdictions could offer than kind of regulatory certainty then nuclear would be a good bet there too.

And how much is due to a government owned corporation that has cushy deals with unions?

The difference is there was always a reason to believed that nuclear would be cost effective in the long run because of large amount of energy that can be produced from a single plant.

Manufacturing is my business. My understanding of process of reducing the cost of manufactured goods exceeds that of the average pundit. That said, I could be wrong or there could be a game changing invention. But based on current trends I do not think that solar/wind/tide renewables will ever provide more than 10% of our energy needs.

They won't touch them because of hostile regulatory environment that makes it impossible to predict when a plant will get all the approval it needs. Asking for loan guarantees is a cleaver way to ensure the government keeps the red tape to a minimum. Japan can build nuclear plant in 4 years. China is about the same. If other jurisdictions could offer than kind of regulatory certainty then nuclear would be a good bet there too.

Thats not the only reason. Its very expensive to decommission the plants and theres still issues with spent fuel. But theres already improvements in fuel cycle technology and I expect nuclear energy to come down in price a lot over the next few decades just like wind and solar will... as long as we keep working on it.

Manufacturing is my business. My understanding of process of reducing the cost of manufactured goods exceeds that of the average pundit. That said, I could be wrong or there could be a game changing invention. But based on current trends I do not think that solar/wind/tide renewables will ever provide more than 10% of our energy needs.

Im not knocking your knowledge or expertise or doubting your credentials. Youve made your points well. Im a technologist myself though, and Im just wary about dismissing a technology thats still basically in its R&D stage in terms of capital investment, especially one in the midst of a lot of different breakthroughs.

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You are somewhat overstating the case against solar TimG. For one, the article you quoted assumes that solar cells are only ~10% efficient (it uses 70 mW/sq.in. which is 108 W/m2) and that this power is only available for 5 hours a day.
The average incoming solar radiation in Canada is not more than 600 W/m2 in July and is a low as 300 W/m2 in Dec - a lot less than the average pf 1000 W/m2 assumed in the article.
Additionally, solar thermal technology (which is more efficient and cheaper than photovoltaic) can be used to heat water to provide for showers/baths/handwashing/washing machines as well as hydronic heating.
I have not costed solar hot water by my understanding it is quite viable. The only issue is convenience (i.e. if you have to wait a day if you use all you hot water).
Larger solar thermal installations can also heat water to power steam turbines, generating electricity that way (though that is not an individual home scale project).
Solar thermal in deserts is also a viable technology. But it is geographically limited like hydro and geothermal. It should be part of the solution but not a silver bullet. Edited by TimG

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The average incoming solar radiation in Canada is not more than 600 W/m2 in July and is a low as 300 W/m2 in Dec - a lot less than the average pf 1000 W/m2 assumed in the article.

Obviously northern nations aren't the ideal locations for solar energy usage. By the way I hope that 600 W/m2 average isn't just an unweighted average over all of Canada's surface area which obviously includes far northern reaches that receive much less light than Canada's populated areas.

I have not costed solar hot water by my understanding it is quite viable. The only issue is convenience (i.e. if you have to wait a day if you use all you hot water).

Obviously you'd still have a normal water heater as a backup.

Solar thermal in deserts is also a viable technology. But it is geographically limited like hydro and geothermal. It should be part of the solution but not a silver bullet.

Of course. No technology is a silver bullet. Even if we develop commercially viable fusion energy in the future, there will still be room for other technologies.

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Im just wary about dismissing a technology thats still basically in its R&D stage in terms of capital investment, especially one in the midst of a lot of different breakthroughs.
It comes down to question whether the government should be providing massive subsidies to solar today. I think it is a waste of money and government resources are better spent elsewhere (like upgrading the grid). Oil and coal prices are headed upward and there may be a tipping point when solar is economic without subsidies. At that point you will be proven right.

When it comes to government involvement I think the Internet example is a good one to follow: the government funded the R&D, built the initial infrastructure but left it up to the private sector to figure out how to exploit it economically.

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By the way I hope that 600 W/m2 average isn't just an unweighted average over all of Canada's surface area
It is the average over 8 hours in single july day in Oregon (40 deg lat). The numbers in any part of Canada will be lower.

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It is the average over 8 hours in single july day in Oregon (40 deg lat). The numbers in any part of Canada will be lower.

I guess that's including cloudy days in the average, which is reasonable I suppose. I can tell you I personally measured 977 W/m2 at noon on a sunny day in Vancouver in August 2008. I have it written down right here in my lab book from the particular project that was involved in actually.

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I guess that's including cloudy days in the average, which is reasonable I suppose. I can tell you I personally measured 977 W/m2 at noon on a sunny day in Vancouver in August 2008. I have it written down right here in my lab book from the particular project that was involved in actually.
The energy follows a sine curve over the course of the day. Approximate the sine with a 8 hour triangle wave and you get an average of 488 W/m2 per hour which is consistent with all of the other numbers I posted.

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The energy follows a sine curve over the course of the day. Approximate the sine with a 8 hour triangle wave and you get an average of 488 W/m2 per hour which is consistent with all of the other numbers I posted.

Sounds about right.

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It comes down to question whether the government should be providing massive subsidies to solar today. I think it is a waste of money and government resources are better spent elsewhere (like upgrading the grid). Oil and coal prices are headed upward and there may be a tipping point when solar is economic without subsidies. At that point you will be proven right.

When it comes to government involvement I think the Internet example is a good one to follow: the government funded the R&D, built the initial infrastructure but left it up to the private sector to figure out how to exploit it economically.

I agree thats the ideal model, but it only works if the costs by various producer are internalized. They arent, and never have been. The energy "market" is a patchwork of subsidies and government favor. Some of the players get access to public money, public property, public research, and government action. Some of them are allowed to make a huge mess which the public has to clean up later.

If you forced companies to internalize ALL of their costs and pass them onto the consumer then it could work, but as it is now no new technology will make it to the market without public investment. Thats just the reality of it. For example...without public investment its unlikely a single large scale nuclear plant would have ever been built to this day, and an important technology would have gone undeveloped.

Theoretically its a good idea but practically it would drastically slow down energy research and development.

Edited by dre

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The energy "market" is a patchwork of subsidies and government favor. Some of the players get access to public money, public property, public research, and government action. Some of them are allowed to make a huge mess which the public has to clean up later.
This is true of all industry. But the real question is whether these things actually mean the cost of fossil fuels to consumers is lower than it would be otherwise. If the patch work of subsidies does not reduce the cost to consumers then it no effect on the viability of renewables. In the end, I don't believe there is any net effect because oil price is set by the market and gasoline in the US is made artifically expensive due to limited refining capacity caused by government over regulation.
If you forced companies to internalize ALL of their costs and pass them onto the consumer then it could work
I am not convinced that internalizating these costs would actually make much of difference in the end. For example, economists have estimated the 'social cost' of CO2 emssions as a about $50/tonne of carbon. It works out to 4 cents/litre. Even if yoou quadruple that estimate consumers are not likely to change behavoir. In fact, some economists estimate a tax of $700 tonne is required to actually change behavoir - a sum that greatly exceeds any reason estimate of the 'internalized' costs.
Theoretically its a good idea but practically it would drastically slow down energy research and development.
The government should fund R&D directly if that is a concern. Edited by TimG

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I disagree with you assessment here.

1. The oil industry has recieved untold billions in direct subsidies and assistance.

2. They recieve billions in research grants.

3. They are given licenses by the government to drill on land they dont own.

4. The public pays to clean up most the messes they make.

5. Energy is a key component of foreign policy, and the government acts as an enabler for oil companies to be able to drill all around the world. For example the US government made sure that western oil companies got a huge ammount of drilling contracts in Iraq after the invasion. Some even suggest that the oil companies were one of the primary reasons the war happened in the first place, but I wont go that far here because that opens up another whole point of contention that would derail this thread.

All these things are government/public action, and they happen all around the world. Without government assistance, oil companies would have to purchase all the land they drill on... the public has donated 60 million acres of land to their cause in the US alone. I dont believe these things have no impact on prices in fact I think they have a huge impact (albeit a tough one to measure).

But if youre so sure all this government action is meaningless and has no impact on prices... lets do away with it! Make oil companies purchase their own land to drill on, and make them liable to clean up every bit of mess made by their products. My guess is that if you did this oil prices would immediately double or triple, which would generate huge investment in alternative energy technologies. And if what you say is true, and it had no impact, then it wont make any difference.

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1. The oil industry has recieved untold billions in direct subsidies and assistance.
I have looked into these claims and have found no evidence that they are more than a drop in the bucket.
2. They recieve billions in research grants.
So?
3. They are given licenses by the government to drill on land they dont own.
Land ownership does not give you rights to resources found beneath it. Rights to those resources must be purchased seperately and the oil companies do pay for those rights. This is the way it has been for centuries.
5. Energy is a key component of foreign policy, and the government acts as an enabler for oil companies to be able to drill all around the world.
Modern society will ALWAYS depend on a critical resource in short supply. Before oil it was salt. After oil it will be lithium, indium or any number of other resources required to make high tech goodies.
But if youre so sure all this government action is meaningless and has no impact on prices... lets do away with it! Make oil companies purchase their own land to drill on, and make them liable to clean up every bit of mess made by their products.
You create a red-herring because you don't understand how the fee simple system works. Nobody really owns land. All they do is buy a contract which grants the exclusive rights to the use of the surface. It does not grant them any rights below ground or in the air above.

As for paying for clean up, I agree completely. The tailings ponds in the tar sands really worry me and I think companies should be required to do a lot more than they are doing now. The trouble is this CO2 obsession diverts resources away from dealing with the real environmental problems like tailings ponds.

Edited by TimG

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As for paying for clean up, I agree completely. The tailings ponds in the tar sands really worry me and I think companies should be required to do a lot more than they are doing now. The trouble is this CO2 obsession diverts resources away from dealing with the real environmental problems like tailings ponds.

This is only a more focussed, slightly less inane notion than our fellow poster Lictor's assertion that "the left" is responsible for all our problems. (Literally: all of them. I'm not exaggerating for effect.) Are you saying that prior to the "CO2 obssession" the governments were going gangbusters after the oil companies for clean-up costs, but have since been diverted by climate change fears? Because that's simply not true.

Edited by bloodyminded

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Are you saying that prior to the "CO2 obssession" the governments were going gangbusters after the oil companies for clean-up costs, but have since been diverted by climate change fears?
I am saying the chances of getting governments to push on oil companies over the tailings ponds is zero as long as they are facing pressure over CO2 emissions. Drop the CO2 issue and it will be easier to pressure governments to do something about tailings.

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As for paying for clean up, I agree completely. The tailings ponds in the tar sands really worry me and I think companies should be required to do a lot more than they are doing now. The trouble is this CO2 obsession diverts resources away from dealing with the real environmental problems like tailings ponds.

I definitely agree with this criticism. In the 90s we heard about environmental problems like deforestation, species extinction, destruction of streams and rivers, toxification of wetlands, etc. These are all important issues, many of them more immediate and MUCH more easily remedied than CO2 emissions. And yet these concerns are now all but forgotten, deforestation continues at an alarming pace of over 100,000 square km per year, extinction rates are soaring due to habitat destruction and pollution, etc, and almost no one mentions this anymore. All we hear about on the environmental front now is climate change. I think much more good could have been done if the focus had not been taken off these other issues.

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I definitely agree with this criticism. In the 90s we heard about environmental problems like deforestation, species extinction, destruction of streams and rivers, toxification of wetlands, etc. These are all important issues, many of them more immediate and MUCH more easily remedied than CO2 emissions. And yet these concerns are now all but forgotten, deforestation continues at an alarming pace of over 100,000 square km per year, extinction rates are soaring due to habitat destruction and pollution, etc, and almost no one mentions this anymore. All we hear about on the environmental front now is climate change. I think much more good could have been done if the focus had not been taken off these other issues.

I dont think those concerns are forgotten. But they face the example same problem that co2 concerns face... and its not the "left".

A subset of conservatives, and industrial lobbiests have been able to sell the narrative that regulation is a bad word, and if we dont give industries carte blanch to trash the planet we will be living in grass huts and foraging for roots and berries.

A lot of these people see each one of those tailings ponds as the a sign of economic activity. They want as many as possible, because the more polution generated, means the more economic growth and jobs have been generated.

Every time you so much as suggest a single regulation to force industry to clean up their act they trot out economic doomsday scenarios.

Deforestation = progress!

Edited by dre

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