Sunday, May 08, 2011

Lighting Up The Dark!


In the last post we came up with a short term solution to how we can immediately stop (well within 3-4 years that is) the additional carbon emissions by cutting down fossil fuel usage by 50% and save the world while keeping economies going as well. Of course we assumed that rich countries would agree to such a solution and invest money in building few efficient nuclear reactors pretty soon. While even the moderate kyoto protocol which is no where near cutting carbon emissions by half in near future, is not agreed up by the world biggest carbon emitter USA, we may be just dreaming in here.

Still, what we have is a practical solution. A short term one, something like this can happen one day when the world leaders finally realize it's about time to take some real action on carbon emissions. Meanwhile, let's see what could be a good long term solution.

As discussed in the earlier post, dramatically and aggressively increase the production of nuclear energy to about 50% of worlds total energy consumption (currently nuclear energy is at 8.5%) is our short term solution to meet increasing energy requirements while cutting down on fossil fuel. Still, that too will last only for 15-20 years, however, in this time we should learn to power up the ultimate energy source the world has got. Clean, abundant, plentiful, natural, and harm free, all powerful Solar Energy! 15 years of concentrated effort is all what this industry need to deliver goods...

The total solar energy absorbed by Earth's atmosphere, oceans and land masses in one hour is more than the annual global energy consumption!

In the main post image, if only the solar power is harnessed in areas covered by black dots, total world energy requirement can be met! Those black dots are all situated in the deserts, the land currently can not be used for any other purpose. This is assuming the efficiency of solar panels will stay at the current levels of 8%-9% but this is something which is expected to rise up to 15% based on recent research.

Using the clean, free and abundant solar energy to fulfill all our energy requirement is a dream which can be realized and achieved in our life times!

Consider following statistics :
  • In 1950s at it's start, solar cell based power production cost was $286 per watt and efficiency of the technology was just 4%-5% 
  • In 2010 the cost for a watt was $1.80 while efficiency was 8%-9%
  • At the end of 2011 the cost is is expected to be $1.50 per watt. Efficiency too is expected to reach 15% in very near future. (wikipedia) 

There are 2 main methods of harnessing solar energy.
1) Photovoltaic (PV) using solar panels, direct conversion of solar energy to electricity (8-9% of efficiency) This field is recording a 20% of annual growth.

2) Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Using solar power to heat water/oil and then use that to operate a traditional electricity generator. Cost of generating electricity using this type of solar power is now approaching that of fossil fuel based generation. In addition, this method requires less area (space) about 10 times less area than PV methods above. However, CSP is large scale production while PV can be done even in households. Annual growth is 40%.

In addition to these there are other methods like thermoelectric where the thermal different of two sheets will be used to generate electricity or generation of hydrogen out of water molecules using solar energy. 

One thing very noticeable with solar energy research and advancements are that they have grown very rapidly during oil crisis such as 1970-1985 and again from 1997 - 2009 During these periods, governments have put lot of money into research and provided grants and subsidies as well to encourage the use and generation of solar power that has noticeably improve the innovation. During the times when oil was cheap, such as 1985-1997 growth in solar power sector got slowed down.

Recent innovations driven by the necessity in the last oil shortage was staggering and very promising as well as exciting. For instance, new technology of using viruses to convert sun light into electricity cheaply, 3D solar cells which can dramatically increase the efficiencies, thin wearable sheets of solar panels and photovoltaic  inks from nanotechnology etc are only few of several advances.

It is said that once nanotechnology advances and production cost of solar panels become cheap, our roads and highways will be built from solar panels which would power up whole world freely and forever without taking any additional lands! Now, that's just an indication of the potential and how exciting the prospects can be in the advancement of solar technologies...

This is the time world should  invest more on solar energy, it will definitely be able to pay back when we start to run out of fossil fuels and Uranium.

May be equatorial countries can export solar energy to industrial countries in northern hemisphere in the winter! equatorial countries can make some additional revenue from carbon credits as well in future when the world is concentrating on bring the carbon levels down! All this would be good news for the world as a whole and developing countries in particular.

After all, Sun is distributing it's blessings in much more democratic and fair manner than fossil fuels ever have!