Saved by the Sun
(yes we could be)
A comment posted on this blog on Monday concludes with the words “…I look forward to your next blog but some solutions would occasionally be welcome”. As it happens, I stumbled upon a TV programme (in the Nova series), which was re-broadcast on Sky on the PBS America channel on Monday night. The most amazing thing about this programme is that it was first broadcast in 2007. Its main message is a very clear one – we have the solution to our energy crisis. Therefore, its main question is a very clear one too – why are we not implementing it?
I have now found it on You Tube; and have appended it below. However, here is a brief summary:
- Solar Farms (using parabolic mirrors to focus energy onto oil-filled tubes that generate electricity by boiling water to make steam [i.e. solar thermal]) have been around for over 20 years.
- Solar Farms (using photovoltaic panels that convert radiation directly to electricity [i.e. solar PV]) have also been around for quite a while and are getting cheaper all the time.
- Both of the above can be developed on land not being used for any other purpose (other than perhaps grazing animals), whereas Solar PV can be installed on the roof of any suitable building.
- Since this Nova programme was first broadcast, solar thermal plants have been built with capacitors (huge tanks of salt solution) that enable electricity to be stored and discharged when the Sun is not shining – therefore making them capable of providing power 24/7.
- Solar PV panels have a very low energy conversion efficiency and they are expensive. However, even in 2007, it was noted that, as with all other forms of new technology, the price was coming down as the scale of production increased. Despite this, most households who invest (especially if given financial incentives to do so) can generate income from their solar PV panels by “exporting” unused electricity to the network to which they remain connected (and thereby – at very least – halve their energy bills).
- Similarly, even in 2007, there were already companies marketing solar PV systems to the owners of large buildings with flat roofs (another suggestion made on Monday). Knowing the cost of manufacture and the durability of the panels, the manufacturer/distributor can offer the building owner fixed price carbon-free electricity for decades.
- Although the proportion of power generated in the USA by solar means was extremely small in 2007 (and still is), in Germany solar power was noted as well on target to provide 20% of all power by 2020 (actually it has all but reached this target this year).
Critics claim that solar power is not sustainable because it can only be made competitive by means of government subsidy. However, this is patent nonsense because it ignores the fact that burning the Earth’s finite resources of fossil fuels is destabilising the Earth’s climate. There is, therefore, only one thing that is not sustainable – and it is not the generation of electricity from renewable (i.e. effectively infinite) sources.
Towards the end of the programme (view from 45:30), Dr Amory Lovins is interviewed. He summarises the situation in a very incisive way (as I believe he is well-known for doing):
“We do have a national energy policy, it is basically to keep wasting lots of energy, import it at whatever price and by whatever means are necessary; keep stealing from our kids; and keep screwing up the climate. You may think this is a senseless, immoral, and wasteful energy policy; and you would be right.”
So what the **** are our politicians waiting for? Oh yes, I forgot: A bit like a delegate at a meeting of the UN in New York connected to a simultaneous translator in a little room somewhere by an earpiece; our politicians are continually being told by the fossil fuel lobby that it will take decades to reduce our dependence upon fossil fuels.
This is quite clearly bullshit; we could do it now – all that is required is for our politicians to tell the fossil fuel lobby that the game is over.
We need to end the subsidies given to fossil fuel companies; and give them to renewable energy companies instead. End of story.
If you have the time, please do watch the Nova programme (and remember it is already 5 years old):
Addendum: In order to determine how far things have moved on in 5 years and/or whether the UK has embraced this rent-a-roof business model, I emailed Peter Bennett at the solarpowerportal website. With his permission, I publish here the relevant part of his response:
As for your question – there are a number of companies in the UK offering ‘free commercial solar installations’. The scheme is exactly the same as the rent-a-roof residential model that has been so popular over the last 18 months. A commercial organisation leases their roofspace to a solar company who installs and operates an array on it. In return the organisation receives unlimited use of the clean, green electricity generated and the solar company recoups the cost of the installation through the associated feed-in tariff payments. Here’s a (very) small selection of companies offering the service: