Friday, September 21, 2007

Solar power update

Well, solar power has been a long time coming and many detractors still don't consider it even a realistic potential source. New technology, however, may make it possible for solar power to replace existing fossil-fuel based energy. Sci-fi authors have been talking about beamed solar power for a long time, but only recently has it become a possibility.

A proposal is being vetted by U.S. military space strategists that 10 percent of the U.S. baseload of energy by 2050, perhaps sooner, could be produced by space based solar power (SBSP). Furthermore, a demonstration of the concept is being eyed to occur within the next five to seven years.

Less sci-fi, but perhaps more practical, are new types of ground-based solar energy collectors, which, with new technologies, are expected to be able to take over enery production for a large part of the US grid.

If those claims stand up, however, solar-thermal plants could provide a significant chunk of the Southwest's—and potentially the nation's—electricity. "The maximum you can get into the grid is about 25 percent from solar," including photovoltaics, Mills says. But "once you have storage, it changes from this niche thing to something that could be the big gorilla on the grid equivalent to coal."


Assuming that their storage system works, Mills and his colleagues calculated in a paper presented today at the Solar Energy Society World Congress in Beijing that such solar-thermal power plants could match the electricity needs of both California and Texas. And, by combining a system that would meet the needs of California and Texas, solar-thermal plants could supply 96 percent of the national electricity demand. "The entire energy use of 2006, the current technology including storage would use a patch of land 92 miles by 92 miles," O'Donnell says. "Ten percent of the [Bureau of Land Management] land in Nevada is enough."

It's not sci-fi anymore. The sooner we adopt this technology and cut free from fossil-fuels, the better.

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