Solar to Become World's Largest Power Source by 2050

Solar has to improve.  I mean, it's just there for the harvesting!  I have read many promising articles, etc. on how panels have been developed to be the top surface of just about any road, sidewalk and parking lot.  They will improve on this, and think about it: if you are laying the solar panels in all your roads, sidewalks and parking lots, there's your distribution system right up to the building.  I think this is an exciting area and hope to see it become economical and widely used in my lifetime.

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But this, too, will come with additional costs. The idea certainly sounds great but I think everyone talking about falling solar costs means panel costs. I may be wrong and I hope I am but still. I 'd love nothing more than to get a solar-panelled roof on my house and be carefree for most of the year, only... I'll need batteries as well for winter. Now battery costs are a different matter.

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13 minutes ago, Marina Schwarz said:

But this, too, will come with additional costs. The idea certainly sounds great but I think everyone talking about falling solar costs means panel costs. I may be wrong and I hope I am but still. I 'd love nothing more than to get a solar-panelled roof on my house and be carefree for most of the year, only... I'll need batteries as well for winter. Now battery costs are a different matter.

Alas, you are probably right.  In fact we may see cars that hover or fly become commonplace before they make these breakthroughs.  Who knows?  AOC?

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3 hours ago, Dan Warnick said:

Solar has to improve.  I mean, it's just there for the harvesting!  I have read many promising articles, etc. on how panels have been developed to be the top surface of just about any road, sidewalk and parking lot.  They will improve on this, and think about it: if you are laying the solar panels in all your roads, sidewalks and parking lots, there's your distribution system right up to the building.  I think this is an exciting area and hope to see it become economical and widely used in my lifetime.

Why not just utiise roof and wall spaces . Buildings tend to have their own distribution system availability. 

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Solar panel prices have dropped but there is still to much cost in installation labor, brackets etc.

What is much cheaper are commercial solar farms where crews are much more efficient. 

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2 hours ago, Boat said:

Solar panel prices have dropped but there is still to much cost in installation labor, brackets etc.

What is much cheaper are commercial solar farms where crews are much more efficient. 

Only the equipment is more cost efficient for commercial solar.  To get the commercial solar sites close to the target markets the cost for the land to build it on will increase rapidly.  Building commercial solar in the desert, or in economically depressed areas, would require transmission lines to transport the electricity to the nearest market.  Residential solar was barely cost effective when it had big subsidies, but those will be expiring soon, won't they?

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8 hours ago, Dan Warnick said:

Solar has to improve.  I mean, it's just there for the harvesting!  I have read many promising articles, etc. on how panels have been developed to be the top surface of just about any road, sidewalk and parking lot.  They will improve on this, and think about it: if you are laying the solar panels in all your roads, sidewalks and parking lots, there's your distribution system right up to the building.  I think this is an exciting area and hope to see it become economical and widely used in my lifetime.

Whatever happened to thin solar that could be used everywhere and was far cheaper?  They even talked about solar paint. We should be using some form of solar on the sunny side of wind turbines, 

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12 hours ago, Marina Schwarz said:

‘Solar to be world’s largest power source by 2050 as cost halves'

Okay, I'm beginning to worry we'll run out of space now. Costs are costs but solar needs space.

Mariana - again this is just straight nonsense. Solar by itself accounts for a minute fraction of electricity generation at the moment - a couple of percent world-wide at best. The article itself says that PVs output will have to expand 65 times to get to 40 per cent so work it out. As for the cost side of things the problem has never been the cost of the panels themselves but of putting an intermittent power source on grids run 24/7 and constantly balanced for voltage and frequency. Once you get beyond a few per cent of renewables (not counting hydro) on any network you start to run into problems, the higher the percentage the more the problems. To make this solar nirvana work we still need reliable commercial scale storage to get rid of some of the those problems and, apart from pumped hydro, which is expensive and difficult, all we have is a lot of proposals. Sorry but the report is just wishful thinking on someone's part.

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12 hours ago, Marina Schwarz said:

‘Solar to be world’s largest power source by 2050 as cost halves'

Okay, I'm beginning to worry we'll run out of space now. Costs are costs but solar needs space.

There's plenty of room. Asphalt parking lots use more land than the amount of solar that would be needed to run the world.

US power consumption is about 400 gigawatts on a hot summer day.

Divide by 200 watts per square meter to get 2 billion square meters.

Divide by 1 million to get 2000 square kilometers.

Multiply 2000 square kilometers by 4.8. This is the amount of solar that needs to be collected in 5 hours in order to run the economy 24 hours. This area is 9600 square kilometers.

Square root of 9600 is 98 kilometers.

98 x .6 = 59 miles. Round to 60 one gets 3600 square miles. A 40 mile by 40 mile county covers 1600 square miles. 3600/1600 = 2.25 counties.

If one doubles the number again, one gets 4.5 counties. The doubled number represents all the transportation energy consumption on top of the power sector.

Anyone that doesn't trust the math can plug in their own numbers. It works out to a pretty trivial area.

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3 minutes ago, Meredith Poor said:

There's plenty of room. Asphalt parking lots use more land than the amount of solar that would be needed to run the world.

 

I would concur with Mr. Poor's assertion(s) and calculation(s).    They do lead to some interesting asides:

1.    Parking lots especially in the South and West tend to be places where autos bake.  It would be logical to build a cover deck over the parking areas and use that flat deck to install your solar panels.  That way the motorist gets to keep his car cool, or at least not baking, and the same area becomes a dedicated land area, OK one story up, for your solar generation.  How hard can that be?  You really don't want to go putting up panel fields across several counties.  And no need to; there is all that free surface over the parking lots. 

2.    If Elon Musk's infamous Buffalo "solar tile factory" ever takes off, with an actual marketable product, then replacing all the roofs out there as they wear out, over time, with true solar-tile roofing material gets you well up to 100% coverage.  Now, that would be nice!   (But, with Elon being an admitted manic-depressive or other personality disorder guy, I get the impression he cannot stay focused, and his irrational acts continue to drive out the really good men needed, so the tile factory ends up languishing, at least until that Board of Directors gets some backbone and kicks Elon out. Any bets on when that might take place?  

3.  Solar may well end up the world's nirvana, but you need rational people to put it all together.  That seems to be the hard part. 

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(edited)

2 hours ago, markslawson said:

 As for the cost side of things the problem has never been the cost of the panels themselves but of putting an intermittent power source on grids run 24/7 and constantly balanced for voltage and frequency. Once you get beyond a few per cent of renewables (not counting hydro) on any network you start to run into problems, the higher the percentage the more the problems. To make this solar nirvana work we still need reliable commercial scale storage to get rid of some of the those problems and, apart from pumped hydro, which is expensive and difficult, all we have is a lot of proposals. Sorry but the report is just wishful thinking on someone's part.

These problems can in part be contended with by the installation of rotary condensers.  The problem then is that such condensers tend, as built today  (which is largely one-off), to be quite expensive.

There was a wind-project proposal for a mountain ridge in northern Vermont.  I contend that project was the wind equivalent of a PURPA plant.  The project was withdrawn after it was determined that the developers, all New Yorkers playing with funny money, would need to spend another $25 million on a rotary condenser - and that before paying to build the attaching line to the grid.  The project self-cancelled  (the neighbors didn't much like it, either.) 

Edited by Jan van Eck
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(edited)

The disruption in solar technology could come with the perovskite solar cells. Even if the cost of solar cell panels have considerably dropped in recent years, solar panels are still somewhat expensive because the production process is complex. With the advent of perovskite solar cells, producing very low cost solar cells could be just as easy as spraying a layer of paint on a surface ( a wall or a roof for instance) or inkjet printing a panel.

https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2019/03/what-is-a-perovskite-solar-cell/

However there is still a major problem to solve : current perovskite-based solar cells usually contain lead as the primary material absorbing sunlight for conversion into electricity and lead is highly toxic.The researchers are now investigating how to replace the lead with non-toxic elements without compromising efficiency and stability of the the perovskite based solar cells.

https://phys.org/news/2019-02-potential-non-toxic-materials-perovskite-solar.html

Edited by Guillaume Albasini
typo
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I certainly hope the perovskite cells work out as advertised but I am not going to bet my retirement on them until I see a successful full-scale production run of a working product. Until then it is all hype. I have seen many things over the years that are too good to be true and they all turn out to be just that.

Snake oil has been sold for many years and in many forms. I am not going to get excited about any claims in print until there is a real product to back up the printed claims.

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7 hours ago, Boat said:

Solar panel prices have dropped but there is still to much cost in installation labor, brackets etc.

What is much cheaper are commercial solar farms where crews are much more efficient. 

Why not make installation kits easy and foolproof with great hardware and instructions?

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1 hour ago, Jan van Eck said:

I would concur with Mr. Poor's assertion(s) and calculation(s).    They do lead to some interesting asides:

1.    Parking lots especially in the South and West tend to be places where autos bake.  It would be logical to build a cover deck over the parking areas and use that flat deck to install your solar panels.  That way the motorist gets to keep his car cool, or at least not baking, and the same area becomes a dedicated land area, OK one story up, for your solar generation.  How hard can that be?  You really don't want to go putting up panel fields across several counties.  And no need to; there is all that free surface over the parking lots. 

2.    If Elon Musk's infamous Buffalo "solar tile factory" ever takes off, with an actual marketable product, then replacing all the roofs out there as they wear out, over time, with true solar-tile roofing material gets you well up to 100% coverage.  Now, that would be nice!   (But, with Elon being an admitted manic-depressive or other personality disorder guy, I get the impression he cannot stay focused, and his irrational acts continue to drive out the really good men needed, so the tile factory ends up languishing, at least until that Board of Directors gets some backbone and kicks Elon out. Any bets on when that might take place?  

3.  Solar may well end up the world's nirvana, but you need rational people to put it all together.  That seems to be the hard part. 

Solar roofs have had several players but I don't think the cost benefit ratio or aesthetics have panned out yet. Elon is only one player. 

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3 hours ago, ronwagn said:

Why not make installation kits easy and foolproof with great hardware and instructions?

The US government has a program doing just that among other things. Google the Solar Sunshot Program or go to DOE and check out their mission Statement and results so far. The program began in 2011.

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I trust mathematical calculations and I always find it charming when the U.S. is being used as a synonym for the world. However, in reality not all countries have the space necessary, not readily available at least, not to mention climatic differences that reduce the number of sunny days. I do believe this also has a bearing on the output of solar installations. Again, I would love to have economies powered by renewable, emission-free energy. I simply doubt it will happen as quickly or as cheaply as proponents claim.

P.S. Also, batteries?

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Only a little fraction of the world population is living in the northern regions. Most of the human beings are located between the 45th parallel north and the equator.

image.thumb.png.8570106c81462ef2c65407b53ae7fae6.png

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Without going through Meredith's math, let's say that you need to put solar panels on an area equivalent to 3600 square miles or 2.25 counties. Meredith then concludes that this is a 'trivial' area. Furthermore, she states that "Asphalt parking lots use more land than the amount of solar that would be needed to run the world."

The first thing that crossed my mind was that you can site an asphalt parking lot just about anywhere, regardless of solar intensity or weather. To compare a parking lot with a solar farm is not comparing apples to apples. Second, this area is 'trivial' as long as it is not you who is being impacted. I assume most people in this discussion are familiar with the NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Back Yard). 

The locations where you can actually place these solar farms, locations which would make them economical, are limited. Some would need to be bulldozed and graded to plant the panels. I am sure that our environmentalist buddies would have a lot to say about the siting of these farms.

I then noticed that people were proposing things such as " It would be logical to build a cover deck over the parking areas and use that flat deck to install your solar panels." and "Why not make installation kits easy and foolproof with great hardware and instructions?". These ideas, and those like them, may have merit, but they also have a cost. This cost, along with any 'carbon footprint' would need to be taken into account during any cost vs benefit analysis.

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11 hours ago, Jan van Eck said:

I would concur with Mr. Poor's assertion(s) and calculation(s).    They do lead to some interesting asides:

1.    Parking lots especially in the South and West tend to be places where autos bake.  It would be logical to build a cover deck over the parking areas and use that flat deck to install your solar panels.  That way the motorist gets to keep his car cool, or at least not baking, and the same area becomes a dedicated land area, OK one story up, for your solar generation.  How hard can that be?  You really don't want to go putting up panel fields across several counties.  And no need to; there is all that free surface over the parking lots. 

2.    If Elon Musk's infamous Buffalo "solar tile factory" ever takes off, with an actual marketable product, then replacing all the roofs out there as they wear out, over time, with true solar-tile roofing material gets you well up to 100% coverage.  Now, that would be nice!   (But, with Elon being an admitted manic-depressive or other personality disorder guy, I get the impression he cannot stay focused, and his irrational acts continue to drive out the really good men needed, so the tile factory ends up languishing, at least until that Board of Directors gets some backbone and kicks Elon out. Any bets on when that might take place?  

3.  Solar may well end up the world's nirvana, but you need rational people to put it all together.  That seems to be the hard part. 

In the Middle East parking lot sun shades are commonplace.  It would be very easy to fit them with either static (cheaper) or dynamic (more efficient) solar arrays.  The owners of the property could use the energy to reduce fixed overhead costs and sell any excess back to the local provide.  The Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas has an 8.3 MW array on the convention center roof that provides 25% of the power required by the whole resort.

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17 hours ago, markslawson said:

Mariana - again this is just straight nonsense. Solar by itself accounts for a minute fraction of electricity generation at the moment - a couple of percent world-wide at best. The article itself says that PVs output will have to expand 65 times to get to 40 per cent so work it out. As for the cost side of things the problem has never been the cost of the panels themselves but of putting an intermittent power source on grids run 24/7 and constantly balanced for voltage and frequency. Once you get beyond a few per cent of renewables (not counting hydro) on any network you start to run into problems, the higher the percentage the more the problems. To make this solar nirvana work we still need reliable commercial scale storage to get rid of some of the those problems and, apart from pumped hydro, which is expensive and difficult, all we have is a lot of proposals. Sorry but the report is just wishful thinking on someone's part.

Can you explain the Maths please. 

If current output is 2%, expanding it 65x gets it to 40%??????

Or can I just resort to a 🤦‍♀️😄

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4 hours ago, Oil_Engineer said:

In the Middle East parking lot sun shades are commonplace.  It would be very easy to fit them with either static (cheaper) or dynamic (more efficient) solar arrays.  The owners of the property could use the energy to reduce fixed overhead costs and sell any excess back to the local provide.  The Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas has an 8.3 MW array on the convention center roof that provides 25% of the power required by the whole resort.

They did this at Al Midra (Saudi Aramco) in Dhahran in 2011-12. At the time it was KSA's biggest solar installation. 

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2 hours ago, NickW said:

They did this at Al Midra (Saudi Aramco) in Dhahran in 2011-12. At the time it was KSA's biggest solar installation. 

No kidding.  I used to work a few km from that facility.  I wonder how many kW they get from that array?  it's a great location, all you have to do is sweep the sand off once in a while.  They should do the same thing all over.

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12 hours ago, Douglas Buckland said:

Without going through Meredith's math, let's say that you need to put solar panels on an area equivalent to 3600 square miles or 2.25 counties. Meredith then concludes that this is a 'trivial' area. Furthermore, she states that "Asphalt parking lots use more land than the amount of solar that would be needed to run the world."

The first thing that crossed my mind was that you can site an asphalt parking lot just about anywhere, regardless of solar intensity or weather. To compare a parking lot with a solar farm is not comparing apples to apples. Second, this area is 'trivial' as long as it is not you who is being impacted. I assume most people in this discussion are familiar with the NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Back Yard). 

The locations where you can actually place these solar farms, locations which would make them economical, are limited. Some would need to be bulldozed and graded to plant the panels. I am sure that our environmentalist buddies would have a lot to say about the siting of these farms.

I then noticed that people were proposing things such as " It would be logical to build a cover deck over the parking areas and use that flat deck to install your solar panels." and "Why not make installation kits easy and foolproof with great hardware and instructions?". These ideas, and those like them, may have merit, but they also have a cost. This cost, along with any 'carbon footprint' would need to be taken into account during any cost vs benefit analysis.

I believe most progressive thinkers leave the costs out on purpose to make the generating value more appealing.  Solar costs for equipment and installation are easily 4-5 times that for conventional power generation such as coal, natural gas combustion, or any of the combined-cycle processes.

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