The Solar Economy (October 27, 2005)
The standard line on solar power is that it's impractical on a large scale and not a viable solution to the world's impending energy shortage. If you read The Solar Economy: Renewable Energy for a Sustainable Global Future you'll realise that's poppycock. The author, Hermann Scheer, effectively dismantles the skeptics with a two-step analysis. He first unmasks the true costs of the existing oil infrastructure and heavily-touted alternatives such as nuclear energy by carefully documenting the costs of each step in their extraction, production and delivery cycle.
For oil, that includes the cost (including the environmental damage) of getting it out of the ground, of transporting it to a refinery, of refining it, of transporting it to the customer and the cost to the planet's atmosphere and human health (basically beyond measure) of burning hydrocarbons on such a vast scale.
Nuclear energy has a similarly costly series of steps, plus the additional risks of storing the radioactive waste and running breeder reactors (those that produce weapons-grade plutonium as part of their production cycle).
Solar energy, in contrast, has a very simple cycle of costs: manufacturing the panels, transporting them to the installation site, and that's it--solar has no costs beyond minor maintenance for several decades after the initial manufacture and installation. Furthermore, the infrastructure for delivering that power is already built (the electrical grid).
As for solar being impractical, Scheer shows that simply covering 40% of the existing roofs would generate much of the power required by developing countries, even accounting for bad weather and the challenges of storing power for nighttime useage and cloudy weather. Obviously, there are energy uses which cannot be met directly by solar-generated electricity, such as air transportation; but the point is that the vast amount of fossil fuels currently being burned to generate electricity and heat water could be replaced by solar, thus conserving increasingly costly petroleum for air transport.
After reading the book, you have to ask yourself if "it can't be done" is practical skepticism or a bias carefully nurtured by what amounts to propaganda.
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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.
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