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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Potential Solar Breakthrough Could be Around the Corner

As some of you know, I am a huge fan of Solar Thermal technology, and although some companies such as Stirling Energy Systems have solar thermal plants currently under construction, the energy produced by these large scale solar plants will still be more expensive than electricity produced by coal fired plants. Last week at the Clean Energy Venture Summit in Austin Texas, Solar Thermal company Asura presented a technology it is currently testing that may be able to store the excess energy it produces from its solar thermal arrays. This could be huge!

Solar electricity is currently only feasible during peak usage periods but the capability to store energy for the hours when the sun is not shining could mean that solar electricity would finally be competitive with electricity produced by coal power plants. I am betting that electricity from coal fired plants will eventually go up due to the utilities passing on the costs of meeting emissions regulations. Unless we finally have a breakthrough in Nuclear waste storage or CO2 ground storage we are going to have to rely on coal plants for the majority of our electricity demands. This is not good. Coal plants are probably the biggest culprit for climate change, smog, and pollution; and even though they talk a big game about reducing pollution they know that there is no competition for cheap electricity, which is why there will be 30 or 40 new coal plants built over the next couple years in the US. That could change if we can see a major breakthrough such as solar thermal storage. The amount of venture capital going into clean tech and solar start-ups means that we are almost certain to see a breakthrough eventually.

My question is this, and I am kind of switching gears here:

When will our government and policy makers stop drinking the ethanol cool-aid and start backing a truly clean technology without the negative consequences of corn based ethanol.

Besides high costs there is no downside to solar energy. There are tax credits for businesses and residences for photovoltaics but that has proven to be cost effective in places such as California which has enough sun hours and incentives to make it a worthy investment. I think the key is getting the incentives to the companies and technologies that are upstream so that customers can use solar produced electricity regardless of their location. The government needs to require utilities to get more of their production from clean tech companies such as SES and Auras and they need to make the deadline to meet that threshold sooner than 2020. They should also make the threshold for clean energy production even higher for dirty coal companies.

read more at CNET | digg story


GerryWolff said...

Storage of solar heat has already been demonstrated in California (see http://www.trec-uk.org.uk/csp_sections/csp_no_sun.htm0.

Also, some people in the CSP business are saying that the technology is *already* competitive with fossil fuels, especially when the cost of controlling CO2 emissions is factored in (see http://www.trec-uk.org.uk/csp_sections/csp_costs.htm).

Further information about concentrating solar power (CSP) may be found at:




The Speeker said...

Moving your thought farther, when will the government stop thinking technology will save us? When will we start having regulations - building codes, transportation regulations, food regulations, etc. to allow us (and make us) consume less?