Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sun, Sun, Sun, Here it--wait, where is it?

At least on a monthly basis, Mr. Dr. Helen posts some sort of solar "breakthrough". Although unlikely to be any sort of general panacaea, what with the impending ice age and all that, solar could be useful in the sun belt (and is, in limited cases).

But I'm reminded of this classic USS Clueless post by Steven Den Beste. (It haunts him, people love this post so much. Also check out his takedown of other alternatives.)

From what I can see, there's an actual physics question to be gotten around. Namely, just not enough energy hits a particular point on earth to generate adequate amounts of electricity, even at 100% efficiency. (Den Beste uses a 2,300 square kilometer coverage figure, assuming 100% efficiency, that would generate enough energy to cover California's 1990s gas usage.)

My only real issue was this is that he seems to posit it as some grand engineering feat, where I see another possibility in the form of dividing that 2,300 sq km up into, say, ten million pieces. That works out to about 2500 square feet per portion, and you have some efficiency in generating the electricity where it's used.

That is to say, if you can paper over people's roofs or parts of their yards, the engineering, financial and distribution questions are less humongous. (The environmental issues would go away until the green-types started bitching about how the solar collectors were disposed of, and until they discovered a photosensitive microbe adversely impacted by these new devices.) A local approach could even give us implementations for transport and storage, which I think would benefit us as a whole. (Some people would doubtless end up with lemons.)

That's assuming that we could get to the point where solar really was that efficient and cheap. Anyway, I end up amused by stories like this. Every month (at least), a new story. When does it--when does any of it--come to market?


  1. I remember reading that cow farts were a tremendous source of methane gas which might have some use for energy. If they could only harness the human kind, I would never have to pay an utility bill again.

    I would just have to eat a lot of Mexican food.

  2. That's a variant on biomass, which itself is indirectly solar power. Though it seems to me that "fossil fuels" are also a sort of solar. When you get down to it, not much doesn't come from the sun.


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