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This page will have my own opinions about solar energy, but I will gladly include references to other opinions. The Wikipedia page on solar energy looks up-to-date as of 2007 and will presumably be kept up-to-date.The applications of solar energy include powering earth satellites (successful), powering emergency telephones along highways (successful), heating water with rooftop installations (successful but at best marginally cost-effective where energy is cheap), electric power where grid energy is not available (apparently not cost-effective at present compared to diesel generators) and central station electric generation (not presently economical). This paragraph was written in 2003, but I think it is still accurate.
It's now 2007 June, and solar central stations are still not economical.Central station generation is the application that needs to be compared to present generation methods - burning coal, oil or natural gas or nuclear energy. We have a separate page on nuclear energy. Like nuclear energy, solar energy does not put CO2 into the atmosphere, and so needs to be considered if global warming has to be avoided. It has lots of supporters, especially among those who oppose nuclear energy. There are many schemes for generating electricity from the sun. These include
The basic cost problems with solar energy are
"Solar Power Satellites: An Idea Whose Time Has Come" by Seth Potter, New York University,
"The World's Energy Future Belongs in Orbit" by Dr. Gerrard K. O'Neill,"Solar Power from Space" by Texas Space Grant Consortium. The last two urls are dead.
Another SPS advocacy site It's not an SPS site any more.
SPS2000 is a Japanese proposal for a small system in low earth orbit.
There is some recent optimism about wind power. Kenetech is said to be building wind turbines capable of generating electricity at 5 cents per kwh. (1997 note: Alas, Kenetech, said to be the leading builder of wind power systems, went bankrupt some time in 1995 or 1996). There was said to be a 500MW plant being built in Carbon County, Wyoming. Another significant build is said to be in the Guadaloupe mountains in West Texas. It will be interesting to see if the cost estimates hold up after the plants are built and if there are enough suitable sites to generate a substantial part of the country's electricity. (I'd change "said to" if I had links to references.)There is information about wind power and other forms of "renewable energy" at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This laboratory hopes to demonstrate technology capable of 4 cents per kwh electricity by the year 2000. Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has additional information. Here's a reference to some surveys on the public acceptablility of wind power.
Here's a page Solar Energy by some enthusiasts.
1997 August 16: The San Jose Mercury has a story today datelined Washington about the U.S. solar energy industry. Here are some highlights:
But because the utility industry's power grid is so extensive, and its output so inexpensive, only about 30 percent of solar-power sales are within this country. For years to come, solar cells will probably be too expensive to compete directly with electricity from the power grid.
You can download "A Consumer's Guide to Buying a Photovoltaic System" at http://www.doa.state.wi.us/depb/boe/fact_sheets/fact_sheets_view.asp?factid=22
I read the guide and it seems accurate to me.
1. Your photovoltaic electricity will cost you $.25 per kwh.
2. You don't pay property taxes on photovoltaic systems. This constitutes a subsidy.
3. In most of Wisconsin, the utility has to buy back your excess electricity at retail prices whenever you have an excess. In other places the utility only pays avoided cost, which may be as low as 1.5 cents per kwh. This is another subsidy, coming ultimately from the utility's other customers.
4. You can legally prevent your neighbors' trees from growing tall enough to shade your site.
My impression is that the reader of the guide will have to be a reasonably wealthy enthusiast to do it on the basis of the information provided.
It would be interesting to know how many systems there are in Wisconsin and whether installed systems continue to be used.
There have been news stories early in 2001 about wind systems about to be built in Washington that would produce electricity at $.06 per kwh, later to be reduced to $.03 per kwh. However, at present the state of California is taking proposals for fixed price contracts to produce electricity, and apparently all the proposals being submitted are for natural gas powered plants.
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