Can Solar Power the World?

| 3/12/2010 4:01:00 PM

Tags: solar energy, solar hot water, solar electricity, passive solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass, Dan Chiras,

Although solar electricity and wind energy are growing by leaps and bounds, they only provide a tiny fraction of today’s electrical demand. As global supplies of fossil fuel resources decline and as concern over global climate change increases, however, solar electric systems could become a major source of electricity, along with wind and a host of other renewable energy technologies. But is there enough solar energy to produce enough electricity to meet our needs?

Cow in front of wind turbinesAlthough solar energy is not evenly distributed throughout the Earth, significant resources are found on every continent. 

“Solar energy’s potential is off the chart,” write energy experts Ken Zweibel, James Mason, and Vasilis Fthenakis in a December 2007 article “A Solar Grand Plan” published in Scientific American magazine. Only two billionths of the Sun’s energy strikes the Earth, but as they point out, the solar energy striking the Earth in a 40-minute period is equal to all the energy human society consumes in a year. Solar electric systems on our homes and businesses or giant commercial solar systems could provide us with an abundance of clean energy.

Zweigbel and fellow authors present a plan that would enable the United States to switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to centralized PV systems. According to their estimates, their plan could supply 69 percent of the country’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy by 2050. This, they assert, would require a subsidy of $420 billion from 2011 to 2050 to pay for the infrastructure and make it cost competitive. Compare that to what we have spent in the Middle East trying to secure oil. But could solar electricity every provide 100 percent of the U.S. or world’s electrical energy needs?

Yes, it could.

Will it?

3/23/2010 12:43:23 PM

I have studied this topic since the first oil embargo of the mid 70s. From an economic perspective, there are tactics and inducements that could help the individual homeowners absorb the immense up-front expense of the systems. The govt is now offering real tax incentives and that is a great step. Besides tax rebates, there needs to be some kind of financing help. Govt-backed loans for financing of systems over ten years would take much of the pain away from that initial cost. Building codes would also be an approach where improved efficiency measures would get us further toward our goal of efficiency. Thomas Friedman put it into clear perspective when he wrote the book 'Hot, Flat and Crowded'. He makes a great argument for action in implementing a transition to alternative energy. First, it is ludicrous to think that drilling for oil on our own soil will wean us from our dependance on oil for energy. Oil companies will take what they extract and sell it at market rates so, except for jobs, there will be no positive outcome. Whether we consume domestic oil or imports, we still prop oil up at its current price thus financing terrorist groups indirectly. AE will also finance permanent jobs. Unleashing the innovative power of the American people will also position us for decades as a major exporter of new technology that will also boost our economy tremendously. Not to mention that global climate change is indeed real.

B Knight
3/21/2010 7:51:09 PM

Can Solar Power The World? Yes it can. I think it would be more realistic to say Renewable Energy Can Power The World. Now is the time to act - make a difference. If you only look at your pocket book - what will it cost ME? Then spend the money on efficiency gains - insulate to reduce heating and cooling. Use LED or CFL lighting. Reduce your driving - trade that gas guzzler in, use public transit, bike and walk. If you are ready for the next step, install solar thermal water heaters. Then look into a solar PV electric system. Here are some pictures from my solar PV system we installed this week..

Jos van Doorn_1
3/21/2010 12:13:05 AM

Yeah. Renewable energy. Forget about it. Renewable energy will never be used. Not as long there is still oil. Let me tell you why. Every country in the world has got a president or a prime minister. They are supposed to run the country. But they do not. They are puppets. Every country is run by powerful organizations. The oil compnanies are one of those powerful organizations. They stop the use of the renewable energy. Wait. In the US you have got senators and members of congress. Could they stop them? Are you kidding? They are paid to shut up. For the US I can say it is time to votte for a man that wants to stop the powerful organizations. Obama? Forget about Obama. He is a puppet. There were presidential elections. Obama made a lot of promises. Now he is president. His promises? Obama is doing nothing about them. Obama is a true politican. Promise the nworld and do nothing. But then he is afraid of getting killed. See RFK, Bobbhy Kennedy, and MLK.

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