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What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

Posted January 04, 2009 8:25 AM

An EDN article highlights the tremendous promise associated with solar technology but ponders on its future given the current financial turmoil and economic downturn. The article identifies the solar growth drivers and opportunities, and documents the race for efficiency with detailed emphasis on solar devices based on wafer-based crystalline and amorphous silicon, and other exotic materials.

The preceding article is a "sneak peek" from Electronic Components, a newsletter from GlobalSpec. To stay up-to-date and informed on industry trends, products, and technologies, subscribe to Electronic Components today.

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#1

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/05/2009 11:20 PM

solar will get higher and higher in efficiency and in time they will use nano antenna technology and synchronous rectification to get a lot higher efficiency. This is a little like the method photosynthesis uses.

The current methods will peak out around 50%. Some labs are in the high 30's in percentage. 25 years from now we will be amazed

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/05/2009 11:57 PM

Since the dawn of time, the sun has shone upon this good earth, and given rise to the life that is upon it. Long after these lives have passed away, the sun shall continue to shine upon this spot. This is an abundance which can easily be taken for granted, or it can easily be employed for a vast array of uses, of benefit and value to life on earth.

The technologies employed to convert solar radiation into alternate usable forms of energy vary in efficiency. Perhaps the single most important point to note is the low cost of acquiring the raw energy. It is probably the most inexpensive to obtain from all the forms of energy available. This fact will continue to enhance its viability for as long as we are able to sustain an effort to harness it.

We are currently in the grip of the hydrocarbon cartels, and so long as that interest continues to dominate the energy policies of government, and the marketplace, we shall not make much progress. Solar energy usage can best be increased in proportion to energy storage systems available. Energy storage is the enemy of the hydrocarbon cartel, because it can force more reasonable pricing. A commodity that has a lower demand, can not win a higher price in the marketplace.

Certainly advanced technologies will amplify and economize the basic methods of energy conversion, storage, and use, but the basic methods already exist. Energy storage is the one key deficiency in the array of all energy commodities. Nature knows well how to convert energy into various chemical or nuclear storage structures, but we do not. Without significant research monies invested in energy storage methods and systems, we shall remain stuck, and at the mercy of those who ensure the monies continue to be withheld.

As with all technological advancement in the most recent century, the problem really is that while free enterprise initially enabled the growth of industy, it also contains inherently the limits. Those limits are greed based, for the profit which flowed from free enterprise, is now used to limit competetion. We will remain stuck within this problem until, as Einstein said, we find answers which are not at the same level as the problem.

Zeitgeist

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/06/2009 1:08 AM

Hydrocarbons are essentially stored energy. Until you can figure out how to store the energy from intermittent sources as easily as it is to store the energy in hydrocarbons (nature's own energy storage design), solar, wind and other so-called renewables are only going to be bit players...

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#9
In reply to #2

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/21/2009 12:56 PM

I agree with most of your comments, with the exception of your comments conserning the free enterprise system and greed. The free enterprise system has the potential to allow the creativity of many minds to flow in any problem that any other systems do not and the gain motivation for the developer who is sucessful has allowed this free flow of ideas where a contolled or planned system does not unless you are able to impress the powers that be to support you ie politics.

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#10
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Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/21/2009 2:31 PM

Sure, I agree. one requires freedom. not just for enterprise, but also for living. I wouldn't have it any other way. All I'm saying is that it has been thousands of years since a person had "complete" freedom in a society. There are always limits, laws, governments, warlords, elders, etc, with which one must contend. One can't get rich without customers, even to steal from. The freedom to act is essential, but there Must be limits and controls which prevent abuse. The free enterprise system apparently has little in the way of controls, but it will develop them, now that the abuse is soooo rampant.

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#4

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/06/2009 12:40 PM

I recall a statistic from a class I took (it was about a hundred years ago, so the actual comparison may have changed a bit) that the amount of solar energy (light, and radiation of all levels of the EM spectrum) per day could, if harnessed, supply humanity's energy needs for a year. It's probably still close. So what if the recovery efficiency is 30%-35%? If you don't tap into it at all, the recovery efficiency is zero. So we need to rededicate some 1/365th of the Earth's surface to voltaic panels to meet our current energy needs (or thereabouts) totally. That's pretty close to 0.003 which is still a LOT of acreage, but probably doable.

But the real question as I see it is this: Solar power is a SOURCE, not necessarily a delivery system. Hydrogen, petroleum, coal, etc. are delivery systems, not sources. Ultimately, fossil fuels' real source is solar power through photosynthesis (albeit millions of years ago). Hydrogen's source goes back even further to the initial appearance of matter congealing out of the energy of the Big Bang. Then we hydrolize it out of water, or whatever, in the here and now.

But with solar power, if you can use it immediately by pumping it into the grid of electric transmission, fine. If not, you need a delivery system apart from that, like storage cells - batteries. Because not all of our energy needs are for stationary applications (homes, stores, factories). Our transportation network either needs to be totally rethought, or batteries will need to be included. Personally, I favor the slot car racetrack model myself, but doubt I'll live long enough to see it happen.

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#5

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/08/2009 2:17 PM

I believe the future is in solar and wind as the primary source, with Natural Gas and alcohol based fuels next, followed by oil and coal for bridging.

The price of electricity will be driven to the cost of Natural Gas and oil heating fuels. To get people onto solar and wind, the price of electricity will have to come down to the price of heating fuels plus some inefficiency margin.

If Natural gass is $10/decatherm, that is $1.25/gallon equivalent. If your furnace is 83% efficient (to the vent), then you need $1.50 of NG to get 1 gallon e of heat. There are 34 kw-hr/gallon e , so 1.50/34=$0.0441/kw-hr. When electricity is LESS than $0.0441/kw-hr, it is cheaper to run resistance heating than to burn NG for heating.

So, when electricity is 4-5 cents/kw-hr, solar and wind can replace NG, and not before. The success of solar and wind is related to the price of NG. There is likely many who would switch at higher prices, but history does not show this, as, where I live, electricity is 7 cent/kw-hr and most people use NG, where natural gas seldom goes over my $10/decatherm figure above, and is typically $6-7 or lower.

The point being is that heating of homes by ELECTRICITY will be the future when solar and wind come down to below 3-4 cent/kw-hr. If you add 1 cent for line transmission (figures are 1.0-2 cents, but that is monopoly rip off prices) for distributed power generation, a solar/wind home power system has to be able to produce at 3-4 cent/kw-hr.

So, here are the cost barriers: If you can produce with your solar/wind roof "system" on AVERAGE (giving you a spread here to see better) 4, 6, or 8 hrs per day, 365, you will have 1460, 2190, or 2920 hrs/year, and $58.4, $87.6, $116.8 for each KW you produce at. If you can deliver 10 kw, then you times those by 10, and so on.

Rates of return with the above figures at 5, 10, 15% per kw hr installed. Note, coal fired plants are around $600/kw and fuel (coal) is 1.8 cent per kw-hr.

hrs 5%, 10%, 15%

4 $1168, $584, $389

6 $1752, $ 876, $ 584

8 $2336, $1168, $778

Most homes are limited to 25 kw, and some to 50 kw. A good all roof system could provide a 25 kw-50 kw depending on efficiencies, with a wind (or lack of it) unit. So take those figures, pick your return, times them by 25 or 50, and that is the max your system can cost. On a 2000 sft roof, that is 186 m^2 and 1000 watt/m^2. If you can get 50 kw you need to be 26% efficient, and if only 25kw, then you need to be 13% efficient.

So, the floor is 5% (mortagages are at 5%) so if you capitalize you will need to get AT LEAST that if your system has infinite life (good luck). So 25x1168=29200 and 25x2336=58400. So, a 25 kw system MUST be well under $60,000.

Cost of solar now is $5,500-6,500/kw or 25x$5,500=$137500.

As you can see... this shows that solar need to come way down, perhaps by 4:1 before we get off carbon fuels...

In my book 10% is minimum and 4 hrs gives 25x584=$14600, or about $15,000 for a 2000 sft house. A new roof (shingles) cost about $7-10k. So, you add 7-10+15 = 22k-25k. You could get away with 25k on an old house, or about $1000/kw.

Good news, wind is approaching $1000/kw. If you put it in Wyoming where you get wind all the time, ok, but if average wind then you times that by 3-4, or $3000-4000/kw, or a little better than solar.

Said another way, wind and solar are a 1-2% ROI now. Not good.

My target is $600/kw combined wind/solar/Hydrogen/NG power with accumulation (hydrogen storage) to produce 25 kw at least 8 hrs/day (where you make money using hydrogen as needed that was produced during peaks), and have it run on NG if needed for a power contract (where it is revenue wash), allowing for reliable power.

A system that combines wind/solar/hydrogen/NG can be reliable 24/7. You make money on wind/solar/hydrogen, but not on NG, where the cost of power is driven DOWN to 80% of NG energy content. That is where this is going, in my opinion...

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/08/2009 2:56 PM

Bear in mind that heat pump units with a buried-in-the-earth heat source/sink can have a figure of merit of about 5:1 in temperate climates.

As these links

shows http://commons.bcit.ca/physics/rjw/pmm/mach/heatpump/hpumpint.htm

http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/publications/infosource/pub/home/heating-heat-pump/gsheatpumps.cfm

100 joules into a motor and compressor can extract 500 joules of heat from cool earth and deposit it in your warm bedroom. a figure of merit of 5

This depends on the heat of the earth you remove the heat from and the temp of the room. As the temperature across the system increases the figure of merit falls and if it falls below 1, you need to use resistive heaters. Earth buried figures of merit bottom out at about 3 at 0 C earth/ice. In permafrost it still works but at a low enough temperature in the perma frost it falls below 1. In air up North it is easier to get below 1 as the air can be very cold.

These heat pumps change the economics of electric heating and make it a winner in most cases. care must be taken to make an earth loop that will never break or leak, as it is costly to dig up your yard 5 feet deep and bury enought piping to do the job. In fact capital costs and durability are the main factors governing heat pumps in ground. Air based heat pumps are cheaper, but there is less heat in -30 air than in 0 C earth.

Googling heat pumps and in ground gives this sea of responses. drill down

http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&q=%22heat+pump%22+%2B%22in+ground%22&btnG=Search&meta=

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#7
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Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/08/2009 5:07 PM

Aurizon,

Yes, ground heat. That would make the $0.04 /kw-hr go up for the guy who has such system, but not for those who do not.

What is the cost to drill per power?

If I am generating 25 kw, there is usually more than enough "waste" heat, either from a solar PV panel or solar thermal, to make ground heat redundant. The driving limit is the utility transformer/lines and the roof efficiency.

Using the ground as a thermal storage can be done by putting hard foam insulation out 10-20 ft from the house foundation slopped downward 3 ft near the house to 4-5 ft outboard. You need to shed water and putting a plastic sheet over the insulation creates "dry" ground. You then dig down 10-20 ft vertically on the outer perimeter and put insulation, and then grade for lawns and such. This then gives you an enormous (!) (dry--critical) mass. You insulate on the floor and wall to separate the hot ground from the house so that summers don't kill you. You have roof heat sent down to the ground and the ground gets to 80+ deg F. During winter you draw from that ground heat. It takes several years to "spin" up the heat. The COP is way high, perhaps 50-200 depending factors.

But, that said, you still don't generate (electrical) power.

Seaplaneguy

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#8
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Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/08/2009 5:45 PM

yes, a reverse ice house is a good way to store heat that way.

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#11

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/22/2009 12:28 PM

Solar energy is a potentially enormous gift from nature. We have all experienced this enormous gift whenever we turn on a light switch. Most of the electricity generated in North America is due to solar energy. Confused? The solar energy causes evaporation and the solar energy causes winds which carry the moist air over the land where it gets deposited into reservoirs which have dams attached to them which generate hydroelectric power. The windmill type generators take advantage of the solar generated winds to deliver power. These two forms of solar are the ones most easily harvested, but at a significant cost, either in construction or maintenance.

Solar energy from solar cells has the potential to increase our harvesting of solar energy. The total costs of using solar cell technologies needs to be completely analysed before we progress down this road. In space exploration and scientific research it makes perfect sense, unless we can produce something else that is more cost effective, more environmentally sensitive, which will last as long as we have a requirement for it and will be the easiest to remove from the environment when we no longer require it.

What will be the social costs of solar cells? Let us think about this in a global way, not just locally or nationally. Will it enable poorer countries to become more industrial? Do we want that? Do these people really want that? Before we turn the earth into one large power cell, we should ask ourselves, are we and our energy needs the most important thing on the planet?

Cheers,

Bryan Boyda

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/22/2009 1:14 PM

Guest,

You are forgetting an important point about solar cells, and that is the energy recovery time releative to mean time of failure. From my understanding, solar cells do not recover the energy used in the total cycle from mining to recycle processes. In other words, they do NOT harvest energy. They just use it up front.

What we need is technology that actually harvests energy many times faster than the mean time to failure. For example, if you put in 1 unit to build, you then get 3-10 times back. Solar cells put in 1 unit and, on average, only get <1 unit back. Putting a solar cell on the roof of your car does not net out energy, it just transfers it to up front consumption with a hope of recovery, which in cars, would not be likely.

Seaplaneguy

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#13
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Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

01/22/2009 1:15 PM

There is a proven direct ratio between the standard of living of a country, and the per capita energy consumption. I'm not really sure what you are saying about where 'these people' want to become more industrial, but I'd bet they want a higher standard of living, just starting with water, food and shelter. Energy can provide that as well.

chris

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#20
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Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

06/19/2009 3:55 PM

Everybody need electricity and surely it is not only for the richest people of the planet. It is very much necessary to build the solar power in the poor and developing country villages without having any grid facilities for the electrification....

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#14

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

02/05/2009 1:21 PM

What Does The Future Hold For Solar? My research pretty much agrees with the previous posters, excited by its potential but tempered by practical economics. Solar cells currently are not efficient enough to justify their costs. Of course, early adopters will install them anyway -- and that will help fund the solar industry, which in turn (hopefully) will finance development of better cells. But early adopters cannot finance better cells alone. Society must be willing to chip in; maybe the Obama administration can influence the Government to participate. But Obama also faces party politics and entrenched lobbyists who will hinder these efforts, and a major economic recession. Add to that the U.S.'s self-inflicted technology malaise and we will see that progress will be slow and tough.

Meanwhile in the background, oil reserves are running out. Current reserves and probably any future finds will be more and more expensive. At some point we will be forced to develop alternatives (including solar cells). Will we react in time (plan ahead)? It doesn't look good since we have ignored several shots across our bough, including last summer's $5 per gallon gasoline prices. Like other technologies, solar may suffer when the public finally decides it seriously wants it but then is upset because the technology isn't suddenly cheap, plentiful and efficient.

Solar's near-term future is continued lip-service efforts, enough to keep it barely advancing but not enough to allow it to develop into a truly cost-effective solution. Long-term, solar may become viable but it will need a major (lucky) shot in the arm from a technology breakthrough.

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#15
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Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

02/05/2009 3:10 PM

Good insightful concise summary (IMHO). Solar photo-voltaics have lots of potential, but are also bogged down by lots of politics and public apathy. Still, I am an optimist and hope to live long enough to see the wide-scale use of highly efficient PV.

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#16
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Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

02/05/2009 3:10 PM

Guest,

It should take a thinking person about 5 minutes watching C-Span and how the SEC "regulated" wall street to know that the government is one big welfare agency with incompetence as the rule. They should not be trusted to do anything. Just shut it down...

Solar PV panel may not be the right way to go. There are other ways that I think will be much more cost effective. Panels are around $5,000-6,000/kw. What I think is possible is around $600/kw. At that point you can generate cheaper than coal. A breakthrough is on the way....be patient...the oil will not run out. We have plenty of fuel...for thousands of years. Energy will be $0.05/kw-hr when things open up and there is a true competitive market. PV's won't keep up...

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#17

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

02/08/2009 3:00 PM

The Urbanization of the world for populations means that few have real ability to own and use a source of energy independently. What that means is that PV Solar and Solar, NG, or Wind, Hydro, geothermal, need to be directed toward powering the Grid. Systems for energy independence and off grid living are really for the elites. In fact the modern age of communications was based on batteries. They are so much a part of our lives that we tend to overlook them. It does seem to me that PV Solar Panels for homes are particularly suited to power the homes of rich people who have the means to also drive from their estates distances not much allowed by cars available to the masses. There are factors of culture and sociology and flat out nature that must also be taken into account. We cannot rebuild the entire world and all its buildings. We shall not reverse the trend internationally of urbanization. Low cost energy is a strong component of peace and prosperity. It is legitimate for government to be involved in the energy infrastructure. Globalization and Urbanization does call for a Technocracy. What model of such an institution has worked, and is a precedent for the energy crisis we face together as brothers and sisters? Is it Interpol? Is it the International Aviation Civil Authority? I am seeking here simply to say that if you sequester urban systems from rural systems and personal emergency power, from day to day private and public power for homes and industry, you are more likely to create integrated systems that fulfill specific and general needs.

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#18
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Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

02/08/2009 3:15 PM

Transcendian,

I had a hard time with this post, partly because of the 'elites' comment. That simply is not my perception or experience of PV solar. The off-grid homes movement is much to big to suggest that it is elite, and the price is low enough to make off-grid living competitive with grid power installations for rural living. (if you have to pay for even half a kilometre of power line and poles)

However, I agree with you that large scale public money initiatives should be directed at greening and lowering the cost of 'grid' energy systems, fuels, etc.

I will say that it would help readability if you put a paragraph in now and then.

Chris

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#19

Re: What Does The Future Hold For Solar?

04/16/2009 10:51 AM

First let me comment that the "current financial turmoil and economic downturn" should have a much shorter lifespan than the time required to effect a significant shift to solar power as a source that might supplant the current mechanisms.

It seems that for the foreseeable future electricity, and probably that means AC electricity, distributed over a grid, is the primary energy medium for most of the planet. That speaks to the importance of re-engineering grid structure to improve its efficiency and reliability.

I worked on a design that puts photovoltaic power into the grid and one strong benefit of such a system is the lack of need to store the energy for use when the sun is down. Not so useful for an isolated user however.

Some posts confuse me by separating "solar" power from "electricity". I think in terms of various sources of energy, e.g., wind, sunlight, heat, waves, natural gas, hydrocarbon fuels, etc. If we could evolve a global approach that can take input energy from various of these and efficiently produce electric power, over time changes in the conversion efficiency of specific sources would allow them to compete for application to the total requirement.

I've read that it is quite feasible to store energy as heat. (And there had been some promising work on storing it in dynamic mechanical structures like flywheels.) But is there an efficient way to convert that heat to electricity and put it into a public grid? If so then both the IR content of sunlight, as heat, and the higher frequency content, as photons, could be exploited. And there are geothermal sources that do not depend on the sun.

Back to the question at hand. I think that the rapid increase in efficiency of solar-to-electric conversion devices, accompanied by falling prices per kilowatt for them, suggests the approach of a tipping point that could lead us to the next long term cycle of energy use by humans.

We moved past water wheels and steam generators to internal combustion engines over a hundred years ago. How long was the period of overlap? Perhaps we're already in transition to a new and more ecologically sound era that will accelerate with the progress of these developments.

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