Solar Panel Tipping Point?

Stephan Wilkinson
by Stephan Wilkinson
solar panel tipping point

Futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil is smart enough to have predicted the ascendancy of the Internet, the common availability of wireless (at a time when the great Bill Gates was busy hard-wiring his $40m mansion so that it could be "run by a computer") and the fall of the Soviet Union. reports that the inventor and futurist now predicts that solar power will be a viable crude oil alternative within the next five years. And then… "[Use] is doubling now every two years. Doubling every two years means multiplying by 1,000 in 20 years. At that rate we'll meet 100 percent of our energy needs in 20 years." Kurzweil says you can thank nanotechnology, which will make solar panels light, inexpensive and more efficient. This could be a big deal. The sunlight falling on earth contains 10k times more energy than we use annually. If Kurzweil is right, we'll soon be energy-rich. (Rich, I tell you, rich!) Automotively speaking, a large source of cheap energy would immediately put zero emissions hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars back on the front burner.

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  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Mar 03, 2008

    Well, we could tax gas, but that would be bad for poor people. So, we will not. I know they are now planning two more reactors at the South Texas Nuclear Project. The locals there are all for it. The no nukes have a lot less ammo since there already is a reactor there. The regulatory environment here is better than average, so it's just the Fed's and the economics that have to work out. We have lots of natural gas here, and, unless I am mistaken, diesel generators as well. All of that tells me that it may indeed be the marginal costs of legal/PR hassles that are the real enemy to nuke plants. Lastly, there is much more talk around town that the oil bubble may burst. Good for the rest of the economy, bad for us. Yours truly will likely lose money in lost business and falling real estate. My loss, ya'lls gain. Don't cancel your Viper order just yet.

  • Shaker Shaker on Mar 03, 2008

    Nukes are an "OK" temporary partial solution, but the future "decommissioning" costs and a reserved area to dispose of the contaminated reactor (and the parts of its containment that need disposal) have to be figured into the true cost of operation. A good start would be to have the gov't or power producers to subsidize solar panels for individual home owners to augment their home's consumption, and to add to the power grid on sunny days. (This could start in the sunny South, and spread North over time, as new tech makes solar more efficient). Meanwhile, the North could utilize more wind power to add to the grid; with farmers being paid to utilize some of their land for the turbines. The idea is that the electrical grid could "blend" (as it does now) various sources; and the more we add, the less effect that regional variances in wind and solar flux will have on the entire grid; if we could somehow develop an overcapacity using wind and solar, power plants could assume a "back-up" role in some cases. It's a "sea-change" that will no doubt cause much pain in our fossil-fuel economy, but it will have to happen.

  • KixStart KixStart on Mar 03, 2008

    Shaker, the wind turbines are already on the way, just as you describe. There is some concern over siting them on major flyways but this should still leave lots of acreage for development. Wind produces electricity at competitive cost today. The problem becomes, what do you do at night and when the wind drops below a few mph? We need new storage technologies in order to rely on inconsistent power sources. We want to store up the juice when it's available and release it again when needed. I'd like to see an additional emphasis on solar space and water heating. Increased emphasis on that should cut fuel oil use (although, at current Natural Gas prices, it's just as useful to reduce NG use) and there should be reasonably low barriers to entry for new suppliers/contractors, creating a fair amount of good, reasonably skilled jobs. Very little new construction gets any solar consideration at all (although new construction is generally more energy efficient than my 1963 house, even though I added insulation). It's a pity we don't move more aggressively on these things... 75% of the homes in my town are new since 1985, perhaps 50% new since about 1995. If they had been engineered and built for the best combination of passive solar gain, active solar space and water heating, the reduction in NG use would be very impressive. As it is, higher energy efficiency standards just started to phase in at that time and there's almost zero use of solar power in any form. And plenty of these are half million dollar homes. Diverting 10% of the purchase price of one of those into advanced solar tech would probably yield a house with amazing solar potential. Landcrusher, what factors do you think would cause the oil bubble to burst?

  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Mar 03, 2008

    Talk is that the price right now is over reacting to every little threat to production. This is a psychological thing in the market. The supply is presently large enough to deal with most threats and still meet demand. Once the traders really catch on to that, they will have more fear of paying too much and the market will likely over react in the opposite direction. We have seen it before. At least this time no one thinks the price can sink to low because the demand is still really high and growing.