In part one of this efficiency series we defined efficiency as avoiding waste in doing something. Waste encompasses materials, energy, efforts, money and time. Looking at the sun-earth system, essentially the same amount of energy is delivered by the sun each day. Some of that energy is stored for future use and the rest must leave earth if a stable relationship is to be maintained. Clearly, the energy transfer process must have less than 100 percent efficiency for earth to remain habitable and support humanity. In fact, the process needs to have essentially zero efficiency.
In a classical physics world we can neither make nor destroy energy. When sunlight arrives, it can be stored (photosynthesis and fossil fuels), used temporarily in more classical ways such as letting us see during daytime, or rejected back into space. Stored energy is temporary and can (sometimes must, e.g., food) be used for efforts by earth’s inhabitants. When the stored energy is released, it must join the rejected energy and leave.
The industrial revolution generated great demand for long term or chemically stored energy. When it is accessed, chemicals are released that affect the balance of arriving and departing energy. Earth is keeping (heating) more energy, not releasing (cooling) more energy.
In part two, solar energy was surveyed as an energy source to power endeavors of humanity. The value of the solar solution is that it allows maintaining the positive gains of the industrial revolution and its successors without affecting the zero net efficiency of solar energy storage.
In part three, we examined humanity’s need for energy at a very basic level. Also, we began to look at how human beings view and measure efficiency. It becomes very complicated very quickly, most often measured in time and money costs. As an open-ended example, TV watching was considered. While I could rate the example as intellectually weak, I do so because human beings could but will not measure their TV watching down to the minute (if they have TV). It is something we just do not do. This suggests that achieving unity of effort (essential for success) among all of humanity is a dream.
Recently I saw some data that the average male spends about $64.90 to $71.90 per week on food. If we were 100 watt light bulbs (see part three), our personal energy bill would be a lot less ($0.264 per day or $7.92 per month). At $64.90 per week, this is $281.40 per month (per USDA data – 20171).
According to one data source, 2 an average 5,000 watt residential solar installation will cost between $15,000.00 and $25,000.00, sustained maintenance and government credits not included. A 5,000 watt solar array running 12 hours per day generates 1,800 kWh per month. At 11 cents per kWh, this equates to $198.00. As a family of four with a monthly food bill of $1056.50 (no toilet paper included and moderate cost plan2), do you go solar? Do you have the cash available, do you qualify for the loan, will you live at the installation address long enough to reach the breakeven point, or is a replacement car or college tuition a higher priority?
In looking at the world’s future, it has been frequently mentioned that the “how” part is the challenge. The five “W”s are easy, but how do you get to the goal efficiently?
On 28 January 1896, the first traffic ticket was issued to Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent for travelling 8 mph in a 2 mph zone (6 mph over the speed limit). He received a one shilling ($2.71 on 2017 dollars) fine. Obviously, Mr. Arnold was wealthy in that he could afford an automobile and had no difficulty paying the fine 121 years ago. Today, there are cars everywhere and tickets are for faster speeds (even if it only six mph over the speed limit). Automobiles have been adopted. How long will it take to adopt solar? And how do we measure solar efficiency (time and money) on a personal level?