In the previous postwe looked at the world (earth) and concluded that it is best to maintain its temperature as a “constant” for the sake of humanity. At the same time it was noted that the release of earth’s stored energy from coal, gas, oil, etc., increases the “free” energy available. While this may be useful in the short run, the efficiency in maintaining the earth’s average temperature is affected by the chemicals and compounds released during energy extraction (e.g., greenhouse gases). It is better to use the arriving solar energy directly.
In simple terms, if you want to melt ice, wait for the sun to deposit energy directly and warm the surrounding atmosphere. Unfortunately, the pace of modern life often makes that an unreasonable solution. We need to do it now in order to get to work or start on vacation. So we use manmade devices that use other energy sources to do the job – either electrically powered or powered more directly by fossil fuels.1 If we restrict ourselves to electricity as the main power source, is can be done with converted solar power. But what is the near term acceptability of the process efficiency – individually and collectively?
As it appears today, the most efficient way to covert solar energy to electricity is with a solar panel. Sure, you could use a lens to focus energy on water to make steam and drive a generator. But what is the real efficiency? Without in depth study, solar panels seem, at least for now, the way to go. But from where does the energy to fabricate them come?
Initially, one can forgive using fossil fuels to make a few panels, but when does it stop? My belief is that a true transition to solar only can occur when solar power is used exclusively for solar panel fabrication. At Science Fest, I mentioned my concern to Karen Paramanandam of SunPower by Positive Energy Solar, and that I believed nobody was doing pure solar powered manufacturing of solar panels. Karen graciously corrected my thinking in that SunPower uses almost 100 percent solar power for their manufacturing. Further, SunPower has the highest rating (98 out of 100) on the 2015 Solar Scorecard of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.2 Hooray New Mexico! We may not be there yet, but we are leading the way.
At the same event, I chatted with Hunter McDaniel, president of UbiQD, a local pioneering technology company. As a past post doc intern at LANL, Hunter emerged with quantum dot technology and got UbiQD going. His technology allows one to coat glass, yes the stuff in our windows, and capture and convert solar power. He told me that right now the coating can generate 30 watts of power per square meter of window. Hooray for Los Alamos.
The point is that wide use of solar power can be achieved, but how fast? The pace relates to the adoption efficiency of humanity and humanity fits a bubble model of individuals, groups of individuals, organizations, governments, and on and on, bumping into and reacting with one another like Brownian Motion. Till the next post….
1 Note that the inclusion of nuclear power, while important, is not being included for simplicity.