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richard moody jr

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How can America wean itself from fossil fuels when fossil fuels are so cheap?

America is supposedly the leader of the free world. What was the primary message during the presidential campaign? Energy independence, not the environment. We will continue to sacrifice our legacy, our natural resources that might better be left to subsequent generations rather than accept higher energy costs now that renewables, until now, can't supply economically (at least not without a carbon tax).

As long as our politicians can make campaign promises based on the cost of a gallon of gas, don't expect any negative news about the environment to make headlines.

While President Obama extols the virtue of clean natural gas, I live in rural Schoharie County which is ripe for fracking for natural gas. Never mind that it is a bucolic, pastoral part of nature. It has vast reservers of natural gas so, following President Obama's desire, it will soon be an industrial park and all the tourists who used to come here for our natural beauty will go elsewhere.

When you look at the cost of natural gas in America, it is about the fifth the cost of natural gas in Europe. Guess what? America is going to become the World's leader in natural gas exports. The "good" news is that natural gas has only half the carbon foot print of coal (we have billions of tons of coal to export to Asia---and there has been a massive ad blitz promoting "clean" coal).

Unless there is someone like a Randall Mills who can make low-energy nuclear reactions economic, fossil fuels are our albatross.

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    Nov 18 2012: The price point at which fossil fuels are no longer cost competitive with renewable energy is when the shift will happen.

    If you look at solar energy you see constant downward price pressure on the panels. Forecasting out the rise in efficiency, and decreasing price, you see a point where a family using just roof based solar can supply all their energy needs for less than fossil fuels. The main hurdles to a future like this is the cost and lifespan of batteries for storage.
    • Nov 18 2012: President Obama supported Solyndra and Solyndra went bankrupt but they maintain that the Chinese dumped cheap solar panels in the US to bankrupt the US solar market. Without massive subsidies I don't see how solar can compete with natural gas for electrical generation. You are still well over 10 cents for KwH for solar compared to maybe 6-8 cents/kWh for natural gas for the next 100 years. Hydrogen generation from solar is never going to be cost effective due to the inherent difficulties in transporting and storing hydrogen.

      Should we continue a subsidy for constructing roof-top based solar panels?

      Chemical batteries without a massive paradigm shift in technology will never be practical. The best chemical batteries are only about 50% efficient and show no signs of dramatic improvement. The only kind of batteries that make sense from an efficiency standpoint are pumped storage facilities i.e. you store, in the case of hydro pumped storage facilities, water at a high elevation during slack demand (e.g. nights and weekends) and release the water during peak demand to generate electricity with the reseversible pump/generators.

      At present this is the only cost-effective way to store large quantities of electricity.
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        Nov 18 2012: Several things will reduce the cost of solar and make it a cost effective alternative to fossil. First the cost of solar photovoltaics is dropping faster than predicted by the DOE NREL reports. We have already seen the spot price of solar drop to less than $0.70 per watt. Second we are beginning to see a minor but growing trend towards solar as an appliance, which will reduce the cost of installations significantly. 30% of the cost of a typical rooftop PV install is the panels, the rest is the install cost. This trend towards solar as an appliance will allow the average person to go to their local hardware super store and continuously expand.

        As to the storage issue, the reasons I didn't mention H2 (Hydrogen) are efficiency 7%-50% depending on the technology used, difficulty in transporting it over the current infrastructure, and cost of local storage.

        Also we are talking apples and oranges on storage. I am looking at this from the micro-grid, local generation perspective. Pumped hydro or air do not even enter into the equation due to cost at that scale.

        We have been seeing great advancements in battery technology over the last several years. With graphene and buckytubes leading the charge (pun intended) toward greater storage per unit volume and increased battery life. All in all it looks very good for solar with local storage.


        http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/03/16/smaller-cheaper-faster-does-moores-law-apply-to-solar-cells/

        DOE NREL report - http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/51847.pdf

        Solar as an appliance - http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57432731-76/got-a-deck-solar-panels-now-a-plug-in-appliance/
        • Nov 18 2012: I can't tell you how much I hope you are right! The wild card in energy generation is whether such things as capturing zero point energy materialize; solar costs are going down and I wonder what new technology the Chinese feared that Solyndra was developing.

          Battery technology absolutely is improving, but there are upper limits to efficiency which I suspect are in the 60% range (I could be wrong, but it is a huge problem just getting from 50% to 55% efficiency---yes durability is improving)

          If you are right about the 70 cents/watt, that works out to $700/kW which places it below most other forms of carbon-based electrical generation. I proposed a massive nuclear power complex on Lake Superior which would bring down the cost due to scale, standardization of design, stable economic climate and workforce to about $800/kW.

          Even the most optimistic predictions of the AP 1000 Reactor by Westinghouse comes in at $1200/kW. MIT issued a report on nuclear power which had light-water reactors coming in at $4000/kW based on actual as opposed to theoretical costs.

          I don't know where this 70 cents/watt comes from but it seems hard to believe. It would lead, overnight, to a vast shift to solar. We are going to see a steady drop in installation costs as more robotic assembly takes place.
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        Nov 18 2012: "I don't know where this 70 cents/watt comes from but it seems hard to believe."

        Its funny, in the three or four months since I last checked, you can buy solar panels on Alibaba for $0.5 per watt. Its gone down 20 cents.

        Google "Solar panel spot prices"
        http://pvinsights.com/

        Or go to Alibaba to get actual prices
        http://www.alibaba.com/showroom/price-per-watt-solar-panels.html
        • Nov 18 2012: Your numbers don't jibe very well with the website called, "How Much Does It Cost to Install Solar on An Average US Home?"

          "At the time of this writing (April 2012) the installed cost of solar panels was about $7-$9/watt."

          Friends of mine installed solar panels and got a 50% rebate on the cost of the system from the utility. Without that subsidy the panels probably won't last long enough to reach break even as far as cost i.e. it would require something like a pay back of 40 years without the subsidy.

          "A 5 kW facility would cost $25,000-$35,000..."

          When you factor in that seasonal variations, location and cloud cover impact cost, it still looks like a subsidy is necessary to make solar cost effective (especially installation).
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        Nov 19 2012: "Your numbers don't jibe very well with the website called, "How Much Does It Cost to Install Solar on An Average US Home?""

        The problem is that the cost to install the system is greater than the cost of the parts. You have electricians, inspections, the actual solar installation company, and all sorts of BS charges tacked on. This adds up to 60-80% of the cost of the install. Which is why I am big on Solar as an appliance. With the ability to go to Lowe's or home depot and buy and install them yourself the price will drop substantially.
        • Nov 19 2012: My mother suggested something years ago that makes sense to me: Why not require for all latitudes south of say 35 degrees as part of building codes, absent a variance, e.g. not feasible, that all new construction must have passive solar? This could be rolled into the cost as opposed to requiring a home improvement loan at a much higher interest rate.

          I think the solar industry would really do much better if new construction was planned to accomodate solar panels. I suspect (but cannot prove) that it is a whole lot cheaper to get electricians to install the wiring on a new home as opposed to rewiring (retrofit) an older home.

          While some home owners may have the competence to install the panels, even though I owned a 6 unit apartment complex and did my own carpentry and plumbing, I'd never have the courage to try and install solar panels :)
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        Nov 19 2012: You said

        "I think the solar industry would really do much better if new construction was planned to accomodate solar panels."

        and

        "While some home owners may have the competence to install the panels, even though I owned a 6 unit apartment complex and did my own carpentry and plumbing, I'd never have the courage to try and install solar panels :)"

        That is why the regulations should make you install a high amp circuit, either 220 or 110 as an outlet to do the solar as an appliance thing when building a house. It frees the consumer up to do it on their own.
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        Nov 27 2012: A Tesla video, you couldn't do any better than that?

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