“This solar future is inevitable — the key question is how long it will take” (David Roberts, of VOX)

Here it is: solar photovoltaic (PV) power is eventually going to dominate global energy. The question is not if, but when. Maybe it will happen radically faster than anyone expects — say, by 2050. Or maybe it won’t be until the year 3000, or later. But it’ll happen.

The main reason is pretty simple: solar PV is different from every other source of electricity, in ways that make it uniquely well-suited to 21st-century needs. (Among those needs I count abundance, resilience, and sustainability.)

Every other commercial source of electricity — besides solar PV — generates energy through roughly the same means: by spinning a turbine.

Coal plants, gas plants, nuclear plants, and concentrated solar power plants are all just different ways of boiling water to produce steam that spins a turbine. Wind power harnesses the wind to spin a turbine. Hydropower dams use flowing water to crank a turbine. These spinning turbines, in turn, provide mechanical force to an electric generator, which translates it into electrical current (this is done by moving electrical conductors through magnetic fields — see Faraday’s Law).

Solar PV works differently: it converts sunlight directly into electricity. Photons of light excite the surface of a semiconductor, knocking electrons loose to become part of a charged electrical field, generating electromotive force that can be tapped by wires. (See: the photovoltaic effect.)

This difference sounds technical, but it is enormously consequential. It brings three obvious advantages, often touted by solar proponents.

First, a solar cell has no moving parts, so operation and maintenance costs tend to be very low. It has to be kept clean, but that’s about it.

Second, a solar cell requires no fuel — so fuel costs are zero. Once the initial investment is paid off, and subtracting modest O&M costs, the power produced is free.

And third, a solar cell generates power without any pollution.

Read more at Vox.

I only disagree with Roberts on the time scale, and I’ve said so. Solar generation, particular of the small scale on-your-roof kind, is experiencing exponential growth. Coupled with the efficiencies of large scale solar, domination could happen in as little as 15 years, maybe even 10 years.


About ecoquant

See https://wordpress.com/view/667-per-cm.net/ Retired data scientist and statistician. Now working projects in quantitative ecology and, specifically, phenology of Bryophyta and technical methods for their study.
This entry was posted in adaptation, Anthropocene, bridge to somewhere, citizenship, clean disruption, decentralized electric power generation, decentralized energy, demand-side solutions, destructive economic development, distributed generation, economics, efficiency, electricity, electricity markets, energy, energy reduction, energy utilities, engineering, evidence, exponential growth, grid defection, Hermann Scheer, Hyper Anthropocene, investing, investment in wind and solar energy, local generation, microgrids, planning, rate of return regulation, rationality, reasonableness, solar domination, solar energy, Solar Freakin' Roadways, solar power, SolarPV.tv, the green century, Tony Seba, zero carbon. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “This solar future is inevitable — the key question is how long it will take” (David Roberts, of VOX)

  1. Pingback: What will happen to fossil fuel-fired electric bills everywhere, eventually, including those fired by natural gas | Hypergeometric

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