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Quote# 88989

I'm facing a lot of skeptics who believe what Al Gore has told them about solar energy. But once you know the only real buyers of solar panels are governments (through subsidies and large direct purchases), you should immediately suspect the promise of solar power isn't what it's cracked up to be.

If everyone could power their homes by putting solar panels on the roof, everyone would want to do it. We wouldn't need tax incentives. Of course, that's not how it works. Instead, the cost to install and maintain a solar system far exceeds the economic value of what it provides. And the reason is basic physics, specifically the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

This is nature's version of "there's no such thing as a free lunch." The Second Law says energy moves from more useful forms to less useful forms, from more concentrated and powerful forms to more disparate and less powerful forms. In short, machines that promise to bring us the power of the sun by harnessing its rays won't work because by the time the sun's rays reach the Earth, not much useful energy is left. That energy won't return to a more concentrated form without the input of just as much additional power. You can't simply "reconcentrate" sunlight in any useful way. The concept breaks the fundamental laws of nature.

I'm not the only person who has doubted the functional utility of solar power. Another skeptic is Warren Meyer, who frequently blogs about free market economics, climate nonsense, and solar power, among other topics. Meyer is a Princeton and Harvard Business School graduate, but even those institutions didn't ruin his brain, which tells me he's a very smart guy indeed.

Al Gore has claimed, repeatedly, that if we were to build a 90-mile by 90-mile solar-panel facility in the Southwest desert, we would have enough electricity to power the entire United States. The claim is fantastic. If only we cared enough about the environment to build enough solar panels, then the world would be saved and power would be free! Al Gore is a masterful politician, which is to say he is a complete liar.

Porter Stansberry , Steve Sjuggerud's Daily Wealth 19 Comments [8/15/2012 3:19:50 AM]
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Brain_In_A_Jar

If everyone could power their homes by putting solar panels on the roof, everyone would want to do it.

Show me one person who knows about this that doesn't want to do it (for a better reason than "it would make the house ugly").

We wouldn't need tax incentives. Of course, that's not how it works. Instead, the cost to install and maintain a solar system far exceeds the economic value of what it provides.

Wrong. The maintenance on photovoltaics is virtually nil. Solar panels are, however, extremely expensive to install. So much so that, especially in this time of economic stagnation, nobody who would actually benefit from it can afford that kind debt, even though they'd inevitably make it all back on free power eventually. You're comparing continuous, free energy for the lifespan of the unit (which could easily be many decades) against a one-off installation fee; you're comparing a high instantaneous value against a low rate of accumulation and idiotically assuming that the higher figure wins overall, which is asinine.

You can't simply "reconcentrate" sunlight in any useful way.

Yes you can. There are, in fact, multiple ways to do it. Photovoltaics don't even *need* concentrated light; you're thinking of solar thermal plants. But you obviously need a large collecting area. Land grabs and legal wrangling over land and sunlight rights are going to become commonplace and really, really ugly once the oil and uranium are gone and solar or wind is all we've got left.

You obviously have no grasp of high-school level mathematics, thermal physics or engineering. So on just what authority are you making these pronouncements?

8/15/2012 3:59:10 AM

\m/>_<\m/

solar cells still has some flaws, but it does work. the only reason spread has been slow has been prohibitive costs that are starting to go down

8/15/2012 4:00:51 AM

Ebon

"If everyone could power their homes by putting solar panels on the roof, everyone would want to do it."

They can and do.

"Instead, the cost to install and maintain a solar system far exceeds the economic value of what it provides."

Not at all. In fact, one of the houses I grew up in was powered by solar panels. And that's with English rotten weather.

"And the reason is basic physics, specifically the Second Law of Thermodynamics. "

Oh gods, not this shit again.

"The Second Law says energy moves from more useful forms to less useful forms, from more concentrated and powerful forms to more disparate and less powerful forms."

That's not what it says at all.

I'm just going to dispense with the rest because it's just complete lies. Suffice to say that solar energy works, I have seen it, lived with it and had it provide plenty enough electricity for a normal home's needs.

8/15/2012 4:03:08 AM

Tempus

In short, machines that promise to bring us the power of the sun by harnessing its rays won't work because by the time the sun's rays reach the Earth, not much useful energy is left

The amount of solar energy reaching the surface is around a kilowatt per square meter. Of that amount, we can currently use about 15% with existing solar cells on the market. Experimental solar cell tech has an efficiency of around 34%. Gains of 50% or more are possible with technologies currently in the pipeline.

In short, machines that promise to bring us the power of the sun by harnessing its rays won't work because by the time the sun's rays reach the Earth, not much useful energy is left. That energy won't return to a more concentrated form without the input of just as much additional power.

It's called the ISS. Your argument is invalid.

You can't simply "reconcentrate" sunlight in any useful way. The concept breaks the fundamental laws of nature.



Mirrors break the laws of physics. Who knew?

8/15/2012 4:22:28 AM

Doubting Thomas

In short, machines that promise to bring us the power of the sun by harnessing its rays won't work

This guy has apparently never heard of solar car races.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_car_racing

8/15/2012 5:40:15 AM

rallymodeller

Southwest Ontario has become a hub of sorts for the solar power industry. Everywhere you go in the countryside, solar panels have sprouted up providing power to the farms where the panels are located. Indeed, one of the largest fixed-installation solar power generation sites in Canada is located in Sarnia, Ontario, and can be viewed here:

http://maps.google.ca/maps?hl=en&ll=42.94436,-82.329869&spn=0.030629,0.052314&t=h&z=15

All those black areas? Solar panels. The solar farm is doing quite well, and was funded primarily by corporate money and is privately owned.

8/15/2012 5:56:54 AM

Monzach

I find it very sad that this kind of attitude is slowing down research and investments that are vital for the future of the human species. I mean, even with new model nuclear reactors, we will run out of uranium (and thorium) eventually, whereas we will have sunlight for the next 4 or so billion years. The quicker we get to a viable solar energy system, the quicker we can start to remove our dependency on the risky business of nuclear and fossil energy production.

8/15/2012 9:15:15 AM

J. James

Okay, this is fucking stupid. If solar rays had no energy, A: they wouldn't be solar RAYS, B: life on earth would be nonexistent because of the SECOND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS, and C: You can perform this experiment yourself. Have you ever had a solar calculator?

And although I haven't done the math on it, Al Gore's 90-by-90 mile solar panel claim seems legitimate. You have to consider the fact that although 90 square miles doesn't seem like enough to power something as huge as the United States, the surface area of something goes up exponentially. By making something progressively larger, you're taking advantage of the exponential growth curve.



Imagine something faaaar to the right on that graph, with the curve growing exponentially steeper...

Never underestimate the raw, brutal power of exponential growth curves, or especially volumetrics.

8/15/2012 10:22:12 AM

pete

Sigh. It's neither useful nor necessary to debunk the whole thing but the fact is that solar panels work very well and the more we make the cheaper they get. Plus, they are, comparatively, much cheaper to build into a new roof than to add on later. That's why countries that are a bit more sane than the good ol' U.S.A. subsidize solar panels, by the government or the utility companies or both, on new buildings. And it should shame these freaks to no end that countries like India have more robust solar power programs than we do.

8/15/2012 2:50:37 PM

Shax

Hey, look, it's the scam artist and gold bug who made those "End of America" infomercials.

Omg, it's a link!

8/15/2012 3:26:03 PM

Battle Pope

Damn, someone has been out in the sun to long.

8/15/2012 3:36:05 PM

Micharion

Even though I did not know the second law of thermodynamics what he said did not sound quite right.

8/15/2012 3:53:21 PM

Mikgof

And the reason is basic physics, specifically the Second Law of Thermodynamics.


They keep invoking Second Law of Thermodynamics as though it a magical formula that proves any anti-Science tirade. Using their logic we wouldn't have electric generation, cars or lighting.

8/15/2012 9:15:15 PM

michael3ov

I challenge you to state the first and third law of thermodynamics.

Without looking them up.

8/16/2012 3:46:25 AM

Leighton Buzzard

You can't simply "reconcentrate" sunlight in any useful way.

Hang on while I finish starting a fire with a magnifying glass ...

8/16/2012 5:08:50 AM

werewolf

I have had solar panels on my roof for over a year now. They work great and have saved me a bundle.


8/16/2012 7:32:35 PM

Adey

By installing solar panels on houses we reduce the need to generate electricity in big and inefficient power plants. Yes, power plants are inefficient, a point missed by the OP.

The largest use of electricy for domestic use goes to heat water and this usage is virtually eliminated by solar panels. Other usage, heat, light and gadgets use a lot less energy so can use less generated energy. Solar power is the nearest we can get to a win-win situation with our present technologies.

8/17/2012 1:28:30 AM

Fizzy

@J. James: Bit of a nitpick; that's 8100 square miles, not 90.

8/17/2012 9:54:30 PM

Davros

the PV array just installed at the Davros secret lair are producing 50%-80% of our daily power usage and it is winter here so you fail

edit for spelling error


8/28/2012 5:31:16 PM
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