|If STMicroelectronics, Europe's
largest semiconductor maker, delivers what it hopes for, things will
soon become very interesting in the energy market.
Unless I misinterpret what
is being stated in the forwarded article, the capital investment for solar
cells to provide power for a 7.5 kVA service would be in the order of
$1,500. Mind you, then there would still be costs for converters and
energy storage and the energy losses incurred in energy storage and
conversion. However, there would no longer be any billing and steadily
escalating energy and service charges.
It will not be Utopia, but it appears to be more than just a pipe
dream. It may be feasible and economically attractive, even if not
for everybody. It certainly would create realistic competition for energy producers
Prototypes should be in operation at the end of 2004, after which
"...ST and others would need to develop production technologies to make
solar cells and panels in large quantities to achieve the $0.20 per watt
"Our target is fixed at $0.20," said Coffa, who expects no major
technological difficulties in going from prototypes to mass-produced
I suppose that those news will not be promoted very heavily by the
investor-owned utilities operating in Alberta.
STMicroelectronics, Europe's largest semiconductor maker, said that by
the end of next year it expected to have made the first stable prototypes
of the new cells, which could then be put into production.
Most of today's solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity,
are produced with expensive silicon, the same material used in most
The French-Italian company expects cheaper organic materials such as
plastics to bring down the price of producing energy. Over a typical
20-year life span of a solar cell, a single produced watt should cost as
little as $0.20, compared with the current $4.
The new solar cells would even be able to compete with electricity
generated by burning fossil fuels such as oil and gas, which costs about
$0.40 per watt, said Salvo Coffa, who heads ST's research group that is
developing the technology.
Solar radiation received in Alberta ranges from about 1.4MJ (MJ: Mega
Joule) per square meter per year in southern Alberta to about 1.1MJ per square
meter per year in northern Alberta.
Joule: Unit of work or energy equal to the work done by a force of one
Newton acting through a distance of one meter.
Newton: Force required to impart an acceleration of one meter per
second per second to a mass of one kilogram.
energy conversion factors
- 1.0 joule (J) = one Newton applied over a distance of one meter (= 1
- 1.0 joule = 0.239 calories (cal)
- 1.0 calorie = 4.187 J
- 1.0 gigajoule (GJ) = 109 joules = 0.948 million Btu = 239
million calories = 278 kWh
- 1.0 British thermal unit (Btu) = 1055 joules (1.055 kJ)
- 1.0 Quad = One quadrillion Btu (1015 Btu) = 1.055
exajoules (EJ), or approximately 172 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe)
- 1000 Btu/lb = 2.33 gigajoules per tonne (GJ/t)
- 1000 Btu/US gallon = 0.279 megajoules per liter (MJ/l)
Bio-energy Conversion Factors (refer to source for more conversion
Watt: Power equal to the work done at the rate of one Joule per second
(1/746 horse power).
Mega: One million
One MJ is equal to 278 Wh or 0.278kWh
With an average solar radiation in Alberta of 1.25MJ per square meter
per year, and with an efficiency of 10 percent for the solar cells, the
total area for solar cells to be produced by STMicroelectronics required
to satisfy a steady demand of 1kWh would be about 29 square meters.
Theoretically, assuming that energy storage capacity could be designed
and installed to store energy during hours of sunlight at an efficiency of
100 percent and to guarantee availability of energy at 100 percent
efficiency when sunlight is at low levels or not available, a collection
area of 29 square meters (312 square feet) would be sufficient to supply one kWh per hour
or 720kWh per month.
Mind you, solar cells generate no power during the
night and will on dark and gloomy days generate considerably less than what
one may wish to have available. That requires storage capacity, most
commonly by means of batteries.
Update, 2003 10 10 &
2003 10 11
The losses incurred through charging and discharging the
batteries and through converters will require that the size of the
collection area be increased by a considerable amount. The area
required could easily double on account of that. That would increase
the effective cost of energy required to be produced to satisfy
consumption to 40 cents per Watt, comparable but still somewhat cheaper
than the end-user cost of energy from conventional sources. Those
costs would be stable, virtually fixed, except perhaps for the portion of
the cost contributed by the replacement and maintenance costs of energy
storage. Those are subject to change, but with a growing market and
maturing research the replacement cost for components of energy storage
may decrease a little over time.
On the other hand, the price for
electric energy produced from conventional sources is steadily and at
times rapidly increasing. On January 1st 2001, Alberta consumers saw
the costs of electric energy consumed more than triple over night.
On top of that there were substantially increased service charges due to
the alleged advantages to consumers that deregulation was to bring, as
promised by Ralph Klein, the Alberta Premier. As it turned out,
predictably, the only ones who benefited from deregulation were the
utility companies and the Alberta Government (through energy royalties and
production taxes, hidden taxes paid by the end consumers of energy). Moreover, the utility companies benefited
substantially more than just from the increased bottom lines on consumer
bills. Billions of dollars were handed over to them by Ralph Klein
in the form of taxpayer-funded subsidies. All of that although there
was no corresponding amount of capital investment or operating costs that
would have justified those expenses to Alberta citizens.
Right now, almost three years after deregulation came into effect, the
bottom line on Alberta power bills is roughly twice of what it was prior
to January 2001. That is not all. Indications are that
consumer prices for electric energy and services will keep on increasing.
There is a new charge for transmission losses. Alberta consumers are
being charged for transmission losses at the rate of about 3.17 percent of
energy used. The utility companies are trying to get that increased
to eight percent of energy used. Increases in the rates charged per
kWh are in the making as well.
Would it be unreasonable to expect that
the trend will continue, and that, for as long as people buy their
power from investor-owned utility corporations in a deregulated market, our power
bills will continue to double every three years?
Solar power would
provide some savings or break even at present prices for commercial
electric energy only if electric energy can be produced by solar cells at the place of
consumption and if a given consumer of electric energy could thereby
become totally independent from the commercial electric power distribution
The cost of energy produced when delivered into the distribution
network (about 2.3 cents per kWh) comprises roughly 20 percent of
the cost of electric energy, distribution, delivery, service and billing
charged to the average home owner. If the average home owner can
make himself independent from the distribution network, and if his
amortization of capital investment and operating costs of his very own,
stand-alone solar power generating equipment (including storage and
related costs) is in the order of $100 per month, he will break even.
It will be a while before enough information is available to permit
anybody to decide whether a stand-alone solar power plant provides an
economic advantage. However, the biggest advantage
would be the ability to escape from rapidly escalating commercial energy prices.
By the way, on the day
CNN broke the story, a search on Google News showed that CNN was the one
bringing it into the news. As of 2003 10 10 01:11hrs RMT,
Google News provided 307 search returns. Such a rapidly escalating
spreading of technological news is fairly rare, indicating that the issue
addressed is an important one. Given that the news connect the name
of STMicroelectronics with ground-breaking research and development in
solar-cell technology, there will most certainly be a large upward swing
in the price of STM shares.
An interesting aspect of that rapidly escalating spreading of the news
is not so much that some of the pundits obviously based their comments on
what CNN had posted without giving CNN any credit, but that some of them
dated their articles to before the publication date of the CNN article
from which they gleaned their information.
At any rate, upon checking today other news items relating to
Sep. 30, 2003 announcement by STMicroelectronics upon which CNN had
based their story, I came across one at
FuturePundit.com that explores the context of solar-cell research and
that provides some of the background that CNN and even STMicroelectronics
(understandably in the case of the latter and due to shoddy journalism in
the case of the former) neglected to address in their articles, that is that solar
panels won't be of much use to anyone unless the electric energy they
generate is stored in batteries, and that those batteries are quite
expensive for energy-intensive applications such as those involved in
the operation of the average household.
My comments, above, merely point to the need to
exercise caution. The cost per Watt of solar-cell generating
capacity must be added to
the cost of batteries per Watt used. Batteries are an important
consideration for any consumer of electric energy that is generated via
solar cells or other intermittent energy sources at the place of
The article at
FuturePundit.com explores that a little. Just as importantly, it
identifies that other companies are pursuing research that is similar to
that pursued by STMicroelectronics. (See related
As of now it seems that it would be foolish to bet one's money on just
one horse in the race to cheap solar power. What may provide
an even greater investment opportunity would be successful research done
in energy storage. Even there, batteries are not all that offers
opportunities for that. For generating companies there would be an
opportunity to pump water, for instance. That is not very likely a
viable alternative for individual energy storage by most home owners.
Heat storage in a thermal mass (e.g.: water) is more feasible for home owners,
although heating any storage medium would be far cheaper by means of
passive or forced solar heating than is possible through electricity even
at the low cost per Watt predicted by STMicroelectronics.
At first glance, home owners seem to have no other alternative than to
make a large investment in batteries for the storage of electric energy
that can be used on demand as electric energy. There are other
alternatives. Energy can be stored in the rotating mass of a
flywheel, from hence it can be relatively easily extracted and converted
back to electric energy when required. Some companies have
researchers exploring energy storage by means of flywheel technology.
Whether energy will be stored by charging batteries or by using any
other means of energy storage, it is clear that cheap energy storage is at
least as important as cheap solar cells.
One aspect of both, energy generation and -storage, may ultimately
determine what will develop into the industry with the most promise.
With respect to solar power the question will ultimately be whether the waste comprised of debris from
worn-out components will pollute the environment or not, and not even so
much that. No matter what technology will be used, they all will
pollute the environment to varying extents. The biggest concern will
be which technology will pollute the environment the least and whether, if taking
that into account, it will be the cheapest to operate in the long run.
That is a consideration even for hydro-electric plants. Water
reservoirs have a limited and shrinking capacity over time. They do
silt up and need to be re-built or expanded. For example, the water
storage capacity of the TVA reservoirs is gradually decreasing and is now
only approximately less than 75 percent of what it was when those reservoirs went
Compared to hydro- and nuclear power generating plants, which are
absolutely non-polluting (except for the local environmental changes they
cause) or at least nearly so in the case of nuclear power, coalfired
power plants are perceived to be the worst polluters, mainly because of
the large amount of CO2 and the large amount of fly-ash
they produce. However, there are compelling reasons for disregarding the
climate alarmists' exaggerated claims of the detrimental impact of
the "pollution" caused by coal-fired or nuclear power plants.
Ash can be scrubbed from the exhaust gases of coal-fired
power plants, although it would be prohibitively expensive if one wanted
that to be perfect and totally effective. Ash is relatively inert and of relatively little harm to the environment.
Not even the most extremist climate alarmists claim that fly-ash from
coal-fired power plants poses a threat with respect to global warming.
Contrary to what climate alarmists claim,
is not a pollutant that harms the environment. It is a natural
fertilizer without which life as we know it would not exist on Earth.
There is no scientifically valid proof that
the global warming trend, which climate alarmist who have their knickers
in a knot say is immediate and catastrophic, is anything of the sort.
The global climate was as warm or warmer in the 1930s than it is now,
while in the intervening interval it cooled off quite considerably for
some time. It was much warmer yet in the recent and not-so-recent
past (e.g.: the prolonged periods of warming during
the medieval- and Roman climate optima).
There is absolutely no or at best only
extremely marginal proof that any activities by man cause global warming
to an appreciable extent. There is, however, solid evidence that
urban heat islands are
very local problems but not on account of fossil-fuel-fired power plants.
The dangers of operating nuclear power plants
are being unfairly hyped up by the media and special interest groups.*
Overall, nuclear power plants are far safer to people and the environment than
fossil-fuel power plants. More than a hundred thousand men died
during the last century in the mining and extracting of conventional fossil fuels.
Of those, 18,400 died during the 1969-1986 interval. In contrast,
31 died in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, apparently the only known and
published industrial nuclear disaster that ever claimed any lives.
The Real Chernobyl Folly (off-site, 232 kB PDF file), by
Zbigniew Jaworowski; 21st Century Science & Technology,
Hydro-electric dams pose a very
real and large risk to people and property.
There have been many catastrophic failures of hydro-electric dams,
causing deaths ranging from none through tens, hundreds and thousands to
hundreds of thousands of people in each instant. The worst of
those man-made catastrophes was the 1975 collapse of the Banqiao dam
on the Ru River in China. It caused 230,000 fatalities and
enormous devastation of property over a very large area. (See:
Recorded dam failures since
1860 that killed more than ten people each)
In relative numbers, that means that,
Calculating by unit of energy produced, the
Chernobyl catastrophe caused 0.86 deaths per gigawatt-year of
electricity produced, which is 47 times less than for hydroelectric
power stations (40 deaths per GWe-year), including the 230,000
fatalities caused by the 1975 collapse of the dam on the Banqiao
river in China. (See:
Belarus to Repopulate Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, by Dr. Zbigniew
Jaworowski, July 28, 2010 — PDF file, 83 kB)
If a choice is to be made for massive installations of solar cells, the controlling issue may not be that electricity generated
through solar cells is cheaper for the average consumer, but that it may be
the only feasible alternative available for remote locations at which
access to energy from conventional sources is presently far too
expensive. To satisfy all of the electric energy demand in the USA
through solar power would require that about one seventh of the land area
of the USA be covered with solar cells; and that estimate is based on
current technology, not the less efficient (although cheaper) cells announced by STMicroelectronics.
Compared to the generally beneficial impact of coal-fired power
generating plants per capita, electricity generated through solar cells
may well present a far greater danger to the environment until someone
figures out how to safely dispose of thousands of square miles of solar
cells that disintegrated through years of direct exposure to sunlight and
how to dispose of the debris from millions of tons of worn-out, even though perhaps
reconditioned, batteries each year.
We must not forget the environmental disaster of the pollution and
increasing temperatures in the local heat islands that large cities must
now cope with on account of another ground-breaking technology, the advent
of the automobile powered by the internal combustion engine. If
today's environmental standards would have been applied then to just its
environmental impact, the automobile would never have gone into
production. On the other hand, maybe it would have been considered a
cleaner alternative, compared to the environmental impact of the status quo, horses
and the manure, carcasses, and injuries and fatalities they generated.
That is what we must consider now, not just the impact of any given
technology or of a particular method for generating electric energy but
the relative impact of every alternative available to us. Wise choices
must be based on continuous objective evaluations of all available
alternatives considering their total costs to society for energy production and not on propagandistic,
unsubstantiated hype produced by extremist climate alarmists that
opportunistic, unscrupulous and gullible journalists in the mass media are
eager to exploit.
Update 2006 08 12
SA solar research eclipses rest of the
Willem Steenkamp; 2006 02 11
In a scientific breakthrough that has stunned the world, a
team of South African scientists has developed a revolutionary
new, highly efficient solar power technology that will enable
homes to obtain all their electricity from the sun. (Full
Story — off-site)
The article mentions: "The South African technology has now been
patented across the world." Here is a
link to the patent. Other than that, the South-African
technological developments are remarkable but not necessarily
revolutionary with respect to developments and discoveries by others
active in the field of solar research. However, the somewhat
enthusiastic claims about the South-African developments fall short
of those developments being competitive in comparison to traditional
methods of energy generation.
an article in the Nov. 4, 2004 issue of Science in Africa it is
Work done over the last two years indicates that panels can
be produced in commercial volumes at a cost of about R 500 for a
50 Watt panel. This is much cheaper than existing solar panels
available on the market. CIGS is a remarkably stable material
and conversion efficiencies should be sustainable for 15-20
years in any given panel.
That works out to about $1.66/W; and that is an optimistic
estimate of the costs of the panels. Those costs are
considerably higher than the capital investment (~ $0.40 to $0.60
per Watt) for conventional energy production (coal-fired or nuclear
energy generation). Over and above that, the panels would have
to be used in conjunction with storage batteries. The
batteries would require an additional large capital investment per
Watt. For a more in-depth discussion on that issue see
the Energy Blog.
Keep in mind that the South-African panels will have to be replaced
after an estimated interval of 15 to 18 years, and that batteries as
well need replacement after a comparable time frame. Moreover,
there are the costs of disposal methods for deteriorated panels and
batteries, so as to avoid or minimize environmental pollution.
Comparisons and Perspective
Caution: Reading this article may prove dangerous to your
perceptions about nuclear power, energy in general, and low-grade but
well-heeled environmental activism.
(Note that the discussion assumes that global warming is a man-made
threat that can be alleviated through nuclear power generation.
Still, the discussion presents very educational statistics regarding
the risks of the various alternatives for electric energy production.
What is even more revealing is the discussion of distorted and
misrepresented statistics produced through advocacy research by
extremist climate alarmists, environmentalists and other people who
have an axe to grind. WHS)
Energy from Thorium
A website and discussion forum devoted to the discussion of
thorium as a future energy resource, and the machine to extract that
energy–the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor.
This is about liquid-fuel thorium reactors, a means of producing
nuclear energy without weapons proliferation, producing it in an
inherently safe manner, from fuel that is fairly abundant and cheap,
without having to worry about long-term radioactive waste disposal
and storage, at a cost per MW that is an estimated 30 to 40 percent
lower than that of energy produced from conventional nuclear
sources. (You may wish to comment on this at
Energy from Thorium)
Revolution in Bharat: A blue-print for action (An assessment and
comparison of the costs of conventional, renewable and nuclear sources
...A wind farm equivalent in output and capacity to a 1,000-MWe
fossil-fuel or nuclear plant would occupy 2,000 square miles of land
and, even with substantial subsidies and ignoring hidden pollution
costs, would produce electricity at double or triple the cost of
Barriers to the Use of Renewable Energy Technologies
By [USA] Union of Concerned Scientists
Farming the Wind: Wind Power and Agriculture
By [USA] Union of Concerned Scientists
From the article:
Typical Expenses for a Wind Turbine
Assumes a retail
electricity cost of 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, increasing three
percent per year, and annual average wind speeds of 15 mph to 17.4
mph at 50 meters above the ground. Source: Based on data from wind
turbine manufacturers and estimates from Thomas A. Wind, Wind
Note: The costs identified in the preceding table appear to
be based on the assumption that a wind turbine installation would
deliver excess power into the power grid, while drawing from the grid
when demand exceeds supply for a given installation. In essence,
a given farm would not be independent and a cost estimate would have
to take into account delivery charges for electric energy used from
and delivered to the grid. To make a location truly independent
from the power grid, capital and operating costs would increase
considerably if capital investment and operating costs for energy
storage (batteries) for that location are taken into account. --WHS
Technology in new Dimensions, is a presentation on the
specification, manufacturing and construction of a 5 MW wind turbine, by
REpower Systems AG, Hamburg.
The complexities of the design, manufacturing and construction of the
wind turbine of that size described and illustrated in the document are
mind boggling. Still, given that the document is in effect a sales
brochure, there are implications that the document does not mention.
Just to bring up a few:
- The practical capacity of a wind turbine in about one quarter of
its rated capacity at optimum wind speed. That means that if
using a wind turbine of the massive size promoted in the document
practical power output would be 1.24 MW. That would require
the construction of 1,200 such wind turbines to replace a single
thermo-electric power plant with 1.5 GW (average size).
- To locate that many wind turbines would require a total land
area of about 286 square kilometers.
- A thermo-electric power plant produces electric power about 95%
of the time, with maintenance shutdowns requiring to fire up large
scale standby power generation that requires about three days to be
put on line and therefore needs scheduling well in advance. In
contrast, when the wind stops blowing below the speed where a wind
farm can produce even only a quarter of its optimum rated capacity
(or if it need to shut down if the wind speed is too excessive), the
demand for energy and the sudden lack of 1.5 GW of energy that the
wind farm should be producing will bring the distribution network to
its knees. 1.5 GW standby capacity cannot instantly be brought
on line. Even gas-turbine-generated energy requires as much as
three hours to be brought on line. However, even though that
source of replacement or standby energy is feasible, natural gas is
the most expensive conventional energy source.
- Wind farms are not cheap, nor is the power they produce. On
account of the expensive nature of the absolutely necessary standby
power generation required by wind farms during so much of their
operating time, the power generated by wind farms is just about the most
expensive electric power imaginable that is on the market.
A more detailed discussion of those issues is contained in
Windmills for Suckers: Pickens' Genocidal Plan (PDF file), by 21st
Century Science & Technology.
- A suggestion for meeting the UK
Government’s renewable energy target because the adopted use of
windfarms cannot meet it, by Richard S. Courtney, Thursday 26th
2006 Annual Prestigious Lecture to
The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers
The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (North East)
On 2010 06 18, Richard S. Courtney posted
an excellent and easy-to-understand illustration of the uselessness
of windfarms to the blog of Anthony Watts, the most popular
science blog in the world. In that posting, Richard Courtney
compared the reasons for constructing windfarms to the reasons for
construction the Wall of China: Useless, impractical and extremely
costly for meeting the ostensible purposes but very, very effective
as widely-visible propaganda efforts.