Skip to main content

View Diary: New Report: Solar could provide 100% of world's energy needs by 2050 using only 1% of world's land (204 comments)

Comment Preferences

    •  We should also remember that wind energy is (37+ / 0-)

      already generating about 4 times as much total electricity as solar and much more cheaply, so far (although the costs of solar PV is coming down incredibly fast, 80% drop in module prices in the last 5 years.)  

      So while it is useful know we could, with this order of magnitude calculation, we will not have to generate 100% of the future's totally electrical energy needs with solar.

      I haven't read the study yet. I hope they included that fact that solar electric panels have a rated capacity based on assumption of 100% utilization.  Sometimes, people have used rated capacity for these kinds of calculations, rather than delivered capacity, giving the anti-solar folks (mostly pro-nuclear) fodder for attack.

      About five or ten years ago, a break-through "proof-of-concept" plan was published in Scientific American outlining how we could meet all the worlds incremental energy needs with renewable energy by 2030 with a very large fraction coming from solar PV. Initial skeptics tried to spread the notion that this would require more surface area than existed on the entire globe, often never quoting reputable sources.  I hope this study refers to, and resolves  those  previous controversies.

      The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

      by HoundDog on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 12:10:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Especially important at nighttime (11+ / 0-)

        Without some hefty advances in storage, solar is still dependent on good ole Sol.  Wind will defintely be of some help there.

        That said, we will never get rid of all non-renewable power plants just because we need a steady supply for baseload.

        •  We already HAVE made those storage advances. (12+ / 0-)

          Aqueous sodium battery.

          Nov 2011 diary: http://www.dailykos.com/...

          It's safe to trust a sane person with the keys to nuclear weapons, but it's not safe to trust an insane person with the cleaners under the kitchen sink. The answer is not gun control, it's people care.

          by JayFromPA on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 03:32:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  And that's why they are ubiquitous? (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            HoundDog, nextstep, Loose Fur

            I can't pick up a magazine or hit a web page without them talking about those darned Aqueous sodium batteries!

            Ya know.. I judge technology by how fast it is incorporated into daily life.  If I don't have one, or if it isn't in use in my area, then there's some limitation (cost, feasibility, etc.) keeping it down.

            •  corporate greed n/t (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              splashy, ivote2004, Loose Fur

              -7.75, -6.05 And these wars; they can't be won Does anyone know or care how they begun?-Matt Bellamy

              by nicolemm on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 07:31:02 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  And for the aqueous sodium, newness. (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                ivote2004, Loose Fur, Egalitare

                They are like when people were first starting to price email accounts and web domains. Too little was known about the intrinsic value of the web domain to accurately price it, and faced with the possibility of underpricing the service and causing who knows what as a side effect, they priced web domains high - and that very much slowed the advance of personally held web domains into the population until the registrars could see what should be proper pricing and such.

                Same thing with the aqueous. They should really be local municipal things, I think, because of their longevity... But everybody wants their own stuff, it's just the way people are. So they're going slow with introduction in order to feel out the parameters of the market.

                It's safe to trust a sane person with the keys to nuclear weapons, but it's not safe to trust an insane person with the cleaners under the kitchen sink. The answer is not gun control, it's people care.

                by JayFromPA on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 10:35:06 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I concur: mass storage probably has to be... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... heavily government-underwritten to launch initially, probably government-owned/operated  to have effective and adequate penetration among all socio-economic groups.

                  Solar, wind, low-head hydro, etc. in combination on most days will be sufficient (when broadly deployed) but storage is the biggest hurdle to be overcome.

                  When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

                  by Egalitare on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 05:11:09 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

              •  If it worked very well, corporate greed makes (0+ / 0-)

                it ubiquitous.

                The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

                by nextstep on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 11:30:07 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  MIT Just Made the Real Total Breakthru (10+ / 0-)

            What we need is materials that can conduct heat the way we conduct electricity, especially like a diode: the component that lets energy move itself in only one direction through a wire. Martin Maldovan of MIT has developed thin films of "phononic crystals" that conduct heat under full control. The original materials already pull 40% of the heat into the lower frequencies where they can be directed without loss or mess. These efficiencies will get much closer to 100% with engineering now that the scientists have opened the door.

            So instead of building insulation working like a sponge for oozing heat, thin films would keep it all inside. Solar thermal collectors, already much cheaper and 2-3x as efficient as electric collectors, could send their heat down cables into a storage medium with high heat capacity (like a molten salt block), wrapped in these excellent insulators, to deliver the heat perhaps months or even years later. Just that system alone would mean NYC, where 70% of all energy consumed is by already above national average efficiency buildings, might consume under 1/3 the energy it does now. Other cities and buildings around the world not yet as efficient as NYC would improve even more.

            And then there's all the other applications that would make our current crude handling of heat into a technology finally comparable to the 20th Century electronics revolution. This new mastery is like when Ben Franklin and others around the Atlantic finally converted electricity from a natural force of lightning into an industrial resource.

            Our current energy/pollution imbalance is just a little too far into the waste category. If we could cut even just 20% of the US energy consumption that's 25% of the world's, that 5% might be enough to put us into a CO2-negative cycle that would roll back the Greenhouse. Probably not quick enough alone to stop the damage that might jack us into a new normal of droughts and hurricanes like a reverse Ice Age. But the US exporting tech and knowhow like this around the would would probably be enough to slow and then reverse the Greenhouse.

            "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

            by DocGonzo on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 05:19:09 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  There's a really old engineer's joke about (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Bon Temps, HoundDog, 207wickedgood

          a solar-powered night light.  Would be practical except for a really, REALLY long extension cord.

          Excludes batteries, but still a bit funny.

          Real plastic here; none of that new synthetic stuff made from chicken feathers. By the morning of 9/12/2001 the people of NYC had won the War on Terror.

          by triplepoint on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 04:25:00 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I actually have a line of solar-powered lights (5+ / 0-)

            lining my front walk. They're cheaply made and the batteries only last about 9 months, but it gets me through the winter (when I'm getting home after dark).

            •  i have solar powered lights in my garden (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              HoundDog, JayDean, splashy

              stores energy from day sun and stays on all night.

              Macca's Meatless Monday

              by VL Baker on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 04:52:28 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I nearly fell off my chair laughing when I saw an (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                JayDean, myboo, MRA NY, splashy

                ad for solar powered rocks in one of my google searches for new solar energy stories.

                At first, I thought it was a gimmick like "pet rocks."  

                Turns out that they had lights and batteries in them to line garden walkways so these were a legit product.

                I found solar powered lilly pads that powered pond fountains, decorative fence lighting fixtures, solar powered optic fiber flowers, and various solar powered "decorative" robotic insects and frogs and garden gnomes, and lots of fun stuff.

                The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

                by HoundDog on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 06:12:42 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  It's not a very good joke if you have to explain (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              HoundDog

              it.  The sun's half the world away at night, hence the extension cord.  

              Real plastic here; none of that new synthetic stuff made from chicken feathers. By the morning of 9/12/2001 the people of NYC had won the War on Terror.

              by triplepoint on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 05:14:55 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Several years ago I paid $40.00 for 8 solar (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              splashy, ModerateJosh, deepeco, Lawrence

              powered lights and they only lasted until about midnight. Now I can buy the lights for a dollar each at a dollar store and they last past 4 am.  The only problem I have is that if I put them too close to the front sidewalk people steal them around here. Progress is unstoppable. Now if I could make stealing stoppable.

              Our money system is not what we have been led to believe. The creation of money has been "privatized," or taken over by private money lenders. Thomas Jefferson called them “bold and bankrupt adventurers just pretending to have money.” webofdebt

              by arealniceguy on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 08:58:00 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  If it had a grid (7+ / 0-)

          that stored the energy it would be viable a real alternative to teh grease. Why can't this country commit itself to developing infrastructures and grids that use other sources of energy besides oil and the entrenched delivery of giant global entities? Their is a public will  most people do not like being dependent on the planet wreckers and the havoc  both economic, geopolitical and planetary. What we have here is dinosaurs in the form of corporate too bigs who will surely bring us all down with their insane earth destroying all to keep the profit flowing and the power intact firmly in a world that cannot handle what they say is inevitable and the only way forward.        

        •  The sun is always shining somehere! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          arealniceguy, splashy

          It's just a matter of sending some of the good stuff over to the dark side.

          Not trivial, I know - but not impossible, either.


          The Fail will continue until actual torches and pitchforks are set in motion. - Pangolin@kunstler.com

          by No one gets out alive on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 07:20:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It could be done with smoke and mirrors. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bon Temps, No one gets out alive

            Oh excuse me that is the Republican line.

            Our money system is not what we have been led to believe. The creation of money has been "privatized," or taken over by private money lenders. Thomas Jefferson called them “bold and bankrupt adventurers just pretending to have money.” webofdebt

            by arealniceguy on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 09:01:35 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  I disagree (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          deepeco, ivote2004, Lawrence

          We can get rid of all non-renewable power plants eventually. After all, the wind blows somewhere all the time, the rivers flow all the time, the tides come and go all the time, waves are waving all the time, etc.

          It's just a matter of having lots of different ways to generate power, along with some storage capacity.

          Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

          by splashy on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 09:40:22 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Wind IS solar (17+ / 0-)

        Using the globe and its air and water as a giant sophisticated solar panel.

        So is hydro, of course.

        "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

        by kovie on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 01:01:05 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  The grid needs to improve to take full advantage (0+ / 0-)

        in a given geography at a given hour, it can be dark or calm. On the other side of the coin, somewhere else, it is either sunny or windy.

        An dramatically upgraded grid would allow us to take advantage of what nature provides.

        I have never been able to figure out if Fox is the propaganda arm of the Republican party or is the Republican Party the political subsidiary of Fox.

        by Dave from Oregon on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 04:08:26 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  1% of land on earth is an incredibly large amount (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      doc2, Bronx59, squarewheel

      obviously, it's a smaller percentage of the earth's land that will be uninhabitable if we don't stop using non renewable energy, so, there's not much choice here.

      i am really curious about how this would work out in a practical way.  i imagine that most of the land used for solar power would be in warm climate areas, since they are closer to the sun and there are more sunny days.  would the south in the US become more powerful because they generate more solar power than the north?    would that mean an ascendancy for nations closer to the equator?  very very interesting.

      •  I don't know much about this study (12+ / 0-)

        but keep in mind that a whole lot of solar can actually go on roofs of existing buildings, which would take up 0.0000% of extra land.

        "We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

        by Mudderway on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 04:27:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Well, start by putting solar panels on every roof (8+ / 0-)

        You'd be surprised how far that gets you, with no real added environmental cost.

        •  A million times this! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          splashy

          We have already covered far more than 1% of the Earth's surface with human made structures.

          The solar dilemma is covering deserts with solar plants, ruins the ecosystem.

          "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

          by US Blues on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 06:47:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I am not sure that's true (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            207wickedgood

            Remember, 70% of the earth's surface is covered by water. Antarctica is another nearly-10%. That's 80% that isn't human-occupied. In order to get to 1%, we'd need 5% of what's left.

            Do you really think that, for example, 5% of Asia is actually covered with human-made structures? Let alone Africa and South America? How about Canada?

            •  Might mean land area . . .. (0+ / 0-)

              In the USA, a few years ago I saw that if all the man-made structures (roads, building, etc etc) would almost exactly cover Ohio.

              Leaving everything else "pristine" - OTOH, Ohio is quite big if you think about it . . .

        •  And the bigger the roof the better (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          splashy, NoMoreLies

          Going out of Chicago on I-55 south are miles and miles of massive warehouses. The land has already been paved over and there must be thousands of acres of bare rooftop.

          Their is plenty of room for solar without touching an inch of free land.

      •  Of an Even More Incredibly Larger Amount (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Karl Rover, ivote2004

        The Sahara at 9.4 million Km^2 alone is over 6.3% of the  
        the world total 150 million Km^2. Every continent has its desert areas, though disproportionate to its population's energy consumption (Asia's worst; Australia's best). At 1% overall there's enough land if we improve our distribution network (wires/pipes instead of ships/trucks).

        And then there's 3x as much sea area as that in addition, once we can make floating solar feed the distribution. Floating solar in blimps. Orbital solar. Lunar solar.

        The point is that the efficiencies are so high already that we can start using the extra energy invested in making the next buildouts and innovations.

        "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

        by DocGonzo on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 05:27:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  It's a square about 700 miles on a side. (5+ / 0-)

        We could volunteer Texas for half of it.

        •  Yes I've Seen These Numbers Several Times (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ivote2004

          Scientific American had an article about 15 years ago showing that all of America's electricity could come from photovoltaics equal to several western counties (which could of course be distributed all over the southwest).

          The same calculations have been applied to the EU which could get most of their energy from similarly small swath of the sahara.

          There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

          by bernardpliers on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 07:42:24 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  A lot of it has to be out in the ocean (0+ / 0-)

        1% of the land is a huge amount of land. But then 2/3 of the earth's area is sea water, so it follows that a lot of solar installations will have to be in the ocean, just like wind power generators.

      •  USA Has Already Strip Mined Area Big As Delaware (5+ / 0-)

        So it's not like we haven't already trashed vast areas (much of it suitable for reclaimation as solar farms) and we would continue to trash land at an ever accelerating rate.

        There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

        by bernardpliers on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 07:39:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Good questions (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        splashy

        And yes, I could see the Middle East (lots of sun, little cloud cover) becoming powerful in the future energy market, but with a product that won't kill the planet.  

      •  What percentage of land (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        squarewheel

        do you think is used for farming today? I bet it's a little bit more than 1%

      •  yeah - it's really not (0+ / 0-)

        run the calculations some time on how much land is occupied by large cities.

        I ran the numbers on solar cells in the US.

        It would use the amount of land covered by LA and NYC.

        and you don't have to put it all in one place either...

        big badda boom : GRB 090423

        by squarewheel on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 11:14:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Considering that 2% of global land already is (0+ / 0-)

        covered by cities, it is not that much in terms of getting solar installed.  Installing solar on roofs and shading parking lots with solar will pretty much get us near to 100% solar electricity, especially if it is combined with efficiency improvements.

        Solar generally is best where there is lots of sunshine and at high altitude.  Warmth can actually be detrimental as it lowers the efficiency of the most common types of solar panels.  The levels of insolation are key.  That's what is so amazing about Germany's big solar power boom - they aren't at a high elevation and they don't have lots of sunshine, yet they're already covering 5% of their electricity needs with solar in a highly industrialized, densely populated nation.

        You make a good point about the potential that renewables have for shifting some global power paradigms.  Renewables can really help developing and 3rd world nations gain access to amounts of inexpensive electricity/energy that would have been unthinkable for them just a decade ago.  Uruguay, for example, is going all-in with wind power and expects that to actually lower its electricity prices by 30%.  And African nations are increasingly looking to leapfrog into the renewable energy era with wind and solar power.

        Chile is also set to profit greatly because it has some areas that receive some of the highest levels of solar radiation in the world.  Their electricity-hungry mining industry will likely be near 100% solar-powered in the next 10 to 15 years.  Here's an interesting article about Chile:

        3.1 GW Of New Solar Power Projects Approved By The Chilean Environmental Authority
        January 11, 2013

        http://cleantechnica.com/...

        "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

        by Lawrence on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 02:56:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site