Sunday, July 5, 2015

The age of super PV plants has started, should we be happy about it?

The Solar Star Solar power plant has come online on June 19, 2015. As seen here... It trumps Topaz by "a whopping" 29 Megawatts. It only took BHE (Berkshire Hathaway Energy) 1.7 million sun following 340 Watt PV panels to get it done. They say that it will energize 250.000 Californian homes in contrast to Topaz's 160.000 Californian homes.

The last time I checked an average Californian home used 7000 KWh annually. So if it is true and the SSSPP (abbreviation for Solar Star Solar Power Plant) does satiate the demand of 250.000 homes,  we get 1.75 TWh out of this solar power plant. That's a .6 improvement over the Topaz PV plant.

Even more impressive is that the SSSPP does this with 7.3 million less panels. One of the tricks BHE has pulled off to achieve this is to use a tilt-system that keeps PV panels oriented in such a way that they achieve slightly higher efficiencies. Also the panels used are of better quality and capacity than the ones used in the Topaz PV plant.

Let's do the math, how many panels and SSSPP's would be required to generate 20.000 TWh?
  • 11.428 SSSPP's
  • 19.43 Billion panels
At current production rate it will take roughly 100 years to construct 20.000 TWh's worth of SSSPP PV panels.

This will be my new benchmark in PV related matters.
Simply keep in mind that if we want to make an end to fossil fuel usage for energy purposes we're going to need 840 Quadrillion BTu's or 250.000 TWh's. Which basically means that by today's production capabilities we would be producing solar panels for over a thousand years before we reach 250.000 TWh's worth of electricity generation...
So if the green movement keeps discarding other sources of energy in their crusade against fossil fuels, they are simply not going to get it done.
Suppose we want to completely decarbonize the world by today's standards, all electricity generation has to be increased tenfold. By this measure hydro is already booted out of the equation. Another consideration : we have to eliminate as much energy conversion as possible, since it will only compound the problem and increase the energy requirements.
That's where nuclear enters the stage with flying colours.
What are the added benefits of nuclear energy, particularly MSR's?
  • Useable isotopic "waste products" like cobalt, Iodine, Bismuth, non-proliferation plutonium, neptunium, etc.
  • Stable fission products like xenon, neodymium, molybdenum, and zirconium.
  • Desalination through waste-heat removal (100 to 300 degrees Celsius)

These are very useable elements and incredibly important processes that run off nuclear breeding and fissioning which make these nuclear reactors a gold-mine.

Compare this to the feeble benefits of wind and solar power, a limited life cycle, unrecoverable waste products during the manufacturing process, very limited recyclability, and a waste of energy. The sheer volume required to achieve 20TWh make it a numerical improbability. What about completely decarbonizing our energy matters? the stellar amount of 840 quadrillion BTu is enough to make me doubt...

Many people fail to see the larger perspective, we require 840 quadrillion BTu in 2040. This is the total sum of energy consumption in the world i.e. transportation, manufacturing, heating, electricity. If we would electrify it all, it would require 250.000 TWh. That about 12 times more than we use in electricity today.

If we where to use generators 1000 MW a piece, with an uptime of 90% (7.9 TWh) we would need roughly 32.000 of these.

Now we want to de-carbonize our electricity generation. We have to start with 25.000 TWh and then gradually expand from thereon. 3.200 7.9 TWh generators are "easily" build.

We need to steer away from the notion that GigaWatts mean something, they don't. Why? Because of capacity factors and limited efficiencies. We need to look at true generation capacity at high efficiencies and factors. A 500 MW Solar Plant produces 1,12 TWh whereas a conventional generator of the same rated capacity produces 3.9 TWh and can be scaled up several fold, coupled with other generators.

How to generate this power? Up until now Gen IV fission and Fusion are our only means to do it outside the spectrum of coal and gas and oil.

Hydro is maxed out and Biomass requires too much feedstock.
That's one of the reasons why i have switched from being RE advocate to Nuclear advocate. It's going a hell of a job.

But to be quite frank, if this is what is expected from us, we need to stop wasting our time with these super PV plants. If companies and people want to use them to power their companies, homes or their cars, that's fine but we can't expect them to be the cornerstone in our fight against anthropogenic climate change. But also consider the issues of fighting water scarcity, poverty and crop failure. Mass desalination and the restoration of hydrological cycles are going to increase the energy burden.

Next article I will dive into the true workhorse of the renewable spectrum : biomass - an extension of contemporary furnace tied electricity generation i.e. coal and gas and oil.

1 comment:

  1. And, apart from the species displacements and ongoing maintenance and 1/2-1% power loss per year via aging, this installation will add directly to global warming because the panels are less than 20% efficient and so deliver >800 Watts of heat/IR per square meter right back into the atmosphere to unnaturally re-excite GHGs and just plain heat it.

    "They say that it will energize 250.000 Californian homes i" -- our Diablo Canyon plant takes 257 acres and serves >2 million Calif. homes 24/7, not just part of any sunny day.

    But that's why countries are expanding nuclear as fast as they can -- efficiency, reliability and low environmental impact.