Whorled View

September 18, 2008

In 2030 Japan will have the most powerful WMD, and in Space

I’ve previously posted about space based Solar Power, which converts sunlight into ludicrous-power lasers that are beamed back to earth.  We’ll, Japan is serious about doing it:


Now, of course, this is intended to be a technology to save the planet (it’s solar power for heaven’s sake), but will require little to no effort to instantly start using it to selectrively fry whole neighborhoods without any warning and with breathtaking accuracy.

It seems this is a technology we should be working on – if only to safegaurd ourselves against others with this ability.  Remember Japan is still the only country which attacked us on our soil in the 20th century.  They’re utterly peaceful now, but that’s not stopping them from building the world’s first Star Wars technology death ray.

Here’s the amazing thing … by thier own admission it will cost much more per MW than conventional earth-based Solar plans so is there an alterior motivation here?  Let’s just hope that Iran doesn’t start building one of these.

There is one good thing about having a geostationary death-ray, though.  They are easy to shoot down (provided that you send enough bombs it’s way to make the death-ray too weak to defend itself).

April 25, 2008

REALITY CHECK: Electric Vehicle Fueling Stations

I thought this wasn’t doable until I ran the numbers. See … it depends on how the Electric Vehicle (EV) is built. You can trickle charge them overnight, or you can rapid-charge them in a matter of minutes if you have enough juice, but the battery must be designed for one method or the other. Right now they’re all designed for trickle charging overnight.

The problem with rapid (5 minute) charging is the amount of energy throughput required. The electrical grid would need some massive restructuring to provide the kind of throughput needed, which is very very expensive. The other option, which is far more likely than to get the power companies to do anything, is to generate it onsite via wind power or solar power.

The wind power is a slam dunk. Just one of these windmills can easily generate enough to charge 6 cars at a time … assuming it’s windy enough. This would be a no-brainer in many places. The Windmill will be around $500,000. The whole thing (including infrastructure power conditioning, and storage) should cost around $1.5 M. Not bad. No wonder wind power is by far the fastest growing renewable.

Solar is a little trickier. Ideally you’d put your panels over a parking lot for a shopping center or supermarket. You could also put them directly on top of the shopping center or supermarket, but I think a covered parking lot would be desirable enough for the shoppers such that the owners would probably provide the parking lot solar space for free. To support rapid filling 6 cars simultaneously you’re going to need about 6 acres of panels. A large parking lot should provide this, assuming that the panels will only cover parked cars. If more space is needed, a patchwork could be put over the low-traffic areas.

That’s not bad (I expected the space requirements to be more demanding). How about cost? About $3.5 million just for the solar array. Add another $2M for infrastructure (including panel supports, wiring, energy storage, and power conditioning) and you’re into it about $5.5 million. Sounds like a lot (especially compared to wind power), but if you charge $0.05/mile, which is about 1/4 of what gas currently costs for most Americans right now, you can turn a profit.

How much profit? At $0.05/mile you’ll be selling energy at twice the rate that grid normally costs, or $0.17/kWh. Assuming that the cars will be charged at a rate of 500kW (167W/car), and that you’ll charge an average of 3 cars (a generous assumption, imo) at a time between the hours of 7am and 10pm (15 hours), you’ll gross about $465k/yr from motorists. Then you’ll sell the excess back to the grid generating an additional $150k/yr (remember you’ll be using some of this excess in the evening and in some seasons). That’s not bad, but it’s not spectacular considering your loan and the costs of running such a business. In fact, it’s not much better than what you’d make just selling all the electricity back to grid, which is what you’ll do with the excess anyway. If you sell it back to grid you’ll still make about 70% as much per kWh, without having to deal with the bother and costs of running an EV Fueling Station.

Here’s the kicker though … just about the time you’ll have the original loan paid off … say in 20 years, it will be time to replace all the solar panels, costing you another $1.8M in today’s dollars (assuming solar prices will have dropped in half), but at least after that your net will be higher than it was with the original loan.

Still every penny counts when you run a business, so it looks like a good deal, and you’ll be providing a service to the EV community. It is however contingent on three extremely critical things: 1) that it’s sunny, and 2) that they build cars for rapid charging 3) that people will rapid charge their car at 2X the cost of what it costs them to do it at home overnight.

This last point sinks the whole deal for me. If convenience and the mighty dollar is king (and I think it is) people would prefer to just plug in their car when they get home, saving them money over the cost of rapid charging at the supermarket. If someone forgets to plug in their car at night, they’ll just generate their electricity on the fly with a built-in gas-powered generator. That is, incidentally, how they’re making the next generation hybrids, and all future EV’s will likely have that feature so you’ll never be stranded.

So there you go. Conclusion: Based on my analysis EV’s will NEVER be rapid charging nor will Electric Vehicle Fueling Stations exist for rapid charging purposes. That is unless all the solar cell manufacturers are bought up by the oil companies who then will then get into bed with the auto manufacturers, who will then agree to only make rapid-charge EVs that can only be charged in EV fueling stations (not at home).

Now that’s a scary thought. If that happens (doubtful) then this is a viable business. Due to the high upfront costs it’s maybe twice as profitable as a normal gas station is today (based on my google research). But in this scenario where Automakers produce only rapid-charge EVs, which I think is unlikely, this would be a sure thing. Note that there will be limited places where this can be done: shopping centers and supermarkets where there is enough space to also put a gas-station-sized EV station.

PS- here’s the math for those who like math:

Solar Array Energy Generating capability:
Most of the EV cars over the next 10-15 years will likely have 15kWh storage capacity as Advanced Li-Ion batteries. These batteries can be made to completely charge in 5 minutes, but that’s like 15kWh in 5 minutes, and if you have 6 cars doing that simultaneously, that’s 90kWh in 5 minutes That requires a energy generation capability of 90000Wh *(60min/h)/(5 min) = 1MW (approx).

Solar Panel Space Requirements:
On average a good 3×8 panel will provide about 100 Watts, so you’ll need 10,000 of these panels (minimum) assuming it’s sunny all day (1M/100=10,00 panels). That will take up 6 acres of panels (3ftx8ft*10,000 = 240,000ft^2 = 6 acres).

Solar Panel Cost:
Today if you buy in bulk and if you’re lucky you can get solar panels at $3.5/Watt. This cost has not changed much in the last 10 years. It isn’t expected to drop much in the next 10-20 years even with an explosion of supply simply because demand is so high, and as soon as the price drops demand increases to stabilize the price. 1 Million W at 3.5/Watts = $3.5 Million just for the solar array (infrastructure not included).

Gross Annual Income:
($0.17/kWh which is what you’re charging) * (500kW used to charge 3 cars continuously) * (15 h/day) * (365days/yr) = $465k

January 24, 2008

70% Solar Energy by 2050: Scientific American

Probably one of the best layman articles on the subject from a contemporary perspective except for one major problem. Nevertheless it’s worth a good read. Check it out: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan

The problem: Once again it places more emphasis on Solar PV than Solar thermal. It pretends to justify this by throwing around some magical numbers that at this point are pure theory and highly unlikely. Compare that to Solar thermal where the numbers are even better and are proven.

Case in point: It says Cadmium Telluride (nanosolar film) will be able to produce electricity for $0.05/kWh by 2020. This is based on the theory that they can get efficiencies up to 14%. I’m sorry, but I’m quite convinced that in order to do that they’ll have to enable some technologies that will up the price of the manufacturing enough to blow that number out of the water. They think they can improve the efficiency by 40%, based on what? Silicon solar efficiencies have improved maybe 10% in the last 20 years? Sure Cadmium Telluride went from 8% to 9% in the last year, but they’re approaching a ceiling that will get extremely hard to raise. My guess is that it will top out at 12%, which leaves solar PV maxing out at $0.06/kWh assuming all other costs stay the same, which they won’t. Add to that $0.04 /kWh for storage and you get 0.10/kWh, AND YOU HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL 2020 TO SEE THAT RESULT.

Compare that to Ausra’s Solar thermal technology which by 2013 should produce electricity, including storage, at $0.07 /kWh.

HELLO!? Am I the only one running these numbers? Solar Thermal is so superior. Nothing, I repeat: NOTHING should go toward the development of something that will cost more near term and long term than Solar Thermal will.

Two more reasons Solar thermal is better:

TIME TO MARKET: Unlike any kind of Solar PV solar thermal uses no fancy technology. It uses no special materials that require special processing. The materials and the parts and pieces that make solar thermal plants are found all throughout existing industrial parks across America -and at bargain prices. All you need is the money to buy them (tons cheaper than what Solar PV factories cost), and people to build them (requires no special training or science). All these things are in stark contrast to the supply problems that have plagued the Solar PV industry. Solar PV, whether it’s thin film or otherwise, will never be able to scale up at the rate that the Scientific American author suggests. The materials and processing equipment demands are just too great even if the money was there … can’t be done.

LIFETIME: A solar thermal plant lasts almost forever if cared for correctly. Sure parts of the turbine needs replacing as with any turbine including the ones used by SolarPV to reconvert pressurized gas to electricity, but thats about it. No solar cells to replace. The mirrors last forever. The dewar tubes containing the molten salt or H2O (Ausra’s technology) should last a very long time if maintained right. Compare that to SolarPV where the life of the Solar Cells is 20-30 years at the most. Also you’ll have to replace the compressors as well as the turbines parts in the Solar PV plant (incidentally solar thermal needs no compressors – another bonys). Can you imagine that? With a Solar PV plant you’re replacing practically the whole plant every 20-30 years. Not so with Solar Thermal.

In short, media bias favoring Solar PV once again garners unworthy support, thereby siphoning off the funds from Solar Thermal, possibly in order to fatten the wallets of those who invest in Solar PV (Al Gore) or work for the industry. Solar PV, even in Cadmium Telluride thin films will forever be inferior, less efficient, and a more expensive technology than Solar thermal. Articles like this that have some fantastic information and promote the use of the Sun’s rays almost do more bad than good by obfuscating the issue and guaranteeing that our hard earned tax dollars will be taken away from Solar Thermal and reinvested in Solar PV assuming that Solar PV will someday meet the magic numbers that it was supposed to achieve 20-30 years ago, and neither will we solve our energy problems as quickly as we could if all the funds went to something like what Ausra does (www.ausra.com).

December 13, 2007

DOE finally funding CSP

It’s about time. The most promising energy technology and they’ve finally decided to commit some money to it.  Check it out: here

Some of this money is intended to go to linear Frensel-type reflectors like Ausra is doing, which gets my vote for the energy of the future.

November 14, 2007

Solar Thermal Energy: the claims just keep getting better

According to this CNN article released today Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) that harnesses the heat of the sun (not the brightness of the sun, which is what Solar PV does) just keeps looking better. Among the claims:

1) Electricity produced by CSP can be as cheap as 8 cents per kWh. That’s about 20% cheaper than most people are paying in the united states right now for electricity. That’s1/4 the cost of electricity produced by the ever so much more popular Solar PV panels.

2) A 92 x 92 square mile CSP farm placed in the empty barren desert in the SW United States could produce all the energy needed by the whole United States.

3) It could easily solve the desalinated water shortage crisis – which for many countries is a much bigger problem than any kind of oil shortage crisis.

4) Only 0.3% of the Sahara desert is needed to power most of Europe and upper Africa, resulting in a 70% carbon reduction for the region. It will save astonishing amounts of money too as cities must otherwise relocate costing of 100’s billions of dollars, whereas it could all be averted with a CSP plant in the $10 billions of dollar range.

5) Since 90% of the world lives relatively close to desert or to substantial power grids connected to such areas then 90% of the world’s population can be served by this breathtakingly economical and clear resource.

Strangely enough some of the biggest opponents to CSP appear to be a group of environmentalists and key Democrat politicians who seem to be letting expected tax incentives lapse. Based on my last post, you’ll see that this comes as no surprise to me. For 30 years they’ve been trying to keep CSP in the background so industry experts could make money off new alternative energy startups that will never compare with respect to efficiency, cost, and time to market.

These tax incentives for the power companies are vital. Even though CSP may be cheaper than filthy fossil fuels, power companies are making tons of money on fossil fuels. They have the right to jack the prices as high as they need, and at times like now when there is no shortage, but the cost is high due to political concerns, they make all the money. Why? Because they already own such a huge interest in the reserves. The only way to get power companies to build CSP farms is to financially encourage them – and that isn’t happening.

November 12, 2007

Al Gore says something really stupid again

He won the popular vote for President of the United States. He jumped on the green energy bandwagon. For those two things I applaud him.

Everything else he’s done reminds me what an incredible stroke of luck it was that he lost the electoral vote. I posted earlier about how awful of a job I thought he did on the “Inconvenient Truth”, and I suggested similar programs that were far better on a number of levels – although even they were seriously flawed. His moaning throughout the program about how unfairly he was treated and about how little data convinced him of global warming were tedious at best, and the treatment of any of the data he presented was excruciating from a statistical standpoint. The worst part of it was his solution to the problem (use less electricity and spend money on technologies that were entirely unlikely to help), which was the equivalent of stopping a fire hydrant with a stick of bubble gum. Besides, you cannot begin to legislate that. Neither can you force China to do that. The solution should have been this: we need tons of cheap clean energy and we need it fast, and stop investing in technology that has no chance of being competitive with coal.

Nothing else will work. Gore seems oblivious on this point.

Does such a ridiculous remark have anything to do with the fact that he runs a Venture Capitalist firm that invests largely in these inferior “competitive” technologies?

So what now did he recently say that filled me with disgust? What proved his underlying blind ignorance to institute “fairness” at the expense of achieving the ultimate goal? It was simply this: When an Ausra executive said that their Solar Thermal technology would produce electricity so cheap as to “thrash” all the other alternatives, Gore reprimanded him for “assassinating” the competition. You can read about it here at the end of this fortune magazine article from November 12th. Be sure to read also the blindedly ignorant opinion of the author of the article, gushing over Gore like he was a rock-star who could do no wrong.

Excuse me?! Why is Gore being overly protective of less efficient, more expensive, and slower to market technologies?! Can you say “biased”? Can you say “self-serving”? Does such a ridiculous remark have anything to do with the fact that he runs a Venture Capitalist firm that invests largely in these inferior “competitive” technologies?

… when someone says something extremely stupid that also reveals their true motives it’s time to call a spade a spade …

If Gore was truly interested in saving the planet, then he would have said something smart like “Wonderful! Let the competition begin!”. And that, my friends, is why we are in the current mess that we are in. Solar Thermal has been capable of providing us with near grid-cost energy for a dozen years while people like Gore have insisted that all the DOE funds go to more expensive and less efficient, and less eco-friendly projects.

Am I the only one that sees a conflict of interest in making a Eco-Venture-Capitalist-Advisor into the Czar of environmentally friendly technologies? Are people really so stupid as to think such a person could be objective? And journalists … when someone says something extremely stupid as well as revealing of their true motives it’s time to call a spade a spade instead of praising the person for senselessly sticking to their rusty and hypocritical guns.

Solar Thermal to overtake Solar PV within 10 years

The cost of Solar Thermal electricity is half the cost of Solar PV.  This has been true for dozens of years, but solar thermal has never been as lucrative as solar PV because it can only be done in huge installations, so it’s been ignored relatively speaking.  Solar PV has always received the bulk of government subsidies by far – largely because of lobbying power of big businesses and because it’s easier to sell Solar PV to consumers (rooftop panels) than Solar Thermal to power companies (giant solar farms).  That’s finally changing.  Power companies and the Congressmen who get funding for green energy are finally getting wise.  As such some major Solar Thermal plants are in the works, and Acciona expects that by 1017 more electricity will be generated by Solar Thermal plants than all the Solar PV panels in the United States combined (including the one on your solar calculator).

That’s cool. Read more about it here.

July 3, 2007

Bussard’s Polywell, Part 1 (of 2): the greatest invention of all time?

Being deeply interested in the future of Energy, and knowing the interesting fact that what 99% of the public hears is pure baloney, I’m always on the lookout for the latest and greatest new energy technology and this one is worth mentioning. A little background for you non-physics-types first …

E=mc^2 means that if you could convert matter directly to energy then you could get an unbelievable amount of energy from it. One ton (think of a dump truck full of dirt) could power 3 Million homes for a year. Or it can provide the propulsion for space tourists to cheaply fly around the solar system and beyond, and at much higher speeds than is currently possible. The Polywell EIF (Inertial-Electrodynamic Fusion) device, invented by Robert Bussard who was a former Assistant Director to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), can do just that. It seems to have overcome all the major obstacles facing fusion.

The Polywell Reactor
The Polywell Fusion Reactor

That said, don’t confuse a fusion (fuse atoms together) reactor with a fission (tears atoms apart) reactor. Dangerous and dirty fission is what all contemporary nuclear reactors use. If it helps you, think “fusion = fuse together, or build up”, “fission = tear apart, destroy”. Fusion is usually good because it produces safe byproducts, fission is bad because it usually produces dangerous byproducts and requires radioactive fuel.

The proposed fusion-based energy generator uses Boron of which we have enough reserves to last us 200,000 years (at our current energy usage). What’s more is that the only byproduct is unreactive (safe) helium which harmlessly vents naturally to space, where it is the 2nd most abundant element in the universe.

Sounds better than Solar CSP of which I’m such a huge fan. Time will tell.

I’m convinced Einstein would love it Why not us?

June 24, 2007

Space-Based Solar Optics to Power and Protect Earth

Further brainstorming over a solar array / weapons defense system did produce one interesting possibility: a low-cost space-based mirror array for CSP (concentrated solar power). The idea seems silly at first glance because it seems far easier to place the optics on earth close to the energy converting apparatus – however some out-of-the-box thinking (as shown below) reveals that space-based optics could be far easier, cheaper, maintenance free, and effective than an earth-based solution (note that optics can be the biggest cost and maintenance for CSP):

1) Orbiting the earth are giant concave mirrors (parabolic in shape), each 7 square miles in area made from ultrathin reflective fabric (like mylar) stretched between 3 structural points (2 miles between each point in this example). Each mirror keeps its parabolic shape by solar wind. Secondary optics are also located at the focal point of the mirror and continually adjust to redirect the beam of concentrated light back to a receiving solar plant on the earth where the suns rays would be converted to usable energy.

Space Based Parabolic Reflective Fabric Mirrors
Above: a small section of a giant array of parabolic reflective fabric mirrors.

2) Innumerable additional 7 sq.mile mirrors can be simply added, each requiring only one additional structural point, 7 more square miles of reflective fabric, and optics at the focal point of each mirror to send the concentrated solar power to a receiving solar plant on earth.

3) The incoming solar power would be distributed among receiving solar plants strategically placed on earth, so each plant would receive the maximum amount of suns possible without damaging the energy conversion facilities. Maintenance could be performed on these earth-based solar plants at night.

The solar reflectors, being in the vacuum of space, would never require any kind of maintenance. Periodic adjustments can be made to keep them approximately facing the sun via temporarily collapsing one mirror to let solar wind push the array back into orientation. The focal point optics necessary to send each mirrors rays to the right location on earth would be powered by solar power of course.

Oh yeah, another thing … this can indeed also be used as an anti-missile defense system if multiple arrays are used, providing round-the-clock protection, while being tons cheaper than any other Star-Wars type technology. It overcomes all the problems of the Solar Missile Defense scenario posed below and has countless advantages.

Also, nighttime surveillance in other parts of the would could be as easy as turning on a light bulb, and can you imagine the psychological effect it could have on the enemy?

June 23, 2007

World largest Solar Array as Anti-missile Defense

Just now one of my neurons dedicated to solar power just misfired into the part of my brain reserved for missile defense technology and I had a Reese’s moment … why don’t we mix the two?!

Solar Two Heliostat Array
Solar Two facility in California

All the top scientists agree that the best renewable energy is CSP (concentrated solar power), and 100’s if not 1000’s of CSP plants need to be deployed if solar is to provide the bulk of our nation’s energy. Refocusing all 1 million mirrors on the incoming missile is just a matter of a million stepper motors and calibration (could periodically done with a satellite, one mirror at a time).

Another beautiful hypothesis destroyed by an ugly fact.

I’m certain that focusing the power of a million suns on a warhead will destroy the electronics within a few seconds rendering the missile useless.

Then the other neuron in my brain kicked in and reminded me that solar arrays only work 10 hours/day (oh yeah, duh!). Besides, due to the curvature of the earth it won’t work until the missiles are nearly in striking range (again, oh yeah, duh!).

Okay. Another beautiful hypothesis destroyed by an ugly fact. Make that 2 ugly facts. I’m sure I could think up some more ugly facts if given more time. Back to the drawing board. I suppose we could always use solar purely for the far less glitzy cause: saving the planet. Ho hum.

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