FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Holy Grail of Energy?

by ROBERT HUNZIKER

Climate change news is mostly negative, in fact, downright depressing, as glaciers melt away, torrential storms hit coastlines, and embedded droughts scorch countrysides.

But, behind all of the gloom and doom, an upsurge of solar energy is quietly flourishing from California to Queensland to Pretoria. Here’s why: Solar energy is experiencing remarkable technological breakthroughs that will likely lead to a world powered by solar energy at the expense of fossil fuels. And, it could be happening sooner rather than later.

The biggest question is whether it comes soon enough to avoid the risks of abrupt climate change events, like cascading glaciers in Antarctica, as referenced just recently by the National Research Council: “The history of climate on the planet— as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores— is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years,” Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises, (Prepublication Version), National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., December 2013.

Solar brightens the planet

Fact: Enough sunlight hits the earth’s surface in one hour to power humanity for one year. (Source: Ramez Naam, The Exponential Gains in Solar Power per Dollar)

As such, over the upcoming years, and because of the quantum leaps in technological development, solar will disrupt traditional electricity generation throughout the world. The old ways of doing business are on the way out.

According to Ramez Naam, “Solar capacity is being built out at an exponential pace already… If it continues… which looks extremely likely, we’ll have a power source… with virtually no carbon emissions,” Ibid.

Because of these rapid advancements, solar will be produced in individual buildings and homes, giving businesses and people the option of generating their own power, and of selling excess power back to a distribution utility. Of course, to a limited extent this is already available, but it will become universal, as solar spreads all across the planet, spreading like wildfire, similar to how the Internet proliferated in the short timeframe of only a couple of decades. This is the likely future for the world as solar power generation turns into a cottage industry and as the behemoth power plants of the world splinter apart into distribution networks.

Over the past five years, solar costs, i.e., the price of photovoltaic modules, fell 60%, which for the first time puts solar power on a Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) competitive basis with conventional energy. This remarkable achievement over such a short period of time brings solar to the forefront of an expanding list of locations around the world.

Lower solar costs are propagative, but what if it were also possible to put photovoltaic efficiencies on steroids?  Meaning, goose ‘em up a bit.

The good news is: Photovoltaics can be put on steroids and goosed up a lot!

Scientists know that 40% of solar energy lies (unused) in the near-infrared region of the spectrum, and thus, conventional silicon-based solar cells cannot harness it, thereby missing 40% of the sun’s energy. However, MIT researchers are working on new carbon solar cells that will capture the whole enchilada of sunlight’s energy.

As such, it is the equivalence of putting solar cells on steroids, according to research at MIT, David Chandler, MIT News Office, All-Carbon Solar Cell Harnesses Infrared Light, MIT news, June 20, 2012. “It’s a fundamentally new kind of photovoltaic cell,” says Michael Strano, professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT.

That new photovoltaic cell is a game changer, and it alone will rocket solar power to new heights very quickly.

The potential behind these revolutionary developments is the kind of stuff that environmentalist’s dreams are made of. As the solar industry seriously takes hold, growing by leaps and bounds, this enormous new industry will provide jobs galore as the world interconnects via solar power, similar to the nearly exponential growth of the Internet.

By way of contrasting and comparing the passage of time, when the Beatles originally sang Here Comes the Sun, nobody knew of the word Internet. But, within a couple of decades it sprang forth and now Internet powers worldwide commerce. Solar power can accomplish as much, but faster.

Worldwide Growth in Solar

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) claims installations of new solar PV capacity will hit 36.7 GW in 2013, or up over 20% from 2012.

“The dramatic cost reductions in photovoltaics, combined with new incentive regimes in Japan and China, are making possible further, strong growth in volumes,” Jenny Chase, BNEF, head of solar analysis.

And, worldwide installations are taking off. For example, India recently announced they surpassed their 2013 goal by adding one gigawatt (GW) of solar to the grid. Thus, the total amount of solar energy connected to India’s grid is now 2.18 GW, which is an astonishing increase of 85% in one year.

It was only four years ago when India launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission to reduce fossil fuel dependence. The country hopes to raise solar to 20 GW by 2022 and plans for a massive solar substation at Sambhar Lake to deliver those results. The project will cover 20,000 acres and require 5,000 workers to build.

Meanwhile, other countries are coming on fast, like Germany, the world’s largest solar player, with 32 GW installed, and the U.S., which doubled capacity in 2013, Italy, China, and Japan are all part of the exclusive ‘ten’ club, each with more than 10 GW. Meanwhile, China has set a goal of 35 GW by 2016.

Moreover, conventional oil & gas companies are getting in on the act. Total Petroleum (Fr.) purchased a majority interest in SunPower in 2011. SunPower (est. in 1985) is the outfit that sent solar panels into outer space on the NASA Pathfinder in 1997. Last year, SunPower was selected to build a $200 million solar plant (86 megawatt power for 45,000 households) in Prieska, South Africa.

It is highly probable that oil & gas companies will get increasingly involved in ever-bigger ways over the coming years. They have deep pockets and have been known to “buy a good thing” when they see it. Plus, they have no choice in the matter. Otherwise, scores of smaller companies, as well as powerful high techs, will take up the charge of this mushrooming industry, leaving the ole, archaic fossil fuel companies “holding the bag,” i.e., rusting refineries and corroding drill rigs and pipelines.

Auxiliary Power – Boosting Solar Beyond Previous Limitations

Solar’s biggest obstacle has always been: “What if the sun’s not shining?”

Problem solved.

Similar to the lithium ion batteries offered for Tesla automobiles, a number of companies, like Tesla, BYD, and Bosch, are offering a new generation of storage systems to capture the power generated by home solar systems. Thus, a home with solar turns into an all-in energy source, night and day, rain or shine.

At the same time, a home solar system with battery storage is good for the utility grid. Here’s why: Solar produces power intermittently, surging in and out of the system; however, with lots of battery storage in the overall system, the surging is leveled off by a substantial degree.

And, on an industrial scale, in Seville, Spain, as of a few months ago, 27,000 homes started receiving electricity 24/7 from a remarkable new Concentrated Solar Power facility, Gemasolar, which utilizes molten salt to store heat to run the plant when the sun does not shine.

Now, therefore, so forth, and so on: If only scientists could come up with an easy-access delivery system of electricity, for example, something magical, the outlook would be extraordinarily bright.

Well, it just so happens that magic is in the air as scientists are already working on wireless electricity. It is truly David Copperfield Magical kind of stuff.

Magical Electricity

Your electric toothbrush is charged via a magnetic field, wirelessly, as power is transmitted through the magnetic field from the charger to your toothbrush.  Now, apply that same principle to electricity transmission for everything – Voilà!

Wireless delivery of electricity may be coming in the near future. Electricity exists as a magnetic field. If it can be properly channeled, it can be sent wirelessly.

Based upon research at MIT, a company in Watertown, Massachusetts named WiTricity uses magnetic resonance on an experimental basis to move power wirelessly. Other companies like Intel and Samsung are putting money into research of the technology. And, reportedly, Toyota plans to test a wireless charging station for plug-in cars.

Accordingly, the worldwide potential is endless as solar interconnects, providing wireless electricity, and the world hums, whilst carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are dramatically cut back to reasonable levels.

Hopefully, this best of all worlds scenario comes to fruition in the near future because climate change is on a precipice of unsustainability and instability that risks abrupt climatic disasters, overhanging the entire planet, e.g., an abrupt crash of the Pine Island Glacier (raising sea level one-half inch) in West Antarctica, which, in turn, could ripple-effect a major destabilization of the entire Western Antarctic Ice Sheet, equivalent to 10-13 feet of sea level rise. (Source: G. Durand, et at, Retreat of Pine Island Glacier Controlled by Marine Ice-Sheet Instability, Nature Climate Change, doi: 10.1038/nclimagte2094, Jan. 12, 2014.)

The Holy Grail of Energy

But, the magic does not stop with wireless electricity beaming around the planet.

Here’s the showstopper: Plans have already been laid out to seamlessly provide the entire world with unlimited clean energy directly from the moon.

Shimizu Corporation in Japan has laid out its plans for the world’s energy solution.

Shimizu’s plan will be the Holy Grail for the planet’s energy requirements, as it intends to build a giant belt of solar panels around the moon’s equator, using solar cells at power-generation facilities built on the lunar surface. In turn, the electricity is converted into microwave and laser power for beaming to earth. (“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” Albert Einstein.)

Tele-operated robots from earth will conduct construction of the lunar power station, dubbed LUNA RING, expecting to start construction by 2035.

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at roberthunziker@icloud.com

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at roberthunziker@icloud.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail