Sunday, March 06, 2011

Solar, et al, Is Nice In Theory, But Impractical

I've long been an advocate of solar power, but at present we're just not capable of saving any money with it. A glaring example:

Larry Eisenberg had a vision. "Amazing," he called it. "Spectacular."

The Los Angeles Community College District would become a paragon of clean energy. By generating solar, wind and geothermal power, the district would supply all its electricity needs. Not only would the nine colleges sever ties to the grid, saving millions of dollars a year, they would make money by selling surplus power. Thanks to state and federal subsidies, construction of the green energy projects would cost nothing upfront.

As head of a $5.7-billion, taxpayer-funded program to rebuild the college campuses, Eisenberg commanded attention. But his plan for energy independence was seriously flawed.

He overestimated how much power the colleges could generate. He underestimated the cost. And he poured millions of dollars into designs for projects that proved so impractical or unpopular they were never built.

These and other blunders cost nearly $10 million that could have paid for new classrooms, laboratories and other college facilities, a Times investigation found.

The problems with Eisenberg's energy vision were fundamental. For starters, there simply wasn't room on the campuses for all the generating equipment required to become self-sufficient. Some of the colleges wouldn't come close to that goal even if solar panels, wind turbines and other devices were wedged into every available space.

Going off the grid did not make economic sense either. Given the cost of alternative energy technology, it would be more expensive for the district to generate all its own electricity than to continue paying utilities for power.

Weather and geology also refused to cooperate.

You know what does work, in any weather? What provides non-polluting, relatively inexpensive electricity using a mature technology? Nuclear power plants. We should have more of those.


Scott McCall said...

If people want to look at how to save money from power, climate control, etc., they need to come look at the University of Arizona's system. We've got a central dispatch system for power, heating, cooling, plumbing, fire control, all that that apparently is ahead of the curve that thousands of designers from other states and other countries come view our system to get a better understanding of it so they could implement the same thing. Our university has been able to save *approximately* $25MIL in the past couple years from plumbing and energy costs because of the new system.

Ellen K said...

Fifteen years ago, my husband worked for a company that had Siemans as one of it's companies. Because my husband could get a photovoltaic cell at cost and install it himself, solar heated water was a reality. In this region air conditioning and water heating are two of the biggest energy costs. It made sense because no gas lines ran nearby and the cost to run one was prohibitive. When we moved into this house, we had a gas water heater. The cost down the line is about the same right now. The things that all the solar and wind energy advocates never discuss is that far too often these mechanisms wear out BEFORE they have paid for themselves. The lifespan for most solar cells is about fifteen years tops. Wind turbines, depending on the prevalence of wind, can last about ten to twelve years. Then there's the matter of energy generated. Solar arrays are not efficient. Perhaps if the technology, which was in research in 1985 to use windows as solar cells came through, we could get nearly half of the energy needed to run schools and such. But to use just solar or just wind to provide the entire energy needs of a city is ludicrous. You would have to pave over the entire Mojave with solar cells and wind farms. Frankly, I don't see that as being very environmentally sound. The key is to make good use of ALL the resources we have. That means that we use hydroelectric and stop tearing down dams-something that certain animal rights groups are very proud of. We have to research cleaner ways of using coal, our most abundant fuel resource. We have to reinstate nuclear power. The last plant was Glen Rose in Texas and the cost overruns were driven by lawsuits and crank complaints more than any other factors. And finally, we need to update existing generation facilties and grids to make them safer, more efficient and more secure. The idea that there's going to be one magic solution demonstrates how tunnelvisionary the Left has become.

Karl Uppiano said...

There have been several advancements in nuclear power technology since the 1970s, when nuclear power was, for all intents and purposes, shut down in the US.

Most of the new technology uses passive mechanisms to ensure safety, rather than relying on complex and failure-prone monitoring equipment.

see Future and developing technologies

Alf said...

I recommend "Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy" by Gwyneth Cravens.

allen (in Michigan) said...

A fun, little exercise if working out how much area would be required to equal, not replace, the base load electrical generating capacity of the U.S. with solar cells. I don't mean replace that capacity, just, under "best assumption" conditions, equal it. It's an eye-opening area and illuminates, you should pardon the word, the experience of the Los Angeles Community College.

David said...

Hydroelectric generation IS of course actually a form of solar power, and more practical than other types because of its inherent storage capabilities. Yet "environmentalists" are generally hostile to it and it is often not even counted as "renewable", which demonstrates that "renewable" is a political & religious term rather than a technical & economic one.