Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Solar Power in California? Who'd'a Thunk It?

There's so much sunlight here in California. Not as much in foggy San Francisco as there is here in the Central Valley, where we probably get over 300 days of sun a year, but plenty of sunlight falls on this state. In fact, plenty of sunlight falls on most of the states in the far west, at least those below the 45th parallel.

Solar cells? Solar panels? I know the technology isn't very mature, but how much more mature is it than it was 20 years ago? Have we progressed far in 20 years? I'm thinking "no". There is a definite chicken-or-egg issue here, just like with Governor Arnold's hydrogen fuel cell car initiative--there aren't solar panels everywhere because they're expensive to make, and because they're expensive to make no one installs them. What we need is something to jumpstart the solar panel industry, get economies of scale going that would significantly reduce the difficulties (and hence cost) of producing these items. Make 'em cheap, and you create a market for them.

This is one area where I can see government influence actually being of benefit. I hope that this story isn't just a flash in the pan.

Update, 12/19 9:41 am: Can I call them or what?


David Foster said...

One of the things that will really help in getting the scale up will be use of solar in less-developed counries. The economics of solar are likely to look a lot better in a place where the grid isn't already available, or where grid service levels totally suck.

Also, solar cells aren't the only way to generate electricity from the sun. An alternative approach, which I think is planned on a fairly large scale somewhere in California, is to focus the rays on a boiler (via a farm of parabolic mirrors) and then generate the power the old-fashioned way, with a heat engine. One advantage of this is that there is some integral storage in the system, especially if something like molten salt is used for heat transfer (it stays hot for a while)

Amerloc said...

Hehe - This is one of the ones we agree on, Darren.

We lived off the grid for almost fifteen years. Solar mostly, a little generator for back-up. Was interesting (in the same sense intended by the Chinese curse) for the first couple years, but we adapted, got used to it, dumped a ton of money into Kyocera instead of the stock market.

If not for retirement and grandkid-inspired relocation, we'd still be doing it.

I'll be damned if I can understand all those flat-roofed buildings that aren't COVERED with photo-voltaics.

Darren said...

One of Governor Gray Davis' legacies is several blocks of new government buildings, mostly to the east of the Capitol. Shouldn't government buildings, at least, have solar cells?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I believe it's possible to have solar power stations in California, and not only there, but in many other places with hot weather. The only thing is that this sphere is very new, and it requires time to develop and install solar power stations.

Darren said...

It's not *very* new. The first solar cells were made in the 50s, and I think it was GE which sold a solar powered radio back then.

Darren said...

One of my students' fathers owns or runs a solar company. When I contacted him about putting cells on my roof, he said that given the "ridiculously little" electricity I currently use, it would take me over 20 years to make back my investment. Guess how long the cells are expected to last--that's right, just over 20 years.

Darren said...

It's now 2014 and I've changed my position on govt involvement. Govt shouldn't be in the business of trying to pick technological winners and losers. Let the market deal with that.