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World's largest solar power plant
August 27, 2010 10:51 AM   Subscribe

The world's largest solar power plant will probably be cleared for construction in California. At 1GW it is the size of a nuclear power plant and nearly doubles the US installed base of commercial-scale solar power. It will take 6-years, $6-billion and 7,000-acres. Proposed site (on Google maps). It will use parabolic trough's (video). It is being built by a German company (construction video / operation animation). There are many other CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) projects.
posted by stbalbach (71 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting. So instead of using photovoltaic cells, they're just using solar power to make steam.

This doesn't strike me as being terribly efficient, but given how inefficient photovoltaic cells are--compared to other forms of generation anyway--I can see how that would be an improvement. It also has the advantage of not requiring much in the way of complex fabrication or exotic materials.

Cool.
posted by valkyryn at 10:54 AM on August 27, 2010


All they need is another 0.21GW and they'll be all set.
posted by The World Famous at 11:00 AM on August 27, 2010 [10 favorites]


Apaprently China is doing 4GW for $6billion USD in Nuclear.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:02 AM on August 27, 2010


They're building this thing on 7,000 acres of public land?
posted by Auden at 11:05 AM on August 27, 2010


It also has the advantage of not requiring much in the way of complex fabrication or exotic materials.

Related, one of the advantages of CSP economically is that at a certain point down the energy pipeline it is basically identical to a any other steam-powered electricity generation so you get the economy of scale benefit of existing technology - steam is steam. This also provides the possibility of cogeneration plants that could help deal with the issue of being able to guarantee more on-demand production from a single facility.

I don't know if you get to this eventually via the NREL link above but here's a not-that-old PDF about CSP in California with lots of discussion and figures.
posted by nanojath at 11:06 AM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's public land in the sense that a lot of the desert land in California is public land since it's not good for anything and no one wants to own it.
posted by GuyZero at 11:07 AM on August 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Aside from needing a lot of land (peak solar flux is around 1 kW/m^2), CSP is just like any other heat engine for creating power. A lot of subtle design issues to get everything right, but mostly it's just a steam engine. That's the attraction.
posted by kaszeta at 11:09 AM on August 27, 2010


It's public land in the sense that a lot of the desert land in California is public land since it's not good for anything and no one wants to own it.

That's a) not true, and b) not the reason the government owns land.
posted by The World Famous at 11:09 AM on August 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


Finally, a productive use for Riverside County real estate. (I keed. We coastal Californians like making fun of inland California almost as much as Texas, Kansas or New York) Then again, we're building a [much smaller] solar farm in my county.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:09 AM on August 27, 2010


In the 1980s, I went to Solar One located near Barstow. I had heard about it in an Environmental Studies class (we took a field trip to a photovoltaic plant up the coast from Santa Barbara but don't remember its name). I remember how peaceful and quite until the silence was broken every so often by the collectors moving ever so slightly to follow the sun. I also remember thinking "all that to boil water?"
posted by birdherder at 11:09 AM on August 27, 2010


By contrast, California already generates nearly 1.5 GW of electricity from geothermal energy and does so 24 hours a day and when the sun doesn't shine.

The state ought to build more geothermal plants. wait, what?
posted by GuyZero at 11:10 AM on August 27, 2010


This doesn't strike me as being terribly efficient

PV only converts part of the EM from the Sun into watts.

A collector like this can convert a larger part of the EM into heat.

If one has an interest in Heliostats - Dwayne Johnson's Redrok is a place to go.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:11 AM on August 27, 2010


One Nimitz-class aircraft carrier costs $4.5 billion. Not counting the costs for its complement and ordnance, of course.

I'd rather have ten of these than the ten Cold War missile barges we actually have...
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:14 AM on August 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


This doesn't strike me as being terribly efficient

In the energy game, efficiency's a secondary concern; it's price per watt installed (as proxy for production cost per kwh) that really matters. And parabolic troughs have turned out to be cost-competitive with existing technologies, even under energy regimes with relatively poor incentives.

Spain's Abengoa, for example, developed CSP technology at their awe-inspiring Solucar Solar Platform facility at 50MW scale in just the last couple years, and already they are developing a 250MW plant in California and a 280MW plant in not-especially-renewable-friendly Arizona.

Because they could get so quickly and cheaply to utility scale - lower installation costs, able to use existing grid connections, fits within established parameters of notoriously conservative and risk-averse energy bureaucrats and utility co. execs, etc. - CSP is coming to market much more quickly than competing solar techs.
posted by gompa at 11:16 AM on August 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


In the 1980s, I went to Solar One located near Barstow.

I studied a novel form of solar energy conversion for my senior Bachelors thesis in chemistry, and I've been following developments, both academic and commercial, for the decade and a half since, and it has been pretty cool to see the predicted economic feasibility of technologies that have been in development a long time coming through. I don't know if it will be too little too late, and I am endlessly frustrated by how stingy investment in renewables is, but still, exciting things are happening in this field all the time.
posted by nanojath at 11:20 AM on August 27, 2010


That's a) not true, and b) not the reason the government owns land.

Uh, ok. But the CA Bureau of Land management "owns" about 15% of California's land (according to their web site) and while parts of that are parks, utility corridors, etc, there's a lot of it that just ain't doing anything. Also, renewable energy is one of the BLM's explicit mandates.

I took the initial comment as being negative towards building this facility on public land but maybe I misinterpreted it. I just don't see a problem with the statement "They're building this thing on 7,000 acres of public land?". Yes, yes they are. And that's just fine.
posted by GuyZero at 11:21 AM on August 27, 2010


"They're building this thing on 7,000 acres of public land?". Yes, yes they are. And that's just fine.

I agree. In fact, this is one of the things that public land in places like the California desert should be used for. It's a lot better than using half of Nevada for nuclear explosions.
posted by The World Famous at 11:28 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


FINALLY!
posted by DU at 11:29 AM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am endlessly frustrated by how stingy investment in renewables is

This, not incidentally, is why California's worldbeating solar plant is being built by a company HQ'd in notoriously unsunny Germany. Just one of the many benefits of passing the world's most ambitious renewable energy legislation.

Check out Paul Gipe's fantastic resource page on German-style feed-in tariffs if you'd like to learn a bit more.
posted by gompa at 11:29 AM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


If Civilization has taught me anything, it's that they just found a way to add hammers and commerce to a desert.
posted by maus at 11:30 AM on August 27, 2010 [10 favorites]


It's a lot better than using half of Nevada for nuclear explosions.

Hey speaking of energy sources.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:33 AM on August 27, 2010


I'm for it. There is no one solution to the energy crisis; there are lots of little incremental solutions, tailored to the local environment. I live in Seattle, where large municipal solar plants aren't really feasible, but where PV roofs can pay for themselves over the life of a mortgage, and where hydro is enough of a going concern that that's pretty much how we get all our power. (And, of course, it comes with its own environmental concerns.) Wind power's no good here, but out on the howling plains of the midwest, it just might be. In geologically active areas, geothermal electricity generation is great; elsewhere, passive geothermal heating and cooling can still be remarkably effective.

It's not about finding one big solution, it's about finding lots of little solutions. and oh, man, the person or company who achieves the next quantum breakthrough in battery technology is going to save the world and make a mint.
posted by KathrynT at 11:37 AM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


So let me get this straight: they're going to build a 1GW power plant that doesn't pollute and doesn't risk human or other lives in the event of a catastrophic failure? Things are looking up, and we have a lot more than 7,000 acres available in the desert.
posted by davejay at 12:01 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, it produces 1GW for about 12 hours a day on average. That's the downside.
posted by GuyZero at 12:06 PM on August 27, 2010


This doesn't strike me as being terribly efficient
Who needs math when you can just see how things 'strike' you?
posted by delmoi at 12:06 PM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


doesn't risk human or other lives in the event of a catastrophic failure

Well, not to be pedantic, but it's not so much that catastrophic failure wouldn't risk human or other lives as it is that the risk of catastrophic failure of the Sun is quite low.
posted by The World Famous at 12:15 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who needs math when you can just see how things 'strike' you?

Here, let me Google that for you, and make your remark more helpful.

According to the Wikipedia article, parabolic troughs have an overall efficiency of 15%, similar to that of photovoltaic technology.
posted by hanoixan at 12:28 PM on August 27, 2010


I'm for renewable energy, but it'd be even better if projects that propose to use that much public land would do so in areas that have already been disturbed.
posted by pappy at 12:37 PM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


The great thing about these types of solar plants is that peak loads in the American West coincide with the hottest, sunniest part of the day and year. In many other cases, matching electrical generation to demand can be hard (there is difference between 1GW installed capacity and 1GW 100% of the the time throughout the year). Here though, electricity production and demand match nicely.

Also one of the benefits of CSP is that you can co-generate with natural gas for the few days of the year when load is high but sunshine is low. This is huge because often increased renewables capacity comes with a high price-tag because you have to build a lot more natural gas standby generators to deal with days when there is no wind or sun. Sharing the steam turbine end of a power plant makes this very much cheaper.
posted by atrazine at 12:37 PM on August 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Interesting, atrazine. I wonder if the plant is also sited near any existing natural gas pipelines.

*Googles, reads links*

Hmm. The plan includes a NG pipeline. From the Executive Summary at the BLM link, above:
The auxiliary boiler and HTF heaters for each unit would be fueled by natural gas. The gas for the entire project would be supplied from a new 10-mile (two miles offsite) four-
inch diameter pipeline connected to an existing SCG main pipeline south of I-10 (mentioned above). Natural gas delivered to the project site would be delivered via an SCG custody transfer station consisting of filtering equipment, pressure regulating valves, and a fiscal flow meter. Pressure limiting equipment would be provided to ensure the downstream piping would be protected from overpressure. The estimated maximum natural gas usage per unit is 70 MMBtu/hr when the HTF heater is in use on cold winter nights.
And Blythe appears to be a key NG pipeline hub.
posted by notyou at 1:08 PM on August 27, 2010


Apaprently China is doing 4GW for $6billion USD in Nuclear.

Wonder where they're putting the reactor waste.
posted by rodgerd at 1:17 PM on August 27, 2010


Wonder where they're putting the reactor waste.

Eh, who cares? Now let's all go down to Wal-mart -- I hear they're rolling back prices on paperweights!
posted by condour75 at 1:34 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apaprently China is doing 4GW for $6billion USD in Nuclear.

Wonder where they're putting the reactor waste.


Plastics!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:34 PM on August 27, 2010


I expect this will get cancelled - they'll find some specific species of desert flea or lizard that will be negatively impacted by the building of this, or there will be complaints about microclimate alteration from the shade produced by the collectors or even the view being disturbed, and the project will silently disappear...
posted by JB71 at 1:47 PM on August 27, 2010


Blythe is part of the Colorado Desert, home to many distinct species, not simply empty land that no one wants. And because Blythe is in California, that project would be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act. Those desert fleas and lizards should be found, their habitat marked and their presence (or absence) marked, before the building plans are drawn up. And aesthetics is one of the things addressed in the CEQA review (along with agricultural resources, air quality, cultural resources, geology and soils, hazards and hazardous materials, and others). But just because you can see the development doesn't mean it can't build there, it needs to address why this is the best location for the proposed project.

Except, The California Energy Commission is processing this, and they are exempt from having to prepare an environmental impact report, but they do some other environmental review. In addition, they are preparing an env. impact statement for the federal level of review (different things, though they are related). If I get really into this and read those reports, I'll blather more later.

As for diversifying energy sources, the joint developers for this solar project are Solar Millennium, LLC and Chevron Energy Solutions, which I imagine is not terribly unique for Big Oil Companies in this day and age.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:39 PM on August 27, 2010


given how inefficient photovoltaic cells are--compared to other forms of generation anyway

You realise that this is irrelevant when it comes to technologies where the fuel is free, yes? Its the energy unit economics that is important, and the trend is down for both PV and CSP.
posted by biffa at 3:23 PM on August 27, 2010


or even the view being disturbed, and the project will silently disappear...

Or to put it another way, after reading the actual article you linked, there might be complaints led by the people who actually orchestrated the public purchase of the land, negotiated its sale at a discount, and contributed 40 million dollars towards the expense of it, taking issue with the fact that their intent in all these dealings was to the conserve the land as a natural habitat for the protection of wildlife, hence i guess the name of the group "the Wildlands Conservancy," maybe when California took their 40 million the significance of that name didn't register, they are all like "oh you wanted to conserve that shit as wildlands? Weird we didn't get that," but anyway, and plus according to the article California's Bureau of Land Management considers the land now open to all types of development, except mining, which might very well make a huge renewables facility something of a wedge. But hey, fuck tortoises, right?
posted by nanojath at 3:25 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


blue_beetle: "Apaprently China is doing 4GW for $6billion USD in Nuclear."

Sure, but if we built a Chinese power plant, we'd just be hungry for more a year later.
posted by xedrik at 3:44 PM on August 27, 2010


Well, it produces 1GW for about 12 hours a day on average. That's the downside.

According to the video link they're able to store heated substance X (oil probably) in tanks for use at night. I'm not sure how that factors into the 1GW figure, but it's not exactly on/off with dawn/dusk. There are clouds to consider, but I know S. Arizona matches or exceeds anywhere else on Earth in terms of clear days. I imagine S. California is similar. Also consider that peak electricity usage coincides with times when the sun is the brightest and hottest.
posted by Locobot at 5:22 PM on August 27, 2010


"But hey, fuck tortoises, right?"

Well, if that's your preference... personally I prefer something a trifle faster and a lot more human, but I'm weird that way..

Way I figure it, tortoises are mobile. Fleas are mobile. Lizards got feet - if their habitat is disturbed they aren't going to go into an existential funk moaning "Oh noes, is shade too much! I gonna die!" - they'll find someplace more to their liking. (And they may even like the shade - they can move into it when it's too hot and keep a watch for confused fleas instead of burying themselves until the sun goes down and missing potential meals.)

But the point is, we need power. We need LOTS of power, on a consistent basis. Like it or not, our culture pretty much depends on the lights coming on when we flick the switch, 24/7 constant power, and that need isn't going away soon.

(Or if it does, we'll have a lot more to worry about than chilly lizards and confused tortoises. THEY will become food, not objects of ecological veneration.)

So we've got choices - all of which have perceived drawbacks and objections. Solar takes a lot of desert land, isn't 24/7. Wind kills birds, isn't 24/7. Hydro's pretty well tapped out, and environmentalists would rather see dams come down than go up. Geothermal apparently causes microquakes, which seeing the best areas for it are geologically unstable seems a bit of a drawback. Tidal... is a bit hard on fish and isn't ready for the green room, much less coming on stage. Coal is iffy, natural gas is better on CO2 than coal but still it's not great. Nuke is possible, but the sociological problems with it are a bitch to solve. (Just try explaining to someone WHY Chernobyl went boom and how it can't happen with current designs. All they hear is 'nuclear' and their brains lock. And forget trying to explain the concept of half-lives.) Fusion is a PhD jobs program - nice for them but nothing for the rest of us.

But we've got to have something. CFLs are a bit of a solution, and LEDs will drop the draw considerably. Conservation helps - but you've got to have something to conserve in the first place.

Solar's the least worst - and it'll still be damn hard to get through.
posted by JB71 at 6:00 PM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


EnviroMission Plans Massive Solar Updraft Towers for Arizona
posted by homunculus at 6:22 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


EnviroMission Plans Massive Solar Updraft Towers for Arizona

Has anyone ever built one of those things? There are all sorts of "plans" for various things, the question is whether or not the plan is feasible, or funded.
posted by delmoi at 6:33 PM on August 27, 2010


yeah, enviromission spent almost a decade thinking about building one of them in northern Victoria, but nobody was prepared to be the first person to build a 1 km concrete tube. I mean, sure, the maths says it should work, but when it's your cold hard cash, you'd not like to be the first one.

As to the plan for the solar plant, that's great, but it's an enormous amount of money in $/MW. A bit feelgood, since we couldn't afford to run society on that. The only currently affordable or near-term solution are third and (soon) fourth generation nuclear. Though US and Australian society don't accept that reality, they'd prefer the strong actual risk of coal fired power to the impossibly remote risk of a nuclear accident.

Oh, and I wonder how much water the solar plant will use, and whether it's available? Typically the mirrors need washing weekly.


Ah, and metafilter, WTF? Dude said trough's, and not one snark.
posted by wilful at 6:50 PM on August 27, 2010


Okay - imagine the California grid (CAISO) relying on 1,000 MW of this solar power in May or so. CAISO's peak load record was 50,270 MW in 2006, so maybe the load is about 40,000 MW.

Now imagine a storm moving over this generation plant, and the electric output drops from 1,000 MW to 200 MW in twenty minutes. Now, the system operator has to quickly start up and pay for 4 GE quick starts or have another generator or two ramp up that was on stand by, waiting for this contingency and burning fuel. This is less of a problem when small (but more expensive panels are spread around a city, but this is utility scale in a relatively concentrated area.

This is a great project, and hopefully we'll see more low emission projects in the future. But the more you rely on generators will unreliable fuel sources, the more you need to have back up power or quick start gas units, which increases this projects costs (but as an externality to the developer). Policy makers should practically recognize this cost when encouraging new intermittent fuel projects if they want the lights to stay on.
posted by Pants! at 8:57 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


wilful - The only currently affordable or near-term solution are third and (soon) fourth generation nuclear.

In June 2008 Moody's estimated that the cost of installing new nuclear capacity in the U.S. might possibly exceed $7,000/kWe in final cost. For a 1GW nuclear plant that would be 7 billion. For example in 2008 Georgia Power had a contract agreement for two AP1000 reactors (Gen 3, 1.1GW) for 14 billion (7 billion each). That doesn't include ongoing fuel costs (purchase and disposal) or other costs like the limited lifespan of a nuclear plant and insurance costs born by the US taxpayers (its so costly no private insurance company will do it, only the US Govt can guarantee to insure a Delaware-size exclusion zone if things go bad).

wilful - the impossibly remote risk of a nuclear accident.

Nuclear accidents are not only possible, they in fact happen with disturbing regularity, we should reasonably assume this trend will continue. Of course the total damage caused by radiation from all these accidents is a drop in the sea of damage caused by burning coal. But who wants a Rhode Island-size exclusion zone if things do go bad.

Pants! - back up power or quick start gas units, which increases this projects costs (but as an externality to the developer).

posters above seemed to suggest the backup power is generated on-site. Also this plant stores energy in liquid salt and so can still generate power during no sun.. in the desert it must be rare for extended periods of no sun, which is why they build there. It may never be 100% solar power for the entire year, but I bet there won't be too many surprises, these volks can engineer what they need for reliable power.
posted by stbalbach at 11:19 PM on August 27, 2010


The *reason* why the biggest chunks of the Mojave (and other U.S. deserts) are owned by the federal government is very complicated, but "no one wants it" is not one of the reasons. The California desert is home to three massive national parks, the biggest state park in California (and the second biggest in the contiguous U.S.), scores of incredible wilderness areas and pristine nature preserves, huge mountain ranges (many topped with national forests), the oldest living things on Earth (creosote rings and bristlecone pines), and the Western USA's largest and most important military bases: Edwards AFB, 29 Palms Marine Corps Base, the Army's Desert Training Center at Ft. Irwin, China Lake Naval Weapons Station and lots of smaller bases used by the armed forces, NASA, private space companies and the aerospace industry.

Other industries that depend on the deserts are mining (from gold to the chemicals in your dish detergent, which are scraped off the dry lakes) and movies. What would the rock video, or the Muppet Movie for that matter, be without the fantastic hoodoo vistas of the Mojave?

It's one of the most biodiverse places in America, specifically around Joshua Tree National Park -- but there is rich and rare life in all its forms even in the hottest, driest and seemingly barren spots. Desert bighorn, desert tortoise, mountain lion, weird and wonderful reptiles, roadrunners and quail and hawks and Great Horned Owls and kangaroo rats and bat colonies. World Wildlife Fund says:
The Mojave desert is rich in ephemeral plants, most of which are endemic. Of the approximately 250 Mojave taxa with this life form, perhaps 80-90 are endemic (Sheve and Wiggins 1964). During favorable years, the region supports more endemic plants per square meter than any location in the United States.
Also, it's the United States Bureau of Land Management, the BLM. There's no such thing as the "California Bureau of Land Management." While the portions within California do fall under California land use regulation, the land is very much in the hands of the Interior Department's BLM.

Apologies for the long comment, but this area is important and worth knowing about. And while I'm all for renewables in both theory and practice, one crisis does not provide a moral vaccine for creating more crises. As mentioned by a couple of people above, placing land-intensive solar farms on previously disturbed habitat is the right thing to do. And disturbed land is generally old ag land ruined by salinity and a sinking water table -- it's already alongside infrastructure (roads, transmission lines, rail). Much of the Mojave remains intact by accident: Not enough water for industrial farming and no board wood to harvest or clearcut. And those of us who feared we'd live to see the day when stucco exurbs from the northeastern fringe of the LA metropolis met the stucco exurbs of southwest Las Vegas ... that future is at least delayed and hopefully canceled.

Whether we lose a lot of ancient desert wilderness to a well-intentioned but short-sighted push to spread solar-welfare farms without environmental considerations is going to very much depend on the perceptions smart pro-environment people have about the misunderstood deserts of the United States.
posted by kenlayne at 11:33 PM on August 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


blue_beetle: "Apaprently China is doing 4GW for $6billion USD in Nuclear."
Sure, but if we built a Chinese power plant, we'd just be hungry for more a year later.


Naw, it would have lead in the paint job.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:57 AM on August 28, 2010


But the more you rely on generators will unreliable fuel sources, the more you need to have back up power or quick start gas units, which increases this projects costs

Assumption:

That one 'has' to have 24X7X365 all you can eat electricity.

Why that assumption? Because you've had it in the past?

If such is a 'right' - what of Baghdad Iraq? What of the fission plants being built in Iran - should they not have that 'right'?
posted by rough ashlar at 1:01 AM on August 28, 2010


rough ashlar,

Any energy future plan that assumes that people will be willing to put up with not having 24/7 electricity is as unrealistic as cold fusion. A preposterous fantasy for children and wild eyed naifs.
posted by atrazine at 1:15 AM on August 28, 2010


Any energy future plan that assumes that people will be willing to put up with not having 24/7 electricity

If my choice is no electricity at all or some "whenever" - I'll take the some.

Your analogy is puzzling however:

unrealistic as cold fusion.

Do you mean cold fusion as a way to generate, say 120VAC?

Or do you mean as in cold fusion does not exist?
posted by rough ashlar at 1:49 AM on August 28, 2010


Stbalbach, did you just try to claim that seven fatalities in a quarter of a century is disturbing? Absurd.
posted by wilful at 2:27 AM on August 28, 2010


Uh, Chernobyl had more than seven fatalities. But no, I did not "try to claim" anything, other than what I said, nuclear accidents happen with predictable and disturbing regularity. All it takes is for one of those accidents to be another Chernobyl. That's the point, nuclear can be safe %99.999 of the time and kill "only" seven people and then that 0.0001 time hits, and the state of Delaware is zoned off from human habitation for ten thousand years.
posted by stbalbach at 8:01 AM on August 28, 2010


Or we could just keep burning coal and render the entire planet unfit for human habitation. Or we could pave over an area much larger than the state of Delaware with solar panels.

There aren't any really good options, and everything will have a cost. And honestly I'm not sure large scale commercialization of nuclear power would actually increase the odds of a Chernobyl like accident. The increased amount of expertise and experience might make massive experimental plant screw-ups *less* likely.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:43 AM on August 28, 2010


If my choice is no electricity at all or some "whenever" - I'll take the some.

Right. That is not the choice. We're not going to have an electricity shortfall. The reason people want to promote renewable energy projects has nothing to do with that, it's to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. If the choices are between clean energy that is available most of the time and filthy coal electricity that is available all the time, then coal it will be. That might not be the right choice from the perspective of an objective, long term planner, but it is the choice that will emerge from our political and economic system.

Do you mean cold fusion as a way to generate, say 120VAC?

I mean that an energy plan that relies on people accepting unreliable power and one that relies on generating electricity using cold fusion are equivalent in that they are impossible. One is impossible because of physics, the other because of the way humans are. In both cases regrettable, but unavoidable.
posted by atrazine at 9:52 AM on August 28, 2010


Shame that even a thread on something so positive, inspiring, and hopeful would end in the usual squabbling.

I'm very happy about the project. I evenwish the president would take any unused chunks of the stimulus funds and start more projects like these around the country. And/or giving much more generous subsidies to homes and businesses to put solar panels on rooftop and buy electric cars.

Anything that we can do to cut down on our consumption of fossil fuels is a plus. Anything we can do to cut down on the amount of money we're sending overseas is a plus (especially considering how unsavory many of those governments are). Oh, and it creates jobs here, too.

We should have a 20-30 year plan to get off of all imported fossil fuels. It would be a better investment in national security (as well as global environmental stability) than, say, more aircraft carriers and stealth bombers.

More please!
posted by Davenhill at 11:34 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]



Shame that even a thread on something so positive, inspiring, and hopeful would end in the usual squabbling.



AKA Free ponies for everyone!

Stbalbach, if you think chernobyl was illustrative of anything, you don't know much about it. Though even with the 5000 deaths, that's less than annual fatality rates from coal mining, and several factors less than extreme weather events caused by ACC.
posted by wilful at 2:00 PM on August 28, 2010


Is hydro tapped out in the US? I would love to see more info on this. Some blind googling makes me think there may be disagreement there.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:19 PM on August 28, 2010


We're not going to have an electricity shortfall. The reason people want to promote renewable energy projects has nothing to do with that

Security of supply has been a driver for RE a lot longer than environmental issues, and continues to be a significant benefit of increasing RE. Electricity shortfalls are a real pissibility in the middle to long-term in a number of developed countries and we need to get RE deployment and capability for deployment up before we get near that danger. It is important to bear in mind how slow it can be to ramp up additional capacity once it becomes apparent it is needed.

But I agree that it is not a choice between some electricity and none, neither are socially or politically acceptable solutions.
posted by biffa at 3:42 PM on August 28, 2010


Is hydro tapped out in the US? I would love to see more info on this.

I do not know the whole story on this but I know this much:

- to build more dams you'd essential have to flood existing national parks which were declared parks to keep them from being damed. Yes, there are more rivers, but the US has basically damed all the rivers it's willing to dam

- in many parts of the US there simply isn't enough water to support both agriculture and electricity generation.

There's probably more hydro to be had in Quebec and Newfoundland but we're getting to a point of diminishing returns on that too, plus there's a limit on how far you can economically transmit electricity.
posted by GuyZero at 4:18 PM on August 28, 2010


trough
troughs
trough's?

a parabolic trough's what?
its amazing curves?
posted by aloiv2 at 9:42 PM on August 28, 2010


Stbalbach, if you think chernobyl was illustrative of anything

Wilful, what's your point? You came into this thread saying nuclear was better than solar. You supported it by saying nuclear is cheaper than this solar project, and that nuclear is safe and accidents never happened. I disillusioned you on both those points. Now your saying nuclear is better than coal because it kills less people. That's true, but if your metric is fewer deaths = better energy choice, than clearly solar wins out over nuclear. You've undercut your own initial argument and made a case for solar. Thank you.

Also, Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, it's free online and cuts through the BS.
posted by stbalbach at 10:29 PM on August 28, 2010


Security of supply has been a driver for RE a lot longer than environmental issues, and continues to be a significant benefit of increasing RE.

Sure, but if that was the case then why doesn't the US just go on a coal building spree? That wouldn't work for countries like Denmark which don't have coal, but the United States has more than enough domestic coal for a few 100 years.
posted by atrazine at 10:54 PM on August 28, 2010


My point is that you haven't "disillusioned" [sic] me of anything.

Solar power is theoretically awesome, however it is unaffordable. Nuclear power is safer than just about anything, there is basically no measurable risk from nuclear. It is very expensive, however a large part of the expense is due to irrational fears, which reaise the cost of it massively, through legal bills, essentially.

if solar was affordable (and this plant is the least unaffordable design, it has some promise) then it would be the best solution. However, we're pissing into the wind if we think that we can fix the climate emergency with solar plants. It's a feel-good, irrational response.
posted by wilful at 11:08 PM on August 28, 2010


Solar power is theoretically awesome, however it is unaffordable.

Did you ever stop to consider that your reference points are wrong?

At the base of 'unaffordable' is an economic argument. So I'll ask you to explain, using 'economics' why something that is reproducible in human timeframes and not needing millions of dollars is more expensive than something that requires millions of dollars in eq to produce and it not renewable - A gallon of milk VS a gallon of Gasoline.

Nuclear power is safer than just about anything, there is basically no measurable risk from nuclear.

Interesting claim. Why do the people who RUN the atom mills beg the government for legal protection with Price-Anderson when it gets renewed?

If it was so safe - they could show up and say 'thanks, don't need it'.

(perhaps its SO safe that you can afford to have sleeping security guards eh?)
posted by rough ashlar at 3:24 AM on August 29, 2010


I have no idea what "Price-Anderson" is, maybe you could widen your horizon from a presumably US-only perspective? All I can do is point to the number of fatalities from well run, modern facilites in the last several decades, which is a number not significantly different from zero.

I could talk economics to you, but you haven't asked me an economic question that I can decipher. The simple fact of the matter is, there are only limited resources available to transition our modern affluent societies to a lower carbon footprint without significant damage to our economies (I realise that the US government doesn't seem to really believe this law). Going into hock to build reliably unreliable, expensive solar power due to irrational fears over fanciful nuclear bogemen is unwise.

(BTW I have PV panels on my roof, and am installing solar hot water by this summer - but that's because I'm wealthy and can afford to waste my money on things I like, unlike most people in the world)
posted by wilful at 4:25 AM on August 29, 2010


"Dude said trough's, and not one snark."


Sorry, I've been camping all weekend.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:00 PM on August 29, 2010


At long last, solar is cheaper than nuclear. Maybe.
posted by notyou at 4:56 PM on August 30, 2010


"(BTW I have PV panels on my roof, and am installing solar hot water by this summer - but that's because I'm wealthy and can afford to waste my money on things I like, unlike most people in the world)"

Solar hot water is not a waste of money in great swaths of the United States and Canada. Pay back can be as short as one year and rarely over few years for sunny locations such as Arizona.

My opinion is that it should be required by code (with feasibility caveats like southern exposure) in many places in the US and Canada. It would add a lot more to the home than granite counter tops or stainless steel appliances.
posted by Mitheral at 6:39 PM on September 1, 2010


Oh agreed. Solar hot water is now mandated for new homes in my State, and it was a no-brainer for me to install. However, solar PV was, logically and ethically, a poor decision on my part. Far better to offset or otherwise reduce my emissions in a far more cost-effective manner. Though I gain the perceived capital improvement value to my house. And, more importantly, it was based on an absurdly generous subsidy from government. A $12000 system (grid connected, no storage) installed for $3500 cost to me (never mind the poor saps called taxpayers (of which I am one)).
posted by wilful at 7:09 PM on September 1, 2010


installing solar hot water by this summer - but that's because I'm wealthy and can afford to waste my money

So a 5 year payback (typical with solar hot water) is a "waste my money" move?

Interesting.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:29 PM on September 4, 2010


so you can't read.

not interesting.
posted by wilful at 5:55 AM on September 5, 2010


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