The January 2008 issue of Scientific American has an article titled "A Solar Grand Slam" which outlines a plan in which solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In a massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants, the U.S. could supply 69 percent of its electricity and 35 percent of its total energy by 2050. The four key elements of the plan are:
- A vast area of photovoltaic cells would have to be erected in the Southwest. Excess daytime energy would be stored as compressed air in underground caverns to be tapped during nighttime hours.
- Large solar concentrator power plants, with molten salt storage, would be built as well.
- A new direct-current power transmission backbone would deliver solar electricity across the country.
- $420 billion in subsidies from 2011 to 2050 would be required to fund the infrastructure and make it cost-competitive.
The article goes into quite a bit of detail about how the plan would be implemented and financed.
The plan also states that "If wind, biomass and geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide 100 percent of the nation’s electricity and 90 percent of its energy by 2100."
This comprehensive study is well done and well worth a read. I disagree on their definition of what is a vast area of photovoltaic cells, which I find reasonable, especially as their estimate of the land required is very conservative compared to other studies.
I also do not see why so much power has to be provided by solar, as other, just as clean sources, could contribute considerable power, especially in the short run.
Unfortunately their study ended before two recent announcements:
1) That Nanosolar producer of thin-film CIGS solar cells, made using nanoparticle ink and roll-printing technology, has begun production of cells that will sell at $0.99 a Watt when their 430.
,000 Mw production facility in CA and a similar facility in Germany are completed. Costs are reduced because, not only by their production technology, but also because their cells and panels are the first ones to have been designed specifically for utility-scale power generation.
and 2) That Ausra which is providing a 177 Mw thermal solar facility for PG&E has begun construction on a 700 Mw production facility which is scheduled to start delivering equipment in April 2008. Ausra claims that It can generate electricity for 10 cents/kWh now and under 8 cents/kWh in 3 yrs (presumably not including storage, which would add another 2 or 3 cents). They claim that all U.S. electric power, day and night, can be generated using a land area smaller than 8,500 sq miles using their equipment.