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September 28, 2007


Kit P

Anyone want to take bets on the size of the natural gas pipeline to 'supplement' solar thermal generation? I will go with 6 inch.

Interesting reading at Reports and Presentations by Ausra Experts:

“It uses less land than coal mining and transport.”

That is just not true. Here is a strip mine and power plant in Wyoming that I have seen.


While you are using something like google earth, look up one of my favorite mine-to-mouth power plants near Centralia Washington. The Mayor of Seattle likes to talk about how the city is carbon free. Yes the city sold the coal power plant but it is still running. In an agreement with the State of Washington, the operators installed pollution controls and agreed to ship a million tons a year of coal. The following photos will help keep the environmental impact of coal mining: Let me present the largest polluter, nearby Mount St. Helens.


This picture shows the railroad tracks from the semi-arid side of the Cascade Mountains.


The hydroelectric dams partial fills the scares caused by massive floods created by rupture of the ice dams that created Lake Missoula. The AGW folks do no have to worry about the glaciers returning to Washington State.

Now back to the clueless Ausra Experts:

“The solar multiple is the ratio of actual array size to the minimum size required to run a turbine at full capacity at solar noon in mid-summer.”

The idea here is to add more solar panels and thermal storage so the plant can run the other 16 yours a day. We have discussed that before.

And then there is this, “at the unacceptable price of increased vulnerability to terrorism,
according to a major MIT study.” Where have we heard that before?


While I don't subscribe to KitPs doom and gloom, I found FPLs statement about being able to meet 90% of future electric needs "fantastic". Fantastic in this context means very hard to believe.

That said, the near term expansion of this technology is pretty exciting. Hopefully it will move us far enough up the learning curve that the viability of future large-scale usage of this technology can be evaluated.


For some more depth on this subject visit Vinod Khosla’s VC fund website – have a look at the Solar section: Making Coal Obsolete – and the Solar Flare powerpoint presentation

For those of you who love to cast doubt on any new and potentially disruptive technologies, please remember all the negative press directed at the internet ten or twelve years ago. It was just a hyped up passing fad.


alan, that's a pretty good resource. Its good to see a technological venture capital legend such as khosla excited like that.

Kit P

Making electricity with a diffuse, unreliable source in a harsh climate distant form customers is not a very good plan. This why solar will not ever be more than a insignificant source of electricity.

Investors beware. I am an advocate and glad that FPL and others are working hard to produce electricity with it. I spent a lot time reading material provided by Vinod Khosla and Ausra. It is all a load of PR crap. Those presentation were developed to mislead the general public.


"Making electricity with a diffuse, unreliable source in a harsh climate distant form customers is not a very good plan. This why solar will not ever be more than a insignificant source of electricity."

Some pretty over-heated rhetoric I think. Sunlight is unreliable? Surely not so much in the Southwest and most of California (300+ days a year). With recent news about coal price raises and refinery glitches, etc, I think we are seeing that the fossil fuel supply is becoming less reliable. As to Khosla, he is a suspicious character and does seem to care little for the truth based on his lying and demented promotion of biofuels.

None-the-less, Solar is still the greatest hope we've got even if it just replaces 10% of fossil and we make up another 10% on conservation, we're still way ahead.


I'm not so sure his biofuels promotion is that far off base, although I can't verify his numbers. The claim that corn-ethanol is useful for kickstarting an ethanol economic niche that can change to better (non food crop) sources with time, is I think corect. My disagreement with him is that the current rampup of corn-ethanol is harmful.

As to solar thermal as baseline power, we will see how it plays out. With luck we will have a significant source for some markets near high-sun areas. Expansion towards other less favorable areas will require about another factor of two cost reduction. And of course there is the issue of how the electrical system can handle the occasional week of clouds events.

Kit P

Roy, what is over heated about stating the facts? Roy is confused about reliability and predictability. A goal of 10% of California is much more reasonable than replacing the 50% coal share nation wide. In this case , an unreliable source can be used to increase the the overall reliability of the grid.


bigTom wrote: With luck we will have a significant source for some markets near high-sun areas.

...Like Mercury?

The sunlight on Mercury’s surface is 6.5 times as intense as it is on Earth, with a solar constant value of 9.13 kW/m².

A word of warning to people reading these blogs. Consider that many of the negative comments may actually be posted by PR agents contracted to big coal and oil. Read enough comments and they become instantly recognisable, making the same "it will never work" comments in a dozen different ways.

Why? Because the moment the public believe that 100% renewable is possible, coal and oil become taboo.

How do I know this? I've run my own blog for several years. At the start, comments were civilised. Then the astroturfers found me and whammo, every week I would be hit by piles of rubbish comment - till I was forced to turn off commenting.

But my blog still has a "rate this blog" function. Would you believe that somebody still makes the effort every day to visit and rate my blog as zero stars?

My advice, listen very carefully to big coal and oil. And don't believe a word.

Dr David Mills (Ausra) makes perfect sense to me (B Eng. Mech). Listen to him on YouTube and decide for youself if you've ever heard a more reasoned voice.

Finally, consider this. If RE doesn't work, why would so many smart people push it? If it does work, why would big coal and oil rubbish it. I think you will find several trillion reasons for the latter.



i am a bit confused about the grid parity issue. allow me to explain what i understand:
i assume coal/gas/nuclear average generation cost at 10-11 cents/kwh.

for a solar cell, at $2.6/w (at silicon rate of ~$50-60/kg), it implies (1watt x365 days x 5 hrs average/1000) 1.825 kwh in a 365 day year. or in other terms, it implies almost $1.42/kwh (2.6/1.825), which is miles and miles away from grid parity. even nanosolar's 99 cents/w implies a generation cost of 54 cents/kwh. how much lower can the costs go? or am i mistaken in my assumptions? somehow the numbers do not seem to add up. how long before it can actually be viable without incentives as some expect it to be. with incentives, the cost of generation would be around 11 cents/kwh.

Cyril R.

PV cells last longer than one year Sameer.

It's actually rather complicated. Nanosolar gives a warranty that after 25 years there still is (I think) 80% capacity left. I'm not an expert on degradation curves of CIGS but it's probably not too far off from the curvilinear degradation of silicon. So using your numbers you'd get maybe 90% or 0.9 Watt over 25 years, conservatively assuming they'll break immediately after the warranty ends (!).

Now there's the inverter, which won't likely last 25 years. You could get a good one which will last long and will be efficient, 95% probably. But those are pricey. And even then they might not last 25 years.

Then there's installation costs. You could do it yourself if you're handy. But most people couldn't do everything themselves, and costs depend on what kind of roof etc there will be.

Then you'd have to clean them regularly for full performance which often isn't the case. If you charge yourself $50/hour then obviously you can't wash them everyday!

Then there's interest. Making things even more complicated.

10-20 cents/kWh would be a more reasonable estimate but I dare not be more precise than that as it would depend on too many things.


hi cyril,

thanks for the prompt post. ur comments are quite enlightening. however, they still indicate that what i considered are barebone numbers not including installation, time duration etc. which implies that actual costs will be much higher. so what exactly is driving demand for solar.



I love solar power I think over the next few years it's going to be exploding even more... as performance of solar panels goes up people are going to be adopting it everywhere they can... after all it's free energy :)

Some things I'm looking forward to are more effiecient solar panels, about 5 years from now when I buy my house I want to make sure I can power the entire house and my plugin hybrid all on solar power... I'm also hoping that solar paint will finally be in customers hands... having your entire house generate so much electricity and maybe even being able to sell it back to the grid would be amazing...

BTW here is more great Solar Power information, there is quite a few amazing new solar projects being done right now... it's really great to see so much focus on alternative energy.


The idea of solar power is very attractive. I can remember visiting the middle east in 1976 and string at the number of panels on roof tops. The problem to date is the high cost of domestic installations; this can't be recovered in a life-time, over the cost of conventional electricity.
However, if the right regulations are put in place for new builds, then we might see some real benefit.
Even in the United Kingdon, we do get a fair amount of sunshine to sustain the flow.
We recently even bought a watch that powers by solar energy - so things are moving forward.

portable solar battery charger

Interesting solution... I found an awesome portable device that anyone can use when travelling.
Solio charger is a compact portable device, which will power most cellular, smart, pda and mp3 devices on the fly. Some models will even store energy for use at night.


Hi, There is a revolutionary invention that uses the sun to create free electricity. And no, we're not talking about the solar panel. This is a different solar energy generator called the Stirling Plant, it is a system that harnesses up to 12x more energy than the expensive solar photovoltaic energy systems. The best part about it, it is much cheaper to build than regular solar panels, and it is easy to build, meaning you don't have to have any technical skills prior to building it.

See for link. http://bit.ly/nUw4kG

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