No surprise there
Renewable energy sources only useful for the rich and illinformed? say it ain't so!
Google has announced that it's abandoning its plans to save the planet by making renewable energy cheaper than coal. The Chocolate Factory's RE<C plan is getting ditched because "at this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level", the official Google blog said. The …
Buy a load of useless desert. There are (fairly) politically stable countries sitting on thousands of square miles of sunny sand. Do this along the Tropic of Cancer so the day/night thing isn't an issue (the Pacific is a slight problem but China, Algeria and Mexico can't all be dark at once).
Install a metric shedload of PV. Put big dogs, hungry camels or minefields around it if necessary to keep out terrorists.
Transmit the power using HVDC.
There must be squillions sloshing round in private equity funds that would do better investing in limitless clean power.
The big risk here is that Algeria (or whoever) tries to nationalise the PV array as Egypt did with the Suez Canal, but we already buy coal from China and gas from Russia, who are considerably better able to win a "robust discussion" than some of the desert countries.
I see two main problems;
Firstly, sandy desert isn't great for solar panels. On the other hand, there are plenty of other types of desert that would better suit.
Secondly, the infrasctructure in deserts tends to be rather minimal making the building, maintenance etc prohibitively expensive. Nothing that can't be surmounted but problematic none the less.
Same useless desert. Same sunshine. Same grid connections. Better possibilities for heat storage as very hot compressed steam or hot rocks prior to generation of electricity when needed, e.g. during the night time. Probably useful to develop both solar thermal and solar PV technologies, as PV likely to be slightly more efficient given enough time.
No unsolveable problem for most of us with nationalisation given that countries which do this still have to sell the electricity. For risk management purposes for shareholders of the development corporations, they will have to avoid putting too much generating asset in any one country and either insure against or bear the nationalisation risk.
You need a heat-sink - somewhere to dump the heat once the steam (or whatever) has been through the turbine.
It's usual to use either the sea, or (via cooling towers) the atmosphere. Even if it's the latter, it still needs lots of water; even reasonably efficient stations evaporate 5-6 million tonnes/year for each 1000MW of capacity.
There doesn't tend to be a lot of water in deserts - that's why solar development has been banned across most of the Mojave desert in the US, for example.
"Install a metric shed load of PV". OK, from where?
PV is just silicon, right? It is just made from sand isn't it? Well yes, but you need to melt it and purify it and then dope it (bake it in ovens for hours). This needs clean energy (ie. leccy). Lots.
So to make a metric shedload of PV fyou first need to find huge surplus leccy generation capacity. Unfortunately there just isn't a whole lot of surplus generation around (why build generation tha stands idle?).
So first step to building a shedload of PV is to build a few nukes or coal eaters! Oh the irony!
Cool, so we build some temporary power stations and turn them into theme pubs when their job is done. Fine, but generation is expensive to build and is typically costed for 40 year lifetime. If the use time was compressed into ~10 years the leccy cost would go up much.
Then of course PV has a limited lifetime (~20 years or so - way less than normal generation). So after a while a substantial portion of the PV generation is needed to produce new PV kit. So, no problem just double the amount of PV.... which sort of takes us back to doubling the amount of nukes/coal stations we need to build.
Bottom line is that until there is a huge change in the way PV kit is made (ie. an order of magnitude improvement in embodied energy) it wont be anything but a bit-player in the energy market.
One of the mantras of modern business is "concentrate on your core activities". While Google undoubtedly employ some clever engineers, I think that serious power engineering is slightly outside their principal area of competence. Sure, give seed money to projects you like, but don't waste time and resources otherwise.
Branch out and expand into new markets.
The two are in conflict and which has the upper hand depends on current fashion.
If companies didn't try new things, IBM would still be making type writers. Toshiba would still be making tiles and HP would still be making stethoscopes.
Being major power slurpers, Google no doubt has some very fine power systems engineers.
Unless greater flooding, unstable weather, hurricane and high climate change risk is cheap.
Coal is only cheap from the point of view of large scale suppliers and users who don't have to pay these costs because other people do e.g. those who have to pay more for my house insurance or uninsured losses.
When Google announced that initiative, I felt it was the height of arrogance. Google hit a home run by revolutionizing search and advertising --- and now they believed that they could do the same for renewable energy, philantropy, and probably other areas as well. It was obvious at the time they were going to fall far short of their stated goals. It's a common pitfall in business --- when we're successful at one thing, we can mistakenly believe that we'll be just as successful at anything we try.
..and realised that no renewable source is actually capable of supplying either a reliable flow of on tap energy, or indeed providing any energy at all without involving huge tracts of land and enormous physical projects that are far more deleterious to the planet than any amount of - say - nuclear power, and at a cost that is always several times higher (or in the case of solar, ten times higher).
You may not like coal, but right now its not only keeping the lights in in the UK, its feeding the nuclear starved continental grid.
Closing nuclear power in Germany means more coal burnt in the UK it seems. Thank you Ms Merkel!
I leave the final word with Dilbert
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