The Solar Grand Plan

Everybody who comes here should go read the "Solar Grand Plan" proposal from the January 2008 Scientific American, by Ken Zweibel, James Mason, and Vasilis Fthenakis. And note the attached discussion on the Scientific American website which has been greatly informed by comments from James and Ken at least. 

The innovative things here to my mind are:

  1. putting down on paper the scope needed to make a huge dent in electric power production (and a significant dent in total energy use) from solar
  2. in particular pointing out how to do this with a central plant model based in the American Southwest
  3. including additional infrastructure requirements: HVDC lines for transmission, compressed air storage.
  4. pointing out that all this becomes economically competitive with a large but achievable government investment to bring costs down (or perhaps not even directly a government investment, if the feed-in-tariff approach is used).

The only quibble I have is the prospects for compressed air storage seem uncertain - in fact storage seems to me the biggest uncertainty in any grand renewable plan now. We can certainly do it, but what are the costs for the billions of kWh of storage we'll need? Would perhaps converting our hydroelectric systems to "pumped hydro" storage systems be a better approach? One major reservoir probably has enough kWh, but we'd need to install enormous pumps and turbines to allow it to fill and empty on a daily basis, if that was the approach!

Anyway, Zweibel and friends have done a wonderful job of laying out a vision for a solar energy future - let's go build it!

Created: 2008-01-17 08:31:59 by Arthur Smith