May I let my voice be a clarion call. I will use these words for justice. I will use these words for truth. And humour.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Pure Solar Energy for 100 Million Homes: One Trillion Dollars

Just did a little speculative research...

Let's estimate the energy needs of the average home are ~2 kilowatts (a rough estimate, but not far off -- to find your likely usage, add up the items around your house with this handy chart). Checking into solar information here and here, we find a current estimate of $8-10 per watt, if you're going to set up a photovoltaic (PV) solar energy grid.

Continuing to be America-centric for the time being (I promise to become a more global thinker in time...), let's estimate that there are 3 people per household on average. With a nationwide population of 300 million, then divided by 3, we have 100 million households.

100 million households * 2000 watts/household * $8/watt gives $1.6 trillion dollars, or $1600 billion. That seems like an astronomical amount, doesn't it? Not really.

There are a couple mitigating factors, and perhaps a confounding factor, to consider here:
  1. If we start producing these on a very large scale, the price will drop simply because of scale, likely by a factor of two or more.
  2. This is still a relatively new technology, and there will likely be advances in technology that make solar cells more efficient at converting the sun's rays into electricity, and also technological advances that make the price go down.
  3. If the energy in this system is well-distributed across and between communities, it will provide a sort of energy insurance, where if in your home, you are producing only 2kW of energy, but happen to have a 400W computer, a 1500W hairdryer, and five 60W bulbs all on at once, you'll be able to get energy that your next door neighbor isn't using. If everyone needs to have their air conditioners cranked during a certain time, or we have a series of very cloudy days, then we will need to ramp up and get more PV cells/house.
  4. We can also learn to conserve energy a little (Cheney!), though it may turn out to not be necessary.
The first confounding factor is what happens if the materials used in PV cells are not easy to come by in large quantities, or if the production of large quantities of PV cells would negatively impact the environment (more than the burning of fossil fuels). Since the most efficient cells currently available are made of silicon(a close relative of sand) I don't think the former is likely to be a problem, and I'd suggest that the latter issue is likely laughable, but would like to see a study on the environmental footprint by a responsible scientist.

The second confounding factor is that this thought experiment covers only residences, and not places of business. Those can be worked into a similar model, but since I've been throwing together estimates, I didn't want to try to take on figuring out the amount of electricity the yahoo, google, ibm, cray, msn, etc servers use up, plus all of the lights that get left on all night in offices all over the country.

With all of the above said, I'd imagine that the cost of layout in real 2006 dollars for a project like this would be somewhere between $800-1000 billion (0.8 - 1 trillion). Now the question that makes us run in fear is, "How could we possibly come up with that kind of money?" Here's one way, though there are other ways of complementing this budgeting: In the US, the GNP/GDP is somewhere around ten trillion dollars as of late. At present, if everyone in the U.S. were taxed at approximately 20%, the government would bring in 2.0 trillion per year. If the government were to put only $200 billion toward this per year(half of our yearly military budget), in five years, we'd be able to pay for it.

I am not an accountant, so I won't go into the amortization, and other gobbledygook, but if the price of this were to be drawn out over it's 20+ year lifetime, it would be a small piece of the pie. And a lot of Americans could find new jobs making and installing solar panels and updating the electrical grid. What happens to all of the people who are out of work because they worked for oil or other power plants? They get free electricity, for a start. Yippee!

lyrics: Yoga for beginners theme music.

colors: pink, purple, yellow

mood: better than this morning

chant/prayer/mantra: let there be light, and PV to put it to use.

pax hominibus,

I've been interested in the environmental impact of PV cell production and never found a thing to tell me that it truly is an environmentally sound way to produce energy. For the consumer sure, but at what price? I'd just really like to know, for the cob house, y'know? Wind seems to be more sustainable, but then again, all that metal... you'd think someone would have done this research already?
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