I wrote about Michael Asher at Dean’s World. When I wrote him a bit of fan mail, I asked him about solar and wind power. Here’s the conversation…
> How do solar proponents propose we use solar energy given the fact that
> the earth rotates? It would seem to me that you would need to store the
> energy somehow for use at night, which would mean that you would either
> need huge batteries OR you would need to electrolyze H2O to get
> hydrogen, then store that to burn it at night. Are either methods even
> Just curious.
Energy storage is indeed the achilles heel of
both solar and wind power (winds rarely blow 100% of the time).
Environmentalists get around this in the usual manner, by refusing to get
pinned down on details. They simply make fuzzy claims that these should be
“part of” the overall energy picture—but what’s the other part? Solar and
wind may one day supply a reasonable fraction of residential energy
needs…but they’re almost comically unsuited for heavy industry. That’s
probably why they’re so favored by those who believe “manufactured goods”
should stop at tie-dye shirts and bean sprouts.
As for specific means of energy storage, right now there just isn’t any
practical means, period. Batteries come closest, but battery-arrays able
to thousands of megawatt-hours have never been built. They’re technically
feasible in theory at least, but the cost would be astronomical, the
environmental footprint very large, their safety questionable, and finally,
they’d lose anywhere from 20 to 40% of the power put into them due to
coloumetric charging losses. Hydrogen storage would have a much lower
up-front cost, but generating the gas, compressing it for storage, then
finally oxidizing it can easily mean you’d lose 2/3 of the power thus
generated. When you consider “daytime” solar power is already upwards of
40X more expensive than a well-run nuclear plant, a solar system capable of
providing nighttime power might be 100X or more costly.
Incidently, whenever you read statistics about solar plants, remember a
little ‘numbers game’ is usually played with them. Coal and nuclear power
usually have about a 95% availability factor…meaning a 1000MW nuclear
plant will provide 95% of that much power on a regular basis. But solar
power has closer to a 30% AF, due to cloud cover, the day/night cycle, and
other factors. So when you see a news report that some new solar array is
“capable of powering 5,000 households”, remember to divide by three in your
head….the total power generated is actually much lower.