Tuesday, March 13, 2012

OMG. Actual good news.

One of the barriers to my writing more is the deep, deep, "good news" deficit the world has been running. I see limited value in just passing on depression; so tend to take the Thumper Option. I think we hit Peak Good News back in the 1950's.

But- here today- and in the New York Times, forsooth- is a chunk of what I have to consider seriously good news.

A company is entering the real world with a potentially world-changing technology- the first application of which is in solar power; a way to peel silicon wafers, 20 microns thick, off the stock material, rather than sawing far thicker wafers.

Take my word for it; that's HUGE. The cost per watt for photovoltaics is already under the supposed magic point of $1/watt, for large installations. Which is why Solyndra went broke. My guess- when this is fully mature, this process could put it under 10¢/watt; and in just a few years.

Genuinely mind-boggling. Kiss your nukes goodbye.

And it shifts the entire solar energy world. The barrier is just not cost of the cells, any more; it's the cost of the land to put them on; costs of installation and maintenance.

There is, you'll be glad to know, plenty of bad news there. While the inventor of this new process can rightly expect to make mind-blowing profits- the profits associated with a 30 year contract to keep a square mile of solar panels clean and connected- are not going to interest Big Capital. It's just not sexy enough. And; there will increasingly be security problems- like the moron who decided to shoot out a wind generator near here yesterday.

But, hey; there's a new career track opening up. Night watchman/woman at a solar power generator. That'll impress them at the singles bar. :-)

A bit more seriously- I do see this as a big technological leap forward. But, my inner Eeyore does grumpily demand acknowledgement of this particular bad aspect: it will encourage the "technophiles", who insist that progress in technology will, of course, solve all human and environmental problems.

Oh, that's a really, really, bad bet; and one not actually supported by history. While this means a lot in regard to clean energy, one of the most likely outcomes will ultimately be- more babies. And we know where that goes.


Annie said...

Seriously, the last thing we need to do is keep this clusterfuck going longer.

If I weren't an atheist, I'd pray that civilization as we know it would collapse soon.

Noni Mausa said...

Ah, the sun farms of the future, they could be blended with Africa-type nature reserves. Fence the whole thing, fill it up with zebras and lions and antelope and wild dogs, and there you go.

Greenpa said...

Annie- Hope my response isn't so late I miss you-

I understand the sentiment! I really do; let's reboot, soon.

The thing is; in the past years I've come to be more and more impressed by the astonishing stability of the cluster. It really ought to collapse- but it seems to just keep going.

Basically, I don't see much hope for a clean fast collapse. It's looking a lot more like the Fall of Rome- which, if I remember my history correctly, "happened" some 300 years before anybody in Rome realized it. A long, slow, and painful way down.

In that scenario- it's more a matter of finding the least horrible ways forward; carrying the least human misery. Maybe photovoltaics can help.

Greenpa said...

Noni- I like it! I'm trying to get people to pay attention to real long-term management of solar installations. So far- they're either on concrete, or the spray the ground underneath with herbicide so the grass and weeds don't grow up and obscure the panels.

I think it will change to- slightly wider spacing- and sheep, under the panels- or maybe mushroom culture... Something, where the ground makes money, and is not a dead loss. That's the usual pattern, actually.

Annie said...

Hmmm... I live in a small rural province of Canada, relatively poor as these things go. We have The Valley, The North Mountain and The South Mountain (not really mountains but this is a small poor province), and it's mostly poor folks who live on the mountains. Subsistence farmers. Anyways, since coal is the major source of electrical energy here the local governments are looking at alternative sources in a big way and we now have very big multinational corporations optioning land on the mountains to put in giant wind turbines. Most folks think this is a good thing, but there are terrible consequences to living next door to a giant wind turbine. And the folks who will be living next door are people who cannot move away, well, because they are poor and all they have is the value of their land, which will plummet once the turbines move in.

Like any sane person I am all for alternative energy sources. But not when they come at huge health costs for the folks living next door, especially when those folks are people who cannot get out of the way and don't have the political clout to fight back. So to me, the good news in your post is the bit about the idiot who shot the turbine. I'm with him/her! Seriously though, alternative sources of energy are like any source of energy, we need to look long and hard at the consequences. And we need to include the folks most affected. In my county they did have public meetings to discuss the issue, but oddly (or maybe not so oddly) only folks living in The Valley were notified. And those folks tend to think of the mountains as being largely uninhabited, or at least sparsely inhabited by people who don't count.

I like that solar panels will become cheaper in the future, but what we really need is safe cheap and hugely more effective batteries. Battery technology is nowhere near where it needs to be.