Friday, 09 July 2010 00:00
Paul Drezner’s Letter in the June 17 Manhasset Press hyping solar energy is timely.
I wish I could be as optimistic as he is. He does mention some of the limitations. For example, what happens at night? Unfortunately there is no practical way to store large amounts of electric energy. The thought of big storage has been around for hundreds of years. Yet no one has even speculated on an alternative to batteries. Electricity must be used when generated, that is the nature of the beast. This means that we would have to maintain and man just about all of our present fossil fuel plants ready to be turned on every night not to mention the days and sometimes weeks when the sky is so overcast that very little power can be produced by solar cells. But while even this could somewhat reduce the use of fossil fuels, the cost of solar is currently more than triple the cost of fossil fuel electricity. Now add to that the need to keep all those fossil fuel plants ready to be activated every night and you have an economically overwhelming cost burden.
Currently, wind power is the better bet but not a great bet either. Even here one has the problem of replacing some, sometimes most of it with fossil fuel power when the wind velocity drops to zero as it certainly does. There are only a limited number of places in the world where the wind blows quite consistently. The west coast of Jutland in Denmark is noted for its consistent wind. Denmark is said to have 18 percent of its electricity produced by wind. Wind farms costs are also much higher than fossil fuel costs so in order to compete with fossil the Danish government subsidizes the Wind Farms (with Danish citizens’ tax money of course).
Remember that while solar rays and wind are “free” the costs of converting these free fuels into electricity is far from free.
A prominent scientist active in the energy field, a friend of ours, refers to both solar and wind power as “piddle power.” He is convinced that they will never provide a significant percentage of our power requirements. He says that the only answer is nuclear. France is, and has been for at least twenty years, 80 percent nuclear. The USA is, after a long nuclear moratorium, now allowing the construction of more nuclear plants. Why? Because there is no alternative.