Arnold Kling  

Energy Scenarios

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I spell out my conjectures.


ScenarioMost Economical TimeframeRemarks
Carbon Competition2008-2020Cheapest energy sources, except for political barriers
Conservation2008-2015Smarter electric grid, better car batteries
Nu-cu-lar2013-2030It works, but at what risk?
Franken-fuels2020 and beyondThe most likely revolution
Solar Singularity2025 and beyondHope it happens


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Dan Weber writes:

If you wrote an article about this at TCS, your link doesn't go there.

Dan Weber writes:

Ah, here is the article.

http://www.tcsdaily.com/Article.aspx?id=030608A

I strongly agree about hydrogen going nowhere.

Maniakes writes:

No love for fusion? I don't have a strong enough physics background to guess how likely either ITER or Polywell is to develop into a commercial power source, but neither feels substantially less likely to me than solar singularity, and the projected best cases for commericalization are 2030 and 2020 respectively, which falls within your timeline.

Buzzcut writes:

I think that you should look into just how solar cells and Moore's law might be related

First, solar-cell makers are pushing thin-film feature sizes from 350 to 220 microns. The eventual target among vendors is 100┬Ám, he said.

Vendors are also looking to boost cell efficiency from about 14 percent now to 20 percent by 2012, he said.

Solar-cell providers are also in production or building next-generation 150- and 200-mm factories, which cost about $100 million. These factories are highly-automated "autolines" that produce from 200- to 500-megawatts per year, Swanson said.

Each factory could produce 70-to-180 million wafers a year, or roughly 8,000-to-20,000 wafers per hour. The capital cost for a solar-cell plant is projected to be around 50 cents-per-watt, although the industry is attempting to spend "half of that," he said.

The feature size is what is related to Moore's Law. The decrease in feature size over time is what drive's Moore's Law. Intel is making chips that are 45 nanometers, in contrast to the solar cells at 350. So just going where Intel already is has a lot of potential! And it's an order of magnitude difference.

Buzzcut writes:

Here's some more background:

Many solar manufacturers make their products out of silicon and use machines similar to those used in the chip industry, but solar panel makers won't be benefiting from Moore's Law, a phenomenon in the chip industry where power increases as cost go down. Moore's Law works because reducing the size of microprocessors simultaneously makes them less expensive (a manufacturer gets more chips out of each wafer) and more powerful. But shrinking the size of solar cells doesn't help performance because cells rely on maximum surface area to harvest energy.

Instead, the solar industry expects to see prices decline the old-fashion way: larger economies of scale mean suppliers can produce more materials at a lower cost. Improved manufacturing processes also mean that suppliers can create panels with thinner solar cells, which will lower material costs.

Generating electricity from photovoltaics costs between 18 and 23 cents a kilowatt hour. It is projected to go down to 11 to 18 cents by 2010 and then to 5 to 10 cents by 2015, according to the National Renewable Energy Labs. By contrast, electricity in the U.S. costs between 5 and 18 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Klein agreed that higher manufacturing volume and improvement in the solar industry's supply chain can lower costs. Still, technology to improve cell efficiency or to greatly lower the cost of making solar cells will make a large impact, he said.

Dan Weber writes:

The only way I can see Moore's law having an effect on the photovoltaic market is if there is some efficiency with individual cells being able to handle a certain number of photons, and so smaller cells will have less wasted space.

I really doubt that that is true.

There is only so much energy contained in 1 m^2 of sunlight. Efficiency is around 15% now. It cannot go over 100%.

Now, manufacturing price can definitely go down a lot. But that's getting further away from Moore's Law.

dearieme writes:

Fusion is always a generation or so in the future. It's a physico-social invariant.

Lord writes:

All I will say is there will not be a single solution, but many different solutions operating where they are most advantageous.

Gary Rogers writes:

At the risk of straying too far from the subject, I think it is worth commenting on how closeley energy use and economic productivity are related. By having cheap, portable energy, we can travel farther and faster when going to work. We substitute large energy consuming farm equipment for human and animal labor. We no longer need to locate factories on waterways because they are now powered by electricity and the necessary labor and materials are transported by cars and trucks. It is more efficient for us to be able to jump in our cars when we want to go somewhere than to wait for the next mass transit shuttle. In short, energy use equals economic productivity.

Looking at energy scenarios from a productivity perspective, anything that drives up energy costs drives down productivity. This includes subsidies, mandates and taxes. It bothers me to read how many of the decision making factors for each of the scenarios are political rather than economic. It bothers me more when the discussion moves straight from the political motivation to whether technology and economics can catch up enough to make the decisions workable. I do not have a problem with the logic in the article. It clearly states the way things are. I do have a big problem accepting the number of non-economic and anti-market factors that drive the choices.

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