THE U.S. OF SOLAR POWER — OUR CARS TOO.
Technologically we could build solar power plants so expansive, covering such a large area, that they could be seen from space. But we don’t have to.
We could plaster the world’s deserts with solar photovoltaic or concentrated solar thermal power plants to provide many times the amount of power needed to run the world’s economies. But we don’t have to turn the world’s deserts into energy-generating industrial sites. Large scale solar power plants can be built anywhere where sun-drenched real estate is affordable.
Further, from a technological standpoint we can turn intermittent sunlight into a round-the-clock source of energy. Storing solar thermal energy used for heating or cooling or to generate power is fairly easy: At its most basic, think how easy and cheap it is to store hot liquids for long times in a thermos bottle. Storing electricity is getting easier too. Not only is interest gaining in large scale electric energy storage devices, the next generation of hybrids may likely all be of the plug-in variety. Plug-in hybrids, and more battery electric vehicles coming to the market, will create a large inventory of networked, grid-connected storage devices with which to store unsold electricity. Together they’ll be a large scale energy storage device.
According to a new peer-reviewed study offered by Ausra, solar thermal energy could replace 90 percent of the power on the US electric grid as well as power the nation’s fleet of automobiles. To do this we’d need a fleet of plug-in hybrids to store electricity from the grid and large scale thermal storage devices to store the sun’s heat. And storage of solar thermal energy doesn’t have to be for days, just 16 hours would do.
The result of converting the national power grid to solar thermal power would be to reduce overall US greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent. Plug-in hybrids and solar thermal power would eliminate the importation of 13 million barrels of fuel per day, according to the study.
“The U.S. could nearly eliminate our dependence on coal, oil and gas for electricity and transportation, drastically slashing global warming pollution without increasing costs for energy,”Ě said David Mills, chief scientific officer and founder at Ausra. “This new study shows that our daily and annual energy needs closely match the energy production potential from solar thermal power plants with heat energy storage, and our models show solar thermal power will cost less than continuing to import oil.”Ě
The report, though authored by Ausra, can help the solar energy industry in selling its case. Other intermittent sources of energy, like wind and ocean energy, should agree too. The key to wide-spread renewables is energy storage. Wind turbines often churn at 3:00 AM whether the power generated by them is put to work, or not.
Ausra, Palo Alto, California, develops and deploys utility-scale solar thermal power technology to serve global electricity needs in a dependable, market competitive, environmentally responsible manner, according to the company. Ausra is privately held and funded by Khosla Ventures and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.
Robert E. Fishman, Ausra’s chief executive officer said, "Between 1996 and 2005, the decade of gas, we built over 250 gigawatts of natural gas-fired power plants, a quarter of total U.S. generating capacity. As the solar thermal power industry moves to scale now, we are entering the decade of solar and building a reliable, affordable source of power to meet both the needs of our growing economy and the challenge of eliminating pollution."