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Solar Power Company Figures they can power 90% of America

Friday, March 14, 2008 10:11

Originally published on EcoGeek, written by Hank Green, reblogged by Cluster

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Fairly new to the scene, and with dreams as big as God’s feet, Ausra says they can power the whole frikkin world. Of course, we’re going to have to give them a lot of money to do it.
The company’s tagline (mission, discription and dream all at once) is “Utility Scale Solar Power. Market Prices. Now.” And that’s some pretty exciting stuff. All they need is a 9,600 square mile chunk of the Southwest, and they could power 90% of America.

Did I just say “all they need”? Yeah, 9,600 square miles is a lot of land. But if you think about it, it’s less than other major projects. It’s far less than the amount of land devoted to growing cows or the amount of land buried under American highways. But it’d be a lot more expensive (per square mile) than either of them.

Of course, there are other problems beyond just where to get the land. In fact, that may be the smallest problem, since much of the southwest is unproductive, unowned and only barely regulated by the BLM. The real problems show up when you change this from a thought experiment to a real idea.

Yeah, sure, that area of solar could produce more energy than we need. Unfortunately, there’d be no way to efficiently get that power where we need it, say, in New York City two thousand miles away. A super-conducting backbone would also have to be built all around the country.

Even more importantly, solar thermal plants currently only provide electricity during the day. Any infrastructure that would store daytime energy in some efficient manner and then discharge throughout the night is going to signficantly add to the cost of any power option. And the Ausra is already excited that they’ll be producing power at roughly the cost of natural gas, they aren’t planning on having flow batteries or other storage built into that cost.

In any case, Solar Themal looms as the new “utility scale” option for the next ten years. Hopefully Ausra, and the dozen other companies fighting for the space, can make this change happen.

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