Photo by © Copyright Peter Craine and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Glad you asked. It turns out that the alternative energy market is the new gold rush of the 21st century. That's the good news.
In the wake of Italy's overwhelming rejection of high-risk atomic power, Reuters tells us:
" Enel Green Power, Italy's biggest renewable company, was up 2.9 percent and K.R.Energy was up 14 percent. Kerself was up 11.6 percent, Pramac up 11.5 percent and Ergycap up 12 percent." (Reuters, June 13)
We even have a new solar power tower design that can continue generating electricity through the night. Located in Seville, Spain this 19.9 MW plant by Torresol Energy is the first solar plant able to store enough heat to continue feeding the turbines after dark.
One glance at the project summons memories of the mid 1970s, and particularly the cover of the October 1975 issue of Popular Science. Lo and behold, this exact "Solar Power Tower" was featured at newsstands everywhere 36 years ago. For trivia buffs, James Bond's nemesis The Man With the Golden Gun also built a solar power tower of sorts back in 1974.
The Power Tower needs no high technology yet to be developed. It simply bounces light from mirrors -- lots of mirrors, synchonized to follow the sun. Not rocket science, not waiting for nanotechnology or advances in space travel. Mirrors.
I offer that America's energy problems are primarily political and not technological at all. Clean, safe and decentralized technologies have been fought and brought to a standstill because large, dirty, centrally-controlled, deep-pocketed interests don't like competition.
The buzzword / acronym to watch for is "Concentrated Solar Power" (CSP).
Look to the Parabola
A less grandiose solar station design employs mirrors shaped like troughs that can focus the energy on a pipe located at the proper focal distance. A Boulder City Nevada installation by Acciona takes up 400 acres and generates 64 MW.
"The plant employs 760 parabolic concentrators with more than 182,000 mirrors that concentrate the sun's rays onto more than 18,240 receiver tubes. Fluid that heats up to 735 -F flows through these tubes and is used to produce steam that drives a conventional turbine, which is connected to a generator that produces electricity." (Acciona website)
An Israeli company called ZenithSolar has a breakthrough photovoltaic collector scheme. Each sun-tracker looks something like a satellite dish, and features "two 11 square meter semi-parabolic optical mirror collectors." It then focuses the sun beams onto both a PV and a heat collector to get more energy out of the sunlight. The company claims "up to 75% efficiency" and wants to power entire cities with large arrays of these devices.
But what about your rooftop?
Efficiency advances in solar collectors and the new solar roof shingles continue at a steady pace, but what's holding it back?
Again, the political situation has corporations at an advantage over individual homeowners. Most places (such as my native California) will let you sell some energy back to the grid. The meter will run backwards, up to a point. You aren't allowed to make a profit however.
A homeowner with a windmill and solar array cannot become a profitable energy seller, unlike utilities and some private energy corporations.
What is the reasoning behind this?
It seems illustrative of a captured regulatory system designed to keep the little fish from competing effectively against the big fish. Why aren't people simply encouraged to produce as much electricity as they can, thereby reducing the burden on (polluting) utility companies? The fact that they aren't is a form of market manipulation in favor of large interests at the expense of individuals.
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