Solar generation is about .06 percent — six hundredths of 1 percent (.0006) — of renewable energy consumption in the United States. EIA. June 2006. Renewable Energy Annual. It will be hard to scale solar up to anything meaningful in the short time we have left to make an energy transition.
Nor does solar solve the liquid fuel crisis. Oil is what trillions of combustion engines depend on — and we especially depend on farm equipment to plant and harvest food and trucks to deliver food and other goods. These large and heavy vehicles, which are essential to our civilization, can’t run on solar power. Even if the transportation system could be electrified, it’s too late to do that now.
According to Hoffert, in Science (1 Nov 2002):
- Primary power consumption today is 12 TW, of which 85% is fossil-fueled. The electrical equivalent of 10 TW would require a PV array of 85,000 square miles, more than all the land in Kansas. Yet during the 16 years from 1982 to 1998, only 1.16 square miles of PV cells were produced.
- Even if PV and wind turbine manufacturing rates increased as required, existing grids could not manage the loads. Present hub-and-spoke networks were designed for central power plants, ones that are close to users. Such networks need to be reengineered.
At the rate of production Hoffert cites above, it would take over a million years to produce enough PV cells. The land required, 85,000 square miles, would be unavailable for ranching, farming, forests, and might cause unknown climate changes and certainly have a large environmental impact.
The areas used for centralized solar farms are limited geographically to the desert areas of the Southwest, and would require very expensive transmission investments.
While the sun is shining, you need to store the energy in batteries (which require other intermediary components) so you can use the energy later and in a more powerful and concentrated way. And you need to deliver the energy to customers. The solar energy to build and maintain the grid, — the batteries, inverters, generators, substations, transmission lines, and so on, exceeds the energy these components will produce in their lifetime.
Plants have spent billions of years perfecting solar power, and yet they’re only able to use a small fraction of the suns energy. Is it perhaps a big grandiose to think we can invent better solar machines in a few decades than evolution accomplished over billions of years?
Solar energy is renewable, but the equipment to implement solar energy is not renewable. It is built with fossil fuels from mining and fabrication to delivery. The weighty infrastructure to harvest solar radiation would be a parasite on the remaining fossil fuel, upon which it is utterly dependent, and would subsist only as long as its “host” fossil fuels survived.
Solar power would be most effectively used in new home construction, or retrofitting older homes to be as “passively solar” as possible, so they remain cool in the day and warm at night to minimize the need for heating or air conditioning. Fifteenth century stone homes with shutters require far less energy to heat and cool than shoddily built McMansions and manufactured homes (“trailers”) in the United States.
Despite all of my hazing of solar power, if there is ever a Manhattan energy project, solar and wind are the best and only long-range solutions. If energy, time, and money are misguidedly spent on coal liquefaction, oil/tar sands, methane hydrates, and other finite fossil fuel resources, which also increase global warming, not only do we risk polluting the air, water, and ground to the point of potential mass extinctions, we are only delaying the inevitable energy contraction, and even more people will be born in the meantime to fall off an even higher cliff.
Howard Hayden. The Solar Fraud.
Dawn Stover. 22 Nov 2011. The myth of renewable energy. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.