Posted by: crudbasher | May 2, 2012

Solar Power Could Be About To Become Practical

This blog is predicated on the theory that the way we education ourselves is about to undergo a radical transformation, driven by technology. Frequent readers of this site will have noticed that I don’t focus on classroom technologies directly. In other words, I don’t track the latest Interactive White Boards, or the latest iPad initiative. That’s all fine and dandy for doing a slight update to the existing school system but it’s certainly not transformative.

When looking at the future of education I believe that it’s important to place it in context of the larger changes happening in society. The school system was designed in response to societies’ needs, so it makes sense to see what those needs are now right? One of these needs is to find a way to create cheap energy.

One way to create cheap energy would be to drill and refine more oil. We are an oil based economy and despite all the political issues there is still plenty of oil out there. However, like everything that humanity does, there are always downsides. An oil based energy supply has certain environmental impacts. While think the global warming thing is way overblown it doesn’t mean our energy system has no impact at all. Just look at China. They have awful pollution. Also, power plants are actually quite expensive to build and maintain. Humanity needs energy of course, we just want to balance the good with the bad. Is there a way to do this better?

I have been interested in alternative energy sources for some time. However I do need to make clear that I think a true free market will provide these when the time is right. (whether we actually have a free market anymore is another issue.) I don’t see wind power as practical at all. It requires a lot of maintenance, takes up too much land and kills birds. Bad idea all around.

(cc) david.nikonvscanon

Solar on the other hand has no moving parts. It also fits my theory of Disaggregation. This is my theory that the Internet is causing a breaking apart and decentralization of society. My ideal energy system would be having solar cells on the roof of your house with such efficiency that they can generate all your energy needs on a sunny day. Excess energy would be stored in a flywheel to provide power overnight. This system will only work if solar cells become very cheap. If that happens, then the technology will spread very quickly and change society. One of the biggest impacts is you don’t have to be on the power grid anymore. This means people will be able to live anywhere they want. This will disaggregate cities and even suburbs.

I’m not passing judgment on solar or any technology. I’m just saying that this will happen and possibly soon.  I will talk about how this can change education on Friday.

    • Alta Devices is a small but well-funded startup
    • Alta’s CEO, Christopher Norris.
    • a former semiconductor-industry executive and venture capitalist, does know that the fate of his company will hinge on its ability to navigate the risky and expensive process of scaling up its novel technology, which he believes could produce power at a price competitive with fossil-fuel plants and far more cheaply than today’s solar modules.
    • Andy ­Rappaport, a venture capitalist at August Capital, teamed up with the two scientists to found Alta, recruiting fellow Silicon Valley veteran Bill Joy as an investor and, with the other cofounders, building a management team that included Norris. The goal: to make highly efficient solar cells, and to make them more cheaply than those based on existing silicon technology.
    • Gallium arsenide is a nearly ideal solar material, for a number of reasons. Not only does it absorb far more sunlight than silicon—thin films of it capture as many photons as silicon 100 times thicker—but it’s less sensitive to heat than silicon solar cells, whose performance dramatically declines above 25 °C.
    • Thus Alta’s efficiency record: its cells have converted 28.3 percent of sunlight into electricity, whereas the highest efficiency for a silicon solar cell is 25 percent, and commonly used thin-film solar materials don’t exceed 20 percent. Yablonovitch suggests that Alta has a good chance of eventually breaking 30 percent efficiency and nearing the theoretical limit of 33.4 percent for cells of its type.
    • Norris says a “not unreasonable expectation” is that the gallium arsenide technology could yield a “levelized cost of energy” (a commonly used industry metric that includes the lifetime costs of building and operating a power plant) of seven cents per kilowatt-hour. At such a price, says Norris, solar would be competitive with fossil fuels, including natural gas; new gas plants generate electricity for around 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.
    • Alta’s cautious approach should not be confused with a lack of ambition. The goal, says Norris, is to make this a “foundational, transformative technology.”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.



  1. […] notice it uses Kinect cameras from the Xbox 360 game system? This is a great example of what I was talking about yesterday where advances in one area of technology can be used in […]

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