Unprecedented growth seen for solar energy

Feb 06, 2009 The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

The head of the federal government's effort to promote solar technology told about 200 industry leaders yesterday that expanding the industry to the level needed by 2030 will require unprecedented levels of growth.

"To go from the 1 gigawatt of generation capacity that we have now [in the United States] to the 170 to 200 gigawatts called for by 2030 amounts to a 26 percent compounded annual growth rate over the next 20 years," John Lushetsky explained. "That's a higher sustained growth rate than any industry has ever been asked to do before."

Mr. Lushetsky is program manager of the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technology Program for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

He was the keynote speaker at a day-long conference in the Dana Center at the University of Toledo's Health Science Campus called "Empowering Solar Energy in Ohio."

The conference drew industry participants from Ohio and Michigan.

Colleen LaChapelle, assistant director of the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization at the University of Toledo, said what started as a small conference grew over the last week in part because of the tremendous opportunity for growth in the industry.

"The resources of our area match up very well to what this industry needs," Ms. LaChapelle said.

Mr. Lushetsky predicted that the solar energy industry -- including manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors -- ultimately could employ 4 million people. But he noted tremendous challenges are involved as the public and private sectors work to incorporate solar energy into a national electrical grid that's in need of its own upgrade.

"We really can't wait for things to happen on their own," Mr. Lushetsky said, explaining how public and private efforts will have to cooperate to incorporate solar into the nation's energy portfolio, including provisions of the federal stimulus package making its way through Congress.

He complimented the efforts done locally and across Ohio to promote and encourage solar companies and their development, citing First Solar Inc. and Xunlight Corp., two solar-panel makers with plants in metro Toledo.

"You've got a very good environment here for startups," he said.

(c) 2009 MCT

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3 / 5 (3) Feb 06, 2009
If we used another souce of energy would'ne it have to grow at unprecedneted rates?
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2009
Not clear from this article; is this growth in just solar generated electrical or total solar growth, e.g. electric, heat, hydrocarbon fuels, etc.?
3.8 / 5 (4) Feb 07, 2009
"To go from the 1 gigawatt of generation capacity that we have now [in the United States] to the 170 to 200 gigawatts called for by 2030 amounts to a 26 percent compounded annual growth rate over the next 20 years,"

Even with this supposed exponential growth, which can only continue if generous subsidies are maintained, 170-200 GW of solar is almost nothing.

With a capacity factor of 0.15-0.2 we're talking 26-40 GW average output. That's still less than 10% of the average output consumed in 2002 by the US(398 GW) and electrical output needs to expand significantly to eventually take over the role filled by petroleum for automotive use, natural gas for heating and NG/coal for industrial processes like iron smelting or cement production.
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 07, 2009
Pfft...good luck.

Hand out permits for nuclear power plants if you're ACTUALLY serious about phasing out fossil fuels.
3 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2009
this is actually completely feasible. the problem is, nobody is looking at the actual potential. we say solar energy in the context of talking about collections of specific wavelengths of light into the panels, which everyone knows is where its weakness is. there is a simple ass solution to this, collect the heat that hits the panels in addition to the wavelengths, as it would give more powre than the panels can themselves in their current configuration. add mirroring on top of the panels to directly reflect the light, such as burning an ant with a magnifying glass (which btw I had the idea long before anyone introduced it publicly...as a kid actually)...this isnt rocket science, in fact, other than the panels, its pretty damned simple....
1.5 / 5 (2) Feb 07, 2009
How about this approach?

http://cleantech....-the-sun (photo)
http://cleantech....e-desert (article)

It's a Stirling engine / solar reflector plant that hopes to generate 1.2MW in the California desert. Raised about $100M in financing for it.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2009
x646d63-good article, although too large to be implemented by any single home owner. what we need to do is get off the grid, not stay on it..
4 / 5 (2) Feb 09, 2009
Wow, [sarcasm]I bet this growth could continue until the whole of the US is covered in panels and still not meet demand for electricity/power.[/sarcasm] And while yes, going up that fast is impressive, that still leaves the power demand an order of magnitude larger than what could be produced. So what were they saying... No news? ok, thanks.

Soylent, where did you get the US power consumption number, everything I've seen implies about an order of magnitude higher, 3.3 TW, but usually factors in transportation. Not argueing, just curious, either way your point still stands.

deatopmg, they mean financial growth.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 10, 2009
All we really need is for the public to actually demand it. We need the costs to drop due to mass production and the cost of energy to go up to make it more paletable.

Compare the number of solar panels needed to be built to the number of air to ground missles made by the US military. If they start making solar panels and building the world instead of making bombs to blow it up, all our worries would be over.