Can the world be powered mainly by solar and wind energy?

Aug 24, 2010
Can the world be powered mainly by solar and wind energy?
Wind and solar power could become the world’s main sources of energy, a Nobel-prize winning scientist suggests. Credit: Stephen Strathdee

Continuous research and development of alternative energy could soon lead to a new era in human history in which two renewable sources -- solar and wind -- will become Earth's dominant contributor of energy, a Nobel laureate said here today at a special symposium at the American Chemical Society's 240th National Meeting.

Walter Kohn, Ph.D., who shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, noted that total oil and natural gas production, which today provides about 60 percent of global consumption, is expected to peak about 10 to 30 years from now, followed by a rapid decline. He is with the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"These trends have created two unprecedented global challenges", Kohn said. "One is the threatened global shortage of acceptable energy. The other is the unacceptable, imminent danger of global warming and its consequences."

Kohn noted that these challenges require a variety of responses. "The most obvious is continuing scientific and technical progress providing abundant and affordable alternative energies, safe, clean and carbon-free," he said.

Because the challenges are global in nature, the scientific and technical work should enjoy a maximum of international cooperation, which fortunately is beginning to evolve, he said.

The global photovoltaic energy production increased by a factor of about 90 and wind energy by a factor of about 10 over the last decade. He expects vigorous growth of these two effectively inexhaustible energies to continue during the next decade and beyond, thereby leading to a new era, the SOL/WIND era, in human history, in which solar and have become the earth's dominant energy sources.

Another important issue, incumbent primarily on developed countries, whose population has pretty much leveled off, is reduction in per capita energy consumption, Kohn said.

"A striking example is the U.S. per capita consumption of gasoline, approximately 5 times higher than the global average," he said. "The less developed world, understandably, aims to bring their standard of living to a level similar to that of the highly developed countries; in return they should stabilize their growing populations."

Kohn noted that he is impressed by students on his campus who spent their own collective funds to fully solarize an athletic building. "When it comes to providing leadership by young people in the area of energy conservation and energy efficiency and global warming — they are fantastic," he said. "It is a major social commitment for our times."

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Burnerjack
5 / 5 (5) Aug 24, 2010
It must be noted, the cost of renewable energy is less cost effective(at least in the short term)than the fossil fuel driven infrastructure that exists presently.
The big advantage traditional fuels have is in distribution. Wind in particular Will be hamstrung by lack of large scale Grid tie ins to bring the product to market. More High Tension lines are less attractive in the NIMBY world we live in.
For reasons that elude me,(monetary only) Geothermal is a process that in theory could be utilized close to Point Of Use.
Solar Thermal could be utilized on very large commercial rooftops that are typically within reach of Grid substations already.
Its all doable. Just more than "Lip service" national investments are necessary.
Renewable energy sourcing presently is caught up in (IMHO) gimmickry. The emphasis needs to be national energy independence for national trade reduction as well a national security. of course, this would necessitate the body politic to be farther sighted.
TJ_alberta
5 / 5 (2) Aug 24, 2010
Good points Burnerjack.
Here a new distribution line is being built to increase distribution from the wind energy fields in the south west corner of the province (AB).
For geothermal utilization check out www.ormat.com
In some countries, companies that own large rooftops (warehouses, chicken farms, dairy farms, even gas stations) are realizing their EV potential {sorry, could not resist]and are leasing them out to generating companies looking for places to install solar panels.

Legislation that makes the energy company buy "green" energy at a high price (i.e. subsidized by the tax payer) helps move this process along. This lets the free market install the generating capacity and works better than having government do it directly.
Xaero
1.3 / 5 (3) Aug 24, 2010
the cost of renewable energy is less cost effective than the fossil fuel driven infrastructure that exists presently. The big advantage traditional fuels have is in distribution.
This is just a product of reversed thinking. Wind and solar plants actually doesn't require any central distribution at all - every house or village could have its own independent source of energy. This paradigm requires, every alternative source of energy is equipped with its own battery, though.
ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2010
I am reading Tj and wondering why you think totalitarianism is the right way to go. Or don't you realize that, that is what you are doing?

As to Xaero... 40% are supported by the rest of the population, and manufacturing, a major source of wealth is not really hear to make 2 dollars into 3 by adding thought and labor...

where do you suppose we get the money to have china make us more panels when we are up to our eyeballs in debt trying to fulfill social planners dreams from yesteryear (and destroying more and more freedom to do it)...

if it was economical, it would be jumped on, since its not, its not... distorting the market is not a way to have a working market, especially when there are many other distortions and shifting plucks to it having no natural cause other than some capricious fancy and fad futurism...

anyone want to list out how many times peak oil has been predicted, passed, and predicted again?
ThinkFirst
5 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2010
To those who claim that conventional fossil or nuclear energy is more economical than solar, geothermal, wind and tidal energies, I would point out that you have taken a very short term view: you should include ALL the cost factors. Here is a short list of the costs that should be taken into account in judging the value of an energy source: the cost of associated pollution with its human health consequences, and environmental disasters, the political costs (energy-induced conflicts), the human cost in mining catastrophes, the cost of restoring the ravaged landscape after strip mining, the cost of maintaining regulatory bodies such as the Nuclear Energy agencies, the cost of decommissioning nuclear plants, the cost of storing the radioactive waste for thousand of years, the long term effect costs associated with climate changes.. etc. If we do not take these costs into account we are borrowing from the future, or we are fooling ourselves.
david_42
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 25, 2010
Wind and solar DO need distribution, simply because wind is not cost effective in 95% of the world and solar requires massive amounts of storage. As an example my home gets fewer than 20 days a year where a small wind generator would produce enough power to run its own electronics and I need 5-6 times as much energy (AKA heating) in the winter, when the days are short and cloudy, than I need in the summer. And, no, better insulation isn't the answer. Did that years ago.

There are a limited number of good wind sites in the USA and only the south west gets enough sun in the winter to be useful. I installed solar heating on my home in Tucson in 1981, worked great. Will not work in western Oregon.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2010
The "short" answer to the title of the article.

Uh no, not now, not ten years from now, never. Not unless we all decide to no longer drive cars, have the internet, burn more than one light bulb at a time, chuck our electronic gadgets, forget modern medicine, mass communications, trash scientific inquiry back to an alchemists set...oh and then pass laws that it's got to stay that way forever.

Then, maybe.
3432682
1 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2010
1. There is virtually no global warming. The Earth is cooler than 90% of the last 10,000 years. Prior to that was ice age.
2. CO2 has little or no added greenhouse effect.
3. Even if CO2 did have added greenhouse effect, it can contribute little additional warming, since it is logrithmic in shape.
4. The real warming predicted depends on a positive "runaway" feedback - warming causing more water vapor, causing more warming. That theory is bunk. The temperatures at altitude are not warming, and the humidity at altitude is declining, contrary to their theory.
5. The IPCC predictions of temperature and CO2 levels were way too high. There is something drastically wrong with their theory and models.
6. Warmer temperatures are beneficial to nature and to mankind.
7. A richer world will be able to easily deal with warming effects.
8. None of the dire predictions of warming are credible. More get discredited every day. None have come true. No part of their predictions are verified.
Lord_jag
not rated yet Aug 25, 2010
Wind and solar DO need distribution, simply because wind is not cost effective in 95% of the world and solar requires massive amounts of storage.


Wind... maybe you have a point. People with their NIMBY attitudes keep wind farms away from where they are needed.

Solar though? How long of a high tension power line do you need to run from your roof to your power meter?

For now and for the next 20 years, grid-tied solar will simply stop the need to turn on huge diesel powered generator plants to meet the days peak demands. There's your storage capacity. You don't store it, you just stop making it in other ways.

If a neighborhood makes too much power, the power lines can return power to the grid quite nicely. How much does your neighborhood use now? I'm sure the existing lines in place can carry at least that much away during the day and return it at night.

More infrastructure? No... Less needed.
Lord_jag
not rated yet Aug 25, 2010
I'm not even going to try to dispute you 3432682. You have your mind set, but can't we stop burning coal and storing radioactive isotopes for the air quality and storage location savings?

If we can turn off coal and diesel plants, the city air quality will improve. If we can generate an abundance of electricity and stop driving cars with gasoline, it will improve more.

Even if we ignore everything to do with global warming, isn't air quality enough of a reason?
Xaero
5 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2010
anyone want to list out how many times peak oil has been predicted, passed, and predicted again?

The first problem is, the companies are lying about actual state of oil resources, because the higher their claimed state is, the higher production quotas are enabled by governments. The second problem is, more and more energy is consumed for production of water vapor and additional energy required for mining and oil production. In 1931 the energy of one gallon of oil was sufficient for production of another 131 gallons of crude oil, in 1971 it was only 17 and now (2002) it's five to seven gallons only. I.e. the production of oil may appear stable, but the actual speed of oil resources depletion is increasing. Monetary economy is not even able to control itself, as it always operates with actual prizes - not to say about oil production and consumption. So I don't think, the price of oil, which is kept low artificially can indicate or even regulate the actual state of oil depletion.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2010
1. There is virtually no global warming. The Earth is cooler than 90% of the last 10,000 years. Prior to that was ice age.
Wrong.
2. CO2 has little or no added greenhouse effect.
Wrong.

3. Even if CO2 did have added greenhouse effect, it can contribute little additional warming, since it is logrithmic in shape.
Wrong.
4. The real warming predicted depends on a positive "runaway" feedback - warming causing more water vapor, causing more warming. That theory is bunk.
Wrong.
5. The IPCC predictions of temperature and CO2 levels were way too high. There is something drastically wrong with their theory and models.
Correct, however all indica are that the predictions are accurate, but flawed due to local variability.
6. Warmer temperatures are beneficial to nature and to mankind.
Wrong, plant biomass has been on the decline for the past decade while respiratory difficulty has been on the rise.

Your last two points are also wrong. Read more.
Vai
Aug 26, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Eric_B
not rated yet Aug 27, 2010
no mention of geothermal?

drilling for magma has got to be better than drilling for oil.
Birger
not rated yet Aug 28, 2010
geothermal energy is fine, but requires technology breakthroughs to make drilling less costly.

There is no single easy solution, but all options are better than the consequences of "business as usual".
bottomlesssoul
1 / 5 (1) Aug 29, 2010
Developing countries should stabilize their growth? Isn't that a bit provocative? Maybe developed countries should reduce their populations...

This sounds very divisive.

Plus there is the whole completely unsolved energy storage problem needed BEFORE SOL /WIND as dufus called it.
Husky
not rated yet Aug 29, 2010
china is preparing for peakoil and a post daily coalmine accident era with an agressive fullout nuclear program and i think they are on the right track especially since they aim for modular massproduction of reactors to bring down the Kwh price , operational costs and installment time, it won't be long until they absorbed the licenced knowhow from wetinghouse and GE and churn cheap reactors to your local walmart ;-)
Husky
not rated yet Aug 29, 2010
...wich is a bit worriesome in the long run from an economical perspective that the U.S. is selling out all the high-tech fruits to china, but right now they could use that money very well...Might as well sell them the F22 Raptor now that it has premium marketvalue, lasers shooting planes out of the sky are the next step anyway, so move on to the next level instead