free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 387. WORLD PHOTOVOLTAIC (PV) PRODUCTION 1990-2007

Sunday, December 21, 2008

387. WORLD PHOTOVOLTAIC (PV) PRODUCTION 1990-2007

Here's an interesting graph from the PV Status Report 2008.

No "limits to growth" there. I'll leave the extrapolation of this exponential growth curve as an exercise.
by JD

36 Comments:

At Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 11:16:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

As always, please use the Name/URL option (you don't have to register, just enter a screen-name) or sign your anonymous post at the bottom. The conversation is better without multiple anons.
Thank you!
JD

 
At Monday, December 22, 2008 at 1:27:00 AM PST, Anonymous Soylent said...

I'd rather my taxes pay for solar R&D than cranking out nasty poly-si panels in China at ever increasing rates. The learning curves for poly-si are looking grim.

We can't afford to maintain the outrageous subsidies required for massive poly-si adoption. When you approach everyone having poly-si panels on their roofs the cost to each tax payer will approach the cost of purchasing the cells without a subsidy and that's not going to be affordable. We need better tech.

 
At Monday, December 22, 2008 at 3:11:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

My favorite dark horse is cool earth solar. I'll take their PR with a grain of salt, but the approach seems to be cheap, scalable, and ready to go right now.

 
At Monday, December 22, 2008 at 3:32:00 AM PST, Anonymous A Barrel Full said...

Germany is a leader in this field, spending vast sums of cash to promote PV electricity in a cloudy country.

The same money spent elsewhere would result in a lot more electricity.

 
At Monday, December 22, 2008 at 6:00:00 AM PST, Anonymous Drewboy said...

Robert Rapier has written some good articles on solar lately too:

http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/

 
At Monday, December 22, 2008 at 1:13:00 PM PST, Anonymous benny "MOAG" cole said...

Crisis! If this trend continues, the entire world will be covered by solar panels, and we won't be able to grow crops!

 
At Monday, December 22, 2008 at 6:29:00 PM PST, Anonymous Mike S. said...

" The learning curves for poly-si are looking grim."

Say what? The problem is scale up, not how to do it. And on the scale up front, RECSilicon is bringing up their new production plant in Washington. Hemlock just announced an expansion of an existing plant in Michigan, and a new plant in Tennessee.

These are existing companies that know how to do it safely, not Chinese entrepreneurs who are bribing the local party officials to look the other way while they dump silicon tetrachloride on the ground and drive off.

REC is also building a new wafer fab in Singapore to handle new the silicon supply. That's the easier part of the process.

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 2:21:00 AM PST, Blogger JD Walters said...

A story relevant to the debate over the Export Land Model:

http://www.borsaitaliana.it/bitApp/news.bit?target=NewsViewer&id=539869&lang=en

Who knows if Mexico can actually make good on its efforts, but it shows that exporting countries will not just sit by and allow their exports to fall to zero, especially if those exports account for a large part of their budget.

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 2:55:00 AM PST, Blogger Marc said...

Solar also is committed with limits:

Land usage
raw materials
etc

the best places are the first to be used (exponential growth), then the power installed will follow an asymptotic pattern

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 6:56:00 AM PST, Anonymous DoctorJJ said...

"Solar also is committed with limits:

Land usage
raw materials
etc

the best places are the first to be used (exponential growth), then the power installed will follow an asymptotic pattern"


Land usage? Have you ever seen this map?
http://www.trec-uk.org.uk/images/CSP_map.jpg

Is there anyone in the world who cares if this small amount of the Sahara Desert is covered with PV cells? Of course there are then problems of transmitting this power over long distances, but those have been addressed as well.

http://www.pv-tech.org/editors_blog/_a/europe_thinks_big_on_solar_sahara/

As for the raw materials argument, really?

http://www.sciencealert.com.au/opinions/20083110-18384.html

And I quote "We will never run out of the raw materials for solar energy systems because the principal elements required (silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, sodium, calcium, aluminum and iron) are among the most abundant on earth."

Next!

DoctorJJ

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 7:20:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

Haven't you heard? There's a new report from the Energy Watch Group:

"When discussing the future availability of solar energy resources, conventional knowledge has it that globally there is an abundance of solar which allows for increasing solar consumption far into the future. This is either regarded as being a good thing as solar can be a possible substitute for the declining fossil fuel supplies or it is seen as a horror scenario leading to catastrophic consequences for the world’s desert ecosystems. But the discussion rarely focuses on the premise: how much solar is there really?"

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 9:37:00 AM PST, Anonymous benny "MOAG" cole said...

Cushing spot at $32 today, and the global recession is (unfortunately) gathering momentum.
We will see $10 a barrel before this is over. Ugly, with a capital "U".
And I am beginning to wonder if global oil demand will recover when this recession ends. After the 1980 price spike, it was 10 years before demand reached pre-spike levels. But, this time around, oil demand was declining in developed nations even before the recession.
Now, even cruddy old Ford is introducing the Ford Fusion, which gets 53 mpg in city driving, according to a pretty good L.A. Times auto critic.
Suppose oil demand does recover in 10 years -- but by then, much higher mpg cars are becoming the norm, globally.
In short, oil demand may never fully recover.
I suspect one more round of $147 oil, and the PHEV and ultra-high mpg cousins take command of the road. And then it is game over for the oil thugs.

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 1:06:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In short, oil demand may never fully recover."
Then the peak-oilists will have been proven right!

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 1:44:00 PM PST, Anonymous benny "MOAG" cole said...

Anon-
Actually, I think the Peak Oilers will be proven wrong, in their anticipation of global ruin.
The price mechanism has a wonderful way of concentrating the mind.
Think about it: In the brief window of higher oil prices (2004-2008), all the major auto manufacturers developed and nearly brought to market very high mpg cars, including the GM Volt, which gets 40 miles on a charge, no gasoline.
I can only imagine what developments are in store if oil ever stays above $100 permanently.
There is talk of 80 miles range batteries, that can be charged on 220v in a couple of hours.
In short, most demand for oil will dissipate.
I actually see a better and cleaner world if oil stays above $100. The problem is, I am not sure it can.

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 3:50:00 PM PST, Blogger Kartturi said...

Cheers,

I apologize if the following veers too much of the topic of this posting,
but I am now coming here as a "political refugee", being censured in John Michael Greer's
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/
when I tried to comment on his most
recent posting
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2008/12/why-dissensus-matters.html

My two, somewhat long and winding comments were these:

---------------------------------------

Dear John,

first of all, I must say, that I admire
your writing, and also your thinking,
in most cases. However, I think your
basic premises are wrong. More and more I think of it, I feel that the Peak Oil
will not "make it", the overall collapse
of the world technological civilization,
not even slowly, in "long descent".

You need something more severe for that:
a direct hit from a large asteroid,
out-of-control global warming,
or really large pandemic, with
mortality rates something like 50-90%.
It's this latter which is my favourite
now.

But first, why Peak Oil itself is a non-starter? Because there are other excellent energy-carriers beside
the gasoline & other oil products.
Electricity is one of them. Can be
transferred over long distances
in simple metal wires.

Electric cars are coming, and even
if all the big companies were bankrupt
tomorrow, there is a growing grass-root
movement for converting to EV's,
see e.g.
http://www.evalbum.com/

OK, the mileage is not so good
than with those promised Li-battery based toys for the riches that we are
supposed to see in 2010 or 2011, but at
least they work, and they work now.
So here is my advise for people who wonder to which kind of skills they should invest now. Enroll into a vocational school to learn the basics
of electricity, and get the license
to do that kind of work for other people as well! That is, if you are not into organic farming or such.

Of course, USA will be much affected,
with its all suburbia and exurbia, but
as someone said, "The End of America
as We Know It", is not the same thing
as the "The End of the World as We Know It". There are countries like Norway,
which produce about 99% of their electricity with hydroelectric power
stations, and the percentage of other
renewables (especially wind) is also rising in many countries.

In this respect it's good to remember these other mountainous high-tech countries as well:
Switzerland (53% hydro + 42 from nuclear), Austria (about 70% renewables), New Zealand (60% renewables).
Means the majority of electricity comes
from non-fossil sources, and many of
these countries have well-developed rail-networks as well (both intra-city and inter-city).
Also, Canada gets about 60% of its electricity from renewables.
(If you want the sources for these
statistics, I'll send the URL's. Not
all of them are from Wikipedia... ;-)


Moreover, there has been a lots of research in algae-based biofuels, which
will probably solve the fuel problem
for trucks (in case they cannot be electrified), ships and airplanes.

OK, you might resort to some sort of
meta-argument now, that I'm invoking
a wrong sort of narrative (technological
pollyannaism, and whatever), and that this is all "argument from ignorance",
because nothing of those EV's or biofuels are really yet here in mass-scale. But well, just wait and see.

But I will continue in the next comment
why I think a pandemic might just make it.

I hope that you accept this dissenting view, because, after all, "Dissensus Matters".

Yours,

A. Kartturi


---------------------------------------
My second comment:

So, I think the majority of so called "Peak Oil Movement" is very black-and-white, with very simplistic
doomsday scenarios. (Although your views definitely improve the average!).
Also, there seems to
be underneath some barely hidden
wishful thinking about some romantic
eco-future, where there are no other
technologies in use, except organic
farming and weaving, and maybe a few blacksmiths in their workshops, forging their swords, like straight from the Middle Earth.

But regarding all the theories of collapse, Thomas Homer-Dixon's
ideas of "synchronous failure"
make a lot's of sense.
See http://www.homerdixon.com/
http://www.dylan.org.uk/collapse.html
and http://www.dylan.org.uk/synchronous_failure.pdf

Also Joseph Tainter has a more nuanced view. I think it was his view that some societies (e.g. Rome) collapsed just
because the citizens got enough of
all the taxes and the stress,
and decided to live instead just
for them and their family (or
the immediate local community),
and that this actually IMPROVED their lot.

But first of all, it should be remembered that some technological societies are unbelievably resilient.
For example, Germany and Japan were firebombed (and the latter also nuked), with almost all of their big cities flattened in WWII, but
still they rebounced back as even more
vigorous, in just under ten years.

OK, OK, you say that this was only possible because of cheap oil. But I think the main factors were technological progress and capitalism.
And there is no better boost for the capitalism as the rebuilding after the war. (And maybe some Marshall-aid...)

But the technology has got much more complex since the World War II.
Consider almost any modern factory.
What if those few key-people who (really) know how to operate it
just disappear? Can a layman, or say,
the factory's manager, even get the
production line on and running? Or even if it boots first OK, but then after five minutes everything halts, and you get just the blinking error code "E366" on the main console?
What about if this "factory" is a nuclear power station?

Yes, most of the technological information is
stored somewhere, in manuals,
and in the textbooks in libraries, and increasingly in the computer systems
or on their mass-media (e.g. CD-Roms, cf. "Dead Media"), but a lots of it is
also "silent", at least when it comes
to knowing which of the books in the
library contain the relevant information, and where are all the
missing manuals for this particular
factory.

So an interesting question rises:
what would be the mortality of pandemic
need to be, that it would cause that from substantially many (> 50% ?) of the mission-critical industries of the technological societies all the key-people would have gone? And then
the resulting societal collapse
would finish the rest? (E.g. before
any instance recuperates just enough to restart a factory/power station,
somebody has already "salvaged" its
copper wires and half of the controlling computers as well.)

Does this threshold gets lower, when
the specialization and the technological complexity advances even more?

Clearly at some range at least.
Consider the traditional Inuit-society.
Although it was very "high-tech"
in its own way (especially considering the availability of materials,
or actually, the lack of them!)
there were essentially just two occupations: that of the husband and that of the wife, so the demise of any one person didn't diminish much the
overall knowledge base of the society.

It's interesting to compare various
renewable energy technologies in this respect. Wind and hydropower is based on simple, fundamental facts about electro-magneticism discovered already in the 19th century, which are unlikely to get lost from our common
knowledge for a very long time. (*)
And it can be implemented on very
grass-root level also:
http://www.williamkamkwamba.typepad.com/

But in contrast, solar-cells are very high-tech, and it seems unlikely they
can be ever made at the "workshop level
of the technology". (Unless somebody really invents such a low/medium-tech solar cell! That would be a black swan indeed.)

(* Sans total forgetting of all the major alphabets of today. This is one of the reasons I don't believe in the romantic "blacksmiths only"-future.
There will be electricity as well, although maybe just on small scale. Maybe even arc-welding? And there's
plentiful of metal, in all the
landfills and scrap-yards we have created.)


OK, that was enough for this time,
I'm sorry for a bit rambling tone.
English is not mother tongue, and
it's getting late here in Northern
Europe.

Yours,

A. Kartturi

---------------------------------------

John reply (which I saw already when
I was writing my second comment):


Blogger John Michael Greer said...

Offlist to Iconoclast and Kartturi: please reread the message above the comment window. Long disquisitions about your personal philosophies, with no relevance to the current post, belong on your own blog, not this one.

12/23/08 2:11 PM


---------------------------------------
And my last comment to that:


Dear John,

I don't have my own blog, and just now
I don't have time and energy to found
one. Moreover, I don't see much sense
that everybody just expounds his own
personal philosophy in his own blog, and can't accept any differing views at all.
(Only those ones that say: Wow,
yet another great post from you!)
There are already too many blogs
like that in Web.

I have been using the Net and the BBS-systems since 1986, and in many ways
I liked the old BBS- and Usenet-culture
debating culture (before it degenerated
to utter noise and spam) much more than
this modern blog-culture, with each blog with its own sovereign, and where
anyone of differing opinion is considered a troll to be banished.

A positive exception too all this is for example Robert Rapier's
http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/
where he openly lets people of
very opposite opinions to his own
to publish their views, for the
further debate.

Further disadvantage of blogs, is that
the "window for particular discussion"
is usually quite short, and the later
comments just get lost in the end
of blog-posting, when the attention
has shifted to the newer blog-postings.
(In contrast, in BBS's and Usenet, where in most you could comment also vintage postings).

So, maybe my last two comments were
not directly related to just _this_
blog-posting, but more to the material
you present on the right-hand-side
margin of your pages (JMG Links). However, I considered them important and inspiring enough to merit serious thinking and commenting. However, there is no option for commenting them
directly.

And, yes, sometimes I have a bit of
flippant tone. And little bit too
rambling.

But if you stay in your decision,
could you please at least mail
my last two comments to me (I think
you can see my e-mail address?),
because I didn't save my local copies.

Yours sincerely,

A. K.

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 3:58:00 PM PST, Blogger Kartturi said...

Clarification for the previous:
The posting on Greer's blog was
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2008/12/why-dissensus-matters.html

And the other cut URL was
http://www.dylan.org.uk/synchronous_failure.pdf

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 5:54:00 PM PST, Anonymous Soylent said...

"Say what? The problem is scale up, not how to do it."

I don't think you understand; a learning curve is a unit cost vs. cumulative unit production curve. As a result of economies of scale and literally thousands of individual inventions and cost cutting measures you get a gradual decline in the cost of production.

It tends to follow a straight line in a log-log diagram and based on past data poly-si fits this linear model nicely.

The whole idea with subsidizing solar PV is not so that more people can get PV cells, that's just a bonus; it is to hurry solar cells along down the slope of the learning curve by creating lots of artificial demand for more units. That moves the day enough solar PV panels have been produced for solar to start flying off the shelves without outrageous subsidies(such as France's 0.33€ per kWh feed-in-tariff for residential solar, 0.55€ for building integrated.) closer to the present.

The trouble is, the learning curve for poly-si is not nearly as steep as the learning curve for other solar cells and there is little crossover for the lessons you learn on poly-si to other technologies such as thin-film.

Because much more poly-si cells have been produced than thin-film, poly-si is much further along its learning curve and therefor cheaper. When the government says "we'll pay you this much, go buy solar panels", the result is that people look around and pick the cheapest thing they can find, which is poly-si. Since it's clear that poly-si is going to lose, if not to some other technology like nuclear or geothermal, then to thinfilm solar or some even newer PV technology that hasn't come along yet.

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 7:31:00 PM PST, Anonymous goodGrain said...

Kartturi: I wouldn't worry about John 'TEH ARCHDRUID!' Greer when it comes to energy, PO, or just about anything related to technology in general. He's a worthless person who just sits around and drops shrooms all day and talks about living off the land....yet amazingly has a computer (produced by the very energy by which he condemns) that he uses to maintain his blog.

an 'archdruid'.....lol, god hippies can be so worthless sometimes.

 
At Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 8:02:00 PM PST, Anonymous Soylent said...

"Or even if it boots first OK, but then after five minutes everything halts, and you get just the blinking error code "E366" on the main console?
What about if this "factory" is a nuclear power station?"

Depends on what kind of reactor we are talking about. If it's a typical LWR I would imagine something like the following:

If the problem somehow manages to defeat the high level of redundancy in the personnel capable of operating the reactor the automatic safety systems will shut the reactor down without human intervention if it ends up outside of the band of allowable parameters.

After the core has been SCRAMed it will still produce a residual heat; this power comes from radioactive decay of short-lived isotopes and is initially significant but decays rapidly until it can be passively removed(there are reactors which can be passively cooled immediately but they aren't widespread).

The Residual Heat Removal system will kick in to remove this heat. It will use grid electricity if it wasn't the electric grid or some kind of accident in the switchyard that created the emergency condition. If that's not available it will use some combination of flywheels, batteries and a highly redundant set Emergency Diesel Generators to provide power.

If this system is unavailable for some reason, you will have a loss of RHR and water will begin to boil in the core in about an hour. This steam will be let out of a highly redundant set of relief valves to prevent over-pressure. Typically there will be various passive systems or active systems that kick in to supply more water and so on.

Eventually the core will boil away enough water to start becomming uncovered if nothing is done to correct the problem, this is one way to have a Loss Of Coolant Accident.

In a severe LOCA scenario(e.g. failed pipe) the core can be uncovered sooner if badly mismanaged by whatever staff remains; the residual heat that needs to be removed rapidly decays, so sooner is worse.

When enough water has leaked out of the primary circuit by whatever means, it will trip radiation detectors in the containment dome. Even if reactor operators are not able to or decide not to alert the authorities for whatever reason, at somewhere around this point the world will be alerted whether operators want to or not.

The most severe outcome that's likely is a partial meltdown like three mile island; expensive but it doesn't kill anyone. Odds of a release to the environment of significant amounts of core material is very low; western reactors have a negative void coefficient unlike RBMK reactors; so a power-excursion in the event of a LOCA or in the event of boiling like Chernobyl is not a possibility, and those containment buildings are extremely sturdy, unlike the RBMK which had no containment structure at all.

Based on how the antis hype up a tritium release that exposes the nearby populace to the same amount of radiation dose as eating a banana as a major disaster, I think I can safely say they'd have a simultaneous orgasm and get to work whoring themselves out on TV as the "balance" to actual experts in the matter(which is about as sane as balancing a report from NASA on the possibility of manned space-flight to Mars with comments from the flat Earth society stating why such a thing is impossible and a hoax).

 
At Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 1:36:00 AM PST, Blogger Kartturi said...

Soylent,

there's another catch with Crystalline Silicon cells: their energy payback time
is estimated to be about two to five years, if I remember correctly.
Now, consider the exponential growth
curve (almost 50% per year) that J.D. quoted from the PV 2008 report. If most of that is still from
single-/polysilicon cells, then that
means that so far the rising production
just demands more electricity from
other sources.

E.g. as a hypothetical example, let's say that the energy payback
time would be 3 years, and all the new
cells would be used just for powering
the new solar cell (including wafers, and maybe also mining!) factories.
Then I calculate that the maximum
production growth rate would be 26 percents. (the cubic root of 2 = 1.2599...) and that with nothing left for actual sales.

Now, some thin film folks
like Nanosolar claim dramatically
shorter payback-times (even less than month):
http://www.nanosolar.com/economic.htm

but so far, all they have produced is a lots of bragging.

PS. It's interesting that silicon wafers
seem to be made in places with a lots
of cheap hydro energy...

 
At Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 2:10:00 AM PST, Anonymous Brother Cadfan said...

First of all, best seasonal wishes to all!

JD,

The Energy Watch Group is worthy if further investigation; I think they are German; I don't have sources to hand as I am away from 'base' for xmas but if I remember rightly several senior group members have research and business interests in wind and biomass power; which probably explains why they are pushing an anti-solar line.

 
At Thursday, December 25, 2008 at 4:10:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

Brother, that Energy Watch Group thing was just a parody. ;-)

Here, let me try again:
""When discussing the future availability of air, conventional knowledge has it that globally there is an abundance of air which allows for air consumption far into the future. This is either regarded as being a good thing since air is necessary for human metabolism, or it is seen as a horror scenario leading to catastrophic consequences for the world’s air systems. But the discussion rarely focuses on the premise: how much air is there really?"

Happy holidays to you and everyone!

 
At Thursday, December 25, 2008 at 3:59:00 PM PST, Anonymous Mike S. said...

"Since it's clear that poly-si is going to lose, if not to some other technology like nuclear or geothermal, then to thinfilm solar or some even newer PV technology that hasn't come along yet."

It's far from clear where the economics are going to end up. Poly-si is using technology from the electronics industry, which may or may not turn out to be the cheapest in the long run. So far nothing cheaper has come along, which doesn't rule out future breakthroughs. On the bulk production front, fluidbed reactors are coming up with a very large cost reduction compared to the Siemen's reactors that everyone has been using.

As for thin film, it looks really good until you look at the poor efficiencies, and the fact you need kilotonnes of indium, (produced solely as a byproduct, costs twice as much as silver last time I looked), gallium (produced solely as a byproduct), selenium (produced solely as a byproduct), or tellurium (produced as a byproduct or available in a rather uncommon gold ore.)

As for energy pay-back, about two years for the cells, and the same for the frames and mounts is about right. Silicon refining plants do tend to end up where there is cheap electricity, as they have a largish consumption, and it has to be reliable. It can take a week to come back up to full production rates from a shutdown, planned or unplanned. These plants, and most similar ones like oil refineries or smelters do not like cycling.

The bad news about this is that you can't really use solar power to run solar power production plants, due to that 'night' thing. I suspect that applies to the CIGS and CdTe production lines too; they probably don't turn them off every night. They certainly don't turn off the smelters that process the sulfide ores that give you the metals those cells use and their associated scrubbers and acid plants (except gallium, which is a byproduct of boiling bauxite in caustic to start the aluminum smelting process).

You didn't think those thin-film cells were made out of sustainably produced pixie dust, did you? I've run across way too many people who do. I used to work in mining. Most have no clue as to what it takes to mine and refine a metal. Oddly enough Joe Six Pack has a better feel for it than most of college graduates, possibly because he has experience manipulating the physical world, not just pushing paper and bits around. But that's a different rant.

 
At Thursday, December 25, 2008 at 6:18:00 PM PST, Blogger Kartturi said...

Mike S. said...

"Poly-si is using technology from the electronics industry, which may or may not turn out to be the cheapest in the long run. So far nothing cheaper has come along, which doesn't rule out future breakthroughs."

Is this true? What postings I have been read from http://www.solarbuzz.com/,
http://www.greentechmedia.com/
and
http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/
I have gathered that it is First Solar's CdTe-modules that call for the lowest $/Wp price in bulk.

"The bad news about this
is that you can't really use solar power to run solar power production plants, due to that 'night' thing. I suspect that applies to the CIGS and CdTe production lines too;"

Yes, I don't brood any fallacies that these "factory's own plants" (see e.g.
http://www.globalsolar.com/content/view/78/107/ )
were intended for anything else than
for testing the cells
in somewhat larger batches, and collecting data from their long-term reliability.

However, I forgot in my argument to stress, that of course the electricity is quite fungible asset, if one now forgets the variability of solar/wind vs. base-load power.
So, on the _overall_ energy balance it doesn't
matter where the electricity of solar cells go, if they save the same amount of electricity from some other source (probably natural gas generated or hydroelectricity, as they can react more quickly to the varying demand.)

Then the other point I missed from that payback-calculation:
If a lots of crystalline silicon cells go to home roof markets ("green luxury for Californians"), then it means that those households have less to spend in other products,
whose energy payback time is not just a few years,
but an infinity, i.e. normal consumer products
that do not generate any electricity, but just consume it. And then, less demand -> less production of those items. So in that respect, it might be not so bad.
(Okay, this is very theoretical in any case, like all the footprint-calculations.)

"You didn't think those thin-film cells were made out of sustainably produced pixie dust, did you? I've run across way too many people who do. I used to work in mining. Most have no clue as to what it takes to mine and refine a metal."

No, I didn't think that. And I don't brood any fallacies about the mining industry. By the way, it would be interesting to know, what value these companies like Nanosolar (see the link in my above comment)
use for the energy-balance for Indium
and Gallium, and First Solar for Tellurium, or do they just "ride free" on the
"energy bill" of the Zinc and Copper and other metals, whose byproducts they are?



"Oddly enough Joe Six Pack has a better feel for it than most of college graduates, possibly because he has experience manipulating the physical world, not just pushing paper and bits around. But that's a different rant."

Yes, sometime I think the world starts to look more and more like the future in H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine":

"His journey takes him to the year A.D. 802,701, where he finds an apparently peaceful and pastoral society. Upon arrival, he meets a small human people who name themselves the Eloi. The Eloi live in small communities within large and futuristic yet dilapidated buildings, doing no work and eating a frugivorous diet. "
...
"But working classes have evolved into the bestial Morlocks, who toil underground maintaining the machinery that keep the Eloi — their flocks — docile and plentiful."

(For the whole text:
http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Time_Machine
)

So, it's not hard to see towards which class
our average denizen of Blogistan is devolving to.

 
At Thursday, December 25, 2008 at 6:47:00 PM PST, Blogger Kartturi said...

Soylent wrote:
"Depends on what kind of reactor we are talking about. If it's a typical LWR I would imagine something like the following: ..."

Thanks for the scenario.
My point wasn't so much the concern for the environment. I don't consider even multiple nuclear accidents as that bad as
a runaway global warming,
and furthermore, see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_of_Alienation
a thing that is bad for people, seems to be good for the wolves...
)

Instead, it was just an example of the
vulnerability of the modern complex systems
to the loss of INFORMATION, rather than any single dwindling source for energy (the favourite topic for certain myopic people, guess which one...)

 
At Friday, December 26, 2008 at 3:59:00 AM PST, Anonymous Richard said...

Perhaps a more informative exercise to leave to the reader - or perform yourself - would be to construct a graph of NET energy derived from the same photovoltaic sources.

That is to say, from the energy output produced from those arrays, subtract the energy required to manufacture the mining equipment, mine and transport the silicon ores and other raw materials, smelt and otherwise convert into working grade materials, construct the manufacturing facility (from mined raw materials produced in manufactured manufacturing facilities), manufacture, test, ship, install and maintain the arrays.

I think you will find, understood in the context of the vast implicit hydrocarbon energy platform upon which the manufacturing system floats, that the energy *deficit* grows exponentially with time.

Oops.

 
At Friday, December 26, 2008 at 6:54:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

Richard,

Your calculation isn't very compelling because you didn't actually do it. Oops.

Also, given your belief system, am I correct in assuming that you are strongly opposed to solar power?

 
At Friday, December 26, 2008 at 8:49:00 AM PST, Blogger Kartturi said...

Richard wrote:

"Perhaps a more informative exercise to leave to the reader - or perform yourself - would be to construct a graph of NET energy derived from the same photovoltaic sources.

That is to say, from the energy output produced from those arrays, subtract the energy required to manufacture the mining equipment, mine and transport the silicon ores and other raw materials, smelt and otherwise convert into working grade materials, construct the manufacturing facility (from mined raw materials produced in manufactured manufacturing facilities), manufacture, test, ship, install and maintain the arrays."

The difficulty in this is where to stop
drawing the net.

Like e.g. you forgot in the above list
the electricity used to make the morning
coffee of the engineer who designed the sprinkler-system for the tractor factory,
which made the equipment for hauling the
quartz sand to the ship taking it to the wafer factory.

And then consider the new leather boots which the boatswain of that ship bought to her wife, as that was the only way he could bribe her to accept his yet another long turn on the sea. The feeding of those cows (from which the leather came) probably required
a lots of hay, probably not all grown organically.

Yes, some of the most fundamental eco hippies are such, that they don't want to accept any connection to the EVIL "system", and seem to think as a SIN
any form of energy than their own muscle power (and if you are also a fanatic vegan, it's not that much) and maybe burning of a few logs in the stove.

 
At Friday, December 26, 2008 at 12:03:00 PM PST, Anonymous Richard said...

JD / Kartturi - I'm not making a particularly difficult or even controversial point. It takes a lot of energy to manufacture a PV cell. Before you can determine with any confidence whether you have detected a "limit to growth" or not you need to demonstrate that you have taken into account all the energy inputs associated with the PV Production - the Joint Research Centre don't claim to have and you most certainly haven't.

I make no moral claim about any connection with the hydrocarbon system - I merely state that there is a connection, and that it is very large.

While the connection is so fundamental that most people aren't even conscious of it, it is fairly simple for those who are to know where to stop drawing the net. If PV production is not possible without a given process, then it is in. If it is, then it is out.

On that basis tea making and boot manufacture are trivially dismissible. That still leaves an enormous number of energy consuming activities that must be powered somehow and it betrays a failure of imagination (in my opinion) to argue that they must be exhaustively enumerated, estimated and summed before that fact becomes compelling.

(No I'm not strongly opposed to solar. I'm strongly opposed to lazy thinking).

 
At Friday, December 26, 2008 at 4:13:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

^
Richard, you're the epitome of lazy thinking. You've made the claim that PV arrays are a net negative producer of energy, and you've provided no evidence whatsoever to back that up, aside from your "imagination". It's your claim, buddy -- you get to do the homework. Let's see the figures.

Also, I'm not sure why you're even making this point. It doesn't seem to have any practical implications. I'm in favor of a massive build-out of solar energy, and you're not opposed to solar power. We're on the same team. :-)

 
At Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 12:49:00 PM PST, Anonymous Richard said...

"Silicon production is therefore the most energy-intensive operation in Western Australia - comparable to the manufacture of aluminium." ref.

Indicative energy inputs based on Western Australia's Simcoa figures: To produce 1 tonne of silicon, dig up and transport 2.5 tonnes of ore, chop down 3.5 tonnes of timber, burn to create 1 tonne of charcoal and transport, then apply 13 megawatt hours of electricity to produce 1 tonne of 99.5% grade silicon. Transport to a PV cell facility. The use of silicon in PV demands a much greater purity than afforded by metallurgical grade silicon. Purification requires between 10 - 100 megawatt hours per tonne with about 25% manufacturing material waste ref 2

This is just the direct energy requirement of the silicon manufacture process. It does not begin to estimate the construction and operating energy requirements of the mining equipment, forestry equipment, road construction (for transportation), etc., without which PV manufacture is not possible. But for an order-of-magnitude estimate, a typical Liebherr hydraulic excavator truck weighs around 800 tonnes and has a 1.5Mw power plant.

So PV output from 0.75 tonnes of raw silicon must replace the energy associated with mining 2.5 tonnes of ore, harvesting 3.5 tonnes of timber, supplying 23-113 megawatt hours of electricity, the construction and operation of 800 tonne mining vehicles and tree harvesting equipment, transportation (and construction of a transportation network) and constructing a PV manufacturing facility BEFORE it begins to make a net contribution to our needs.

I making the point because you stated you detected "no limits to growth". I am suggesting a very practical limit - available hydrocarbon energy to power the manufacturing process.

 
At Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 6:36:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

Richard,
Those are interesting figures, but you still aren't even remotely close to proving your claim that PV arrays are a net negative producer of energy. You've set up the calculation, but you haven't actually done it. Showing that PV production is energy-intensive is not sufficient -- we all accept that. You need to tally up all the energy inputs, and show that they exceed the total energy output over the lifetime of the produced panels. You have not done that. What you have done is a bunch of posturing and handwaving to try to cover up your lack of proof.

You're making an extraordinary claim. For example, even Heinberg quotes a PV EROEI of 1.7 to 10. So no we're not going to just take your word for it. I have no respect for people like you who make grandiose claims without real evidence to back it up.

 
At Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 10:30:00 PM PST, Blogger Felix said...

Richard, i quite you:

"So PV output from 0.75 tonnes of raw silicon must replace the energy associated with mining 2.5 tonnes of ore, harvesting 3.5 tonnes of timber, supplying 23-113 megawatt hours of electricity"

Quick back of the envelope calculation:

A thin film solar cell has rougly a depth of one micron, about 10^-6 cubic meters of silicon or 2 grams per square meter. It can churn out 25 watts 24/7 on average. A lot of silicon is wasted in the manufacture process as exhaust gasses so lets say it takes 20 grams to make a panel, not 2, at 10% efficiency.

0.75 tonnes of silicon (750.000 grams) can be turned into 35.000 square meters of thin film. 35.000*25 watts=0.875 MW. A cost of 113 MWH is recovered in 5 days.

Conventional solar panels use 100 times more silicon than thin films (i think) but the manufacture process is more efficient. Lets say it uses 100 times more silicon and the payback time goes from 5 days to 500 days or 1.5 years. Not much.

I think my calculation is too optimistic but whatever. I'm a plasma physicist doing experimental work with thin film and i dream of one day setting up a factory.

 
At Sunday, December 28, 2008 at 3:37:00 AM PST, Anonymous Richard said...

Thanks JD. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of your post of a single graph with the annotation "No "limits to growth" there" with your comment "I have no respect for people like you who make grandiose claims without real evidence to back it up".

I guess you aren´t very interested in exploring or testing your views through discussion. That´s OK - it´s your site. Take care - sorry for questioning you.

 
At Monday, December 29, 2008 at 3:15:00 PM PST, Blogger Sean Daugherty said...

Richard, what?

I may not have the technical background to contribute to this discussion, but what I've been reading thus far certainly qualifies as a discussion. JD may be confrontational, but he's hardly attempting to shut you (or anyone else) down.

You claimed to be concerned about the "NET energy derived from the same photovoltaic sources." As JD has pointed out, almost every reliable resource has a positive return on net energy for PV. Even pessimists concede that, over the course of a lifetime, PV produces more energy than it consumes.

Yes, production of PV is resource intensive. But as long as the ultimate EROI remains positive, what is the problem? That's a legitimate question, mind you: I'm not trying to call you out. Your point about ignoring energy costs is a good one, but what's the upshot? Assuming that the net energy remains positive, what, precisely, are the limits to growth?

All of this assumes that JD was being serious in his original, off-hand "limits to growth" comment. Which I'm not sure I'd assume, since I see no evidence that he was making a prediction per se, and since he put the phrase in quotes.

 
At Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 1:32:00 AM PST, Blogger Bill Real said...

Good luck with extrapolating that graph as the world economy collapses.

 

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