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Let's make Solar Cell Farms

Why not use the excess energy from Hoover dam to start a solar cell farm in the desert. Once we have a few square miles of solar cells we can make lots more from sand and sunshine. At the same time we can create shade in the desert with power to support a thriving desert community.

As solar power technology improves we sell the prior generation cells and excess production to provide solar power roofing for home and businesses.

Ultimately through efficiency and solar power most of our homes and businesses can be energy self-sufficient and many can supply power back to the grid.

Energy being a large part of much of the products and services we buy will become almost free, increasing the quality of life for us all.

The farm can be replicated in the Sahara and other desert areas and extended beyond our planet to the moon and the MarsFrontier.

(Why not? What would the energy suppliers do if there was no more need for the Hoover dam?)

Not allowed

Answer: The Power Baron Bullies would never allow it. Remember the GoldenRule.

It's just a lack of will

It is more an economic problem and lack of vision than a technological one. Every year solar cells gets cheaper and more efficient.

Electricity from solar cell farms can provide local power and make hydrogen by electrolysis for storage, automotive and aircraft usage.

Energy efficiency could be rewarded with energy credits, energy gluttony can be taxed to make energy virtually free when used wisely and help make a SustainableFuture.


No room for it

Many of the technically knowledgeable claim that there isn't enough land area on the planet to provide power to the world, directly or just for electrolysis. Not even with 60% efficient solar cells (which is significantly higher then current photovotaic cells).

Now, if we put huge orbital solar power plants in place, and beam down the power, that could be an answer to usable area issues. Space is big, and mostly empty. ;-)


Lots of room

A 100 watt panel is about 10 square feet, that is about 500 kilowatts per acre or 278,784 kilowatts per square mile (almost 3 million 100 watt bulbs). 2 square miles would support over a billion kilowatt hours per year, meeting all the energy needs of about 100,000 people. The Sahara desert alone is 3.5 million square miles, enough for 175 billion people! I figure well under 5% of our desert areas and rooftops will be more than enough for the current world population in the foreseeable future. A rooftop alone is enough for responsible usage of electricity for the household in a temperate area.

The primary cost of solar cell power is the energy required to grow the cells.

Fuel cells would also be needed to utilize energy stored as hydrogen when and where they are cost effective. In the mean time, stored hydrogen can used directly as a fuel.

The initial investment in solar cell farms is a one time cost using the power your inventory of cells to make new cells. Off peak excess power is a public resource we could use to create the required critical mass of cells needed.

We have a lot of technology to make efficient systems, and have tried many incentives, but unless we invest in core facilities to manufacture solar cells using solar energy, the economics will be marginal, not compelling.

It may sound silly, but I see no logical reason it could not work, except we lack the will to do it.

Power demands are going to jump largely

That sounds interesting, but the world's current power needs are going to seriously skyrocket as India and China continue to modernize their lifestyle, and catch up with the Modern American or European lifestyle. That's our current power needs, increased by about 3 billion times. And as the world population grows, so will our energy usage.

the calculations are based on american usage levels

Moore's Law can be seen at work on our future power requirements as well. As we continue to advance our usage of electronics, and as our electronics continue to grow more sophisticated, we need to supply those electronics with more and more power. Until we top out at the ubiquitous network, our power demands will continue to grow beyond the rate of human population increase. That is certainly not the "reasonable" usage refer to in your prior posting.

the power requirement go down inversely with moore's law. the increased use of electronics is balanced by lower energy requirements.

As for hydrogen, it's a dangerous item. You have to store it very cold, under high pressure. This means you have to allow for it to warm and expand. That means you have to let it vent, or you get an explosion. If you let it vent, you have to do special things to make sure you don't vent too much hydrogen at once, or you can easily get an extremely dangerous burn, which in turn could set off your storage bottle/facility. I've worked with cryogenics. You couldn't just have a tank of hydrogen lieing around your house. You cannot just have a bottle of hydrogen sitting in the trunk of your car (as your fuel source). You realize that the number of hydrogen cars that have blown, because they sat for a couple of days and their stored hydrogen vented, is a very significant percentage (last I read, it was almost 5%!). Consider that. If you don't drive your hydrogen powered car for a period of 2 or 3 days (ie, long weekend that you spend at home), your car blows up! Hydrogen is quite an explosive. Even a small tank of hydrogen can do significant damage. Hydrogen has to be handled very carefully.

this applys only to liquified hydrogen, which can be handeled safely but indeed has issues, your car won't blow up, but the hydroden must be vented somewhere if you don't use it, and releasing it into the atmosphere could be detrimental to the ozone layer. Presurized hydrogen tanks are less dangerous than gasoline and comparable to methane and propane storage in safety. Metal hydride and nano storage are much safer than gasoline.

There is one very common substance that provides the same power as hydrogen. Do you know what that is? It's oil. Oil is a lot safer to handle. This is what makes swapping over to hydrogen from oil so difficult. Oil is easier to store, easier to handle, provides the same power, and cheaper to create or process into a usable form. If hydrogen generated 10 times the power of oil, we'd have swapped over to it long ago. But just generating the same amount of energy, being more dangerous, not storing as well... it is not going to happen by natural human behavior. Someone, such as large government, would have to force a change.

oil is much to valuable to burn. hydrogen storage solutions are larger and heavier so tax on fuel oil is needed to encourage hydrogen usage. not only does burning oil ruin our planet, we and denying future generations the valuable petrochemical potential we have only begun to discover. the chemical richness of cude oil is wasted when we refine it to make fuel oil.

On an industrial scale, we can safely handle hydrogen. But if you try to miniturize it to power individual houses, you are going to have serious problems, and the costs to handle and safeguard the hydrogen is going to reduce the value. It's only in large scale, such as in power plants, that we will see efficency to make the system work.

yes, liquid hydrogen han only be handeled on an industrial scale except for limited applications involving continuous usage. but lower volume presurized storage is safe. hydrogen from storage facilities can be piped at modest pressure much as natural gas is now. hydrogen molecules are so small they would leak from most existing pipes, but much of the existing natural gas infastructure could be sealed and refitted to hold and transport hydrogen or at least hydrogen gas mixtures. hydrogen also is hard to pipe because it it so light, but on the up side hydrogen piplines also store a lot of hydrogen for the same reason. what many consider a big problem can actually help solve two problems at the same time.

Replace the coal, oil, and gas burning power stations with hydrogen burning power stations, that seem logical to me. But until we advance significantly in the handling of hydrogen itself, I'm not going to have a solar celled roof powering a hydrogen/oxygen generation system to power my house. If we concentrate on improving our hydrogen handling tech, maybe in 20 years. That seems doable to me. And it is worth doing, as the tech would be very useful for other places (such as Moon or Mars colonies). ;)

'today it may be easier to use an array of car batteries to store solar energy for night time use. hydrogen is one of many alternatives for power storage which may not be viable for many application for a number of years. however, we have a lot of time before solar cell farms produce any excess energy at all since all the power will go into making more cells at low cost for quite some time.

However, a little published fact is that water itself is not a long-term sustainable/renewable resource. The earth loses a little bit of its water every day. Precisely how much is not known, but current science considers it to be more then the amount of water we gain from asteriods and bits of comets that the earth consumes everyday (obviously, further studies should be done to better quantify this). If we start splitting our H20, at what rate do we accelerate the loss of our water?

Of course, in the early years, we wouldn't need to worry about the drying out of our world. Indeed, what to do with the freed oxygen, and how to safeguard the hydrogen better.

hydrogen only borrows the water while we store the hydrogen, we get all the water back when we use the hydrogen to make energy. transporting the hydrogen in will be a greater issue initially

Solar power is a better alternative then hydrogen or oil. It's free energy. But using it for a hydrogen powered world, that I disagree with. Hydrogen as a burnt fuel is not the answer. However, there are other things you can do with hydrogen then burn it. Many of those things could improve our power generation, reduce our pollution generation, and so would be a win. Also, remember that nothing is more permanent, then something temporary (especially if it involves a human government).

Fuel cells using hydrogen are also not the answer. But there are plenty of other fuel cell technologies that are quite promising.

there is no one answer, hydrogen fuel cell work very well with metal hysride storage technologies and are being used succefully in vehicles and other applications. we can only expect their utility will improve.

I'm for improving and advancing our power generation. But hydrogen won't be the answer for small on-site efforts (ie, cars, houses, garages, irrigation pumps, etc).

i think you underestimate the value of hydrogen, but it is only part of the answer for using solar energy effectively.

Solar cells are getting better. Indeed, our solar cells already convert more light to energy then any plant. But solar cells are dependant on location and the local meteorology for how well they power. Unless, that is, we place the solar cells above the meteorology. And if we do that, we can even pick locations for those solar farms that are always lighted. Free power, much more consistant results, and working 100% of the time at converting sunlight to power (except for maintainence). That sounds the way for meeting our power needs.

unfortunately there is no sand (silicon) in nearby space (except on the moon) to make solar cells from.

I don't think turning the Sahara into a solar cell farm is the long term answer. I don't think it's a short term answer, because you'd have to find some way of keeping your solar panels protected and functional despite the hazards (sand, sandstorms marring the protective surface of your cells, etc). The maintainence nightmare would be extreme. This is not to say that all deserts would be bad. There are other deserts that are much better suited for solar cell farms.

wind storms are an issue, susspending the cells high above ground can help and allow habitation and transportation below in addition to chosing suitable areas.



What's the correlation?

I don't see that expanding technology has a direct correlation to rising global energy usage. While the global average may rise as countries enter the NewTechnologyAge, I don't believe that it will be as dramatic as you are describing. While additions to existing technology will raise energy usage, it seems to me that further advances make existing technology more efficient.

Solar Power is 'not' a free energy source. Development, Construction, Maintenance, and Employment costs add up to quite a large sum. While it may be true that solar cells are getting more efficient, reliable, and cheaper; solar farms need their funding from somewhere, and it won't be from your average Joe citizen. Realistic funding will come from either federal or private repositories, and neither side is going to invest that sizable amount out of the goodness of their heart. Individual units powering separate houses are unrealistic as well, especially in industrial areas prone to acid rain corrosion. It would be naive to expect people to adopt individual solar units to power their houses, when the general costs outweigh that of conventional energy means. --KenSchry

The energy needed to make the cells is the major cost. If we had cheap cells the rest comes easy. The average citizen backed the building of the golden gate bride, why not solar cell farms? The energy required to jump start the process can be, almost free, off peak publicly owned hydroelectric. -- JimScarver

Moore's Law

1) American and European usage of energy is growing at a fairly steep rate. As the rest of the world's population "Americanizes" their lifestyle, their usage of energy is increasing extremely. In 20 years, we will be using the energy that it would take 100 billion humans to use right now. Guess what it will be in 40 or 100 years, presuming we can make that kind of energy and nothing else changes?

2) Moore's Law is increasing, not decreasing, electricity usage. It's doing so through 2 aspects: a) More waste heat per circuit: The smaller you make your electronics, the more waste heat is being produced. As the circuitry gets smaller, it converts more of the power that passes through it into heat, versus larger circuitry. This means you need to supply more, not less, power to get the circuit to do useful work. This heat issue has become a critical issue for electrical engineers who are always looking at adding more transistors to increase computing capability. b) As computing power increases, computers are being added to more and more things. Like shoes, shirts, pants, cars, air filters, water heaters, toilets, etc etc etc. For a device like your car, which generates its own power via an IC engine, this doesn't draw from the main power grid. However, for a car that is battery powered, it does draw from the main power grid. Chips are going into everything, and most of those devices are drawing their power off the main grid. That means the main grid needs to create more power for them. This is why our power needs, per person, for those living in the Computer World, are growing faster then ever before. This trend will continue until we top out at some form of ubiquetious network.

3) Any hydrogen stored must be made ventable. For cars, this is death and destruction to whatever is around them. Why? Because 50% of all cars are parked in a contained structure, or poorly ventilated areas! Think of all the commercial garages in a metro area. Then there's the car owner, who actually parks their car in their personal garage. It's well documented how several hydrogen powered test cars, when taken home and parked in the researchers own garages over the weekend, vented hydrogen (for various reasons), and that vented hydrogen, then exploded (destroying much property, including the car). It has been studied what effect hydrogen powered cars being parked in car parks, such as Logan Airport's Long Term Parking, would have. And that too was explosive due to too many vehicles venting hydrogen at once. Any system in which hydrogen is free at any point, is highly dangerous and has serious potentional for spontenaious burning that includes explosive risk or results. In addition, we can only store hydrogen efficently (at this time) in cold bottles. The initial studies of the US Transportation Department has determined that the amount of life and property damage would go up by at least tenfold if all cars were changed to use hydrogen, with their hydrogen cold stored. Why? Because the amount of energy that is unleashed in many accidents are enough to damage a cold storage tank, if not rupture it (with sparks). Those damaged bottles would eventually result in an explosive event. I've followed hydrogen for a long time. I've wondered most of my life why we couldn't set up a simple windmill farm or solar cell farm to process sea water into hydrogen and oxygen and use that to meet our energy needs. Our hydrogen handling knowledge and technology just isn't ready for stepping up to that level. Not yet. We need better materials, new construction techniques, and more reseach overall. This doesn't mean we could not look into these avenues for future possibilities. But hydrogen is not now, and I believe it will not be for at least 50 years, the answer to our earth bound needs. Not on a personal or small, on-site level.

Stored hydrogen is not as safe as methane or propane. It is much more dangerous. There are more issues of material degradation, as well as safe venting, to deal with. When a tank is first built, it's as safe. But as the tick-tocks go by, it becomes more dangerous. To safely handle hydrogen, you have to replace your equipment much more often... making hydrogen very pricy on maintainence, just for installition issues. Then there are the other issues around hydrogen that are unique to it. Methane and propane are significantly safer and easier to store and safely use.

Metal hydrides and nano-storage may prove to be effective. But considering how much sunshine people try to blow about hydrogen, I'll have to choose to not be very hopeful. Of course, you know what Benjamen Franklin said... expect the worst, and then you'll always be pleasantly surprised. ;-)

4) What would you prefer to use oil for? And taxing oil? Why? Besides, you are against taxing on everything else. Why do you approve of taxing oil in this one instance? That isn't a consistant position.

We can make all the oil we want. We can reclaim all the oil in all things. Check out:

They have perfected the means to reduce anything into its interesting components. This means that we can reclaim all the hydrocarbons (oil!) out of anything. For instance:


  • PLASTIC BOTTLES: Clear (polyethylene terephthalate) and translucent (high-density polyethylene). Yields: 70 pounds oil, 16 pounds gas, 6 pounds carbon solids, 8 pounds water
  • MUNICIPAL LIQUID WASTE: 75% sewage sludge, 25% grease-trap refuse. Yields: 26 pounds oil, 9 pounds gas, 8 pounds carbon and mineral solids, 57 pounds water.
  • HEAVY OIL: Refinery residues, heavy crudes, and tar sands. Yields: 74 pounds oil, 17 pounds gas, 9 pounds carbon solids.
  • TIRES: all kinds, including standard rubber and steel-belted radials. Yields: 44 pounds oil, 10 pounds gas, 12 pounds carbon and metal solids, 4 pounds water
  • MEDICAL WASTE: Transfusion bags, needles and razor blades, and wet human waste. Yields: 65 pounds oil, 10 pounds gas, 5 pounds carbon and metal solids, 20 pounds water.

Everything is a carbon sink. And now we can economically unlock the power in it. ;-)

Also, you are making a logical mistake. Nothing is valuable, unless we know what we can do with it. I like to preserve and minimize our impact so that in the future, something that is valueless to us might be of value to our future selves or our future descendants. I feel that we should take the approach of archeologists, and preserve (leave alone) half of everything for the future. But a rock is only a rock until you discover it is actually coal and figure out that it burns well. We cannot allow fantastic images and visions of the future possibilities prevent us from doing anything. We have a responsibility to current selves, as well as our future selves and our future descendants, to live well and healthy, now and into the future. It is a difficult balance to strike, preserving our future potentional and health while living our present. But it is something we must do, as we are the parents of our future selves. Every parent has that duty: to look after themselves and their current charges while protecting and husbanding the future for our future children (selves and descendants).

5) (re: Industrial) There is no reason to pipe hydrogen to individual sites of usage, such as a house. The current power grid is more than capable of distributing the power, as is. For those generation sites that are not situated near a convinent water source, it is much safer to ship water then it is to ship hydrogen. Ship in the water via tankers or aqueducts, and split it at the major power generator station. Use standard electrical grids to distribute. Minimizes cost, and has the upside of not having to replace the majority of the infrastructure.

As I've said, I've thought about this for years. Ever since I learned that water is H20, and that if you split water, you get 2 things that burn nicely, making power, and results in (mostly) pure water.

6) (re: Solar Powered Cars) The problem with solar powered cars is that they would need batteries just to drive around. Most urban settings don't allow for significant sunlight. Much of city parking is sheltered from the sunlight. So many city dwellers that use electrical cars with solar celled skins would need to plug their cars in anyways, because where they park their cars at home or at work, would be too shaded to be effective for charging up their car. I do look forward to solar powered cars in the future, but not only do they need more effective solar skinning, we really need better batteries to hold the power they generate.

7) (re: Water) We do not get back all the water we use in a water - hydrogen - power - water cycle. Not all the hydrogen burned turns back into water. It is not a 100% efficent sustainable cycle. That's something that is always hidden away in the footnotes. Consider all the forms that hydrogen and oxygen can take, just by themselves. When you burn hydrogen (ie, let it rebond with oxygen), the majority of what you get, is water. But not all of it. The understanding I've been given is that you always lose a bit to other things, and some of that cannot be recovered. Ever. When you burn hydrogen in open air (ie, a shuttle launch), it gets worse on the amount of hydrogen that returns to water, as other chemicals get into the mix, resulting in by products/pollutions other then just water. I am not familiar with the full chemical chains that result, but we permanently lose water every time hydrogen is burnt in the open air. On the small scale we are currently doing, it isn't a noticable loss. But if we went over to a pure hydrogen economy, it would become measurable at some point in the future. This means that hydrogen can never be a permanent answer to man's power generation problems. And if it doesn't have the potential to be a permanent answer, then we should move on to something that does. Not everything has to generate the power of hydrogen to be a viable path. It helps, but we could accept a less powerful answer.

8) I don't think solar power needs to use any hydrogen at all, other then the hydrogen that our handy star is fusing. I think hydrogen takes away from developing solar power into a more useful option, as it provides a distraction and offers the false promise of emptying our oceans of their water to power our modern convinences.

9) There is loads of silicon around! Asteriods, comets, planetary bodies, floating free in space. Silicon, like oxygen, is everywhere in our universe.

10) Free energy: Guess what, Ken! Solar power is free energy! Look at the states that haven't outlawed, through their regulations, private ownership of solar power generation. You will see that while it typically adds between 10K to 20K to a house's construction cost, the typical modern solar home recoups that cost between 3 to 5 years. It can pay for the entire house in 8 years (for close to optimal siting) to 14 years (for average siting). Consider that... by installing solar power on your house (to generate heat/hot water and power), it will pay for your new house in 14 years. Indeed, many solar powered friendly states will cut your mortage in half, for including solar heat and solar power on your new home. That isn't due to their desire to incentive you--- it's because in a well working home, you will be able to pay off the mortage sooner as you aren't wasting money on heating or power (and in a few states, you are getting paid for your excess energy by the local power company). Come to think of it, Ken, that isn't free energy. That's a revenue generator for you, or at least, a debt reduction energy. :-)

See, I'm not completely down. I just don't think we should detour through hydrogen. I think there are better answers, lurking about. Using hydrogen is at least as bad as using oil. And we aren't going to stop using oil, if we go for a world wide usage of hydrogen, because most of the world's hydrogen is generated by the world's oil companies! With them offering to source the hydrogen, we won't be able to get governments to buy into solar power farms. The world governments are already in the oil business (for the oil suppliers), or have such close ties to the world oil companies, that they aren't going to be willing to throw out their oil buddies. Therefore, it seems to me that hydrogen is not an answer, regardless if you plan on it being temporary or permanent.



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