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Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan runs the popular geopolitics blog Informed Comment where he provides an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.

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6 Signs The Big Global Switch To Solar Has Already Begun


China has installed 20 gigawatts of new solar power just in the first half of this year. This achievement beats analysts’ expectations by a wide margin. China wants to add 20 GW of new solar every year for the next four, but apparently could do twice that. At the end of 2015, China had about 40 gigawatts of installed solar power, so in just six months it has added half as much again. It already surpasses the previous solar champ, Germany.

The Crescent Dunes “concentrating solar power” plant in Nevada, operated by a Santa Monica firm, is using molten salt as a battery so that it can generate electricity 24/7. It is the first such plant to use solar energy to melt the salt directly instead of via oil, which is a huge advance in efficiency. All electricity plants are just a way to turn turbines using boiling water. If you can turn the turbines with molten salt heated hours ago by the sun, then you can make electricity all day and all night. The Crescent Dunes plant can power 75,000 homes. All those critics of solar power who maintain that it needs gas or nuclear for baseload generation when it is dark or very overcast can now find some other talking point. Solar can do it all. Concentrating solar power costs as little as 10 cents a kilowatt hour, making it competitive with nuclear both in cost and in non-intermittency. Photovoltaic cells plus battery storage may ultimately be cheaper but this means that at the very least we have a relatively inexpensive solar technology that isn’t intermittent.

Economists have now demonstrated what we solar panel owners have known all along: people who put photovoltaic panels on their roofs actually save money for all the ratepayers. That’s because the panels generate best in the summer months when everyone is running their air conditioners. (Future philosophers will ponder how we made the earth so hot by burning hydrocarbons to stay cool. . .) To those homeowners who can afford it and don’t have solar panels yet, you’re welcome.

A plane just flew all the way around the world using nothing but solar power.

On one day in mid-July, California’s largest power grid, ISO, generated enough electricity from solar to power 2 million homes. This does not, I repeat not, count the many homes with owner solar panels on the roof. We’re talking just utility scale here, and also are excluding several smaller grids. So there were many more homes than the two million being powered by solar that day. The state only has about 13 million households, so this was about 15 percent of them!

The World Bank has approved $1 billion in loans to India for utility-scale and grid-connected solar power. This shows how far along the Bretton Woods institutions have come in supported development through renewables, and is a big deal. India has 45 GW of all kinds of clean energy today, but wants that to rise to 175 gigawatts in 2022. Solar is a big part of India’s renewables future.

By Juan Cole via Juancole.com

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  • O. Lewis on August 03 2016 said:
    The author of this article is far to optimistic about the current state of solar power. Anything positive is emphasized, and problems are downplayed or outright ignored. All in all a very one sided and therefore only marginally informative article.
    I'll pick one of the signs to criticize specifically. "A plane just flew all the way around the world using nothing but solar power." Sounds like a pretty spectacular achievement right? When can we roll out the passenger planes and get rid of those nasty, carbon based fuel guzzlers we currently fly around on? This solar powered plane was tiny, and could in no way be directly scaled up to carry more than a couple extra people.
    Most damning, it took about a year to circumnavigate the globe. I'm sorry, didn't some chap called Magellan do that about 500 years ago? If the best we can do was already done half a millennia ago (Magellan took a lot more people on his boat than this plane by the way) then I'm not sure what all the fuss is about.
  • Jim Decker on August 04 2016 said:
    I. China is wasting money on solar panels because they cornered the market on panel production just as the rest of the world stopped buying them.
    2. Crescent Dunes is solar thermos. I thought it was a good idea until they built this place. Look at the economics. This is a real disappointment.
    3. Claim of savings with solar panels. Hah. Someone audit those numbers.
    4. Circumnavigation of planet- see O. Lewis comments.
    5. CA used massive subsidies to power 2 million homes- for one summer afternoon. What about the other 25 million homes in CA? What about the night? What about transportation? What about commercial? Hah!! A drop in the bucket along with massive subsidies.
    6. World Bank loaning our money to India for a boondoggle. So what else is new?
  • Hari on August 04 2016 said:
    Solar could quickly "swamp" energy production scenarios as the tipping point is very close at hand.
  • zipsprite on August 04 2016 said:
    @ O. Lewis: It's called development. The Wright brother's first planes were just as limited in capabilities as this solar plane. That's how it works. A new idea or technology starts small, with limited scope and then over years of development becomes more and more powerful. Should we have given up on planes because the first ones didn't do anything "useful"? Certainly there are many problems that need to be solved to make solar work to it's potential. We are easily capable of solving those problems and I believe we will solve them.
  • Joe on August 04 2016 said:
    I think Juan Cole is just putting out some pointers to draw your attention to the advancements in solar. I welcome them. Personally I'm still disappointed on the 30 year plus payout on rooftop solar but I'm monitoring the situation. In 1969 we put two men on the moon using computers with less power than the circuit board in your fridge. Baby steps.

  • Ebbb on August 07 2016 said:
    Thank you, Zipsprite, for educating these pessimists. Yes, investment in solar must continue because we will eventually solve the issues and snags.
  • yngso on August 10 2016 said:
    J. Cole is an ultra-leftist Huffpost dweller, but not wrong this time. Solar is just getting better. It should be transforming poor but sunshine rich countries much faster!
  • Jason on August 10 2016 said:
    The author does not understand how an AC electric power system actually works. For every MW offset with "green power" renewables, you must have an equal or greater amount of capacity that is going to be a high cost fossil fuel/hydro asset sitting in spin for when a cloud rolls over, or for when the wind changes direction. A MW from a non-hydro "green" renewable is not the same marginal value per marginal unit as a MW from fossil fuels or nuclear. The article is propaganda, and I'm surprised to see it passed off as news.

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