Cheaper solar cells with 20.2 percent efficiency

Jan 19, 2016

EPFL scientists have developed a solar-panel material that can cut down on photovoltaic costs while achieving competitive power-conversion efficiency of 20.2%.

Some of the most promising solar cells today use light-harvesting films made from perovskites – a group of materials that share a characteristic molecular structure. However, perovskite-based solar cells use expensive “hole-transporting” materials, whose function is to move the positive charges that are generated when light hits the perovskite film. Publishing in Nature Energy, EPFL scientists have now engineered a considerably cheaper hole-transporting material that costs only a fifth of existing ones while keeping the efficiency of the solar cell above 20%

As the quality of perovskite films increases, researchers are seeking other ways of improving the overall performance of solar cells. Inadvertently, this search targets the other key element of a solar panel, the hole-transporting layer, and specifically, the materials that make them up. There are currently only two hole-transporting materials available for perovskite-based solar cells. Both types are quite costly to synthesize, adding to the overall expense of the solar cell.

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49 comments on “Cheaper solar cells with 20.2 percent efficiency

  • 1
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    This is very good news. If the cost of photovoltaic cells comes down then so does the production of electricity via solar. I just hope that solar becomes cheaper than coal soon enough to eliminate coal completely before it’s too late.



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  • Last I looked these had lifespans of 1000 hours not the 25 years plus for Silicon PV. This has notched up a further few percent efficiency from 18% about 2 years ago, but has the lifespan improved? If they have found a better substrate, this might be the case.



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  • Apart from this being another small scientific step, solar electricity will never become a staple in energy generation. Even IF solar electricity would become cheaper than coal, it will not be able to kick it out of the picture. Most people do not realize that the material requirements and energy density do not allow it to happen. The amount of materials required makes it a nigh impossible job.

    Ask yourself these questions :

    If the push for renewables is as it is, then why isn’t it overtaking any of the fossil energy sources on a world-wide scale?
    The prices of renewables have already dropped to such an extend that mass production should be ramped up far beyond the 50GW figures for Solar and Wind, yet they are not. Even though the industry keeps growing, the demand for special materials is strained and therefore caps growth.

    Consider for instance Mark Z. Jacobson’s 100% WWS Feasibility study, it demands a 1500% growth of annual WWS production rates. Which by itself makes it bunk-science.

    I don’t see any legitimacy in the claim that Wind and Solar (constitutes the brunt of all 100% WWS studies) will be able to supplant coal and oil and gas. The figures are simply too big, and our consumption will not drop, it will grow.

    Why? Here’s why :

    Global population grows up to 9 ~ 10 billion individuals.
    Emerging economies are driving the demand up, while the developed world remains roughly stable
    The threat of Ocean Acidification will force us to invest energy in carbon capture and sequestration in Basalt
    Roughly a billion people do not have access to potable water and sanitation, which means that new water infrastructures and desalination-stations are required, providing [potable] water doesn’t come cheap in terms of energy
    In lieu with previous point, water issues are set to grow, melting glacial and snow-pack water supplies are set to render certain areas unlivable, also consider the fact that we are drawing more fresh water from aquifers than the replenishment rate allows.

    Here are some simple facts :

    We consume about 160.000 TWh of energy each year
    About 20.000 ~ 25.000 TWh is electricity
    About 800~1000 TWh comes from wind and solar
    Current growth rates for wind and solar are about 100~150TWh per annum.
    The EIA predicts that our collective energy consumption will rise to about 250.000TWh by the 2050’s

    If we want to close the gap of 1000TWh to 250.000 TWh by the 2050’s WWS will have to grow by 7.000 TWh per annum, which is 47 times current production rate.

    You see why I am sceptical about anything that has to do with renewable? If we do the math, look at the physics and check the sources, we will be forced to re-examine our reasoning. If you have read this and are not challenging your own opinion on energy matters, I suggest you leave this to the people who are critical about the course we are setting in order to secure the future of our children, and many generations to come.

    These are not : Jacobson, Klein, Romm, Oreskes and others. They are peddling masked-as-scientific quackery that is inherently dangerous and will push us closer to the edge of the cliff. We need real solutions, NOW.

    I submit to you that not money will be the arbiter in our quest for saving the biosphere, but feasibility in terms of materials, mining requirements, denudation of the living earth and deployment speed

    Do not take my word for it, examine the world-figures! Be sceptical… Even a 100% increase in Renewable capture capabilities will not change the fact that they will be unable to supplant coal, gas and oil completely. Always doubt people who make absolute claims, and a 100% WWS claim is absolute.

    [Link to user’s own website removed by moderator]



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  • Mathijs
    Jan 20, 2016 at 4:56 am

    I don’t see any legitimacy in the claim that Wind and Solar (constitutes the brunt of all 100% WWS studies) will be able to supplant coal and oil and gas.

    Perhaps you have not thought sufficiently about the cost to the planet of carbon pollution. carbon capture is a half hearted sort-term sop to the coal industry.

    On-shore wind is already the cheapest form of generated electricity.

    The figures are simply too big, and our consumption will not drop, it will grow.

    If we look at the size of the world’s sunny deserts and the potential of liquid salt 24/7 solar thermal power, along with local photovoltaics, that can cover huge needs. http://www.solarreserve.com/en/technology/molten-salt-energy-storage

    You see why I am sceptical about anything that has to do with renewable? If we do the math, look at the physics and check the sources, we will be forced to re-examine our reasoning.

    Potentially 2million year of tidal power, plus hydroelectric, geothermal, ground heat storage and improved efficiency of appliances and building reducing demand. Solar thermal powered chemical gas and fuel production also has great potential.

    If you have read this and are not challenging your own opinion on energy matters, I suggest you leave this to the people who are critical about the course we are setting in order to secure the future of our children, and many generations to come.

    Yep!
    Perhaps those who have not studied the potential of renewables, should do just that! Some countries are already 80 or 90%+ renewable in their electricity generation.
    Put thorium nuclear into the mix and coal can safely be left in the ground. http://www.itheo.org/thorium-energy-conference-2012



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  • Perhaps you have not thought sufficiently about the cost to the planet of carbon pollution. carbon capture is a half hearted sort-term sop to the coal industry.

    Nothing could be farther from the truth, In fact I’ve written a book on Anthropogenic Climate Change. This is not a claim to authority, I will never do that. But at least it should be an indicator that I’m occupied with seeking answers to questions regarding the most daunting challenge of our age.

    Perhaps you have not thought sufficiently about the cost to the planet of carbon pollution. carbon capture is a half hearted sort-term sop to the coal industry.

    Carbon Capture is a requirement not because it gives incentive to the coal-burning industry to keep burning, but because we’ve precipitated an acidification process in the oceans which is worsening and can have dire outcomes for microscopic yet essential life-forms. If plankton goes, 90% of all life in the oceans go. The Permian Mass extinction has thought us that.

    The carbon emissions from our activities exceed those of the natural carbon cycle, the debt has already been built up. The latent effects are in the pipeline, whether we stop burning or not.

    On-shore wind is already the cheapest form of generated electricity.

    Money is a non-argument in the quest to save the biosphere. The issues are : Do we have the required materials? can we get them? How denuding needs to be done? Can we increase production capabilities?

    There are significant roadblocks if we try to answer these questions. In the case of Wind Turbines it is the use of copper and neodymium and the sheer volume of concrete and steel required. Note that wind and solar require 22 to 36 more materials per TWh than nuclear energy.

    If we look at the size of the world’s sunny deserts and the potential of liquid salt 24/7 solar thermal power, along with local photovoltaics, that can cover huge needs. http://www.solarreserve.com/en/technology/molten-salt-energy-storage

    I do not contest that there’s more energy from the sun striking the Earth than humanity can consume in its lifetime. The issue is this : How much energy capturing devices do we need to build, maintain, and replace in order for us to capture enough energy to feed and run our entire civilization. We are not going to make it with annual additions of 50~100~150 GW’s of renewable energy.

    That’s why I address the 100% claims that pop up in the media everywhere, the Jacobson studies… These give the impression that it can be done, and many people think that it will be done. But this is an inherently dangerous idea, because it will cause people to doubt the necessity of other sources of energy.

    Any form of storage compounds the problem even more, we cannot afford to lose efficiency, if we go for low efficiency / low capacity factor energy capture / generation we’re forced to vastly increase our mining and production capabilities to supplant fossil fuels by renewable energy capturing devices.

    Potentially 2million year of tidal power, plus hydroelectric, geothermal, ground heat storage and improved efficiency of appliances and building reducing demand. Solar thermal powered chemical gas and fuel production also has great potential.

    I won’t deny that, potential is there… The question remains : what does it take to get there?
    I dispute the potentiality of synthetic fuels / energy carriers. Hydrogen for instance is a 70+% loss chain wells-to-wheels. Other thermal driven processes might alleviate the stress in the quest to electrify our future, as we can make use of non-carbon-emitting fuels. The question however is this : what are the volumes required. Note that we extract and consume near 100 million barrels of oil each day.

    Also note that hydro-energy – dams – is a very harmful means of capturing energy, since it disturbs the natural hydrological cycle and literally destroys natural cover up- and downstream.

    The potential has to match our 90+% annual thirst for fossil fuelled energy whether it be electrical, thermal, or chemical.

    Yep! Perhaps those who have not studied the potential of renewables, should do just that! Some countries are already 80 or 90%+ renewable in their electricity generation.

    I maintain that renewables will remain a marginal source of energy, and have studied the potential of them, and have done the math required, checked resource requirements and limitations, looked at cumulative upkeep and replacements, etc.

    The argument that [small] countries run their economies on renewables is a non-argument since it doesn’t answer the question if an economy like the US, Russia, China, Japan or India could do the same. Even IF one of these 5 countries would try it, they would usurp the world-renewable production rates [and then some].

    Put thorium nuclear into the mix and coal can safely be left in the ground. http://www.itheo.org/thorium-energy-conference-2012

    You have found the answer and I was trying to avoid it because normally people would brand me an advocate (Jacobson did…) and dismiss my arguments. But generation IV nuclear is indeed the heaviest punch we can deliver to fossil fuelled energy.

    If you take a look at my blog, it will become clear how much legwork I put into discussing these issues : http://www.thecloudedhead.blogspot.nl/

    I am not claiming that renewable energy has no place in our future, I am simply arguing that it is a dangerous idea to think that we can do it with renewables alone. I think that we need a healthy mix of nuclear energy, hydro, geothermal, wind and solar (in descending order).

    I am not a big fan of tidal / or wind since it has an impact on avian and aquatic life.

    Also consider this, I am an advocate of using solar heat to supplant gas-fired heating systems in homes.

    We do have to be more provident with our earth, acknowledge limitations, acknowledge the needs and act accordingly.

    Why? Because we are in big trouble, that’s why…

    http://csas.ei.columbia.edu/2016/01/19/global-temperature-in-2015/



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  • Mathijs,

    I’m sure those burning wood before coal said similar things, as did (or could have) those with horses and so on. You are making the mistake of assuming that no solutions can be found. You are cherry picking your data to make an absolutist claim yourself.

    Here in Australia nay sayers like you claimed that solar could never be competitive with coal and yet it is massively expanding and making coal uneconomic. In fact it is kicking it’s arse to the point where the industry has been successfully lobbying to have the government do everything they can to reduce the success of solar and wind. Yes we will need a mix wind, solar thermal, wave, geothermal (and by the way Solar thermal does not suffer from needing particularly exotic materials as does photo-voltaic and melting salts will even give base-load power) as will geothermal.

    I’d also like to know why you maintain a skeptical position on solar but not on C02 sequestration which has a number of problems such as it tends to leak. Here in Australia they have been trying to prove it can be commercialized and work reliably without success. Your biases are showing.



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  • I’m sure those burning wood before coal said similar things, as did (or could have) those with horses and so on. You are making the mistake of assuming that no solutions can be found.

    I have looked at all the figures from a very optimistic viewpoint, not because I wanted to prove renewables couldn’t do it, but because I wanted to know if it was possible, because I felt that it was. After reviewing all the evidence, doing all the math, even considering the doubling of efficiencies and such, i couldn’t make it work.

    You are cherry picking your data to make an absolutist claim yourself.

    With my first argument I have proven you wrong. And furthermore please point out to me where I am cherry picking date? I use IPCC, EIA, NASA, SEIA, GWEC, BP… You name it… I use the figures provided by the industries themselves, looking at the figures from Topaz PV for instance, or the dutch Wind Turbine facts.

    Here in Australia nay sayers like you claimed that solar could never be competitive with coal and yet it is massively expanding and making coal uneconomic. In fact it is kicking it’s arse to the point where the industry has been successfully lobbying to have the government do everything they can to reduce the success of solar and wind.

    As I have said earlier, money is not the arbiter of what can and cannot be done, it is material requirements. Any technology can compete with another technology on nebulous terms such as economics, which are malleable and can be changed in order to fit one’s vision. True limitations set in stone however will not change.

    Besides we needn’t look at this as a problem that has to be solved from country to country, this is a global catastrophe in the making that needs to be solved on a global basis.

    Yes we will need a mix wind, solar thermal, wave, geothermal

    In order of magnitude this will probably the future energy mix : Generation IV nuclear, Hydro, Geothermal, Wind, Solar. However your argument does not include PV and/or Wind, which are dependent on various chemicals and rare-earth materials which are limited in supply. Why? Because most of the elements used are actually by-products of other mining operations.

    (and by the way Solar thermal does not suffer from needing particularly exotic materials as does photo-voltaic and melting salts will even give base-load power) as will geothermal.

    I am not saying it does, but do accept that Solar Thermal is limited in it’s uses / I even advocate the using of Solar Thermal and Earth-warmth to mitigate the use of gas in to heat homes.

    This does not solve the electricity problem which is set to grow significantly when we will start to transition from thermal processes to electrical processes.

    I’d also like to know why you maintain a skeptical position on solar but not on C02 sequestration which has a number of problems such as it tends to leak. Here in Australia they have been trying to prove it can be commercialized and work reliably without success.

    I am not proposing pumping gas into cavernous chambers, I am proposing to pump carbonated water into basalt in order to chemically transform it into a solid, this is a completely different proposition, and a lasting one. And I will maintain that we need to extract carbon from the air in order to return to sustainable levels (Say between 250 and 350PPM). We need to do this because we have to stop the ocean acidification proces. If the PH drops below 8.0 we will be in terrible danger.

    Your biases are showing.

    Which biases? I am trying to educate people on the can’s and cannot’s of the 100% WSS / Renewable scenario’s and understand that it is dangerous to discount other energy sources as so often happens within these debates.

    What biases?



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  • Mathijs
    Jan 21, 2016 at 2:09 am

    Extremely unlikely ? bordering impossible

    What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence!

    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/tables/elabund.html
    Given the abundance of oxygen and silicon in the crust, it should not be surprising that the most abundant minerals in the earth’s crust are the silicates.

    Solar thermal generation, with heat storage, can use glass (silicates) with an Aluminium trace on it to make mirrors for the reflectors. The steam turbine plant is similar to those in coal or gas powered systems.

    I’ll leave you to look up the total area of the Earth’s sunny deserts yourself!

    I am not a big fan of tidal / or wind since it has an impact on avian and aquatic life.

    The evidence of damage to avian life, is very limited, and probably less than the threat from large glass covered buildings.
    I have yet to see evidence that tidal power has any detrimental effect on marine life. – Particularly in the case of sea-bed mounted tidal turbines, such as those manufactured by Atlantis, although there can be a loss of mud-flats with tidal barrages.

    http://www.thegreenage.co.uk/cos/rance-tidal-power/
    Rance Tidal Power Station Environmental Assessment

    Since the tidal barrage construction needed to drain the estuary in the initial years after the construction was completed, there were severe impacts to the local environment; however 10 years later it was considered that the Rance estuary once again had a rich diversity of aquatic life.



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  • Mathijs
    Jan 21, 2016 at 2:53 am

    Carbon Capture is a requirement not because it gives incentive to the coal-burning industry to keep burning, but because we’ve precipitated an acidification process in the oceans which is worsening and can have dire outcomes for microscopic yet essential life-forms. If plankton goes, 90% of all life in the oceans go.

    Leaking CO2 from failed carbon capture has the same effect on sea-life as volcanic CO2 dissolving in seawater.
    On land it is even more dangerous to humans or animal life.

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/04/ocean-acidification/liittschwager-photography

    Also consider this, I am an advocate of using solar heat to supplant gas-fired heating systems in homes.

    You seem to have totally omitted the electrical generation from liquid salt solar-thermal systems.



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  • So nice to meet a fellow fan of hitchens’s quotes, that doesn’t happen often…
    Don’t you worry, I’ve almost adapted them as a code to live by.

    Given the abundance of oxygen and silicon in the crust, it should not be surprising that the most abundant minerals in the earth’s crust are the silicates.

    The issue does not lie within the silicates… it’s with elements such as Gallium, Indium, Titanium, Tellurium, Cadmium, Selenium, and a great host of chemicals required to dope the silicon wafers. The materials you focus on are not the limiting factors in Solar Panel production. Hence I will dismiss your argument, since you’ve not thought it through well enough.

    It is nice to see that at least these tidal power stations appear to have a negative effect that might be offset later on. I am not sold on the bird-issue though. I live in the Netherlands, quite close to some of these wind turbines and I regularly spot dead birds.

    Let’s do this differently, since the numbers count, right? Shall we embark on this exercise of numbers?

    Source :

    Equivalent Total energy used in the US : 28.000 TWh
    Renewables are equivalent to 2.813 TWh
    Of which a mere 675 TWh is from Solar, Wind and Geothermal
    Hydro is pretty much maxed out.

    Here’s the challenge, suppose we convert all energy from thermal to electricity (omitting efficiency gain for the sake of argument, otherwise it will become far to hard to figure out), how will we supplant 26.000 TWh worth of fossil fuel and nuclear energy (as Jacobson proposes) with renewable energy only – and in Jacobson’s case nearly 95% wind and solar.

    Let’s concentrate on Jacobson’s 100% WWS myth shall we? He proposes 32.7% Wind Energy and 53.9% Solar energy in a 100% WWS mix (nearly negligible numbers for the other technologies you name btw, and consider this : Jacobson uses the Ipse DIxit fallacy, he things he is THE authority on these matters, a professor of Stanford University, No less..)

    http://www.thecloudedhead.blogspot.nl/2015/12/ipse-dixit-professor-jacobson-from.html

    An average (250 W) panel yields about : 0,0000007 TWh per year
    An average (2,5 MW)Wind Turbine yields about 0.015 TWh per year

    32.7% of 26.000 = 8502 TWh = 934.000 Wind Turbines – We currently produce about 20.000 units per year / it would take 46.7 years at current world-production rate to fully decarbonize the US with Jacobson’s numbers,.
    53.9% of 26.000 = 14014 TWh = 20.020.000.000 Solar Panels – We currently produce about 200.000.000 units
    per year / it would take 100 years to build enough solar panels to help Jacobson’s fantasy become a reality for the US alone.

    And now do the same for 100.000 TWh / 200.000 TWh / 250.000 TWh (top estimate EIA in the 2050’s) of world-energy consumption.

    This is omitting cumulative upkeep which looks like this and makes the graphs show non-linear curves :

    You see, there is more to it…
    I’ve been spending the last couple of years trying to figure out if we could do it using renewable energy, why? Because I see the necessity of decarbonization.



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  • Total non-sequitur since I do not propose your kind of carbon sequestration. I agree with you that sequestering CO2 in gaseous form is ridiculous and inherently dangerous.

    2nd CSP (the liquid salt solar thermal systems) is a flawed concept that doesn’t deliver as promised.



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  • Find me a study that proposes 100% WWS based on CSP.
    I can’t find any, if anything I do agree that this might be one of the ways that solar energy can reach great potential, but I wouldn’t over exaggerate it either. We only have about 4GW of CSP capacity in the world. That’s a sliver of 1% of the total energy production on the Earth.



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  • These opinions need facts.

    Rare earth supply is expanding in response to demand despite Chinese export restrictions, which are a pure economic play. Neodymium, one of the most important for generators and motors is actually quite a common material. Bringing on circular economy business models will allow demand to flatten and eventually saturate. (Brazil recycles 98.5% of its aluminium. Materials can be retained with legislation supporting sensible business models.)) Whole new design approaches variously eliminate quantities needed. Rare earths for phosphor decline with the elimination of material wasteful fluorescent tubes. LEDs use typically one hundredth of the phosphor to create light per lumen/hour of light generated, because they are much higher intensity sources and now much longer lived. We’ll see the results of this over the next two decades. Tantalum has mostly been eliminated by superior organic chemistry. Indium essential in low energy LCD OLED screens as the transparent conductor indium tin oxide is set to be replaced by carbon and other formulations.

    Negawatts still has a huge part to play and the increasing industrial role out of CHP and embedded and distributed generation. (I visited a site a few days ago that was hitting 80% efficiencies in its use of gas to generate the electricity and heat it needed for its processes. It also consumed its own CO2, sequestered in its product. Improving its thermal insulation would lift this higher.) These sorts of CHP plant are really only getting started and increasingly they are being configured to produce excess electricity (as excess heat cannot be sold but it can be supplemented.) These are increasingly offering a new level of reliable base load provision with much ability to consume excess renewable quickly.

    Green gas and faecal sludge are only just getting going. These solve many other costly problems for us and can provide CO2 neutral and methane positive base provision (and all eating into our 4 to 8% grid losses). (FS untreated has 17.3MJ/Kg and with modest treatment 23.5MJ/Kg. Coal is 23.9 to 29.8MJ/Kg. Its ash and emissions unlike coal are utterly benign.)

    Nor have we got very far in to our smart grid implementation and International trading and time shifting of renewable power. Using new power processing technology (GaN) the cost of very high voltage HVDC transmission is coming down dramatically. This hugely increases access for your solar PV to deliver into high value time slots in neighbouring time zones. It also works as well for nigh time wind and creates stabilisation across reducing the level of base provision needed.

    Investment is actually very slow at the moment compared to how it could be. The first reason is that renewables make the best economic sense with other added aspects to complement and support their nature, which in turn need the sources for their justification. The second is that these investments are longer term than our short-term financial institutions have become used to. We need governments to work to support longer term investments with tax support and other legislations. Governments gain hugely from long term sustainability of energy and resources by creating a rich country with political stability and attracting more long-term investment.

    Things will speed up as the new assets created increase in value. Governments, though are mostly pathetic in seeing the bigger picture, often as a result of manufactured ignorance piped in from vested interests.

    Look. This needs a book, but I respectfully think you have a quarter of the picture and a surplus of opinion.



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  • Have we now a justification to acknowledge that the 100% WWS future is a certainty? Because that’s what I am concerned about. Many people tend to think that we can solve our current issues by slamming a bunchload of PV’s on roofs and in deserts, e presto, problem solved.

    I am not so simplistic, nor naive.



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  • No-one, no-one in the renewable industry supports “100% WWS”. This is straw-manning the people doing the work or planning it in universities. Hydro, geothermal, tidal, and green combustible, biofuel for jets and finally graphene and flow battery storage along with pumped hydro and inertial storage (a true spinning reserve) will all flesh out a bigger picture with topical ancillary benefits. (The new waste burning plant being built a kilometre from here solves the earlier dioxin release problem and methane production from landfill. It will become a prototype of how to solve many problems at once. It is also only a half kilometre from the sewage works. It could solve a lot more once that trick is learned.)

    Oil and coal though can go fairly soon. Maybe 50 years for most of it. Gas 100 years.

    But equally I think your framing of the various issues is just as misleading and underinformed.



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  • Phil,

    Under-informed, that’s a new one! I haven’t had that one before, I shall share this one with my mailgroup of fellow concerned scientists / near scientist (and non-scientists such as myself).

    The reason why I start about 100%WWS scenario’s is because they exist. And secondly because people are convinced (as you clearly are) that renewable energy is going to punch out fossil fuels. I think you are gravely mistaken, and might I suggest that it may be you who is missing a piece of the picture?

    Can you show me calculations? What would the future energy mix look like, how many units of X,Y,Z?

    Care to quantify your claims? I know i have, maybe you’re the one who is misleading people here.



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  • Mathijs
    Jan 21, 2016 at 7:32 am

    Total non-sequitur since I do not propose your kind of carbon sequestration.

    Not really! Liquids pumped under pressure can fracture rocks and leak, as they do from volcanic vents.

    I agree with you that sequestering CO2 in gaseous form is ridiculous and inherently dangerous.

    We agree on something!

    2nd CSP (the liquid salt solar thermal systems) is a flawed concept that doesn’t deliver as promised.

    Evidence???

    http://www.sunwindenergy.com/csp/new-molten-salt-solar-plant-starts-operation

    Over the coming months, the demonstration collector will be used to experimentally simulate a large number of different operating conditions and study the impacts on long-term operability. The results will be used to develop the next generation of solar thermal power plants.
    “The successful commissioning and the initial results of the DMS demo plant have confirmed our expectations of the technology. We are delighted that we can now offer solar thermal power plants with molten salt technology and thermal storage on a commercial basis,” says Andreas Wittke, CEO of Novatec Solar.
    At the joint test plant, BASF and Novatec Solar use the molten salt as heat transfer medium in a Fresnel collector plant. This type of collector, an alternative to the most common parabolic trough plants uses flat glass reflectors. A Fresnel collector consists of almost flat reflectors mounted in rows on a steel structure. The reflectors concentrate direct sunlight onto a receiver, through which the molten salt is pumped.
    For several years BASF has been researching and developing heat transfer fluids based on inorganic salts and process control concepts for solar thermal power plants. The company also has over 30 years of experience in the operation of so-called salt bath reactors, chemical plants that also use molten salt as a heat transfer fluid for process control. Besides the use in chemical plants, inorganic salts can be used reasonably in any application that requires the transport or storage of heat.




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  • No-one, no-one in the renewable industry supports “100% WWS”. This is straw-manning the people doing the work or planning it in universities.

    Explain this please :

    https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/USStatesWWS.pdf

    http://thesolutionsproject.org/

    http://www.go100percent.org/cms/

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/16/new-form-climate-denialism-dont-celebrate-yet-cop-21

    http://www.globalapolloprogram.org/

    I don’t play around in this cozy bubble of what-ifs and fairy tales. Your claim that I am straw-manning people doing the work, or planning it in universities has been disproved. Also consider the fact that people like David Attenborough, and Bill Nye are endorsing these kind of ALL-OR-NOTHING programs, is harrowing. As scientists / science lovers at least they should be able to do the math, look at the facts and acknowledge that these “we can run the world on 100% renewable” claims are questionable at the least.



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  • Mathijs
    Jan 21, 2016 at 7:28 am

    Given the abundance of oxygen and silicon in the crust, it should not be surprising that the most abundant minerals in the earth’s crust are the silicates.

    The issue does not lie within the silicates… it’s with elements such as Gallium, Indium, Titanium, Tellurium, Cadmium, Selenium, and a great host of chemicals required to dope the silicon wafers. The materials you focus on are not the limiting factors in Solar Panel production.

    You seem to have missed the point, that I am talking about solar thermal mirror systems, NOT photovoltaic panels!

    Hence I will dismiss your argument, since you’ve not thought it through well enough.

    Hence this comment is a laughable error!



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  • Please explain what we should do about the current 400PPM transgression, which effects are already in the pipeline? When will we reach unsustainable levels of PH in the Oceans? Are you willing to risk it?

    Watch this : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtQxF_3BSxQ

    And secondly about the CSP stuff, we only have 4GW of capacity world-wide. Any idea how little this is?

    Also consider some of the practical issues out there :

    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/ivanpah-solar-plant-falling-short-of-expected-electricity-production

    Did you know that PV. CSP and Wind are being off-set by natural gas burning?



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  • Point taken,

    Still CSP is light-years away from becoming the dominant form of solar energy. How much expansion is required to build enough generation capacity to satiate a demand of say 50.000 TWh?



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  • Mathijs
    Jan 21, 2016 at 7:42 am

    Find me a study that proposes 100% WWS based on CSP.
    I can’t find any, . .

    I don’t think anyone disputes that some of these technologies are in early stages of development, or that extrapolating future scenarios is difficult.

    What both Phil and myself have pointed out, is that there are gaps in your views of developments which skew your conclusions.

    Things he points out like negawatt economies and new methods of energy storage (such as super capacitors) are yet to be clearly evaluated.



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  • I don’t talk about technologies that are negligible in the current context and also show no significant progress in future prognoses. You therefore assume that there are gaps in my knowledge? Care to substantiate that?

    Negawatts are a necessity, if we want to curb energy growth, we have to become more provident with our resources. Find smarter ways to achieve the same goals, whatever that might be : transportation, production, commercial use, etc.

    I never said anything “negative” about negawatts.

    My contention is simply this : There are a lot of people that consider the 100% renewable future a possibility AND are willing to discount other valid carbon-neutral energy sources.

    At this moment Anthropocentric Climate Change forces us to employ the smartest possible strategy to fight our emissions and remediate the damage we’ve precipitated on the biosphere.

    Is it then prudent to discount for instance nuclear energy, at the cost of the 100% renewable future?

    I stand in the middle, I don’t see a 100% future of either… We need a mix of Nuclear, Geothermal, Wind, Solar and Hydro. The smartest possible mix, with the least amount of denudation required, with least amount of materials consumed (remember the Phosphor argument from Phil… I agree…)

    But… Also acknowledge that if there’s a technology, that requires another technology to offset its own limitations, it is worth to examine how we can make it better, but also acknowledge the limited scope of it’s functional implementation.

    We have to become smarter : Why?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtQxF_3BSxQ



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  • Do you work in any part of the industry, Mathijs?

    Under-informed is quite unfair as a standalone. I intend perhaps under-informing here. So…er…apologies for that.

    With such a variety of burgeoning technologies, the split will be hugely different depending on topical needs. I am though entirely certain that there will be a large array of (increasingly) gas powered CHPs producing a robust network of embedded generation that will be perfect for further integration into their local economy with green gas, biomass/ FS etc. I suspect these will work at the level of larger companies and institutions, trading and housing estates. I also suspect that if Flow Batteries continue developing as they are, the current 20MW energy buffers will get installed as UPS systems in place of the current mostly unused diesel and gas turbine gen sets to seriously smarten up the grid and turn the UPS into a profitable asset, buying and selling power in response to spot requirements. Utilities will love these and offer cheaper power by leveraging their wind and solar assets and delivering almost perfect peak shaving and other transient mitigations.

    Investors, you heard it here first! (Well maybe not.)



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  • The cardinal point is this : What determines the success of our survival as a species in this biosphere which we have damaged?

    Stop emitting carbon
    Remediate anthropocentric carbon
    By any technological means necessary
    Including Solar, Including Hydro, Including Wind, Geothermal and nuclear energy.

    As long as there are discussions which slant in the way “we can do it, as long as our solar panels are cheap enough, so that we may install enough of them, and then we will save the world” I will interject and provide a different / dissenting view.

    Why? Because I want people to think about it. It is no use being optimistic at this moment, there is no reason for optimism. We need to be critical, we need to use our brains and use skepticism in order to find the best possible course.

    We have to get our act together, and acknowledge that this is our Apollo 13 moment…



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  • Mathijs
    Jan 21, 2016 at 9:06 am

    As long as there are discussions which slant in the way “we can do it, as long as our solar panels are cheap enough, so that we may install enough of them, and then we will save the world” I will interject and provide a different / dissenting view.

    I would fully support you in debunking that view, – or any view which suggests a single technology is a universal panacea, but many of the people on this site have been debating various forms of energy production and an appropriate mix for years, so you argument is not relevant to that issue.

    Solar thermal can work as you suggest for heating buildings, or for large power-plants, or as simple cheap cooking devices, which improve health and reduce deforestation in third world countries.

    http://www.solarcookers.org/
    Solar Cookers International works with partners in 124 countries to bring solar cooking solutions to people whose need is greatest.

    I am very sceptical about carbon capture as proposals seem to involve either extensive drilling and new pipelines, or using “past their use-by-date”, pipes from old oil or gas installations.



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  • The cardinal point is this : What determines the success of our survival as a species

    Before AGW and its drowning of Bangledesh, say, or its crippling effect on African agriculture (already under-performing OECD countries at 54% of their efficiency and with a population increase to come of 450% by 2100CE), catastrophes of biblical proportions as these will be, my concern is achieving indefinite sustainability. Only this will see an end to rapacious wars and stinging inequality.



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  • Since I want to be independent my answer is I do not work for any agency/government or company in the energy industry. I balance my work between Energy and the effects of Anthropocentric Climate Change. These issues swallow up all of my time, so I am very familiar with the technologies you’ve just shared with us. I’ve had a higher education in Physics and Mathematics.

    You even omitted electricity to gas storage conversion and kinetic energy storage (big flywheels etc.)

    I want to make it very clear that I am not an anti-green man. I am an environmentalist, but one of a non-economic / non-doctrinal kind. We have to save our biosphere, we’re facing serious issues. Not just from Ocean Acidification, Sea-level rise, diminishing fresh-water supplies, but also from arctic methane release which will provide a massive positive feedback in terms of atmospheric energy capture.

    All the technologies that are available need to be employed in the smartest possible ways. We need better PV, better wind, storage, you name it. But the scale of things make it very hard to be optimistic about the low-energy-density. We consume somewhere above 550 Quadrillion BTu’s of energy each year, and energy is set to grow to 850 Quadrillion BTu’s. And the fact that there’s no significant stagnation in fossil fuel expansion is harrowing. And therefore I invest heavily in energy discussions, to break the sense of optimism and bring people back to Earth, and to force them to re-evaluate their reasoning. This happened to me as well, about three years ago I wanted to enter the renewable industry, but I refrained from doing so because of the calculations I did. I hate to take things on by faith.

    This is actually my first discussion on RD.net, so I didn’t know what to expect. I am positive about these first exchanges, I love skeptical minds, people who think. And I love people who disagree with me!!! They challenge me to think.

    My non standard ending for all of my emails is : I won’t be “the dad that knew, but did nothing”



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  • Your skepticism about carbon sequestration is just. Consider this, we capture carbon that has already been emitted, and try to sequester it, suppose we are net-efficient 50%… This would mean that we were successful in sequestering 50% of X amount of carbon. As long as this is truly sequestered / transformed I wouldn’t mind. If it remains in gaseous form, I am opposed to it.

    I love the idea of solar cookers, I want one!



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  • It was clear we already had. 🙂

    Thanks for those links up the way. I’m working through them, but so far stand by my claim with the weasel words that WWS is used in rather a broad way.

    Sustainable means no fossil carbon which take hundreds of millions of years to regenerate. By 2100 we won’t need it. I have proposed and seen papers on sustainable carbon (not just biomass, waste and animal waste) but on short period fossil carbon.

    Methane clathrates are an enormous threat to a stable climate, and are produced over timescales of hundreds of years. These could be (carefully) mined at the continental shelves
    where they at threat of spontaneous release with ocean warming. This is more akin to biomass (it forms from vegetable matter swept off the land) and carbon farming. Carbon taxing by fossil age could promote the transition. Oil companies have the skills, and would be a far better use of their money.

    Sustainable must include all or some of this array of carbon burning and preparing the path for this with local systems that are bio-ready is the best approach. Nor is the cost per kWh the decider when it offers easy storage and cost mitigations in other areas.

    Electrical heating is mostly an infrastructure cost penalty we simply don’t need.

    Thorium would have been nice. I proposed we lift Iran’s sanctions and give them billions in development contracts in exchange for developing thorium with India’s help. Whilst ensuring their own post oil existence and undercutting Saud they would have an extremely attractive technology to sell. Too late now.



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  • It’s closer than you think, the MSR breeder is under development. But that isn’t the only reason why we should be pursuing thorium, It offers a great possibility to produce Bismuth 213, which is a medical isotope in low supply, but which is a life-saving one. This is the world in which i roam, I am on friendly terms with several of the principle designers at terrestrial energy and thorcon power.

    The designs are ready, the testing phase is ready, now they are struggling through the regulatory swamp (which by the way is warranted, I do not want unregulated nuclear!)

    And the stupefying fact that it is regarded as a hazardous byproduct / tailing of rare-earth mining baffles me. It has much more potentiality for good than U (uranium ;)).



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  • The basic principle remains, do not stop any development (not even renewable ones!) because we never know which breakthrough lurks around the corner. And I think we have a couple of hopeful developments going on such as : BEV’s, Electric Planes (SolarImpulse2 , Airbus E-fan), Wendelsteyn 7-X, Thorcon’s shipbuilding principle MSR technology, Perovskite PV, Molten Salt Solar Storage, New building principles, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, higher densities in chips, storage, you name it.

    As long as we keep pushing forward on ALL fronts, we stand a chance. If we go all-in on just one or two technologies as a few people like to propose, we’re severely limiting ourselves.



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  • Mathijs
    Jan 21, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    But that isn’t the only reason why we should be pursuing thorium,

    It is also my understanding, that thorium reactors could be used to burn off some of the existing uranium waste products.



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  • This is the design proposed by Transatomic Power. They specifically started with the premise that a reactor must be able to run on spent-fuel and other breedable material. We have for 7 decades worth of spent fuel in the world, couple that with existing thorium resources (which are sequestered as waste) and it adds up to hundreds of years. If we couple this with diligent Hydro, Geothermal, Wind and Solar expansion we have enough punch to start KO-ing fossil fuels. And then there’s the possibility for synthesized fuels and bio-fuels to bridge the gap in terms of vehicular propulsion (which is sizable but not insurmountable).



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  • Mathijs
    Jan 21, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    The basic principle remains, do not stop any development (not even renewable ones!) because we never know which breakthrough lurks around the corner. And I think we have a couple of hopeful developments going on such as : BEV’s, Electric Planes (SolarImpulse2 , Airbus E-fan), Wendelsteyn 7-X,

    If we manage to get solar or green powered hydrogen production viably organised, further development of Reaction Engines Sabre jet/rocket engine as proposed for Skylon, could revolutionise hyper-speed air-transport.

    http://sen.com/news/skylon-spaceplane-s-inventor-sees-busy-spaceports-coming-soon
    The engine is also being promoted as capable of powering an advanced airliner called LAPCAT—Long-term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies—from one side of the world to the other in less than four hours.

    The engine’s secret is its heat-exchanger technology that can can cool air entering it from 1,000°C to minus 150°C in just one hundredth of a second whilst preventing ice from forming within the unit. This allows the engine to switch in flight from air-breathing mode at Mach 5.5—twice as fast as a jet—to that of a rocket engine, reaching Mach 25, or 7.5 km per second.



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  • My understanding of WWS is that it is the uber case (a subset) of renewables and is unlikely to stand as is . Also substituting renewable hydrogen for renewable carbon would probably be a big mistake. Only the first paper proposed the uber case (though this was not clearly expressed) and was simply an academic study contrasting extremes, the BAU (business as usual) case with WWS case. The others are pressure groups or opinions argued for and more generally proposing “renewable”.

    To restate I don’t believe Wind Water and Solar will be 100% the source of our power, perhaps ever, but I do believe the broader renewables can manage well enough by 2100.

    If by WWS you meant simply renewable then I disagreed with you in the first place. I think it entirely possible, because the wish to invest in it will accelerate rapidly as the joined up infrastructure appears.

    20% of the worlds capital is as good as dormant, (most of it tricked out of us). If this could be unlocked by favouring long term investments, our rate of progress could increase dramatically.



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  • Mathijs
    Jan 21, 2016 at 9:48 am

    This is actually my first discussion on RD.net, so I didn’t know what to expect. I am positive about these first exchanges, I love skeptical minds, people who think. And I love people who disagree with me!!! They challenge me to think.

    As its your first visit – welcome!
    You might like to look over some earlier discussions on related topics.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/11/new-technology-could-power-battery-free-electric-cars-within-five-years/

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/09/these-giant-fans-can-suck-co2-out-of-the-atmosphere-and-then-use-it-as-fuel/

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/06/japan-plans-ample-support-for-fuel-cell-car-technology/

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/07/carbon-matters-middle-school-students-get-carbon-cycle-literate/



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  • With my first argument I have proven you wrong.

    No, as far as I can see you have made some assertions based upon your false assumption that all of the power has to come from wind and PV solar, also that there are no other technologies that can alleviate these issues. All the while you are jumping at C02 sequestration and yes I do know it isn’t pumped into open cabins, I also know as you should that they have found doing so results in enough of it leaking away to nullify the benefits while also risking acidification of ground water which may have disastrous consequences. Which is why it has not been pursued in-spite of decades of research and massive grants. This is why I am asserting you are cherry picking your data.

    Solar Thermal in my country at least has massive potential especially considering the vast unpopulated areas of land combines with the ability to melt salt and store energy for days. In addition to this solar PV is somewhat limited in efficiency by heat. Much work has been done in using effective heat removal allowing concentrated light to be shone on the pv cells increasing their efficiency significantly using mirror (provided you can remove heat), So for example if these systems can gain say 40% efficiency by heat removal, that about halves the requirements of rare earth elements, and all other materials and manufacturing costs associated with the cells productions. Your figures appear therefore to be giving the worst case scenario for solar PV and wind (into the future), while at the same time giving the best case senario for C02 sequestration which inspite of having much money thrown at it has shown so far that, a. doesn’t work yet, b. it leaks – thus nullifying the entire enterprise c. Is massively expensive.

    You are working on the premise that the power consumption will in fact be exponential. It need not be. For one you do not have to hook up full on power grids to every village. And supply them with fridges, plasma tvs and so forth. In fact what will generally happen and is happening now is local solutions will provide what power is needed rather than the power wasted in the west. Meanwhile here in Australia our power consumption is dropping (also not a popular fact with the fossil fuel companies) because our appliances are becoming significantly more efficient even our air conditioners are significantly less wasteful on power than they were. This is a nuanced issue which will be solved form a thousand things coming together or the population will crash on it’s own.

    However your argument does not include PV and/or Wind

    Yes it did.

    As I have said earlier, money is not the arbiter of what can and cannot be done

    True, but neither are you. Which is what you appear to be doing. Money is however the major factor in what will be tried. Solar and wind in spite of the rare earth elements you mention is going ahead in-spite of objections including in R&D around the very issues you assume can never be solved. You could make the same argument about electric cars and lithium. If you ignore all of the work being done on super caps, various other nano technologies, fuel cells etc. I can agree much work must be done but no one here is advocating the position that solar pv and wind in their current state are the only solutions – that’s the straw man you have set up that is not my position. What you have done is side with the only technology we know must go, coal.

    This does not solve the electricity problem which is set to grow
    significantly when we will start to transition from thermal processes
    to electrical processes.

    Standard turbine generators work just the same turning steam into electricity in solar thermal plants as they do in coal and nuclear plants. Many coal fire plants will be able to be re-fitted to generating power from solar thermal.

    What biases?

    Your plusing the pluses for coal while only minusing the minuses solar pv and wind and completing ignoring all of the rest. I’m possibly wrong here so apologies in advance if I have misunderstood you, but so far I’ve seen appears to be a limited set of arguments put forward as absolutes.

    regards



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  • @OP- EPFL scientists have developed a solar-panel material that can cut down on photovoltaic costs while achieving competitive power-conversion efficiency of 20.2%.

    Combined with improved battery storage, these should avoid the need for heavy infrastructure in remote third-world areas, while providing telephones, internet, TV and lighting.
    Solar cookers used in conjunction with photovoltaic generation, should provided clean cooking and water pasteurisation in sunny tropical climates, to give decent standards of living without increasing carbon foot-prints.



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  • interesting discussion 🙂
    The viable technologies to emerge as dominant will definitely be the ones requiring only sustainable materials. For example, I am working on a new csp concept without primary mirror tracking. Thanks to our curiosity there are many other parallel research axis and I agree that only by cross-learning can we achieve something closer to a human durable existence.
    The carbon sequestering research axis is interesting, I don’t know much about it, what would be the best way to use CSP 400-800degC specifically for it? Is it possible to obtain some kind of graphite powder from capture+heat treatment? (I am trying to use packed graphite as heat storage)
    Jean-Philippe Bédard-Arcand



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