215) Technology -- solar versus cold fusion

Ludwik Kowalski (5/3/05)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043


After spending a day at Energetics Technologies (see item #213) I had a chance of visiting Jacob Blaustein Institute of Desert Research (Israel). It is located at the Sede Boker campus of Ben-Gurion University. This visit made me think about differences between applications-oriented research in the field of solar energy and in the field of cold fusion. In the former case research is based on science, in the later case it is based on protoscience. Not a single cold fusion application has been commercially successful, so far, while progress in the area of solar energy has been enormous. Will practical applications of cold fusion start to appear after the field becomes scientific? I hope so. But for the time being emphasis must be on science, not on technology. I am particularly impressed by recently published roadmaps for implementations of photovoltaic (PV) technology in different countries, as described in

<http://www.epia.org/05Publications/OtherRoadmaps.htm>

They indicate that solar batteries are likely to become dominant suppliers of all our electric needs, including industry, before the end of this century. The American roadmap, entitled “Our Solar Future,” is downloadable as:

<http://www.seia.org/media/pdfs/pvroadmap.pdf>

David (pointing to a mirror) and myself below the concentrator.

According to Dr. David Fainman, the director of the Israeli solar research center at Sede Boger Campus, the problems of implementation are no longer technological; they are primarily financial. He gave me the preprint of a paper to be presented at the International Conference on Solar Concentrators for Generation of Electricity or Hydrogen. That invited paper describes a proposed financial model for a country like Israel. I am sure that this paper will be available over the Internet after the conference (May 1-5, Scotsdale, AZ, USA).

Solar concentrators, by the way, are computer-controlled reflectors that focus solar radiation. A photovoltaic panel, receiving concentrated radiation, is a set of solar batteries. I wish I had time to ask technical questions after the brief description of the financial model. One of my questions would be about the need of cooling. To keep the cells cool one must constantly remove a lot of heat. This would probably not be necessary if inexpensive mirrors were replaced by very expensive batteries of cells.

According to the model used by Fainman, the CPV (concentrated photovoltaic) technology will pay off the expenses, and will generate profits, after 23 years. This is illustrated in the figure below.

Credit line during the first 40 years. (Negative values show profits in billions of $ per year)

The figure, describing the forecast for a country like Israel, is based on a set of assumptions. Some of these assumptions are:

a) Subsidy-free financing, at an interest rate of 5%, “via an open credit line that is repaid with interest entirely from revenues that accrue from a steadily increasing number of [very large] power plants.”

b) It will take four years to build a facility to make large solar power plants.

c) “Starting from Year 5, one 1000 MW plant is erected per year.” The first erected plant will start to generate revenue in Year 6, the second will start to generate revenue in Year 7, etc.

d) To start off, electricity is sold at approximately the prevailing market tariff, until the credit line has been paid off.” All the revenue is used to pay for the the operation and maintenance, for general and administration expenses, and for the credit line with interest.

e) The cell efficiency will be 32% and “plants will have 30-years lifetimes without undergoing degradation.” In reality degradation is expected but the initial efficiency of cells is expected to increase gradually in the next 35 years.

I was not aware that 32% efficiency is already possible today, and that 50% efficiency is expected in 35 years. But I will assume that Faiman, and his coauthors, are not science fiction writers. They probably have good reason to believe that modeling assumptions are realistic. The Internet is full of information about photovoltaic cells and I should learn about new things. Here are some links:
http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/solar.renewables/renewable.energy.annual/backgrnd/chap11i.htm
http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/pvt/pvbasics/index.htm
http://www.sandia.gov/pv/
http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/pvt/
http://64.243.182.248/includes/pv%20tutorial.pdf
The main point is that solar electricity is already a practical reality on a small scale, and that it is likely to become a dominant source of electricity in many countries. That is good; fossil fuels will soon be too expensive to compete with solar energy. Dreams about abundant, and pollution-free (?), energy seem to be turning into reality. Yes, scientific and practically-oriented research, in the area of solar energy, were initially subsidized (and are still subsidized) by governments and private agencies. But subsidies would not materialize if experimental results were irreproducible, as they still are in the areas of cold fusion.

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