Solar power – the need for investment
I have an entirely un-scientific predilection for solar, largely because I don’t like the economics of big engineering such as wind turbines, geothermal or tidal systems, where build, installation and operating costs can be so high. Of course, projects like desert installations are of a similar scale and impact, requiring HVDC distribution systems to make economic sense or much of the power would be lost during transmission.
I would suggest there is another strategy based on solar panels, and one where big engineering is not required (and nor, therefore, would HVDC be needed as an additional costs). By increasing the efficiency of photovoltaics and improving yields, home-owners and builders could incorporate better energy collection and storage systems in homes and also in industrial estates, where the grouping of business in a small area suggests an ideal environment for supplementary power generated through solar. It might also be true that ground-effect systems would be both economic and viable if planned and implemented for new industrial estates, something else the government can fail to invest in.
Of all the proposed renewable technologies, solar seems to offer a better theoretical return on investment because it is so simple and easy to maintain. Local installation requires no big engineering that impacts on other aspects of our environment, where scaled up projects like those mentioned in this article still suffer from the centralised, high-impact, high initial investment and high-visibility distribution systems that make it so much more difficult to fund. I’m not suggesting big plants in desert locations should be avoided, but where demand can be met at the point of consumption, many other problems are avoided. I suggest we need both types of renewable energy – local and trans-national – but what prevents any serious level of photovoltaic uptake is the poor efficiency of the panels and their high costs relative to the energy output.
If I could influence government investment in R&D, I would be putting considerable investment into solar research because it is so close to being a most viable and cost effective technology. Solid state technology like this can be subject to huge savings when economies of scale are achieved: In 1981, computer memory cost $4000 per megabyte. Today it costs 80 cents. If we could achieve anything like these cost savings photovoltaics would be a most attractive proposition.