much depending on who’s doing the figuring. Making PV has gotten progressively more efficient, but at the same time its manufacture has been increasingly outsourced to China where power tends to be twice as carbon-intense and less energy-efficient. As we pursue the cheapest product, the embodied carbon pollution per square meter of panel produced has paradoxically risen, even as the process and design has gotten more efficient. What such a renewable future will do to our society is two things. First, we will become much more dependent on the natural flows of energy (be it solar, wind or hydro), which means that we can forget about running continent wide industrial activities on a 24/7 basis. Second, any system built on highly variable renewable sources will at times provide “way too much electricity”, and way more than what we can store in batteries. This offers the opportunity to use this excess to produce combustible fuels (such as methane or even gasoline). This most likely happens by producing hydrogen and converting this highly volatile gas (that doesn’t work economically for distributed applications) and combining it with sequestered or atmospheric carbon dioxide to produce carbon-neutral combustible fue ls. These will be painfully expensive compared to today’s prices at the pump but would enable us to run a (much smaller) transportation system for essential needs.
Many of these low carbon technologies are feasible – it’s just scalability and what size economy they would support that are the barriers.
TaaL: I agree, solar energy is great. It’s what my world uses, mostly. But here’s the real take -home message:
Solar PV and other stochastic solar sources could play a large part
in powering a very nice human civilization.
But not THIS civilization .
If you build a civilization around solar-power collection mechanisms, such as PV, it will be far lower energy throughput than what you now have, of necessity, and will be an electricity-powered society. That’s a good thing. Your world needs to heal. If you insist on comparing that society with the hypertrophied, tweaked-out, fossil-fueled extravaganza-with-no-purpose you now call “civilized,” it will appear poorer. Yet if you compare it with what you evolved to need, it can be a civilization of fantastic wealth, which – with a bit of sapient planning - could last a very long time.
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