Solar: The Little Engine that Couldn’t

In Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environment, Science, The Big Picture by E. Calvin Beisner0 Comments

There are lots of dirty little secrets (though they’re increasingly widely known!) about wind and solar power, the two darlings of “Green energy” lovers:

  • high cost for low output,
  • intermittency,
  • production far below nameplate capacity,
  • heavy dependence on subsidies,
  • tendency for installations to lose efficient productive capacity long before they pay for themselves,
  • chopped or incinerated birds,
  • enormous waste of land,
  • eyesores.

But here’s one about solar power I hadn’t known before. Irina Slav reports at that solar energy can’t reproduce itself. That is, it can’t yield the power necessary to produce its own most basic ingredient:

This is a fact that few of those active in the advancement of renewable energy would be willing to acknowledge or even consider, yet a fact it is: the [fourth industrial] revolution [characterized by artificial intelligence and robots] needs energy, and at the moment, renewable sources are simply incapable of supplying energy in amounts sufficient to run all the power plants and smelters that produce the electricity to power servers around the world, and the heat to produce the materials that wind turbines, cars, and solar panels are made of. And that’s without even mentioning batteries.

Let’s take solar power. Silicon is the core element of a solar panel. First, it has to be mined. Then it has to be processed at temperatures between 1,500 and 2,000 degrees Celsius. That’s dandy, but this kind of heat can for now, only be produced from coal, oil, or gas—not from solar thermal installations. The highest temperatures that solar thermal installations can generate, according to the Energy Information Administration, is 1,380 degrees F, or 749 degrees Celsius.

One more reason why fossil fuels are going to continue to provide the vast majority of the energy humanity needs for the industrial economies that make prosperity—and health and long life—possible.

Originally published on The Stewards Blog.

Dr. Beisner is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance; former Associate Professor of Historical Theology & Social Ethics, at Knox Theological Seminary, and of Interdisciplinary Studies, at Covenant College; and author of “Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate” and “Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future.”

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