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and media commentators have taken lately to recommending actions for mitigating climate instability driven by rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions. All too frequently the message is crafted in a stark contrast, concluding that solar photovoltaics are far too expensive and land expansive, while nuclear power already is proven as a safe and affordable climate-friendly option.1 The reporters imply that the public’s preference for solar over nuclear by a 5 to 1 margin is misguided and policymakers should disregard this naïve public sentimentality. This is exactly what Congress and the Administration are doing in the recurring energy legislation, lavishing more subsidies and regulatory relaxation for revitalizing a moribund nuclear industry while grossly underfunding the promising opportunities of PV. For nuclear to displace all coal worldwide by 2100 would require constructing a 100 MW nuclear reactor every 10 hours for the entire century! The high nuclear fuel demand would require reprocessing plutonium for use in breeder reactors by 2050, resulting in some 5 million kilograms of plutonium, the equivalent of 500,000 atomic bombs, annually circulating in global commerce. The majority of these reactors would be sited in developing countries.2 It is inconceivable in a post 9/11 terrorist-threatened world, when Homeland Security and U.S. military tax expenditures exceed a trillion dollars every 30 months, and the Administration issues veiled threats to invade Iran over its nuclear reactor program, that anyone could advocate power plants that double as military targets and atom bomb factories.
See, for example: Gary Becker, The Nuclear Option, Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2005; Gary Becker, Nuclear Power: Has its Time Come (Again)?, May 1, 2005, www.becker-posner-blog.com/archives/2005/05/ nuclear_power_h.html; John Ritch, “The Key to Our Energy Future,” Washington Post, April 26, 2005; Nicholas Kristof, “Nukes Are Green,” New York Times, April 9, 2005; Thomas Friedman, “Geo-Greening by Example,” New York Times, March 27, 2005; and in relation to coal sequestration, Thomas HomerDixon and Friedmann,“Coal in a Nice Shade of Green”, New York Times, March 25, 2005; Peter Huber & Mark Mills, “Why the U.S. Needs More Nuclear Power,” City Journal, Winter 2005, www.manhattaninstitute.org/; Peter Schwartz and Spencer Reiss, How clean, green atomic energy can stop global warming, WIRED, Feb. 2005, www.wired.com/; Andrew Oswald & Jim Oswald, “The Arithmetic of Renewable Energy,” Accountancy journal, October 2004; Richard Meserve, “Global Warming and Nuclear Power, Science, V. 3, p. 303, January 23, 2005; Michael McCarthy, 'Lovelock: Only nuclear power can now halt global warming', Independent, May 24, 2004, www.energybulletin.net/newswire.php?id=320. 2 Robert Williams, Nuclear and Alternative Energy Supply Options for an Environmentally Constrained World: A Long-Term Perspective, April 2001, NCI Conference on “Nuclear Power and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons: Can We Have One Without the Other?”
Instead, 21st century energy systems should be uninteresting attack targets, and when they fail, fail gracefully, not catastrophically. (According to congressional documents, a large reactor accident would cause $300 billion in damage).3 And they certainly shouldn’t be dual-use civilian-military facilities that pose ever-present risks and threats. In sharp contrast, PV power is the perfect 21st century energy system. Tellingly, a kilogram of silicon in a solar cell will generate as much electricity as a kilogram of radioactive plutonium in a reactor, but not require millennia of storage protection against contamination at the end of its useful life.4 Readers of Solar Today know that PV is not land limited. Even with today’s 10% efficient PV modules all of America’s annual electricity and fuels consumption could be generated on an area the same size as currently dedicated to US military bases (30 million acres).5 It also has been estimated that nearly 60% of U.S. electricity could be satisfied through Building-Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) solar systems, which not only supply electricity but also serves as façade and cladding materials of the building, displacing costs for polished stone or aluminum panels.6 Nor is the current high cost of PV a fixed reality. PV costs declined 60-fold since the 1960s. To compete against all other sources of electricity will require an additional sixto 10-fold reduction. It is unimaginable that this will not be accomplished in the unfolding revolutionary era of nanotechnology, solid-state electronic innovations and biomaterial advances.7 Indeed, one of the most exciting potential breakthroughs for dramatically lowering PV manufacturing costs was detailed in the October 2004 NREL-sponsored study by HP engineer Marvin Keshner and former BP solar engineer Rajeev Arya.8 The key to achieving competitive PV systems (i.e., $1 per Watt fully installed) is to use a similar cluster production model employed so successfully in achieving breakthrough cost reductions and extraordinary productivity gains in Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) manufacturing.
Sandia National Lab report, 1982, released by U.S. Congressman Edward Markey, Subcommittee Chairman, Energy and Commerce Committee, in 1982$. 4 Robert Willams, Princeton Center for Energy & Environmental Studies, 1988 5 Larry Kazmerski, Dispelling the 7 Myths of Solar Electricity, 2001, National Renewable Energy Lab, www.nrel.gov/docs/fy01osti/30280.pdf. 6 Ken Zweibel, PV as a Major Source of Global Electricity, Feb. 24, 2004, National Renewable Energy Lab, www.nrel.gov/ncpv/thin_film/general.html. 7 Arthur J. Nozik, Third Generation Solar Photon Conversion: High Efficiency through Multiple Exciton Generation in Quantum Dots, presentation, Rice University, Energy & Nanotech Workshop, Oct. 17, 2004, http://cnst.rice.edu/conference_energy.cfm?doc_id=5168; Arthur J. Nozik, Advanced Concepts for Photovoltaic Cells, Center for Basic Sciences, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Nation Center for Photovoltaics (NCPV) and Solar Program Review Meeting 2003, NREL/CD-520-33586, www.nrel.gov/ncpv; 2003 Peer Review of the DOE Photovoltaic Subprogram, September 2003, www.eere.doe.gov/. 8 M.S. Keshner and R. Arya, Study of Potential Reductions Resulting from Super-Large-Scale Manufacturing of PV Modules, National Renewable Energy Lab Report NREL/SR-520-36846, October 2004, http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/thin_film/.
The “Solar City Factory”, as they call it, is designed to produce 2 to 3.5 GWpeak of solar panels per year—100 times the volume of a typical, thin-film, solar panel manufacturer in 2003, and more than 4 times the volume of the entire solar panel industry in 2003. As Keshner & Arya summarize, “At the price of $1.00 per peak watt for a complete and installed system, the payback time in states like California is under 5 years. Therefore, we expect the demand for solar energy systems to explode…. With a 30 year lifetime, assuming 6% interest, a solar farm costing $1.00 per peak watt installed will generate electricity at…$0.03 per kWh across much of the U.S.” There are technical challenges to be addressed, but “none appears to require a new invention, but focused R&D investments in these areas for a few years will be necessary.” And therein lies the crux. Given the historically skewed federal support for nuclear ($169 billion) versus all solar electric technologies ($5 billion) between 1943 and 1999 (in 2005$), the outpacing of nuclear over solar was not surprising.9 But given a looming century of violent conflicts, undetectable weapons of mass destruction carried in suitcases or triggered remotely via internet, or civilian airplanes malevolently used, it seems undeniable that our times call for superceding such ill-advised “atoms for peace” campaigns of decades past with a “PV for Prosperity” drive for decades to come. Instead of maintaining archaic components of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that bizarrely promote nuclear reactors to developing countries, instead we need a PV Proliferation plan activated worldwide. It is simply unconscionable not to do so given the incredible scientific and technological gains in diverse research fields offering continuous spillover knowledge for accelerating PV learning curves. Globally, $568 billion per year will be invested through 2030 to expand large power plants (mainly coal and natural gas fueled, and hydro dams), transmission lines, and remote foreign oil exploration, extraction and pipelines.10 This expansion is backed by significant government subsidies exceeding several hundred billion dollars per year. And the energy-triggered health and environmental externalities well exceed several hundred billion dollars per year. According to a recent review of power externality studies, the mean values of externality cost from coal (16¢/kWh) and nuclear (9¢/kWh) are 16 and 9 times higher than PV (1¢/kWh), respectively.11 PV leadership can achieve multiple benefits for humanity for decades to come – eliminating the menacing threats of disruption to our daily power needs, while offering climate protection, cleaner air and water, all at long-term financially attractive prices.
Marshall Goldberg, Federal Energy Subsidies: Not All Technologies Are Created Equal, Renewable Energy Policy Project, July 2000, www.repp.org/. 10 Worldwide, meeting projected demand will entail cumulative investment of some $16 trillion from 2003 to 2030, or $568 billion per year. The electricity sector will absorb the majority of this investment. International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2004, www.iea.org/. 11 Thomas Sundqvist, Power Generation Choice in the Presence of Environmental Externalities, Doctoral Thesis, Lulea University of Technology, 2002, p. 3, http://epubl.ltu.se/1402-1544/2002/26/. All monetary estimates converted to 2005$.
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