We're being bombarded with stories about how great solar power will be. Here's one which compares it to nuclear power:
After a month of chin-stroking, the UK Government has after all decided to give the go-ahead for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
Now Hinkley C’s backers, the French company EDF and China General Nuclear - both state owned - can start to spend the eyewatering £18 billion (excluding finance costs) it’ll probably cost to build it.
As we’ve pointed out before, that price tag makes Hinkley C the most expensive object ever built on Earth (to say nothing of the £30 billion of subsidy it’ll tie up until the year 2060, by which time Mrs May would be 104 years old).
Hinkley’s biggest problem has always been this albatross of a pricetag, particularly when you stop to think about what that much money could do somewhere else (otherwise known as the ‘opportunity cost’).
What else would £18 billion get you?
You could put a 4kW solar panel on at least 2.9 million households - enough to meet the power needs of the average 3 bedroom home. That’s at today’s prices, too - about £6,500 per installation. Hinkley won’t even start generating for ten years - how much will costs have dropped by then alone? Solar is 70% cheaper than it was a decade ago already, and even conservative estimates expects it to keep on getting 10% cheaper every year. All of which makes that 2.9 million a considerable underestimate.
That’s what you could get for the £18 billion construction cost. And Hinkley’s £30 billion subsidy would also go further if used for solar. The Solar Trade Association says you could get the same amount of power as Hinkley for half the total subsidy cost, because of the ludicrously privileged deal carved out to encourage EDF to go ahead with the plant in the first place.
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It's almost "too cheap to meter" all over again. Sounds great, right?
But now consider this:
The planet’s air conditioning system is on the blink, working intermittently, losing its glinting, lustrous white reflectiveness, as it turns deep blue, absorbing 90% of sunlight rather than reflecting it back into outer space. The repercussions of Arctic sea ice loss are immense.
“Our planet has actually changed colour,” Peter Wadhams, A Farewell to Ice (Allen Lane an imprint of Penguin Books, 2016). Loss of Arctic sea ice has such an overriding powerful impact on the planet, it warrants this 206-page book. “It is Man’s first major achievement in reshaping the face of his planet, and it is of course an unintended achievement, with dubious and possibly catastrophic consequences to follow.”
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The optimal solar power solution might be to cover the entire planet with 100% efficient solar cells. They would capture all the available energy from the sun and turn it into "free" electricity. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
Not really. All that captured sunlight, converted into electricity, represents an enormous amount of energy which once captured will STAY in the ecosphere and troposphere until radiated back into space. As discussed in A Farewell To Ice, absorbing formerly reflected sunlight creates an additional energy input which adds to the earth's rate of temperature rise ... perhaps dramatically.
Bottom line? Almost no matter what we do, we're going to be cooked. Literally.
The only way to reverse this is to STOP adding energy to the ecosphere and troposphere. And the only way to do that is to go back to the Stone Age before the discovery of fire.
In (im)practical terms, that would require getting all the humans off this planet.
That appears to be Jeff Bezos' plan, but considering the fact it now costs at least $10,000 per pound to get anything or anyone off this planet, it's unlikely to happen any time soon.