Keith – Solar Footprint

Keith - Solar Footprint

Keith sayd that he had long been skeptical about the solar hype. ‘I was wrong’.

The solar hype is getting real. For a long time, Harvard professor David Keith was skeptical about solar energy. But now he admitted he was wrong.

Keith: “Solar energy is very cheap and it can change the future of the global energy supply within a decade.”

Keith no longer skeptical

Keith sayd that he had long been skeptical about the solar hype. The industry was subsidized and financed with tax for a long period. The Harvard professor could not believe that energy from the sun would be cheap enough to own a significant role in the electricity supply.

“I was wrong,” he admitted in his blog.

Watch the video

Prices dropped. The electricity costs from large-scale solar installations are now under the most favorable conditions: 4 cents per kWh. By 2020, Keith calculates, the prices can easily drop to 2 cents per kWh.

From the message

‘(…) That’s the good news. But cheap solar does not deal with the problem of solar power’s intermittency. It does not mean rooftop solar in New England makes sense. It does not magically decarbonize the world. In the long run we need low-carbon dispatchable power in the world’s demand centers. This will require some combination of gas for peaking, storage, and long distance transmission.

Lots of the world’s demand is in places where insolation is at least 40% less than in the best locations, which are parts of Mexico, Southern-California, the Mid-East, or Australia. But it does mean that one can now build systems in the world’s sunny locations and get very cheap power. (…)’

2 trends

Keith identified two trends.

  1. In sunny places, solar energy will play a major role in the electricity market. In the middle of the day, this means cheaper power (which is already going on in California); wind energy, nuclear energy and CO2 capture and storage are struggling to compete with Sun and gas is important to compensate for the fall in energy supply.
  2. It is possible to transport the energy to places where power is cheap. Energy-intensive industries can settle in sunny spots. For example: with cheap solar energy can be used for the production of affordable CO2-neutral transport fuel – such as Exxon Methanol-to-Gasoline

‘(…) Climate is not the only problem: energy systems have other social and environmental costs, and the land footprint of energy is a good proxy for environmental impacts on water, landscapes, and the natural world.

My view is that only two forms of energy – solar and nuclear power – can plausibly supply tens of TW without a huge environmental impact. But that’s a topic for future posts. For now, let’s celebrate the last decade’s progress towards cheap solar. (…)’

Keith wrote the blog as an introduction to the free online course ‘Energy within environmental constraints’ (through EDX, starting June 8, 2016)


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