The Future of Nuclear Power. Stephen Ansolabehere et al. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003. http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/
Making the World Safe for Nuclear Energy. John Deutch, Arnold Kanter, Ernest Moniz and Daniel Poneman in Survival, Vol. 46, No. 4, pages 65-79; December 2004. www.iiss.org/publications/survival
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: www.nrc.gov
J Extended temporary storage of waste should be an integral part of the disposal strategy.
□ Thanks to advances in technology, renewable sources could soon become large contributors to global energy.
□ To hasten the transition, the U.S. must significantly boost its R&D spending on energy.
□ The U.S. should also levy a fee on carbon to reward clean energy sources over those that harm the environment.
No plan to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions can succeed through increases in energy efficiency alone. Because economic growth continues to boost the demand for energy— more coal for powering new factories, more oil for fueling new cars, more natural gas for heating new homes—carbon emissions will keep climbing despite the introduction of more energy-efficient vehicles, buildings and appliances. To counter the alarming trend of global warming, the U.S. and other countries must make a major commitment to developing renewable energy sources that generate little or no carbon.
Renewable energy technologies were suddenly and briefly fashionable three decades ago in response to the oil embargoes of the 1970s, but the interest and support were not sustained. In recent years, however, dramatic improvements in the performance and afford-ability of solar cells, wind turbines and biofuels—ethanol and other fuels derived from plants—have paved the way for mass commercialization. In addition to their environmental benefits, renewable sources promise to enhance America's energy security by reducing the country's reliance on fossil fuels from other nations. What is more, high and wildly fluctuating prices for oil and natural gas have made renewable alternatives more appealing.
▼ A world of clean energy could rely on wind turbines and solar cells to generate its electricity and biofuels derived from switchgrass and other plants to power its vehicles.
portunities for renewable energy are unprecedented, making this the ideal time to advance clean power for decades to come. But the endeavor will require a long-term investment of scientific, economic and political resources. Policymakers and ordinary citizens must demand action and challenge one another to hasten the transition.
Let the Sun Shine solar cells, also known as photovoltaics, use semiconductor materials to convert sunlight into electric current. They now provide just a tiny slice of the world's electricity: their global generating capacity of 5,000 megawatts (MW) is only 0.15 percent of the total generating capacity from all sources. Yet sunlight could potentially supply 5,000 times as much energy as the world currently consumes. And thanks to technology improvements, cost declines and favorable policies in many states and nations, the annual production of photovoltaics has increased by more than 25 percent a year for the past decade and by a remarkable 45 percent in 2005. The cells manufactured last year added 1,727 MW to worldwide generating capacity, with 833 MW made in Japan, 353 MW in Germany and 153 MW in the U. S.
Solar cells can now be made from a range of materials, from the traditional multicrystalline silicon wafers that still dominate the market to thin-film silicon cells and devices composed of plastic or organic semiconductors. Thin-film photo-voltaics are cheaper to produce than crystalline silicon cells but are also less efficient at turning light into power. In laboratory tests, crystalline cells have achieved efficiencies of 30 percent or more; current commercial cells of this type range from 15 to 20 percent. Both laboratory and commercial efficiencies for all kinds of solar cells have risen steadily in recent years, indicating that an expansion of research efforts would further enhance the performance of solar cells on the market.
Solar photovoltaics are particularly easy to use because they can be installed in so many places— on the roofs or walls of homes and office buildings, in vast arrays in the desert, even sewn into clothing to power portable electronic devices. The state of California has joined Japan and Germany in leading a global push for solar installations; the "Million Solar Roof" commitment is intended to create 3,000 MW of new generating capacity in the state by 2018. Studies done by my research group, the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, show that annual production of solar photovoltaics in the U.S. alone could grow to 10,000 MW in just 20 years if current trends continue.
Global generating capacity of solar power
Top efficiency of experimental solar cells
20 to 25 cents
The biggest challenge will be lowering the price of the photovoltaics, which are now relatively expensive to manufacture. Electricity produced by crystalline cells has a total cost of 20 to 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with four to six cents for coal-fired electricity, five to seven cents for power produced by burning natural gas, and six to nine cents for biomass power plants. (The cost of nuclear power is harder to pin down because experts disagree on which expenses to include in the analysis; the estimated range is two to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.) Fortunately, the prices of solar cells have fallen consistently over the past decade, largely because of improvements in manufacturing processes. In Japan, where 290 MW of solar generating capacity were added in 2005 and an even larger amount was exported, the cost of photovoltaics has declined 8 percent a year; in California, where 50 MW of solar power were installed in 2005, costs have dropped 5 percent annually.
Surprisingly, Kenya is the global leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita (but not the number of watts added). More than 30,000 very small solar panels, each producing only 12 to 30 watts, are sold in that country annually. For an investment of as little as $100 for the panel and wiring, the system can be used to charge a car battery, which can then provide enough power to run a fluorescent lamp or a small black-and-white television for a few hours a day. More Kenyans adopt solar power every year than make connections to the country's electric grid. The panels typically use solar cells made of amorphous silicon; although these photovoltaics are only half as efficient as crystalline cells, their cost is so much lower (by a factor of at least four) that they are more affordable and useful for the two billion people worldwide who currently have no access to electricity. Sales of small solar power systems are booming in other African nations as well, and advances in low-cost photovoltaic manufacturing could accelerate this trend.
Furthermore, photovoltaics are not the only fast-growing form of solar power. Solar-thermal systems, which collect sunlight to generate heat, are also undergoing a resurgence. These systems have long been used to provide hot water for homes or factories, but they can also produce electricity without the need for expensive solar cells. In one design, for example, mirrors focus light on a Stirling engine, a high-efficiency device containing a working fluid that circulates between hot and cold chambers. The fluid expands as the sunlight heats it, pushing a piston that, in turn, drives a turbine.
In the fall of 2005 a Phoenix company called Stirling Energy Systems
GROWING FAST, BUT STILL A SLIVER
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