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   The Energy Bogeyman and Plastic Solar Cells
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The Energy Bogeyman and Plastic Solar Cells
« on: Oct 20th, 2008, 1:00pm »
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Either I never posted this before or the crappy YaBB search software can't find it.  I wrote this several months ago:
The Energy Bogeyman
Or Why There Is No Easy Solution
Recently I saw a blurb on some educational channel about a plastic based solar cell that used fullerenes (Buckyballs) to enhance efficiency 'dramatically'.  It took a long while to quantify 'dramatically' and not unexpectedly, the reference was 'internal', meaning it was relative to itself.  The overall efficiency, in terms of converting solar energy to electric energy, is 3-5%, vs. 15-40% for silicon-based solar cells (the 40% are very expensive and generally only show up on satellites).  I was more than a bit disappointed in the results of my research as while I do have a rather depressing attitude about alternatives (as anyone reading the article will soon find out), I do have lots of optimism that something out of the blue will make me wrong.  
However, I found recently that the plastic solar cells I just mentioned are being mass-produced in the US:  http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/21574/.  They expect to be able to produce a gigawatt's worth a year (about what a nuclear plant produces).  There are a couple of non-trivial downsides: the low efficiency and the short life time ('few' years).  However, both of those are probably amenable to improvements over time and the cost is supposed to be so much less that the cost-per-watt is as little as 1/3 that of conventional solar cells.  Not the dramatic paradigm shift that everyone hopes to see (except, of course, those who stand to lose billions with any paradigm shift), more of yet another incremental improvement that may eventually shift the tide.
As things stand now, I still think that molten salt nuclear reactors (MSR) are the way to go.  Even if something dramatic were to pop up in a few years, it likely would take a decade to make it ready for mass production, so even if it takes a couple of years to build the first commercial MSR, its output would be valuable during any transition to the new paradigm.
Oh, and how about that $50 a barrel oil and $2 gas?  No so far fetched any more, eh?  This is really going to put a dent into those who were madly investing into alternatives!
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The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
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Re: The Energy Bogeyman and Plastic Solar Cells
« Reply #1 on: Oct 20th, 2008, 10:04pm »
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I remember very well your post months ago about The Energy Bogyman. I just searched all through our Waxology here and did not find it. Maybe it will reappear when the server somewhere in the far flung islets of Langerhans finishes belching.
It would be nice to have cheaper solar cells so that more people could buy them. It's a shame they're going to be so poor in terms of performance, at least these early ones here. But as you say, if the scientists and investors keep at it, maybe there will be improvement in cheap solar power.
I had never heard of the molten salt reactor until you brought it to my attention in one of your posts. I checked it out briefly  
and see that it is quite painfully obvious that if we could get our heads out of our rear ends and build these things we could go a long way towards getting our rear ends out of the sling. But "nuclear" is no longer a word that can be reasoned about. As soon as the word "nuclear" is used, the stonewall goes up and everyone NIMBYS out. Hell, we've got tractor trailers of HAZMATS flying down the highway a quarter of a mile from here, all kinds of highway traffic but anyone watching the trucks on the highway sees all the placards... at three in the morning one hears the big rigs moaning out there on the highway, many driven by crank-mad fugue-state drivers (that's just the nature of the job for many drivers, let's face it) and a percentage of those tankers with HAZMATS. This is MBY (my back yard) 24/7. But how many people even think of this? Yet say Noo-Cu-Lar and the bells go off, the red lights flash, game over. Bogyman is the word.  
But maybe something new and different will come through. Hope springs eternal.
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