The foundation is being laid for the emergence of wind and solar cells as cornerstones of the new energy economy. The growth in world wind generating capacity from 7,600 megawatts in 1997 to 9,600 in 1998 was concentrated in a handful of countries. Germany led the way, adding 790 megawatts of capacity followed by Spain with 380 megawatts, Denmark with 308 megawatts, and the United States with 326 megawatts. Within the developing world, India is the unquestioned leader with more than 900 megawatts of generating capacity in operation. With the help of the Dutch, China began operation in 1998 of its first commercial wind farm, a 24-megawatt project in Inner Mongolia.
In 1998, sales of solar cells jumped 21 percent. Growth is being fueled by a new photovoltaic roofing material that generates electricity. In Japan nearly 7,000 rooftop solar systems were installed in 1998. The new coalition government in Germany announced the goal of 100,000 solar roofs. In response Royal Dutch Shell and Pilkington Solar International are together building the world's largest solar cell manufacturing facility in Germany. Italy joined in with a goal of 10,000 solar rooftops.
While oil and coal use have expanded by just over 1% annually since 1990, use of solar cells have expanded by 16% and wind power by 26%. Wind power already supplies 8% of Denmark's electricity, 15% of Germany's Schleswig-Holstein, and 23% of Spain's northern state of Navarra (up from 0% in only 3 years). Worldwide, wind power potential is several times more than hydropower, which now supplies 1/5 of the world's electricity. June 1998 World Watch Institute
From page 314 we find that in 1993 total US fuel use was 4.78 x 10e24 sej increasing about 2% per year ever since). From page 187 we find that total net solar radiation absorption for Alaska and the lower 48 was 4.48 x 10e22 sej. In other words, the US is presently using fossil fuels more than 100 times greater than the total absorption of solar radiation across the entire US!
So-called "renewable" energy systems are evaluated differently than "nonrenewable" energy systems. In order to be "renewable", an energy system must produce enough net energy to reproduce itself.
Different kinds of energy have different "qualities". For example, a BTU of coal is fundamentally different than a BTU of wood. Coal contains more energy per pound than wood, which makes coal more efficient to store and transport than wood. Oil has a higher energy content per unit weight and burns at a higher temperature than coal; it is easier to transport, and can be used in internal combustion engines. A diesel locomotive wastes only one-fifth the energy of a coal-powered steam engine to pull the same train. Oil's many advantages provide 1.3 to 2.45 times more economic value per kilocalorie than coal.
Directly and indirectly it takes about 1,000 kilocal of sunlight to make a kilocalorie of organic matter, about 40,000 to make a kilocalorie of coal, about 170,000 kilocal to make a kilocalorie of electrical power, and 10 million or more to support a typical kilocalorie of human service. So when renewable energy systems are evaluated, both inputs and outputs must be converted to solar eMjoules (or "sej") and compared. (There are ten different sets of equations to convert energy to sej: http://dieoff.com/emergy.pdf ) The difference between the sej input and sej output is known as the "net sej".
Calculations show that solar cells consume twice as much sej as they produce. http://dieoff.com/pv.htm So even if all the energy produced were put back into production, then one can only build half as many cells each generation -- they are not sustainable. Even if the sej efficiency of solar cells doubled, ALL of the energy produced would have to be used to manufacture new cells, which still leaves a zero net benefit to society!
Traditional measures of "net energy" for solar cells may be improving but "net sej" may be getting worse because there are ten different sets of equations to convert energy to sej. The only way to know is to DO THE STUDY. http://dieoff.com/emergy.pdf
H.T. Odum's solar "eMergy" (eMbodied energy) measures all of the energy (adjusted for quality) that went into the production of a product. Odum's calculations show that the only forms of alternative energy that can survive the exhaustion of fossil fuel are biomass (burning wood, animal dung, or peat), hydroelectric, geothermal in volcanic areas, and some wind electrical generation. Nuclear power could be viable if one could overcome the shortage of fuel. No other alternatives (e.g., solar voltaic) produce a large enough net sej to be sustainable. In short, there is no way out.
The fact that our society can not survive alternative energy should come as no surprise, because only an idiot would believe that windmills and solar panels can run bulldozers, elevators, steel mills, glass factories, electric heat, air conditioning, aircraft, automobiles, etc., AND still have enough energy left over to support a corrupt political system, armies, etc.
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