Google invests $168 million in solar energy project

By Jos
Apr 12, 2011
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  1. Google has announced it is investing $168 million in a project that is set to double the output of solar-generated electricity in the U.S. The commitment is part of the financing that BrightSource Energy needs to build solar power plant in California's Mojave Desert, which will generate 392 MW of clean energy when up and running in 2013. According to Google, that's the equivalent of taking more than 90,000 cars off the road over the projected 25-years lifetime of the plant.

    Read the whole story
  2. Raswan

    Raswan TechSpot Enthusiast Posts: 279

    Nice to see them shelling out money for this kind of venture.
  3. LinkedKube

    LinkedKube TechSpot Project Baby Posts: 4,264   +41

    This is cool. I just ordered 330 solar cells for a solar project. Nice to see more companies investing in renewable energy.
  4. Renrew

    Renrew TechSpot Enthusiast Posts: 235   +17

    There's a cleaned up Stauffer chemical superfund site down here in Tampa that would be ideal, since no houses can ever be built on it.
    Perhaps they'll be interested in building another one.
  5. lawfer

    lawfer TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,272   +90

    To think Google was just a search engine...
  6. 168 milliosn to double the output?, how little solar energy is produced.
  7. BrianUMR

    BrianUMR Newcomer, in training Posts: 44

    @Guest They are investing 168 million into the project. It doesn't mean the project doesn't have other funded. It could be a multi billion dollar project for all we know. Now the plant would generate 392 MW of power which means current solar generation must be in that range, which does seem kind of low.
  8. Cota

    Cota TechSpot Enthusiast Posts: 521   +8

    Its the solar source they will use after the holocaust to power up their exterminators :p
  9. Cota, don't consume drugs while watching bluray.
  10. I think this is great for Google to be investing money into cleaner more efficient energy. Its cheaper and safer in the long run and short run. :)
  11. Jetatt23

    Jetatt23 Newcomer, in training Posts: 28

    It's good to see that a company as large as Google is backing clean energy initiatives, but solar just doesn't have what it takes to make a difference in our infrastructure, for several reasons. What we really need is nuclear power, just ignore the media on the Fukushima accident.
     
  12. PanicX

    PanicX TechSpot Ambassador Posts: 829

    Please site your reasons and how nuclear power is better.
  13. Wendig0

    Wendig0 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,073   +75

    The only people this is cheaper for are the electric companies. The funny part is that it won't lower your electric bill at all in the near future.
  14. Why do people think that nuclear is still a good idea after all the accidents and now uninhabitable places there are because of it? I can tell you why, its because they are re-tards. We need more of these solar plants (in their many forms).

    They don't meet our needs yet but the more there are the more R&D there will be and that move their efficiency upwards from the current 8-15% efficiency.

    Wind > Solar > Wave

    Lets have all 3. Create many varied jobs and not have to find a 3rd world country to dump our toxic waste.
  15. Tedster

    Tedster Techspot old timer..... Posts: 10,074   +13

    global warming is a wet fart.
  16. Yeah, way to spend 168mil on bull**** Intel. Power/cost is very small, it's not worth building. I would rather put that money towards education...
  17. Jetatt23

    Jetatt23 Newcomer, in training Posts: 28

    Most of my information comes from the Electrical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering students at my school, but I'll do my best. It's also hard to put all the information into a comment on a news article lol.

    At any rate, solar is simply impractical because it only works when there is direct sunlight. Even if solar were to become the primary power source, at night alternate power methods would be required to replace it, or batteries developed to store the energy. That many batteries would probably have a larger negative impact on the environment then what the solar energy would displace (That's my own assertion)

    Not only that, the amount of power collected from solar is minuscule, comparatively. The amount of land used would be immense to power our needs. Looking at (http://solarbythewatt.com/2009/03/09/solar-energy-land-area-efficiency-or-how-much-acres-per-mw-kwp-per-acre/) and the wiki for energy in the US: Annually we require 29*10^9 MWh of energy, and the assuming 10 acres per MW, (converts to .001 acre per MWh), we can roughly say 29 million acres are required. This means 45,000 sq. miles of solar panes are required, or 1.2% of the entire land area of the U.S. However, there are also power losses in transmitting the energy from wherever the solar plants are located, so the 1.2% easily becomes 2 or more percent, since these plants will probably be located in remote areas.

    There is also cost to consider. This project from NREL http://www.nrel.gov/csp/solarpaces/project_detail.cfm/projectID=20 for a plant in Las Vegas will roughly cost, over an assumed lifetime of 30 years, $66/MWh, and that excludes maintenance costs. From the figure above, it would thus require roughly $2 Trillion to set up enough solar plants, and the efficiency at this Vegas plant will be higher than most, due to annual sunshine. This wiki article demonstrates the concept well enough, I believe http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_cost_of_electricity_generated_by_different_sources
    The kicker is that all of the coal plants are already assembled, though, and any solar would be required to start from scratch.

    For nuclear power, the above chart shows it is also cheaper than solar. Nuclear is also safe (not to say solar isn't, but that's usually the sticking point for anti-nuclear). The news about Fukushima is exaggerated. A quick explanation of nuclear reactors and what happened at Fukushima can be found here: http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/13/fukushima-simple-explanation/ Also to be noted, the reactors that failed suffered one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history (more than 10 times larger than the 1906 San Francisco fire), and they were generation 1 reactors. We are up to generation 4, now. And an event like Chernobyl can never happen, as that reactor did not have a containment vessel (it was the earliest designed type), and any regulation agency would supervise the plant's operation to make sure it didn't (experiments were being done on the reactor when it happened). And, interestingly enough, coal power plants emit more radiation than nuclear plants: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste

    With a focus on nuclear, the costs would be brought down even further, and it is also a carbon-free industry. Uranium-235, used now for nuclear plants, isn't even the most efficient fuel for power generation. It's use is only due to the nuclear weapons program, and U235 is better for weapons so they just used it for power as well. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle#Advantages_as_a_nuclear_fuel) The problem of nuclear waste can be mitigated using breeder reactors (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breeder_reactor).

    This is about the best I can put together, since I'm just a physics major myself, but I hope I encourage some thinking. Thanks for reading
  18. PanicX

    PanicX TechSpot Ambassador Posts: 829

    Good post. Some points of debate.
    Molten Salt Solar collectors are capable of producing energy throughout the night by using the high thermal retention properties of molten salt.
    Sicily's Molten Salt Solar Plant

    I tried to view your link at solarbythewatt, but my anti-virus detects malicious software attempting to install itself when accessing the site.
    29*10^9 MWh = 29 petawatts
    US uses 442GWh annually according to WolframAlpha
    Also doing the math in the article I linked earlier, that solar plant produces
    .067 Mhw per acre, which would require 6.6 million acres or 10,313 sq. miles. ( I cant make sense of your 10 acres per MWh = .001MWh). Also note that the solar plant info you link to below shows .175 MWh per acre.

    Solar farms loss of power by resistance from distance is applicable also to nuclear plants, as no one wants a nuclear reactor in their neighborhood.


    In your relative costs link, Solar Thermal costs are based on 18% capacity. I'm not sure why this, I assume expected output based on direct sunlight, and would expect that capacity would be greatly enhanced on molten salt solar collectors. If capacity was brought in line with that of nuclear, the costs would be near half that of nuclear.
    I'm also not sure what already assembled coal power plants have to do with nuclear being superior to solar.
    I agree that Fukushima is a rare and tragic event. But the point still stands that in an absolute worse case scenario, with nuclear power you're looking at radiation poisoning that can affect the globe, whats the worse case scenario with solar plants? Localized plant explosion? Mirrors blinding pilots?

    I think the breeder reactor is a fantastic advancement of nuclear power but truth be told it doesn't eliminate radioactive waste, but simply reduces it. And according to this wikipedia article, breeder reactors would cost significatly more to operate than current nuclear facilities.
    I'm also concerned about the possible impacts / costs of creating the thorium or uranium fuel these reactors start with but haven't seen any information relating to it. The relative costs link you posted earlier doesn't detail if the fuel costs are for obtaining or creating the fuel, I'd expect its for obtaining as nuclear fuel creation is a strictly monitored process, and therefore doesn't detail the possible impact generated by it.

    By the way, I'm not an expert on this subject and have learned more about it by reading your comments and researching responses based on my logic/intuition. I don't assume to know if nuclear is superior to solar, but welcome the debate about it.
     
  19. Jetatt23

    Jetatt23 Newcomer, in training Posts: 28

    Your bring up some good points in your reply. I honestly didn't consider other forms of solar generation other than photovoltaics (PC) since my school does a lot of work with NREL. I apologize for the faulty link, there. It summarized that it requires about 10 acres to produce a MW.

    The confusion here, or at least to me, is the discrepancy of units between a Watt and a Watt-hour. A Watt is a measure of energy per unit time, usually a second, so saying that it requires 10 acres to produce a Megawatt is saying 10 acres produce 10 million Joules of energy per second. A watt-hour is energy over an hour, so the 10 acres per MW to .001acres/MWh accounts for the discrepancy in the unit change there.

    As far as the discrepancy in the number I used for my land area calculation, I went to Wolphram alpha and entered "United States Power Consumption" and it said "Result =3.873trillion kWh/yr", I believe the 442.1 GW at the bottom is an example of unit conversion, and pulling from wikipedia and DOE, I believe the 3.873trillion kWh/yr (or 3.873*10^15 Wh/yr.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_the_United_States states 29PWh (29*10^15 Wh) in 2005 (wolfram uses 2008). DOE: http://www.eia.gov/emeu/aer/pdf/pages/sec1_13.pdf interestingly enough, it seems wolfram is a factor of 10 off of the DOE numbers, and given the wolframalpha's source is wolframalpha's database. I'll let you draw your own conclusion there.

    The transmission point you retaliated is also a good point, but I was just trying to gage roughly how much land area is needed. The energy density for nuclear is much higher, so it isn't much of a concern, but that is true. It's just the idea of putting all the solar fields in the sunniest regions and exporting the energy would lead to greater inefficiencies.

    As for the capacity factor, I tracked the chart back to the Department of Energy to figure out what it means. In brief, it states that it is the availability of the technology to produce power at any given time. So the solar technologies, both PV and thermal, are comparatively low due to weather, day/night cycles, and the ability of the plant to meet demands when required. So technologies like natural gas combustion-driven turbines are ranked 30% because they are only used at peak times, so operators shut them off when they aren't needed. The report specifies that "intermittent reliables" are not operator driven, so I think they run them whenever they can. Increasing these factors much higher than where they currently are will be exceedingly difficult, given the efficiencies of the technologies and percentage of sunny weather. Link to full article is here http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/electricity_generation.html

    As far as nuclear worst-case disasters go, the newer generation reactors are designed to prevent these even better. As I was said before, the technology has made leaps and bounds in the past 40 years since most of the current reactors were put in place, making them even safer then before. While there is an inherent risk with the power plants, my personal belief is that the events at Fukushima are probably the worst-case possible with current technologies, but that is open to debate. As far as the costs of the enrichment process, I'm not entirely sure about that myself, but I believe that would fall into the cost per kWh in the DOE/wiki table I referenced, as well as the cost of fuel per kWh.

    I've kind of spent the extent of my knowledge on the subject, but I hope I've helped a little bit. Don't get me wrong, as soon as I can afford to I'm installing solar for my own use, and believe anyone who can, should, but until a new infrastructure can be brought about, I believe nuclear is the best option, if even only an intermediary one.
  20. Wendig0

    Wendig0 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,073   +75

    Well said Jetatt. I'm also a big supporter of nuclear energy over solar. Solar for personal use, however, I understand completely. Most of the people in my neighborhood have huge solar panels on their rooftops to heat their swimming pools, drastically reducing their energy costs.


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