Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Ellicott City, MD
Re: Future cars
I'd say just regular fusion would be nice...but I don't see that happening to soon. The international fusion reactor I don't think is scheduled to be operational for another 15 years or so and a commercial fusion reactor is looking at something like 2040 or 2050 for operation.
In the meantime (and in case fusion never becomes viable) a switch to solar, wind and tidal/wave power can cover our bases on energy needs. Maybe not tomorrow, but if there was some real investment in it, it could cover our growing power needs and even start to take over some of the old power plants.
Estimated power use is 10.7 billion KW hours per day in the US for 2007. The cost to convert that to all solar would stand at between 1-5 trillion dollars if we converted over EVERY single power generator to solar. If we just convert the coal and natural gas power plants and leave the hydro and nuke plants for now we would be looking at maybe $600 billion to 2 trillion. Also since you would be talking a HUGE economy of scale to produce the solar cells or other solar energy systems such as solar evaporative generation (use mirrors to turn water to steam and turn a turbine) it might well cost less.
So what I am really saying is that the total cost could MAYBE be the total cost of a little foreign excursion our country has been dallying in for the last few years. So total electrical independence from oil, coal and natural gas for that cost instead.
I will grant you it could cost more, because if everything was solar you would also have to invest money in battery arrays to store the electricity at night and so on, but I bet you could convert the fossil fuel over to just solar or a mix of solar and wind/tidal for less then $2 trillion. A huge expense by anyones concept of it, but it does pay for itself over time.
Coal costs around 2-3 cents per killowatt hour for power plants and about 4-6 cents for natural gas. Combine that with lower maitenance on power plants since solar would require much less then coal/oil/natural gas installations and lets call it 5 cents a killowatt hour power companies would save. That works out to $300 million a day that power companies would save if they converted all coal, oil and gas power plants to solar (about 60% of our electricity generation). Sure it takes awhile to add up to $2 trillion, but eventually it does about 20-25 years down the road the power companies will have broken even and be making money off the conversion. Through in incentives like the gov't providing some tax breaks for conversion, allow power companies to charge more for green electricity (most do) and they could easily hit the break even much, much sooner.
I doubt we have the solar cell production capacity to suddenly convert everything tomorrow, but I bet we could handle the new capacity we would need every year (around 2% growth a year) shortly and start taking up some of the old use within a few years...especially if there is big investment it could probably start being converted now to some degree and have all fossil fuel plants off line and solar/wind/tidal online to replace it within 20 years.
In the process it would bring solar volatic cell prices down from the greater mass production, and maybe even some innovations in efficiency if there are any, along the way and residential solar systems will likely become more attractive.
On my next house I plan on doing a solar installation, with all do-it-myself work at current prices it would run me around $16k for a 3kw system, which depending on the size of the home and how efficient I can make the home should cover my electricity needs completely, and during the summer when production is higher (more sunny days and longer days) I could sell some of it back to the power companies. An average of 300 sunny or hazy days a year and an average of 7 hours of sun on each of those days nets 6300kw/hrs a year, or a savings of about $800 a year on my electricity bill...about 20 years to pay itself back, assuming no tax breaks on the system. Since this whole thing is a few years down the road (5-8) prices are almost deffinitely going to be lower and I bet I could hit a pay back of 12 years by then. Heck throw in if there are plenty of plug in hybrids or full electric vehicles by then and I would be saving a heck of a lot more per year. As I mentioned before, a 1kw system should save around $1000 per year in gas costs, and since there would be an existing solar electric system expanding it for an extra 1kw of capacity gets about an extra $4000 in cost today...or a pay back of 4 years for the portion to charge the vehicle. Even if I am being optimistic and you would need 2kw to charge the vehicle for a 30 mile trip you get a pay back in 8 years for the car (call it 13 years TODAY for the payback to charge an electric/plug in hybrid and power your house, and after the pay back it would be like having an extra $1800 a year in my pocket, and feeling better about myself).
Anyway, my 2 cents.