My Controversial Silicon Valley Viewpoint: Solar Won’t Save Humanity

My view of smog above San Francisco on Twin Peaks.
 

Can Solar Power Save Us?

A lot of friends ask me if “Solar power can save us?”

The answer to this is quite complex, but it is no.

In Silicon Valley, when I voice this viewpoint, I am viewed as a heretic who doesn’t know anything, so I figure it’s worth pointing out the reasoning behind why I am anti-solar and outlining some of its clear and prevalent flaws.

Millions Die From Air Pollution Each Year

1/6 human deaths on planet earth today are linked to air pollution and as such energy, how we get it, where its sourced from, and the pollution outflow all become relevant topics.

11 Things That Make Solar Power Deadly to Humanity

Solar power has 11 characteristics that make them bad investments today and for the foreseeable future from both a monetary and environmental perspective.

1. Toxic Fabrication & Transport

Purifying silicon is toxic for the environment. Most of the power behind creating solar panels is created from hydrocarbon rich sources. The panels are mostly manufactured in china and shipped on diesel ships across the ocean.

Source: https://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/solar/solar-energy-isnt-always-as-green-as-you-think

2. Relies on Natural Gas Peaking.

When the sun goes down, the only way to compensate for this is by building up trillions of dollars worth of bad batteries or instead of this, most grids simply plug into natural gas peaking. Natural gas peaking plants are one of the few energy sources that can turn on a 2 to 3 second flip.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2017/12/31/natural-gas-is-the-flexibility-needed-for-more-wind-and-solar/

3. Slow and Groaning Growth

The use of renewables as a percentage of total world energy consumption only increased by <0.10% from the 1970’s to 2010. Great energy transitions by civilizations take 30–50 years plus. Renewables are still <2% of total energy production on planet earth today.

Source: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/vaclav-smil-e2809cthe-great-hope-for-a-quick-and-sweeping-transition-to-renewable-energy-is-wishful-thinkinge2809d/

4. Batteries Won’t Come Around Fast Enough

Innovating batteries will take generations and we should pour billions at the problem. In the meantime, 200K Indians die each month and air pollution kills 9M people a year and fast growing. A lot of web developers and physicists(people who don’t study chemistry) tell me that battery innovation will happen on an exponential curve. I’ve been waiting for 30 years.

Source: https://chiefexecutive.net/slow-advancement-battery-technology-hindering-product-innovation/

5. Solar Panels are Weak

It would take over 1 billion solar panels to provide 1/9th the energy needed for just the USA. It will take considerable research to make them clean to manufacture, to overcome Shockley Quessier limits, stack them appropriately, and get them to convert the sun to a meaningful amount of baseload electricity.

Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bjorn-lomborg/are-wind-and-solar-energy_b_9087586.html

The following 5 points come from a mentor of mine, John Haugeland.

6. Irrecoverable Rare Earth Materials

Irrecoverably uses up finite supplies of rare earths primarily acquired from Mongolia through strip mining

7. Power Destruction

Solar power actually destroys nearly as much power as it creates through synchronization issues.

8. Wealth Transfer

Solar performs a wealth transfer from the poor to the middle class, when the middle class can buy partially subsidized panels but the poor can’t, and then the panels “drop” the cost of power by raising it for everyone else, offering cheaper power to those who can afford it on the backs of those who cannot

9. Death Rate

Solar power has the highest death rate per watt of any industrialized source of power by a factor of nearly 20.

10. Land Usage

Solar power has the second highest land use per watt, after wind

11. Infrastructure Switching

Solar power requires the deployment of significant new transmission lines.

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