Solving the Energy Crisis, without yesterday’s solutions

It’s sad, but not surprising, that the recent power outages in Cape Town have led to short-sighted calls for more nuclear energy.

There’s a better way to solve it. It requires stepping out of the box a little bit.

The tyranny of the few is coming to an end. I don’t mean this flippantly (well not too flippantly). Many of today’s problems are being solved by collaberation of empowered individuals, not centrally-imposed solutions. Open Source software and Wikipedia are two that come to mind. So how does this apply to energy generation?

Massive centralisation is one way to tackle the issue. By choosing nuclear, you choose extreme centralisation, secrecy (not necessarily, but in practice), vast amounts of capital and highly dangerous materials. Most of the budgeting formulae don’t take into account disposal of the low-level waste, or indefinite storage of the high-level waste (no-ones yet managed to work out a way of disposal). Sure, there’re no greenhouse gases. But that’s about the only advantage.

Similarly, there could be massive centralised solar or wind projects. Many have argued that even these are economically more viable than nuclearother options (which is what Earthlife Africa apparently claim, though I can’t find more detail right now – feel free to dig around on the Earthlife site).

However, by thinking beyond massive centralisation, there are more viable options. If every house put up solar panels on their roof, there would be no power crisis. Why doesn’t this happen? It’s expensive. However, quite a few countries have implemented a system whereby people can sell their excess electricity back to the central pool. So effectively your meter runs backwards. This simple innovation means that a lot more people will go to the expense of putting up solar panels on their own houses. Not only will they save electricity (though with South Africa’s under-priced electricity this isn’t much of an issue here), it could generate revenue. And that’s before any sort of government incentives. The R12 billion mentioned for the PBNR could be much better spent incentivising private solar power adoption. Utilising the roofs of existing houses and businesses means that there’s no need for huge amounts of land (one of the criticisms of centralised solar power generation).

We don’t need more nuclear energy! If government right now plastered their own property with solar panels, accelerated the introduction of a reverse metering system (I met someone at a party recently working on just this, so apparently its underway here), and introduced other incentives for private solar power adoption, the power crisis could be solved in much less time, and with much less money, than it would take to build new nuclear/coal power stations.



9 Comments to “Solving the Energy Crisis, without yesterday’s solutions”

  1. Anonymous [Visitor]
    February 24, 2006

    Hey, as I’ve posted elsewhere already we can get a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier for $4.5bn which will generate 190MW. We need four of those, but the benefit is some military capacity/ low cost housing on deck ;)

  2. scott [Visitor]
    February 27, 2006

    As a geophysicist (former employee of major oil companies) and wind farm engineer (Tehachapi, CA) … I’ve an opinion.

    The new “pebble-bed” reactors that China is considering, seem like an interesting nuclear option (never need to worry about a melt-down). Better than the large contstructs they’ve made here in the U.S., which (from an energy-to-make VS energy-returned POV … are barely economic) … not to mention the safety risk.

    Hydrocarbons need to be reduced, yet, the World’s energy needs expand.

    Tidal, wind, water, solar will all “help”, but are not an “answer”.

    Fuel cells may offer some relief, but the technology isn’t quite there yet.

    Older technologies – wood/coal, can be refined, but never to the extent necessary for replacement.

    Consumption is still my focus. People don’t “need” the +2/3 degrees in their homes, their fridges or their spas. In a world where “we can have it all” and “dont’ pay for 2 years” … we need to separate our “wants” from our “needs”.

    The “unlimitless” age is rapidly coming to a close and future focus will be on deciding WHAT is necessary and what is not.

    (That and a whole bevy of smaller solutions. We’ll need to grab bits of clean energy from whatever source we can.)

    -stk

  3. james [Visitor]
    March 1, 2006

    Stk: wind, solar, water could be the answer if consumption of electricity decreased instead of expanded.

    I thought readers of this blog might be interested in this article I just read.

    SA solar research eclipses rest of the world
    By Willem Steenkamp
    In a scientific breakthrough that has stunned the world, a team of South African scientists has developed a revolutionary new, highly efficient solar power technology that will enable homes to obtain all their electricity from the sun.

    This means high electricity bills and frequent power failures could soon be a thing of the past.

    The unique South African-developed solar panels will make it possible for houses to become completely self-sufficient for energy supplies.

    The panels are able to generate enough energy to run stoves, geysers, lights, TVs, fridges, computers – in short all the mod-cons of the modern house.

    Nothing else comes close to the effectiveness of the SA invention
    The new technology should be available in South Africa within a year and through a special converter, energy can be fed directly into the wiring of existing houses. New powerful storage units will allow energy storage to meet demands even in winter. The panels are so efficient they can operate through a Cape Town winter. while direct sunlight is ideal for high-energy generation, other daytime light also generates energy via the panels.

    A team of scientists led by University of Johannesburg (formerly Rand Afrikaans University) scientist Professor Vivian Alberts achieved the breakthrough after 10 years of research. The South African technology has now been patented across the world.

    One of the world leaders in solar energy, German company IFE Solar Systems, has invested more than R500-million in the South African invention and is set to manufacture 500 000 of the panels before the end of the year at a new plant in Germany.

    Production will start next month and the factory will run 24 hours a day, producing more than 1 000 panels a day to meet expected demand.

    Another large German solar company is negotiating with the South African inventors for rights to the technology, while a South African consortium of businesses are keen to build local factories.

    The new, highly efficient and cheap alloy solar panel is much more efficient than the costly old silicone solar panels.

    International experts have admitted that nothing else comes close to the effectiveness of the South African invention.

    The South African solar panels consist of a thin layer of a unique metal alloy that converts light into energy. The photo-responsive alloy can operate on virtually all flexible surfaces, which means it could in future find a host of other applications.

    Alberts said the new panels are approximately five microns thick (a human hair is 20 microns thick) while the older silicon panels are 350 microns thick. the cost of the South African technology is a fraction of the less effective silicone solar panels.

    Alberts said in Switzerland it was already compulsory for all new houses to include solar technology to lessen energy demands on national grids.

    “And that was the older, less effective technology. With our hours of sunlight, we will on average generate twice as much energy than, for instance, European countries.”

    While South African scientists developed and patented the new, super-effective alloy solar panels, other companies have developed new, super-efficient storage batteries and special converters to change the energy into the power source of a particular country (220 volts in South Africa).
    • Eskom spokesperson Carin de Villiers said any new power supply that lessened the load on Eskom was to be welcomed.

    She said Eskom was also doing its own research on solar energy.

    “In fact, we are currently investigating building what will probably be the largest solar power plant, in the Northern Cape – a 100-megawatt facility.”

    She added that Eskom was also researching wind and fuel-cell technology as alternative energy sources.

    • This article was originally published on page 1 of The Saturday Argus on February 11, 2006

    Published on the Web by IOL on 2006-02-11 11:01:00

    © Independent Online 2005. All rights reserved. IOL publishes this article in good faith but is not liable for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information it contains.

  4. alan ward [Visitor]
    August 29, 2006

    there is only one worldly solution to power that is clean except for mining and that is these solar panels as exspence and nutrality is no solution for them the only one is the south african solar panels and similar technology they wont like that as there current systems of making money and warfar dont allow this as it could run all cars and in future all verhicals these technolgies im talking about take money from the other resources and are renewable as combustion materials are dangerious and any one can have a rocket go into space or attack others with enough monies, the artificial tree 1000* sequastion a actual artifical tree and bateria too and photo planton feeding is the only ways to reverse global warming,as with out energy the other options are too expensive military and too poluting,and finite.reseach dollars are needed in these areas and hydrogen tile nsw university makes electricity as well as water from any water source and sun sunlight sewrage too,and hydrogen boron if prven successful 80percent chance and can make money these are a cheap solution to global warming as the others they want are not,and expression research.

  5. george vd watt [Visitor]
    November 19, 2007

    The only way to rapidly cut down on greenhouse emissions is to get rid of human beings – this an uncomfortable fact that few are willing to accept head on. From a planetary point of view the pending h5n1 epidemic may just be what will save the rest of us who survive. By cutting global population drastically with an associated slump in economic growth and resource consumption, it may just give the planet enough time to breathe until technology catches up for most of us to be able to live sustainably. My money is on the virus.

  6. Warieth Kamalie [Visitor]
    January 28, 2008

    I think that we should look at the creations of GOD. Like the trees, but go further, how God created them. SOlar panels yes, but lets make it have the leave structure like the tree, and not all flat.

  7. Quentin Langeveldt
    June 20, 2008

    I Have a solution for the energy crisis in South Africa.
    I Made contact with the department of Minerals and Energy through email. They replied that I should send them my contact details.
    I send them my contact number as soon as possible. They phoned me in a day or two, but my phone had bad reception and I asked the lady to give me her contact number so I can
    call her back from another phone. She gave me a number that dont stop ringing. I then phoned back to the number she phoned me from and they hang the phone up on me.

    I Know my Idea will work and it is totally resource free energy.

    I was wondering if anyone knows of a website I can visit to sell my idea to?

  8. zamokuhle jali
    November 4, 2008

    if the archichect of the new houses of south africa can also change to torwads consuming energy for example, houses should have suffient windows to allow light so that not all the time light should be used. And also people should start purchising solar sytems to back up electricity as early as now. energy can be saved as other initiations are taken from the government side to produce clean energy

  9. colby beveridge
    November 19, 2009

    what if we were to use super magnets to push trbines of some sort, to get kind of a winmill effect and generate electricity,because magnest don’t lose the polarity unless the are heated or broken. so if we could use our planets magnetic field to propel these terbines and harvest a none waste and harmless way to power our world, and provide a better future.