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Tags: photovoltaic | bloomberg | energy

Evade Solar Power Storage Problem With Global Electrical Grid

solar power for a building


Paul F. deLespinasse By Wednesday, 27 May 2020 09:54 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Preventing climate disaster will require minimizing use of carbon fuels.

Solar energy may be the ideal replacement. But most observers assume solar energy cannot take over unless we develop economical electricity storage for nighttime or bad weather.

We haven't solved the storage problem yet, but we could evade it by connecting the whole planet into a single electrical grid.

This would allow the world to run everything, with the possible exception of air travel, entirely on solar energy. We would need to distribute photovoltaic (PV) panels around the world so that the half of them receiving sunlight at any one time could power the whole world. This would require twice as many PV panels as we'd need if the storage problem were solved.

Evading the need for storage would double the costs of the PV panels.

Moving the extra power generated where it is daytime — to the hemisphere where it is nighttime would also be expensive.

Which system would be cheaper: storing solar-generated electricity for nighttime and bad weather, or building and operating a worldwide system that doesn't need storage? Your guess is as bad as mine. Expert cost-benefit analysis of these alternatives is a task way beyond any one individual.

If we build a world-wide system, the Bering Strait — separating Alaska from Siberia — is obviously where we would move electricity between the western and eastern hemispheres.

The Strait is only 51 miles across and its water averages 160 feet deep.

In 1864 a Russian-American company planned to put a telegraph cable across the Strait but abandoned the project after a cable was completed across the Atlantic. More recently bridge and/or tunnel projects across the Bering Strait to allow railroad traffic between Eurasia and America have been seriously considered.

Once a cable has been built across the Bering Strait, connections to the rest of the world would be straightforward. Through Russia the system could connect to Asia, Europe, the Mideast, Africa, and Australia. From Alaska the system would connect to Canada, the continental United States, Central and South America.

A world-wide power grid for solar energy would both reduce threats to our climate and have important political benefits.

The Bering Strait connection would make Russian-American cooperation strongly in both countries' interests. Neither could afford to pull the plug and plunge the other half of the world into darkness. The plug-pulling country would itself lose access to the electricity it needs twelve hours later. Interest in keeping the connection working would be mutual.

Electrification of the whole planet would reduce the strategic significance of the Middle East by making oil a less critical part of the world economy. It would allow people everywhere in the world to enjoy an American-European standard of living without allowing energy production to wreck the planet for all of us.

I began proposing a world-wide solar power grid in 1972, but even by the mid 1980s the idea evoked no interest. Today the situation has changed thanks to improved solar cells and the danger of carbon fuels. In 2015 Clark Gellings, a prestigious Life Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, made a serious proposal for a world-wide grid.

Such an electrical system could be a great idea if its costs penciled out. The time clearly has come for wider public discussion and intensive study by a commission — engineers, accountants, and many other experts — of the idea.

But this study will be expensive.

This could be an opportunity for a foundation or a public-spirited billionaire.

Mike Bloomberg, whose degree from Johns Hopkins was in electrical engineering and who has done well financially, could be the ideal person to organize and finance an effort to answer this question.

Are you interested, Mr. Bloomberg?

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. Read Prof. Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.

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We haven't solved the storage problem yet, but we could evade it by connecting the whole planet into a single electrical grid.
photovoltaic, bloomberg, energy
Wednesday, 27 May 2020 09:54 AM
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