Thomas Edison Was Right About Solar Power

Famed inventor Thomas Edison brought us electric lights, phonographs, movies, and even the first research and development laboratory.

But in 1931, he also was one of the first promoters of renewable energy - especially solar.


That year he described our approach to energy to two industry magnates of the day - Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone.

He told them "we are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using nature's inexhaustible sources of energy - sun, wind and tide."

That was over 80 years ago - and we're still living the same way.

In 2014 - just over 13% of American electricity production came from renewables in some form or another.

That's not terrible - but it means that we're still getting nearly 90% of our electricity production from "chopping down the fence around our house for fuel".

And if the fossil fuel companies, lobbyists, and the 21st century fossil fuel tycoons (like the Kochs who inherited their oil company from daddy) have their way, that's not going to change anytime soon.

They're still fighting for ways to bring Alberta's tar sands to America to be processed and burned - and they're still chomping at the bit to drill in the Arctic's deep seas.

They're even using our precious fresh water reserves to shatter our Earth's shale just to get to the natural gas - making the Earth unstable and much of our water poisoned in the process.

Even as we run out of fenceposts to burn - the fossil fuel barons still point to more of our farm's property to chop down and burn.

Edison even gave Ford and Firestone a little bit of investment advice to go with his criticism - "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."

Unfortunately - the fossil fuel companies don’t have any interest in folding up operations and letting our 19th century energy regime join the likes of whale-oil lamps as a historical curiosity.

But according to a new report from Citibank, large-scale investments in renewables are still a smart investment move for both the planet and the global economy.

The report is called "Energy Darwinism" and it looks at the predicted cost of energy over the next several decades - compared to the costs of developing and implementing low carbon energy sources.

And then the researchers looked at the implications of global energy choices in terms of expected climate impacts.

The bottom line?

If we invest in low-carbon energy sources now - like solar, wind, tidal and geothermal - the global economy would save $1.8 trillion through 2040.

And the cost of inaction? The cost of carrying on business as usual? The cost of trying to adapt to the negative effects of climate change instead of reducing the risks by transforming our energy system?.

Well - that could cost as little as $20 trillion - or as much as $72 trillion.

And that's a decrease in global GDP of between .7% and 2.5%.

In other words - we can expect a global economic contraction if we continue to rip our carbon reserves out of the earth and burn them into the atmosphere and we don't reform our global energy system.

Or, through investing in a mix of renewables while reforming our energy system, we can avoid many of those costs and grow the global economy by $1.8 trillion.

The thing is. This isn't really new information. This is basically just a reiteration of the 700-page Stern Review, which pointed out back in 2006 that strong early action on climate change will save money for the global economy in the long run.

It's been nearly a decade since Sir Nicholas Stern concluded that taking bold action sooner rather than later will save money and ultimately grow the global economy.

And in the meantime, the status quo fossil fuel interests have funneled money into researchers willing to lie for a paycheck, while they've fought responsible reporting on climate change in the corporate media, and they've bought our politicians.

All to make sure that people think that climate change isn't real, and that people think that fossil fuels are more affordable than renewables.

But that's not what the bankers - the economists - or the scientists say.

Just back in June, a team of researchers from Stanford and U.C. Berkeley published research showing how every state can go 100% renewable by 2050.

And they showed that the states would save money and create jobs by doing it.

We've ignored Edison's words to Ford and Firestone for far too long.

It's time to stop burning our fence posts for fuel - it's time to tap the Earth's inexhaustible sources of energy in the nuclear fusion reactor 93 million miles away that we call our Sun.

Comments

John Pranke's picture
John Pranke 3 years 46 weeks ago
#1

Short term profits, it's the American way.

stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 3 years 46 weeks ago
#2

I'm not worried about the fossil fuel problem; the way international events are going, we'll nuke the planet into a burned-out cinder long before fossil fuels run out.

But, we deserve nothing less.

Windymike 3 years 46 weeks ago
#3

I agree we need to look to alternative fuels, hydrogen and solar are both clean and effective. Wind power, I believe, presents just another way to alter the weather patterns. Wind is the Earth's natural cooling engine and relys on heating at the equator. Problem is that you are taking energy from the wind, conservation of energy, converting it into electrical energy. So what you are doing is slowing and weakening the wind energy as it travels around the world. I noticed when I returned from Asia in 1979 there was an abundance of windmills along the coastal mountain ranges and as I traveled inland noticed a change in loval weather. The changes have increased as the construction of new wind fields also increased, down through Texas and up into Ohio. Eventually if we continue to rely on the wind we will change the entire weather patterns around the world

.

Willie W's picture
Willie W 3 years 46 weeks ago
#4

Sounds like a plan. If they end up changing the direction of the prevailing winds to blow any other direction but West, I would be rid of that stupid lake effect snow.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 3 years 46 weeks ago
#5
Quote Windymike:Eventually if we continue to rely on the wind we will change the entire weather patterns around the world

Windymike ~ I can only assume you are joking. If not, you have no grasp of exactly how huge our atmosphere is compared to the average wind field. Please allow me to put this scenario into perspective. If it were possible for the slight resistance of a field of windmills to alter worldwide weather patterns than it would already be happening because of the wind resistance of such structures as blades of grass, trees in forests, and mountain ranges. Your fears are not planted in reality.

Instant-RunOff-... 3 years 46 weeks ago
#6

Wow! So in 1931 Edison proclaims Solar, Wind & Tide power will dominate world energy. Fast forward 83 years and now they supply about 1% of world energy, fossil supplying 85%, some success that is.

The EIA, very pro-Solar, puts Solar @ 0.36% of USA electricity production over past year, Wind @ 4.5%, cleaner & greener Nuclear @ 20.2%. And projects in 2036 Solar @ 0.56%, Wind @ 5.1%. And there are major caveats that effectively reduce those already low numbers by a factor of 2 or more that come with these unreliable, intermittent energy sources .

So even the wealthy USA can only achieve 0.56% Solar after 60 yrs of effort, some impressive that is. France went form 0-70% nuclear in 20 yrs with a mundane effort. Even little old Ontario achieved 62% nuclear with It's own indigenous CANDU PHWR natural uranium, nuclear. Whereas the biggest economy in the USA, high tech haven, Thom's poster boy, California, after 30 yrs of all out effort on Solar has only achieved 3.5% & 4.4% with Wind of its electricity consumption. Some impressive that is.

The world has invested $1586B for 892 TWh of generation total wind & solar in 2014 acc to the BP statistical review 2015. That's an avg of 102 GW of energy in 2014. Or $1568B/102GW = $15.4 per watt of avg delivered electricity.

Add ~20% for often long distance transmission, oversized by 3 to 8X. Solar and Wind transmission infrastructure must be sized to carry the peak output whereas the avg output is only 9 to 33% of peak.

Add $2 per watt for natural gas backup power & peaking infrastructure & storage. You still need all the fossil fuel electricity production & distribution to cover the regular missing-in-action solar & wind. Electricity storage is far from economical, insignificant on the modern electrical grid, as a proportion of daily electricity generated.

Add curtailment costs, where hydro must be spilled, nuclear dumped or fossil idled when wind & solar peaks with demand low.

Add wasted fuel, due to induced cycling inefficiencies in the fossil fuel generation shadowing the wind & solar. Big fossil plants do not run efficiently when they must be cycled just as your car uses much more gas in stop-and-go city traffic vs steady travel on a rural highway. And also reduces operating life of the shadowing fossil fuel power plants. Adds expensive maintenance costs while reducing efficiency.

The economics of a grid with large amounts of fluctuating wind & solar favors the replacment of efficient baseload closed-cycle gas turbines or super-critical coal with cheap inefficient open cycle gas turbines or diesel generation. The increased level of wind & solar on the grid has led to a resurrection of dirty, expensive, inefficient diesel generation, that was once destined to obsurity.

And all those costs and we are easily getting past $20 per watt of avg delivered electricity with wind & solar, all associated costs included.

Compare with India's new Nuclear PHWR (Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor) @ $1.90 per watt.

China Nuclear @ $1.7 to $2.8 per avg watt electrical energy.

Korea APR1400 exports @ $2.7 per avg watt.

Certainly western reactors can be built in scale at under $5 per avg watt.

And wind turbines lasting 12-15 yrs, solar 25 yrs and Capacity Factor (actual % output) dropping substantially towards end of life. Vs Nuclear 60-100yrs lifespan.

So we are paying ~6X more for ~1/4 the energy by going wind & solar rather than nuclear.

And Hillary Clinton just announced her energy plan of expanding US solar to 140 GW capacity by end of 2020 up from the present 20 GW (18.3 PV, 1.7 CSP) a 700% increase. Even more expensive than the avg wind & solar above. I get $25 per watt avg output for latest utility scale solar pv in USA:

Agua Caliente Solar PV Project, $1.8B cost, $6.21/wpk, 626 GWh/yr, 24.6% CF, $25.2/wavg

Makes perfect sense really. Under our crony capitalist form of government, those with the most cash buy whatever government policy they want. Fossil has all of the cash, so they buy the energy policy that will ensure their energy hegemony for a long time into the future. Wind & solar are very effective as greenwashing for fossil, misdirection from nuclear and guarantors of fossil generation. As well as push up the price of electricity to make energy substitution, fossil to electricity (i.e. electric vehicles, heat pumps) less economical. And the incredible wasted capital lost on the renewables is just dumped on the lowly consumer.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 3 years 46 weeks ago
#7

What if the citizens of this country demanded that our federal government shift 1/3 of all military spending over to a solar energy grant program? I also wonder what the result of a national poll on this proposal would look like? ..... 99% in favor! If only we had a representative democracy like many European countries already have. Germany pulled it off.

Windymike 3 years 46 weeks ago
#8

No I am not joking. It is you that have no idea how many windmills there are currently operating today and they continue to build. Remember we exist in an envelope that is not expanding but the weather conditions are already changing. Some of it is due to the warming atmosphere but some of the warming is being caused by taking energy out of he wind. What we need to do is focus on utilizing hydrogen, especially in transportation. The only byproduct of its burning is distilled water.

bobbler's picture
bobbler 3 years 46 weeks ago
#9

Yeah, but nuking will be because of war for oil.

bobbler's picture
bobbler 3 years 46 weeks ago
#10

I'm skeptical using wind for power changes weather patterns. Are scientists saying this?

bobbler's picture
bobbler 3 years 46 weeks ago
#11

Does your calculation take into account the cleanup of nuclear disasters? Or the cost of green when green technology can be expected to improve if resources were allocated to green?

RE: "So we are paying ~6X more for ~1/4 the energy by going wind & solar rather than nuclear."

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 3 years 46 weeks ago
#12

Instant-Run-Off’s at it again: “Wow! So in 1931 Edison proclaims Solar, Wind & Tide power will dominate world energy. Fast forward 83 years and now they supply about 1% of world energy, fossil supplying 85%, some success that is.” Yeah, right. How conveniently he ignores the actual reason for this: LOBBYISTS. You know, those pushy little guys who go around bribing politicians to legislate in favor of their corporate masters…

Far as the rest of the world is concerned, it’s pretty much the same. All boiling down to politics. How easy it is for proponents of snake oil “alternatives” like nuclear energy to ignore that simple truth! Never underestimate the political power of the fossil fuel industry.

What Run-Off is selling, I’m not buying.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 3 years 46 weeks ago
#13

I heard an interesting hydroelectric process they use. The battery they use when demand is down is to run the generators in reverse. That is, they pump the water back up into the reservoir. The ironic thing about the article is that here in drought-stricken California the reservoirs are too full to accept the water. I need to find that article and read it again.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 3 years 46 weeks ago
#14

InRunV -- Thom often talks about communities building their own solar plants. Using this idea, there would be no need for long transmission lines. Solar on the roof of a house would have a really short transmission line.

Also, with all the stats you quote it would be nice to have some stats on the error in those estimates.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 3 years 46 weeks ago
#15

IRV -- Just to help my understanding a little. I think I pay about 12 cents per KWH (energy). You say it costs $5/watt ($5000/KW) to build the plant to provide the power. Does that mean it takes 4.76 years to recover the cost?

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 3 years 46 weeks ago
#16
Quote Windymike:No I am not joking. It is you that have no idea how many windmills there are currently operating today and they continue to build. Remember we exist in an envelope that is not expanding but the weather conditions are already changing. Some of it is due to the warming atmosphere but some of the warming is being caused by taking energy out of he wind. What we need to do is focus on utilizing hydrogen, especially in transportation. The only byproduct of its burning is distilled water.

Windymike ~ If you are going to make wild sweeping claims like that I suggest you also post a few links to published studies in peer reviewed scientific journals to back it up. Otherwise, you are just blowing a lot of hot air.

bobbler's picture
bobbler 3 years 46 weeks ago
#17

And, I forgot the most obvious; Do all those KWH cost calculations take into account ny, Los angelos and Miami being under water?

Willie W's picture
Willie W 3 years 46 weeks ago
#18

In the category of " Man Made Objects that best Disrupt the most Wind Flow", I think the real winners are tall buildings. Cities!!

KCRuger's picture
KCRuger 3 years 45 weeks ago
#19

Cat-tails, algae & hemp can easily be grown in areas not used for food production, reducing the need for oil consumption until somebody gets brave enough to introduce energy from a free & abundant source, like EMF. Of course, the military won't like that & might even assassinate you, but what the heck.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 3 years 44 weeks ago
#20

KCRuger -- They grow corn for ethanol. I think you need to expand your idea to include areas that can be used for food production.

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