November 21, 2009
Solexant To Sell Solar Cells At $1 Per Watt

Using nanocrystal-based inks printed onto metal foil photovoltaics start-up Solexant claims it can get its costs under those of low cost leader First Solar.

Making the entire cell using a roll-to-roll process gives the company an advantage over other thin-film photovoltaic companies that print on glass, which is heavier and limited to smaller areas, says Solexant CEO Damoder Reddy. "The cost benefit is dramatic, allowing us to produce cells for 50 cents a watt," he says. First Solar, a thin-film company that uses vacuum deposition to print its cells onto glass, has manufacturing costs of 85 cents per watt. Nanosolar, another company making nanocrystal solar cells, uses a different semiconductor that requires chemical reactions to take place during printing, which increases the complexity and expense of the process. "We print a preformed semiconductor," which eliminates such steps, says Reddy.

Nanosolar is the solar cell maker to beat on costs. I am optimistic about continued big price declines for solar cells because a number of venture capital start-ups like Nanosolar, Solyndra, and Solexant are making credible claims for PV fabrication approaches that enable lower cost manufacturing.

I worry about the approach of Peak Oil (and the possibility that world oil production has already peaked). Because of Peak Oil we need to shift more energy usage to electricity. But our biggest problem isn't how to generate more electricity. We can build nukes and wind turbines. Even solar power is going to become competitive in some areas. Our biggest problem is how to make electricity more usable for transportation. We can electrify the rails to move freight without using oil and lay more rails. But we need better cheaper batteries. It is still not clear to me that batteries will improve fast enough to make the transition away from oil for personal transportation easy enough.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 November 21 09:40 AM  Energy Solar


Comments
James Bowery said at November 21, 2009 10:31 AM:

What is the cost per baseload watt of a system incorporating these?

James Bowery said at November 21, 2009 10:35 AM:

and what is the amortization period (lifetime)?

john said at November 21, 2009 3:21 PM:

if we generate enough electricity from nukes and renewables, we can use fischer-tropsch for transportation with all the coal use we'll displace, even if the batteries don't come along - though i hope they do, obviously.

JAY said at November 21, 2009 6:48 PM:

Peak oil is a myth. (Kinda like global warming.) Solar panels will be a success when they are cheaper than natural gas.

PacRim Jim said at November 21, 2009 10:15 PM:

Lunar panels, anyone?

Wolf-Dog said at November 22, 2009 2:40 AM:

THANKS to the fears of unemployment in the semiconductor sector, a lot of Silicon Valley people are desperately trying to create new markets in solar and other energy areas. Thus this economic depression has a positive side-effect.

On the other hand, there is also considerable progress in lithium based batteries:

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/11/kumar-20091121.html#more

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2008/january9/nanowire-010908.html

http://74.125.155.132/custom?q=cache:Is4efgA7NwgJ:gcep.stanford.edu/pdfs/-IUwoO0omIeF6HDYZPqYeg/2.9.4_Cui_Web_Public_2009.pdf+professor+cui+battery+lithium+stanford&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=pub-2070091971271392

However,there are two political obstacles that will delay electric cars:

1) IN the United States there are millions of oil industry jobs that will be lost if electric cars are adopted. This is despite the fact that we are already importing most of our oil.

2) Electric cars (once you separate the battery, which is swappable) are FAR more durable than internal combustion cars, because they have a lot less components or moving parts. This means that many jobs will be lost by parts makers even after they start manufacturing components for electric cars.

But if most electric cars and batteries are manufactured in the United States, there will be a net benefit. And this is what we must convince the government that electric cars must not be delayed due to politics.

Randall Parker said at November 22, 2009 6:08 AM:

JAY,

Is there an infinite supply of oil under the ground?

Bruce said at November 22, 2009 8:16 AM:

Randall, there is a minimum of 100 years of natural gas (and you can run cars on that) and that ignores future dicoveries (1000+ years) and frozen hydrates.

Bob Badour said at November 22, 2009 9:03 AM:

Bruce,

100 years at what level of consumption?

Jerry said at November 22, 2009 12:17 PM:

Regarding your question about an infinite supply of oil:

At this time, humans are the only ones on this planet that care about oil/hydrocarbons. I do not believe there is an infinite supply of oil. I would, however, expect our advances in extraction technology to allow a virtual 'dead heat' relative to which happens first -- a) we run out of oil or b) we run out of luck and we run out of humans.

I think we ought use all the resources we have to get ourselves off this dangerous, fragile speck of universe

Allan said at November 22, 2009 1:46 PM:

Wolf,

Even if all new cars sold were only EVs, there are enuff ICE engines on the road to keep the oil companies in business for years to come. Consider that the transition to EVs will, in actuality, be even slower, they have nothing to fear.

Besides, there are many other uses for oil ... plastic being one.

K said at November 22, 2009 2:39 PM:

Good comment Allan: Big oil need fear nothing from a decline in ICEs.

They know there are far better uses for oil than to burn it in engines. Other industries will maintain or increase demand for oil, the plastics industry will perhaps benefit the most.

For now the number of ICE's is still increasing, mostly because more people in India and China can now afford cars. At a minimum ICE numbers and fuel consumption will not fall much for a decade. Beyond that it is foolish to project.

The slow decline in demand for ICE fuels and motor oils would gradually cause some oil companies to shift their marketing focus and distribution methods. Others would feel no significant effect at all.

woohoo said at November 22, 2009 6:41 PM:

Stop worrying about peak oil. The best energy policy is high oil prices. As oil becomes more expensive innovations like the one this article is about will compete to replace. Sit back, relax, and watch how people solve problems.

Bob Badour said at November 22, 2009 6:53 PM:

The problem with your logic, woohoo, is we do not get high oil prices. When energy gets too expensive, the economy simply contracts to destroy demand.

Randall Parker said at November 22, 2009 7:06 PM:

K,

No, the most valuable usage of liquid hydrocarbons is in transportation. Within transportation the most valuable usage is for aircraft and the second most valuable is for passenger cars. Batteries and other substitutes weigh too much for airplanes and also for some vehicles.

The forms of ground transportation one of the most easy to move to electric power is rail in high usage corridors. Though perhaps the easiest is some short range high usage large vehicles used by businesses where the batteries would go thru many charge cycles per year.

For stationary uses coal and natural gas are cheaper for most applications where heat is required.

K said at November 22, 2009 11:17 PM:

Dern it Randall. You talk about rail and coal and stuff I never mentioned.

And you tell me I am wrong about the most valuable use of liquid hydrocarbons. That leads us nowhere because we just differ in opinion. The future will referee.

Yes, fossil fuel is valuable because of energy density. So what? I never denied it. I expressed an opinion that we have now, and will continue to develop, better ways to use whatever oil remains. You can have your opinion and I will have mine.

As ICEs begin to be displaced by battery or fuel cell power it is reasonable to predict that aircraft will keep using liquid hydrocarbon fuels in jet engines longer than wheeled vehicles. (Eventually hydrogen may become the fuel of choice in aircraft. I am not qualified to comment on whether that can happen, am doubtful about it for now, And I don't foresee any other suitable aircraft fuels either.)

I didn't mention electrified rail in high usage corridors. It has nothing to do with my comment to Allan.

The fact that coal and gas provide heat at a lower cost also doesn't concern me. My words were about another matter, whether a phase out of ICEs in vehicles will become a threat to oil companies within a decade.

Right offhand, I would say natural gas companies have a limited role to play in vehicle fuels - they aren't greatly involved now and I don't think their role will enlarge much. Same for coal. A threat to both would be some glut of oil far beyond anything we foresee. More likely they worry about nuclear, alternatives, and the EPA, not about oil.

Bruce said at November 23, 2009 7:51 AM:

Bob Badour, 100 years at current consumption.

The US gets 22% if its electricity from NG, 20% from nuclear, 48% from coal, 6% from hydro and 5% from other.

Reference for 100 years: http://www.aga.org/Newsroom/news+releases/2009/NewReportFindsUnprecedented.htm

Randall Parker said at November 23, 2009 9:03 AM:

Bruce,

Arthur Berman questions the production potential of the shale natural gas plays. If you read the comments on that TOD post you'll see some petroleum engineers posting in the comments who explain how it is that their employers do not always present accurate pictures of their real reserves.

Even if the optimistic projections for the shale gas plays are realistic economic growth, population growth, and oil production decline will increase the demand for natural gas and therefore the rate of consumption.

What I'd like to know: How much would natural gas production need to increase for natural gas to displace oil for transportation?

random said at November 23, 2009 9:21 AM:

Peak oil is not a myth, but it is widely misunderstood. The "Peak" is more due to market forces than any lack of oil present on this planet. While the supply of oil in the ground is obviously not infinite, it's unlikely we will ever truly run out of it. The costs associated with extracting oil will become greater to the point that it becomes less viable as an energy source. The perfect example is when the price of oil spiked to a record high in July 2008, causing the global demand for oil to go down. While that was not likely to be "The Peak", it was an example of what is coming.

Let's just hope some amazing new advances make the inevitable Peak due to a technological changeover, rather than a painful market-forced reduction in oil use.

Bruce said at November 23, 2009 10:05 AM:

Randall, the people with money think Shale gas at 4$ is worth investing in.

"Talisman has added 90,000 acres of what it calls "Tier 1" properties in the Marcellus, doubling its holdings there.
Tier 1 means the gas can be produced at a cost of US$4 per 1,000 cubic feet.
With today's commodity prices trading around US$4.90 per 1,000 cubic feet, the company is able to turn a profit by drilling on those lands."

http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5jt7nFT_orWWEVlb8GGjhYzZ0SBVw

"Therefore, replacing all gasoline consumption with natural gas would require a total usage of 39.4 trillion scf per year, an increase in natural gas consumption of 71% over present usage."

http://www.chrismartenson.com/forum/natural-gas-vehicles%E2%80%94how-much-can-they-reduce-oil-imports/14308

So ... the USA would have 43 years of NG (assuming zero discoveries) if it replaced all imports with NG.

PacRim Jim said at November 23, 2009 10:37 AM:

$1 per what?
That's right, $1 per Watt.
Per what?
Per Watt.
What's "what"?
That's the wattage.
What age? Now what are you talking?

John said at November 23, 2009 11:31 AM:

Solar (and wind for that matter) are terrific. Now how do you store the output for a rainy day? Flipping on the light switch in LA does not cause the sun to shine, or wind to blow, in Palmdale.

EconRob said at November 23, 2009 11:42 AM:

$1/Watt? When? Bright sunshine? This is so stupid. This metric is meaningless on its own.

Ody said at November 23, 2009 12:05 PM:

"Is there an infinite supply of oil under the ground?"

I would ask this... at what point do you believe the earth stopped producing oil?

Do you believe it produced alot 50 million years ago and then it just stopped?

My personal "belief" is that world is constantly producing oil. The question is at what rate does the earth produce oil versus humans consuming it.


LAJay said at November 23, 2009 12:44 PM:

Does anyone know how the manufacture and eventual disposal of hundreds of millions of car batteries will affect the environment once we shift our transportation to electrical power? Is there such a thing as an electric airplane that can be used in commercial aviation?

These breathless announcements about incremental improvements in solar technology serve only to give liberals something to talk about and they allow green technology hucksters to run up the price of their company's stock. Contrary to eco-religionists paranoia, everyone wants cheap, clean energy. Unfortunately, solar and wind power aren't even close to producing energy on a scale sufficient to power this economy (even in its currently depressed state). Eco-leftists think we consume too much, but the American people are becoming intimately familiar with the reality of a contracting economy. Stepping back 100 years to a "simpler way of living" will never happen and the restrictions that liberals want to place on our economy will only serve to empower the political class as they leverage exemptions from emissions caps for campaign cash. With our overleveraged economy (public/privte debt of 350% of GDP) and the impending entitlement explosion, we need our economy to operate as efficiently as possible. That means that we need to use the cheapest and most abundant energy sources. I live in LA, land of the limousine liberal and the most polluted city in America; I would love to get rid of automobile pollution but we have more pressing problems, like getting the economy back on its feet. Let's keep developing this clean technology, but stop trying to kill fossil fuel usage before we have a real alternative.

Randall Parker said at November 23, 2009 12:48 PM:

EconRob,

The metric is useful because the industry has used it for years and so it enables us to compare across years.

Ody,

We burn oil orders of magnitude faster than the earth produces it.

Bruce,

I take the claims of companies like Talisman with a grain of salt because the oil industry has periodic excesses in enthusiasm. The actual engineers have less enthusiasm for the prospects than do top company execs. I find the engineers to be more reliable.

Ten said at November 23, 2009 1:02 PM:
We burn oil orders of magnitude faster than the earth produces it.

Not necessarily a problem if we make the inevitable transition from stored solar energy to real-time solar energy in an appropriate period of time, bringing us back to the article.

By the time the sun runs down, "we'll" be rocketing through the stars like a band of Puppeteers. At least that's what we nobly tell ourselves, given that individually we'll be dead thousands of years.

MEC2 said at November 23, 2009 1:07 PM:

Not at peak oil, not remotely. We are at peak refining, that is a problem. Oil sands and shale hold decades of production. We are simply not at peak will to actually develop the resources.

That said, I am dying to get off the grid for home use, at least for everything but the 6 tons of AC my house needs. Gimme effective, affordable solar, and if you can roll me a bonus, get it in a package that is durable and can survive Texas weather. If you can get me to cost recovery in under 6 years, we can make out under the bleachers.

TallDave said at November 23, 2009 1:14 PM:

"Our biggest problem is how to make electricity more usable for transportation."

I wouldn't worry overmuch. There are various means by which we can translate electric power into liquid fuel.

ody said at November 23, 2009 1:19 PM:

Randall,

"We burn oil orders of magnitude faster than the earth produces it."

And this has been proven. Please give me a link to some documentation.

If find this suspect, given the fact that we don't even know for sure how oil is "produced".

MEC2,

I have priced out solar for my home. I have many reasons I want to get off the grid, unfortunately the 25 year break even point seemed like a big gamble to me.

nbindo said at November 23, 2009 2:13 PM:

I have made attempts to obtain actual solar cells from several of these roll to roll companies to test them for output.
Funny, seems you can't actually get them.
This is snake oil.

Go ahead, try buying some for testing.

"Any day now".

B.S.

lakelevel said at November 23, 2009 2:17 PM:

Peak Oil is a government created illusion. Regulation keeps us from producing petrolium products from oil shale and coal at prices that are below what we are paying today. Environmentalism is already costing you much more than you think. The ONLY reason we are not producing this way now is because of the CO2 hoax. If not for that, we have enough oil shale and coal for hundreds of years at below current oil prices.

theBuckWheat said at November 23, 2009 2:20 PM:

Peak oil is a myth. In a free market, the ONLY thing that counts is the price of the fuel product at the pump, for the price determines the willingness of users to buy the product. When crude oil that costs pennies a barrel to pump out of the ground is exhausted, buyers bid up the price of the finished product until other sources become "sustainable" (a word the left loves except for things they can't spin like balance sheets). As crude oil gets to be more expensive to extract, other substitutes will become economically sustainable. We have that right now with the cost of converting coal to diesel fuel. The cost of refining diesel from crude oil bought at the present world price is right about at the break-even cost of converting coal to diesel fuel.

In short, since we are AWASH in convertable hydrcarbons, from sewage sludge, coal, meat scraps and agriculture wastes, there cannot be a shortage of fuels make from them as long as there is a free market to set the price.

It should come as no surprise that the myth of "peak oil" is being pushed mainly by people on the left. They are hostile to a free market and have far more faith in central planning than in the law of supply and demand.


Charles S. Opalek, PE said at November 23, 2009 2:56 PM:

Dirty little secret #1: A solar photovoltaic panel in its lifetime will only produce 48% of the energy that went into its manufacture and installation.

DLS #2: By my Emergy Analysis, a wind turbine in its lifetime will produce much, much less than 48% of the energy that went into its manufacture and installation. What a collosal piece of junk it is.

DLS #3: Since 1859 there have been at least 9 scares regarding the world running out of oil. The Hubbert Curve was a lucky guess that appeared for its day to have validity. However, as time goes on and new humongous reserves continue to be uncovered, this scare too shall be deposited into the dumpster where it belongs.

Bruce said at November 23, 2009 2:58 PM:

Randall,

"I find the engineers to be more reliable."

So ... the companies making money off of Barnett should have listened to the engineers and ignored "the largest natural gas play in the state of Texas and, as new wells sprout like bluebonnets across the Fort Worth region, it might soon become the largest in the nation. ".

" the 5,500 wells currently pumping gas in the Barnett Shale play will ultimately generate on the order of $35 billion for their owners. As those companies pay taxes and wages, and as their employees and contractors in turn spend their money, there is an economic ripple effect, creating an overall value of about $100 billion to the Texas economy. "


http://geology.com/research/barnett-shale-gas.shtml

Randall Parker said at November 23, 2009 3:40 PM:

Bruce,

The "will ultimately generate" is the key phrase in that quote. Hasn't happened yet. Depends on how rapidly production declines on each well. That's what the debate is about. Arthur Berman points to some early gas shale wells whose production dropped off too quickly. Some optimists argue the companies have learned how to do better. I've linked to a debate that brings out some viewpoints. Suggest you read it.

Charles Opalek,

Got links to evidence for these assertions?

ody,

Sources of fossil fuels and burn rates: You can find it in the book Oil 101 by Morgan Downey or in a good book on petroleum geology that explains which previous eras contributed to fossil fuels deposits.

Randall Parker said at November 23, 2009 3:49 PM:

theBuckWheat,

Actually, Peak Oil is mainly pushed by petroleum geologists and petroleum engineers. The Left believes we have so much oil to burn it is going to melt the polar ice caps. They see Peak Oil as a distraction from Global Warming.

If oil prices are going to go so high that substitutes will go into production then that's proof that Peak Oil is real. High sustained oil prices combined with no increase in production are exactly what the run-up to Peak Oil should look like. That's where we are now. High sustained oil prices have not managed to push up production and bring down prices. Only a recession brought down prices but prices never returned to levels last seen in 2002.

Look at supply over the last 5 years. Demand and high prices did not push up supply by much. Economics isn't working because of geological limitations.

Bruce said at November 23, 2009 3:56 PM:

Randall, "So far, operators have extracted 2 trillion cubic feet of gas from the Barnett Shale play. At about 1.5 billion cubic feet a day, thatís about 2 percent of the daily natural gas consumption of the U.S. "

At 4.90 per 1000 cf, that is already 9.8 billion dollars worth.

"Of course, that is only counting current wells. Potter predicts that if gas prices stay relatively high, tens of thousands of new wells will be drilled in the coming decades."


Why do you think all these people are lying Randall?

th said at November 23, 2009 4:27 PM:

Something's a little fishy here, solar panels were $6/watt 8 years ago, last year they were $4, in just one year First Solar now claims they are at .85/watt. The cheery news is given this rate of progress they will be giving them away by christmas. Another example of government-induced green jobs hyperbole like non-existent jobs in non-existent congressional districts? Would they be be willing to let us see the hard drives on the new green jobs czar computer or is it another case like Phil Jones at east anglia cru of data somehow lost so just take our word for it that stimulus money isn't skewing something that's obama's pet project? The tangled web this green bunch weaves easily beats nixon on his best day.

Nick G said at November 23, 2009 4:33 PM:

The Left believes we have so much oil to burn it is going to melt the polar ice caps.

I think that "the Left" is much more worried about coal.

I am too.

Tom Villars said at November 23, 2009 5:04 PM:

EEStor has some interesting specs:

450 wh /kg
700 wh / l
$100 - $250 / kwh

Full specs here:http://www.theeestory.com/files/EESU52-Spec-sheet.pdf

Downside is they aren't in production yet and 2010 will be mostly production line fine tuning, but 2011 looks interesting to this analyst report: http://www.theeestory.com/files/ZNN_initiating_JacobCo.pdf

th said at November 23, 2009 5:08 PM:

Randall: "Only a recession brought down prices but prices never returned to levels last seen in 2002."

In 2nd qtr of '09 world oil consumption was 83.6 mmbbls, in '02 it was 78.1, 5.5 mmbbls/d is huge in terms of soaking up spare production. I doubt this trend in demand growth will continue and in fact, oil production during recent high demand periods continues to go up, not down. Oil production has periodically not kept up with demand, this is nothing new.

http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/cfapps/STEO_Query/steotables.cfm?tableNumber=6&periodType=Annual&startYear=2002&endYear=2009&startMonthChanged=false&startQuarterChanged=false&endMonthChanged=false&endQuarterChanged=false&noScroll=false&loadAction=Apply+Changes

Randall Parker said at November 23, 2009 8:15 PM:

th,

2002 wasn't when world oil production hit its production plateau. We can't get back to 2002's price because production hasn't been able to go up by much since 2005. We are in a deep economic downturn. Yet oil is near $80 per barrel. Previous price spikes did not last as long as this one. Asian economic growth combined with the failure of the oil industry to increase production are keeping prices high.

Bruce,

Companies are under enormous pressure from investors to replace reserves and paint rosy pictures about future production. They sometimes get excessively optimstic. Don't believe me? Here's Shell sounding real optimistic about oil shale extraction just 4 years ago. They no longer sound so optimistic. I took their optimism in 2005 at face value. Now I look for engineers from big oil companies posting knowledgeably online (sometimes with pseudonyms) rather than listen only to optimistic top execs.

Maybe Arthur Berman is wrong. I hope so. But I think there's reason to doubt the rosy pictures painted by natural gas companies.

Randall Parker said at November 23, 2009 8:20 PM:

th,

You are mixing price per watt with production cost per watt. First Solar's production cost is well below market price. Until First Solar ramps up production that'll continue to be the case. You can't buy panels at 85 cents per watt today.

What is noteworthy about First Solar's claimed current production cost as well as the the claimed future production costs of Solexant and a few other competitors is they are all well below current market prices. This makes me optimistic that solar panel prices are going to drop even further.

Chris M said at November 24, 2009 2:56 AM:

1$ per watt? Great.... except for two problems:

1) this thin film sheet still needs to be mounted, weather protected and wired up.
2) the price per watt matters little when grid-tie inverter costs remain so high.

random said at November 24, 2009 9:43 AM:

Randall: "We are in a deep economic downturn. Yet oil is near $80 per barrel. Previous price spikes did not last as long as this one. Asian economic growth combined with the failure of the oil industry to increase production are keeping prices high."

As I understand, at least part of the production/price issue is due to devaluation of the US Dollar. $1 today isn't as much incentive as it was in 2002.

lakelevel said at November 24, 2009 10:27 AM:

Randal Parker said: "Don't believe me? Here's Shell sounding real optimistic about oil shale extraction just 4 years ago."

Hey Randal, 4 years ago Democrats didn't control the legislative and executive branches of government. Shale oil extraction is currently illegal due to the CO2 hoax.

Randall Parker said at November 24, 2009 11:57 AM:

lakelevel,

Ken Salazar has reopened the oil shale research leases.

The biggest obstacle is technological, not political. Shell signaled a big delay in their plans in December 2007:

The withdrawal of an application to the Department of Reclamation and Mining Safety for research and development doesn't mean that Shell Oil has given up efforts to wrest oil from the rocks of the Green River Formation.

Shell submitted the application a year ago, but withdrew it when the company realized that research was going to lead in another direction, said Tracy Boyd, spokesman for the Mahogany Project, the name for the oil shale research work being conducted on 17 acres in the Colorado back country near Rifle.

"But that doesn't mean that we've stopped anything," he said. "It's a delay, but other things are going on at the site. We've finished building the freeze wall test and it's 100 percent online now. They're working on heating tests elsewhere on the site."

They did not delay for political reasons. They did not back off their previous optimistic pronouncements for political reasons.

Shell has conducted larger scale oil extraction testing on a larger scale than any other company. They said in Dec 2007 that commercialization is 10 years away. I bet it is still 10 years away.

Robert Rapier called it right on Shell's plans in 2006. He thinks the Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI) is less than 1. Rapier thinks oil shale is a pipe dream.

Politics figures less into how much oil is available than libertarians want to think. Study the geology. Study the engineering problems. That's where the biggest obstacles lie.

th said at November 24, 2009 3:21 PM:

Randall, First Solar's last 10k said it figures its costs per watt by taking only manufacturing costs and dividing by total watts produced evidently ignoring every other cost of doing business and in actuality doesn't one rated watt of solar produce .25 watts on average in the field?

K said at November 24, 2009 4:08 PM:

Oil shale, oil sands, and in situ use of coal are old ideas. One of my bothers-in-law studied them for Union Carbide from roughly 1950-1960.

Times change but the oil shale is still there and still interesting and still not very useful.

First, oil shale can be burned like coal. And in a few places it it. Getting oil from it is quite another matter, one
much harder than extracting from oil sands. It is harder to dig and it contains much less oil by weight. If you don't dig it you must extract the oil with chemicals or heat.

His conclusion, as best I remember, was that oil shale could not become a significant industry unless heat was free. That ruled out consuming one fuel to extract another.

But free heat? That is not as fantastic as it sounds. Solar heat is free. So is geothermal. We can at least imagine using them to heat oil shale.

I applaud Shell for considering the matter. One idea was to use nuclear heat. Nuclear heating far underground could avoid much of the costs of radiation containment (although environmentalists would insist it polluted ground water.)

All-in-all, IMO the reason we hear about oil shale is that the US has a great deal of it and we throw money at energy problems.

Rapier's "Pipe Dream" is a harsh term, but reality is sometimes harsh.

Randall Parker said at November 24, 2009 4:50 PM:

th, Just how much a rated watt produces depends very much on where you put it. In Arizona or the Australian outback it produces far more than in Seattle or Hamburg. Yet until recently Germany was the biggest market for PV.

But 25% is a decent assumption.

The dollar per watt figure is really, again, only for comparative purposes over time and between manufacturers to get a sense of costs of different vendors and processes. Since I've been following the prices for years to me $1 per watt sounds great compared to a few dollars per watt of not all that long ago. Thin films are cutting costs. Looks like deposition on foils will further cut costs. First Solar keeps going down a cost curve. Nanosolar and Solexant sound like they have decent prospects for becoming real competitors to First Solar. Good news.

K,

I applied "pipe dream" to summarize what Rapier says. He uses other equally pessimistic terms. He's skeptical that there's a way to apply heat underground to get the kerogen out that will use less heat than the energy content of the kerogen. I'm not a geophysicist and can't judge this myself. But I have watched oil shale stay several years away from economic viability for enough years that I think counting on it is foolish.

K said at November 24, 2009 5:14 PM:

Randall. a rare occasion when we think alike. I didn't realize that was not a quote. But seemed about right and something he might very well have said.

"He's skeptical that there's a way to apply heat underground to get the kerogen out that will use less heat than the energy content of the kerogen." agrees with my less precise "... unless heat was free. That ruled out consuming one fuel to extract another."

I wish I had paid more attention to the BIL's Energy 101 stories. He really knew his stuff and technology fundamentals don't change with the seasons. OTOH I doubt if he absorbed many of my remarks about Airline Operations 101 either.

Engineer-Poet said at November 24, 2009 11:17 PM:

I would like to see the "PE" sign his name to a claim that modern PV panels only return ~50% of their embodied energy over their lifespan, especially given that NREL calculated the return at 4 years max back in the late 90's and things are considerably better today (projection was to cut that in half by the early years of this decade).  There wouldn't be a "PE" after his name for long.

I would also like the people who think that oil is being produced naturally at replacement rates to use your brains (if you have any).  If that was going on, where did that oil go before people started taking it out and burning it?  Humanity burns about 1.2 cubic miles of oil per year; what does that amount to over even 1 million years, let alone 100 million?  It should have been leaking from every crack in the earth and piling up in bulges all over the place.  This obviously did not happen, so the "abiotic oil" hypothesis cannot possibly be correct.

It may be feasible to extract shale oil using off-peak wind power.  Even at an EROIE of 1, shale oil at $80/bbl is worth about 5¢/kWh.  If you can buy excess wind power at a floor price of 1¢/kWh, you can convert it to shale oil at an operational profit (though interest on capital can kill you).  This would also keep the spot price of wind power from going negative in the market from which the project can draw, which is a net positive.  Someone with more skill in the art than I will have to analyze the specifics (I'm sure there's a catch somewhere).

If you have PV at $1/W(peak), you can eliminate huge amounts of fossil-fired generation.  A rooftop full of PV and an ice-storage A/C looks very practical in sunny zones.  The electric car (or PHEV) recharging from the sun on the carport is cheaper than oil.  Sure, you still need something else for the dark hours, but you'd need a whole lot less of it.

K said at November 25, 2009 3:38 PM:

E-P's suggestion about using excess wind power for shale oil extraction makes sense. It might help. As he notes, it would depend upon the numbers.

Profit can be a treacherous word. It is not enough to profit. Other uses might commandeer any excess WP by proving even more profitable.

e.g. if said excess WP delivers more return by producing hydrogen, or aluminum, or purifying water, or even smelting copper, then it is better to use it in those ways.

th said at November 25, 2009 6:07 PM:

Randall, With today's solar panels at roughly 25% efficiency, they are only 56% more efficient now than the early eighties, consider computing power is up over 10,000%, this is rather pathetic don't you think? Maybe some things just weren't meant to be, $1000/kw isn't much better than $50000/kw if they still aren't effective except in niche areas.

Randall Parker said at November 25, 2009 6:47 PM:

th,

Keep in mind a few things:

1) Solar competes against a wide range of international electricity prices (and Euros per 100 kwh here). It also competes against a wide range of state electric power prices. So it doesn't have to get super cheap to compete effectively in some markets. Especially SoCal with moderately high electric retail prices and lots of sunshine. Solar is underdeployed in SoCal due to unwillingness of people to spend money now to save money in the long run.

2) Fossil fuel depletion and carbon taxes will raise the prices of some of its competitors in coming years.

3) Computers got cheap by getting smaller. Smaller transistors and traces closer together make for faster computers. Thinner silicon PV cuts costs but not as drastically.

4) Thin films are finally cutting costs and look set to continue to do so.

5) Declining costs were hidden in the last 10 years by rising demand engineered by politicians. Now this recession is letting the market see all those cost cuts and the market is headed for a shake-out. Fewer but lower cost players will survive.

Randall Parker said at November 25, 2009 7:24 PM:

th,

Regards dollars per watt: I can see a way to make this intuitive. Americans use electricity at a sustained rate of 1,460 watts. Some of that electricity is used by non-residential users. But imagine you bought enough solar panels to generate enough electricity on average for all your needs (including needs of supporting industries). If we assume average 25% output per rated watt then you would need 4 times 1,460 watts or about 6000 watts. Now, you need battery storage, grid tie inverter, mounting brackets, labor to install it, and other stuff. So I wonder how much all that stuff costs. It is some multiple of 6000 watts.

Americans currently use 12.8 megawatt-hours per person per year (calculated from numbers at the above link). That's 12,800 kwh. At 10 cents per kwh that's $1280 per year. Doubled it is still only $2560 per year. But solar is more expensive than that in most parts of the country. Not sure about Arizona or SoCal. Need to know what the total cost is for off-grid solar.

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