Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cheap, Efficient Solar Power: What's Needed Now To Get There?

Date:
April 11, 2007
Source:
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Summary:
If solar power is going to play a significant role in the energy equation of the future, there must be advances in technologies to store that power and more investment by manufacturers.

If solar power is going to play a significant role in the energy equation of the future, there must be advances in technologies to store that power and more investment by manufacturers, concludes a new federally funded study by University of Massachusetts Amherst scientist Erin Baker.

The report by Baker and colleagues explores the viability of sun-fueled technologies through a combination of evaluations by experts and economic modeling, allowing the researchers to look at solar power’s role in the electricity sector in 15-year chunks through 2095.

Baker has been invited to submit the article to Energy Economics as part of a special issue on Technological Change and Uncertainty in Environmental Economics. It is the first in a series; future reports will assess technologies that harvest wind, biofuels and carbon capture. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $347,000 to Baker’s team last year to investigate the costs and benefits associated with investing in alternative energies.

Jeffrey Keisler of UMass Boston, and Haewon Chon, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland working with the Joint Global Change Research Institute collaborated with Baker.

The scientists approached their analysis of sun-fueled technologies from the framework of a research and development portfolio. They analyzed the risks of certain investments, and solicited advice from experts to identify the key technological breakthroughs in solar technology that would lower its costs. They also asked what hurdles might make it hard to move the technology from the lab to production, and the probability of success, given a funding trajectory. The researchers then fed that information into a model that allowed them to play out various investment scenarios.

The model incorporates information about land use and the energy sector in 14 world regions as well as information on a range of electricity technologies including nuclear power, fossil fuels, biofuels, and solar and wind power. It allows the researchers to look forward in 15-year intervals to 2095, and to ask what’s needed to ensure widespread use of cheap solar power, and how much that would reduce emissions.

“We asked what if technologies that capture solar power were efficient enough to supply the needs of a house through a solar shingle roof,” says Baker. “What breakthroughs would be needed for the solar cells to last the lifetime of the roof, and cost as much or less than fossil fuel-based electricity. And if that technology is to become a reality, what investments are required now.”

Several of their findings bear noting, says Baker. First, even if there are research breakthroughs that made the costs of photovoltaics comparable to or less than that of fossil fuels—roughly 3 cents per kilowatt hour by 2050—there would still be a limited impact on emissions unless the advances are combined with improvements in low-cost storage.

“The development of complimentary technologies, in particular low-cost storage of electricity, is critical,” says Baker. Current technologies do not have good, cheap storage options, and putting all the power into the grid may make it unstable, she says. But when technological breakthroughs are combined with improvements in storage, using solar technology could lower emissions by 20 percent at no additional cost to the economy—taking a serious bite out of the carbon problem.

Baker notes another finding: the experts disagree on how much investment is needed to bring about the breakthroughs required to make solar technology widespread and cheap. But they do agree that federal dollars alone aren’t enough, there has to be more investment from the manufacturing sector.

This suggests that if policy makers want to increase the probability of having the needed technological breakthroughs, they need to encourage investment from the manufacturing sector—this could happen in the form of subsidies, tax breaks or other regulations to increase demand, as well as through support for conferences and public-private collaborations, says Baker.

While the experts disagreed in some areas, they agreed on the order of investment: focus first on getting power from the new inorganic materials that show promise but are far from viable for large scale production. Then focus on purely organic cells with organic semiconductors; these hold the promise of low costs but still haven’t achieved high levels of efficiency and face serious stability problems. And lastly investigate the so-called third-generation cells, which use entirely different technology but may ultimately yield much more power.

Baker acknowledges that the study is preliminary, but she’s pleased that the analytic method, which is commonly applied in industry, can be applied at the public policy level.

“Our analysis should be seen as a tool for informing policy makers on how to balance research and development investments among the various alternative energy technologies,” says Baker. “We hope it takes some of the speculation out of how to craft good climate change policies.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Massachusetts Amherst. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Massachusetts Amherst. "Cheap, Efficient Solar Power: What's Needed Now To Get There?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070409215149.htm>.
University of Massachusetts Amherst. (2007, April 11). Cheap, Efficient Solar Power: What's Needed Now To Get There?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070409215149.htm
University of Massachusetts Amherst. "Cheap, Efficient Solar Power: What's Needed Now To Get There?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070409215149.htm (accessed August 2, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pyrenees Orphan Bear Cub Gets Brand New Home

Pyrenees Orphan Bear Cub Gets Brand New Home

AFP (Aug. 1, 2014) The discovery of a bear cub in the Pyrenees mountains made headlines in April 2014. Despire several attempts to find the animal's mother, the cub remained alone. Now, the Pyrenees Conservation Foundation has constructed an enclosure. Duration: 00:31 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rare Whale Fossil Pulled from Calif. Backyard

Rare Whale Fossil Pulled from Calif. Backyard

AP (Aug. 1, 2014) A rare whale fossil has been pulled from a Southern California backyard. The 16- to 17-million-year-old baleen whale fossil is one of about 20 baleen whale fossils known to exist. (Aug. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Greenpeace Ship Arctic Sunrise Free to Leave Russia

Greenpeace Ship Arctic Sunrise Free to Leave Russia

AFP (Aug. 1, 2014) Greenpeace's ship Arctic Sunrise, held in custody by the Russian authorities since September last year, has departed the Russian city of Murmansk en route for its home port of Amsterdam. Duration: 01:04 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

AP (July 31, 2014) Seacrest Wolf Preserve on the northern Florida panhandle allows more than 10,000 visitors each year to get up close and personal with Arctic and British Columbian Wolves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins