Issue Date: March 12, 2012
Thoughts On Energy
Proponents of solar energy often tout the enormous amount of energy available, but as Edgar Müller points out in a letter to the editor, solar energy is very dilute (C&EN, Jan. 16, page 4). To collect a lot of energy you need to cover a lot of land with solar cells, or with mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto a central power tower, or with cells for artificial photosynthesis. But this doesn’t require further destruction of our forests and deserts, because there are more than 100,000 km2 of roofs, roads, and parking lots in the Lower 48 alone (Eos,DOI: 10.1029/2004EO240001).
The use of roofs for this purpose is well-known, but that is not the case with roads and parking lots. As anyone who has walked across an asphalt parking lot on a sunny day can tell you, these surfaces are excellent collectors of solar energy, which could be harnessed by, for example, running pipes with heat-transfer fluid under them. The cost could be minimized when installation takes place or when the surfaces are to be repaved anyway.
By Howard J. Wilk
Müller writes in a letter about two articles in the Nov. 7, 2011, issue of C&EN (pages 8 and 9): “I want to point out that all of our presently exploited energy technologies were born and raised to prosperity without governmental funding.” This is not true.
His statement is contradicted by a later article, “Long History of U.S. Energy Subsidies” (C&EN, Dec. 19, 2011, page 30). According to Nancy Pfund and Ben Healey’s study, subsidies to oil and gas and to nuclear energy sources have been much higher than support for renewable sources. Business failures occurred in coal and oil companies, as will happen in our free-market economy. Such failures do not in themselves eliminate a resource from consideration.
Rejecting renewable energy sources because they need subsidies is not consistent with current energy practices. Subsidies work best when an early infusion of funds can create a temporary market and support larger, more economical manufacturing procedures to bring down the product costs. Those subsidies can come from government or venture capitalists. Perhaps it is not wise to continue subsidies to what should be mature industries, such as oil and gas; however, this certainly is done.
By Pat Schroeder
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