I’ve had the good fortune to occasionally talk with Dr. Jim Fenton, Professor of Engineering at UCF and Director of the Florida Solar Energy Center. He has been a longtime and increasingly optimistic advocate for solar energy, particularly photovoltaic electricity generation. He’s also been presenting the economic argument for accelerated deployment of this technology to high-level and increasingly larger audiences in Florida. I’ve developed the same basic idea in a manuscript I hope to publish in the near future.
In a nutshell solar electricity is now the lowest cost. We have the numbers to prove it.
As has been the case with every conversation I have with Dr. Fenton, the most recent suggested a new detail for the big picture/narrative of my book. Water.
Water plays a key role in so much of the process of extracting and delivering conventional energy that its near-term shortage, and some predict prevalent long term shortages, will likely impact energy cost. Solar electricity doesn’t require water. In contrast, “thermoelectricity,” the stuff made in conventional power plants (nuclear, coal, natural gas) use on average almost a half gallon of water (national average) for every kilowatt-hour delivered to your house.
The amount of fresh water used isn’t quite as much here in Florida. And we’re still getting rain. But think about the implications for the drought stricken Southwest. In addition to the other expense and environmental issues with the fossil fuel power plant, the household using 1000 kWh a month is also responsible for 500 gallons of water being diverted and thrown up into the air where it just drifts away.
Interestingly, agriculture and power generation are responsible for about 80% of total fresh water withdrawals. In the West particularly there’s already a scramble to possess what seems to be a shrinking supply. It’s a good bet water availability will become a bigger factor in the discussion of our energy future.
For some time there’s been evidence that we are in the “end game” for fossil fuel energy. Cost factors like water supply limitations that were ignored for so long are now making themselves visible. They raise the ultimate price of the status quo model. Meanwhile, solar prices keep coming down.
The drought is without question hard on those sitting in the middle of it. For everybody else though, this is a revelation that’s very beneficial long term. Just keeping on burning becomes less appealing because we understand more clearly it is expensive. Thanks in part to the drought, the switch to lower cost renewable energy will accelerate.