Solid State Technology and Devices Seminar: 24/7 Electricity Produced by Intermittent Power Requires Its Energy Storage

Seminar | May 3 | 1-2 p.m. | Cory Hall, The Hogan Room, 521

 Jerry Woodall, Electrical and Computer Engineering, UC Davis

 Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS)

This is a simple story with a no-brainer punchline included in the title. Except for geothermal and nuclear energy, the sun is, and has been, the source of nearly all energy used on our planet. The problem is that the earth receives plenty of intermittent solar power, but not as solar energy. Solar intermittency was not a problem before the industrial revolution, when human daily energy needs were only 1.5-2.0 kWh. The intermittency problem came with the emergence of iron and steel production, industry, and fuel powered transportation. It is important to stress is that daily sun power did not enable the Industrial Revolution. Rather, it occurred as the result of the availability of energy storage materials created by the death of life created by intermittent solar insulation over millions of years.

In retrospect, using fossil fuels, rather than using daily solar insulation, to launch and develop our current enormous energy consuming and data driven society was a human tragedy. We are now faced with two daunting global scale energy creation and distribution issues. One is having to legislate use restrictions for societies with opulent life-styles. This is a dangerous ploy because the “haves” will not be eager to give up what they already have. The other one is that, owing to instantaneous global communication, the “have nots” will “vigorously” demand energy parity.

After all the low hanging “energy conservation” fruit is picked, what’s next? Resources are available to realize a “greatly reduced fossil fuel” solution to satisfy future disparate societal demands for energy. The sun is free. Less than 10 minutes of solar insulation will create a year’s worth of global energy needs. Capitalization costs of solar cells and wind turbines make them non-competitive with fossil fuel. However, a long-life use factor amortization could bring solar power economics into parity with fossil fuels. The principal remaining issue is to mitigate the sun’s intermittency. This simply requires economical energy storage of wind and solar power.

Finally, there is plenty of fossil fuel to supply world-wide energy needs for the foreseeable future. But there are many reasons to stop using fossil fuels for energy and to get on with converting daily solar power into 24/7 electricity. An important one is that global scale conversion of solar power to electricity via storage does not raise earth’s temperature!

 dadevera@berkeley.edu, 510-642-3214