Swickard: Wind and solar are a-changin'

© 2016 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.   “I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it.” Marshall McLuhan
            That’s the problem with the future which always creeps up on us. There are huge changes in our society coming but most people don’t see them because they don’t believe in relatively sudden technological changes.
            Example: many people don’t believe wind or solar power will have any effect upon them. They see it as the government throwing money so politicians can get votes and donations. Wind or solar to them are boondoggles when the government gets involved for political reasons. And in today’s world I must agree. Today’s world.
            That leaves the future of wind and solar generation which is much different and closer than most people realize. Currently, except for harvesting government subsidies these technologies are only of use in houses in the sticks where bringing a power line in would cost the same as building a battleship.
            However, the use of wind and solar will change. As 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Bob Dylan wrote in 1964: For the times they are a-changin’ You must believe to see the changes coming. That may catch people and governments unaware and could mean they are today investing in the wrong technologies.
            Solar and wind generation has three major shortfalls compared to traditional generation: first, the density of the power while generating it. Secondly, the continuous dependability of the power. Finally, the transmission and generation cost. All three are deal breakers for adopting wind or solar in today’s world.
            There is another problem adopting the current commercial wind and solar generation. It is the thousands of dead birds smacked by wind generation blades or fried from flying into solar death rays. Our current efforts are not the way to have these technologies become mainstream.
            The change that will enable solar and wind generation to become mainstream is when innovation dramatically lowers the cost to store that wind and solar power cheaply at the end-user’s home. This would allow wind and solar generation to become the technology of choice without any government subsidies.
            Can this happen? Yes, here’s a way to look at that possibility of massive change.
            Twenty years ago, the technology in my life involved seven different media devices. I used a Canon F1 camera, a Sony tape recorder/player; a Motorola cell phone, a Gateway home computer with modem, a digital storage unit to back up my computer files and a VHS video player plugged into my Sony television.
            Seven devices that are now contained in my Samsung smartphone. And, I now have Wi-Fi which allows me as a writer to do things I could only dream of doing twenty years ago. Twenty years ago I had no idea so much change was on the horizon.
            That is the same scenario for the dramatic shift to home-based electrical generation and storage. It starts with the move to power vehicles with stored electricity rather than fossil fuel. Currently, the cost per mile of an electric vehicle is above that of gas or diesel powered vehicles. But like the change in my media devices, the core issue is the cost of storage which is dropping dramatically.
            Take computer memory sticks. Just a few years ago it was ten dollars for one megabyte of storage in a memory stick. Now it is ten dollars for a hundred gigabytes. All in a couple years. The same will happen in power storage which will allow homeowners to have their own wind or solar storage.
            I could write more but that is enough to point out that having the expectation of oil and gas being a major benefit to budgets in years to come might just be proven wrong by the dropping storage costs in whole home batteries.
            Stanford University’s Tony Seba has written about this in, “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation: The industrial age of energy and transportation will be over by 2030.” It is a very thought provoking dialog about how technology will change our world soon.
            It isn’t if conventional power will end being useful, only when. That point is when home power storage costs less than the transmission of traditional energy. Then it will make sense to change.



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