Saturday, 30 May 2009

Solar power should replace wind energy, says Jack Steinberger

Europe should scrap its support for wind energy as soon as possible to focus on far more efficient emerging forms of clean power generation including solar thermal energy, one of the world’s most distinguished scientists said yesterday.
Professor Jack Steinberger, a Nobel prize-winning director of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, said that wind represented an illusory technology — a cul-de-sac that would prove uneconomic and a waste of resources in the battle against climate change.
“Wind is not the future,” he told the symposium of Nobel laureates at the Royal Society. Instead, he said, technologies such as solar thermal power — for which parabolic mirrors reflect the Sun’s rays to generate heat and electricity — represent a more promising way of supplanting fossil fuels. “I am certain that the energy of the future is going to be thermal solar,” he told The Times. “There is nothing comparable. The sooner we focus on it the better.”
Professor Steinberger said that all known reserves of fossil fuels would be depleted within 60 years and that a network of solar energy farms in the Sahara could reliably supply nearly 80 per cent of Europe’s energy needs by the middle of this century.
He called for European governments to fund a big pilot project in North Africa linked to Europe via high-voltage undersea cables. Solar thermal power was already economic and on the brink of big advances that would place it way ahead of rival forms of wind, geothermal, wave and tidal energy, he said. “Governments need to focus on this area right now.”
A 3-3.5 gigawatt solar thermal project in North Africa, which would generate enough electricity to supply two million homes, would cost £20 billion to build. “I am certain you could make electricity and ship it to Europe at a price equivalent to fossil fuels.”
He said that intermittent energy sources, such as wind, required back-up power generation, which undermined their contribution to emissions reductions. In contrast, solar thermal power could generate heat energy that could reliably generate 24-hour electricity.
Britain has made wind energy a priority in reducing carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020. The Government plans to build 33 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2020, which the professional services organisation Ernst & Young estimates will cost more than £100 billion.
Professor Steinberger said that it would cost about £440 billion and take 30 years for Europe to remove its reliance on fossil fuels, which supply 80 per cent of its energy needs, but that governments needed to make bold decisions about which technologies to support.
Commercial-scale solar thermal power plants were operating in Spain, the US and Germany, but further research was needed to refine the technology and cut costs, he said. For example, no consensus had yet emerged over the most efficient design of mirror to use, or over the nature of the “thermal vector” — the heatable material that the sun’s rays are reflected on to in the process of power generation.
Professor Burton Richter, from Stanford University in California, said that solar thermal power was one of the most exciting new energy technologies but said that wind had its place.
China is planning to launch a national solar energy plan worth billions of pounds which could see the country become one of the world’s biggest harvesters of solar energy.
The Government’s economic stimulus package would fund incentives for solar farms and rooftop panels, it was reported last night. China is the world’s leading manufacturer of photovoltaic panels, but 95 per cent of these are exported. The economic slowdown has pushed prices for PV panels down by 30 per cent.
Source: The Times

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