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Elon Musk believes solar alone can power the entire US (twitter.com/elonmusk)
7 points by hongzi 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 3 comments

To many in the anti-nuclear crowd, the environment is merely an afterthought; there's an alternative agenda. Right out of the mouth of Time's Person of the Year:

"After all, the climate crisis is not just about the environment. It is a crisis of human rights, of justice, and of political will. Colonial, racist, and patriarchal systems of oppression have created and fueled it. We need to dismantle them all."


It's astonishing (and scary) how these things are being conflated. I thought Elon was a man of science?

He's right and it's a quite obvious observation if you realize that mass producing solar panels and mass producing batteries is something that is going to inevitably lead to economies of scale and cost reductions. Obviously, Elon Musk figured that out quite long ago; hence his prolonged investment in this type of stuff.

The arguments against this are a combination of naive and wrong. Basically lets pick apart the most common one: "the sun does not always shine". Yep, hard to deny. It gets dark sometimes. Luckily the Sun comes out every day on a schedule that we know down to the last second. Of course that leads to the follow up arguments related to "winter" and "clouds". When it is cloudy or winter, you still get some yield from solar panels. And of course it's never cloudy everywhere at the same time and definitely not for very long. Also winters alternate between southern and northern hemispheres.

So, what that means is that a modest amount of batteries can absorb peaks and dips in production and usage of solar power. Furthermore, you can compensate for local differences by inter connecting production sites with a very old school thing called a cable. If your local coal plant stops working, you simply get power from another one. You never even notice if that happens. Why would that work differently for Solar? There's no good reason why a cloudy Texas would not be able to import Solar from a sunny California; or vice versa. Likewise a wintery new york could probably import power from sunny Florida. Most of these places get plenty of sun on average throughout the year.

So, you don't need months of battery capacity. Hours/days are actually pretty good. And actually, if you own an EV and a bunch of solar panels, you technically have enough battery to cut loose from the grid already. 60kwh is a lot of battery to power a house. Tesla's powerwall batteries are a lot smaller (about 10x).

Finally, another notion to absorb is that you can over supply both batteries and panels. So, if you think your panel production is going to produce only half of what you need, just install twice the capacity. Or three times. Or four times.

It's just a matter of volume and prices. Battery prices and solar panel prices steadily improving in price/peformance over the next decades are only going to improve things. But they are already pretty good for building a really reliable and robust interconnected grid of solar and batteries. Actually building that won't happen overnight but it's obviously feasible from a technical and economical point of view.

Nuclear doesn't even come close to being price competitive with any of this now (and certainly not when prices continue to drop) and all of the above is likely to happen at scale in the time it will take to even agree to start planning to build a fraction of the nuclear capacity that is actually needed to achieve the same goal (which is not happening at all right now). It takes decades from planning to flipping the on switch with current nuclear plants and only a handful are actually in the enormously slow process of being planned at all right now.

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