And privately designed/built/owned particle accelerators? It's definitely a new era.
What if one day the other side of the globe getting sunlight powered the grid for the other half? Of course this would require very peaceful nations on each continent, so even if we had the cost-effective technology now, it would take hundreds if not thousands of years to happen politically.
That being said, at .40/watt you can cover a lot of rooftops economically and that means that you cut the top off the 'peak' usage for a city or town. Cutting that peak off is a huge win because often power companies have fossil fuel plants (called 'peaker plants') which they bring online only during peak power requirements.
The cool thing about having the buildings support the power load is you get a benefit of not transporting it very far (few losses due to power line resistance). And yes, even on the most overcast day solar panels generate power. The ones on my roof in California can generate nearly 50% of their best days on overcast days. That does not hold though for panels covered in snow so there is some requirement to keep them clean.
HVDC can be as efficient as 97%, compared with the US average of 93%. That 4% "inefficiency tax" would likely pay for long-haul HVDC connectors (as outlined in one of Obama's 2008 energy proposals) within years.
So it is a proven technology to have this as a long distance link (been in operation since 1965) and it is capable of bi-directional power transfer as well.
Mercury-arc rectifiers (the technology replaced with IGBTs and GTOs) were very large and expensive, and also less efficient (even more so before the 1930s or so) so HVDC only made sense for submarine cables (which have huge capacitive losses). With IGBTs and GTO thyristors it start to become feasible to e.g. do an HVDC line across a continent.
As an example the HVDC inter-island was built using mercury-arc valves (it included a submarine leg), but they have since benn replaced with solid-state devices.
HVDC is also a good to tie two separate grids together; since they will be on different time-bases you can't just directly AC couple them.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-voltage_direct_current#Dis... (note: some of these are due to AC parts having economies of scale and decades of efficiencies and process that HVDC may not be able to tap into without widescale implementation)
* Difficulty cooling. If you build next to an ocean or river, you can just use some of that water to provide the cold end of the temperature differential that you're using to generate power. Deserts are trickier, and more expensive.
* Transportation. If you build next to navigable waterways, you can ship really big components on barges. In deserts, you can ship some things by rail.
But hey, at least it's politically convenient to stick scary power plants in deserts.
Water just happens to be a particularly convenient coolant.
Water has some disadvantages. It's a good neutron moderator, but with its low boiling point you have to keep it under a lot of pressure (160 atmospheres for most light-water reactors). That means you need very strong, thick steel, and a huge oversize containment dome, since if a pipe breaks, the steam will flash into 1000 times as much volume. Then some of it will split, and you'll be at risk of a hydrogen explosion, which is what we all saw at Fukushima.
Molten salt, on the other hand, works at atmospheric pressure, and if something leaks it just drips out and cools into rock.
Sodium has a disadvantage in being reactive with oxygen and water, but it also works at atmospheric pressure. The integral fast reactor design uses a big pool of sodium, which provides so much thermal inertia that Argonne was able to switch off the cooling system entirely, and the reactor just quietly shut down.
Either design works at higher temperatures than LWRs, giving better thermodynamic efficiency.
Actually, we have, albeit with varying degrees of success:
If you've ever seen the insulator jacket in an underground HVDC cable it is huge.
How about flywheels?
There are hundreds of other processes with huge energy inputs that are currently satisfied by cheap fossil fuels, but could well be met by equatorial solar facilities. Considering how quickly manufacturing transitioned to China, it seems entirely plausible that we could move most high-energy, low-labour processes to equatorial regions within a couple of decades.
But still the author is right, we need ways to store electricity and we will also need a much more flexible grid than the one we have today.
The neo liberal FDP here in Germany is trying to kill off the solar market by drastically reducing the fee you get for feeding solar electricity into the system. But we already have net parity, therefore it is feasible to put up a photovoltaic system on your house, when you size it carefully and consume much of the energy by yourself. It simply reduces your utility bill.
If this new technology really halves the price of modules, people for sure will continue installing new systems. Yay!
But this is definitely long term thinking on their part. Already Germany is the current world leader when it comes to renewables as a percentage of total generating power.
As the price of power goes up this 'stupid' strategy starts to look smarter by the day.
Then, January/February this year cold snap happened, and they had to buy power from neighborns that still have regular obsolete power plants, because they couldn't provide enough energy for themselves. Green energy means you hope for good weather or neighborns to have enough electricity.
Germany is now protesting Poland new nuclear power plant, when Poland is trying to change its dependence on fossil fuels (sth lik 96%, I don't remember exactly).
This isn't smart. This is hysteria-motivated energy policy.
EDIT: one source http://rt.com/news/germany-reactors-cold-weather-927/
Also the adaption of solar panels on homes went far faster, then most people expected. The grids in single-family home neighborhoods simply are not designed to handle much power being fed into the system at this point. The problem is that at daytime, when the sun shines there is not much power needed in residential neighborhoods, since everyone is at work. This is why self-consumption is the desired use-case for solar-energy on family homes. That's why I think there is a market for home-control right there. -> "Start washing machine WHEN solar energy > X"
The issue is that creates even distortion between the energy sector as a whole and the rest of the economy, since fossil fuels are already subsidized (through not pricing in the negative externality) and we're adding a separate subsidy to green energy.
So we're distorting the market to favor creating green energy over reduced consumption of energy. When what's really needed is simply an effective tax on carbon, and then let people decide the most efficient way to respond.
It's not that nice, because power output from wind/solar plants is random (depends on things like cloud cover or wind strength) and it causes problems in power grid, where power demand must meet the supply exactly, or bad things will happen.
"Without Hot Air" covers this, and other renewable-related issues quite nicely and with real data. I recommend it, it's a good read. It has some good ideas on how to solve power supply/demand problems.
On TED2012 there was a talk about a new kind of batteries designed to solve those kind of problems in the power grid; the video from the talk is not yet up, though (but I think it should be soon, at ).
 - http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/
 - http://www.ted.com/talks?lang=en&event=2012&duration...
The biggest power cost for us in warmer climates is cooling. When the sun is out, we need lots of power; when it's not, not so much. Solar power sufficient to run A/C from rooftop panels costing less than grid electricity would be wonderful, lining up perfectly with the inconsistencies of available sunlight.
Last summer I ran an experiment. We live in a two story house in California. We usually see low temperatures at night (sub 70deg F) and highs in the range of 105+ degF during the day. At night I opened all of the windows downstairs and used a small industrial fan (about 2000CFM) to pump cold outside air into the house. In the morning I'd shut down the fan and close all windows.
I could get the lower part of the house down to below 70F on most days during the summer. Cold enough to have to wear a sweater. Even with the outside temperature hitting highs above 105+ the thermal mass of the house succeeded in maintaining a very comfortable inside temperature (max around 77F). We did not use the air conditioner at all last summer, saving tons of money. The fan costs pennies a day to run.
This summer I am looking at what efficiency improvements I can make to this arrangement. I'm itching to throw a micro-controller at it, but I want to learn a little more before I take that path. There's a lot to do in the roof. Think about it, you have this huge solar heat collector --the roof-- reaching ridiculous temperatures during the day and radiating that right into the house. Sure, there's attic insulation, but that's a ton of energy to deal with.
I'm thinking that some forced ventilation of the attic with a small fan might just do wonders.
Where I live if it gets hot it says hot, day and night. And most of the country is the same.
Although, obviously, incremental improvements are great even if only some people can use them.
You can use this two ways: You can use it to try to cool the house directly by embedding tubing in the floor/walls or some other approach. Or, you could use it to improve the efficiency of an air conditioning unit by providing supplemental cooling of the A/C unit heat exchanger coils.
Radiative barriers should also be on your list. It's essentially just mylar stapled to the rafters.
(I realize that this is at least borderline pedantry)
(I, for one, don't mind pedantry :))
An 80% / 90 % cut in fossil fuel usage or higher would be a huge thing though!
I actually worked at a startup from about 2007-2009 that was designing particle accelerators for another company pursuing what appears to be the exact same technology (possibly some of the same people).
No idea what came of the project. Very high current ion accelerators in the +1 MeV range is quite the trick without a huge budget. Our company was full of people from Los Alamos. We were actually focusing on a different application that needed higher output.
There is a quite sizeable commercial accelerator market for medical, industrial imaging, and radiation sterilization use (and of course various "homeland security uses".
It's not that new.
I don't see politics as being the primary challenge; the US has allies in almost every time zone that could fairly easily facilitate this. I imagine the greater challenge would come from trying to get all that electricity across oceans. Copper wires thick enough to carry a substantial amount of electricity seem like they would be too think to actually lay, and then you have parasitic losses to contend with should they manage to find a way to do it.
Why? Look at the world today. Russia supplies energy to Western Europe, Saudi Arabia provides energy to the US, Australia provides coal to China. None of them have much love for each other, it's just mutual self-interest.
No denying it's still amazing though...
Well, you could build a push-pull Van de Graaff generator, hook it up to a discharge tube, hook the tube to a high vacuum pump, and there ya go, linear accelerator in the 1 MeV range. Totally doable in a garage.
There are people who built a cyclotron at home. You'll need to wind a huge coil, but it's doable.
I guess it's just a question of power!
Or maybe it would create peaceful nations on each continent. You may say I'm a dreamer.... :)
Trading cheap electric power with little profit requires governments to make forward thinking, progressive decisions because no business will bother unless they could make millions from their effort.
Also, I often ponder what will happen one day when power is cheap and easily available - you'd want to hope it means less war but I fear it means the opposite. The war machine will LOVE cheap power and then attacking power feeds or cutting off the other side of the globe as an act of war or terrorism will be too easy of a target. So we'd need peace first which is unlikely to happen given most governments.