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Ray Kurzweil: Solar Will Power the World in 16 Years

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tinrobot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 03:44 PM
Original message
Ray Kurzweil: Solar Will Power the World in 16 Years
Currently, solar power supplies less than 1% of the world's energy needs, which has led many to disregard its future significance. Where they're wrong is that they fail to understand the exponential nature of technology, says eminent inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. Just like computer processing speedwhich doubles every 18 months in accordance with Moore's lawthe nanotechnology that drives innovations in solar power progresses exponentially, he says.

During his latest Big Think interview, Kurweil explained:

"Solar panels are coming down dramatically in cost per watt. And as a result of that, the total amount of solar energy is growing, not linearly, but exponentially. Its doubling every 2 years and has been for 20 years. And again, its a very smooth curve. Theres all these arguments, subsidies and political battles and companies going bankrupt, theyre raising billions of dollars, but behind all that chaos is this very smooth progression."

So how far away is solar from meeting 100% of the world's energy needs? Eight doublings, says Kurzweil, which will take just 16 years. And supply is not an issue either, he adds: "After we double eight more times and were meeting all of the worlds energy needs through solar, well be using 1 part in 10,000 of the sunlight that falls on the earth. And we could put efficient solar farms on a few percent of the unused deserts of the world and meet all of our energy needs."

http://bigthink.com/ideas/31635

---

Interesting. Not sure if Kurzweil's math holds up, but one can always hope it does.
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 03:48 PM
Response to Original message
1. Maintaining exponential growth indefinitely is difficult if not impossible
I doubt Kurzweil is a bigger booster of solar power than I am, but I don't believe it. (I would dearly love to be proven wrong.)
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JDPriestly Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 03:50 PM
Response to Original message
2. Solar energy is safe and flexible. I agree with Kurzweil.
You don't need math to figure this out. You just have to have lived in a desert and/or in Southern California. It's the best way to go. In areas where there is lots of water, they can use hydropower as they have been. But solar will eventually fuel the world.

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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 03:54 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. Eventually -vs- 16 years
I have little problem with the "eventually." It's the "16 years" estimate that bothers me.
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Kennah Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 04:23 PM
Response to Reply #4
10. I would agree with "Eventually, if we survive long enough"
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JDPriestly Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 06:08 PM
Response to Reply #4
15. Fukushima is not over yet.
The impetus for increasing reliance on nuclear energy will definitely be reduced.

And as scientists continue to do research on solar and on batteries, the movement to solar will increase. As the cost of energy rises, individuals who can afford to do so and who want to use the increasingly attractive new technologies -- electronics especially -- will begin to demand more and more solar. I can remember when the price of a computer was completely prohibitive. That is no longer true. The same will happen for solar panels.

Many people will first replace their old water heaters with solar. My neighbor already has. That will be the equivalent of those tiny Macs that were the first computers people bought for their homes. That was not all that long ago. Now look at the prevalence and quality of computers we get. The market for computers grew astronomically within a short time.

That is because computers give people independent access to information and communication that they had to wait days for or maybe never could obtain prior to computers.

The big appeal of solar energy is that you can have a direct connection between the solar equipment on your house and your own electricity wiring. That means that you are pretty immune from fluctuations in electricity prices. That makes the electric car very attractive.

I believe that the capacity of solar energy units for producing energy will increase as the market for this technology develops. It will parallel the impact that the development of the computer had on the capacity of computers. That will be the big draw for solar energy.

Safety will also be a factor. But having an independent source of energy if that is what you want will be the biggest advantage of solar energy.
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 08:40 AM
Response to Reply #15
32. Sure, but
I'm skeptical of completely replacing our entire current energy infrastructure with anything (Solar, Wind, Nuclear, Natural Gas, Clean Coal) in 16 years.
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JDPriestly Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 02:30 PM
Response to Reply #32
37. How long did it take us to develop a nuclear bomb?
We can do things quickly when we put our minds to it.
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 03:05 PM
Response to Reply #37
39. The solar panel is already essentially developed.
We're already deploying them. It's a question of how fast we can produce and deploy in quantity (oh, and overhauling our grid to take full advantage of an intermittent power source.)

Compared to that, the Manhattan project was a piece of cake. (They only produced 4 bombs.)
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NickB79 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 03:22 PM
Response to Reply #37
41. Development isn't the problem, scaling up solar panel production is
Just building enough factories to build enough panels to replace nuclear globally would take years, much less to replace ALL fossil fuels. Then you have to consider installation time of the panels, bottlenecks on material supplies (we're gonna need a LOT of high-grade silicon and rare earth elements that must be mined and refined), upgrades to the power grid to handle the more diffuse nature of most solar (small, decentralized vs. modern large, centralized plants), and the construction of energy storage systems to provide backup when the sun isn't shining.

If we lived in an entirely command-based economy like the old USSR or China, maybe these could be done in 16 yr, but in our current system I don't see it progressing nearly that fast.
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orwell Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 03:53 PM
Response to Original message
3. Storage is a great challenge...
...but I tend to agree with him that advances in solar seem to be picking up steam rather than slacking off.
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Kolesar Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 04:08 PM
Response to Reply #3
7. the Scientific American article proposed pressurized-wells as a storage medium
Old gas wells would be repurposed with a pump + motor/generator.
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caraher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 04:04 PM
Response to Original message
5. Kurzweil says lots of things
Most of them turn out to be false.

I'm sure his math is right, but that kind of math always starts after stating a big "If..."
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 05:32 PM
Response to Reply #5
12. +1 - Ray K is the technophile's technophile.
Edited on Mon Mar-21-11 05:35 PM by GliderGuider
Ray completely ignores the human factor. We are very messy critters who are near the breaking point in a number of critical areas. Because of Peak Oil, the net oil export crisis and rising food prices we don't have 16 years of growth left in any aspect of our civilization. Our reality is far more likely to be catabolic collapse than singularity.

ETA: If there is a singularity approaching in the human experience it is more likely to be spiritual than technological. And that would be better for us, too.
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Teaser Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 05:58 PM
Response to Reply #12
13. How can there be a spiritual singularity
Technology actually exists and I'm unconvinced that there will be a technological singularity.

But a spiritual singularity? I've yet to see any evidence of this thing called "spirit".
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 06:04 PM
Response to Reply #13
14. No problem. I'm not saying you have to have one.
I just think that since technology got us into this mess in the first place, it's very unlikely to get us out. I think an awakening of human consciousness would do it, which is what I really mean when I use the unfortunate shorthand word "spiritual". It's not actually spiritual at all - it's more like a collective awakening into wisdom. And I think that's a wonderful idea. If you'd rather not do that, nobody's going to force you. :evilgrin:
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Confusious Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 07:00 AM
Response to Reply #14
27. Sorry man, not a believer in the great awakening
Edited on Tue Mar-22-11 07:02 AM by Confusious
The human race only awakens in one of two ways.

The slow morning need my coffee and take a dump awakening,

Or someone yelling "WAKE UP! WAKE UP!," quick awakening

in both cases, the usual realization is the same, and very narrow, "WTF?! It's morning...... again?"
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 07:52 AM
Response to Reply #27
30. We don't need to awaken the whole human race.
Just enough of it to make the difference. Not everyone became enlightened during the enlightenment after all... :-)
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 09:07 AM
Response to Reply #30
34. Although it would certainly be helpful
If a minority were to stop burning fossil fuels tomorrow, I'm afraid that far too many of the remainder would simply say, Hey! Gas prices are down! Gimme back my SUV!
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 09:31 AM
Response to Reply #34
35. You underestimate how fast a culture can change.
Edited on Tue Mar-22-11 09:31 AM by GliderGuider
How many people said, "Gimme back my slaves!" after about 1868? It took less than ten years from the start of the Civil War until society in general saw slavery as unthinkable. I'd settle for ten years from the perception of Peak Oil (today) until the private ownership of cars becomes unimaginable. A combination of physical circumstances and a bit of enlightened leadership can work miracles.
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 03:14 PM
Response to Reply #35
40. How long did it take the majority to give up their slaves?
Enlightened individuals were calling for the abolition of slavery in America almost 2 centuries before 1868.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism#Calls_for_abo...
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GeorgeGist Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 04:07 PM
Response to Original message
6. Actually the Sun has been providing nearly all of the world's energy needs
Edited on Mon Mar-21-11 04:08 PM by GeorgeGist
for eons.
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Kennah Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 04:22 PM
Response to Reply #6
9. Very true ...
... and if we can ever figure how to harness even 20% of it with a cost effective PV panel, we're good.
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A Simple Game Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 07:21 PM
Response to Reply #9
17. Exactly, along with an increase in wind, geothermal, tide, etc.
We don't have to replace all oil and nuclear, just most of it.

Upgrading the grids will also save an enormous amount of energy.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 07:14 AM
Response to Reply #9
28. We already know how to do it. Price reduction follows manufacturing investment.
Edited on Tue Mar-22-11 07:14 AM by kristopher
At this point it is far more about bringing in investment than it is about technological improvements in efficiency.

The area for improvement lies most in manufacturing processes, installation, and policy related installation costs.
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 09:05 AM
Response to Reply #28
33. There are clearly limits to price reductions
Obviously, the cost of a system must be no less than the cost of the raw materials required. That's a hard, fast limit. In addition, a margin must exist for commercial manufacturing to be profitable.

A significant portion of the price of any installed system is the labor to install it. Systems which are easier to install will help lower that price, but never eliminate it.

Efficiency has its limits. If solar becomes more than 100% efficient, we need new laws of physics. In the lab, it's getting closer to 50% efficient. Closer to the real world, were at about 25%, which is simply great! However, that means that we won't be seeing tremendous increases in efficiency.

And, there are other limits. It takes time a finite amount of time to install a system. It takes manufacturing capacity to produce them. It takes area to install them, and so on.

New, unconventional technologies are appearing (windows with incorporated solar cells, solar paint)


By all means, let's produce them and install them just as fast as we can. I simply don't believe the 16 year figure.
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Statistical Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 09:35 AM
Response to Reply #33
36. Good points. The PV panels are an expensive part but only part of the system.
PV system consists of:
a) PV panels = $2.00 to $4.00 per watt right now (depending on quality, efficiency, size of system & retail markup)
b) Inverter = $0.50 to $1.00 a watt
c) Racking & Wiring = $1.00 a watt
d) labor = $1.50 to $3.00 a watt
--------------------------
Total: $5.00 to $9.00 a watt

While PV panels are likely going to continue to drop in price the other components are much more mundane. Inverters have been around for decades in a variety of aplpications and we haven't seen the price go to $0.00. Racking is little more complicated that metal beams, screws, and bolts. Prices are unlikely to go down at all (inflation in metals means price may even rise).

Labor could go down some if either:
a) it becomes so widespread that unskilled labor can be used
b) some new mechanism for deploying becomes commonplace.

However both of these require something beyond the advance of silicon to see improvement. I am certain we will see quality high end PV available for <$1.00 within four or five years. However even if PV are below the magic $1.00 watt each reduction would have less of an impact on overall system cost.

Going from $4 a watt down to $2 a watt cuts system cost by 23% but going from $2 a watt to $1 a watt only cuts system cost by another 14%. Cutting price down to $0.50 a watt is only another 8% reduction.

Solar has huge potential and installed solar capacity will only rise but predicting that we will see solar completely dominate in 16 years based on price of silicon falling is naive. It assumes:
a) silicon prices will continue to see exponential growth in yields without slowing
b) the non-silicon components will fall in cost by similar margins.

Neither are realistic and those real world conditions will make the growth in solar much slower and harder to predict.
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wtmusic Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 07:25 PM
Response to Reply #6
19. The world has had it for long enough. SUNLIGHT BELONGS TO MAN NOW
and the world can go screw itself.
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Statistical Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 04:09 PM
Response to Original message
8. Eventually I have no doubts. 16 years well ask Intel about 10Ghz chips
http://www.geek.com/articles/chips/intel-predicts-10ghz... /

When clock speed of chips were doubling every 18 months some analyst at Intel were very confident we would have 10Ghz chips by 2011. It didn't happen.

10 year or 16 year predictions on something that is still doubling every 18 months is very hard to do.
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tinrobot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 06:42 PM
Response to Reply #8
16. I see this as more of a tipping point.
Edited on Mon Mar-21-11 06:44 PM by tinrobot
I could go into why clock speeds didn't increase as expected, but it doesn't really apply to this issue. People are still buying lots of computers despite the fact that they don't have 10Ghz processors. This is because we already passed the tipping point where mass adoption of computers happened.

The issue is not so much about the advance of technology, but rate of adoption. When rates of adoption increase, a tipping point happens where people suddenly shift from one technology to another. This happened with autos in the early 20th century, and with computers late in the century. We could also look at video's shift from VHS -> DVD -> Netflix or audio's shift from vinyl -> CD -> MP3. All of these had a tipping point where the technology was too good to resist. When that happened, people switched fairly quickly.

I suspect solar will also hit a tipping point. Kurzweil's exponential growth rates aside, all that is really needed is for solar technology to be too good to resist. Once that threshold is crossed, people will adopt it very quickly.

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Statistical Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 08:13 PM
Response to Reply #16
21. The tipping point is directly related to yield.
As you said too good to resist. Plants are already large enough to be benefiting from economies of scale. Large amounts of solar are made in low cost countries so cheap labor is already factored in.

To get to that to good to resist the price per watt needs to be cut in half a couple times. If you track the price progress per watt and assume it will continue at the same price in the future you will hit too good to resist in 16 years. I am just saying like Intel predictions sometimes things crop out. If the progress in yields slows it could be 20 years, or 35 years, or 50 years.
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Confusious Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 01:03 AM
Response to Reply #16
25. It applies

The lesson is "Things don't always turn out as you expect or plan for"

especially when you think the output is going to double for solar, which it hasn't this year in most of the world, china being the exception.
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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 09:58 PM
Response to Reply #8
22. Intel went for low-power 3GHz multi-core chips instead
keeping the clock rate down to reduce power consumption, which is what the market wanted for laptops.
So we have the computing equivalent of 10GHz chips, but they use less power.
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Statistical Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 10:06 PM
Response to Reply #22
23. The point is intel wasn't able to achieve their 10 year goal
From 1990 to 2000 the clock speed rampup was very linear. Right on schedule speeds doubled every 18-24 months. Intel was highly confident in its ability to deliver 10Ghz chips by 2010. Based on past performance nobody would have any reason to doubt them. It didn't happen. They didn't move to multicore because that is what people wanted. They moved to multicore because they had no choice. Power requirements didn't grow linearly they exploded exponentially as clock speeds aproached 4Ghz. Even today Intel is incapable of building 10Ghz chips.

The point is making a 10 year or 16 year prediction based on the continually doubling of output every 2 years is naive. While solar cells prices have fallen in half every 2 years over the PREVIOUS 20 years that isn't an indication this progress will continue at the same pace.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 07:27 AM
Response to Reply #23
29. funny you should say that. Neither was the nuclear industry
Edited on Tue Mar-22-11 07:28 AM by kristopher
They told DOE to give them what they need and they'd build 5 plants by 2010. In 2002 DOE said ok, just build ONE, and got MIT to write a paper to detail what they needed.

They got it all and more.

No plant.

They told DOE and MIT "the price now is $2500/kw, and with the 5 plants we'll get it down to $1500/kw.

The price for the proposed projects skyrocketed to $8000/kw by 2010.

To generate 1/3 of global electric demand we'd need to build and bring online a new 1/GW reactor every week for about 40 years and find a place to store the equivalent of 1 yucca mountain's worth of permanent storage every two years.

Do you want to hear about the trouble associated with finding a solution to how a "a rapidly expanding global industry will put nuclear power and weapons technologies in highly unstable nations, often nations with ties to terrorist organizations"?


6 Standard myths of the nuclear industry according to Former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Bradford:

1. nuclear power is cheap;
2. learning and new standardized designs solve all past problems;
3. the waste problem is a non-problem, especially if wed follow the lead of many other nations and recycle our spent fuel;
4. climate change makes a renaissance inevitable;
5. there are no other large low-carbon baseload alternatives;
6. theres no particular reason to worry that a rapidly expanding global industry will put nuclear power and weapons technologies in highly unstable nations, often nations with ties to terrorist organizations.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 07:53 AM
Response to Reply #29
31. Ah, but the nuclear industry
was able to generate a lot more fear! If Intel had been able to match that, we'd be halfway home by now. :evilgrin:
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Confusious Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 12:59 AM
Response to Reply #22
24. They went to multi-core chips because they couldn't go any faster
Edited on Tue Mar-22-11 01:00 AM by Confusious
~3GHZ for a fan cooled chip is the max. If you go faster, you basically end up doubling the power requirement for something like a 10% increase in speed.
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Warpy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 04:27 PM
Response to Original message
11. I think he's being optimistic
but I do think we're going to have to need a hell of a lot less power by then because it will be prohibitively expensive.
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wtmusic Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 07:23 PM
Response to Original message
18. Solar will be able to power electric keyboards in 16 years
I think that's what he meant.
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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 07:38 PM
Response to Original message
20. Um, um, um, where have we heard this before?
Let me um, see...

I think my pal Amory Lovins, then an up and coming young college drop out but today a senile old rich college drop out, said that in 1976.

I could, um, look it up, but won't.




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Confusious Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 01:04 AM
Response to Original message
26. Well, he's already full of shit

Solar has been flat for most of this year in the world, China being the exception.
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Blue Meany Donating Member (986 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-22-11 02:50 PM
Response to Original message
38. Hopefully, they will develop a way to make solar panels without toxic materials...
otherwise we will have a big polution problme from worn out solar panels in the future. I don't think generators powers by concentrated solar energy have the same issues, however.
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