Some Rain On Solar Energy's Parade

The glowing future for solar energy technologies may indeed be true, but it is difficult to imagine that solar and the renewables will ever contribute more than a few percent of our electrical needs ("The sun shines brighter on alternative energy," Science & Technology, Nov. 8). Federal projections indicate that by the year 2010, we will need the equivalent of an additional 130 large nuclear plants, and that is after massive efficiency improvements. This does not include replacing aging fossil-fueled plants, which will be necessary since over half of our coal-fired stations are more than 30 years old.

Solar has a role to play in remote locations, as you have noted, and in providing peaking capacity to meet demand on the hottest summer afternoons. Base-load power from solar would, however, require massive energy storage faculties easily doubling the energy cost. The only conceivable means for meeting the growing demand for power is with the two most abundant domestic energy sources, coal and nuclear.

Finally, a wind turbine having a 90-foot-tall tower with 34-foot blades is quite impressive. Living near endless acres of nine-story towers with its rotors whistling in the wind might be considered a significant environmental impact. As usual, nothing in energy comes without an environmental price.

Theodore M. Besmann

Research Group Leader

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Oak Ridge, Tenn.