Essential Reading on Concentrated Solar & Smart Grids

There are a couple of articles in The Economist’s most recent Technology Quarterly that are worth checking out. The first outlines the case for concentrated solar power: technology that turns sunlight into heat, which then drives turbines to generate electricity. That’s different from photovoltaic equipment, which uses solar cells to directly convert sunlight into electricity.

For the ins and outs of concentrated solar power, the article is definitely worth a read. One figure, though, caught my eye:

“About 12 Gigawatts of concentrating solar-thermal power capacity is being planned worldwide—a vast amount, given that only about 500 megawatts (MW) of such capacity has been built to date.”

A lot of this capacity may well not make it to production. But even if half does — some 6GW — that would be roughly equivalent to six large-scale coal, natural gas, or nuclear power plants. Not a bad for a renewable energy source.

The other article focuses on smart grid technology.

Much has been written about how utilities can incorporate more efficient energy technology to both cut overall electricity generation and give consumers more control over their energy use (To see how Amsterdam is becoming a so-called 'smart city,' check out my recent article). Again, the article is worth reading for anyone wanting to know how smart grids could affect them. I wanted to highlight one line in the article in response to critics who say smart grids (a combination of more efficient energy infrastructure and the installation of so-called smart meters in homes that tell consumers exactly how much energy their using) will lead to higher electricity prices.

"Reducing peak demand [through smart grids] in America by a mere 5% would yield savings of about $66 billion over 20 years, according to Ahmad Faruqui of the Brattle Group, a consultancy that has worked with utilities on designing and evaluating smart-meter pilot programmes.

"Moreover, studies have shown that the best in-home smart-grid technologies can achieve reductions in peak demand of up to 25%, which would result in savings of more than $325 billion over that period."

Sure, smart grids will cost a lot to build (the U.S. government has put aside some $4.5 billion from the stimulus package alone). But the savings that could result from the technology are surely worth the investment.

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