I have just returned from a great 2-day event in Detroit, hosted by Ford Motor Company* at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. Ford invited over 100 bloggers from 10 countries to cover its Driving Green Technologies and learn about how the auto manufacturer is not only building new, eco-friendly cars, but also addressing the environmental impacts of its own operations.
On Monday, we heard a terrific presentation by Stewart Brand on sustainability. Mr. Brand discussed energy in general, raising the question – at least in my mind – is solar power the future?
If you ask Mr. Brand, the author of the Whole Earth Catalog and a well-known publisher on “green” topics, he would answer the question with an unwavering, no. Considered to be a founding father of the eco-movement, starting in the 1960s, Brand has recently changed his position on nuclear energy and even clean coal, arguing that these two technologies make more sense for the world than wind or solar.
Brand also discussed some of these views in a TEDtalks video from 2009:
At Ford’s Driving Green Technologies event, Stewart Brand presented a slide show and compelling talk about renewable energy and the realities associated with development of large, utility-scale sized power plants.
Consider this information:
World-wide, baseload electricity is generated by the following power sources: coal/natural gas/oil (68%), hydroelectric (16%), nuclear (15%), wind (0.5%) and solar (0.1%).
On a utility scale, both wind and solar require huge amounts of land and create environmental impacts. For example, to generate 1 gigawatt (GW) of wind power, you need 250 square miles of land. For solar, 1 GW of energy requires 50 square miles of bulldozed area.
With this backdrop, Brand noted that there is a significant difference between energy farms and energy factories. Renewables like solar and wind take up too much land and there is rarely a good place to site them. On the other hand energy factories (coal, gas, nuclear) have less impact from a land resource standpoint.
Brand’s position is that nuclear has the smallest waste stream and makes the most sense as far as “renewable” energy resources go. Clean coal should also be mandated in part to raise the price of the resource which is still both abundant and ridiculously cheap (either that or “tax the hell out of it,” he commented).
Heck, we can even take nuclear weapons and transform them into energy generating resources:
Personally, I found Stewart Brand’s talk on sustainability informative, yet perhaps a bit closed minded with respect to the future prospects of solar power and wind. In particular, Brand didn’t address solar from a distributed generation standpoint. Putting solar panels on rooftops to defray energy costs at the very site at which they are located saves time and money for the consumer of the renewable resource. Solar energy from a solar power plant not only requires land resources and impacts the environment, but there is the expense of getting the electricity from the solar farm to the power lines that will deliver it to the end user.
I’m for the idea of continuing to explore a number of renewable energy options – and not writing off solar, wind, biomass, or tidal. In my opinion, putting all our energy “eggs” in a nuclear basket could leave us fried.
What do you think about the question, is solar power the future? We’d love to read your comments!
*Ford Motor Company paid for my travel and accommodations at the 2-day Driving Green Technology event, I was not compensated in any other manner for my time. My opinions posted here are my own.