Some days there are so many interesting things to blog about that I don’t know where to start. Today I will start out with a little balance – some good electric vehicle (EV) news to balance out the bad news from yesterday. While there seems to be many large hurdles for adoption of EVs in the U.S. (long commuting distances, excessive regulation, funding difficulty, etc..) this is not the case in Israel. Project better place expects that one third of Israel’s cars will run on electricity within 5 years. Wow! Most forecasters don’t expect that much penetration in the U.S market until 2030 or later. Project Better place has the contracts to back-up this prediction. All of Israel’s vehicle fleets have agreed to replace (through attrition) their gas powered vehicles with electric vehicles. The replacement rate should result in a near complete replacement by 2016. No doubt there will be some unforeseen troubles that might delay these plans, but it is great to see an entire country willing to be the testbad for EVs and the concept of battery-changing stations promoted by Project Better Place.
Since I started out with some positive news, how about some good alternative energy news to balance out the Hirsch interview from last week. Dr. Hirsch is correct that current economies of the world are still highly dependent on liquid hydrocarbon fuel, however, progress on alternatives continues, enough progress that I am confident we will avoid the worst aspects of “Peak Oil”. A company in North Carolina (Semprius) has created a new micro-solar cell that is much cheaper to operatethan normal solar cells that use light concentrating lenses, and it has an efficiency of 25 to 35%. The advantage of this micro-solar cell is that it does not need expensive cooling hardware. Semprius expects electricity generated from these cells to run from $2 to $3 per watt – which, judging by the overly positive-hype that usually surrounds new technology breakthroughs, probably means $4 or $5 per watt. Still, this is a real product that is ready for the market and is being purchased. For reference, according to some sources, the cost of electricity generation from a new coal power plant is about $2 per watt.
Overall, the solar market seems to be in pretty good shape for the largest companies (up to 75% of smaller solar start-ups are expected to go bankrupt soon). Solar prices have come down enough to entice more buyers. If you include federal tax credits, the cost of a 5 kilowatt rooftop system has gone down from $22,000 2 years ago to $16,000 now, and could drop to $13,000 by the end of the year. Also, the U.S. is expected to become the largest solar market in the world within a few years. Of course, a lot of this depends on federal subsidies (mainly from tax credits). If the U.S. government goes broke then the tax credits will dry up as well. The true measure of success in the solar (and other alternative energy) market is if they can stand on their own and compete against other forms of energy production. Right now, that is not the case. The only “cleaner” energy source that can realistically compete with oil and coal in the next couple of years is natural gas.
Before I update the weather forecast for today, an interesting link out there on the world wide web. Check out these awesome slow-motion videos of lightning. The first video is a classic example of how most lightning happens. 1. Large charge differences build up within cumulonimbus (thunderstorm) clouds. 2. Negative charges become strong enough that the insulating capability of the air breaks down and negative charges start heading for the ground. 3. Once one of the negative channels reaches the positively charged ground it completes a circuit and the channel up back to the cloud “lights up” with flowing electricity. Check it out.
Questions about lightning are pretty common when I am out and about speaking about science and weather. So are questions about earthquakes. It seems that since meteorology and geology/seismology are both natural sciences, people expect that I am an expert in both. While I do understand how and why earthquakes form, I am not an expert, and the weather and earthquakes are not related. Still the recent earthquake in Haiti prompted a lot of concern about where and when quakes might occur in the future. Here are a couple articles describing different quakes zones that are susceptible, in the United States, and other parts of the world.
Finally, the present weather. A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY remains in effect through 6pm for Jackson, Monroe, Juneau, Adams, Waushara, Waupaca, Wood, Portage, Shawano, and Menominee counties. Total snow accumulations in these areas will be 3 to 6 inches. Around Wausau and Marathon county 2 to 3 inches is likely, and in the northwoods more likely an inch or so. After today the weather looks fairly tranquil for the next week to 10 days. One weak weather system moving through on Saturday and Sunday will produce a 30% chance of snow and some light accumulation (dusting) is possible. High temps will be a couple degrees below normal all the way through Sunday.
Have a nice Tuesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
Posted under Alternative Energy, Science
This post was written by jloew on February 9, 2010