Wednesday, November 16, 2016

PicoSolar: Better, Faster, Cheaper

There is a new buzzword on the street, PicoSolar for electrification of the developing world.  While full electrification with renewables will require wiring, lighting and powering small devices such as cell phones is very low hanging fruit.  Turns out Dan Golden was right and the NASA engineers wrong you can have all three

A bit of a while ago Eli pointed to an IEA report on the costs of power up Africa which by implication also covered poorer parts and villages of the world.  In no to low power situations maintaining fossil fuel electrification has a number of not hidden but not the first thing people in the developed world think much about issues.

The cost of building out a distribution network exceeds that of putting in solar or wind (follow the Eli link).  A small amount of electricity would bring infinite improvement to the lives of the global poor.  When you do not have electrical lighting 900 lumens (about equivalent to a 60 watt incandescent bulb) is the difference between your kid not being able to study at night and going to university later on.  It's the difference between closing shop at dusk and keeping open for a couple of hours into the evening when customers are around.  Cell phone networks are a lot easier to put up and protect for communications Protect is important in poor places because a lot of copper and power gets, shall Eli use the word borrowed.  Telephone poles and wires are useful for using and selling and keeping the wires humming can be nigh on impossible, let alone the cost of putting them in in the first place.  In India a bit over a quarter of all electricity never goes through a meter but disappears.  Since electrons, at least according to physicists, are conserved, somebunny is kidnapping them.

Then, of course, for fossil fuel, there is the cost of getting the stuff to where it is being used.  Coal is not light, roads into the bush tend to be, well primitive, and trucks, railroads have maintenance of rickety stuff issues.  Putting up a large coal burning power plant in a central location does not necessarily help much with respect to providing power to rural areas.   Even in urban locations everybunny who can afford it has a kerosene generator for the frequent power failures.

The default option for lighting in the developing world are kerosene lamps.  They befoul the room that they are used in, The indoor pollution they generate sickens people, and keeping them lit is expensive, ~$150 per year,  when you are trying to survive of two euro/dollars a day.  When a quarter or so of your income is going for lighting it is pretty hard to escape poverty

As is typical with fossil fuel solutions, they are a constant drag on both the family and national economy, because countries have to subsidize (above the $150 yr) the cost of fuel to keep it available to the poorest.

It is this constant drag on funds which illuminates the ethical bankruptcy of fossil fuel advocates when they claim the war on coal is the war on the poor.  Like the old dope peddler they want to keep the poor hooked.  They advocate giving away free telephone poles because they know full well that today's innocent poor will become tomorrow's buyer of coal.

Large power plants are slow to deploy. Supply chains for the fossil fuels have to be established and fed.  Building out distribution networks takes time and lots of money.

There is a useful answer, solar powered LED lamps (of course there is a battery involved you dolt), which are displacing kerosine lamps.  The cost is OOO $10-$20.  One could have a split system, but the least expensive ones are put out during the day to charge and brought in at night to use.  While they are currently within the reach of those feeding a kerosene habit, there are also organizations working to bring first world dollars to purchase and provide the lamps.  And oh yes, guess who is taking the lead in clearing kerosene lamps out of African homes.  Here is a hint, it ain't the Breakthrough Institute, the breakthroughs are here including inexpensive (a friend of Eli taught him never to use cheap when describing elegant and useful things that don't cost a lot) LEDs and solar cells along with improvement in battery technology, and it ain't the Trump Foundation in case anybunny is wondering why Eli is so depressed.


Bryson said...

It's not any kind of joke, but a familiar pattern comes to mind:

Knock knock!
Who's there?
C'mon in!

I'm hoping the same kind of story, on a larger scale, will keep Trump et al. from saving coal. I gather Mitch McConnell (darkness be upon him) is backing away from claims that the coal industry will be saved now that Republicans hold the reins.

Russell Seitz said...

Eli should rejoice on the battery front:

Contrary to Matt Ridley's latest screed, the price of ordinary 5.8 ampere-hour three volt lithium ion cells has already fallen through the one dollar floor, so a few bucks will keep you in light for a year of daily recharging.

If E-bay prices are for real ( Chinese dumping caveat applies ) fifty buck's worth will give you an hour a day of kilowatt electric hot plate cooking.

Solar cells extra, but perovskite structure PV flims are coming on strong at 20& efficiency.

Tom said...

Solar for rural electrification has been around since the 80s. It's good to see that it is spreading more.

The next area of focus should be community solar arrays.

Then the tough one. Powering light industry/manufacturing. Suggestions welcomed.

EliRabett said...

Solar has been around since before the Greeks, but it is only in the past decade or less that the cost per KW-hr has fallen through the floor, and while compact fluorescents are maybe two decades commercially available LEDs require a whole lot less power. So indeed, it is a new situation with the cost of small renewable electricity falling below that of fossil fuels

Opportunity knocks. Bullship splatters.

Fergus Brown said...

Some years ago, being a creative sort of critter, I designed a small wind turbine for battery charging which, given economy of scale, came out about $200 a pop including profit but excluding distribution costs. The materials are almost universal and accessible to many communities in developing countries. These might be expected to deliver 600+ KwH/yr, for up to 10 years, in an 'African' low wind climate. That's a bit more than 3 cents a KwH. A variant on the tech at greater cost can apply in developed countries.
These things are achievable in engineering terms, but it isn't the capability which is holding back progress, but more often institutional corruption, distribution problems and lack of investment.

Tom said...

Silly Rabett, even you should finally recognize the dramatic results of small and incremental improvements--as it was with computers, so it is with solar power.

What you laud in green energy you decry or deny in all other fields of human endeavour. Which leads to the unfortunate demonization of people like Lomborg and Ridley. And leaves you always on the wrong side of history.

Fergus Brown said...

Tom: Lomborg and Ridley don't need demonising, they can condemn themselves out of their own mouths, thank you very much. And anyway, the demons might object to the comparison.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Maybe Tom can explain to us arctic temperatures in the second half of November. Surely there must be some explanation. Here is my explanation, it's the beginning of the end of Tom's lukewarmisms.

Tom said...

Not even the end of the beginning, alphabet soup.

Here's an explanation for November temperatures in the Arctic: Weather.

So concludes today's lesson.

Tom said...

Ah, Fergie, you remind me of the Economist's proudest moment, in defense of Bjorn Lomborg:

"The fuss over Mr Lomborg highlights an attitude among some media-conscious scientists that militates not just against good policy but against the truth. Stephen Schneider, one of Scientific American's anti-Lomborgians, spoke we suspect not just for himself when he told Discover in 1989: “[We] are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place...To do that we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have...Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.” In other words, save science for other scientists, in peer-reviewed journals and other sanctified places. In public, strike a balance between telling the truth and telling necessary lies.

Science needs no defending from Mr Lomborg. It may very well need defending from champions like Mr Schneider."

Hank Roberts said...

Poor Tom; it was weather for a while, til the years went by and the trend emerged.
"The global rate of temperature increase has slowed in the last decade (Kosaka and Xie 2013), but Arctic air temperatures have continued to increase. Currently, the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of lower latitudes ...."

You can look this stuff up.

Hank Roberts said...

What interests me is that none of the organizations promoting LED lighting for villages in Africa has any apparent interest in providing low- or no-blue emitters for evening use. Instead they're -- all the ones I've asked -- choosing the cheapest blue-white LEDs on the ground that they're brighter and cheaper.

"emphasizing that it is the short wavelength illumination that we have come to know as "eco-friendly illumination" that is causing the most harm (primarily LED lighting)."

and it's the bright blue-green emission -- below 500nm -- peak in the "white" LEDs that coincides with the sensitivity peak:

High Sensitivity of Human Melatonin, Alertness, Thermoregulation ...
by C Cajochen - 2005 - Cited by 189

Nonclassical ocular photoreceptors with peak sensitivity around 460 nm have been found to regulate circadian rhythm function as measured by melatonin ...

Right at the peak emission for "white" LEDs:

Bernard J. said...

I see that Tom Fuller is still immersed in logical fallacy.

Some things never change.

Tom said...

In this edition of Movies From The 60s...

Mr. Roberts, throw that tree overboard. Ask me about climate and I will tell you that Arctic temperatures have risen twice as fast as lower latitudes over the past decade plus. Ask me about the second half of November, and I will tell you it's weather. Pay attention!

Bernard, you wouldn't recognize logic if it bit you on the butt. But, oh, Nardo--at least you had Rita Moreno to dance with. said...

One of the other issues that floated across my brain cell, was the issue of the skilled labour required to design and build any centralised electricity grid. There would be a shortage of qualified and skilled engineers, project managers and technicians in many developing world countries. So it is not just the financial capital required, but the human capital required.

Of course by rolling out local renewables that allows the next generation to get to university and get the skills for future central grids.

Fergus Brown said...

Dear Tommy, little poppet, Lomborg has lots to say and some of it is laudable. Yes, there is a whole lot of bad stuff in the world which needs sorting out urgently, and developed nations really, really should be more helpful. I'm with him on this. But he presents a false dichotomy - that we can either eliminate world hunger or tackle climate change - and fails to recognise that feeding someone up before throwing them into the fire is kinda pointless. But I suspect you don't care too much about the details, they get in the way of a good irrational rant.

Tom said...

Oh, Fergie, your suspicions are baseless, but as they form the basis for so many accusations flung in hopes of continuing the present stasis I will simply inform you that both Lomborg (and I on a smaller scale) work to help people in the developing world, not because we wish to feed Moloch with healthy victims, but because we do want people to be around to enjoy the cooler climes we hope for.

I don't have Lomborg's personal accounts at hand, but I do what I can for the developing world. Do you?

There is a social cost of carbon. There is also a social cost of removing carbon.

Ignoring the climate to focus only on aid to the poor is pointless.

Working to eliminate CO2 without helping the developing world is cruelty. (Which I'm sure is part of its appeal to some in the activist community, some of whom are found within the confines of this blog.)

I hear you activists all the time saying that we are highlighting a false dichotomy. But all the people I see you criticize in fact are doing a lot to help the developing world, while fighting for adoption of sane policies to address climate change.

I hear you activists, but I never see you do much of anything.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Well Tom, over the last year or so I discovered three quarters of the missing mass of the universe, gave it a name and assigned to it some interesting and exploitable properties. What have you done lately?

Tom said...

What was the name? Eldred? Mildred? Alfred? Eric the Red?

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

I believe they're forces (or fields) called 'gravitation' and 'electromagnetism'. Deny them at your own risk.

Tom said...

I'll take the fifth... in a weak wayve