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Two Weeks to No-Carbon

Paper from Coursera Class

There are a lot of great free classes at so you do not have any excuse to not educate yourself.

Here is a paper I just submitted to my Climate Change Course:

What is a Low Carbon Economy

In the future our ancestors will look back at us and see us as cave men. If you really think about it, with our silicon chip technology, heating up water to make high-pressure steam to spin things in order to make electrons flow is very primitive. I predict that our descendants will marvel at how in the early third millennium, that the roofs of our buildings did not all make electricity. If you look at how semiconductors can to marvels with our phones and computers, those marvels do not stop there. Semiconductors also can capture photons (light) and convert them into electricity.

I have done some research and determined that if everyone in the world spent a few weeks installing solar panels, that we would not need another energy source. The world uses approximately 132 TWh per year according to the International Energy Agency. With a world population of about 7 billion, we can do some math and determine how many kWh per person we would need to offset our own energy. 132,000 TWh = 132,000,000 GWh = 132,000,000,000 MWh = 132,000,000,000,000 kWh. A kWh is what we see on our energy bill. These numbers calculate for the gas we burn in our cars and every other type of energy that we use. Then if we divide kWh/person, we will get the first part of the answer. 132,000,000,000,000 kWh/7,000,000,000 people = 18,857kWh per year per person.

Now the amount of energy that solar modules (panels) make in a year is in the range of 1000 to 1600 kWh per year per kW. A kW of solar panels is about 4 average solar panels. If we estimated that the average place would make about 1300 kWh/kW/yr (that means 4 modules would make about 1300kWh per year) then since every person needs 18,857kW per year, then 18,857kWh/yr / 1300kWh/kW/yr = 14.5kW per person is all that we would need. So now the question is, how much time would it take someone to install 14.5kW of Solar PV? Residential solar installers at places like Solar City often install 4 kW in a day with 3 man crews. If solar is installed in the desert in large solar farms, it is very easy to install triple this amount. For the sake of this argument, I will assume the slower install method. If 3 people can install 4kW in a day, then that amounts to 1.33kW per person per day.

if each person needs to have a 14.5kW system then 14.5kW / 1.33kW per person = 10.9 days per person to install enough solar for them to use for all of their energy for the rest of their life. Therefore it would take just 10.9 days of everyone’s time to install all the safe energy production that we need for the rest of our lives and never have to use any fossil fuels.

Here are some other reasons that we would really not need that much time since we will be more efficient:

1) If we switched to electric transportation, it is way more efficient than internal combustion engines (burning gas is not just inefficient, it is going to be the laughingstock of the future). Gas cars make more heat with the energy that we feed them than they use to get us to where we are going. Electric cars not only will get us where we are going safer and with less energy, they will also be able to support the grid with their batteries. Switching to electric cars would decrease our energy, hence decrease the amount of solar modules we will need to install and decrease the amount of work that we need to install them.

2) If we scaled up installation, we would undoubtedly need less time to install the solar, since we will learn how to install in half the time.

3) Distributed generation is when we make power where we use it, rather than transporting it over long distances. When we make our energy on our roofs, then we do not need to have the same transmission system than if we transport it for so far. When we transport energy, there are losses in the wires and transformers.

Many would say that solar is too expensive, it takes too much energy to manufacture or that we do not have the storage capabilities. Here are the answers to those myths.

Solar is not too expensive. The price of solar has dropped ten-fold in the last ten years. The price of solar panels keeps dropping due to the efficiencies of mass production. Right now in the world solar energy is overtaking conventional energy as being less expensive. There are also many hidden costs and subsidies for fossil fuels and other forms of energy. Fossil fuels have to have military security to transport them. Fossil fuels make a lot of people rich and lead to income inequality. Fossil fuels including coal and fracking (natural) gas have a very rich lobby protecting their wealth. Some countries are very wealthy and not democracies that are supported by the USA government because of the fuel. These places are ruled by the rich few and do not practice human rights. If you added up the time that we spend working for our gas money alone, that would be a lot more than the time and energy that we would have to spend to install enough solar to last us for the rest of our lives.

I know that there are some that say that nuclear is the perfect option, but I have to disagree. It takes a lot more time to install a nuclear reactor and the radioactive waste will be around for thousands of years. It is impossible to account for future lives long after we are dead, but it is immoral to leave radioactive waste in my opinion. We can not keep something safe long after we are gone. Let me ask you this: Would you climb in a cave that had 2000 year old spent nuclear fuel in it?

The myth that solar takes more energy to make than it will ever make. You just can't believe everything that Rush Limbaugh says. If we were to use fossil fuel to refine the silicon, it would take about 1 year to offset that energy. I do not like to talk about offsetting energy though. The 14.5kW installed for each person includes the use of solar energy to make more solar energy.

The other myth that we do not have adequate storage for an intermittent resource. We do have the technology. People have been living happy lives off-grid with solar systems for decades. When the demand for batteries comes, the technology will and is being developed. Battery technology is developing at warp speed and the prices of batteries are coming down.

There are also other types of energy storage technology that will work very well. There are fuel cells and hydrogen that can be made from solar energy. There is pumped storage, which has ben used for a long time. Pumped storage is using energy to pump water up hill into a reservoir and then using the energy from hydroelectric turbines as the water goes back to where it came from.

Electric car adoption is in the early stages of exponential growth. Tesla Motors is seeing stock prices climb like the early days of the computer industry. These car batteries and the technology can be used in our houses. If we have the same battery for our car as we do for our house, then we are all set.

Networking with our neighbors and having a smart grid with smart appliances is also a very important part of the solution. When we are not home, our neighbors can use the power we are making and when they are not home, they can use the energy that we are making. Computer silicon technology coupled with solar silicon technology will create a smart advanced network that far surpasses our electricity grid that is dated to way before our fast moving advanced systems of communications.

I see beyond a low carbon economy to a no carbon economy. We have the ability to make this happen, we just have to take the initiative to make it happen. It will happen, the question is how long are we going to be stuck in the carbon age and how long are we going to wait for a full transition into the silicon age.

We have seen in our lifetimes exponential growth in silicon as for how we process words and write papers. Not too long ago, our phones had rotary dials. Now we have apps and high resolution streaming video on phones in our pockets. This is the same silicon that makes the computer chip that we use for capturing the energy from the sun.

Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for mathematically describing how photons (pieces of light) can knock electrons loose. He did not win the prize for describing how nuclear fission works and definitely did not have to describe combustion or coal or fracking gas.

A new silicon age is here and it is time for the world to embrace it quickly. 10.9 days per person and we will have installed all of the carbon free energy that we need for the rest of our lives.

Sean White

IEA World Energy Consumption, Wikipedia

World Population, US Dept of Commerce

Tesla Motors Stock Price, Etrade

Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize Website

Coursera Certificates of Completion