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Reader riposte: Storing solar energy

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20 September 2012 13:05

Sam Roggeveen's 18 September post about the rapidly declining cost of solar energy noted the continuing problem of storing solar power. Richard Broinowski responds:

I was interested to read Sam's data on the rise of natural gas to replace coal in the energy mix of the United States, and the precipitate fall in the cost of solar energy. Hopeful trends indeed, but Sam is perhaps a bit too pessimistic about the role of renewables, inhibited as they have been by a lack of storage technology to meet periods of peak electricity usage.

The fact is that storage technology is just beginning to take off, including through pumped storage of hydropower, more sophisticated battery technology, the use of thermal storage in ice, electrochemical fuel cells, compressed air in mines and molten salt heat banks.

Stimulated by its aversion to nuclear power since Fukushima, Japan is joining the renewable technology race. Prior to March 2011, Tokyo was inhibited by Japan's ten power monopolies from funding renewables technology. Hardly a solar roof cell or a wind turbine was to be seen across the landscape. But extensive surveys have now been carried out on the feasibility of wind farms, geothermal power and a rapid expansion of hydro power, especially along the Tohoku coast. The central government and local governments are involved, as well as some notable Japanese entrepreneurs, including Masayoshi Son, the visionary owner of the computer giant Softbank, who wants to close all Japan's nuclear reactors and build the world's largest solar belt.

Germany has started the shift from nuclear and thermal energy to renewables in Europe. It seems probable that Japan will do the same in Asia.

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