Bringing Moore’s Law to Solar

May 21, 2011

“Bill Gross, chairman of eSolar and founder of Idealab, discusses how Moore’s Law provides a new weapon in the fight to make solar energy technologies more productive and cost-competitive. After examining current solar energy harnessing techniques, Gross focused his attention on applying Moore’s Law to high-efficiency solar conversion systems. eSolar was founded to work on the development of these ideas. In this clip, Gross describes the technology behind eSolar’s current solutions.”

4 Responses to “Bringing Moore’s Law to Solar”

  1. BlueRock Says:

    Here’s another angle:

    * Smaller, cheaper, faster: Does Moore’s law apply to solar cells? “The exponential trend in solar watts per dollar has been going on for at least 31 years now. If it continues for another 8-10, which looks extremely likely, we’ll have a power source which is as cheap as coal for electricity…”

  2. Very clever! Add storage (heat or otherwise), viola – baseline power.

  3. otter17 Says:

    I love this post. This solution represents a nexus of distributed computing and electric power. Scalable, transportable, simple, beautiful.

    The engineer in me sees this as an optimization problem. What is the optimal mirror size that minimizes capital cost and maintenance costs while also maximizing reliability and solar energy collection efficiency? It looks like eSolar has engineered a solution that may be close to the optimum, but for things like maintenance costs and reliability it takes some field experience and data.

    Quote from video:
    “This was a 5 MW plant in Palmdale, CA. We now have an order for 1000 MW in India and 2000 MW in China. The one in India is already under construction. China will begin next year.”

    The USA should be deploying 5000 MW facilities, not 5 MW ones.

  4. sailrick Says:


    Molten salt heat storage is being used for solar thermal plants and is far more efficient than storing electricity in batteries or other storage methods. You are storing heat, the same form of energy collected and used to drive the steam generator, so no losses from conversions.
    Molten salt can hold something like 95% of heat for 24 hours.
    The first commercial plant with 6 hours molten salt heat storage is being built in Arizona.

    The 5MW plant must be a pilot plant. Commercial plants being built and already planned are typically 100MW to 1000MW.

    From the National Renewable Energy Lab

    Here’s a how a CSP plant with 3.5 hours heat storage on typical summer day in Nevada would run.

    The plant would start saving heat at sunrise. A few hours later, it would start generating electricity and continue storing heat in the salt. By 1pm when the sun peaks, it would be at full rated power, say 1250 MW. It would continue to put out at least it’s full rated power, while increasing output and peaking at about 3,000 MW at 5pm, exactly when demand in the grid peaks in the southwest. It would continue putting out steady but declining power until midnight. No fluctuation when clouds pass by.
    Cloudy periods, which are rare in the southwest can be planned for by the plant manager and utility, from weather forecasts. In the daytime in what the NREL calls Premium Solar Resource areas, there is sunshine all but about 4% of the time.

    3.5 hours heat storage means enough to provide 3.5 hours at full rated power, without any input from the sun.

    The first plant with molten salt heat storage in the U.S. is being built in Arizona. It will have 6 hours heat storage.

    In the winter there is less solar resource due to the angle of the sun mostly, but demand falls even faster than output in non summer months. Air conditioning is the biggest demand.

    HVDC tranmission lines would enable solar thermal in this area to feed power into other regions.

    NREL says there is about 1,000 GW potential in the southwest, only including carefully selected areas that don’t infringe on anything of man, parks, rivers, lakes, roads, habitation, sensitive areas of the desert, and only flat land. Arizona alone has 285 GW potential and New Mexico 225 GW, California 98 GW and so on.
    West Texas, Utah, Nevada, Colorado also have very large resources.

    The 285 GW potential for Arizona is, by my back of the envelope calculations, equivalent to at least 120 Nuclear plants of 1 GW each, adjusting for capacity factors. CSP with salt heat storage can have capacity factors from about 40-70%.
    Not bad for solar. The higher numbers are for power tower type plants, since they run at higher temperatures, and are more efficient. Solar trough plants can be up to 50%, and are cheaper to build. Nuclear is 85-90%

    “RDI Consulting performed a similar analysis for Southern California Edison’s (SCE) load for a hypothetical solar power plant with storage located in the Mojave Desert. Again, the results are similar. Only a few hours of storage are needed before the solar plant can dramatically reduce the need for back-up capacity in the market.”

    And area of the southwes, about 42 miles by 42 miles, of what the NREL calls premium solar resources, filled with solar thermal plants with molten salt heat storage, could produce as many MW hours as all the coal plants in America.

    By my rough guess, this is about twice the area now evacuated around the Fukishima nuclear plants in Japan.

    “Thermal Energy Storage (TES) and Solar Thermal power plants”

    “Adding TES provides several additional sources of value to a CSP plant. First, unlike a plant that must sell electricity when solar energy is available, a CSP plant with TES can shift electricity production to periods of highest prices. Second, TES may provide firm capacity to the power system, replacing conventional power plants as opposed to just supplementing their output. Finally, the dispatchability of a CSP plant with TES can provide high-value ancillary services such as spinning reserves.”

    Click to access 45833.pdf

    There is some research being done with storing heat in carbon at much higher tempertures. — up to 1800C if my memory serves me.

    Then there is Shec Energy, who says they can build solar thermal plants that run at twice the temperature of existin desings. 800 C-900 C veses 450 C for existing designs. They say such plants would produce twice the power at half the cost.

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