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Name: Simon Quellen Field
Location: Los Gatos, California, United States

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Energy costs

A friend of mine suggested at lunch that the money spent on the war in Iraq might buy a lot of solar panels.

So how many solar panels would $307 billion (at the time of this writing) buy?

My 5 kilowatt system, installed, with inverters and mounting, cost about $50,000 before government rebates. At that cost, we get 6,145,956 houses powered by solar energy. And another house gets solar for every 50 seconds the war continues (call it a house per minute).

The rule of thumb is that a house gets 6 hours a day of usable sun, so 6,145,956 * 5 kilowatts * 6 hours is 184,378,680 kilowatt hours per day.

Prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was producing 3.5 million barrels of oil per day. In December of 2002, the U.S. imported 11.3 million barrels of oil from Iraq.

One barrel of crude oil is equal to about 1700 kilowatt hours of electricity. So Iraq was producing the equivalent of about 6 billion kilowatt hours per day. The U.S. was importing the equivalent of 620 million kilowatt hours from Iraq per day.

So, if we built solar panels with the money, we would get more than a third of the energy that Iraq supplied per day, but from the sun instead of from oil. If we continued to spend at that rate for another two wars worth of time, we would more than break even.

Now this is assuming that there are no economies of scale to be had from spending $307 billion on putting up solar panels. If there were only a factor of 3.37 in our favor, we could have effectively bought the energy equivalent of all the oil in Iraq for the cost of one war.

And, yes, the efficiency of producing electricity from oil is not 100%, (more like 40%), and there are transmission losses in the grid that you don't have when each house is producing its own electricity, so we get our factor of 3 right there.

Joseph Stiglitz (former chief economist at the World Bank) estimates that the cost of the war on the U.S. economy is between $1 trillion and $2 trillion. Now those solar panels are looking really cheap.

So don't blame the president's decision to invade Iraq on the need for oil. He'd have to be stupid to have done that.


Blogger John Lekashman said...

Hi Simon,

Here was what I wrote to myself about it.
Certainly, there are many sweeping generalizations.
But it has some feasibility.

1. US energy consumption. 1 -3 Terawatts, depending on the time of year.
2. $70B -> 20 Gwatts.
over a 3 year period, perhaps triple the rate. Double the silicon
performance every
18 months has happened in PCs, now, this is a different kind of
doubling, but its
still a lot of the same thing, silicon wafer manufacture improvement.
With enough
money behind it, we can do such work.

Year 1: 20 GW
Year 2: +25 GW
Year 3: +30 GW
Year 4: +40 GW
Year 5: +50 GW
Year 6: +65 GW
Year 7: +90 GW
Year 8: +110 GW
Year 9: +135 GW
Year 10: +180 GW
Year 11: +200 GW
= 888 GW.

Now, petroleum accounts for about 50% of our energy, with
natural gas, nuclear, coal, hydroand some others doing the rest.

Further, 35% is domestic production, 18% from Canada and Mexico.
That leaves 47% of 1 - 3TW = 470 GW - 1400 GW is outside North America.

Figuring an average of 900 GW, by year 11, we are done.
Yes, its an exit strategy.
There will of course be a ton of other effects, like the dropping cost of oil while
solar comes into play. But, this above scenario is certainly plausible.
And the far reaching effects are just huge.


August 16, 2006 4:43 PM  
Blogger jezzo said...

How inturesting!
People should consider what they are doing and try to do it better.
I am against the war in any way!
I just hope the world will become better.


September 13, 2006 10:16 AM  
Blogger Dr. Taraneh Razavi said...

I think that he (the pres.) thinks that the rest of us are stupid. And if there's any evidence to the contrary such as the one proposed here, then I imagine he sticks his fingers in his ears and says, "blah blah blah" to shut out reason.

October 12, 2006 1:21 AM  
Blogger Ridhi said...

hahaha! very well written... the irony of it all

October 30, 2006 6:59 AM  
Anonymous FredEx said...

Great story. I think we have to look at the recent announcement of Boeing-Spectrolab creating a 40.2% efficient solar cell that they feel they can get up to 60% efficiency. It is real tech, not just proposed and they can make them using existing solar cell equipment. Imagine your solar system using 60% efficient cells. One of those systems could be used to power more than one home and charge the plug-in electric cars at each home.

December 22, 2006 6:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is a fascinating head-in-the-sand reaction to the war in Iraq. However, I can't wait for more efficient solar cells--I would love to have a cost effective way to generate my own electricity with a passive method!

February 13, 2007 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The war was meant to raise oil prices
and slow down economic competition.

He's making hay while sun shines,
five Billion quarterly profit for Cheron and Shell ain't easy.

April 29, 2007 6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Using only 'Solar Power' seems to be very unbalanced. Consider other sustainable energy sources as 'wind/water/biogas/...' your goal getting none-dependant of Iraq oil will be very likely to come true.

Read: if you like to know how this is working in detail!

May 24, 2007 3:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could run this country better than the president, but I cannot run for president because I am too young.

June 21, 2008 3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'll also have to remember one important point as well.
Wtih all those houses using solar power, you could increase the amount of energy needed from other sources as well.

June 07, 2009 10:21 AM  

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