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Solar energy from a physics point of view - november 2013

Solar energy should be concentrated

There are applications, where it is not necessary to use concentrated solar light, for instance for heating an outdoor swimming pool. For heating the water of a swimming pool high temperatures are not necessary. But if we limit the use of solar energy to those low-temperature applications, we can only slightly reduce the use of oil and gas, we cannot totally substitute them.
If we want to totally substitute oil, gas, fossil carbon and uranium with solar energy, then we must be able to provide higher temperatures, 100 degree Celsius and above, and for that the use of concentrated solar energy is of advantage.
That is not only true for solar thermal devices. But, as we will see in the following, it is also true when it comes to the production of electricity.
Conventional concentrating sytems are rather expensive. But from a physics point of view, there is no reason for them to be so expensive. Actually, concentrating solar energy systems should be very cheap from a physics point of view:

Concentrated solar energy can be cheap

All you need in order to concentrate solar energy are a few mirrors reflecting sun light onto a common target. And that should not be expensive: 1 m2 of mirror costs about 30 Euro, and it collects about 1000 kWh of energy each year, corresponding to 100 liters of diesel. Which means, that the mirror itself pays in less than one year.
Conventional concentrating systems are very expensive instead because they have additional features, which are not necessary from a physics point of view. For instance they may use mirrors, which are curved to a high precision. These are of course expensive. Or they may use very long heat collector tubes (like in parabolic trough systems), which is again expensive and not justified from physics point of view. In the case of heliostat sytems, which consist of many mirrors, two motors are needed for each mirror, which again results in a high price for the overall systems.
The Linear Mirror II instead uses flat mirrors and rather losse mechanical requirements. A mechanical precision of 1 degrre is sufficient for all components. The 8 mirros are moved by only three small electrical motors. The small size of the motors allows for a very simple and cheap power electronics. Last but not least the absorber consists of a quadratic steel plate, without any vacuum or other high tech gimmickry.
For example at Italy, the Linear Mirror II is eligible for public incentive under the “conto termico” sheme. Who buys a Linear Mirror II gets 6.100 Euro, which is about 90% of the sales price. Since the mirrors produces the equivalent of 800 liters of oil per year, the device pays in about one year.

Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels

Providing water at temperatures of up to 100 degree Celsius, and oil at temperatures of up to about 200 degree Celsius, one can already reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.

Totally substituting fossil fuels and uranium

In order to totally substitute fossil fuels and uranium with solar energy, two problem must be solved: first, solar energy must be stored over periods of at least several months. Secondly, one must be able to provide also electric energy – which again must be stored in some way.
Both problems can be solved by solar pyrolysis. It is possible to heat bio-mass by means of solar energy up to about 250 or 300 degrees. In absence of oxygen, the bio-mass will decay to gas and carbon.
This is not a new technology, a few decades ago the so called “city gas” was produced from the pyrolysis of fossil carbon (producing CO2). Doing the very same thing with bio-mass instead of fossil carbon, heated by solar energy, one can again produce gas, but this time in a CO2 neutral way.
It would also be cheap, since one does not need to use wood. Agriculture and urban green areas produce a lot of bio mass, which nowadays is treated as waste, it is thrown away, often money must be paid for its deposition. This very same waste bio mass could instead produce gas and not-fossil carbon, Since gas and carbon can be stored without problems (and distributed and be made use of with existing infra structure), solar energy from technical devices together with bio mass is sufficient for substituting fossil as well as nuclear fuels entirely.
As a consequence, it becomes possible to base the whole economy on solar energy without the need for new infrastructures. For instance, we do not need to substitute nowadays cars and trucks with electrical cars and trucks. We can continue to use the same kinds of motors as today, we just make them run on liquid gas made from solar pyrolysis (for example).
Apart from Isomorph srl, and to the best of our knowledge, nobody is even trying to think about this. That is really strange. Maybe it is because the scientist getting funding for exploring batteries explore batteries, and the engineers getting funding for building parabolic dishes built parabolic dishes and so on, and nobody gets funding for solar pyrolysis, so thoughts about solar pyrolysis become unthinkable. Could there be something to be improved in our science system?