6560239Yesterday’s Solar Austin Happy Hour featured renaissance-man and energy guru, Michael Osborne, known for his work with Austin Energy and TREIA (Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association) among other things. He spoke on several areas of transitions currently underway in our world, particularly in energy. Here’s what I took away from his presentation:

Renewable Energy: Solar is the new wind.
New solar installation this year has outpaced new wind capacity. This is largely because solid state PV panels and the price of silicon have recently plummeted and just now show signs of leveling off. Mr. Osborne sees the potential for a true solar revolution (i.e. exponential growth) at a retail price of 5¢/kWh.

He sees the concerns about electric grid operability problems with large amounts of wind and solar as unfounded. Sunshine and wind are variable, and their variability is predictable many hours in advance, especially in Texas. From modeling that’s been done, he believes it is quite feasible for at least 80% of our power to be provided by solar and wind. Interesting fact: Some estimates show that an area approximately the size of Texas covered in solar panels could power the entire world.

Carbon Economy: We’re moving from carbon storage concerns to low carbon.
Three points stuck out here. 1.) We’re at a place where we can harvest carbon out of the air for various purposes via oxidation, etc. 2.) Natural gas production in this country is showing signs of slowing. 3.) Coal -fired power plants can be retrofitted to burn organic matter like paper mill byproducts.

Transportation: We’re heading toward integrated electrical and transportation power.
Electric and electric hybrid vehicles now are making it possible to connect our transportation systems and electrical power systems. The batteries in these vehicles can be utilized for both moving the vehicle down the road and storing energy for the grid. When parked,the power capacity of a vehicle is not being utilized. Mr. Osborne stated that the horsepower under the hoods of all the vehicles sitting in the parking lot during a typical UT football game could power the entire city of Austin. The ability to harness this excess capacity is now here with plug-in vehicles.