The Center for the Study of the Environment is an organization providing information, identification, analysis and optimal solutions to environmental problems. CSE projects are conducted on global, regional and local scales.
In this site you will find living examples of the CSE approach, demonstrated in our completed and ongoing projects. We invite you to learn more about our world-reknown researchers and to participate in the organization through membership in CSE.
Bockstoce and Botkin Historical Sea Ice Data: an examination of all existing logbook and journal records of the historical commercial whaling industry to estimate both the size of the bowhead population that existed at the beginning of the commercial harvest and the size of the harvest over time.
Here’s another example of the kind of analysis that CSE provides:
ENERGY FOREVER: A SOLUTION TO OUR ENERGY PROBLEM
Daniel B. Botkin
Copyright © Daniel B. Botkin 2006
[For a complete analysis of how to solve our energy problem, see the recent book, Powering the Future: A Scientist’s Guide to Energy Independence, by Daniel B. Botkin, 2010, FT Press.]
The answer to our energy crisis lies in a farm field in Bavaria, Germany, where sheep graze beneath an unusual crop: an array of black rectangles mounted on long metal tubes that rotate slowly during the day, following the sun like mechanical sunflowers. This field is part of the world largest solar-electric installation, generating 10 megawatts of electricity on sixty-two acres, built by an American company, Powerlight of California. This new facility converts 17% of sunlight to electricity, a great improvement in efficiency over earlier solar energy devices. It is so efficient that, if it were reproduced on a large scale, it could provide an amount of energy from sunlight equal to that produced today from all sources for all uses in Germany on just 3.5% of that country land area! We tend to think of sunlight and solar energy as something reliably available only in a warm, dry climate say Arizona or the Sahara Desert.
This would not have to be on otherwise empty land; it could be on rooftops, above parking lots, and integrated with certain kinds of pasture and cropland. It is an area 10 times the size of Los Angeles or 16 times that of New York City.
Solar energy collection a solar arm seems unlikely for a country with a climate like Germany’s. And with its high plateaus and mountains a landscape famous not for sunshine but for high mountain peaks and beautiful winter sport resorts — Bavaria seems even less likely.
Munich, Bavaria major city, has an average January daytime temperature of 34°F, just above freezing, and an average January nighttime temperature of 23°F. Even summer is not all that warm the August average daytime temperatures is 73°F and average nighttime temperature is 48°F. Throughout the year, about one-third of the days are rainy. It a climate not unlike that of New York City.
So why aren’t nations rushing to install solar power facilities? Are costs prohibitive? Consider this: In 2002 Con Edison built New York City largest commercial rooftop solar energy system in Brooklyn. It cost $900,000 and provides energy for 100 houses, an installation cost of $9,000 per house. If on average there are 4 people per home, the installed cost is $2250 per person. Estimating the monthly cost for electricity for a house at present at about $50/month, the installed cost would require 15 years to pay back, without any subsidies.
For the 300 million United States residents, the installation cost would be $674 billion. The United States balance of trade is in the red about $55 billion a month, or $660 billion a year, and much of this trade imbalance is due to the cost of foreign oil. So, for the equivalent of one-year trade imbalance, the United States could pay the entire cost of installing solar energy facilities for all domestic electrical consumption.
Another way to think about the economics of solar energy is to compare its cost to the war in Iraq, at least the justification for which, many say, has been in part to protect our sources of oil. Current estimates suggest that the Iraq war has cost $275 billion, and counting. This amount of money would pay for the solar energy systems to provide domestic electricity for 42% of the people in America. And once installed, these systems generate income.
But would it make sense to devote enough land area in or near New York City to produce the city electricity from solar power? Con Edison Brooklyn, NY, facility provides electricity at the average rate of 378 homes per acre or 1500 people, At this efficiency, power to light homes for the entire 290 million people in the United States would require approximately 195,333 acres, an area equal to three-fourths of Manhattan Island. An area of that size and at that latitude could provide electricity for lighting for all homes of all the people of the United States.
The numbers become even more amazing for the dry, sunny climate of Arizona. Based on installed facilities there, also on small areas, if these were scaled up to cover 1%5/9/11duced for 275 million houses — considerably more houses than exist in America. If the entire state of Arizona were covered by PV facilities, enough electricity would be produced for 110 billion people domestic electrical use, or the equivalent of the number of people on 18 Earths! We could invite 17 other planets to come and buy our electrical energy.
Solar energy has, of course, many other benefits; primarily independence from foreign suppliers and greatly reduced air and water pollution, including less greenhouse gas; but also an option for centralized and decentralized energy production. Decentralized generation also reduces the risk from terrorist attacks.
Why isn’t the United States pursuing this kind of energy production? It a good question, for which I have struggled to find answers. Environmental economists only tell me that the conventional wisdom is that solar will never be more than a minor player in the energy game. Is it just a mind-set that is holding us back? Perhaps one reason is that the efficiency of solar energy devices has improved rapidly, and our economists, corporations, and government agencies just haven caught up with the implications of the new technologies. While today solar devices convert 17 percent of solar energy to electricity. Not too long ago, these devices converted only one or two percent. Perhaps venture capitalists, major power-generating corporations, and the Department of Energy just haven been following technological advances. This seems strange, however, in a nation fascinated by technology.
Perhaps big power companies stand to lose too much revenue (and control over power distribution) if decentralized generation takes over, such as when solar power production is done on rooftops. Perhaps, despite the clear need to move away from oil, there is just too much money riding on oil production and distribution for us to let go easily.