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Solar power for sunnier days in France, I think not

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As reported by the Associated Press, Jean-Louis Borloo, the French Minister of Ecology, believes that increasing the amount of solar plants in France would allow the country to produce four times the amount it produces now on solar power.

In total, it’s a 300 megawatt project that will mean solar plants for each region and will cost around 1.5 billion Euros, or around $2 billion. Overall, it’s a plan designed to reduce total carbon emissions and essentially provide for a greener France.

As far as solar power plants in Europe go, France is ranked fourth in terms of the solar energy produced, falling just behind Germany, Spain and Italy.

Okay, so just by looking at these facts, as taken from an article in Business Week, this plan comes off sounding all well and good. Everyone’s for a greener planet these days, sure. I am too. But why is no one bringing up the fact that solar energy is hardly an efficient or effective means at producing energy? Specifically, that solar power cannot, with current technology, provide enough energy to even scratch the current level of carbon emissions on this planet.

So before you jump on the bandwagon to support France’s solar venture, take a look a few more facts.

The average amount of sunlight that reaches the surface of the earth is about 300 watts per 10 square feet. It takes a solar collector with an area roughly equivalent to 10 percent of the floor area of whatever building it is meant to power in order for it to collect enough energy to power that building. So, for a 2,000-square-foot house, a collector with an area of 200 square feet would be required to collect enough energy to power that structure.

Okay, that doesn’t sound that bad, right? Just clip some solar panels to the roof, no big deal. Well, according to, just 100 square feet of those solar panels will set you back a down payment on a brand new home, or about $25,000. The expense of solar power is its strongest deterrent.

Why else would solar power account for less than 1 percent of United States electricity use? Simply put, the technology just isn’t there yet.

Sure, it’s a lovely gesture for France to make and is certainly making a statement the world over. Just wake me up when solar power can start competing with the energy we produce from fossil fuels currently. On second thought, I’d like to maintain the hope of being alive in the event that this will actually happen, so set that alarm clock for when it can start competing with even the whopping 7 percent of our nation’s total energy output from…wait for it…water.

Brittany @ May 22, 2009

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