I do think it's important to consider to look at other than
the money needed to produce energy sources but the investment of energy itself. We know that fossil fuels generate more than enough energy to make the tools and machinery that are required to mine and drill for them. The same goes for nuclear power. We can't say the same about solar power yet as I would guess that it's energy from fossil fuels that is being used to produce the solar power devices. For solar to even begin to be self sustaining, the solar voltaic cells or other solar power generators would need to produce more energy in their lifetimes than that which was expended in producing and maintaining them. When we consider % efficiency, we need to factor that energy in too and not just what we get when some system is up and running. In other words, a solar cell that can only produce enough energy to manufacture one more cell like it is 0% efficient. If it can produce 2, I'd call it 50% efficient. How much of the potential energy it removes from the sun's rays doesn't matter. Mom nature will put that to good use.
There is one other consideration with solar power or any other alternative source such as wind power but I've not heard much talk about but think there should be. When we take energy from something, we are depriving something else of it. Mom nature wastes nothing so none of the energy we would steal from the sun or wind is doing nothing. Consider also that the sun is also responsible for our wind. It's the heating and cooling cycles that generate it and wind is a very useful resource. When we harness the wind, we're really a stealing from a valuable byproduct of solar energy. To get the most from solar power, we will need to take it from where it's most abundant. How much can we steal before we'll begin to feel it in other ways? Aren't we already speaking of concern for climate change caused by man's energy use? Will we eventually be saying the same about these alternative energies? I think we will if mom nature is merciful enough to allow us to hang around that long.
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