A reader over at AutoblogGreen (one of my all-time favorite blogs) sent in a short essay comparing the efficiency of photovoltaics to the efficiency of biofuels. and ABG rightly saw fit to publish it.
I’m not tremendously surprised that photovoltaics won…I’m just surprised by how big the difference is.
Now biofuels are kinda like solar power. Plants capture the the sun’s light and convert it to energy. We then convert the plants into fuel, and then turn the fuel into useful power.
Photovoltaics skip a few of those steps, converting sunlight directly to power without any pesky nature getting in the way. It turns out that creating biofuel with an acre of land produces about 100 times less power than covering that same land with solar panels.
While it’s fascinating to discover, the sad fact is, it doesn’t really matter. We can hope that someday our global footprint will shrink. But right now, it doesn’t matter how much space we take up, it only matters how much money we spend. What we really need to see is a per-unit-of-power analysis of the cost of biofuels vs. photovoltaics. It’s my guess that that analysis will make it quite obvious why no one’s replacing corn fields with solar panels.