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January 24, 2008

tSolar Use and Disuse

On the Island of San Francisco in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) there are salt pits, an ancient marvel of solar engineering. The pits are rectangles of about fifty feet by twenty five and dug two or three feet into sand which is slightly below sea level. Salt water percolates up into the pits (not a good place to drill a well which is why no one lives here). The water evaporates and leaves the salt behind. This keeps happening until the pit is crusted over with a foot or so of salt. The subsistence fisherman from nearby Coyote Island scoop up the salt and use it to preserve their catch. The pit is ready to make the next batch.

Ironically, electricity for La Paz, Mexico, which has over 300 days of sunshine/year and is only 24 degrees north of the equator comes from a sprawling 600 megawatt natural-gas fired generating plant proudly opened in 2002. The plant is on a shore surrounded by desert and bare hills, great place for solar collectors. Oil and gas prices were low when the plant was planned and built and Pemex may have been looking for markets for its natural gas. But I suspect that gas would now find a ready market to the north if solar power displaced it here during sunny days as an energy source. Fortunately, the world is full of such opportunities.

Remote communities off the electric grid here are beginning to use solar desalinization and also harvest commercial quantities of salt as a byproduct.

BTW, I realize that people who fly in jets to sail in plastic boats and motor for four out of seven days are scarcely in a position to lecture anyone on energy use. These are meant as observations and not as rants.

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