Hi. I’m Lee.  I’m also Dr. Miller at Harvard [link].

Do you ever imagine what at the future will look like?  Me too.

Intrigued by how to power the future with renewables? Me too.

Aggravated by how easy attainable this utopia is portrayed? Me too. 

My research focuses on our renewable future, but from the perspective of large-scale wind and solar power. Why? I view renewables as ‘add-ons’ to our existing climate system, which is dependent on a series of hierarchical interactions.  Sunlight heats some surfaces more than others, in-part giving us the wind, which pushes on the ocean surface, in-part giving us waves. I say ‘in part’ because there are losses at each step.

Following this logic, the theoretical potential for solar power has to be a LOT bigger than wind power, and the theoretical potential for wind power has to be a LOT bigger than wave power. Hopefully this type of thinking sounds intuitive, or at least a little intriguing.

The opposite and more common perspective is to build a test device (i.e. 40% efficient PV panel in the lab), observe its power density in this perfect setting (We m-2), and then extrapolate total generation based on all the rooftop or urban area of the US. I get it, but is all your roof ideal for solar panels?  Is it all facing south at a tilt angle equal to your latitude? Is your roof casting a shadow on your neighbor’s roof? How often do you wash your roof to maintain optimum performance?  A similar lack of considerations are applied to wind turbines, and I think it has to stop. That said, many academics have told me behind closed doors that my scientific results are not what the world needs to hear right now. The sting of such statements grow when they are coming from people who could have hired me but are now choosing not to.  

I think a renewable-powered future is going to be an incredible challenge, but other perspectives (like this) show how easy it will be. I’m trying to either A) find the flaw in my own understanding, or B) help prepare for this coming challenge with as much understanding of large-scale wind and solar power as possible.

lmiller [ a t ] seas [d ot] harvard [dot] edu