I need help with a research project

I’ve been inspired by the Top Ten Posts of 2008 to produce something interesting this year aside from pithy commentary, and I need some help with a research project involving solar cells.

The interest stems from this article reported on Drudge, in which Toyota is considering building cars at least partially powered by photovoltaics:

Toyota Developing Solar Powered Green Car

In particular, my interest was piqued by these paragraphs:

Toyota, the manufacturer of the Lexus luxury car and Camry sedan, has already begun using solar panels at its Tsutsumi plant in central Japan to produce some of its own electricity.

The solar panels on the roofs add up in size to the equivalent of 60 tennis courts and produce enough electricity to power 500 homes, according to Toyota. That reduces 740 tons a year of carbon dioxide emissions and is equal to using 1,500 barrels of crude oil.

The first question that came to my mind was: “Fine, but how much energy did the 60 tennis courts of solar cells require to produce in the first place, when all of the manufacturing processes are accounted for?” In other words, I’m requesting some help from knowledgeable people here at Redstate to locate hard and verifiable information on the amount of energy that is required to produce approximately that much area in high-quality photovoltaic cells. I want to do the most thorough accounting of the process that I can, starting from the raw material and including every step in the chain of production up to and including delivery, installation and activation.

According to Wikipedia:

A standard tennis court 78 feet (27.77 m) long, and its width is 27 feet (8.23 m) for singles matches and 36 feet (10.98 m) for doubles matches. [1] Additional clear space around the court is needed in order for players to reach overrun balls for a total of 60 feet wide and 120 long.

I am going to take just the area of the doubles court without the clear space: 36×78 feet, 2808 sq.ft. — multiplied by 60, or 168,480 square feet: 3.87 acres.

I’m looking for detailed, rigorous and verifiable engineering data on the complete production process of modern terrestrial, durable solar cells that would cover between 4 and 8 acres.

I’ll be pursuing this as a side project over the next week or so, and any help would be greatly appreciated. My armchair guess at this point is that it takes about 10 years worth of the electricity generated to produce an acre of solar cells, from end to end. Let’s find out.

Thanks! All sincere help and commentary is gratefully appreciated and will be credited in the final article.

To communicate with people on this project, I’ll be using my alternate gmail address: tesseractl79 — theubiquitousatsign — gmail.com. Drop me a line if you have anything to share or discuss, and please get the ball rolling here in the comments, including any back-of-the-envelope ideas, rules of thumb, or anything else relevant.

Completely Different Subject Update: Someone has already asked me what a Tesseractl79 is. This is a representation of a tesseract (essentially a 4-D cube) as shown through a beautiful Fireworks illustration credited to Jason Hise of Wikipedia.


The accompanying description is:

A 3D projection of a four-dimensional hypercube performing a simple rotation about a plane which bisects the figure from front-left to back-right and top to bottom.

This is an L79, which is the 327 cubic inch 350 horsepower hydraulic lifter engine that powers my 1968 Corvette.

Don’t ask why. It’s a small block that seems like a big block and then a small block again.