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After we published Break Through last fall we constantly heard from old-school environmentalists like the Center for American Progress blogger Joe Romm that we don't need technological breakthroughs. (Romm was careful to narrowly define "breakthrough" as the invention of a brand new technology, even though we had explicitly defined it as "breakthroughs in performance and price.")

One of the chief barriers to dealing with global warming is that clean energy remains much more expensive  than fossil fuels. As long as that remains the case, neither rich countries like the U.S. nor poor countries like China are going to move to clean energy sources any time soon. What to do? We argue that major federal investments in clean energy are required to scale up the technologies and bring down their price.

Now a new report by UC-Berkeley's Severin Borenstein makes the same point. This from the San Jose Mercury News.

Under the most likely scenario, the cost of a 10-kilowatt solar system would be three or four times as much as the electricity it'll produce, Borenstein found. And even using a more favorable set of criteria, the cost would still be as much as 80 percent more than the value of the electricity it will produce.

Borenstein's research wasn't sponsored by any group or organization or industry, and the UC Energy Institute does non-partisan research, he said.

"I have nothing against solar PV and I hope it gets better," he said. "It's just very expensive and not terribly efficient."

What to do?

Borenstein argues against government subsidies, such as California's million-solar-roofs program, and for more research-and-development money from the U.S. and state governments to develop more efficient solar systems.

"We need a major scientific breakthrough, and we won't get it by putting panels up on houses," he said.

One idea we've toyed with is simply buying down the price of solar panels through government contracts with private firms over a 10 - 20 year period. Manufacturing and materials advances would bring down the price over time, and firms that get breakthroughs in performance and price would have an advantage in winning future contracts. Would Professor Borenstein support such an initiative? We're requested an interview so hopefully we'll find out soon.

Originally posted to Michael Shellenberger on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:02 PM PST.

Poll

Do we need solar energy breakthroughs?

3%3 votes
2%2 votes
94%81 votes

| 86 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

    •  Either/or ... (5+ / 0-)

      I am not sure why it is either subsidies to existing tech or research dollars?

      Can't we have some of both?

      Maybe you could modify your diary (and poll) to reflect a multi-faceted approach?

      Hillary for President of The Significant States of America

      by Bronxist on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:08:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Michael (0+ / 0-)

      What do you make of the recent announcements of AVA and REC regarding $1.00 watt installed price projections?  It seems if the AVA technology is really viable and the sheer scale and hence economy of scales that REC is going after can work, that we will have the price breakthroughs that we need within 2 to 3 years.

      Also, what's your take on the NREL report from 2004 regarding the "Solar City" concept?  The authors estimated that you could get a CdTe plant to install panels at a price of $.78 per installed watt?

      What say you?

      We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

      by theotherside on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:24:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  No, we don't need a breakthru, and not fine as-is (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HeyMikey, netguyct, meatwad420

      More efficiencies in homes and transportation are needed, more efficient renewable energy sources are needed, our wasteful lifestyles need improving, but nothing is dependent on one thing getting better.

      Spineless. Blue. Slow. Leaves trail of slime. Hit it with something - if it doesn't hit back, it's a Democrat. -- Bucky looking at a slug in "Get Fuzzy"

      by Lurtz on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:26:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  As long as America remains a corporaocracy, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Urizen, Lurtz

    it's unlikely governments will do anything to help bring down the cost of solar. My hope lies with a couple of kids in a garage or an entrepreneur who can make tons of money with massive production. (.02)

    Thanks for the interesting diary.

    "This chamber reeks of blood." -- Sen George McGovern, 1970

    by cotterperson on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:11:05 PM PST

  •  Only because the demand for solar panels (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ed in Montana

    is gigantic while the supply of the silicon substrate is constrained.  Once the silicon suppliers catch up with demand the price will go down.

  •  I did the math last year (9+ / 0-)

    And it almost worked out now.

    There are some serious issues with this Berkeley guy's analysis.

    The main one is that it ignores the non-linear financial benefit of switching to time-of-use metering, selling power back in the middle of the day then buying cheaper power from the utility at night.

    It also ignores the effect of tiered energy rates.

    If you switch to time-of-use and are in a higher tier, and deploy a system which supplies maybe half (not all) of your electricity needs, then (in my case) also considering the tax credits, it comes pretty damn close to breakeven.

    With all the investment in solar technology these days, the prices will come down.  But the investment will only persist if people are deploying today, creating a continuously growing market.

    One of the hotter ideas coming down imminently is focusing mirrors within the cells which dramatically reduce the amount of silicon required per watt.

    We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

    by CA Libertarian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:13:58 PM PST

    •  My question is: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      buckhorn okie, Lurtz

      Wouldn't the savings of solar panels, over time, cover the costs to produce them?  Solar power is free, it is the cost of capturing it, right?  So it should, over time, equal out since you will only spend the money once to purchase the panels, but you will constantly reap the benefits or savings from it.

      This is how I see it but I am probably way wrong.

      "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." --Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002-GWB

      by meatwad420 on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:19:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Fabian, brianinca, geomoo, meatwad420

        But its a 20-30 year return on the initial investment for residential dwellings.  

        •  That is what I thought (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mia Dolan

          and I am comfortable with that time period, for now.

          There is no reason why solar panels should not be our breakthrough manufacturing base, one that could possibly recover our economy.

          "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." --Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002-GWB

          by meatwad420 on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:25:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Actually closer to 10 yrs (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mia Dolan

          My house is off grid and I've been using solar for electricity since 01.  I'll have "paid off" the panels and the inverter in a couple more years.  The batteries (unneccessary for those on the grid) will take a few more.  If I had a meter selling excess back I'd be futher ahead.  The prices are very likely gonna drop precipitously over the next few years as large scale production (in China, natch) begins.  So far it's been a boutique market without any way to lower costs through manufacturing volume.

      •  Not necessarily (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HeyMikey, Fabian, geomoo

        One, you have to bear in mind that the total cost of a solar system is much more than the panels.  It's the electrical upgrades, the inverter, and the installation - this can easily add 50% to the panel cost.

        Also, somebody has to make money here or it's a crappy business.  There is a supply chain - a factory which needs money to re-invest in expansion and new technology, a distributor who needs to pay its management and sales people.

        And then there is the basic math itself.

        A $1000, 200-watt panel produces about 300kwh per year after considering number of hours per day, derating, etc.  In rough terms, that's $30 worth of electricity, at 10 cents/watt.

        But the useful life of this panel is about 20 years.

        Already, you can see this is a losing proposition - an up-front $1000 expense versus a return of $600 over 20 years.

        This is why - presently - you have to benefit from extraordinary effects like rebates, time-of-use metering, and selling most of your power back at higher tiered rates.

        We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

        by CA Libertarian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:29:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Is that with the home's use of watts (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Fabian

          calculated.  Is the home's consumption of energy in that 300kwh, or is it after?

          What I am getting at is the savings of not having to purchase electricity of a grid, will the 200-watt panel produce enough electricity to run a normal house?

          "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." --Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002-GWB

          by meatwad420 on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:33:39 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  This is an incremental analysis, it scales (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            HeyMikey, Fabian, Lurtz, meatwad420

            I'm just computing it for a single panel.  The cost and the power generated scales linearly.

            No, a 200-watt panel won't power your entire house.

            It certainly won't power it when it's dark, and it won't power much of it when it's light either.  Just your TV alone requires more than twice that much peak electricity.

            Most home systems are in the 2kw-3kw range.

            You can't go off-grid with just solar panels - again because it gets dark and cloudy sometimes.  The way these things work is that when you're producing more than you're using (i.e. nobody's home during the day), your meter runs backwards and you sell power back to the utility, then at night when everybody's home and the lights and TV are on you're buying power back from the utility company and your solar system isn't doing a thing.  It's "net metering".

            We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

            by CA Libertarian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:40:54 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thank you for your answers (0+ / 0-)

              There are many more technological breakthroughs that will enhance solar power. We are turely in the infancy stages of solar power.

              "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." --Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002-GWB

              by meatwad420 on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:47:19 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  cents per watt (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          CA Libertarian

          The lowest per-watt cost at my home from PG&E is $0.11  per kilowatt. Over the baseline (300 kwh/month, I think, but it's variable) it increases to $0.13, then $0.22, then $0.31.

          I'm paying in the $0.31 marginal bracket. The changes I'm making around the house are aimed at the $0.31 and $0.22 marginal brackets; once those watts are taken care through efficiency or adding something like solar, I'll be done. I don't mind paying $0.11 for the rest of my power.

          Spineless. Blue. Slow. Leaves trail of slime. Hit it with something - if it doesn't hit back, it's a Democrat. -- Bucky looking at a slug in "Get Fuzzy"

          by Lurtz on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:50:11 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yep, best to start with conservation (0+ / 0-)

            The conclusion I took away from my solar bids was that the financials were so tenuous I needed to go scrub the consumption side, as significant conservation gains could completely change the economics.

            Mind you, this is easier said than done.

            We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

            by CA Libertarian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:11:15 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  There's cost and then there's impact. (0+ / 0-)

            You're absolutely right to focus on conservation and efficiency measures first, both because it will help you ensure that you aren't installing more panels than you need but also because it's the most immediate way of reducing your environmental impact.

            Putting aside the money for a minute, while PG&E's portfolio may be cleaner than most public utilities, however, installing your own solar (if you can afford it and have good conditions) is by far more climate friendly than getting your juice from them.

            Last thing: A lot of people have been frustrated by the fact that PG&E won't pay people who are producing their own energy and feeding back to the grid.  They give credits but not actual payments for surplus energy produced.  But only something like 7% of those who produce energy actually generate surplus energy.  Many earn a credit, but only because PG&E pays a very high rate for the energy that their clients produce.  The CPUC is considering a proposal to pay those who do actually produce surplus electricity, but it's unlikely that they would pay them the current rate they're crediting people.  So I doubt it would ever become a financial investment for those with a lot of money.

            www.climatechangers.org... it's a matter of degrees.

            by princemyshkin on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:39:54 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Good argument for time-of-use metering. (0+ / 0-)

          Peak demand typically coincides with peak solar production: summer afternoons. Peak non-solar power generally costs the utility more to supply because it has to build peak generators that are idle (i.e., not generating revenue) at off-peak times. Time-of-use pricing would align the market incentives with the market costs -- a more efficient market leading to more efficient outcomes. In other words, flat-rate pricing builds in a hidden subsidy for peak generators, putting solar at an artificial disadvantage.

          -4.25, -4.87 "If the truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence." -- Cicero

          by HeyMikey on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:58:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  I like this calculator (0+ / 0-)

      It give you a nice easy-to-read graph showing how long it will take to recoup your investment, and includes variables like if you use a home equity loan (the interest is tax-deductible), etc.

      http://sunpowercorp.cleanpowerestima...

      Spineless. Blue. Slow. Leaves trail of slime. Hit it with something - if it doesn't hit back, it's a Democrat. -- Bucky looking at a slug in "Get Fuzzy"

      by Lurtz on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:38:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The BIG sticking points with utilities (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lurtz, geomoo, CA Libertarian

      Will be both whether they will be forced to buy solar power at retail rates instead of lower rates,

      And what effect a significant scale residential based solar deployment will have on the current grids.

      Currently, utilities control most of the power that flows onto the grids directly.  Imagine if they have to account for solar generation which is highly variable.  Will residential installations have to include battery storage and let the utilities have remote control over whether power flows onto the grid or into battery storage?

      Mind you, that will take quite a significant deployment of solar panels onto any one grid, but if you look at a long term goal of 25%-50% alternate electricity generation, you've got a significant shift in the current infrastructure.

      Primary season: All sizzle, no steak.

      by Fabian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:42:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yep, you have to make lots of assumptions (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Fabian, Lurtz

        Or it doesn't work out financially.

        If the utility changes the time-of-use rate structure, you may lose.

        If the utility limits how much power it will buy back, you may lose.

        If electricity prices don't go up as fast, you may lose.

        But also, if the cost of solar installations goes down significantly, you may also lose because you get killed on the home equity you thought you had.  It's like any other early technology adoption.  I find that the "solar calculators" from the retailers tend to ignore this phenomenon, but it's another reason I would like to stay off this curve so long as prices continue to trend quickly downward.

        We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

        by CA Libertarian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:49:23 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Good argument for more regulation. (0+ / 0-)

          The market is not functioning efficiently because the costs to be inflicted by global warming are not accounted for anywhere. Classic "tragedy of the commons" problem. If you want to use the commons, you should have to pay for the privilege.

          -4.25, -4.87 "If the truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence." -- Cicero

          by HeyMikey on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 03:05:27 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I'm on my school's solar decathalon (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    buckhorn okie, Lurtz, meatwad420

    team, and we're working to build a house completely run by solar. I agree that we need better R & D.

    The Schwarzenegger plan... It forces everyone to buy health insurance, whether they think they need it or not. - Paul Krugman, using right wing talking points.

    by bhagamu on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:17:16 PM PST

  •  All new construction in..... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Urizen, gnat, netguyct

    California, Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico and other sunny states should be solar by law.

    Yes, new breakthroughs are needed but we can't afford to wait for them. Make solar supplementation the standard and move on from there.

    Massive tax breaks to those who put solar on their roofs.

    The million solar roofs idea is a great one. Don't let free enterprise nuts kill another great idea:solar power.

    We can encourage private enterprise through tax breaks (big ones, that will make it worthwhile, not little ones).

    "I am my brother's keeper. I am a Democrat." -- That's your slogan, Democrats.

    by Bensdad on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:21:20 PM PST

    •  Wait a second... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      brianinca, geomoo

      I don't think Prof. S. is a "free enterprise nut" and I don't think we get very far by dismissing legitimate analyses that don't conform to our opinion. It may be that we should still do million solar homes, even if it's an economic loser, but we should know that going into it rather than deny that it's the case. There are good reasons for subsidies -- but why assume million solar homes is the best kind? Why not outright procurement? Why not big concentrated PV farms?  

      •  All of the above to they why not ?'s (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Urizen

        But to say that solar panels are economicaly vaible is false and pessimistic.  Not everything has to turn a profit at the start, and not everything has to be wal-mart cheap before you can buy it.

        He is too simplistic in his anaylsis, stating that solar panels are a loser idea because they are too expensive, but some things are expensive at first. And that is why he can be labeled as 'free enterprise nut" because his anaylsis revolves around profit still.

        "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." --Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002-GWB

        by meatwad420 on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:29:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  No (0+ / 0-)

          What I read Prof S. as saying is that there's better way to spend our public money than Million Solar Homes. Maybe he's right maybe he's wrong, but he's not saying solar is a "loser idea."

          •  Well he did say it was (0+ / 0-)

            an economic "loser" and I question, is it really over time a loser, or is it a loser in the short term only?

            "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." --Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002-GWB

            by meatwad420 on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:36:01 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Prof S. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bensdad, Urizen

            There is no link to his actual study, so I can't see where he gets his numbers.  But his 3 or 4 times the costs isn't close to being accurate.

            Sounds like this guy is a total assclown.

            •  sorry, but realistic (0+ / 0-)

              The only way to make residential PV power look anywhere near economic is through massive subsidies right now.  If you are actually talking about buying panels and an inverter and getting them installed on your home and setting up net metering and then maintaining the system (including buying a new inverter every ~7 years), then you are talking about power generation that is about 4x the average rates today.  In very sunny climates and places with high electric rates it may only be 2x the current price (or, if you are in the highest tiers in California, perhaps 1.5x).

              PV also has substantial environmental impacts at this time.  

              Efficiency is a much much better use of resources if what you want is to reduce pollution.  But we also need to be looking to the future with PV and lots of other alternatives and hopefully we can come up with a strategy that lowers the cost of these to be broadly competitive.   That may involve giving huge subsidies to PV on homes for a decade or maybe coming up with further advances in large solar thermal power stations or further technological progress on PV cells and inverters...

              But the bottom line is that current PV is a loser.    We need to accept that and work to make it better.  It comes far far down the list of green things anyone could/should be doing.

              •  Well (0+ / 0-)

                As you point out, in some places its better than others, depending on the amount of sun and the electicity prices.  At 4x it makes no sense.  If you can get it down to 1.5 or even better, using figures others have suggested short of breaking even, it may be worth doing.  The economics are only part of the equation here.  Can you quantify the "substantial environmentla impacts" of PV?

                •  No... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Mia Dolan

                  I can't quantify them, but a little research and you will find out that Silicon, Cadmium, Zinc, and other elements used in the PV manufacturing process are not without impacts and issues.  PV is clearly superior when it comes to GHG emissions, but mining and manufacturing processes are not without negative impacts.  

                  In addition, price is, to some extent, related to environmental impacts since it relates to the resources needed to create something.  When an option is much more expensive, it often has greater indirect environmental impacts.  

      •  Agree, centralization is more economic now (0+ / 0-)

        There's some good work going on here.

        Note that such solar farms will have to be in remote areas or the cost of land will be a killer - in California anyway.

        We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

        by CA Libertarian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:34:33 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Two comments. (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Bensdad, Lurtz, netguyct, geomoo, meatwad420

        The first is that this parallels, though on a larger scale, the whole switching to CFL thing.  CFLs are not the final solution to lighting. They're more expensive, contain mercury and we have no current infrastructure in place to dispose of them. They are a stepping stone to LEDs/other lights, but should people wait to replace their incandescents? No. Same thing goes with solar.

        The second is a response to why not PV farms rather than millions of home.  I'm not an expert here, so I wonder: Is it more efficient to draw electricity from a local energy source rather than from one a long distance away or is it more efficient and sustainable to have smaller numbers of PV farms rather than a ton of solar roofs?

        BTW Michael, I was at the Sun OpenEco last month... I enjoyed watching you spar with Hunter ;-)

        www.climatechangers.org... it's a matter of degrees.

        by princemyshkin on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:37:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  In my dreams I imagine (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Urizen

          millions of houses with solar panels for roofs, turning acres of suburbia into "solar farms".

          "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." --Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002-GWB

          by meatwad420 on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:39:15 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  the more local (0+ / 0-)

          solar is the better it works.  Huge amounts of power are lost in transmission from plants to points of use.

        •  Read the Scientific American article. (0+ / 0-)

          Here. With DC transmission lines, which lose much less electricity over long distances, solar farms would be much more efficient than currently. The article has a map showing the solar potential of different areas of the country -- no surprise, the southwest is king.

          -4.25, -4.87 "If the truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence." -- Cicero

          by HeyMikey on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:46:41 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Not true (0+ / 0-)

            The reason Tesla invented AC was because DC loss is enormous.  Every foot counts.

            •  Theory v. practice. (0+ / 0-)

              I don't pretend to understand all the differences between the lab and the marketplace, but the Scientific American authors say this:

              The geography of solar power is obviously different from the nation’s current supply scheme. Today coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants dot the landscape, built relatively close to where power is needed. Most of the country’s solar generation would stand in the Southwest. The existing system of alternating-current (AC) power lines is not robust enough to carry power from these centers to consumers everywhere and would lose too much energy over long hauls. A new high-voltage, direct-current (HVDC) power transmission backbone would have to be built.

              Studies by Oak Ridge National Laboratory indicate that long-distance HVDC lines lose far less energy than AC lines do over equivalent spans. The backbone would radiate from the Southwest toward the nation’s borders. The lines would terminate at converter stations where the power would be switched to AC and sent along existing regional transmission lines that supply customers.

              The AC system is also simply out of capacity, leading to noted shortages in California and other regions; DC lines are cheaper to build and require less land area than equivalent AC lines. About 500 miles of HVDC lines operate in the U.S. today and have proved reliable and efficient. No major technical advances seem to be needed, but more experience would help refine operations. The Southwest Power Pool of Texas is designing an integrated system of DC and AC transmission to enable development of 10 GW of wind power in western Texas. And TransCanada, Inc., is proposing 2,200 miles of HVDC lines to carry wind energy from Montana and Wyoming south to Las Vegas and beyond.

              -4.25, -4.87 "If the truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence." -- Cicero

              by HeyMikey on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 03:23:09 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  parallel? (0+ / 0-)

          CFLs would be a good parallel to PV panels if each bulb cost $200.  Then you'd have something that isn't economically attractive at current utility prices and has it's own environmental issues -- although less than the problems with coal fired power (as is true for CFLs and PV).

  •  we're always "just one step away" (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lurtz, netguyct, geomoo, meatwad420

    when it comes to alternative energy, and a clean, sustainable future, but the cynic in me suspects this is b/c the powers that be have conditioned us to envision only what is, rather than what can be. The idea that we need to have a one-size-fits-all solution is not helpful, and the idea that we need to have everything planned out prefectly in advance is not practical. We have the means to make a huge economic paradigm shit with energy now, but it will take large scale investment and legal reform, governance, and implementation--which is why it's unlikely to happen anytime soon. The market will not correct itself here on its own: there must be willpower in DC to make real reforms to our energy policy, planning, and outlook.

    •  oops (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Urizen, netguyct, geomoo, meatwad420

      a huge economic paradigm shit

      there's a missing "f" in there somewhere

      •  I want to take a paradigm shit on Mobil/Exxon (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Urizen, gnat, netguyct, meatwad420

        Please forgive.  The phrase is just too good to let pass.

        The only frame change that matters: the corporate media = propaganda machine. Americans must find their news elsewhere.

        by geomoo on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:08:17 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  LMFAO! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gnat

        there is indeed massive paradigm shit clogging up the works...  

        You make an excellent point in that we absolutely can not plan out to the end of the game.  We simply can not predict what's going to be developed and catch on, with or without subsidies.

        Every single non-fossil-fuel-generated Watt avoids GHG emissions.  Evaluating the benefit of any alternatively -generated watt on purely dollar terms is misleading.

        Perhaps there will be an analysis of the external costs of fossil-fuel electric generation, and a tax on coal and other fossil fuels to pay those external costs (if you don't have a dream, it can't come true) that will bring all alternative energy systems to cost-competitiveness more quickly. Maybe not.

        But we need to take every step we can toward an alternative-energy future...

        The real change will start at the local Planning and Zoning level.  Get involved.  There are thousands across the US, and they represent either roadblocks or allies.  Make them allies in the GHG fight.

    •  "The perfect is the enemy of the good enough" (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Urizen, HeyMikey, gnat, netguyct, geomoo, meatwad420

      Waiting for all planets to align, the world will pass you by. Let's make do with the best we have now, and improve as we go along.

      Spineless. Blue. Slow. Leaves trail of slime. Hit it with something - if it doesn't hit back, it's a Democrat. -- Bucky looking at a slug in "Get Fuzzy"

      by Lurtz on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:33:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Conflict of Interest (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Urizen, geomoo

    I heard a Berkeley talk earlier this year.  Berkeley has a huge program funded by BP which emphasizes converting solar into liquid fuels so BP can continue to sell auto fuels the same way.  From what I saw, any suggestion of using solar panels to provide energy to houses and to all-electric or plug-in hybrid cars is pooh-poohed as a matter of policy.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of Sillyicon Valley start-ups blasting ahead with cheap solar panels.

    Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
    Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

    by Caelian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:36:20 PM PST

  •  We are out of time (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HeyMikey, danz, gmoke, netguyct, geomoo, meatwad420

     
     I hate to be a downer, but we have to do what we know right now. Research is fine and all, but our problems are right on top of us and we don't have time to roll the dice again. Immediate conservation (don't worry, peak oil will help there), and we implement what we know - hydro, wind, solar, and biomass.

    If incremental improvements in solar like this Nanosolar stuff come out that is wonderful, but sitting on our hands until 2050, or 2030, or 2020 while the fossil fuel companies experience rising profits due to scarcity and we wait on the next big "breakthrough" is a recipe for disaster.

  •  Problems of Scale (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HeyMikey, netguyct, geomoo, meatwad420

    Small scale solar is available now and tends to be within the same priceframe as traditional sources.  For instance, my bike light is solar and cost $30 which is about the same price as comparable bike lights.  You can get a solar LED flashlight and AA battery charger from http://www.bogolight.com for $25, which is close to the price for a seven LED light plus a battery charger, except bogolight sends a second light to somebody in the developing world as part of their program.  Good deal, good international relations.

    This is why I say Solar IS Civil Defense.

    Of course, there really isn't anybody interested in small scale solar like this.  Everybody immediately wants a roof paved in PV so that they can go off-grid with their present electrical load without doing any of the energy conservation and efficiency that should be the first step in the renewable transition.

    This isn't cynicism.  This is observation based upon more than three decades of interest in the field.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2006/03/solar-video.html

    by gmoke on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:51:08 PM PST

    •  Those are the things that will push solar power (0+ / 0-)

      the little things, LED's and such. Scrape away at the watts used and increase the watts produced. But the profit has to be now, instantaneous in our current culture, and that is where r&d is restricted.

      "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." --Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002-GWB

      by meatwad420 on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:56:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  a million roofs drives uptake (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    geomoo

    The push to get a million roofs done is a good one - "solar is too expensive!" OK, yes, true today, but look at electric power in places like Pakistan or South Africa ... we do not want rolling blackouts here, but that could be what we'll be facing during high load times as natural gas peaker power plants become uneconomical.

  •  No Math included in Article (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lurtz, geomoo

    So Here's my Math

    State of the Art and Generally Available is 8-10 Watts per square foot

    http://www.westmarine.com/...
    120Watt $999.00
    12,000 Watt is $99,900.00
    Solar produces "Car Battery" Voltages to convert to Wall Current AC
    Add in $10,000 for Voltage Inverters $109,900.00
    Then Labor

    Be careful what you shoot at, most things in here don't react well to bullets-Sean Connery .... Captain Marko Ramius -Hunt For Red October

    by JML9999 on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:52:38 PM PST

    •  Last year I priced a 4KW system (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lurtz, JML9999

      with labor and converter at $24K

      There are many ways that conduct to seeming honour, and some of them very dirty ones. John Webster The Duchess of Malfi Act V Scene II

      by GP on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:57:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Here's a more accurate set of numbers (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JML9999

      A 3kw system, installed in California now, will set you back about $20K after all the tax credits.

      It'll produce about 4.5kwh of electricity every year.

      Now, go look at your power bill and tell me whether that ever breaks even for you.  Be prepared to squint.

      We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

      by CA Libertarian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:03:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  4.5kwh a year - typo? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JML9999

        Because a 3kw system will give you more kwh each day, depending on efficiency, angle, hours of sunlight, etc.

        Spineless. Blue. Slow. Leaves trail of slime. Hit it with something - if it doesn't hit back, it's a Democrat. -- Bucky looking at a slug in "Get Fuzzy"

        by Lurtz on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:14:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Nope, not a typo (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JML9999

          This scales directly from the analysis of a solar system seller.  They concluded 3kw of usable electricity from a 2kw-rated solar system.

          The main factors that lead to the derating are number of sun hours per day (about 5 even in sunny Silicon Valley) and inverter/wiring/distribution losses.

          And - yes - it's consistent with my previous analysis, just the most convenient link I found.

          We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

          by CA Libertarian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:28:55 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Run the numbers (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JML9999, CA Libertarian

        In November 2007, the average retail price of electricity in the U.S. was $0.1069 per kwh.  If your system is producing (and you are using) 4500 kwh per year, you are getting $481.05 in electricity.  It will take 42 years to recoup the $20K investment.  

        Electricity prices flucuate from state to state, however.  California's average number was $0.1426 per kwh. Run those number and you are down to 31 years.  

        http://www.eia.doe.gov/...

      •  different way to analyze (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JML9999

        A $20,000, 25-year home equity loan costs $125 a month. (interest deduction not included)

        A 3 kw system will generate about 500 kwh a month.

        This is $.25 a kwh. My PG&E tiered rates mean I'm paying more than that for half my watts. If I build a system that generates 250 kwh a month, I'm ahead. Include the interest deduction and I'm certainly ahead.

        Spineless. Blue. Slow. Leaves trail of slime. Hit it with something - if it doesn't hit back, it's a Democrat. -- Bucky looking at a slug in "Get Fuzzy"

        by Lurtz on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:25:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  General distrust of purely economic analyses (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Urizen, HeyMikey, netguyct, meatwad420

    The price of coal is determined by what maximizes the owner or shareholders of the coal company.  If it is maximized by displacing thousands of people and ruining streams and mountains (as it is doing this minute), then that is how it is done.  My point:  cost/benefit analyses of this sort may seem indisputable because they are based in hard data, but in fact they provide a very limited view of the issue.  Does the price of coal take into account future environmental costs?  Not at present.  Does the price of any fossil fuel consider global warming?  Perhaps now to the extent that fossil fuel companies seem intent on paying to place beautiful nature photos with their name on the opening pages of magazines, which is to say, not a lot.  Analyses such as this should make up only a small part of decision making.  If an analysis shows that we are better off strip mining coal, pouring sulfur and CO2 into our environment, and forgetting about solar for now, then it is obvious to me that something is amiss somewhere along the line.

    The only frame change that matters: the corporate media = propaganda machine. Americans must find their news elsewhere.

    by geomoo on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 01:57:04 PM PST

    •  Classic "tragedy of the commons" problem. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      geomoo

      It is government's job to protect the commons. In this case, that should mean imposing a tax or fee on greenhouse-causing power generation. Government should also require time-of-day pricing, to eliminate flat-rate pricing's hidden subsidy for peak generating capacity.

      -4.25, -4.87 "If the truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence." -- Cicero

      by HeyMikey on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 03:11:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hasn't the breakthrough already happened? (0+ / 0-)

    I have heard of two examples, but this one gets the most press.  The answer to this question is of immediate practical importance to me.  I am saying, what the hell, let's stop waiting and put up solar now, just because it's the right thing to do.  She wants to wait for this cheaper and more efficient technology.

    Anyone up on this?

    The only frame change that matters: the corporate media = propaganda machine. Americans must find their news elsewhere.

    by geomoo on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:01:16 PM PST

    •  Most of this stuff never gets out of the lab (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      geomoo

      Have you ever actually paid attention to how long (if ever) it takes before one of these "world-changing" basic science discoveries actually changes the world?

      Try 10-20 years, and rarely.

      Here is a good example of some stuff coming along in the near future which may actually help.  Multiple companies are working on concentrated photovoltaics (i.e. solar cells with focusing mirrors).

      We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

      by CA Libertarian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:08:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I hear you (0+ / 0-)

        But this breakthrough was touted as probably available within the year.  And I've seen it written up in such places as Science News.  While your general point is well-taken, I would love to hear from someone who knows what is happening with this idea, especially with the companies trying to bring it in commercially.  Incidentally, it is not a complex idea, nor does it involve exotic materials.  I wish I could find a better link--still looking.

        The only frame change that matters: the corporate media = propaganda machine. Americans must find their news elsewhere.

        by geomoo on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:14:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  i linked upthread (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Urizen, HeyMikey, geomoo

        but again, Nanosolar has built a full production facility and is currently producing $1/watt solar panels.

        they are out of the lab.

        Concentrating solar thermal electric generation is also out of the lab and producing power.  google concentrating solar power...

        Last I looked up on the Schott glass site (they make a key collector component) they referenced US law that restricted CSP plants to 64 MW.  A law is in the way of greener electricity in the southwestern desert.

    •  let me translate that link for you (0+ / 0-)

      "Can I has venture capital?"

      Until you see it for sale at Home Depot, assume that all press releases regarding new technology are spin put out for the purpose of luring new investors.  The more you hear about a company or technology in the press, the more you should be worried about it.  If they didn't need the money they wouldn't be trying to generate media buzz.  

      •  Don't you think (0+ / 0-)

        Home Depot (Tom Ridge CEO) has a vested interest in suppressing technology that threatens his pals in the oil biz too?  I suspect that's pretty much of a push except the oil/coal biz is the past and renewables are the future.

  •  Need breakthroughs for what? (0+ / 0-)

    The basic premise of this diary is undefined and consequently you end up with a dispute about nothing.  We don't need breakthroughs to increase solar energy production.  We might need breakthroughs for some higher requirements though.  Duh.

    Until you can say what you want, there's no way of saying whether we "need breakthroughs" in order to accomplish them.  The problem is undefined.

    Please consider writing more carefully next time since most people don't want to waste their time sorting out what you should have given more careful attention to

  •  Scientifc American's "Grand Solar Plan." (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lurtz

    Read it here. This is a very encouraging article. Enough solar power to make a big difference is much more practical than I had realized.

    The short version: We don't really need a "breakthrough," but we do need (a) continued reasonably-expected progress on current trend lines in solar efficiency, (b) government investment in long-distance DC transmission lines.

    -4.25, -4.87 "If the truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence." -- Cicero

    by HeyMikey on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:42:38 PM PST

    •  It's science fiction (0+ / 0-)

      it's based on technology which doesn't even exist yet.

      If it doesn't exist, there is absolutely no way to even speculate about costs.

      That plan is not a plan to solve problems as they exist in the world right now.  It's an attempt to prove the viability of a particular vision.

      •  Have you read it? (0+ / 0-)

        It's been a couple months since I read it. IIRC, it depends on modest, reasonably-expected-soon progress in solar efficiency.

        -4.25, -4.87 "If the truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence." -- Cicero

        by HeyMikey on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 03:18:10 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  yes, a couple times (0+ / 0-)

          The biggest assumptions being made are in regard to production costs. The plan offers both new jobs and decreased cost once production scales up.  I don't see that happening without making the things in Asia, and that can't happen if it's to be an economic stimulus.

          Economic and trade issues are just as big an obstacle to getting this stuff in production as technological hurdles.

          •  I'm not following you. (0+ / 0-)

            Seems like economies of scale would lower per-unit costs, assuming no changes in current country of manufacture. If increased production is in Asia then of course there would be no direct jobs gain here, but isn't that a separate issue than cost of power? And of course, shifting production from here to Asia would likely mean even more dramatic drops in per-unit costs.

            -4.25, -4.87 "If the truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence." -- Cicero

            by HeyMikey on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 03:55:55 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Most chips are built in Asia (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Mia Dolan

            And American firms profit handsomely from selling them internationally.

            Let's not be xenophobic about where our supply chain has to be located - that is not productive.

            There are many, many countries where advanced solar modules could be manufactured.  What's more important is owning the intellectual property which secures the rights to the profits from its distribution and in proliferating a technology which reduces our dependence on foreign oil.

            If the solar cells, wind turbines, and other generating equipment is built in Asia or Mexico or wherever, big deal.

            We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

            by CA Libertarian on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 04:53:42 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Worth watching: interview with Google chiefs. (0+ / 0-)

    Google.org is investing a bunch of money in developing scalable energy alternatives that are cheaper than coal.

    Some of you may want to hold your nose for this but Thomas Friedman interviews Google's founders and Larry Brilliant, the Executive Director of Google.org about this initiative, and others.

    Of note is their discussion of why not solar right now.

    For what it's worth, I blogged a bit about this and the larger question of coal here.

    www.climatechangers.org... it's a matter of degrees.

    by princemyshkin on Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 02:56:13 PM PST

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