Sunday, June 24, 2012

A guilty pleasure

One of those available only to lapsed Anglicans: When the "turbulent priests" rebel, as they are wont do to, over the centuries:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Not in this neck of the woods...

I came in from hoeing, weeding, watering and tilling in our veggie garden (at Womerlippi Farm) all sweaty and mucky and happy to shower, start some supper to cooking, and then sit down for a moments quiet in the cool indoors and read the paper.

I read this NYT op-ed piece on how we may need more dirt in our diet.

I think I'm going to tell this to our piglets.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

US solar power market

I taped a Skype interview about the changes in the US solar power market with Sina Alinejad of the BBC's Washington DC office yesterday. I'm not sure when it will air, or on what news show.

I was given the questions before the interview so I made some notes and collected some references. I'm posting them here so anyone who wants to follow up can do so easily. These are my notes and not what I actually said on TV, so the points are indifferent order and slightly different emphasis. The references are in broad support of these talking points.

Hi again Mick,
Here are the questions I have in mind:

-          How would you describe the improvement of solar energy use in the US in the past decade?

The installed capacity seems to be doubling each year, and has done since the mid-2000s. Even with the recent trade war with China, the price of panels is dropping and seems to be continuing to drop. There are US Department of Energy programs that aim to reduce the price of both panels and other installations costs such as inverters and the cost of the installation work. The technology is changing fairly quickly and maturing, mostly under the hood so the consumer doesn't necessarily see what is happening with specific panel technology and inverters and computer controls and so on. The financial models are changing too, particularly for residential and distributed generation.

-          Has the oil and gas price had a big effect of moving this industry?

No-one can know for sure without doing some serious social science on the internal intentions of solar equipment purchasers, and since solar PV competes primarily with other forms of electrical power, not oil and gas, one would have to say, technically no. If it's not competing directly, it's not affecting the price directly, at least not in the normal economic sense. And indeed natural gas prices are extremely cheap in the US right now and may drop yet further as we develop large new domestic supplies. I expect there is a strong, what economists call intangible value for energy security that is helped by ordering a solar PV installation, and oil prices will be part of this internal consideration on the part of the consumer or business purchaser. Households and companies that buy such installations are meeting other than purely economic goals. They want to be "green."

-          Would we be taking 1%0 of our energy from solar sources by 2025 as some have predicted? And what does that depend on?

Possibly, but unlikely. The build-out capacity for solar PV is not as great as many believe, at least not without some form of grid scale storage, and while the market is fast growing, it's not growing quite that fast. Currently we have about 5,000 MW of solar power capacity in the US, as compared to about 4,000 TWh of total electrical power consumption. A terawatt is a million megawatts. And solar PV power is made during the day, when power use is generally highest, with a peak around noon. That's convenient, but we still use around of a third of all electrical power at night when the sun doesn't shine, and solar power is interrupted by clouds some of the rest of the time. It's theoretically possible to reach ten percent, or even more, but we'll still need to use other forms of power.

-          And about the new companies offering solar panel installations (for free on long term contracts) what are the pros and cons?

The primary purpose of a lease-back system is to allow the solar firm, not the household, to make use of the 30% federal tax rebate, usually through what is known as a Tax Equity Partner scheme. If you can avoid this and keep the tax rebate for yourself, you'll pay more upfront, but less per unit power over the life of the system. Other than losing this financial advantage, such schemes are helping reduce the barriers for ordinary people to consider solar PV, and that's a direct benefit.

Some of my references:

1) The DoE's "Sunshot Initiative", aims to make solar cost-competitive with regular electrical power by 2020 with "high risk, high reward" technology

2) Recent news article on the same from REW

3) US Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium, with CIGS standardization (copper-indium-gallium-selenide)

4) Sunshot Grand Challenge: 5,000 roofs at $2/watt by 2014

5) Reducing "non-hardware" costs

6) Solar industry has "solid first quarter," strong projection for growth
7) Are Chinese cells subject to anti-dumping tariff conveniently outsourced from Taiwan?  
(So much for Chinese solar industry leadership!)
8) The largest solar project in the world, using First Solar cadmium-telluride technology

10) Leaseback systems

11) Local/regional market leader: ReVision Energy. Last count, seven former Unity College students worked here

12) The "Put Solar On It" road-trip of 2010: Unity students campaigning

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Watts on China

The Guardian's inestimable Jonathan Watts has an insightful retrospective out today:

An excerpt:

"I had come to fear that China may be where the 200-odd-year-old carbon-fuelled capital-driven model of economic development runs into an ecological wall. Britain, where it started, and China may be bookends on a period of global expansion that has never been seen before and may never be repeated again."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Flinty Maine people

A quote from Angus King, in the NYT today:

“The people who built this state were independent in the sense of what they did. Who built Maine? Farmers, fishermen and foresters. Those are essentially independent pursuits. The people who came here were flinty, tough, resilient independent people.”


Saturday, June 2, 2012

The stages of climate grief?

If learning about climate change is like learning about the imminent death of a loved one or oneself, then North Carolina has reached the "Bargaining" phase.

(The reference is of course to the K├╝bler-Ross model for grief.)