Thursday, January 27, 2011

Going solar 2011

Replacing fire is a whole lot harder than it looks.  My brother has been attempting to go solar with his house since he first built it in 1992.  Central Florida has a LOT of solar energy--in fact, providing shelter from the relentless sun is the hardest problem to be solved.  He designed many passive solar features into his house such as an innovative insulation package, wide overhanging eaves, and an optimized building orientation.  In fact, the only active solar feature of his 1992 house was a solar hot water heater that has been serving him well since it was first installed.

But even though my brother's roof was built with the proper pitch and orientation for photovoltaic solar cells, it wasn't until August 2008 that he figured they would be cost effective.  So he installed 25 200-watt Sanyo PV cells that brought his energy costs to practically zero.  He liked the economics so much that in January 2011, he added 22 240-watt Solar World panels for a total installed capacity of 10,280 watts.  So now his electric meter runs backwards most days.

So PV cells are now cost effective and distributed generation like this requires little in the way of new infrastructure such as extra power lines.  The country really NEEDS to reduce its carbon footprint.  What's not to like?  It's time to rock and roll!

Turns out there are plenty of reasons why this solution isn't so easy.  You can't just slap PV panels on any house and expect a good outcome.  My brother's installation works because he already has an energy-efficient house, he has a large roof pointing the right direction, he lives out in the country where he doesn't have neighbors complaining about the aesthetic of PV cells (and they are on the back of his house so no one can see them anyway) and his roof was built to handle the extra load.  He could decide to install PV cells and just do it with almost no complications.  Most people cannot.  Even better, his energy-efficient house has saved him so much money over the years that he had the cash on hand for a solar upgrade.  Now that is really rare.

Even so, we REALLY need to do this.
2010 Hottest Year on Record: The Graph That Should Be on the Front Page of Every Newspaper
Peter H. Gleick
water and climate scientist, President, Pacific Institute
Posted: January 13, 2011 05:11 PM
Climate change is worsening, fast. The National Climate Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has just announced that for the entire planet, 2010 is the hottest year on record, tied with 2005. And the period 2001 to 2010 is the hottest decade on record for the globe. The actual data are here.

This graph and this information should be on the front page of every newspaper in the world. Every Congressional representative should see it.
And the hottest 10 years on record in order? 2010, 2005, 1998, 2003, 2002, 2009, 2006, 2007, 2004, 2001 more
So we obviously need a massive program of solar installation.  And done right, this program could dramatically increase the number of jobs in green tech and goodness knows we need the jobs.  However, it looks like we are even dropping this ball.
"That giant sucking sound you hear in greentech?" 
by RLMiller 
Thu Jan 20, 2011
Remember the clean technology race with China in those halcyon days of 2009 and early 2010, whenLindsey Graham (R-SC) warned the United States that it was at risk of losing the green jobs game to China and Tom Friedman pontificated on the need for a price on carbon to aid American competitiveness in the great game of world leadership?
Is it game over?
These days, I hunt environment and energy policy-oriented news stories to feed to Progressive Caucus staffers and anyone interested in @CPCEnvironment and @CPCEnergy. It's part of Progressive Congress News, which in turn is part of Progressive Congress. Suffice to say that I spend a lot of time gathering dots of hard news stories in hopes of connecting them into a picture.
The last three days have been filled with dots.
  • California's solar power increasingly Chinese made
  • GE Energy to announce clean coal venture with China's Shenhua group
  • General Electric, Duke Energy, and Babcock & Wilcox all announce deals with China
  • Massachusetts outrage: Evergreen Solar's exodus to China
  • China has the world's highest wind power capacity
  • China got over 1/4 of its electricity from clean energy in 2010
Connected yet?
Robert Reich describes the real economic lesson China can teach us: China has a strategy, while the US has surrendered to global corporations and its leadership doesn't have a clue.
Here’s the real story. China has a national economic strategy designed to make it, and its people, the economic powerhouse of the future. They’re intent on learning as much as they can from us and then going beyond us (as they already are in solar and electric-battery technologies). They’re pouring money into basic research and education at all levels. In the last 12 years they’ve built twenty universities, each designed to be the equivalent of MIT.
The United States doesn’t have a national economic strategy. Instead, we have global corporations that happen to be headquartered here. Their goal is to maximize profits, wherever they can make the most money. They’ll make things in America for export to China when that’s most profitable; they’ll make it in China and give the Chinese their know-how when that’s the best way to boost the bottom line. They’ll utilize research and development wherever around the world it will deliver the biggest bang for the dollar. more
Why Green Energy Can’t Power a Job Engine 
By EDWARD L. GLAESER  January 18, 2011, 6:00 AM
Edward L. Glaeser is an economics professor at Harvard and the author of the forthcoming book “Triumph of the City.”
Evergreen Solar announced last week that it was closing its plant in Devens, Mass., laying off 800 workers, and moving production to China.
Evergreen’s factory had received more than $40 million in subsidies, which led many to see the plant closing as lesson in the futility of green energy and industrial policy. But what does Evergreen’s story really teach us about solar energy, public subsidies and the future of American manufacturing?
Evergreen Solar’s story begins in 1994, when three alumni of Mobil’s solar division broke away to form their own company. They started in a 2,500-square-foot lab in Waltham, Mass., which has long housed innovative industry, including America’s first integrated textile mill and the Waltham Watch Company, which pioneered high-quality watches with interchangeable parts. Today, Waltham is a venture-capital hub that succeeds by providing abundant commercial real estate and easy access to the scientific community of greater Boston.
Proximity to cutting-edge ideas was surely an advantage for Evergreen Solar in the early days because its principals worked with Emanuel Sachs, a distinguished mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who invented the “string ribbon” process for making solar cells.
“String ribbon” technology was Evergreen’s big idea; it offers the possibility of far more affordable photovoltaic cells. Evergreen began selling “string ribbon” solar panels in 1997 and moved to a much larger space in Marlboro, Mass., in 2000. more


  1. I want to install solar panel at my home and I am here wondering for best company from where I can buy solar panel in Massachusetts. Please anyone can here recommend me.

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  2. I have learned a lot form this post. People now are going solar. Though one must have enough knowledge before the installation.
    Solar Water Heater

  3. Really good post! Hope there will be more good post here!Thanks for sharing valuable energy