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Bling Bling In The Sun
January 13, 2006 6:53 AM   Subscribe

This is great, California is going to be dropping some serious money on solar programs 3 BILLION!! dollars. Once you get past the idea that we spend about 6 billion A MONTH in Iraq, you will notice that this is a lot of money for a solar program. With 2005 being the hottest year on record worldwide, its about time someone (anyone) start doing something to get us off our oil addiction.
posted by stilgar (29 comments total)

 
Of course, it's over 10 years... so only 2.9 million a year. What's the annual budget of the state of California? 2.9 million a year doesn't sound like all that much to me.
posted by antifuse at 7:13 AM on January 13, 2006


you have to understand that most states will offer like 3 million TOTAL for a ten year period, this amount of money is really going to jump start the solar industry, they need to sell a lot of expensive panels so they can achieve economies of scale, so this is a lot of money and you will see the solar panel industry really take off over the next ten years, basically because where California goes so goes the rest of the nation. also 3 billion divided by 10 = 300,000,000$ thats 300 MILLION a year.
posted by stilgar at 7:18 AM on January 13, 2006


More details. They are incentives, so it's up to $3 billion. In particular, I doubt they'll pay out the $300 million for this year.
posted by smackfu at 7:36 AM on January 13, 2006


Try that again: More details.
posted by smackfu at 7:37 AM on January 13, 2006


Also, my brain == not good after lunch... good thing I'm not trying to USE that Math degree in my job... ugh. I can't believe I divided 3 billion by 10 and got 3 million!
posted by antifuse at 7:39 AM on January 13, 2006


Imagine a world with completely "free" energy (like water is now - $100 a year all you can drink) that is also completely clean to the environment. How would that change things? Would that solve our environmental problems? My guess is it would make it worse.
posted by stbalbach at 7:40 AM on January 13, 2006


smackfu don't be so sure, here in Mass there is a boom bust cycle for renewable energy programs, when there is money available it all gets used up and the industry thrives, when the money drys up the industry goes into a slump. mostly because the incentive money has been dolled out in small chunks every other year. with a long term large program it will give the industry (country wide, not just in California) a chance to have a reliable source of incentive money over a long period of time so they can invest in new factories and infrastructure without the worry of the money drying up in one year.
posted by stilgar at 7:42 AM on January 13, 2006


stbalback the problem is not having too much energy its what we are doing to the environment to make that energy, if we had unlimited free clean energy i think we would have a kick ass environment, no smog, no global warming, no polluted rivers and oceans. If you think we would have free energy but produce it the old fashion way (coal oil gas nuclear) then yes we would be screwed.
posted by stilgar at 7:45 AM on January 13, 2006


We need an X-Prize for renewable resources. If we can get to space for a mere million bucks prize, and getting there cost more than a million, why not do the same for Solar?

This has hollywood written all over it - dear hollywood liberal types - make solar cool! Get Solar on your houses and show it off on Cribs. Get Solar on your bentleys and show it off at the VMAs.

Scholarships and grants for people who come up with better Solar stuff.

All of that.

I'm sure it's happening, but it needs more money.
posted by swerdloff at 7:51 AM on January 13, 2006


solar is ready for prime time, the tech is ready, we don't really need to research anything else, we just need to slap the things up and harvest the sun, but i like your idea swerdloff, but we could solve all this with one little presidential signature on a bill stating the government is going to start an Apollo program for renewable energy. Kennedy did it with space travel, and if bush could get his hands out of the oil company pockets long enough to look up he could realize that this could be his legacy but you and i both know he wont.
posted by stilgar at 7:54 AM on January 13, 2006


stilgar - Peter F. Hamilton posited (granted, it was science fiction, but a possible effect nonetheless) that even incredibly cheap, clean energy could have harmful effects. The theory was that clean, cheap energy eventually raises the rest of the standard of living in the world to that equaling the US or Western Europe. The rampant consumerism which follows creates mass industrialization on a large scale, and global heat output eventually starts killing everything off, forcing society to retreat into sealed arcologies.

Dystopian, maybe, but it did make me wonder how much heat it would take to create such an effect, and could that amount of heat actually be generated by massive worldwide industrialization?
posted by TeamBilly at 8:36 AM on January 13, 2006


no polluted rivers and oceans.

So, clean energy also puts an end to farm/fertilizer run off, chemical dumping, sewage dumping, mercury pollution, erosion, etc etc? Let's not get carried away. Clean energy is a HUGE start, but there are other means of fucking up the oceans and rivers.
posted by spicynuts at 8:42 AM on January 13, 2006


Peter F. Hamilton posited (granted, it was science fiction, but a possible effect nonetheless) that even incredibly cheap, clean energy could have harmful effects.

It should probably be pointed out that this is in the same series of books where he posited that an alien whatsamajammer would break dimensional barriers or something so that the souls of the dead would rise from limbo, possess the living, and set about doing weird shit with their psionic superpowers. Fun, but...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:46 AM on January 13, 2006


Laudable to be sure, but effective? Renewable energy will never succeed until it costs less than fossil fuels. Some people think that if you throw enough money at it the engineers will find a way to make that happen. I doubt we are willing to throw the amount necessary. The other way to achieve this is to make fossil fuels more expensive, thus changing the relative costs. You might not even need fossil fuels to get more expensive than current renewable options, just close enough to get private industry to think their investments in research might actually produce a technology that beats fossil fuel on price. Given the paltry amount spent on renewable alternatives by private industry they obviously do not feel they are close given todays prices. We could tax fossil fuels more intensely to achieve this. However, that would economically disadvantage us compared to countries which do not tax fossil fuels. That is more of an issue with industry and transportation of goods and less of an issue with private autos. I think we could get away with adding a dollar or two per gallon to the federal gasoline tax. Of course that amounts to political suicide for whoever tries it and would likely induce some highly unethical and illegal tax avoidance behavoirs. At some point the price of gas will just naturally rise (peak oil or whatever) and then renewable sources will take off (as will most likely nuclear power despite the risks).
posted by caddis at 8:50 AM on January 13, 2006


caddis by the time that happens we will be in bad shape, its stupid to worry too much about money, you cant breath money...
posted by stilgar at 9:01 AM on January 13, 2006


Living in Southern California, all I need is a solar system sufficient to power my air conditioning -- the brighter the sun, the more power I need, and the more power I make.

Haven't figured out how much that would cost yet, though -- relatively new homeowner.
posted by davejay at 10:08 AM on January 13, 2006


davejay: a lot. But you could consider solar water heating, much less expensive and generally people need to wash more when it's hot out. Big in Greece and Israel.
posted by biffa at 10:13 AM on January 13, 2006


If you add up the true costs of fossil fuels - from acid rain to climate change to military adventures and so on, they are already orders of magnitude more expensive than other options. The problem is a lack of social will to consider these very real costs, it's easier to pretend it's not happening. But generally when you ignore a problem it gets worse until something breaks.

Who's scenario-planning the transition plan? Where are the left/green think tanks? The solution surely lies not in greater government regulation, but in a massively distributed social movement, to reduce consumption and decentralize production, with the goal of creating dwellings, communities, regions which are largely self-sufficient in terms of power - energy really is all around us and we should be collecting it everywhere. Appropriate technology!

The $300M/y does sound juicy, and it promises to give an enormous boost to innovators in this area. Rather than apollo we should be thinking silicon valley...
posted by dinsdale at 10:20 AM on January 13, 2006


The sociopolitical landscape is not going to shift without massive consumer and political action. That landscape can well afford to spend 6 bills a month. That landscape can well afford to influence elections, consumer choices by way of the automotive industry, and the amount of money spent on alternative R&D.

The problem is not cost, the problem is not will, the problem is establishment. Not that there's anything wrong with that... but you should understand the problem, and the benefits to having such a powerful establishment, before getting all crazy on alternative free energy power to the people.
posted by ewkpates at 11:35 AM on January 13, 2006


Has the US government ever successfully completed a large scale R&D program like this where the end result is new technology for use by the private sector? We spend billions on weapons research and NASA is essentially a large R&D project, but in the end the government buys weapons and rockets. Any successful pure R&D projects?
posted by caddis at 11:55 AM on January 13, 2006


davejay you would have much better luck with geothermal cooling, air conditioners use a LOT of energy, you would also have more luck with evaporative cooling using solar water heating. or you could just plant some trees to shade you from the sun and put the solar panels in your yard.
posted by stilgar at 12:04 PM on January 13, 2006


davejay writes "Living in Southern California, all I need is a solar system sufficient to power my air conditioning -- the brighter the sun, the more power I need, and the more power I make."

I'm tangentially involved in several solar ac and domestic power projects. This is a solvable problem for single family units, we just need a manufacturer to step up and make low temp, ammonia cycle, refrigeration units in sizes less than 10 tonnes. You used to be able to buy them back in the 50s but no one makes them now. They are easily powered by a couple solar concentrators the size of those old 8'-10' satellite dishes. 10 tonne units are readily available but that is enough for 4-6 houses. As a bonus you get free hot water (well the heating part is free, you still need to pay for water).
posted by Mitheral at 12:25 PM on January 13, 2006


I'm tangentially involved in several solar ac and domestic power projects. This is a solvable problem for single family units, we just need a manufacturer to step up and make low temp, ammonia cycle, refrigeration units in sizes less than 10 tonnes.

If there is a market for these, get funding and start your own company. I am afraid that the reason there is no one making them is that there is not a market, even with the solar power angle. I would love to be wrong about this though.
posted by caddis at 1:07 PM on January 13, 2006


It should probably be pointed out that this is in the same series of books where he posited that an alien whatsamajammer would break dimensional barriers or something so that the souls of the dead would rise from limbo, possess the living, and set about doing weird shit with their psionic superpowers. Fun, but...

Well....yeah...but as I said, the theory, I think had at least a little merit. Now about those possessing souls...
posted by TeamBilly at 1:35 PM on January 13, 2006


Sadly, I've done the math and putting $20,000 up on your roof is just about break-even with putting $20,000 in a 4% mutual fund.

In a sunny clime, it will take ~7 years to just get your money back via net-metering. The actual hardware depreciates over 20-30 years with an unknown salvage value, and WILL prove to be a hassle factor, while your money in the bank is just ticking over compounding interest.

The way I see it, the sector is divided 4-ways:

1) Solar manufacturers (too many BPs and Shells and not enough Kyoceras and Hondas IMV)

2) Installers (they take a BIG cut of profit)

3) Customers

4) The Utility, who allow net-metering and other billing artifices to account for the co-generation.

Solar prices have to fall a bit, or energy prices have to rise, before it becomes a true-nobrainer. The problem I see is that the solar producers are pricing their product at what the Customers are willing to pay, which means there will always be that 7 year breakeven, regardless of the costs.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:54 PM on January 13, 2006



With 2005 being the hottest year on record worldwide, its about time someone (anyone) start doing something to get us off our oil addiction.

Does hot = more useable sunlight?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:00 PM on January 13, 2006


If you add up the true costs of fossil fuels... they are already orders of magnitude more expensive than other options.

dinsdale gets right to the point here — the oil & gas people prefer socialism ($150+ billion in subsidies from 1918—1978) for themselves, and strict capitalism for renewable energy sources. 30 seconds with Google will bring up all sorts of info about the true costs of energy.

For example, a few $100 million here, a few $100 million there quietly slipped to the nuclear power industry, along with budget proposals leaving out the costs of decommissioning the plants when they wear out (or worse, of cleaning them up when they break), makes the numbers add up quite differently.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:26 PM on January 13, 2006


Don Lancaster's take on Solar Energy:

"You will know when this (Sustainable Photo-voltaic based power) happens by (a) pv being used to fully produce pv, and (b) by aisle 13 at Wal-Mart being clogged with 110 vac, 1 kw plug-and-go home panels. " - Page 6 of this PDF - The whole thing is an eye-opening read.

Most of the novel commercially-available solar cells I've seen (Flexables, the sheet-produced solar roofing they were making in Detroit a while back) are actually WORSE, (Energy to create) vs (energy produced) ratio than the old glass plates. And the old glass plates STINK.

Iraq sucks. Running out of Cheap Oil sucks. What sucks even more, IMO, is encouraging people who don't have a lot of money in the first place to throw lots of money at bad ideas.

The track's about to close down - Maybe we should look for some winning horses.
posted by Orb2069 at 8:26 AM on January 15, 2006


caddis writes "If there is a market for these, get funding and start your own company."

The point is there isn't a market right now able to support the capital costs of the plant needed to make these things. It's a classic chicken-egg marketing problem with anti solar HOAs thrown in for good measure. Subsidies/incentives like California's can help build the market.
posted by Mitheral at 9:51 AM on January 15, 2006


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