I plan to put solar panels on my new home when it gets built, which is bad for my wallet but good for the world. The world benefits because I will be generating about as much electric energy as I use, for once. I lose because if I could wait about three years before installing the system, the cost will probably drop so much that I will have a faster payoff. It's probably a difference of some tens of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately for me, but good for you, I'm obligated to start right away because solar panels were a condition of approval from the city, and that won't change. Nor should it. I'm helping to drive down the cost for the next person.

I was reminded of this when I heard about Al Gore's ambitious recommendation that we should attempt to generate all electricity from green sources in ten years. Many experts believe that timetable is too ambitious.

What do you think?

It is safe to assume the federal government will be more hindrance than help. Any real progress will come from brilliant individuals inventing things, funded by super rich investors. I can't see them cracking the full nut in ten years, no matter what gets invented.

Meanwhile, 99.99% of the general public is treating this as a spectator sport. It makes you wonder how you can help, since this might be the most important battle our species has known.

I can vote for the candidate who has the best energy policy, but none of them have plans ambitious enough to make a difference. And yes, I recycle. But let's face it: Recycling is the masturbation of energy policy. It might make you feel better, but it won't put a dent in global energy needs.

I wish some entrepreneur would create a way for citizens to invest in clean energy sources without having to gamble in abstractions such as the stock market or venture funds. I would love to invest in, for example, a particular windmill, or a piece of a solar farm that is generating a particular amount of energy each day. I would even invest in a few feet of new transmission cables in a specific place. I wouldn't care that it was a great investment if I knew it was directly helping save the planet.

If I could name my windmill, and see webcam pictures of it on the Internet to see how it is running, along with a widget on my desktop telling me how much power I am generating today, I would invest in it just to help save the planet, even if I knew the financial return was marginal. The same goes for investing in discrete parts of a solar farm, or any other clean energy source.

I realize windmills are expensive. But I'd be happy owning a share of a particular windmill with friends. We could name it together.

My prediction is that the brilliant scientists and the super rich investors working on clean energy can't meet the ten year goal by themselves. Some entrepreneur is going to have to figure out a way to get the other 99.99% of the country involved. If that happens, the ten year goal seems feasible to me, assuming the government stays out of the way.

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Jul 21, 2008
I've been thinking about getting a 2kw solar panel setup for my barn. I have a horse barn with a nicely pitched roof and southern exposure, plus it has its own electric meter. I don't care about storing the energy, I'm just going to dump it on the grid. It's a lot cheaper that way.

The downside is that it will still run about US$20K. Tax credits may take care of some of that, but I'm seeing a lot of research going into solar cells that, with $5/gallon fuel, might pay off within a couple of years. I am certain that if I wait I'll be able to get better performance for less money, but then I'm betting that the tax credits won't go away as well.

Decisions, decisions. At least I can run my car on locally produced biodiesel (http://energy.biofuels.coop).
Jul 21, 2008
What I haven't yet seen calculated, or even estimated, is the impact on the global climate (or anything else) when we start taking all that energy from green sources. Think about it - if we start covering the earth with solar panels then all that solar energy that used to hit the ground or buildings and get absorbed/reflected/radiated out will suddenly be absorbed by panels that turn it into energy. If we start putting up massive windfarms then all that wind that used to blow freely will be slowed down to some degree by our pulling energy from it - with what consequences? Same with the slash-and-burn needed for biofuels, same for tides/currents, same for thermal/geothermal. What, exactly, will be the result of us extracting 100% of our energy from these sources? It can't have zero impact. It took us 100 years to finally think we understand the nature of our use of hydrocarbons for energy - how long until we realize that pulling all this "green" energy from the biosphere is having potentially catastrophic effects?

My take is that our best long-term solution is a combination of nuclear and hydrogen. We would convert most energy production to use hydrogen, but cracking the hydrogen out takes a lot of energy. So, we build nuclear plants in the far outlying, sparsely populated areas and crack the hydrogen there, then pipe it to the people. That we we don't have to locate the nuclear plants near population centers. Are there risks with this strategy? Sure there are. But hydrogen is the most abundant substance in the universe, and it's a great energy source. Current generation nuclear plants are much safer than the old ones. Yes, there can be issues with radioactive waste disposal, but that can either be solved with some focused engineering or through the development of fusion (as opposed to fission) reactors.

Jul 21, 2008
If the government does it, it will cost much more and be much less effiecient, and stifle all sorts of creative (and better) solutions.

I'm all for people voluntarily investing in new energy sources, or new energy saving schemes.

Many of us can cut our own impact more than we realize. For example, I like to hike and live about a mile from the grocery. I'm retired, so I mostly drove my SUV to get groceries. Now, I walk to the store a couple of times a week and only buy what will fit in my rucksack. I get good exercise, save money and reduce pollution. It's a win-win (win) situation.
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Jul 21, 2008
Sounds like you're spending a lot of money to delay the next ice age to me.

Global warming is unproven scaremongering that governments love because it lets them increase taxes and claim the credit when it doesn't happen.
Jul 21, 2008
I notice your spell checker missed your intention: I would hope you invest in "discrete" parts of a solar farm rather than "discreet" ones -- unless you mean the term in the same way that some men want to hook up only with discreet hookers.

Obviously the goal is overambitious. Even if a cheap magical solution were discovered today, it would take more than 10 years to achieve energy independence. Don't forget all that infrastructure that's already in place and would result in losses for the energy companies if they would be made obsolete (not that I think auto companies are sitting on 100 mpg inventions ... ).

But I like your idea of investing in something specific, something tangible. To extend it further, I'd like to buy stock in a company and specify precisely my ownership. Maybe I'm part owner of a valve or a meter, and I'd like to see it by webcam, too. I'd certainly want to be able to specify that my share money not go to pay executive salary levels above the poverty line. Oh -- someone's already come up with that idea for paying taxes that couldn't be used for foreign military adventures.

My prediction is that all these ideas will be implemented at about the same time -- never.

Jul 21, 2008
I would find it great to have 100% of energy coming from green sources... but we still rely heavily on Nuclear and don’t think that we will have that ship in the next 10 years.
And some other issue apart from where the power is coming from is how efficient we use our energy. We are wasting way too much energy.
Same goes for recycling, great to do so… but if you could use less material in the first place in our daily lives it would be better as well. Because in the end; recycling is using energy as well.
Jul 21, 2008
I'd absolutely love to install solar panels or some other renewable energy source for my home, and I'm WAY ahead of the popular movement by having seriously explored the possibility for the past nine years. And the great breakthrough that will drop the price and make it affordable has been two years away for the past nine years. So go ahead and install your panels, they won't be cheaper by any significant amount three years from now, or nine years from now for that matter.
In ten years we MIGHT generate a full ten percent of our electricity from renewable sources, thirty-five if you count nuclear as renewable - I do. There's a 0% chance of generating 100% of our electricity from renewable even if the goal was 100 years.
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