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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+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2008
One of the reasons that renewable energy is a spectator sport is the traditional calculation of payback usually makes it look pretty lousy.

Here's one humble attempt to paint a broader picture of 'payback'. It's a work in progress, so any feedback would be appreciated:

Jul 21, 2008
Go Scott !!!

I bought a Prius 3 years ago. Back then, when gas was only $2.30/gal, I was told that I would never make up the extra expense.

I did it because it was the right thing to do, and to encourage the technology.

Now, the price has come down (a bit), the technology has improved, and I see at least six others each way to work. There's also a single windmill generator that I see on that drive.

I wonder what that costs? I've got the land.....

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2008
Scott said: Recycling is the masturbation of energy policy. It might make you feel better, but it won't put a dent in global energy needs.

Making new aluminum cans from used cans takes 95 percent less energy. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to keep a 100-watt bulb burning for almost four hours or run your television for three hours. That sounds like pretty productive masturbation to me :-)

Lukeout said : Why is it that so many folks think that government can't directly (or at least indirectly) do great and seemingly impossible things?

Because our daily observations tell us so. Look at "social security". How many years have the Boomers been paying into it? Had the money been invested and set aside, the death rate in that population would have made their contributions pay for them as well as following generations. Instead the "Gubment" pissed it away on a million little plans to win them votes rather than help the Nation. Because of it's shear size the government CAN and HAS done great things, but history has shown that they are by and large the minority of the undertakings of the government. I personally think that the security of employment (civil servants almost can't be fired) and lack of responsibility for the screw ups is a great deal of the problem.

FamousJ said: All told, the Earth is probably worse off, although the damage being done is in China, and therefore Not In My Back Yard.

Well said.

Halflife said : India has just introduced taxis that run on compressed air - five passenger - good range - work in cold weather - AND CHEAP!

YES! And a great thing about them is that the exhaust from the cylinders is cold enough to provide free air conditioning.

ina said : But the Gore's speach sounded sordid to me. Firstly, associating himself with JFK - that is a cheap CHEAP trick. Secondly, jets, two houses, etc., etc. And this is not some Hannity's giberish - I had been to a speach by Al Gore here, in London at LBS, and saw him drive away in a 15 metres long limo and avoiding to comment on his private jet oddyseys.

True dat!

There is no doubt that there is a looming energy crisis. I don't know the time scale, but with current technology, it is running down on us. The questions are, what sustainable energy forms are practical, and how long can we stretch the non-renewable ones? I do not believe that the watts/acre achieved by bio fuels are reasonable. I do believe that we should persue ways to harvest the energy from agri-waste.

Most importantly, MMGW is BS. Why WAS the earth warming? That big freaking ball of burning hydrogen. And now it's cooling, but according to the UN this is a "temporary anomaly". Take ANY report from the thieving UN with a huge salt lick. Because of the historically low cost of fuel for the booming US economy, not much has been done to improve fuel economy and hydrocarbon replacement alternatives.

There is a ton to be done, but allowing the UN to put a ring in our nose is economic and national suicide.
Jul 21, 2008
Ten Year Plan! When Stalin and Mao had five year plans, that resulted in mass death and loss of freedom. So would 10 years result in moderate death and communism lite? The only way we could convert all our electricity to carbon neutral sources using current technologies in only 10 years would be mass confiscation of wealth. Let the free market sort it out and don't attach any time limits. Gore, as always, exaggerates the magnitude and urgency of climate change.
Jul 21, 2008
We'd better not keep on doing this research into wind and alternative fuels. They're not short-term solutions! And according to the Democrats, who know what's best for you, we can't drill for oil (which is, of course, a proven energy source) for the same reason; it's not a short-term solution.

Of course, by this reasoning we also better stop cancer, AIDS, and stem-cell research, since they won't pay off for years, either.

Remember, you can't drill your way out of this problem! Which is like saying you can't drink you way out of thirst, or eat your way out of hunger...
Jul 21, 2008
The problem as I have seen it is two-fold.
1) The cost. Most people are too short sighted to see the benefits for themselves, let alone the community and planet. So the cost is the big issue. I live in a Manhattan apt, and we have no control over what energy forms are used here, however I do believe a tax break would be a possible incentive for apt buildings to use solar power. My sister lives up state, 15 minutes outside a town of 2000 people. She won't get solar because it costs $30,000. (That is quite a bit)

2) "Eye-sore" Along the hills hear my sisters house there have recently !$%*!$% 20 large windmills. Not only are all the recidences complaining ("we moved here for the view of moutains and trees, not windmills"). Also it has been nearly a year and none of the windmills are operating. The next issue is that all the houses in the area will not get any benefit of the windmills, all electricity is coming here to New York City.

I am thankful for early adopters, however I think a national effort along the lines of the Apollo moon missions to create wind, solar and thermal energy nationwide should be considered.

James Rose
New York City
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2008
Why is it that so many folks think that government can't directly (or at least indirectly) do great and seemingly impossible things? Most of the greatest "American achievements" in our history were the result of direct governmental action...
- The interstate highway system
- The space program
- Primary health a science research

Government is just people (and a structure designed and maintained by people.) Lack in faith of government to create positive change is really lack of faith in you and your fellow human to create positive change (and is generally just scapegoating personal responsibility to participate or sacrifice for a greater good)

I think Mr. Adams gets it right when he is OK with having to put on solar panels as part of a zoning issue. That is a great example of government helping to solve a larger problem - not on the scale we would like, but it is working towards the goal in a way that private companies can't or haven't yet.

Certainly individual ingenuity (for profit or for some other loyalty) will play a huge part, but you can't rule out the government's roll in solving large problems. Only they have the power to do things like punitive taxes and rewarding tax incentives to make the smartest "for profit" folks more likely to even try (otherwise, they will just spend their time making new and better !$%*! pills...)
Jul 21, 2008
Not to burst anyone's bubble, but do you know what the biggest cost of producing solar panels is? Electricity!

So if you get solar panels, just because you're using less electricity at your house doesn't mean less electricity used overall, or even that you're doing the Earth a favor. In fact, most of the components for solar panels are made in China, so you're replacing clean, over-regulated electricity with the dirty (though poorly regulated and therefore very cheap) Chinese variety.

All told, the Earth is probably worse off, although the damage being done is in China, and therefore Not In My Back Yard.

Jul 21, 2008
If you want to be a real conservationist or environmentalist, you should follow Gore's example more closely.

Rack up $20,000 per month in electricity from the public grid, fly everywhere in a private Lear jet (the most energy wasting mode of air travel possible), ride around in a giant limousine everywhere (the most energy-wasting street-legal mode of ground travel) with your extensive entourage in luxury cars and military-inspired vehicles, and then criticize the rest of the world for their excessive energy usage.

That kind of hypocricy could earn you a nobel prize. As I recall, that's one of your goals, right?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2008
Thank you very much for doing this. After guys like you have thrown away a bunch of money to fund government-mandated modes of power generation, then it might become cost-efficient enough for me to get into. But I won't until that happens. If it's good and right, the market will make it happen. Until then, the government will make it happen, at huge cost to the public.
You do have a good idea about selling shares of a windfarm, etc. That's fun. But I still wouldn't do it unless I could come out ahead compared to the grid I'm on now. But I'm sure enough people will jump on and pay a lot to do things like this for little return, and eventually I can ride that wave for cheap.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2008
I'm not sure you are helping people as much as you think you are. The more that people remove themselves from the grid, the more the remaining people have to pay per KW, as the fixed costs are distributed among fewer and fewer disproportionately poor people.
Jul 21, 2008
Scott, if you want to invest in renewables, why not just get into the business directly? Partner with homeowners, you put up the capital, they provide the site.

I live in a perfect location for solar power; massive southern exposure, plenty of room for panels. You buy me a 10,000 watt PV array and pay for the install, and I'll pay you for the power at market rate. You won't make a return for many years, but you will eventually make a return.
Jul 21, 2008
I'd love to install alternative energy on my home and get off the grid. But one thing I find interesting is that no one talks about what is takes to make the solar cell, generate geothermal energy, etc. These processes use some very toxic materials to produce/generate; and what is the environmental cost of that? You seldom see anyone speaking to this issue.
Jul 21, 2008
We have the technology to produce all the electricity we can ever consume from dams and reactors. (Check out France if that statement seems exagerated)

India has just introduced taxis that run on compressed air - five passenger - good range - work in cold weather - AND CHEAP! (The $12,700 CityCAT, one of a handful of planned Air Car models, can hit 68 mph and has a range of 125 !$%*!$ Five Passenger)


Beats the pants off any hybrid availible for price and carbon footprint.

The moral to the story: We don't need a technlogical deus ex machina. We just need to do well what we already know how to do, change our habits and expectations a bit, and we will not only drop our pollution, but stop the bleeding on our economy similtaneously. ;)
Jul 21, 2008
You can already do it:
(From Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth webpage)
Jul 21, 2008
I think we're at a point where it wouldn't be much of leap to make this vision happen. Tim Ferriss' blog at www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/ was involved in fundraising of that flavor through FirstGiving.org and LitLiberation, though tailored to a different cause. I think a similar model could be cobbled together for grassroots green fundraising like the post describes. notbugme's comment about energy4all.co.uk shows definite promise, too. It seems like there is growing expertise that could be nurtured. I bet if you teamed up with Tim, developed a model, then really promoted this, you could be the entrepreneur you ask for, or at least be responsible for igniting a passion in the right person for the job.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2008
Last year I was looking into getting a new roof put on my house, and investigated the option of having photovoltaic roofing shingles installed. This would provide 80% of my electricity, I was told. The problem was, it would cost over $40,000, plus the cost of conventional roofing on the other side of the houes that does not get much sun. This means my break-even time would be over 40 years, or twice the average life of a roof, (and probably beyond my lifetime as well...)

Until the cost of things like that can be made reasonably competitive, it's not realistic to expect people to buy them. I ended up having a regular roofing job done for $6,000.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2008
A bit off topic.

I do my miserably tiny bit - buying food in the market to avoid plastic wraping, not replacing old TV, recycling, - pathetic things like that from a global perspective. Not something radical - just things not causing me any discomfort.

And I am all pro taking measures to fight global warming.

But the Gore's speach sounded sordid to me. Firstly, associating himself with JFK - that is a cheap CHEAP trick. Secondly, jets, two houses, etc., etc. And this is not some Hannity's giberish - I had been to a speach by Al Gore here, in London at LBS, and saw him drive away in a 15 metres long limo and avoiding to comment on his private jet oddyseys.

On the other hand - nice to read your blog again, Mr Adams. Hope, you are getting better.

Jul 21, 2008
Unfortunately, without a way to store the energy created by solar or wind, they won't help much. The rest of the grid must be sized to provide all of the power needed, at night or when the wind doesn't blow. There is no way to plan that the solar/wind power will be available when needed.

At best, these approaches can shave a couple points of generator utilization from the peak loads seen by the grid, but without a way to store the energy they produce, they cannot ever have a significant impact.

From a homeowner perspective, the best news is that the uilities must buy your excess power, whether they need it or not.
Jul 21, 2008
I think the best way of thinking of Al Gore's proposal is as cover for less ambitious plans, and an excellent goal.
The first part is a way of letting other politicians advocate green power and improved mileage for cars and what-not and be moderates. If voters or GM or Exxon thinks they're sacrificing too much for the environment we can say, hey at least we're not going all Gore on you and demanding 100% green within 10 years and the destruction of man-bear-pig.
Also, just having someone famous and knowledgeable about something say we should do it will open people's minds. Voters, investors, inventors and comic strip creators can now see that energy independence isn't impossible, just expensive. Look how fast the U.S. got to the moon (Also, because this is the internet: insert faked moon landing joke here) and the changes in various technologies over the years. Technology is always exponential, so predicting that 10 years is too slow could be just as correct as saying it is too fast.

Andycwb- Seriously? That's the best conspiracy theory you can throw down? "The Government" is faking Global Warming, scamming millions of people and corrupting scientists and complicating all sorts of things so they can raise taxes? Usually that sort of scam would be trying to accomplish something that wouldn't be accomplished just as easily without the scam...
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