Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let the sun shine

There's a great article in today's NYT about solar energy. It's about a company in the Silicon Valley that decided to expand it's product line by producing products related to solar energy. They're succeeding wildly. They've built 14 solar panel factories and are churning out products as fast as they can make them.

Are there any solar powered homes on your street? I didn't think so. So who's buying this stuff? The location of the factories tells all: Five are in Germany; Four are in China; there are one each in Spain, India, Italy, even Abu Dhabi has one. How many factories are there in America? None. Yes, we've got employment problems, but there'd be no reason to manufacture solar panels in a country that doesn't take the possibilities of solar energy seriously. When I travel in Germany I notice that they have "solar farms", and that lots of houses have solar panels strategically placed to absorbe the sun's energy. This is because the government has mandated that utility companies need to buy back extra energy produced by these panels, thus reducing the time it takes for the investment in solar to pay for itself, and providing the utility with extra energy so that they don't need to build new generators. And with 50,000 new jobs in alternative energy in Germany, they're proving that this isn't some 'green fanatic' scheme, spun by wild eyed radicals. Seems like a win for everybody right?

Not in America, apparently. Here, utility companies are free to raise rates based on increasing demand, so that they can acquire capital to build new plants, while citizens are free to invest in solar energy that will pay for itself in 20 to 30 years. Of course, only the richest few are able to do that, with the result that the solar production is exploding in Europe and Asia, and basically dead on arrival in the USA. The paltry subsidies we pay consumers to install solar basically pays for the panels to be shipped from China.

Jobs and Energy are two of the areas where our country needs to wake up and be willing to make some big changes. But the political rhetoric of the summer has me increasingly concerned that there may not be enough political will to change, at least not yet. The day will come when oil isn't available due to politics, or geography and then we'll start talking. But by then the infrastructure will be in place, already well established in Germany, China, and much of the world, and we'll come as buyers rather than sellers. In a nation already burdened by ridiculous trade deficits, I fear that 20 years from now, every sunny day will be a reminder of what could have been.



At 16/9/09 08:42, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously. Look at this cool map of the world titled, "Surface Area Required to Solar Power the World."

At 16/9/09 10:09, Blogger BenMc said...

I read Friedman's article last night, and it didn't bother me that much, probably because I hear about some of the things going on in chemistry labs and think we're still innovating in the lab. I just don't know enough about the manufacturing side of it, but there's some very cool stuff going on in the innovation.

In particular, there's a chem professor Daniel Nocera that I just heard speak, who took inspiration from the way plants capture sunlight to design a self-healing electrode for storing solar energy (that's the real trick, panels are just the beginning). I'm hoping that turns into something.

The real hope is that if we can come up with a system where solar panels can capture the energy, hydrogen (from water) can store it, and fuel cells can get the energy back out when we need it ... then we'll have a system where the individual family/house can actually sell energy back to the power company.

There's something really satisfying about that possibility ... I think it shows that creation is incredibly good at what it does, and we'd do well to act like Nocera and look at it closely, we just might get ideas that are better than our own ideas.

It also shows that the sun + water, if it can just be combined right, is an incredible gift of energy, and we are dependent on those gifts.

(Richard, is this your first chemical post?? :) )

At 16/9/09 10:34, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

yes been... probably my first chemical post having to do with anything redemptive. There are, of course, chemicals used for other purposes about which I've spoken :)

Thanks for reminding us of some of Keppler's perspective, namely that creation is given us by God IN ORDER for us to pursue and discover, because the discoveries themselves testify of God's remarkable and generous character.

At 16/9/09 11:17, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a professor at Shoreline Community College named Mike Nelson that is an expert on solar power. I attended at talk he gave recently and heard the same information about Germany, etc. I believe it was $20,000.00 and up to put solar panels on our house. Gray NW days are not an excuse; we have plenty of sunshine. In fact we have more than Germany. if you want more detail you talk to him sometime.

At 17/9/09 07:09, Anonymous graham said... for the political will to change... yes, very frustrating to see how quickly our leaders want to ring the bells of "disaster averted" when the "prizes" of such declarations are........ business as normal... back to what we had that created this mess. No apparent changes to wall street regulations, Insurance lobbyists being blessed with the baucus bill and credit default swaps are in vogue again! yes....FRUSTRATING!!!!!! to find these stories.

At 22/9/09 05:04, Blogger Katie said...

Hi Richard,

This isn't specifically related to this blog post, but when I read this article, I thought you would find it interesting as well:

- Katie F


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