The cost of solar power is collapsing to the point that its use is about to explode across the United States, according to Kees Van Der Leun at Grist:
[T]he fact that 30 pounds of silicon, an amount that costs $700 to produce, is enough to generate a lifetime of household electricity baffled me. Over 25 years, the family would pay at least $25,000 for the same 100,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity from fossil fuels — and its generation cost alone would total over $6,000!
Paul Krugman weighs in too, criticizing those who just can’t stop touting dirty coal and natural gas derived from tracking. Then he turns to the quickly falling cost savings of PV solar:
[P]rogress in solar panels has been so dramatic and sustained that, as a blog post at Scientific American put it, “there’s now frequent talk of a ‘Moore’s law’ in solar energy,” with prices adjusted for inflation falling around 7 percent a year.
Even more falling cost data at CNET.
At Occasional Planet, Mike Davis discusses the ubiquitous TV commercials touting the green-ness of natural gas and Canadian tar-sand oil. At my workplace lunchroom, there is a TV, and I’ve seen these misleading commercials many times. I’ve also seen many recent ads for “clean coal,” even though no such coal plants exist. Interesting how the industry never even attempts to argue that coal ash is “clean.”
Mike notes a lack of media stories critical of these ads, not surprising given the ad revenue the media receives for running these commercials.
If you want a good starting point for learning the facts about clean energy, The Union of Concerned Scientists is offering an excellent resource, “Clean Energy 101.” If you’d like to learn about the pollution caused by coal plants, and how sustainable energy would cut this pollution, check the article called “Benefits of Renewable Energy.”
A Typical Coal PlantA typical 500-megawatt coal plant produces 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year — enough to power a city of about 140,000 people.
It burns 1.4 million tons of coal (the equivalent of 40 train cars of coal each day) and uses 2.2 billion gallons of water each year. In an average year, this one plant also generates the following:
10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide
10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide, equivalent to half a million late-model cars
3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to cutting down 100 million trees
500 tons of small particles
220 tons of hydrocarbons
720 tons of carbon monoxide
125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber
170 pounds of mercury, 225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, and other toxic heavy metals
Trace amounts of uranium
Here are each of the main topics covered:
- How Biomass Energy Works
- How Natural Gas Works
- How Solar Energy Works
- How Geothermal Energy Works
- How Wind Energy Works
- How Coal Works
- How Hydrokinetic Energy Works
- The Costs of Coal
- Buy Green Power
- A Short History of Energy
- Benefits of Renewable Energy Use
- Real Energy Solutions: The Renewable Electricity Standard
- Renewable Energy and Agriculture: A Natural Fit
- Measuring Energy
- How Oil Works
- The Sources of Energy
- 7 Ways to Switch America to Renewable Energy
- The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels
- Renewable Energy Checklist for Homebuilders
- Environmental Benefits of Renewable Energy
- Putting Green Customer Demand to Work
- Energy 101: Take a tour
- Environmental Impacts of Renewable Energy Technologies
- Energy Star Label Saves Energy and Money
At Common Dreams, Michael Klare advises us that easy (i.e., cheap oil) tends to run in concert with prosperity, but that Americans are stunningly obtuse about the fact that we’re running out of easy oil:
If American power is in decline, so is the relative status of oil in the global energy equation. In the 2000 edition of its International Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy confidently foresaw ever-expanding oil production in Africa, Alaska, the Persian Gulf area, and the Gulf of Mexico, among other areas. It predicted, in fact, that world oil output would reach 97 million barrels per day in 2010 and a staggering 115 million barrels in 2020. EIA number-crunchers concluded as well that oil would long retain its position as the world’s leading source of energy. Its 38% share of the global energy supply, they said, would remain unchanged.
What a difference a decade makes. By 2010, a new understanding about the natural limits of oil production had sunk in at the EIA and its experts were predicting a disappointingly modest petroleum future. In that year, world oil output had reached just 82 million barrels per day, a stunning 15 million less than expected.
What’s the solution?
[T]he United States needs to move quickly to reduce its reliance on oil and increase the availability of other energy sources, especially renewable ones that pose no threat to the environment. This is not merely a matter of reducing our reliance on imported oil, as some have suggested. As long as oil remains our preeminent source of energy, we will be painfully vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the global oil market, wherever problems may arise. Only by embracing forms of energy immune to international disruption and capable of promoting investment at home can the foundations be laid for future economic progress. Of course, this is easy enough to write, but with Washington in the grip of near-total political paralysis, it appears that continuing American decline, possibly of a precipitous sort, could be in the cards.
For a lot more on this problem of peak oil, check out some of Brynn Jacobs’ writings at this website, including this article.
Let’s see. What oil rich region should the United States next invade? Hmmm. Politicians and oil companies are increasingly telling us that our future oil lies in the tar sands of Canada. Only one thing lies between the United States and that oil: Canada might not simply give us their tar sands. Problems like these, however, are ready-made for the United States military solutions. Hence, today I imagined that we might soon see the following news story.
I don’t really believe that the United States has any plans to invade Canada, but I am trying to make a few serious points with this image.
We all know how to pull this sort of land grab, because Americans are well-practiced in simply taking land from other people (ask Mexico and native Americans, and check out the size of the American Embassy in Iraq). We are experts at inventing the need to go to war. Here’s a simplified version of the plan: We claim that there are weapons of mass destruction in Canada. We claim that there are French terrorists threatening America; we are good at inventing stories that serve as excuses to go to war. Our mass-media goes along with the ploy because they are amoral conflict-mongers. Eventually, the United States simply takes over the tar sands region of Canada. Or at least that’s how it goes in my imagination.
It’s increasingly clear we have entered peak world-wide oil production, but American politicians don’t not dare to urge American citizens to cut down on their use of energy. Conservation is widely seen as un-American because it is usually framed as an approach that deprives Americans of their life-style, even though conservation and renewable energy makes far too much sense on many levels. And all of this crazy framing of the debate takes place while reputable scientists are offering solid evidence that with current technology and reasonable conservation measures we could now begin replace much of American fossil fuel usage with renewables.
If I had to place a bet, though, I would put my chips on a future where Americans continue, as long as they are financially and militarily able, to engage in profligate oil usage (we use more than 9,000 gallons per second, enough to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool every minute of every day). They will do this despite the fact that tar sands oil is an environmental disaster in the making .
At the recent Earth Day celebration in St. Louis, Chris Klarer of Advanced Energy Solutions offered to give a video statement on the advantages of solar. In addition to producing clean and sustainable energy, there are substantial tax advantages for owners of businesses and homes.
I went to the site of AES and used its calculator, determining that a solar system on my roof could provide more than half of my family’s electricity. This was quite interesting, of course. What made things even more interesting are those tax advantages. In addition to talking with Chris, I discussed these tax advantages with another a man who was promoting solar at his own booth (he was not selling anything, onlypromoting the use of solar panels). His numbers were even rosier than those suggested by Chris — click on the thumbnail to see how he reduced the cost of a $12,000 installation to only about $2,000.
I am, indeed, going to look further into solar electric for my home, but here is a hurdle: I live in an historic neighborhood, and I suspect that I’m going to have a struggle over getting a permit. I’ll make my best arguments and see how far I get – - it would seem that there should be a way–after all, the state of Missouri is offering tax credits for solar, making it official public policy that solar electric is to be encouraged. I’ll report back after I learn more.
What follows is not real data; it is only my hunch. What would the result be if Americans could vote, using a secret ballot, on the following option: Would they rather have widespread democracy in the Middle East or cheap oil at home? Would they rather support continued US coddling of corrupt Middle East leaders who keep order with violent crackdowns or would they prefer that the people of these countries have freedom of speech and free elections?
Let’s assume the price of a gallon of gas would go up an additional 50 cents if the people of Middle Eastern countries (e.g., Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq) kicked out all the remaining brutal dictators and changed over to meaningful self-rule–some meaningful form of democracy. Would Americans vote for their pocketbook or for high ideals? I suspect that the result would be something like this:
The price of gas is shooting up again, and who knows how high it’s going to get. Panic is starting to set in because, in one of history’s most incredible displays of poor planning (or lack of planning), the American economy will fall apart unless there is plenty cheap oil. We burn an insane amount of this precious and dwindling resource: 10,000 gallons of oil per second (this is not a typo). We already burned off our cheap oil, and the only oil remaining is difficult to extract and therefore expensive. Our politicians refuse to say the phrase “peak oil,” but that’s what we are now facing.
Obama’s administration is now considering the following “solution”: tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That’s because America has a huge amount of oil in its reserves–more than 727 million barrels of oil. That’s enough oil to last us for [drum roll] about a month [sound of balloon deflating]. That’s because we burn 21 millions barrels per day. Those who find solace in tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserves are either foolish or intentionally dishonest.
We could embark on using less oil, but American politicians can’t bear to even mention conservation or else they would face the torches and pitchforks of the populace. Conservation is a powerful tool to use–every barrel of oil that we don’t burn is a barrel that we don’t need to yank out of the ground from 5 miles under the Gulf of Mexico. With the amount of oil we could save through modest conservation, we could completely fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in about a month. But no politician dares to mention conservation because it amounts to telling Americans that there are limitations on their “freedom.” Even though conservation will enhance our freedoms.
You won’t hear any politicians uttering the “C” word. Perhaps for this reason. Or these reasons. And though the conservatives have taken the lead on this dysfunctionality, “liberal” politicians are largely silent, and therefore complicit.
In this video, you can see the power of two square meters of sunshine. As a child I used to set fire to a piece of paper outside with a small hand held magnifying glass. This sophisticated mirror is several magnitudes more impressive.
You might be wondering whether sort of device could be used for cooking. The answer is yes, and these cheap devices can help slow deforestation and desertification. Here is a video demonstration of the cooking power of the sun: