Monday, June 29, 2009

Solar energy -- what's the hold up?

Posted by Danny Tarlow
Guest post by Andrew Peterman from an op-ed piece in the Idaho Statesman, dated 05/28/09.

Andrew and I will be giving a joint presentation in Scotland next month on a data-driven approach to predicting energy consumption in buildings -- I was the data guy, and he was the energy guy. He grew up in Boise, has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University, and currently works for the Walt Disney Company on worldwide sustainability, energy and environmental issues.

I've written a little bit about energy issues in the past, but most of the posts have been inspired by conversations with Andrew. This is meant as a test -- if it's received well, we might ask Andrew to write guest posts here more often about a variety of energy and energy policy issues. Let me know what you think.


Idaho should be a leader when it comes to solar energy
By Andrew Peterman
(Previously published in the Idaho Statesman)

I often find myself wondering why, as a state, we are not yet a leader in centralized or rooftop solar energy generation. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Idaho is not even ranked in the top 10, yet our close neighbor, Nevada, is ranked third in large-scale generation and second in per capita small and large solar PV generation.

The sun has incredible potential within Idaho to provide a key source of non-carbon emitting electricity and heating. Solar is on the cutting-edge of providing a financially smart method to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce the deadly buildup of greenhouse gas emissions. We can bring Idaho to a state of foreign oil independence with an array of options, but not without harnessing the power we naturally absorb from the sun.

Idaho gets a lot of sun. Across the state, engineers and energy analysts have estimated that we have the potential to produce 60 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually from solar energy (Department of Energy) - over 40 percent of Idaho's total energy demand using solar alone (EIA).

Solar technology can scale from the single-family homeowner to the large utility companies building massive collector systems and investing in our state.

Given Idaho's premium location for solar collection combined with nationally rising energy costs driven by high oil prices, solar technology has the potential to bring foreign oil independence to the state, reduce Idahoans' monthly utility bill, and protect Idaho's lakes, streams, mountains and valleys from the potentially harmful effects of global warming.

Solar is one of the cleanest technologies that makes financial sense. Incentives are currently in place to make the initial investment in solar panels more affordable and often financially beneficial for the individual or family. Through incentive programs such as Northwest Solar Cooperative - Green Tag Purchase, every Idahoan has an opportunity to receive money for every kW of solar electricity produced.

Solar produced electricity is estimated in some cases to be as low as 2 cents/kWh. Solar projects have the potential to create numerous jobs locally to help install, maintain, and monitor the performance of solar projects. Installation and maintenance jobs - nearly 50 percent of the total cost - cannot be shipped overseas.

Solar benefits all. Solar has the potential to provide the following meaningful benefits to Idahoans, without singling out a particular group:
  • Lowers peak electricity demand across the state.
  • Reduces the need to build new transmission and distribution.
  • Protects Idaho streams and rivers.
  • Lowers emissions of global warming pollution.
  • Challenges citizens of Idaho to take action and own the solution to the climate change problem.

The benefits of solar sound obvious.

Why is our state lagging? In these tough economic times, the last thing on Idahoans' minds is solar electricity production. This is why we need our local leaders to help bring about the necessary incentives and training to implement progressive technologies. As individuals, we have to take on much of the responsibility of reducing energy consumption and switching to cleaner sources. Idahoans have to own the solution to global warming, but our leaders must first provide resources to help create these new market opportunities.

The global imperative to move toward cleaner energy sources has presented unprecedented opportunity to create new jobs and bolster the struggling economy of Idaho. Through hard work, we have the potential to be on the cutting edge in this newly forming green economy - but not without solar.

8 comments:

righthandrew said...

You really want to know why Idaho is behind? Solar is cost prohibitive in Idaho because traditional electricity is so inexpensive making alternatives relatively expensive when comparing. Idaho has the cheapest electricity in the country at an average of 5 cents/kWh--nearly half the national average. On top of that, Idaho has a relatively clean energy mix with nearly 80% coming from hydroelectric so the priority is not necessarily to make huge investments in new technologies. I believe, however, that leaders in the state should see that Idaho has a real opportunity through incentives to make solar and other renewable technologies more affordable. 80% renewable sources is great, but isn't 90% or 100% better?

Raine Saunders said...

Solar energy may be an untapped resource in Idaho as of yet, but government incentives, dam breaching, and inflating costs of electricity will soon drive over-burdened consumers to the alternatives that work best - and solar is among them. Solar can be viewed as a long-term investment that will recouperate your expense in a shorter time than expected, as well as pay you back and increase the resale value of your home, business, or vehicle.

Treasure Valley Solar and others are working to bring solar to the forefront in Boise and beyond such as solar for vehicles and remote applications. We are piloting a mobile solution that will change the way drivers consume energy in their vehicles.

Visit www.treasurevalleysolar.com for more details and find out how your home or company can benefit from these innovations.

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

Hey Danny!

Since this is a somewhat outdated post about solar energy and (gasp!) Global warming -- I'm wondering how or if your opinion on this subject has changed, after ClimateGate revealed the manipulation of scientific data on climate change?

To me, it was frustrating to read about how the IPCC scientists stifled dissenting arguments so as to keep the claim alive that suggested humans are causing Global warming. But you might know more about this overall subject than I do, so it'd be interesting to read your thoughts on the issue.

Do you think it's important to take into account facts from both sides of the argument on climate change? Did you find yourself a little frustrated (like I did) that much of the scientific data on climate change was found to be manipulated in order to, in essence, 'hide the decline'?

On the same topic, keeping to the theory that humans are causing Global warming *cough-cough*, have you heard much about the physics of white and dark surfaces?

The theory is that white roofs as a reflective surface will slow Global warming, if indeed humans are causing climate change. Which, after all that was revealed from Climategate, I personally do not think the previous assumptions on anthropogenic global warming are true. But I'd love to hear your take on it! Even if your opinion on it is different than mine, I think it's important to see both sides of the argument.

Danny Tarlow said...

Hi Derek,

I have to admit that I don't know a ton about the climate research scandal stuff. What I can say generally is that I prefer to read the original sources if possible. In my opinion, reading the news is like getting the output of a long chain in the game of telephone (remember that game?)--sometimes entertaining, but I take most of what I hear with a grain of salt.

So anyhow, I did just go to wikipedia to read about the scandal. I read the section titled "Content of the documents":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_hacking_incident#Content_of_the_documents

The only thing in that section that I couldn't track down was the source for the claim: "an associated README file has been interpreted as suggesting that some data was simply made up. [24]". I clicked through to the link cited as [24] and followed several links, but I didn't find even any mention of the README file. Do you know if it's available somewhere? Other than that, the section looked to be a pretty unbiased explanation (I like that it has the specific controversial quotes from the emails), but you seem to know more about the issue.

So I guess before I put time into a longer answer, are there other relevant primary sources to look at?

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

Funny Danny Tarlow! First you said that you "prefer to read the original sources if possible. [...] reading the news is like getting the output of a long chain in the game of telephone," and then you went "to wikipedia to read about the scandal," and then you "clicked through to the link cited as and followed several links, but didn't find..."

I have to first say this, the "source" you were using at Wikipedia is the BBC News.

Personally, I trust FOX News over BBC any day of the week. Regardless, the BBC as a source for reference goes against your own preference of reading original sources rather than the news. But Wikipedia doesn't allow original work to be included in their articles. So all you get is the opinion of journalists, from various news sources, but re-written from the point of view of sometimes very bias editors.

In fact, here's a section at Conservapedia about a "Green doctor" who was recruited at Wikipedia as an administrator, named William Connolley:
http://www.conservapedia.com/Climategate#Wikipedia

This one guy personally rewrote 5,428 articles on global warming; as an administrator, he banned dissent, over 2,000 Wikipedia contributors were banned by him if they added anything arguing against man-made global warming. Talk about influential power over knowledge.

The reason I pointed you to Conservapedia is because they do allow primary sources and original work to be included in their articles. Which brings me to my main point, and the quickest rundown on Climategate that I can offer.

It's important we understand that in "Climategate," the suffix "–gate" implies the state of climate science over the past decade––possibly longer. The data manipulation is a big problem that was uncovered; the climategate emails simply prove that the scientists were transpiring to cover up any dissent and arguments that disproved or otherwise went against the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

At Conservapedia, here's an entire section of original research criticizing Michael Mann's "Hockey Stick Reconstruction":
http://www.conservapedia.com/Climategate#Critique_of_the_Hockey_Stick_Reconstruction

I know you don't like the news as a source for scientific facts, but here's a quote at Conservapedia about the Greenpeace leader, Gerd Leipold:
http://www.conservapedia.com/Climategate#Climategate_Fraud

Leipold admitted that "his organization issued misleading and exaggerated information when it claimed that Arctic ice would disappear completely by 2030.[45]"

Conservapedia also says this about previous claims made by the IPCC: "...claims about melting ice in the Alps, the Andes, and in Africa did not come from peer reviewed scientific literature—but from Climbing Magazine, and from a student dissertation—written by a climate change activist who was studying for a degree in Geography.[42]"

I see a pattern of global warming fraud.

The Climate Gate is open and the fraud is revealed!

You should be upset too, Danny! :-]
Obama was going to force a Cap and Trade tax bill on us based on fraudulent or misleading information. That's not cool.

If you're wondering how know so much about this, all I can say is that when you're job searching, sometimes you have more time on your hands than you ever need...

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

I almost forgot to add this. You mentioned looking for a "README file" about it? I'm not exactly sure what file it is you're looking for. But if you're interested in the forum where Climategate first started to develop, here it is:
http://climateaudit.org/2009/11/17/wsj-europe/#comments

If that's not what you were looking for, it could be here, which is a copy of the verified authentic, Climategate documents:
http://junkscience.com/FOIA/

I found both sources from Conservapedia, under "IPCC and the CRU's 'Trick'" - although I'm still unsure if that is the right file you were looking for.

Danny Tarlow said...

Hi Derek,

Thanks for your responses! I started to respond, but then it got long, so I figured we could move this conversation to a new thread:
http://blog.smellthedata.com/2010/02/hot-button-issues-part-2-climategate.html

LDave said...

If all you guys put as much energy into doing your own research with your own eyes and ears as you put into reading other peoples opinions of other peoples opinions you'd actually be knowledgeable instead of what you are. I've been to Glacier N.P. several times over the last 20 years and hiked and climbed in the same areas. I can assure you that the glaciers there are indeed melting massively. I've also been to Alaska and hiked and climbed in both areas around Anchorage and Denali N.P. and, again, I can assure you that my own eyes have seen that glaciers there are, again, melting away massively. What's next? Are you going to dispute that what melts ice is heat? Fox News has an agenda. And it has succeeded. It has made you what you are.