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Book Review: Solar Revolution: The Economic Transformation of the Global Energy Industry

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A June 1st article at CNN Money profiled large-scale solar technology projects. Public schools in central New York are adding solar panels to reduce their expenses, with the assistance of a state program. And according to The Discovery Channel, even the Vatican is adding photovoltaic cells to the Paul VI auditorium! Is there a solar revolution occurring?

According to Travis Bradford, there is. The author of Solar Revolution: The Economic Transformation of the Global Energy Industry, is the president and founder of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development. The book was published by The MIT Press.

Bradford traces the history of energy generation and its ties to economic development. He points out that historically, natural resource depletion led to the collapse of civilizations, beginning with deforestation and its attendant soil depletion. Currently, our world is at "peak oil": we've reached the maximum amount of oil that we can extract from the earth and now rates of production will decline.

Conventional energy generation is at risk because of peak oil, potential supply disruptions (i.e., the current war), and the aging infrastructure of the electrical grid. He cites the environmental problems of "stored sunlight" alternatives such as coal, oil, and natural gas. He also analyzes current alternative technologies such hydroelectric dams; nuclear, wind, biomass, geothermal, and ocean power; and hydrogen fuel cells. He points out that these alternatives each need to be deployed on a large scale.

Additionally, the problem of intermittency – i.e., spikes in demand, whether expected or unexpected — is not solved with large-scale alternatives. Demand spikes can lead to problems such as rolling brownouts, and currently is dealt with by expanding the grid. The problem with expanding energy production to meet intermittent demand is that energy is underutilized during the remaining low-demand times. This, of course, is a wasteful use of limited resources.

Three key continua exist in analyzing methods of creating power from the sun: passive-active, thermal-photovoltaic, and concentrating-nonconcentrating. Passive solar energy is usually created usually through building design, such as in the design of a greenhouse. Active solar energy, on the other hand, is stored or converted to other applications. These applications are thermal or photovoltaic, the second key continuum. Thermal solar energy applications use derived heat in, for example, rooftop solar water heating systems. Photovoltaic applications, or PV, capture light energy onto a specific material which creates a direct electric current. Finally, concentrating systems focus sunlight using mirrors or lenses. Nonconcentrating systems are simpler and easier to maintain.

The author reiterates that PV is cost-effective at any scale. A home or business may simply add solar panels as energy needs increase. And, according to the author, improvements in technology have reduced the cost of PV from $25/watt to now less than $3.50/kW. Additionally, excess energy created by the system in homes during the day — a time of more sunlight and lowered usage for most homes — excess energy can be "sold back" to the grid.

Bradford uses the adoption of cell phones as an example of how he sees the United States adopting solar energy. Cell phones are an example of distributed economics: each phone user generates his own communication system. Distributed solar systems would be the same: each building or home would generate the majority of its own power. This is in contrast to, in the case of cell phones, the Ma Bell monopolies or, as in the case of modern utilities, the large quasi-governmental organizations that generate and distribute energy to the people.

Currently, Germany and Japan lead the world in adoption of smaller scale solar technologies. They have surpassed the US in solar adoption, generally due to the impetus of government policy. Consider that each of these countries has little sunshine and even fewer natural resources for energy. They each have relatively high energy costs, as well. In the United States, California is in the forefront of encouraging adoption of PV panels and other small scale solutions to energy shortages.

A weakness of the book is the author's cursory discussion of political realities that can block the adoption of small-scale solar energy projects such as he favors. If we have a government willing to approve expenditures of, according to one source, over $400 billion to protect its access to oil reserves, how likely is it that energy companies will simply roll over and allow solar to take over? I suspect it will be like the early days of satellite TV, when cable companies used federal legislation to block satellite companies from showing local channels, and then advertises their superiority to satellite because cable had local channels. One can hope, as with telecom, that the field will eventually be deregulated. That policy will favor the populace, not the energy companies.

Overall, this book is an excellent introduction to an established and reliable source of energy. Though Bradford discusses technical and economic issues, he clearly elucidates electrical utility economics and his vision of emerging distributed economics. The author also discusses industrial uses of solar technologies.

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  • Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant

    Energy Independence begins with Energy efficiency – It’s cheaper to save energy than to make energy.

    Updated
    MANDATORY RENEWABLE ENERGY – THE ENERGY EVOLUTION –R17
    By Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
    In order to insure energy and economic independence as well as better economic growth without being blackmailed by foreign countries, our country, the United States of America’s Utilization of Energy Sources must change.
    “Energy drives our entire economy.” We must protect it. “Let’s face it, without energy the whole economy and economic society we have set up would come to a halt. So you want to have control over such an important resource that you need for your society and your economy.” The American way of life is not negotiable.
    Our continued dependence on fossil fuels could and will lead to catastrophic consequences.

    The federal, state and local government should implement a mandatory renewable energy installation program for residential and commercial property on new construction and remodeling projects, replacement of appliances, motors, HVAC with the use of energy efficient materials-products, mechanical systems, appliances, lighting, insulation, retrofits etc. The source of energy must be by renewable energy such as Solar-Photovoltaic, Geothermal, Wind, Biofuels, Ocean-Tidal, Hydrogen-Fuel Cell etc. This includes the utilizing of water from lakes, rivers and oceans to circulate in cooling towers to produce air conditioning and the utilization of proper landscaping to reduce energy consumption. (Sales tax on renewable energy products and energy efficiency should be reduced or eliminated)

    The implementation of mandatory renewable energy could be done on a gradual scale over the next 10 years. At the end of the 10 year period all construction and energy use in the structures throughout the United States must be 100% powered by renewable energy. (This can be done by amending building code)

    In addition, the governments must impose laws, rules and regulations whereby the utility companies must comply with a fair “NET METERING” (the buying of excess generation from the consumer at market price), including the promotion of research and production of “renewable energy technology” with various long term incentives and grants. The various foundations in existence should be used to contribute to this cause.

    A mandatory time table should also be established for the automobile industry to gradually produce an automobile powered by renewable energy. The American automobile industry is surely capable of accomplishing this task. As an inducement to buy hybrid automobiles (sales tax should be reduced or eliminated on American manufactured automobiles).

    This is a way to expedite our energy independence and economic growth. (This will also create a substantial amount of new jobs). It will take maximum effort and a relentless pursuit of the private, commercial and industrial government sectors’ commitment to renewable energy – energy generation (wind, solar, hydro, biofuels, geothermal, energy storage (fuel cells, advance batteries), energy infrastructure (management, transmission) and energy efficiency (lighting, sensors, automation, conservation) (rainwater harvesting, water conservation) (energy and natural resources conservation) in order to achieve our energy independence.

    “To succeed, you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality.”

    Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
    Northridge, CA. 91325
    May 31, 2007

    P.S. I have a very deep belief in America’s capabilities. Within the next 10 years we can accomplish our energy independence, if we as a nation truly set our goals to accomplish this.

    I happen to believe that we can do it. In another crisis–the one in 1942–President Franklin D. Roosevelt said this country would build 60,000 [50,000] military aircraft. By 1943, production in that program had reached 125,000 aircraft annually. They did it then. We can do it now.

    “the way we produce and use energy must fundamentally change.”
    The American people resilience and determination to retain the way of life is unconquerable and we as a nation will succeed in this endeavor of Energy Independence.

    The Oil Companies should be required to invest a substantial percentage of their profit in renewable energy R&D and implementation. Those who do not will be panelized by the public at large by boy cutting their products.

    Solar energy is the source of all energy on the earth (excepting volcanic geothermal). Wind, wave and fossil fuels all get their energy from the sun. Fossil fuels are only a battery which will eventually run out. The sooner we can exploit all forms of Solar energy (cost effectively or not against dubiously cheap FFs) the better off we will all be. If the battery runs out first, the survivors will all be living like in the 18th century again.

    Every new home built should come with a solar package. A 1.5 kW per bedroom is a good rule of thumb. The formula 1.5 X’s 5 hrs per day X’s 30 days will produce about 225 kWh per bedroom monthly. This peak production period will offset 17 to 2

    4 cents per kWh with a potential of $160 per month or about $60,000 over the 30-year mortgage period for a three-bedroom home. It is economically feasible at the current energy price and the interest portion of the loan is deductible. Why not?

    Title 24 has been mandated forcing developers to build energy efficient homes. Their bull-headedness put them in that position and now they see that Title 24 works with little added cost. Solar should also be mandated and if the developer designs a home that solar is impossible to do then they should pay an equivalent mitigation fee allowing others to put solar on in place of their negligence. (Installation should be paid “performance based”).

    Installation of renewable energy and its performance should be paid to the installer and manufacturer based on “performance based” (that means they are held accountable for the performance of the product – that includes the automobile industry). This will gain the trust and confidence of the end-user to proceed with such a project; it will also prove to the public that it is a viable avenue of energy conservation.

    Installing a renewable energy system on your home or business increases the value of the property and provides a marketing advantage. It also decreases our trade deficit.

    Nations of the world should unite and join together in a cohesive effort to develop and implement MANDATORY RENEWABLE ENERGY for the sake of humankind and future generations.

    The head of the U.S. government’s renewable energy lab said Monday (Feb. 5) that the federal government is doing “embarrassingly few things” to foster renewable energy, leaving leadership to the states at a time of opportunity to change the nation’s energy future. “I see little happening at the federal level. Much more needs to happen.” What’s needed, he said, is a change of our national mind set. Instead of viewing the hurdles that still face renewable sources and setting national energy goals with those hurdles in mind, we should set ambitious national renewable energy goals and set about overcoming the hurdles to meet them. We have an opportunity, an opportunity we can take advantage of or an opportunity we can squander and let go,”

    solar energy – the direct conversion of sunlight with solar cells, either into electricity or hydrogen, faces cost hurdles independent of their intrinsic efficiency. Ways must be found to lower production costs and design better conversion and storage systems.

    Disenco Energy of the UK has announced it has reached important
    milestones leading to full commercialization, such as the completion of
    field trials for its home, micro combined heat and power plant (m-CHP).
    The company expects to begin a product roll out in the second quarter of
    2008.
    Operating at over 90 percent efficiency, the m-CHP will be able to
    provide 15 kilowatts of thermal energy (about 50,000 Btu’s) for heat and
    hot water and generate 3 kilowatts of electricity. The m-CHP uses a
    Stirling engine generator and would be a direct replacement for a home’s
    boiler.
    Running on piped-in natural gas the unit would create some independence
    from the power grid, but still remain connected to the gas supply
    network.
    Whereas heat is supplied only when the generator is running (or
    conversely electricity is generated only when heat is needed) a back-up
    battery system and heavily insulated hot water storage tank seem
    eventual options for more complete energy independence.

    FEDERAL BUILDINGS WITH SOLAR ENERGY – Renewable Energy
    All government buildings, Federal, State, County, City etc. should be mandated to be energy efficient and must use renewable energy on all new structures and structures that are been remodeled/upgraded.
    “The government should serve as an example to its citizens”

    A new innovative renewable energy generating technology is in development. The idea behind Promethean Power came from Matthew Orosz, an MIT graduate student who has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the African nation of Lesotho. Orosz wanted to provide electric power, refrigeration, and hot water to people without electricity. He and some MIT colleagues designed a set of mirrors that focus sunlight onto tubes filled with coolant. The hot coolant turns to pressurized vapor, which turns a turbine to make electricity. The leftover heat can be used to warm a tank of water and to run a refrigerator or an air conditioner, using a gas-absorption process that chills liquid ammonia by first heating it.
    A major increase in daily petroleum output is deemed essential to meet U.S. and international oil requirements in 2020, and so we should expect recurring oil shortages and price increases. Only by expediting the diminishing our day-to-day consumption of petroleum and implementing of efficiency and renewable energy policy can we hope to reduce our exposure to costly oil-supply disruptions and lower the risk of economic strangulation.

    Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
    Northridge, CA 91325
    Email:
    Posted on: 06/21/2007

  • http://www.myspace.com/tequila_d_amour gette

    EXCELLENT COMMENT! Thank you for your input.

  • http://www.energyadvantage.com Claus Koch

    Good input.
    Unfortunately most good ideas are ignored by interest driven polititians. Ours in Canada run a close second to your Fed’s.

  • http://www.myspace.com/tequila_d_amour gette

    I think that, besides the obvious environmental pluses, the appeal of this whole thing is disconnecting from the grid. I guess it pleases my inner Emma Goldman to be able to generate my own energy.

  • http://www.usgaselectric.net Jay Draiman, Energy analyst

    Water is the source of life – treasure it! R3
    Water is the source of all life on earth. It touches every area of our lives. Without it, we could not thrive — we could not even survive.

    Sustainability – “We strive to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
    We should discourage wastefulness and misuse, and promote efficiency and conservation.
    For the benefit of mankind, maintain the quality of life and preserve the peace and tranquility of world population. Water resources must be preserved – to sustain humanity. We must eliminate wasteful utilization of water, conserve our water sources and implement rigid conservation methods. We should utilize solar and or other source of renewable energy to operate desalinization projects from the oceans. Utilize renewable energy sources to purify and transport the water to its final destination. As world population increases the scarcity of water will become a cause for conflict, unless we take steps now to develop other sources of water for drinking, rainwater harvesting – storm-water and gray-water utilization. Designing of landscaping that uses minimal amount of water.
    “With power shortages and a water scarcity a constant threat across the West, it’s time to look at water and energy in a new way,”
    To preserve the future generations sustainability, we should look into urban farming – vertical farming. The term “urban farming” may conjure up a community garden where locals grow a few heads of lettuce. But some academics envision something quite different for the increasingly hungry world of the 21st century: a vertical farm that will do for agriculture what the skyscraper did for office space. Greenhouse giant: By stacking floors full of produce, a vertical farm could rake in $18 million a year.
    Jay Draiman, Energy and water conservation consultant
    Oct. 18, 2007
    PS

    Hydro dynamics: forget oil. Sharing freshwater equitably poses political conundrums as explosive and far-reaching as global climate change.
    Quoted from other sources
    Anyone who has ever stood on a beach and looked out into the vast expanse of an ocean knows that there is a lot of water on this planet. In fact, 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. It may seem like water is all around us, but safe, clean, reliable drinking water is not a cease¬less resource. The problems facing drinking water range from failing infrastructure, to climate change, to insufficient supplies.

    Personal Conservation
    Preserving our water resources is not a job for water industry professionals alone. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that water remains safe, af¬fordable and available. Therefore, each individual American has a responsibility to monitor and control their water use, There are many simple ways for people to reduce excess water use, lower water bills and protect the environment, espe¬cially in die spring and summer months, Beyond the standard constraints of watering the lawn only when neces¬sary and washing car wisely by using soap and a bucket of water, some steps include: draining water lines to outside faucets, disconnecting hoses, shutting off outdoor water sources during cold weather and running a small trickle of water on whiter nights to prevent pipe from freezing.
    Conclusion
    Water supply management is an issue that affects us all. It may not be apparent to every citizen today, but with climate change and population shifts transforming the United States, it soon will be. Effective solutions need to be put into place today before we are faced with a water crisis. A focus on careful planning, treatments, innova¬tions and conservation measures will help to create stability for long-term water management. Commitment to keeping water at the top of the list for communities and citizens will better prepare us for whatever the future of water holds.

    WATER!
    The indispensable source of life-without water there would be no industry, no agriculture and, most importantly of all, no life. In dry parts of the world this essential commodity is even more precious. Almost all human actions involve water from taking a shower to reading a newspaper to driving a car or simply eating a sandwich – almost everything we do or touch is somehow related to this precious treasure. We ask that you stop and think how you use water and what you can do to conserve this essential natural resource.
    *Water, beliefs and customs,
    *Water as a vehicle of the economy,
    *Water, source of art and life, irrigation and cultivation.
    The people have decided to act to try and develop a real awareness program on the theme of water preservation and distribution in an attempt to help maintain the original purity of rivers and streams.
    In many parts of the world water sources and wells are not equally distributed. Water as a source of life can also be at the source of conflict.
    Whether we live in India, Iceland or the Atlas… we have always tried to trap and tame water. Dams, pumps, canals, water treatment centers; there are so many different ways to exploit this resource that we often forget how fragile this unique and essential treasure actually is.
    Unfortunately, many of the things we do every day can harm our water. That’s why all people and government should be working with municipalities, farmers, business leaders and developers just like you to take action to protect our water and clean it up.
    Small changes can make a big difference. This guide outlines practical things we can all do to preserve and protect our water. We all need to be part of the solution.
    “You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today” – Abraham Lincoln said it.
    “That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest” – Henry David Thoreau.
    “To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed” – Theodore Roosevelt.
    “When the ‘study of the household’ (ecology) and the ‘management of the household’ (economics) can be merged, and when ethics can be extended to include ‘environmental’ as well as human values, then we can be optimistic about the future of mankind. Accordingly, bringing together these three E’s is the ultimate holism and the great challenge for our future” – Eugene Odum.

  • http://www.usgaselectric.net Jay Draiman, Energy analyst

    Selling Renewable Energy (Solar Etc.) Without Incentives
    In short, we need to market solar as an investment that will save money while you own it and return most or all of your investment when you sell the building it’s sitting on.

    Chances are, as natural gas and oil prices go up, there will be a corresponding jump in your monthly electricity bill. So, instead of promoting a solar power system based on today’s savings in electricity, we need to have easily understandable projections on what the savings will be over the life of a system. These numbers need to reflect what’s really happening to the cost of energy!
    Here are some ideas I’d like to share. First, we need to find a way to make renewable energy economically competitive without the tax incentives. We do this by answering the question: “What is the opportunity cost of not using solar to decrease your energy bill?”

    There’s something interesting I’ve found. There’s a direct correlation among electrical rates, the cost of air conditioning a building, the heat index and the amount of sunshine on any given day. In other words, on the hottest, sunniest days, we use more electricity that costs more per kilowatt. So, why do we continue to promote average hours of solar production, when in fact (at least down here in California), we produce far more solar power per day during the heat of the summer when energy costs are highest, than we do in our temperate winter months when energy costs are lowest. A sound marketing approach would be to evaluate solar energy in “dollars” of production per year instead of in kilowatts. I’m sure there are some smart people out there who can match kilowatts of solar production on any given day of the year to what the rates will be (based on the projected costs of electricity).
    Secondly, we should stop trying to sell a solar package as a “cost.” In real estate, there is a principle that says anything affixed to real estate becomes an integral part of the real estate. Once a solar package is installed, it immediately increases the value of a property. So how can you predict how much more a building will be worth in 5-10 years with a package as opposed to without one? In the real estate appraisal business, there are three approaches to appraising a property. The market approach (what are comparable properties selling for), the reproduction cost (the cost of creating an identical building at current construction and material prices) and the actual original cost adjusted for inflation. In all three methods, there’s a strong case that a system installed today will make the building worth more today and in future years.
    We need some realistic numbers to predict how much more a property will be worth in the years following installation. I believe that if you sell a building 5-10 years after installing solar, you should recoup all of your investment in the system plus an added bonus. If the rumors are true, a residential system (using the market approach) adds $20 of value to a home for every $1 it saves on the electric bill.
    For commercial appraisals, you would divide the income (savings) by a cap rate (which was about 9% at last report). A system that saves $2000 a year then would be worth $40,000 on a home or $25,000 on a business. But if the cost of electricity goes up (if that is remotely possible), then wouldn’t the value of the solar power system increase as well? In reality, we are not selling something that costs — we are actually offering a financial investment that grows comparably with other forms of energy.
    In short, we need to market solar as an investment that will save money while you own it and return most or all of your investment when you sell the building it’s sitting on. In commercial real estate, they use a “Cash Flow Analysis” form as the tool to evaluate a building’s value using the income approach. We need a similar tool for putting a value on solar. If solar makes sense with this approach, then just think of how much better the systems look when you add the tax advantages!
    This approach also applies to the cost of Energy efficiency implementation.
    Reducing operational costs increases the value of the business and or property.
    Compiled by Jay Draiman, Energy analyst
    12/1/2007

  • Jay Draiman

    Should The US government bail out American corporations?

    Does corporate America share its profits with the tax payers? The answer is absolutely not.
    Do they share the profits with the with their employees? The executives are paid millions.
    The US Government should bail out all corporations large and small is that right? The answer is no. If it is a viable business, they can raise the money from investors, if not, let them close shop.
    If the government decides to bail them out if should be at a cost (like shares in the company) where the government will make money and have a say in running the company. Even better have a public referendum where the voters decide.
    Carmakers want money from the government; the financial institutions want money – where does it stop.
    It is about time corporate America should learn they have to stand on their own feet. Where is corporate America financial responsibility?
    They claim the government is abusing its financial responsibility; it seems Corporate America is no better. They also go to their workers to take a pay cut, is that fair? It seems the little guys are the ones that always pay the price for corporate financial abuse and miss-management.
    Other corporations in the world are not asking to be bailed out – they go out of business.
    Jay Draiman
    PS
    The corporate barracudas have no conscience they will step on anyone, stab anyone in the back and fudge the numbers to climb up the corporate ladder and receive the hefty bonuses.
    As family values have declined in the last half a century so has corporate integrity and honesty, it seems that corporate America will do almost anything for the buck ($) no holes barred.
    What a shame that corporate America has sunk so low.
    The government is no different, honesty and integrity is a foreign language, they only serve the special interest groups. (We all know why).
    What happened to the American people who placed their trust in the government? (The public officials they voted for).
    We are faced constantly with another corporate or governmental scandal of wrongdoing. When is the American public going to wake up and demand an honest government and honest corporate America? Americans wake up before it is too late.