Sunday, September 27, 2009

California Energy Needs Solar Panels, but Better Ones

I just read this recent article concerning the former California governor Jerry Brown around California's environment health:

Brown also assailed Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, although pointedly not by name, for promising to suspend AB 32, California's law to curb greenhouse gases and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature environmental initiative. Last week in San Diego, Whitman, the former eBay CEO , called the measure an example of “overreaching environmental regulations that leave us at an economic disadvantage to our neighboring states.”
“That's like the Bush administration fighting California over the tailpipe emission standards,” Brown said. “It's a war against California as we pioneer environmental sustainability and clean air.”
Legislation around energy is absolutely necessary, especially in California (See Enron or California Energy Crisis). The passage of AB 32 (Assembly Bill 32 - Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) into law is California's way to show good will and comply with the Kyoto Protocol (the current global promise to reduce emissions, The U.S. not one of the 183 countries that have ratified it). However, it's one thing to make a promise, and another to make it happen.

If you follow solar technology, we are at roughly an average of 8-12% (available market) efficiency of turning solar light into usable electricity. We need 25% efficiency for the option to be economically viable (which is good, because NASA has these available, but only on spacecraft). Solar is king in California as there is not as many good locations for wind turbines as there are for solar. Other options: tidal energy, geothermal,  hydroelectric cannot be considered for the state. We have to match the solution to the problem.

The problem that AB 32 addresses is emissions. The thinking goes, if you reduce dirty power plants (coal and oil burning), then you reduce emissions. To reduce the use of dirty power plants, increase the use of renewable energy. In California, that means more solar panels. But who's going to pay for them?
The average homeowner cannot afford the upfront cost of solar panels, which varies in the thousands. And, if he/she could afford that cost, it would not pay off even in 25 years (when solar panels need to be replaced) because of the low efficiency of solar panels right now.

Governor Swarzenneger also signed into law legislation to put 1 million solar panels on California roofs. The current budget deficit of California is $42 Billion, and cuts have been occurring for years. If I recall an average installation on a home is about $7,000. That will be $7,000,000,000, or $7 Billion, or the cost to pay 35% of the teachers in California. Don't get any ideas, but we are talking about money that can collapse a state.

I'm a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. Legislation is nothing without the regular men and women to carry out the work. However, to follow what has been written may be damning if it is done.

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