Thursday, February 11, 2010

Solar Power 1954 - Yep

Here Comes The Sun King (click to listen and watch a static YouTube screen)

For my own obscure reasons I was looking up the word "solanum" (a kind of nightshade shrub) last night in bed when my eyes glanced down to the next set of words, all of which contained, "solar."

Here they are, alongside their dates of entry into English: solar battery 1954, solar cell 1958, solar collector 1955, solar panel 1961, solar pond 1961, and solar sail 1958.

In 1954 Dwight Eisenhower was President. Since Ike, we have had 10 more Presidents. A few thousand people have rotated through Congress.We have gone to the moon; the Computer/Internet Age has dawned and matured; our phones are now marvels of mobility and connectivity, and so forth.

Yet, the European Union leads the United States in solar generation by a factor of 4.5 to 1*, despite our having much sunnier conditions in many more places than Europe, and a relatively large technological lead that has grown out of our space program. 

Solar power is more important than ever, especially if coupled with a solid domestic jobs program.

Places like Detroit, Ohio, northwest Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and other so-called rust belt metro areas have armies of idle skilled industrial workers. The construction industry across the country has been socked hard by declining employment. What could be a better marriage at this point?

A good first step was Congress's extension of tax credits to the solar industry in September of 2008. However, it doesn't go far enough.

From the time of first settlement, government has taken the lead in transformative projects.

The building of the Erie Canal turned New York City into the nation's leading port. The Panama Canal, which had strategic importance as well as commercial importance, was built by the U.S. government. The system of railroad land grants - fair or not - by the federal government after the Civil War was undeniably instrumental in creation of what became the world's greatest rail system. The Interstate Highway System. which one can today fairly argue is an albatross around our collective neck, nevertheless spurred enormous economic activity and could not have been managed by any entity other than the central government.

Today, every major transit system in the country is run by municipal governments or their factotums, regional transportation authorities.

New York City's transit system, to cite one instance, moves close to 3 billion people a year. There are currently at least 7 MAJOR transit projects born of government planning and foresight currently in the building phase, accounting for tens of billions of dollars in taxable payroll, and secondary economic activity.

So, why exactly is the federal government such a laggard when it comes to development of solar, among other alternative sources? One could reflexively say "big oil," but it seems as if integrated energy companies would welcome some sort of involvement now, given the volatility of oil prices and oil producing regions.

It seems to me that, more crucially, the culprit lies in the anti-government philosophy that has gripped the extremist Republican Party, our tried and true philosophy of "Can Do," being challenged by their philosophy of "Can't Do." The hatred of government in a genuine democracy seems to me to be a form of self-hatred and defeatism.

So, after 50 years - the rough mean time since the entry into the dictionary of words that today still define our technology - what's the delay? "How long?" as was said for expansion of civil rights. "Too long," is also the answer about the slow arrival of solar power.

Interestingly, the same brand of radical naysayers who were responsible for holding civil rights legislation up are responsible for keeping us dependent on foreign energy. The plantation mentality is alive and well, my friends.

 * 3.8 Terrawatt hours vs. .83 TW-h.  A TW-h is 1,000,000 KW hours.

In total renewables - hydro, wind, bio, solar and geothermal - we rank 4th, mainly because hydro figures so highly among those ahead of us - China, the EU and Brazil. It should be noted, however, that Canada's hydro production is almost totally consumed by the United States, so when one combines the two North American countries, they would far outstrip any other region. Contrapuntally, as most environmentalists know, hydro creates its own set of ecological nightmares. 

1 comment:

  1. Worse still, the $$$ we are spending,
    we're spending OVERSEAS!!
    - David L.


    "the lion’s share of the more than $2 billion the Obama Administration promised would boost the economy and create green-energy jobs at home has gone instead to foreign-owned companies."