Friday, May 15, 2009

Industrial Solar?

This is a good thing and a bad idea, all at the same time. 

Governor Bredesen has announced a 5 Megawatt solar farm to be operated in conjunction with TVA and UT Knoxville, and will be funded by $30 million of stimulus money. 

The good part? It's a strong move into solar power production. 

The bad part? It's a continuation of the wrong kind of thinking where energy is concerned...Centralized production and distribution over a grid controlled by energy conglomerates. 

Half of the electricity produced in big facilities is lost before it gets to its end use point. What other countries have gone to is end point generation. Call it roof top solar. An efficient house can run quite well on 4 kilowatts of electricity. That takes a 240 square foot panel array (10 feet by 24 feet) which easily fits on most roofs. The excess is fed into the power grid and the power grid feeds the house in the traditional way when the sun isn't shining. A big solar farm means more power lines, more transformers, and more wasted electricity. 

So the purpose of the stimulus money is to generate dollar flow in our economy. Ask yourself is that purpose is best served by giving the money to a big corporation to build a generating plant so they can sell you electricity? Why wouldn't using the money to subsidize residential solar installations be the best of both worlds? Jobs would be created for installers and the suppliers of residential solar. The need for more giant powerlines would be averted. And frankly, a lot more electricity will be delivered to the end user with a decentralized generating array. 

We are seeing the bubbling to the surface of the struggle of big centralized power generating companies against residential wind and solar electricity generation. Remember in all this that efficiency, conservation, and protecting the environment are the enemy from the viewpoint of power companies. 

I'm with the enemy!




  1. Great point. This is a small step but I'm considering a passive solar water heater vs an "on demand" natural gas water heater soon. A generous stimulus for "doing" solar projects at your home or small business would be appealing to many. Public policy should favor it's citizens not the government. Such a program properly designed would reduce the demand on coal plants (emissions) one home and business at a time.

  2. I live in an historic county in Texas with some really nice rural architecture (south German rock farmhouses dating back to 1850) and a considerably more environmentally aware leadership and population than one associates with much of Texas. To our west -- well to our west -- are wonderful arrays of windmills which now, of course, generate power which must be connected to the big cities in the center and east of Texas. Along come the transmission lines, many of them mapped out to go through the "backyards" of people living in what is called (with a little exaggeration) "America's Tuscany." In other words, lovely landscape. West Texas is windy alright! But we get powerful winds too, as do the areas immediately to the west of Austin and San Antonio -- two cities which will benefit from those west Texas wind farms once the transmission lines virtually destroy our area.

    So why don't we all put in windmills locally? Well, San Antonio's western hills are too precious to developers, as are Austin's. How about east of those cities? Haven't heard anyone suggest locating wind farms there. I'm afraid the "change" we were hoping for -- a profound change in attitudes about energy, its production and transmission along with the scale of the grid -- ain't happening. Our local leadership (county and city) have no say in the matter.

    The next time I hear any of us wondering why so many people are so angry and feeling so disenfranchised (and are often almost catatonically libertarian!), I can cite a pretty good example of the misuse of political power by centralized government and its corporate partners right here in our own backyard.