Toby Barlow on Sun, 24 Feb 2002 20:15:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] responding to concerns on solar infrastructure

I think your questions are interesting.  But the
question I have is a fundamental one. As opposed to
the situation 30 years ago, solar is now a mature
technology, costs being reduced dramatically in the
last 15 years while efficiencies have improved. But it
has an immature manufacturing and marketing base, so
how do we solve for that? 

And in those 30 years the debate may not have changed
much, but the players have. Nuclear was a much
stronger option 30 years ago, until safety issues,
public protest, and, finally, Three Mile Island got in
the way. It is beginning to re-emerge as an option
now, especially as proponents describe it as "clean"
i.e. no greenhouse gasses, but with it identified as
an actual terrorist target, the national security
issues and related insurance costs will probably keep
it from being the big winner. 

On the other hand, a strong new case for solar at home
can now be made, insofar as homeland security begins
with homegrown energy. (note: why hasn't anyone
pointed out that George Bush's Axis of Evil somehow
conveniently left out Saudi Arabia, where the majority
of the hijackers actually came from? We do so love our
energy supply.)  

And increased exploration, though it might please the
Teamsters and the Alaskan electorate, doesn't begin to
address our energy supply needs, not to mention the
fact that it adds insult to the injury of our Kyoto

Finally, the highly touted fuel cells, which are far
from a mature technology, may ultimately serve as
another portion of our energy portfolio. The important
thing is (a) diversification of said portfolio and (b)
finding ways to make solar to play a increased role.
Solar bonds could do just that.

While weather patterns may change, a sudden influx of
cloudy days, even if it's thirty percent more, would
still leave you with ten or so free years of energy.
If it's more than thirty percent, than we have much
bigger problems than the source of our electricity.
As for the solar panels adding to climate change -
given the current state of the industry,if solar
permeated so many rooftops that it was an issue even
within the next twenty five years, I would be
surprised. But more to the point, if you are putting
solar panels on rooftops that are already black with
tar, which most industrial roof space is, there is no
additional warming. And finally, just as wind turbines
have been technologically improved to avoid pureeing
local fowl, so too could improvements be made for
solar to protect the environment, if they were ever
deemed necessary. 

While long range forecasting is important, I think,
fundamentally, we have to find creative ways to put
options like solar forward, or else the massive
climate change you speak of is a foregone conclusion.
At least it looks that way from here.

One final question for nettime users, are there any
fundamental links with Japanese or German renweable
energy intellectuals and activists? Is there a
newsgroup of such marvelous beings? Since those
countries have the most comprehensive solar market
(again, largely state supported but, with companies
like Sharp expanding their solar production into the
U.S. which leads to the question, when have the
Japanese and Germans backed a technological bad idea
in the last 30 years?) a internet network of
interested parties could learn a lot.

Thanks. Toby.

--- bc <> wrote:
> > [have not checked out the websites mentioned
> in your post on voting for solar (bonds), but i
> had a thought or two that was newly formed,
> given the change from the solar economy and
> the rhetoric roughly 30 years old now, with
> books and books about solar, much research,
> and still, as you mention, a mixed-energy-use
> issue. here is the conundrum i see in 2002...
> > with global warming, or chaotic changes in the
> weather, say; the statistics which planners and
> architects use to calculate wind speeds (for the
> lower limit needed for profitable wind farms of
> which California and Minnesota both have good
> spaces for megawatt generation facilities), and
> also with sun-hours and partly-sunny and also
> cloudy-days, and their percentages to gauge at
> what level the solar needs to be implemented to
> make that magical pure-profit payback after so
> may years, viable in some places, where the
> weather patterns are studied, known, and are
> not rapidly shifting, then returns can be seen as
> they were 30 years ago, prior to the real-life
> silent springsummerwinterfall that is now going
> on and about, el nino redux, 250 million chaos-
> theory butterflies deaddropping in .mx foretells
> patterns that may not be traditionally
> predictable.
> > meaning that with solar, say, if in the US, that
> as San Francisco goes guts out, berzerkely-like,
> and uses that ingenious solar roofing ontop of the
> industrial factory tar roofs, basically making a
> big energy shield/field, to harvest- and, if two
> things, either of which were to happen, what the
> effect would be on a massive rollout of solar, or
> preferably 'energy bonds', for the multipurpose
> agenda of energy as a future economic foundation,
> electrons equaling euros, as Enron was trading to
> do, making energy the 'e' in e-commerce, into
> coin.
> > what if california/SF has a ton of rain again in a
> cycle of el Nino, and there are more and more and
> more (statistically) cloudy days than solar would
> generate on a prerated basis for building such new
> systems, as a result of chaotic weather systems
> and new patterns. that is question 1. question 2
> is
> to what effect, benign as solar power en masse is
> not, would large amounts of solar panels in a
> land-
> scape have on the environment, just curious, as it
> has elements of the urban heat-island effect often
> found in cities with lots of tall buildinds and
> concrete
> and reflective materials. is it possible that
> solar in
> some cases might encourage weather instability by
> its deployment in large numbers, just as windmills
> can churn up birds in good numbers given a chance.
> > so too, for another example, in the Midwest USA,
> it has been stated that the weather of the South,
> desert really, texas-style, could move northward
> and the south could become more tropical. given
> the
> givens about winters with no snow, rains with no
> end, barometeric pressure acrobatics enough to
> make
> the heartiest fall over with a side-ache from
> pains,
> might the major weather patterns be, sad to even
> imagine saying this, but, difficult to roll-out
> large-
> scale changed energy in chaotic systems, that is a
> large-scale investment that does _not pay off, as
> it
> would more likely do if the weather was more of
> more
> of a predictable nature? it seems that the
> weather, as
> it is a part of the sustainable energy equation,
> and if
> it is to be a grass roots effort, to buy into new
> energy,
> better systems, all around- that to make it pay,
> one
> has to know what even the experts do not today-
> and
> that is the patterns of weather to an extent that
> rain,
> water, wind, are predictable in certain climates.
> > in contrast to this, it is probably possible to do
> small
> scale systems, with traditional readings of
> weather
> patterns. but longer term, it is hard to imagine
> that
> the way things are going, that 15 years from now
> the
> weather will be the same as today, when it is
> already
> chaotic and unpredictable by a day (prior to 3-5
> day
> forecasts with some accuracy). also, i imagine
> large
> scale investments (.gov, .industry, .int) would be
> able
> to invest in large scale (not the small
> decentralized
> systems that would be able to make payback with
> some
> high level of shareholder/banking certainty. every
> watt
> in the system is in check, 24 hours a day, and it
> can be
> costly if one system is not working as planned, as
> the
> other less-optimal one may cost more to run as a
> primary
> system. which is not an ideal way of seeing this
> goal of
> investment, which is well worthwhile. but
> economically,
> selling solar or alternative energy seems much
> more of
> a difficulty than it did 20 years ago, for larger
> scales.]
> > any comments on these energy-economics are
> appreciated.
> > bc
> public energy network

Toby Barlow
250 Texas St. SF CA 94107
(415) 385-6679 cell
(415) 863-4069 home
(415) 733-0783 work

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