Leszi on Tue, 26 Feb 2002 11:41:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Re: solar infrastructure

Solar is a mature technology
> >with an immature manufacturing and marketing base, so
> >how do you change that?

I have a thought or two to offer on this.

I think the recent unpleasantness in California made it clear that people
and businesses cannot rely on the utilities to supply steady power at a
steady price.  I think this is a direct result of electricity becoming a
publicly traded commodity.  The whole point of a publicly traded commodity
is to have a cyclical rise and fall in prices so that speculators can make
money.  As the Ken Lays and George Bushs of the world to demonstrate their
manifest incompetence to deliver a smooth supply of power, the cost
differential of alternative power gets narrower and narrower.

When people say that solar power costs too much, they are usually thinking
of a centralised power generation system, a huge and inefficient grid, and
then suburban homes running two 200 amp boxes so they can run the three
microwaves, the heat pump, and the jaccuzzi all at once.  No.  Solar
electric power is not going to keep up with conspicuous consumption like
that.  No other power source is going to do that either, in the long run,
without dire consequences.  Frankly I don't wish it would.

The big promise of nuclear energy used to be unlimited cheap clean power.
It has never delivered on this promise.  It relies on limited resources
controlled by hostile countries, just like fossil fuels but more exotic.  It
produces small amounts of acutely toxic and corrosive waste, rather than
large amounts of stuff that does not actually kill you right away, and its
claim to be 'cheap' has always relied on government subsidies and in the US
on the Price Anderson Act virtually exempting the industry from liability in
the event of any kind of nuclear mishap.  On the down side, nuclear
proliferation in poorer countries can be traced directly back to the
commercial nuclear power business and its enthusiasm to build plants all
over the world, producing plutonium as a by-product.

The big promise of the Sun is that it's _there_ and will continue to be
_there_ for as long as we are, and that if we can build the infrastructure
to catch it, the power itself will be free for the taking.

Also, particularly in rural situations, the cost is comparable between
energy independence and cutting a power line  through your property to
connect to the unreliable grid.  Of course, homemade power requires care and
attention, some knowledge, and a commitment up front to keep one's need for
electricity in line with what one can get.



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