Solar for “Everyman”

ECONOMYSometimes I am asked the number of jobs solar will produce, and people are often disappointed when I point out that solar PV can operate without on-site labor. It’s as if they equate adding extra useless jobs with being green. Of course, we are trying to minimize the jobs so we have economical solar electricity…BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT WILL HELP OUR ECONOMY, not the jobs watching solar panels in the desert.

Have people forgotten how painful it is to have a terrible balance of payments, with our money going to oil dictators who hate us? Now that’s what I call a loss of jobs. Solar is about not sending our jobs abroad. (Of course, I am assuming we have the sense to deploy electric cars to use solar to avoid imports.)

Similarly, if we don’t poison ourselves by burning coal, we’ll be better off. Isn’t this also economically of value?

You end up getting more jobs because we will be replacing our old energy infrastructure while it still works. That will be the extra jobs. It is like discovering you are using lead pipes and they are killing you – a lot of jobs are created when you replace them ASAP.

The way people think about solar is conditioned by the past, by the way we think of the competitive market, even the gadgets market.This is different. It’s societal. It’s like building roads and building codes. Different.

Let’s return to solar PV as the perfect investment. It’s not just the perfect investment, it’s the perfect one for “everyman.” It is our part, our payback, for being green. We can buy our solar electric generator and put it in our retirement account and get 5% return indefinitely. While we achieve our societal goals of energy independence and CO2 reduction.

We could do this right now if someone would organize a Master Limited Partnership around solar PV projects. At ten cents a kilowatt hour, we could make 5% on $3/W systems without even using the 30% investment tax credit or the accelerated depreciation tax break. After subtracting for O&M, we’d have about 15 c/yr revenue per watt installed, and for a $3/W system, that’s 5% return. Examples would be 20 MW systems located near transmission lines anyplace where the sunlight is over 2100 kWh/m2-yr – which is most of the Southwest, including California.

Don’t let Goldman Sachs take all our PV profit through monetizing the Federal tax credits. This is PV for everyman – without monetized tax credits and without government subsidy. Put it in your IRA and get 5% indefinitely. Being a long-lived asset, it will retain its value and may even rise as electricity prices do.

With this approach, PV is cost-effective in the US Southwest right now without subsidies. Mark your calendar!

Ken Zweibel