What’s a sensible US strategy for climate change and peak oil?

climate changeIt does not have to be mysterious anymore what the US, and by implication, the world can do about climate change and peak oil. It is to deploy the appropriate amount of wind, solar, and electric transportation. With this strategy, we have the knobs for all the results we want: less and less carbon dioxide, and reduced need for oil. What more do we want?

Naturally, we must answer two key questions:

  1. How much would it cost?
  2. How do we deal with wind and solar intermittency?

It used to be that wind cost too much and solar cost way too much. Those days are gone. Now wind costs about the same as new coal plants (which is to say, as little as anything to make electricity), and solar costs (depending on local sunlight) only about half again more. (Of course, in less sunny places, solar prices go up significantly. This is why you hear so many different economic numbers quoted for solar. Small systems are also significantly more expensive than large ones, although most of this is the cost of middle-men and not hardware.)

Buying PV Without Getting Ripped Off

PV pricesThe second, and much improved, version of California’s experience with PV prices, Tracking the Sun II, has been released.

It is a huge step forward from the previous report, which seemed to treat CA as an island and ignored the much greater experience of the non-CA-dreaming world outside. This year there are special sections comparing CA with Europe. We are blessed!

However, the report is still out of date, since it ends in 2008 (with an unrevealing peek at 2009). As we know, prices for silicon modules have dropped like a stone, and very large quantities can be bought under $1.5/W.

Now what we can do from the CA report is actually estimate what we should be paying going forward without getting ripped off. The reason this is important is that most people will read the CA report without the knowledge of the staggering plunge in module prices and think we are still stuck at $8/W for residential systems (and similarly high prices for the commercial and big ground-mounted systems).

Getting Real on Wind and Solar

Getting Real on Wind and SolarPerhaps no recent article irritated me more and made me feel more vulnerable as a solar professional than James Schlesinger and Robert Hirsch’s Washington Post op-ed, “Getting Real on Wind and Solar” (April 24, 2009). The op-ed said we shouldn’t take solar and wind seriously, because they are unpredictable and cannot be turned on at will. There is a grain of truth to their statement. It is a serious criticism of wind and solar, and probably the most telling after the worst one – high cost. But I think it is because high cost is being overcome, especially in wind, that this next level of criticism is being raised. That’s progress.

I authored a response with Bundestag member Hans-Josef Fell, the co-author of the German feed-in tariff legislation (see Fell’s presentation at our kick-off symposium here). The Washington Post didn’t see fit to print it. Maybe they had not heard of the German feed-in tariff or its transformational importance to the global PV market.