Comments on: Counterparties A slice of lime in the soda Sun, 26 Oct 2014 19:05:02 +0000 hourly 1 By: TFF Mon, 24 Jan 2011 22:28:04 +0000 Solar is one of the most promising technologies precisely because it does NOT need to be massively scaled. Put PV panels on enough roofs and you meet a few percent of our energy needs without adding to the transmission burden or building any new plants.

I also like the concept of natural gas fed fuel cell cogeneration systems for much the same reason. They have the potential for highly efficient energy conversion without adding power lines.

Is surely easier to build into new construction than to retrofit on a 100+ year old house, however.

By: y2kurtus Mon, 24 Jan 2011 21:10:54 +0000 “I would rather have noise than acid rain, mercury in my rivers and lakes”

Amen to that. Every form of energy has enviromental impacts and costs. While wind and solar are more costly than coal, I’d rather pay more for my power and leave a cleaner planet for my kids… that we can agree on KenG_CA

By: Curmudgeon Mon, 24 Jan 2011 18:50:03 +0000 @y2kurtus – I love the majestic views of the Coachella Valley windfarm coming through the pass on I-10 from LA. Wind is a great resource, but the late Ted Kennedy killed the Cape Cod Wind Farm (my neck of the woods) for many years until he passed away, simply because he didn’t want the windmills cluttering his view from Hyannis. I think too many people don’t see the stark beauty in them.

By: KenG_CA Mon, 24 Jan 2011 17:37:29 +0000 @LadyG, Sure, if you started the clock in the 70s, then, yeah, the renewable technologies have already taken too long. But you were using Khosla as a reference, and he didn’t invest in clean energy (nor believe in it) until the middle of the last decade. The arguments in the 70s for renewable energy weren’t about jobs, while it was definitely one of the selling points in the past five years.

The Chinese are selling solar panels for $1/watt, which is pretty cheap (and the reason why manufacturing solar panels in the US can not create jobs – we can’t compete on that price). You cannot pay for a gas or coal fired plant, and the fuel it requires for less than that.

A viable wind energy system in the US requires investment in a modern (late 20th century) grid, as we need an efficient means to distribute power (the best wind is where people don’t live). Insuring a continuous supply of carbon fuels also requires continuous investment in developing the sources, building transportation channels from those new locations, and then dealing with the by-products. This ignores the externalized costs of destroying natural resources that don’t have a well-paid lobby to protect.

The best thing the federal government could do for clean energy is to eliminate indirect subsidies for the carbon industries, and let those prices rise. If mountain top removal coal extraction wasn’t allowed, the price of coal would also increase. The destruction that process causes to water and land resources that don’t belong to the mining companies is never included as part of the cost, and should be.

I’m not claiming that clean energy is our job salvation, but that it will lead to the creation of new jobs, and displace some that are lost. The US has a standard of living that makes building anything here in high volume economically unviable. This means we need to constantly create new industries to replace the ones that migrate to countries with lower standards of living. We missed that window for building solar panels, but there is still a huge opportunity for other energy technology, as there will always be room for improvement. Unlike the technology industry, where companies usually have products in development that will obsolete the ones they just introduced, the energy industry has no competition based on delivering a better product. That industry relies on locking in customers to the same product, and blocking the development of competition. The oil industry was behind the demonization of biofuels, as they did such a masterful job of making ethanol the villain in the recent food shortage (there were so many other factors), that the environmentalists forgot that producing and burning ethanol is still far less toxic to the planet than extracting, transporting, refining, and burning oil, and took up the anti-biofuels battle themselves (fyi, one of the biggest investors in ethanol was Khosla).

@y2kurtus, ok, fair enough, not enough solar plants in operation to draw an accurate conclusion, but if they aren’t built, you will never be able to make a determination based on actual operations. I think they are close enough to justify building more.

The cost of building a wind farm is viable in many locations, but not everywhere, and it’s not 5x coal. The biggest problem, which I alluded to earlier, is that the best places for wind farms is far from where the electricity is consumed. However, if you factor in the externalized costs of extracting and burning coal and gas, wind and a new grid (which we need anyway) is cheaper.

Solar PV is not 10x the cost of coal in the southwest deserts. I’m not suggesting putting solar or wind anywhere, just where it makes sense. Which is why we need an upgrade to the grid. It’s an investment that will pay dividends to the entire nation over the next three decades, if not more.

I don’t understand the objection to wind turbines. I think they are works of art, and better looking than the giant transmission towers and lines that people accept without complaint. I guess they might be noisy, but I would rather have noise than acid rain, mercury in my rivers and lakes, and coal dust covering my home. And I don’t even have to mention the chaotic climate that many people refuse to accept is related to burning carbon fuels.

By: y2kurtus Mon, 24 Jan 2011 16:36:34 +0000 “thermal solar and wind are already at parity with gas and coal, and PV solar is just about there.)”

Utterly laughable… wind done very very well is 2-3x the cost of gas and 5x the cost of Coal (unless you are adding a cost for carbon which is currently unpriced in the US.)

Solar thermal is a great technology and I see it doing great things in the next 10 years but it’s a MINIMUM of 5X the cost of coal. There are so few plants up and running that it’s hard to even get average prices because there aren’t enough datapoints to average.

Solar PV STARTS at 10x the price of coal fired power, I have no idea why you would want centralized generation from PV. The only place it makes any financial sence is where the transmission grid is fully saturated and putting it on rooftops will prevent the need for new powerplants and transmission lines.

I’m a huge beliver of and proponent for greener power, I agree that it is the only way forward. To say that they have reached price parody today is simply untrue… wind is the closest. We should be putting up wind turbines as fast as we can build them. I can tell you in my state they are not too popular with the locals though. If they are on your property you love them because you get big lease payments from the utility. If they are on your neighboors property you hate them because you get nothing and you still have to look at them. I think they are beautiful myself, but I’m in the minority on that view.

By: LadyGodiva Mon, 24 Jan 2011 16:30:54 +0000 Ken_G,
It all depends on when you start the clock, I suppose. Solar has been grinding away for decades with no “breakthrough” that would help it break even. Wind is doing better, but until you can store the energy generated you are just spinning your pinwheels.

As for your argument that fossil fuel is only successful because it receives “constant political support,” I would say the political support is needed for sourcing and keeping the competition under wraps. But the bottom line is that carbon based fuels are cost effective, whereas nothing else is.

As Chris Rock puts it, “Nobody has to sell drugs, drugs sell themselves.” Similarly, nobody has to sell carbon, it sells itself.

I will concede that a federal support system could be effective for promoting clean tech, most effectively in partnership with private engineering/VC firms like Khosla’s. Private groups might receive a share of profits if they put up some capital; they would offer critical market-driven corrective to the highly politicized start up field.

As it stands, however, states and feds dish out money almost haphazardly to those who are connected and bray the loudest. There is no system to speak of. And every prominent failure sours the public on ALL subsidies for clean tech.

I guess you’d have to say I am in the sypathetic-neutral camp on public support for clean tech right now. You’ll have to do more to convince me, but it is doable.

By: KenG_CA Mon, 24 Jan 2011 15:23:42 +0000 LadyGodiva, solar and wind scale, but you haven’t given them 7 years (thermal solar and wind are already at parity with gas and coal, and PV solar is just about there). Also, I haven’t noticed that Khosla has closed his cleantech fund (nor has he been much better than environmentalists at picking answers) and given back money, so maybe he hasn’t changed his tune on it as much as you think.

It took about 15 years for the Internet to create any significant number of jobs, but when it did start, well, you can see the rest. There is a lot of inertia to overcome from incumbent energy industries, whose indirect subsidies are formidable. There hasn’t been seven years of significant subsidies or even major investment in cleantech yet (and let’s not give these statemtnets by Khosla the same weight as Moore’s law, which was proven), so maybe you’re a little premature in declaring failure.

No technology will stay deployed for over a century without constant political support, and that is what the fossil fuel industries have been most adept at securing year after year. At some point, bribery, I mean lobbying, won’t be enough to suppress clearly superior solutions. Like I said above, you need patience.

By: LadyGodiva Mon, 24 Jan 2011 14:57:58 +0000 Anyone interested in clean tech should read the interview with Vinod Khosla in January’s Scientific American (unfortunately, behind a pay wall). He is a leading VC in the field and a scientist himself. Let me distill some of his insights:

1) if it doesn’t scale, it doesn’t matter
2) radical innovation, not incremental improvement, is the key
3) if a technology can’t be weaned off subsidies in 7 years, it will never fly
4) “One of the problems is that environmentalists have been very, very good about identifying the problems we need to solve. They have been horrible at picking the answers.”

Ken_G, you have to understand that defending Greentech in the face of evidence that is failing (failing to provide sustainable technologies, failing to provide jobs) won’t get you very far. We’ve been overpromised and the backlash is now coming.

Khosla’s vision for market- and science-driven tech is the only way forward.

By: KenG_CA Sun, 23 Jan 2011 23:47:39 +0000 Thanks for the link, Curmudgeon. It was entertaining, and it is difficult to build green, but that’s whay it will create new jobs – there’s a lot of new technology that needs to be disseminated to the masses (and their contractors). Nobody said it would be easy, just worthwhile.

By: Curmudgeon Sun, 23 Jan 2011 18:48:12 +0000 Ken, you might like this WSJ article, by Scott Adams, on trying to build the greenest house on the block. It’s humorous, and describes just how difficult it is to build green: 052748704868604575433620189923744.html?K EYWORDS=Scott+Adams