Playing With Fire (image by charles chan, CC 2.0 license)
An article in Sunday's Science Daily reports on research showing that more than half of the Earth's warming since the dawn of the industrial age is due to the heat released from our energy use, not atmospheric warming due to the greenhouse effect.
While the greenhouse effect is still a significant contributor - and will become more so as GHG levels in the atmosphere rise - simply the heat released when burning fuels is also being stored in the atmosphere, as well as in the earth, sea, and arctic ice.
Mount Hood, Oregon (image by Tony the Misfit, CC 2.0 licensed)
The New York Times on Sunday reported about Solar World's new solar panel plant in Oregon. The Germany company is making a big ($300 million) bet that the United States is the place to be if you are a solar panel manufacturer.
The message for solar companies, Mr. Pichel says, is “get your butt over to the U.S. if you want to participate and get some of that stimulus package money.”
Fool's Gold (image by Clearly Ambiguous, CC 2.0 licensed)
Interesting note flying around the blogosphere yesterday (see here, here, and here, amongst many websites featuring the news) about a research project done at Berkeley. It found that, based on material cost and availability, solar photovoltaics made with iron pyrites (aka Fool's Gold) are more likely to solve our energy crisis than PV made with silicon or CIGS thinfilms. This is due to both the cost of the raw materials and their availability - both crystalline silicon and the CIGS precursors are relatively expensive and relatively rare. Iron pyrite and its precursors are among the most common elements on earth, in contrast.
Yesterday the New York Times published an interview (including some of the original audio) with our new Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. Among other comments, he said that to address the climate emergency, we need "Nobel-level breakthroughs" in several key areas - batteries, biofuels, and solar photovoltaics." As an illustration, he pointed out:
The photovoltaics we have today, ... without subsidy, and without even the additional cost of storage, it's about a factor of five higher than electricity generation by gas or coal. Suppose someone comes along and invents a way of getting ... solar photovoltaics at one fifth the cost, so you don't even think about subsidies anymore. You just slap it everywhere... That, in my opinion, would take something, which I would say, is a bit of a breakthrough."
Money ('El Altimo de los Mohicanos' - photo by wakalani, CC 2.0 licensed)
One of the biggest problems for residential solar electricity generation is that it just costs too darn much to install those panels on your roof. Over the next five and ten years this will change significantly as new developments from the labs make it into large-scale production. Eventually houses will be generating all their own electricity using photovoltaics as a matter of course.
But is there a way to think about the cost today that makes the cost even seem reasonable?
The Cannon Beach house, built by Nathan Good, architect, and Rich Elstrom Construction. I saw this house first in Fine Homebuilding special edition on green housing. Fine Homebuilding, and the Taunton site in general, has a huge amount of information on green building.
Snow on the San Gabriel Mountains (photo by Jerry Thompson1, CC 2.0 license)
On December 30 of last year (six days ago), my wife and I were in Pasadena, CA visiting the Greene and Greene exhibit at the Huntington Library. It was one of those glorious and rare smog-free days in the LA basin. The air sparkled, you could see for miles in every direction, and mountain range after mountain range was visible - all the way out to the snow-covered San Gabriels. Nowadays, the air is only ever this clear around the Christmas holiday, when the freeway traffic is substantially reduced and a lot of factories shut down for the week. It got me thinking about how the future - say ten to twenty years hence - may be unrecognizable in both dramatic and mundane ways. For example, smog-free days may no longer be rare in LA, once the economy has shifted off fossil fuels. (I suspect the traffic will remain, unfortunately!)
In an October article Will Demand for Solar Homes Pick Up? Business Week reporter Adam Aston discovers that houses with built in solar energy collectors are bucking the general downward trend in the market.
Consumers recognize that green homes "save money month in, month out," says Rick Andreen, president of Shea Homes Active Lifestyles Communities in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Rhone Resch of the Solar Energy Industries Association first told the story of getting the investment tax credit for solar renewed - 17 failed votes before it finally passed with the Paulson Bailout bill. He then outlined the benefits to the solar industry of the ITC - stability for solar energy businesses, creation of thousands of new business opportunities due to the remove of the residential solar cap, and a return to leadership of the US in solar. "Solar energy is going to create 440k new jobs, 1.2 million new solar installations, and 28 gigawatts of new capacity - enough to power seven million homes throughout the U.S."