Fifty Years In

Like smartphones teach us to be dumb – to not know things, to not be able to find our way except by using the device – we are also learning how to forget the past. Or how to remember it inaccurately, disconnected from the forks in the road where our path darkened and we lost something irretrievable, something we did not make nor deserve but that came from us and birthed us, was us, the best and the worst, that pushed us in the right direction because we were scared to go on our own until we learned we could pull ourselves there if we could just join enough hands.
April 4, 1968, the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN, the alternately riotous and trippy sixties, the whole twentieth century, came crashing to a sudden end.
Now, 50 years into the 21st we wonder how long it’s going to last. This should not be our mindset; it wasn’t his. Is there an ideal that’s not an ideology? Is there optimism greater than hope?
Can we contemplate the breadth of shared possibility? How much justice will the market allow? The answers are not in your phone.

Criticizing the market

In a society wherein it is the final arbiter, is the market beyond criticism?

Is the very idea that an arbitrary arbitrage of value could be subject to notions of virtue, inspected for justice, honesty, moderation, only now a naive trifle? Question its wisdom and identify yourself as an unschooled radical. We know better, so we say little. Good sense about our prospects in the market gets the better of us and we ‘trim our sails’ and ‘keep our powder dry.’ But these are boats that won’t leave the harbor, stocked with guns that won’t fire. What if we are poised upon the very footbridge that people will one day look back to and identify as the last chance? How many more opportunities can wait? Upsells, upgrades, limited offers, monopolies on that perfect, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, bucket lists… the language of premium experience and exclusivity harkens, tugging at heartstrings, it is assumed, in crass attempts to woo because of course it would. Nothing shall be off limits. But the organs blacken. We feel it but do not fight back. It’s just the market – this is what it does – equanimous and unyielding. It is the only entity that will pursue its truth, and follow the trail wherever it goes. Its judgment is neutral, unbiased, equal opportunity, nonracial and irreligious. Abiding by its decisions relieves the burden to prove anything: the market has spoken. Slowly boiling amphibians may at least have the semblance of regret.

This is the saddest article I’ve read in quite sometime, and extremely well-reported. Right-to-work. The American South is Seoul’s Mexico.

Image: Market Place II by Charles Nkomo

Back At The Front, The Next Generation

NRG freedomI think if I was setting a new story in Florida, inventing a needlessly fictional version of Florida Man, he would work in a [solar-powered] cabinet pull plant in Even, Florida:

So did the legislators underestimate the popularity of Amendment 4? Did they think they’d assuage public opinion by putting it on the ballot, getting points, and then it wouldn’t pass? Or have the green energy entrepreneurs begun out-lobbying the utilities and Big Oil? Whatever it is, something big has changed. That Amendment 4 was put before the public at all, and that the public trounced the lobbyists, announces a sea change in which sordid deals in back rooms by the Carbon Moguls with fresh-facced and clueless state senators are no longer determinative. The people are getting a say, and they want to make it easier and cheaper to go solar.
The next big item on which voters will get a say is Amendment 1, this fall. It seeks to punish those who opt for solar power on the specious argument that non-solar customers shouldn’t have to bear the burden of upgrading the electricity grid or other infrastructural changes that will come with the extra solar energy.

Who knows? Maybe it’s a bit different with that rising tide gently lapping at your chamber door.

Image: I can’t believe that image actually exists.

Too Solar to Fail

Following on the news that Paris is spending €1bn to revamp/fix/heal Les Halles comes more news that the City Of Light is getting even more serious about where that light gets it power:

paris

The French government plans to pave 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of its roads with solar panels in the next five years, which will supply power to millions of people.

“The maximum effect of the program, if successful, could be to furnish 5 million people with electricity, or about 8 percent of the French population,” Ségolène Royal, France’s minister of ecology and energy, said according to Global Construction Review.

La route photovoltaïque indeed. 14 feet of solarized roadway would be enough to supply the electrical needs of one household. Way to go, Republique Francaise. Here,  take this road.

Operation Free

lavender_windmillIt’s the best use of either word I’ve seen or heard in a while:

Ohio’s clean energy law has come under attack by a lawmaker affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the group funded by fossil fuel companies, corporate interests and the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers — but local vets are taking a stand.

Despite failing in its previous effort to repeal any state renewable energy standards, ALEC convened for its 40th annual meeting in late July and leaked documents show the organization has no intention of backing down from its attacks on popular clean energy laws.

But in Ohio, a group of 2,000 veterans, military family members and supporters is pushing back against Seitz’s effort and other bills aimed at weakening Ohio’s renewable energy standard. Zach Roberts, a National Guard veteran and the Ohio director of Operation Free, a national campaign that gathers veterans and national security experts to advocate for clean energy policies, told Climate Progress that S.B. 58 would, “radically change the state’s clean energy standard,” and it ultimately “weakens Ohio’s energy security.”

The law in question, passed in 2008, requires Ohio to generate 25% of its electrical supply through alternative energy sources by 2025. Half of that must be from renewables and 0.5 percent specifically from solar. Is that too much? What are goals, enforced by law in this case, designed to achieve? A perfunctory ratio would have been 5%; a quarter is going to cause some pain but show people (and companies) how to move forward. Freedom, indeedom.

Image: Author photo, not from Ohio but just a bit east of that.

Solar power becoming cheaper than ______

So what does it mean when solar power generation starts to become cheaper than fossil fuel power? Via, Juan Cole, looks like we’re about to find out:

In a note this week in advance of the disruption report, Citi’s Jason Channell said that in many cases, renewables are already at cost parity with established forms of electricity sources.

The biggest surprise in recent years has been the speed at which the price of solar panels has reduced, resulting in cost parity being achieved in certain areas much more quickly than was ever expected; the key point about the future is that these fast ‘learning rates’ are likely to continue, meaning that the technology just keeps getting cheaper.

Below is a chart showing where “socket” or grid parity has already been achieved. (Grid parity is when a source of power becomes cost competitive with other sources.) The lines represent the pattern of expanding solar power in a given year — so at peak solar exposure, parts of the southwest U.S. are now already capable of meeting their electricity needs via solar panels.

Check out the graphs at both of those links. Cole also notes that important new research shows that hybrid power plants that have both solar and wind turbines dramatically increase efficiency and help with integration into the electrical grid. So while TV viewers have been distracted by herrings like Solyndra, utilities and leaders in other countries have been racing this technology to market. This is the dull edge of being led by a media-politico complex beholden to corporate paymasters, of having a nation that thinks of themselves as consumers instead of citizens. We have debates on the causes of global warming that are completely beside the point. Our giant corporations aren’t even acting like good capitalists, but rather fearful protectors of dying industries – maybe that’s the same thing. But they’re perfectly willing to string along as much of the public as possible for as long as they can, by sowing as much doubt as is possible about changing the ways we light up the night, drive to the store and cool our heels. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world: lower bills, lower carbon emissions, now types of manufacturing and careers… But not here – not just yet. And all just to wring every last bit out of the old ways of doing business. It’s beyond pathetic.

But this is what we have handed over to America, Inc. This is their leadership, and instead of innovation, we will begin to are hearing about how we need to protect fossil utilities when demand from their product collapses. Not kidding. They see renewable energy as a threat. so as this happens, the expected reaction of the fossil power industry resembles some version of the 5 stages of mourning.

So can we get on with the anger and bargaining, please?

The wind in your heir

800px-US_wind_power_map

Via Juan Cole, the budget deal from yesterday also included re-upping the tax credit for wind power:

The tax credit, which has been a major driver for wind development across the U.S. over the past two decades, is worth 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of energy produced by new wind installations for their first 10 years of operation.

A White House news release confirmed that the production tax credit extension is included in the Senate package that the House also passed. According to industry insiders, it would allow any project that begins construction in 2013 to claim the credit, even if it goes online in 2014. The tax credit that expired on Monday could only be claimed for projects that went online in 2012.

“Just simply, 30 percent of the value of a project is derived from the tax credit,” said Florian Zerhusen, CEO of WKN USA, a San Diego-based wind developer who flipped the switch on two new 3-megawatt turbines in the San Gorgonio Pass on Dec. 21, just days before the credit expired on Monday.

The nascent wind industry needs this, and so do we. If you want to get nationalistic about it, other countries like Germany are eating our lunch and sending us the bill on renewables. Maybe a little healthy competition among advanced nations is good – if we would just choose to act like one. It’s a new year so let’s get with it, and not just on wind. Check out that map. There’s no wind in the South, sure. But there’s a lot of sun, even today.

Image: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Gravity Dam

One of the world’s largest renewable energy projects, largest project’s period, was constructed in the 1930’s. The Grand Coulee Dam.

Not without controversy, it was also the beneficiary of some terrific luck when, with the attack on Pearl Harbor and outbreak of WWII, President Roosevelt and other supporters looked like geniuses for having had the foresight to push through such a crazy-expensive project. Hydro-electric power from the dam made possible the building of planes by Boeing and ships in Portland, not to mention the transformations of Seattle and Portland from outposts into major Northwestern cities.

This, really well-done, documentary tells a lot of the story, including choice bits about Woody Guthrie being paid to come up with promotional tunes for public energy (!) [who has that gig now?] and environmental consequences like the interruption of salmon runs on the Columbia River, the restoration of which have been probably more feel good and window dressing for preserving regional identity than anything. Anyway, recommended.

Turning off the Lights

One of the hotels I was in last week reminded me of this:

When Antoine goes down to take out the garbage before bed (at around 18:44), the lights turn off on him while he’d dumping the pail. He clicks it back on. This used to be the norm all over Europe, to cutdown on postwar energy consumption

One of the hotels I stayed in Italy last week had a version of this, where the lights were on a timer and if they turned off before you got to your room, you had to feel around for the switch. Another nicer one had a better system, where the hall lights clicked off then a motion sensor turned them back on if there was anyone in the hallway. This system had been updated with a Fob entry system, which you then (without instructions, must be in wide use) had to insert into a slot inside the room to make the lights work. Guests have to take the Fob with then when they leave the room, thus insuring no lights can ever be left on when the room unoccupied. Italy is so backward.

We already know a ton of ways to save energy. Though of course, instead of these methods, we need an app.