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When Good is Bad

Man in Front of Solar Panels

Here we go again, justifying doing something bad to do something supposedly good.

I'm referring to the plans to scrape off hundreds of square miles of desert and other habitat areas to install solar collecting devices that convert direct solar light into electricity. This approach will also require that more plant and animal habitats to be damaged to construct and maintain transmission lines to deliver electricity produced by remote solar power plants to cities where most of it is needed.

Obviously, scraping off land to install renewable energy to electricity producing devices will hurt all the plants and animals on the land to be scraped off. It will also hurt animals that now use the land to find food, water and migration routes.

But don't we have to have remote solar to electricity sites to become renewably electricity self-sufficient in urban areas?

Absolutely not!!!

In fact, much of the United States can become renewable electricity self-sufficient, and do it in ways that are both cost-effective and life-support-system-effective. Because of laws like California's AB 117 (Community Choice Aggregation or CCA), it's legal too. AB 117 gives cities and counties in California the right to become CCA municipalities. This means that San Diego city or county can chose to become electricity supply and price secure by making their buildings and infrastructure more electricity use efficient and by installing PV panels on roofs and over parking lots.

Assuming 1,000 sq. ft. (92.5 sq. meters) of roof and parking lot per capita, San Diego County, where I live, can use free-market forces to cost-effectively become renewably electricity self-sufficient. This can be accomplished by increasing the County's electricity use efficiency by 40% and installing, commercially available 20% efficient PV panels over 13% of its roofs and parking lots, (shaded parking).

Other benefits of becoming renewable electricity self-sufficient in urban areas include:

+ Eliminating the need to scrape off habitat to accommodate remote direct solar installations and transmission lines to deliver the electricity they produce to urban areas. Land under buildings and parking is already disturbed and damaged plant and animal habitat. Installing efficiency improvements in building and PV panels on roofs and over parking lots eliminates the need to impact new land.

+ Being more electricity supply and price secure. The increase in electricity use efficiency and the electricity produced on local roofs and parking lots cannot be cut off by the failure of transmission lines from remote suppliers to urban areas. Increasing electricity use efficiency and installing PV panels on roofs and over parking lots would also make it difficult for acts of nature or accidents or intentional human acts to cause serious damage or disruption to a county's production, distribution and storage of renewably generated electricity.

+ Changing San Diego County's negative-electricity purchase cash-flow into a positive-electricity-purchase-cash-flow. Currently San Diego County exports one billion plus dollars each year to purchase imported electricity or imported natural gas or nuclear fuel to make electricity locally. If the County were renewable electricity self-sufficient today, all the money now exported to pay for imported electricity or fuels to produce it locally will be kept in the County's economy. Initially this money will be used to hire businesses and its employees to make the county more electricity use efficient and install PV panels on roofs and over parking lots.

Because the businesses and workers making the county more electricity use efficient and renewable electricity self-sufficient will employ local workers and businesses, much of the money they earn will be spent locally, helping everyone's bottom line. Assuming an economic multiplier benefit of two, a renewably electricity self-sufficient San Diego County would add around $3 billion of economic activity to the County's economy each year. This is assuming that electricity is 10 cents per kWh. If the cost of electricity on the Western States Electricity Grid Market is more than 10 cents per kWh, the positive-cash-flow and economic multiplier benefit of becoming renewable electricity self-sufficient in San Diego County will grow accordingly.

+ That local efficiency and PV installations do not require new power lines or existing power line enhancement. The electricity produced with PV on roofs and over parking lots is already grid connected. Excess electricity produced during peak PV output can be sold or traded for electricity through out the Western States Electricity Grid for times when local PV panels are not producing sufficient electricity to meet the county's electricity demand.

+ Eliminating the County's contribution to pollution, general life-support damage and to climate change related to its dependence on producing electricity using fossil and nuclear fuels. It also eliminates the life-support damage connected to producing and delivering remotely produced renewably generated electricity to urban areas.

+ Eliminating price shocks related to the rising cost of electricity; made with price uncertain non-renewable energy resources. Unlike fossil and nuclear fuels, renewable energy resources are free and even delivered free. We are still becoming more cost- effective at becoming more electricity use efficient and making and installing PV panels over roofs and parking lots.

+ Increasing local business and employment. Becoming renewable electricity self-sufficient in San Diego County will create over 400,000 job-years of direct and indirect employment.

+ Changing ratepayers into utility company owners. As owners, ratepayers can meet all their electricity needs. If they produce more than they need, they can sell excess production into the Western States Grid.

+ Fostering the potential for the cost of increasing electricity use efficiency and renewably generated electricity to become less expensive. The manufacture and installation of electricity use efficiency measures and renewable energy collection and conversion to electricity devices is still becoming less expensive and the energy to power them is free and even delivered free.

+ Serving as a free-market example of how communities, in general, can save money and the environment by becoming renewable electricity self-sufficient. With some modifications, this investment strategy can be used by many communities to become completely renewable energy, water and food self-sufficient.

+ Becoming more electricity use efficient and installing PV panels on roofs and over parking lots adds zero heat to the county's incident solar load. When electricity produced in the desert is used locally, it will add heat from the desert to the county's incident solar load. It's a small addition but now is not the time we need more heat.

Jim Bell's picture

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Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on April 22, 2014
How about dumping the wacky solar stuff and simply use the most cost effective power source. That would be natural gas.

PS Fail to see why a business that actually has to compete would go to the most heavily taxed state in the nation (that would be California).

Malcolm Rawlingson's picture
Malcolm Rawlingson on April 23, 2014
Sounds good Jim but I think you overlooked one small problem. The Sun does not shine at night - even in California. Last time I was in San Diego all the lights were shining brightly at 12 midnight. It seems to me that Californians do not like to live in the dark and presumably want to turn their light switches on after dark and get electricity to make the light for them.

So you can cover as many parking lots as you like the output is still zero when it is dark. It is also not so good when clouds or smog blot out the Sun which as I recall it does in LA.

As always the problem with solar and wind is that the capacity factor is awful which means you have to install proportionately more capacity in order to get the same number of megawatts. In the case of solar you need to do two things in addition to building capacity for daytime use. You need to install a storage facility to store the power produced during the day (or convince Californians to go to bed early as there will be no power) and you need to install additional capacity so that the storage facility can be charged during the day so it can be drawn on overnight.

I think you need to cover more than parking lots in solar panels to do that. You will need to cover a good portion of the State of California with them.

In theory - looks good. In practice - crazy - even in California.


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