The Solar Revolution and the End of Big Energy

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Is Big Government
necessary for Big Energy? The zealots of Big Energy claim that if
we wish to keep the lights from going out, we must accept mammoth
public utilities
, mandatory
conservation measures
, and even imperialist
military conflicts
. We are told that to receive more electrical
power, we must surrender more personal freedom.

Contrary to
the politicians, however, the reality is that we are in the midst
of a Solar
Revolution
, in which the free market is answering our energy
needs through technological improvements in photovoltaic
solar panels. With investments made on a local and household basis,
solar panels offer a personalized form of energy that is independent
of Big Government.

Yet the ideologues
of Big Energy won’t give up, and are fighting against the Solar
Revolution by resorting to demagogic propaganda. One of their most
common lies, for example, is that sunlight is "too
dilute
" — implying that even if we covered the entire Earth
with solar panels we would still not capture enough sunlight to
power our civilization. But let’s run the numbers, shall we?

At present
photoelectric conversion efficiency and under typical seasonal cycles
and weather, a solar panel one square meter in area produces about
.5 kilowatt-hours
of energy per day. Since a barrel of oil contains 1700
kilowatt-hours
of energy, it would take 3400 square meters of
solar panels to produce the equivalent energy of a barrel of oil
per day. The equivalent energy of projected world oil consumption
in the year 2030 — 120
million barrels
per day — could therefore be met by 400,000
square kilometers of solar panels (=120 million barrels x 3400 sq.
meters/barrel). That’s only 0.3% of the world’s
land area
!

So much for
the nightmare of a world covered with solar panels. Now back to
the reality of a world covered with fossil fumes.

After the "diluteness"
argument, the most disingenuous assertion against solar power is
that it is too expensive to replace conventional energy sources.
This once was true and might have remained true for some time, but
the Big Energy zealots themselves have brought us to a tipping point
through their own heavy-handed government intervention, the Iraq
War.

To see this,
let’s compare sunlight with oil — and add the cost of war.

Currently,
Iraqi oil fields produce 2.2
million barrels
a day. To match this output with sunlight, we
would need 7500 square kilometers of solar panels (= 2.2 million
barrels x 3400 sq. meters/barrel). At a market price of $600
per square meter
, the total cost of replacing Iraqi oil-produced
energy with sunlight would be $4.5 trillion — approximately $410
million a day when amortized over a thirty year hardware lifetime.
The equivalent cost in terms of oil-derived energy would then be
$190 per barrel.

Expensive,
yes, but the official cost of occupying Iraq is $400
million a day
, which means that we are already paying a "war
subsidy" of $180 a barrel for Iraqi oil!

Moreover,
while rooftop solar energy flows directly into our homes, consumers
of oil energy also pay the market price. Add the war subsidy ($180/barrel)
to the market price
(+$100/barrel), and the total cost for "War Oil" is more
than $280 a barrel. Most people are oblivious to the true cost of
War Oil because it is being inflicted upon the entire economy via
the inflationary agency of federal budget deficits, but if the Iraqi
misadventure was financed instead by a direct "War
Tax
" on consumer heating and power bills, solar panels
might soon be ubiquitous upon the roofs of American homes.

Technological
improvements are strengthening the Case for Solar. This year alone,
the cost of manufacturing solar electric panels could decline two-fold,
and oil will have to sell for under $100 a barrel to remain competitive.
It was always immoral to pretend that "our" oil was under
"their" land, but it is already not worth the effort of
going to war over it, and soon it may not be worth the effort of
pumping it.

While warriors
and politicians have failed to deliver a secure source of cheap
energy, scientists and business people have been doubling
solar energy production every two years
. That our politicians
remain mired in the energy technology of the nineteenth century
has nothing to do with the diluteness of sunlight, or its relative
cost. Instead, they seem so enamored of the political power that
comes with the ideology of Big Energy that they would destroy the
economy in the name of saving it.

Fortunately,
the Solar Revolution has too much momentum to be stopped by any
government, even a superpower. Our personal liberation from the
tyranny of Big Energy is coming one roof at a time, and no army
can stop it.

April
30, 2008

Joe
Schembrie [send him mail]
is a writer who lives in Bellevue, Washington.

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