• 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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