Friday, August 21, 2015

$1 Per Watt And Other Things I Don't Understand

I don't know squat about the logistics and prices of energy. I've got to study up on this stuff. Like when people talking about solar panels costing $1 per watt -- do they mean $1 gets you 1 watt all year round? And wouldn't the wattage completely depend on how sunny it is where the panel is installed? And how many watts does an average home run on? Good question. And how much does gas or electric from a utility cost per watt?

Another thing I don't know is who's telling the truth about such things and who's lying and who thinks they're telling the truth but is wrong. What I've heard is things like: people are getting solar panels on the roofs of their houses and it's costing them


because they pay no money down, and their savings on electricity are more than the monthly payments on the installation. And of course, once those payments are all made -- this is what I'm hearing -- people are left paying nothing to their utilities, and selling their left-over electricity to the utilities for over $200 a month.

I don't know what to believe. I mean, I'm sure that some people who get an exceptional amount on sunlight on their panels and are exceptionally frugal in their electrical usage are making money by having solar panels on the roofs of their homes. What I don't know is how many people could be in that position right now. What seems fairly clear is that the prices of solar panels, installation and maintenance are plummeting, while the efficiency of photovoltaic systems -- the amount of wattage generated by a square whatever of solar panel in a given climate -- is soaring, so that the number of people who can cover all their power needs and then some with solar is going to soar.

Another thing seems pretty clear: everybody who says that the current enthusiasm about solar energy is based on faulty arithmetic, and that it's not a great deal which is getting much better, and that costs aren't plummeting and efficiancy isn't soaring -- is a Republican.

But it seems that not even all Republicans are still down on solar. Republicans tend to like money, and when economics tends to contradict what is said inside of one's socio-political bubble, one often starts to say: screw the bubble on this point, my friends and colleagues, I'm taking the money! Last I heard, Rush Limbaugh still has not come to Jesus about solar. Forbes magazine may be down on it too, but it seems that their readers aren't necessarily. I did a Google search for solar energy cost, and I found exactly one hit which was downbeat about it, by a columnist who writes about energy for Forbes. It was published about a year ago, and the guy said he didn't think that solar energy costs were going to continue to plummet. But almost all of the readers' comments completely disagreed with the guy and refuted him point for point, and Forbes' readership is not mostly hippies and Goths. And even for someone like me who started researching energy logistics about 5 minutes ago and hasn't gotten very far into it yet, some of his points seemed very easy to refute. Like: the columnist mentioned an American solar energy company and a Chinese solar energy company, both of which failed despite big government subsidies. What I didn't need anybody to point out to me was: he didn't mention any other solar energy companies in the entire column. If you can tell me about two restaurants which went out of business shortly after opening, you haven't proven to me that the entire idea of the restaurant industry is economically unsound, Duh!

And anyway, a year later and so far the guy seems entirely wrong: in the last year solar energy costs have continued to plummet. Oh, it looks like Forbes has come at least partway to Jesus about solar since the summer of 2014, to judge by more recent headlines.

Some of this stuff seems like no-brainer territory. Some of the long term economic effects of solar energy seem somewhat more complicated. For example: if every building with solar panels on its roof will eventually produce more electricity than it uses, even after tanking up all the electric cars in the garage, then at a certain point the owners of those buildings will stop making money selling the surplus electricity, because if everybody has surplus electricity then there will be literally no-one to sell it to, Duh. At what point will solar energy start to cause the price of electricity to plummet -- when there are solar panels on 10% of the world's buildings? 20%? When will electrical utilities start to shrink? At what point will there simply be too much practically-free electricity in the world, so that everybody will just have to shut off their generators part of time cause there's nothing to do with all that juice?

And we haven't even started to talk about wind, geothermal, etc.

Wave goodbye to Hydrocarbon Man, everybody! Goodbye, Hydrocarbon Man!

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