As “We the People” wait for Congress to do something to stimulate the economy we are flooded with information about “Green Initiatives” as part of the stimulus strategy. And its really easy to get dragged along with the tide of enthusiasm. After all, the electric car has languished in the shadows for over 70 years since the Baker company closed its doors. So the idea of re-inventing even a small part of the automotive industry in the US is very appealing during a difficult period in our history.
We all share the concern that unemployment is up and many areas of the economy are slow. But let’s be sure that when the government says its going to spend our money, that the decisions are based on sound strategy. Maybe government spending money that it doesn’t currently have isn’t such a great idea.
Is the technology being evaluated on the cost per kilowatt hour? Or are other metrics being used for evaluation?
In the solar energy field, what is the opportunity to generate electricity on the flat roof of buildings? If we look at the number of photovoltaic panels that can be put on a roof, its a big number. But if the panels cost $550. each and they are 11.625 square feet, it is going to cost $47./square foot to pay for the panels not including installation labor and materials. That’s a lot of money.
If its a high quality PV panel at 210 Watts of output, it produces 18 Watts per square foot. With the number of square feet of roof available, we could generate enough electricity to (fill in the blank with whatever you dream about that you think will save the world). This is where the politically savvy get you to agree with them, even though they may not know what they are talking about. They link the program they are selling to your hopes and dreams to get you to buy into the deal.
If we could put solar trackers to follow the sun, we would be able to increase the total output of the solar cells by 30% or more. (That data comes from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and they should know). Tracking panels cast shadows, so you can’t use 100% of the square footage on the roof for panels. So some may argue that solar trackers will destroy our hopes of energy independence by decreasing the number of panels that can be installed on rooftops. (Watts per square foot).
But 30% increase in available power means we can either produce more power, or produce the same power as before with less panels. Less panels means less dollar$ per kilowatt. Less cost means quicker return on investment.
Ask how much it costs. Make sure you get an answer. When does the system pay for itself? Make sure you get an answer. If the thing is going to be financed with tax dollars, who owns it? If we paid for it with tax dollars, shouldn’t we get the energy for free? Which calculation makes sense?