Friday, October 2, 2009


A reader commented recently that solar energy requirements and/or subsidies for homes in the USA is a no-go because not enough sunshine falls on the country. I looked into it and the following map should enlighten us (pun intended, click to enlarge).

Average Daily Solar Radiation

The data are for a flat panel that rotates automatically along two axes in order to track the sun and capture as much energy as possible.

So... even in Fargo, North Dakota (lat. 46'52"N, no palm trees in sight) such a system would get on average 6-7 kWh of solar radiation per day, for every square meter of panel. Even with the least efficient panel available currently, at around 10% energy conversion, this means that for a mere 10 square meter system a home would generate ~6.5 kWh per day. And I should point out that panels are now being tested with conversion efficiencies upwards of 20%.

The rub? Price, as always. And that's where your government feathers (see previous post) come in. How about this idea: we reduce defence spending by $30 billion/year and increase "black" fuel taxes by $30 billion/year and spend the $60 billion in installing state of the art solar panels in people's homes FOR FREE through a lottery system. That should come to about 2 million installations every year. Not bad for such a small bunch of feathers, eh?

For your information, the federal government already spends $600 billion on defence every year. As for the other $30 billion, we could raise this entire sum by an extra 10 cents tax at the gas pump.


  1. But What do I Know?October 2, 2009 at 3:27 PM

    This is the kind of thinking that only gets accomplished in time of national emergency. Look at how quickly and to what seemingly impossible heights the US ramped up ship, plane, and ammunition production during the second World War, or (to a smaller extent) NASA ramped up activity for the moon landings. It really isn't that much money, as Hell points out, and it requires only the will to do it. Unfortunately, Obama is all talk and only symbolic action. His sentiments seem to be correct, but we all know what is paved with Good Intentions.

    The entrenched position of Big Oil, both inside and outside of the US, has kept our government from doing what it should have done a long time ago--make Solar work.

  2. Oh dear Hell, they'll be bed-wetting tonight, the terrists is just waiting for us to let our guard drop and not invest in those $100 billion aircraft and missile programs.

  3. Sorry, I'm normally sympathetic here but you might stick with financial stuff.
    The US has about a terrawatt of installed capacity - even if we roll with you here for a second (see next para), you're talking about 4-5 trillion dollars to do this.
    Then, once you've done it, I hope you only like power from 10am to 2pm or so. And only on sunny days.

  4. Nice post

    I can't comment on the economics of solar as I don't have a clue

    But using the old "get it from the military" has got to be the oldest one in the book.

    Personally I would prefer a world where we can spend the money on bake sales vs. bombs as well, but one has to play the cards they were delt, no?

    It is what it is.

    Care to also run a post on the history of military spending as a %GDP? You could look at all different countries all over the world through all kinds of time frames.

    Where are we now in relation to this (shall we call it) benchmark?

  5. My thought on alternate power sources such as Solar. If you want electricity you better provide your own because this power grid is going down. As such, money is a secondary factor.

    Joe M.

  6. Hell, BWDIK, and others interested, I have summarized the etymology of the word "manipulation" and "manipulate" over on Street Rat Crazy, courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary.
    I thought that y'all would like to know that the INITIAL sense of the noun "manipulation" was...
    the method of extractiing silver ore, (up to 1812).
    Care to guess what that silver ore was (primarily) extracted for ?
    You know what they say, what goes around... COMES around.

  7. Deb, if you are going to invite people to dinner, you need to create a link for them to jump over.

    Nice post by the way ;-)

  8. Answers..

    1. Defence spending is what it is because the US polices the entire world's oil supply (oil is fungible). That's also known as energy security and believe me it is the most important element of security.

    Do away with that need and... or does anyone who can fog the mirror still believe that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - 9/11 included - are about anything OTHER than oil?

    2. I'm not saying that solar will supply 100% of all electricity needs. I would be deliriously happy with 25%. And solar can supply energy 24/7, properly done, not just when the sun shines.


  9. Fair enough

    But you are still left with the old dilemma: "are you going to pay for the goods before or after delivery?"

    It is one thing to reduce defense spending once a solar infrastructure is in place.

    It is entirely another to do so BEFORE the system is operational.

    Last time I checked, we usually stop antibiotics AFTER the infection has cleared, not before.

    In life, timing is everything ;-)

  10. I agree with the basic idea but not the details. Give everybody a 30% tax credit if the implement an energy saving measure on their home, rental or place of business. Municioalities should be included if they build bike lanes or public transportation. That way you can leverage the 60 billion and get 200 billion worth of improvements every year. That should get things moving along nicely.
    Solar is not for everybody or everywhere. You can save a lot of heating/cooling energy by better insulation, a really low tech approach. Geo sourced heat pumps get about twice the amount of heating/cooling per KWH when compared to regular air-to-air units.
    How about bike lanes? I would ride my bike to work here in Miami but it is simply too dangerous with all the traffic.
    Introduce a federal law that counties/towns/sub-divisions can't enforce local ordinances against solar panels, wind mills, etc.

    By the way, building large scale solar plants in the south west and transporting the energy via high voltage direct current might be more efficient than putting smaller solar panels on every house. You can transport electricity with only about a 3% loss per 500 miles if you do it right. The details are tricky and the infrastructure is expensive, but it can be done and is low maintainance once in place.

  11. "But you are still left with the old dilemma: "are you going to pay for the goods before or after delivery?""

    Why do you think it is like turning on and off of a switch? Can't the move from current system (defense spending) to solar world be done in phases?

  12. Absolutely... remember I ALWAYS see things as non-linear ;-)

  13. AND...

    Remember the tragedy of the commons

    As even this (i.e. gradual reduction) would not get Hell what he wants, e.g. America not be guilty of destroying this planet.

    For take his suggestions out a few more chess moves: America ceases its globe trotting adventures and moves to solar, etc...

    Our movement to solar does not change the behavior of other nations, does it?

    Indeed the oil he does not want used is still sitting under other nation's soil. Further our movement to solar would make oil even cheaper and these countries would therefore have an even greater economic incentive to use it for their own economic development.

    And they don't have to worry about energy security costs.

    Which still gets back to this.

    Having America go solar may mean we are less responsible for the sin Hell wants to avoid (and I am all for personal responsibility), but the plan does not stop others from committing our sin.

    ... Unless of course some kind of a world military power tells other nations there are certain things they can and can't do.

    But this just gets us back to the same rabbit hole all over agin.

    As Deb likes to say: "out through the front door and back in through the window".

    But I guess Americans would not have to dies as much in foreign wars and I certainly agree that this is a worthwhile goal.

  14. We had solar panels put on the roof this summer because our local utility would cover half the cost on top of an $8000 tax credit. Before subsidies the total cost of the rather large system (big house) installed was roughly $48,000. For the month of August, with nearly every day sunny, we saw a 35% reduction in energy costs, just over $100. Now, over the course of a year our numbers should be better, but there's no way more people will do such things without massive subsidies. Spending $48k to save a hundred bucks a month just looks silly at first glance, nevermind the carbon emissions avoided, etc.

    Also, if we green energy our way to a dramatically smaller defense budget, what will become of the millions who depend of DoD welfare? As befits a belligerent nation, our military departments are easily among our largest dispensers of social and corporate welfare. It's a jobs program for people who used to make things, now they blow things up and get blown up themselves. Long term health care spending on those who've been partially blown up adds up too.

  15. Good point about that spending, solar panelist, and one that Thai can appreciate. Like...
    all those small rural towns whose jobs are supplied by that local penitentiary which has people locked up for hundreds of years, right ?
    A French guy at UC Davis has remarked that the U.S.'s social plan for housing the poor basically relies on... prisons.
    Those prisons, the entire military/industrial/penetentiary complex are employing lots and lots of people in the U.S., and housing the poor, right ? (While criminalizing them at the same time, of course...)
    But Thai, I think that you underestimate the role of emulation in politics. Remember that I tell you guys that France adopts American trends with a vengeance twenty years down the road. (Yeah, it's really depressing...)
    If you get too attached to the... PRAGMATIC, self-interested, logical theories of human behavior, you really just CAN'T SEE how much human beings really rely on emulation, on copying each other, and you can't take these factors into account when making policy. And... DIPLOMACY goes out the window in favor of... the MILITARY approach, right ?
    (After all, emulation is a big factor in the way things play out in the stock market, right ??)
    Why does the U.S. government ALWAYS seem to favor bullying and beating others about the head ?
    It's... depressing, too.

  16. Thai, see my comment to you on Deficit Feathers, please.

  17. Hell,

    You seem to know quite well the geopolics of oil. Some write that the invasion of Irak was triggered by the decision of Sadam to get rid of the dollar to sell Irak's oil.

    Now the press informs us that Ahmadinejad took the same decision just before mid-september. Strangely the information was not commented very much in our mainstream press (at least here in France). However in the last 3 weeks our press washed our brains with the information about the second uranium enrichment plant in Qom and this Saturday that Iran has the know how to make a nuclear bomb.

    What do you think? Similar story, similar effects?

  18. "Those in possession of absolute power can not only prophesy and make their prophecies come true, but they can also lie and make their lies come true."
    Eric Hoffer

    This would be the FED/media. They have corrupted absolutely and will take US Empire down as our pure fiat currency goes hyper.

    "Paper money eventually returns to its intrinsic"

  19. WA is pretty overcast for solar, but compared to no energy it would be an improvement (i.e. collapse of hydrocarbon distribution).

    I drove along part of the Columbia River this summer and saw the big, white, sleek wind turbines in WA and OR. VERY cool and futuristic looking. And truly effective (from the little I've read).

    We've also got a lot of energy from the dams that the "commies" buit a few decades ago, but they bring some eco concerns. But then to balance our good luck in free dams we got Hanford which is seeping nuclear waste into the soil.

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  21. The problem with renewable energy such as solar power is it is expensive to collect so that you need to optimize the use of it.

    Therefore it is a magnitude easier and less expensive to supply yourself from renewable energy than it is to supply an entire country. Because you know the trade-offs you are willing to make perfectly.

    I personally would not mind being unable to watch TeeVee or use a computer for a few days when the wind or the sun was not available, because I also get to keep the benefit of huge annual savings on energy costs.

    But, once the savings are subsumed into "society" via a large scale distribution network, the rest of the country would not like to shut down factories, refrigerators, water supplies and transport just because some pinko-faggot wind turbines are not producing. They will just see that "the system is not working".

    Renewables *have* to be local to work, IMO.