Practical Solar…electricity, that is

Go to Germany, the country with the most operational solar-electric systems on planet Earth. The German solar-electric systems are tied into the electric grid, and the government pays its citizens every month for the excess electricity generated.

We also have grid-tied systems in California, where the meter swings both ways (credits & debits from solar-electricity).

This is a very important distinction and the reporter should make it clear to the audience: the Solar Decathlon features grid-tied solar homes.

The Discovery coverage does a disservice to the solar movement because it misrepresents the practical everyday use of solar. Most of the footage shows new appliances, which is unnecessary when going solar.

Going solar does not require changing light bulbs or appliances. Install a solar-electric system on your roof and keep living as you always have been. That’s it. With solar you are running your computers, TV & A/C with the CO2-free power of the sun…thereby reducing carbon emissions, stabilizing your energy costs (if grid-tied), achieving energy independence and improving our national security.

Full disclosure: I previously sold solar-electric systems for 2-plus years.

The Solar Decathlon began in 2002, and was held again in 2005, 2007 and 2009.

I have interviewed Andy Karsner, George W. Bush’s assistant secretary for the DOE in charge of renewable energy, when I reported on Wall Street.

Here is Mr. Karsner speaking at a previous Solar Decathlon, when the solar homes were off-grid. During the first three Solar Decathlons all of the solar homes were off-grid, according to John Horst at the Golden, Colorado office of the Department of Energy and Tom Welch at the Washington, D.C. office of the DOE.

Showcasing off-grid solar homes to the average Joe/ Jane is setting up solar electricity for failure. The batteries for off-grid solar electricity can cost $50,000 or more, putting off-grid solar out of the reach of most Americans.

Plus, the rebates (from the state of California anyway) do not apply to off-grid solar. The rebate in Cali covers roughly 20% of the installation cost, no joke. It’s a big chunk of change you are forfeiting if you want to go off-grid solar. It really doesn’t make financial sense. But on-grid,  or grid-tied solar makes money right off the bat, or almost immediately. Grid prices keep going up, and solar is a way to have guaranteed power at a guaranteed price.

Solar electricity is just a tool for the home. You put it on your roof and plug it into the grid. That’s it. A grid-tied solar system does not need any batteries. You use the grid at night, which is now using less natural gas than before thanks to your contribution.

During this decade, the Bush administration (and the Republican-majority Congress from 2001-2006) obstructed incentives to solar electricity and other renewables as much as possible, while at the same time subsidizing the oil companies. For instance, the 30% tax credit for solar electricity was knee-capped at $2,000 for residential solar-electric systems. Corporations got the full tax-break for solar, but individual homeowners did not.

In 2006, the tables turned and the American people voted in a Democratic-majority Congress. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic-led body leveled the playing field for the majority of Americans by giving the 30% tax credit to all solar-electric systems (commercial and residential). However, the Bush administration’s policy of self-regulation of the subprime securities market on Wall Street caused a cataclysmic meltdown of the U.S. financial industry that led to a Hank Paulson-led $700 billion bailout of the banks, and an ensuing Great Recession. Home prices fell and 401ks lost half their value, just like the stock market.  So the solar incentives could not spur on the investment in the solar industry like they could have if we had a healthy economy.

During his tenure at the DOE, Mr. Karsner also played the game of talking about “efficiencies” rather than “changing the source of our energy.”

“Efficiencies” is code for pointing the finger at the consumer (you, me, our friends & family) to change his/her habits. You change your light bulbs. You sweat bullets in the summer instead of using your A/C. You wear a sweater in the winter instead of using your heating.

When really all we have to do is “change the source of our energy” to the sun, instead of burning fossil fuels to create our electricity.

* There is an environmental cost to burning coal, natural gas and oil. Cost = melting ice caps, rising sea levels, flooded coastal areas, etc.

The majority of solar-electric systems on planet Earth are grid-tied for good reason: they are more economical.

The majority of solar-electric systems on planet Earth are installed on the roof of a building for good reason: they are more efficient.

Before 2009, the Solar Decathlon was a Potemkin Village on the Potomac, a farce, a charade, a ruse, a side-show: it featured impractical, expensive off-grid solar systems. In 2009, the solar homes at the decathlon are still impractical with solar panels sometimes installed on the outside walls of the home. (The next door neighbor’s home would shade parts of these solar-electric panels rendering them inoperable at certain hours of the day and certain months of the year; these futuristic log cabins are not at all viable for the majority of people living in the suburbs and cities on this planet.)

The solution: a solar-electric system on every available roof and a plug-in electric car in every garage.

Solar = roof

**Ground mounts can work for solar, if in one’s own yard…with unobstructed sunshine. Any shade lowers the efficiency of solar production, and that is why you don’t want panels on the side of your home, where people, cars, trees and next-door homes can shade them.

Why not set up solar for success? Hold the Solar Decathlon in June/ July, around June 21st–the longest day of the year. Solar electricity is all about the spring and summer sun: we create an abundance of electricity in those six months as credits that we use in the six months of fall and winter as debits. Holding the Solar Decathlon in October disadvantages solar electricity’s performance. Everybody in the solar industry knows that solar is all about the spring and summer sun, including the guys at the DOE.

Set up solar for success at the Solar Decathlon by showing normal-looking homes with solar-electric panels installed on the roof that are tied to a grid (as they were for the first time in 2009). Show how solar-electricity works in reality. That’s all I ask.


Electricity prices from the grid continue to increase in California.

But with solar electricity you save money because you put a cap on the cost of running your home or office building.

You can either lease or buy a solar-electric system.

Leasing a solar system switches the payment you (a) already make to your utility company to (b) paying for your solar lease. It should be an equal payment, only now you have put a cap on the cost of running your home; and thereby you are saving money from day one by switching to solar electricity.

Buying a solar system is an investment that should pay a healthy rate of return of 10% or better (assuming you use the 30% tax credit, the rebate from your state, and that grid prices continue to increase).

In 2009, solar electricity makes up roughly 1% of the energy mix in California–the leader in CO2-free solar energy use in the United States. The majority of the solar-electric systems in California are on-grid.

The problem: the same Bush administration that fabricated WMDs contorted the truth about solar electricity, too. The fact is the Bush administration showcased the most expensive and inefficient form of solar. The form of solar they chose to exhibit would not be eligible for a solar rebate in the state of California.

The solution:  On-grid solar gets a California rebate, and on-grid solar is efficient/ economical because it feeds excess electricity into the grid.

Electricity rates in San Francisco keep going up, and up, and up…

September 23, 2009 j333bass

* Yes, the more electricity you use the more you get charged.

Prices as of September, 22 2009…

Total Energy Rates ($ per kWh, or kilowatt hour)

Tier 1 = 12 cents per kWh

(Baseline Usage)

Tier 2 = 13 cents per kWh

(101% – 130% of Baseline)

Tier 3 = 26 cents per kWh

(131% – 200% of Baseline)

Tier 4 = 38 cents per kWh

(201% – 300% of Baseline)

Tier 5 = 44 cents per kWh

(Over 300% of Baseline)

Solar energy is the way to go (published 2006)

September 22, 2009 j333bass

Solar Energy is the Way to Go[1]

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