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Hippie Energy

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There’s a certain set of commenters here who love to hate my energy posts because they say I oppose everything. That’s not true at all. I don’t fall in love with technologies or think they are the answer to most questions, which makes people uncomfortable even though virtually every technology should be critiqued. And when it comes to energy production, I am a huge supporter of wind and solar. I believe we need a massive federal program to expand our production of clean, renewable energy, understanding of course that every form of energy production has some kind of environmental downside and mitigating those downsides should be high priorities.

But of course the dirty energy industry opposes any kind of responsible energy policy and so do the Koch Brothers, who are leading the fight to increase taxes on solar energy production. Some of this is rich people and established industries protecting their preexisting economic interests in coal and

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oil. But that’s far from all of it, especially among the politicians who may not directly profit from these companies. This is cultural and in 2014 the politics of resentment rule the day. Solar and wind energy–that’s hippie energy. Producing energy without destroying the climate is something that makes the Commiecrats happy and we can’t have that. If the libtards are crying, then we win.

So in a very real sense, energy policy is about what it means to be an American. Wind and solar can be as profitable as oil and coal. So it’s not really about the potential to make money. It’s about our relationship to other Americans and the world. Are we to be socially and ecologically responsible global citizens leading the way to a more sustainable future? Or can we just kill ’em all? The Republican Party certainly supports the latter.

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  • HIPPIES FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY – those bumper stickers are hard to find.

    • Pat

      There’s another explanation, which IIRC was embodied in a comment by the CEO of Nissan, regarding the LEAF. That comment was that every individual who purchases an electric car is never going back to gasoline-driven vehicles. And that’s the crux for solar, wind and geothermal as well. After the initial investment, you replace equipment, and that’s it. There’s no fuel costs. Once we stop paying inordinate amounts of money for fuel, we never start back up.

      • Anna in PDX

        Yes, this. I have been saving up to buy a LEAF and keep tabs on LEAF owner discussion groups and Nissan’s own PR on the issue (not really the PR itself but LEAF owner responses to it).

      • mud man

        …. since electricity is free and generating it has no environmental implications. Unlike gasoline, which is under the ground and you have to go find it.

        • Pat

          Well, let me ask you this, mudman: would you prefer to run your phone on alkaline batteries or rechargeables? I mean, you’re paying for the energy either way, right?

          • asmallweasel

            I’d like my phone to run on dreams, can you make this happen? TIA

  • Whenever the last Republican/Conservative is buried, the tombstone will be a hand with the middle-finger raised.

    The question is, will we survive that last one?

    Or, after making that tombstone by him/her-self, will that person jump in the grave as they’re dying, and leave it to time to bury him/her?

    Who am I kidding?
    It’ll be a him, not a her!

    • Gabriel Ratchet

      To paraphrase Diderot: America will only be truly free when the last libertarian is strangled with the guts of the last fundamentalist.

    • Anonymous

      Get a job

      • Malaclypse

        Get a life.

      • asmallmoose

        Lol, you’re not just a scumbag, you also manage to be super lame

  • efgoldman

    It is kind of dispiriting.
    You’d think with all the oil trains blowing up and killing people, and the decades of pollution now being released into waterways and water supplies in coal country, that someone would get outraged enough.
    But then again, some of us thought, just maybe, that a bunch of first graders killed at close range with a high-powered rife would change attitudes on guns.
    It is to sigh and despair…..

    • Warren Terra

      You forget, these people have so little familiarity with the concept of shame that they defend their environmental disasters on the grounds that the resulting mitigation efforts are an employment program. This is of course rather like George W Bush saying the tens of thousands of wounded Americans brought home from Iraq should thank him because he made it possible for them to get the most out of their Veterans’ Benefits, but there you are.

    • nixnutz

      Since you bring up coal country, and the human costs of mining rather than pollution or climate change, I’m wondering what are the ecological ramifications of a greatly expanded solar industry? Where do those minerals come from?, how rare are they? what kind of mining and exploration is involved and what would it mean if it were expanded 10 or 20x?

      I’m sure it’s still worthwhile because of the carbon implications but I don’t imagine living downstream from a gallium or tellerium mine is necessarily better than from a coal mine.

      This is obviously an issue with nuclear as well, and one that isn’t talked about as often as waste or safety but I’d like to see it discussed more.

      • MattT

        Short answer is that there is definitely an environmental cost associated with some of the metals that go into solar cells. Even with Si cells, their are metal interconnects and things. However, each cell contains a relatively small amount and has a lifetime of many years. With coal, you dig tons of it, burn it once for energy, then have to dig some more.

        • nixnutz

          Yeah I guess my concern (based in ignorance) is that if efficient cells rely on rare minerals it would involve a lot of mining for a relatively small amount of material, which would seem to favor more damaging approaches, but of course coal is strip-mined even though it’s found in pretty good concentrations.

      • There’s really no such thing as a “gallium mine”. Gallium and tellurium are byproducts from refining aluminum and copper. (i.e. they used to be just waste, now we have a use for them).

        • MattT

          Also, this. I’d be much more concerned about the prospect of Te leeching out of thin film cells over their lifetime than I would be about the production side, and part of the interest in things like CdTe is that you use so little of it, even relative to silicon.

          • Jonathan

            If you’re concerned about Te, then you might not want to use any flat screen anything anymore. Because that’s where the majority of it goes.

            But really, the exotic semi-conductors will never be a big part of solar. Thin film is a fairly stupid idea when you get into the practicalities of it. Normal Si PV cells are 18-19% efficient. If you cover the Southern face of all residential homes with them, we could eliminate all coal-fired power plants without increasing current land use. And we’ve been able to do that since the late ’70’s. The only thing that has been lacking is the will.

            • Pat

              Oh, and the infrastructure.

      • Jonathan

        Silicon doped with phosphorus and boron? For the most part, the chemicals are sourced as by products of other industries. Phosphorus is mostly mined for synthetic fertilizers. Mining phosphorus isn’t much more harmful than mining salt. Boron is used as a laundry booster, an environmentally conscious insecticide, in glass and ceramics, and armor plates in bullet-proof vests. It’s mined as an evaporite mineral (borax). Both phosphorus and boron are used extensively in the semi-conductor industry as dopants already. Which leads nicely to silicon. AFAIK, all the silicon crystal used in the photovoltaic industry are literally the castoff boles from the the semi-conductor industry. Because microchips are printed at scales measured in nanometers, the crystal boles have to be insanely perfect down to nearly the atomic scale. PV has much less exacting requirements of the source material. Because the semi-conductor industry is so large, and the PV industry is so relatively small, the PV industry can increase by two or three orders of magnitude before they run out of waste boles to use. (That sounds hyperbolic but I’d point out that the PV industry is about 10,000% in the last twenty years and hasn’t had a problem. Also, the semi-conductor industry basically hasn’t shrunk at any point in its history. Even after the Dot-Com bust, the chip makers proper kept growing.) The high-grade silica used in making chips and PV units is actually the most environmentally damaging source material. You can’t use just any ol’ sand to make chip-grade silicon. Most of the deposits are found in places with loose environmental laws and lots of regulator capture like China, sub-Saharan Africa, and the American Southwest. But it’s not like that damage still wouldn’t happen without the PV industry, as they only use cast-offs of the semi-conductor industry. If the PV industry ever grows big enough to warrant actually manufacturing crystals specifically for it, much less pure silica can be used, and thus sourced in a more environmentally sound manner.

      • Chocolate Covered Cotton

        I’d like to point out that utility scale solar plants are increasingly using solar thermal systems that don’t use photovoltaic cells at all or concentrated solar plants that use far fewer pv cells.

        Also, these materials’ production are in such minimal amounts compared to coal extraction that the net gain for the environment is obviously overwhelming. Anyone who points at the environmental costs of solar and wind (which are not zero) as a reason not to replace fossil fuels is being disingenuous, lying, or fooled. It’s kind of like saying we can’t end a war which is killing millions of people because doing so would put thousands of people out of work.

  • joe from Lowell

    Also, bike lanes.

    Damn hippies like biking? Well, screw them.

    • asmallmoose

      Bike lanes are fundamentally unamercian and are the first step towards sharia/socialism/[your paranoid fear here]

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        (eyes narrow in suspicion)

        ChiComs ride bicycles. not muslims

        • asmallmoose

          :places hand over “Mao more then ever!” button:

          • Turkle

            +1

        • What about ethnic Uighers and Hui can they ride bicycles to mosque and count under both? Or do they also have to be members of the CCP? I think this false dichotomy between the PRC and Muslims needs to be solved.

          • asmallmoose

            Sorry jotto, they are only allowed unicycles or big wheels

        • efgoldman

          ChiComs ride bicycles. not muslims

          Weenie Yurpeens ride bicycles too.
          But who suggested that ChiComs ride Muslims?

      • JustRuss

        Actually, that’s UN Agenda 21, which is really A Thing in certain winger circles.

        • asmallmoose

          Yea, that’s one of my favorites.

        • UN Agenda 21

          Codename: BLACKJACK.

    • Warren Terra

      I’m agnostic on bike lanes (a former longtime bicycle commuter, I saw a lot of badly conceived and executed bike lanes that were far worse than riding in the middle of the traffic lane), but if I only had the power to ticket those asshats who ride on the sidewalks, without helmets or lights …

      • Malaclypse

        My peeve is the morons who ride on the shoulder, but against traffic, thus forcing me to move over into traffic.

        Rode with mini-Mal to school today, her first school ride of the Spring. Our town has various rules for kids riding to school, most of which involve 1) breaking the law and 2) making her less safe, by making her act like a pedestrian on wheels (always ride on sidewalks, no matter which way traffic is flowing! brilliant.) I had to explain how we have one set of rules for when we ride, and another set for when we ride to school.

        Point being, those asshats are taught to be asshats.

        • ThrottleJockey

          LOL, you would’ve hated me when I biked. I used to bike commute in LA. I favored sidewalks whenever I could, and rode against traffic when I couldn’t. Didn’t have a light, and wouldn’t dream of wearing a helmet. But to Mal’s point that’s what I was taught. So help me understand why that was unsafe. Particularly the sidewalk and riding against traffic thing. I always gave pedestrians the right of way, and even when jogging preferred to run against the flow of traffic so I could see what’s headed my way.

          • Malaclypse

            Here you go.

            Also here.

            Short answer, in case the link to pdf borks: Cars don’t look for vehicles (and at 15-25 MPH, bikes are slow vehicles, not pedestrians) on sidewalks. Your chances of being run over skyrocket on a sidewalk, and even more so on a sidewalk against traffic.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Thanks. I’ve always assumed that cars didn’t see me, or didn’t care even if they did see me. So I’ve always put myself in the position to see them, whether running or biking. I ride a motorcycle now and often feel less safe than I did on a bike (because obviously I can’t ride on sidewalks, lol).

              • Malaclypse

                Yea, I remember that theory from Zodiac. But the data just don’t support it. We’re vehicles, albeit slow ones, and should act like that.

          • Malaclypse

            Also, I’ve had a cop hand me back a helmet, split clear in half from where my head hit the pavement. I ended up banged and bruised, but otherwise okay. If you value your head, wear a helmet.

            • guthrie

              There has been a lot of argument about helmets, and from what I can understand the evidence is that they prevent a lot of injuries from impacts, whilst giving a slight increase in risks associated with rotational or sideways damage; i.e. like vaccines theres a massive positive benefit and a slight negative one, distributed on the basis of chance.

              • ThrottleJockey

                Well on a motorcycle I always wear a helmet. I have friends who don’t, mostly because, like you said, they’ve had bad experiences where it reduced their peripheral vision causing them to drop the bike.

                • JustRuss

                  Got any specific drop the bike stories? I rode with full face helmet for a number of years, can’t see how a helmet could cause a crash.

                • It’s almost invariably the Harley (and Harley look-alike) riders that don’t wear helmets.

                  It doesn’t fit with the bad-ass biker image they’re trying to portray.

                • asmallmoose

                  This is people who won’t wear seat belts because they are afraid of being cut in half. Just put that shit on man, it’s not the end of the world.

                • Ruckus

                  No need to wear a helmet if you have nothing of value to put inside of it.

                  People complaining about loss of peripheral are looking for excuses not to wear a helmet. Are you nearsighted? Yes? Then you don’t have good peripheral vision. And can still drive, ride a bike or motorcycle just fine, with correction.

          • Warren Terra

            By riding against traffic, you can better see the cars coming. You also dramatically reduce available reaction time and, if worse comes to worst, greatly increase speed at impact. And no-one is looking for you as you ride against traffic, including cars that might pull out into traffic, all the while carefully monitoring for a gap in the traffic moving in the mandated direction.

            Riding against the flow of traffic can make sense on lightly traveled roads with good visibility. In the city, it’s a danger to the cyclist and to those around them.

            • Col Bat Guano

              Yeah, I almost killed two folks who were riding their bikes on the sidewalk against traffic. I was pulling out of a parking lot turning right so I was focused on traffic coming from my left. A spot opened after a long line of cars passed and just as I started to pull out, this guy on his bike rode right in front of me and his wife stopped just short of my car. I suppose I would have been at fault if I had hit either of them, but the idea that I had to look back to my right just as I pulled out never occurred to me.

              • Jonathan

                Riding a bike on the sidewalk is illegal everywhere. Bicyclists aren’t pedestrians, so they don’t get automatic right-of-way benefits. They would have been at fault. But your insurance rates still would have gone up.

                • Warren Terra

                  No, sorry, riding a bike on the sidewalk is in fact not illegal everywhere. There may easily be cities or states that universally disallow the practice, but others allow it entirely, or prohibit it only in certain areas with high foot traffic.

                  Riding a bike on the sidewalk is usually a terrible idea, especially for an adult, and doubly for anyone actually in a hurry. But there are definitely places that it’s legal.

                • ProfDamatu

                  Yup, my town is one of them – apart from an area within an (IIRC) 2-block radius of the square, biking on sidewalks is completely legal. Luckily, the students seem to favor skateboards over bikes – much easier to avoid!

          • guthrie

            Oddly enough it hurts then a lot when you run into a pedestrian on the pavement.

  • Trollhattan

    In Nor-Cal PG&E (one suspects in lockstep with So-Cal Edison and SDG&E) is constantly yapping about “fairness” and how folks with solar panels–which by law are integrated into the grid–are not presently “paying their fair share” of…I suppose infrastructure and decommissioning San Onofre and maintaining shareholder wholeness. You can watch them niddbling away at the status quo and it’s really ticking me off.

    In this state alone we should be targeting ten million solar installations, of whatever size. We have the geography, the weather and the high electricy prices to make such an effort axtremely attractive, while at the same time that panel prices have plunged and efficienty is increasing.

    Ten millyun hippies–can we find them all?

    • Trollhattan

      (dang, where’s my imaginary “edit” button when I need it? Stupid fingers….)

      • toberdog

        “millyun” works for me.

        • Trollhattan

          That was kind of on porpoise. The others, not so much. Niddbling sounds like something Ned Flanders would wear to a disco.

    • liberal

      It’s much more complicated than that. What if a bunch of solar panel sites are dumping electricity into the grid and there’s no one to use it? What about baseline load? Etc.

      Now I suspect that a large amount of electricity consumption is for air conditioning, and the load air conditioning puts on the grid is reasonably well correlated with sunshine.

      But these issues are nowhere near as simple as you make them sound.

      • DrS

        What if a bunch of solar panel sites are dumping electricity into the grid and there’s no one to use it? What about baseline load? Etc.

        What if solar energy is just *too good*? Best keep throwing carbon in the air.

        • toberdog

          Right, when we get there, if we get there, that will be a good problem to have.

          • Trollhattan

            Exactly. And let’s be realistic–a lot of homes are sized/situated such they can never have panels sufficient to “spin the meter backwards” or at least will rarely do so. But even 500 watts (a small system indeed) can make a difference in how much of your monthly bill is at the top tier, maximizing the ROI.

            In the meantime, sunbelt utilities are desperate for peaking power during heatwaves and turn to expensive and/or dirty power to handle those times. Just the times when the PV panels are at work. Win-win.

            • DrS

              Just the times when the PV panels are at work.

              Exactly. Heck, my A/C unit is on the roof of my house! How much transmission loss in a 1 meter cable?

        • Theobald Schmidt

          That’s not the point — the point is that the grid is engineered to deliver power one way, and that making it do something it’s not designed for carries real costs.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Is there also a free rider problem? If you use your own solar power during the day, but use utility power at night, are you paying for your allotment of the utility’s fixed costs?

            • Trollhattan

              Yes.

            • Anon

              Not all of your electricity bill is paying for actual electricity. A good portion of it goes to the utility and is used to pay for infrastructure/maintenance. I don’t remember where, but there was a within-the-last-6-months(?) article about a utility (in Arizona?) that was going to start charging people who were feeding solar electricity back into the grid. Their excuse was that there were fixed costs with just maintaining the grid, vs making/carrying power. Other parties saw it as a sneaky way for them to recoup money from users ditching them after going solar. I never heard how it all played out in the end.

              • tribble

                Funny, my bill separates those two charges out. Not sure why it couldn’t continue to do so if I put solar panels on my roof.

                • Trollhattan

                  Yup. We pay a connection fee, a tier 1 electricity fee and a tier 2 electricity fee. (IIRC PG&E has four tiers.)

                  We also have a smart meter that uploads hourly use data and you know what’s coming–a time-specific rate card that charges more during peak times and less at low-demand times.

              • Anonymous

                Starting with rural electrification and running through the history of nuclear power subsidies have always been part of the development of our electrical infrastructure. Compared to the cost-benefit ratio of nukes versus solar/wind there is no doubt that renewables offer the biggest bang for the buck. Net metering will be with us for decades for a good reason. Climate disaster.

          • DrS

            Oh shit! You mean we might have to employ people in this country for a large scale infrastructure improvement program? One that would both allow for more distributed power generation and cut greenhouse gas emissions?

            The horrors! The horrors!

            • asmallmoose

              Sure, your idea sounds good, but wouldn’t be easier to just not try?
              /libertarian

              • ChrisTS

                +1

      • guthrie

        Scientific American had an article years ago about a plan to make America mostly solar, with the energy balance kept up by underground compressed air storage and other methods. Costs were on the order of 50 billion, or a sixtieth of an Iraq.

        THese are basically all engineering problems which other countries have solved or are in the process of solving; the USA is well behind other places, but I suppose they’ve got more hippies in them.

        • Jay B.

          I took a train from Munich to Ingolstadt in Barvaria and every town along the route had significant solar paneling on at least 50% of the houses and buildings. It’s literal insanity that California has less solar presence than southern Germany.

          • Patrick Spens

            You aren’t wrong that it’s crazy, but California is not the crazy party. The only way Germany’s solar policy is defensible is if you really, really hate nuclear power and really like sneaky ways to support the coal industry. It has cost billions of dollars, increased rather then decreased carbon emissions, and has facilitated a net transfer of wealth from poor people to middle class and wealthy people.

      • L2P

        What if a bunch of solar panel sites are dumping electricity into the grid and there’s no one to use it?

        How would that happen, exactly? Is everybody going camping and turning off the cities when they leave?

        The point of the spot market is that there’s ALWAYS a market for energy. Energy is just energy. If there’s capacity for enough solar to use up the spot market, coal and gas plants should be reducing production ahead of time. If they’re not, screw those guys. They bet and lost.

        • DrS

          You know it’s really amusing this problem since civilization would literally not exist with out ‘excess energy’

      • Jay B.

        I’ll remember this post during the brownouts in LA this summer. Light industry is a giant energy suck and they’ve tried to incentivize businesses in places like Vernon to work a split shift to avoid peak (day) usage times. Solar would go an amazingly long way to alleviate the drain on the system during the peak time WHILE NOT SPEWING TOXINS INTO THE AIR.

        A lot of these issues also have to do with smart grids and infrastructure upgrades too, but since we are a stupid, idiotic country in thrall to carbon industries and Republicans, we can’t make these updates either.

  • L2P

    So it’s not really about the potential to make money.

    And also, who is making the money. We, as Americans, might be better off, but a bunch of current bazillionaires would lose out. Solar, wind, hydro, all would be “new” money. The owners of fossil fuel industries don’t want to lose their current profits to these guys.

    Nobody fights as hard as a rich guy who’s looking at being poor.

    • Aimai

      Nobody fights as hard as a billionaire who is imagining that he might have to enjoy just a billion or so dollars, instead of several billion.

    • MattT

      Solar, wind, hydro, all would be “new” money.

      The thing is, they mostly wouldn’t. The energy business is too capital intensive for businesses to just pop up like internet start-ups. Any wide spread expansion of alternative energy would be very likely to involve existing energy companies, as long as they didn’t wait too long to get in. My impression has been that the reluctance has been a combination of risk aversion and cultural issues. Risk aversion in that they know they are making insane money now, whereas they don’t know what the margins will be on renewables, and cultural in the “solar is stupid hippie energy sense.”

      Also, I wouldn’t lump hydro in with solar and wind. Major dams can be environmental catastrophes. Also, we already have a dam almost everywhere it would be worth building one, so it’s not like there’s much room for growth.

      • David Hunt

        I don’t know about wind, but solar has a major problem for entrenched energy interests: it’s much easier to scale down than extraction-based methods of electricity generation. Coal, natural gas, nuclear, etc. each require a major capital investment and there’s a minimum size for efficiency. Solar power is all about the square footage of surface being exposed to sunlight. Anyone can get some of that on their roof.

        That’s not a good thing for you if you run a massive coal-fired electrical plant.

        • Which is why the smarter owners of coal-fired power plants are leasing the panels to homeowners.

          Sadly, they are in the minority of power companies and my own state had to literally wire it in: in exchange for selling electricity generated and moved through the grid, site-based solar shall be implemented.

          • fidelio

            I’ve often wondered: Why not increase their generating power by roofing parking lots with solar panels? Since most places with large lots are going to be large power users, the utility wouldn’t even have to send the power very far.

            • tribble

              The cost of the framing turns out to be substantial. My school put up PV arrays on top of its parking garages, and I recall it spent more on the steel structural components than it did on the solar panels.

              • Pat

                True, but you’ll probably upgrade those panels and re-use the structural components in the next ten years.

        • MattT

          This is a scale issue though. Anyone can use some roof space and generate some power, and help run their AC or their fridge, and that’s great. But there’s not enough roof space to meet high level industrial usage (Google server farms or whatever), which is going to mean large companies setting up large scale arrays.

          • Jay B.

            How is that a problem?

            • MattT

              There’s a higher barrier to doing it. If I want solar cells on my roof, it’s not that hard to put them there. If there’s going to be a large scale array in the desert plus transmission lines to where the power is actually used, there has to be much more serious money involved in setting it up. A natural place for that money to come from would be companies that are already in the energy business, but (my sense is) they are afraid of disrupting their current business models. I’m 100% in favor of finding other ways to make it happen.

  • liberal

    And when it comes to energy production, I am a huge supporter of wind and solar.

    As energy sources, they’re great. The big challenge is how to store it.

    And if you really want to get depressed, read up on energy return on energy invested.

    • low-tech cyclist

      It’s not that big a problem. Energy consumption is much higher during the day than at night. And during the day is when we generate solar power.

      If we ever get to some amazing future where we’re generating more solar power during the day than we can use during the day, and fossil fuel power plants only have to run at night, then storage will become important. But not until then.

    • wengler

      It can be stored in your car. Your electric car.

      I’d really like to have this problem instead of the planet not being habitable.

      • Malaclypse

        Your electric car.

        Yes, but Jennie (and we do all know “liberal” is one of Jennie’s nyms, right?) claims to drive a big-assed Ford Overcompensator SUV, not an electric.

        • Walt

          The latest Overcompensator is a hybrid.

      • Theobald Schmidt

        Your electric car runs on lithium batteries, which, shockingly, is not actually fixing the storage problem

        • JustRuss

          Are you claiming that lithium batteries don’t store electricity?

    • DrS

      And if you really want to get depressed, read up on energy return on energy invested.

      I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be seeing that’s so depressing there, other than that some of the ones with the lowest returns also come with massive externalities.

    • Trollhattan

      Already in California–pumped storage, quite a bit of it, actually.

  • tt

    As a commenter who has opposed a bunch of your posts on technologies aimed at climate change, what makes me “uncomfortable” isn’t that you don’t fall in love with technologies. It’s that, contrary to your first paragraph, you often don’t actually offer any critique. For example, in the cow methane post, you didn’t offer any technical reasons why trying to reduce methane production through technology is implausible, or link to someone who makes such an argument. Without any such argument, it just reads as mocking people trying to solve a very real problem.

    Moreover, since climate change is such a huge problem, the state should invest even in speculative technologies aimed at addressing the problem, in the hope that a few will be productive. So yes, invest in proven technology like solar and wind. But the barrier for supporting unproven research in this area should be fairly low. We need a solution and none of the political pathways are going anywhere. And research is pretty cheap.

    • ThrottleJockey

      I favor Obama’s “All of the above” strategy. I can’t see a country as large and diverse as ours ever being strictly green energy; maybe not even mostly green energy. I think we need a well balanced portfolio of sources most likely.

      Its ironic that a lot of the people complaining most about global warming also oppose fracking just on the general principle. (And dismiss technologies to keep methane from leaking on site).

      • Jay B.

        I fear global warming and I think fracking is a disaster for the environment. I don’t see how this is an ironic stance. Fracking pollutes the groundwater, uses a massive amount of water (along with toxic chemicals) in places that have limited supplies and probably de-stabilizes the earth under the town where the fracking happens. It turns everywhere with shale into your average West Virginia hollow, so I’m not quite sure what the disconnect here is.

        • J R in WV

          As a person living in a West Virginia hollow, just a few miles from one of the largest mountain top removal mines anywhere, it isn’t all good. The local recreational lake is downstream from the Hobet mine.

          Most of the water in the lake has percolated through hollow fills, dumps of “overburden”, topsoil and rock above the coal seam… where it dissolves heavy metals, including aluminium, selenium, etc. some of which are easy to remove (but cheaper not to remove) but the most hazardous appears to be selenium, hard to remove, genetically terrible.

          Fish who aren’t sure what sex they are, and rich in the metal which caused their physical oddities. People paying no attention to the warning signs catching fish for a picnic, taking 5 gallon buckets of fish home for a fish fry party.

          Wonder what their kids will look like?

          On the other hand, people working in solar panel plants are exposed to solvents, and people living downstream from rare-earth mines get it too.

          In Tucson AZ many large parking lots have shade roofs, to keep your upholstery from melting in the summer time. Most of these roofs are solar panels. Driving past Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on the north side, there is a new array of solar panels that runs for miles!

          Every winter when we go out west for the serious winter months [especially sweet this year, the worst winter in a decade or more!] there are new windmill farms in OK, KS, CO, NM, TX, etc. And Tucson has several huge new solar farms. Our house in AZ isn’t even connected to the grid, for which the local power co-op paid us nearly 25% of the cost of our solar installation!

          There’s a new windmill factory in Pueblo, Colorado, and they are expanding and hiring constantly.

          So there is hope in hippy power!

        • ThrottleJockey

          There are real issues associated with fracking. But the fears of fracking are generally disconnected from the empirical evidence. Despite “Gasland” there’s no empirical evidence that fracking has contaminated the PA water supply. I’m not saying that fracking has never contaminated an aquifer but the fear outpaces the reality. And in terms of water usage, if people want big screen TVs, microwave ovens, always on wi-fi, an iPhone with 200 apps, they may have to pay more drinking water. As high as energy prices are, and as relatively cheap as water is, that’s a morally defensible position.

          • JustRuss

            Fracking liberates carbon that’s been sequestered for eons. There’s nothing ironic about about being concerned about global warming and opposing fracking. It’s entirely consistent.

      • tt

        None of this makes any sense to me. In addition to what others have said about fracking, why does our country being large and diverse imply that we will be unable to convert to green energy? If nothing else, we will run out of fossil fuels eventually.

      • Jonathan

        Fun fact: if we don’t leave 90% of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, we’re screwed.

  • asmallmoose

    I hate your energy posts because hating things is metal

    • We’re not gonna take it

      • toberdog

        From Wikipedia:

        While the band members’ famously cross-dressed appearance might seem to link them with the 1980s glam metal movement, Twisted Sister’s aggressive musical style was coupled with a more grotesque use of makeup and women’s clothing resulting in a product quite distinct from the more hedonistic androgyny of glam metal groups like Mötley Crüe, Ratt and Poison. Often mistaken as glam metal for their image, the band often is not recognized as glam metal[4] and the band considers the “glam metal” tag to be inappropriate

        Totally OT, I know, but that quote was so absurd I just had to post it.

        • asmallmoose

          Hedonistic Androgyny will be the name of my Black Metal band, this must happen.

          • Bill Murray

            why do you liberals always have to play the race card

        • I saw them in Jimmy Byrne’s circa 1980. “Absurd” is too mild.

  • HIPPIE ENERGY IS HIPPIES!!

    • Warren Terra

      I dunno man, I’ve seen a lot of enervated hippies. I think we’d do better sucking energy out of yuppies. Or puppies, come to that.

      … or, are those enervated hippies the result of hippie energy extraction?

  • toberdog

    Everytime I fly into Phoenix, Las Vegas, or some such place, I think that pretty much EVERY F*CKING BUILDING should have solar panels. It’s depressing to see.

    • DrS

      I hate when it eats my well crafted posts. :/

      Anyhoo, yes, it’s a damn shame that we don’t put solar in there, all over the place. Even if it’s just powering A/C units that’s a massive gain.

      I look at what Germany’s doing, with levels of insolation throughout the country that equal the lowest levels of insolation in the USA.

    • njorl

      For uninhabited buildings, that’s the way to go. Otherwise, it’s still more cost and energy efficient to use highly reflective white roofing to reduce air conditioning costs than to use rooftop solar panels. Rooftop solar panels actually make more sense in colder climates.

      That still leaves a lot of developed land where you could put panels in those areas.

      • Shoulda refreshed before posting, your comment is much better.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Why are white roofs better than solar panels for inhabited buildings?

        • Same reason that the most energy effective thing to do with AC in the Southwest is adding a precooler that uses a small amount of water to lower the temp on the AC’s intake: Any action that decreases the load on AC units is a net gain. White roofs reflect sunlight and thereby heat, lowering the temp of both the building and the air taken in by the AC compressor, allowing it to cool more air with less juice.

          There’s so damn much low hanging fruit in efficiency that we should all have a tummyache from eating it (3% youth unemployment would be that tummyache, since the jobs painting roofs white and installing precoolers are semi-skilled labor that can’t be offshored…)

          • Pat

            Shade trees are also helpful in reducing AC load, although they have other disadvantages.

        • njorl

          The white roof reflects light, reducing the amount of heat absorbed by the structure. This reduces the amount of air conditioning needed. Solar panels must absorb light to function, but can only convert some of the energy to electricity. Most of it is converted to heat. In sufficiently hot climates, the solar panel does not generate enough electricity to supply enough air conditioning counteract the heat it is generating.

          • Pseudonym

            Why not just paint the solar panels white?

            • joe from Lowell

              They won’t absurd the light, but reflect it.

              • joe from Lowell

                Absorb. Derp.

              • asmallmoose

                Light is fundamentally absurd

                • joe from Lowell

                  It’s a wave and a particle?

                  That does not make sense!

            • Trollhattan

              It’s an absurd argument but if anybody were actually concerned, an airgap between the panels and the now-shaded roof completely eliminates any potential effect.

              Once heard an interweb argument that high-efficiency lightbulbs were no savings because…you lost all that heat from the incandescents and would have to run your furnace more.

              • JustRuss

                Thanks for mentioning that. I would argue that painting the roof white and adding panels would be the ticket.

                • Pat

                  Well, painting it white won’t reflect heat energy, only light energy. People are experimenting with geometries to address the heat problem, although I’ve seen some controversy over it.

          • Trollhattan

            Citation?

          • joe from Lowell

            OK, njorl, for your theory that white roofs > solar panels to work, the solar panels must produce only enough electricity to run the AC. Don’t solar panel-roofed buildings in Arizona typically run the lights and appliances as well?

            • njorl

              Maximum output of mass produced solar panels is 175 W/m^2. Intensity of sunlight in the desert is over 1kW/m^2 for much of the day. The excess is converted to heat, over half of which will burden the house AC. The most efficient AC might get you back to break even energy-wise due to the less sunny morning and late afternoon, but you would never come close to recouping your costs.

              Install a roof white, and spend the money putting the solar panels somewhere else.

      • asmallmoose

        Sure, but if I paint my roof white won’t it be easier for Obama’s killbots to find me in the hole I dug in the yard that I call a hot tub and kill me? Hot tub bombings are through the roof, this is srs.

        • njorl

          It’s the high temperature signature of the hot tub. You need to convert your barbeque grill to a decoy. Rig it up to fire into your neighbors yard the moment your home defense grid detects missile lock on your hot tub.

    • Or just white roofs. Republicans probably think that’s nonsense too.

      • Autonomous Coward

        Talking about albedo in America today means you’re the real racist.

        • But in this case white is better

          • asmallmoose

            So Manju was right all along

    • JustRuss

      I feel the same every time I go to Maui. Electricity is frickin expensive there, and when I lived there we had rolling brownouts in the afternoon because they couldn’t generate enough power to run everybody’s AC. Solar should be a no-brainer for Hawaii.

      • Chocolate Covered Cotton

        Just want to point out again: heat from sunshine is a usable energy source. One of the biggest utility-scale plants here in Nevada is a solar thermal plant near Boulder City. It’s useful and efficient at large-scale production, don’t know how well it scales down to individual homes or businesses. Also, solar water heaters are very effective at reducing the load.

        As for Hawaii, I’d think it also a natural for geothermal, wave energy, and offshore wind.

  • njorl

    Wind and solar can be as profitable as oil and coal.

    That’s ridiculous.

    I can see how we might properly regulate fossil fuels so that they lose profitability potential to the point where they are only as profitable as wind or solar, but there is no potential to go the other way. The barriers to entry are not high enough, nor can one monopolize the sources.

    • Gregor Sansa

      Huh?

      If you actually draw some supply-demand curves to correspond to what you just said, it’s basically “true” in an Econ 101 sense, but even then it’s meaningless. If power were to become 99% renewable, would anybody care that the 1% leftover was still getting a decent ROI?

  • DAS

    I has a sad. I thought a post about “hippy energy” complaining about “a certain set of commentators who love to hate” would be about those of us who second guess Obama and his 11D chess. I am disappointed this post is not about my kind. I am intrigued, however, to see jotto win the thread with his reminder that we should be both/and people rather than either/or people, although how many Uighers or Hui are members of the PRC communist party? Personally I want one of those “Hippies for Nuclear Energy” bumper stickers. I really want a “Hippies for GMOs” bumper sticker, but I don’t want Monsanto to thereby own the IP rights to my car.

    • Pat

      DAS, you shouldn’t start drinking so early on a Friday!

      • DAS

        I have not started drinking yet. This is me strung out on nicotine having smoked a nice bowl of pipe tobacco. The drinking will begin once I am home and shortly after we light Shabbos candles!

    • njorl

      I thought it was going to be about Shakira. There’s gotta be at least a megawatt of hippy energy when she really gets it going.

  • DAS

    Isn’t the main problem with solar the environmental impact of making solar panels? Semiconductor manufacture is not exactly a green process.

    • It is one important problem, yes. Those chemicals are pretty nasty.

      • asmallmoose

        So, we just bury them and build low income housing on top. This is a no brainer.

  • Tom Servo

    Beats the other way around. I have very little respect for tech utopians.

  • James

    I hate your energy posts because you palpably don’t know anything about the subject. It IS important to very technology with an informed and critical eye. But you aren’t informed and so cannot be critical: you haven’t done the reading.

    The problem isn’t even that you are wrong. It is that you don’t know enough to be wrong, and when persons attempt to engage you explain where the gaps in your knowledge are all you do is get huffy and respond with a non-sequitur or a link to someone else who transparently doesn’t have any knowledge on the relevant science or history. Which makes sense, since it is pretty clearly that such polemics are the source of what little you do know about the aforementioned science and history.

    The comparisons are obvious, and making them explicit will generate much more heat than light; and in the main while you are just as ignorant you are not nearly as toxic as the obvious comparisons. (To name one of the groups I said I wouldn’t name; anti-vaccers are much more dangerous. But they have that same unwillingness to except the idea of expertise: experts disagree, and so they must be in someones pocket, or simply deluded).

    And no, you don’t hate all technology. But even when you support it, you don’t understand it, either pro or con. I wouldn’t dream of spouting off about labor issues; I don’t know nearly enough. But it is really hard to take you seriously even there when it is clear in areas where I DO know the material that you are not interested in a real conversation.

    • joe from Lowell

      Which makes sense, since it is pretty clearly that such polemics are the source of what little you do know about the aforementioned science and history.

      I’ve noticed this about EPA air quality regulation. Erik’s knowledge extends to what gets reported in sufficiently-outraged tones on general-interest liberal blogs.

    • James

      sigh “it is very important think critically about technologies”

  • Anonymous

    Wind and solar can be as profitable as oil and coal.

    Yes, that’s why all of the taxpayer subsidies….’cuz it’s a fuckin’ gold mine.

    Thanks, brainiac…

    • asmallmoose

      Subsidies!!! What now o-bots? sick burn, etc.

    • Walt

      The Internet was also subsidized in its early days, and look how that turned out.

    • Chocolate Covered Cotton

      Because fossil fuel exploration, extraction, and distribution have never been subsidized in any way.

  • jkay

    Studies have shown nuclear the CHEAPEST FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. Yes it’s true. That’s because they emit nothing comparatively and need no resource wars, and safest for workers.

    And a new generation of nuclear reactors, pebble bed, invented by South Africa, solves the safety and so cost problems. China’s using them, too, as a haven from coal.

    Nuclear disposals’s LONG solved by EPA and stalled and killed by radical antinuclear Congress. The approach was geologically stable, like Finland.

    Solar’s the worst source, right now, ISTR, because what’s remotely lowimpact about the computer-like chips involved? And it hasn’t yet gone far in its cost curve yet.

    • guthrie

      Somehow the beancounters still can’t make nuclear work out right, which is rather odd given your assertions…

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