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Published on April 27th, 2011 | by Aaron Fown

46

Why Big Solar is a Colossally Bad Idea (10 Reasons Decentralized Solar is Much Better)

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April 27th, 2011 by
 

Of late there has been much talk about moving towards a solar energy future. This is a positive development (albeit one that is almost too late) and has been driven, no doubt, by recent studies that have shown that solar and wind power are now amongst the cheapest forms of power generation, several critical breakthroughs in related fields, and big moves by some major players. However, it seems that a lot of money is being thrown at a particular type of solar power plant; massive centralized solar plants. It is my opinion that this is a massive mistake.

We have an opportunity to build a new power system to replace our failing grid with something more resilient, more efficient and more egalitarian, and if we don’t take this opportunity we will be stuck with mild changes to the old system. I feel that big solar is actually a real threat to our future, or at least our best possible future, and we need to focus a bit on it now before the form of our electrical system is set in stone.

In fairness, centralized solar does have a few benefits, so let’s start with them before I explain why a decentralized system would be a much better choice.

1. A centralized solar plant requires fewer engineers and workers to build and maintain the solar power collectors than a distributed system, on a per megawatt basis. This means there is less up front cost, and you employ fewer people. I guess that might help the stock price, since Wall St. tends to invest against employing people.

2. A large solar installation, or better, many of them spread across many states, provides a consistent money stream for the plant owner, especially after the upfront cost of the plant is paid off.

3. A large solar installation can take the place of a coal or nuclear plant, providing energy without the many downsides of the older technologies.

Notice anything about these benefits? The first two are primarily beneficial to the plant operator, and not to the community that the solar plant is in.

1. A decentralized solar collection scheme is far more energy efficient than a centralized one. More than 30% of our electricity is lost in transmission in our current system, and a centralized solar plant is no different than the current system in this way. A decentralized system can supply power to where it is needed directly most of the time, only using the grid to offload surplus power.

2. A decentralized solar strategy will employ far more people per megawatt than a centralized one, employing small businesses and technicians to maintain and install systems wherever they are needed. We really need jobs right now, so this should be a big selling point.

3. A decentralized solar system will be far more resilient to natural disasters, as there will be no single points of failure that can bring down the whole grid, as there is with centralized power generation. Do you remember the blackout of 2003? A bad solar storm could be far worse.

4. A decentralized solar system utilizes unused space on rooftops and in yards to generate power, whereas a centralized system requires the development of new land, destroying habitats while generating no more power. Indeed, given the amount of unused roof space in the US, you could completely solve our energy issues by covering only a small fraction of it with solar collectors. Add solar collectors built into roads and pathways, and we have all of the space we need to solve the energy crisis for good without clearing any more land.

5. A decentralized solar strategy gives power to the people, in more ways than one. Since the people are generating electricity, they are also generating capital continuously in the form of free electrons. The result is that the community is made richer across the board, by producing a useful, valuable commodity directly under the control of middle and lower class people.

6. A decentralized solar strategy provides market space for lots of technologies to compete directly, without the generally anti-competitive nature of big monolithic construction contracts crowding out the small players. In the short run, this will provide more opportunities for small businesses to grow. In the long run, this enriched competition will produce a more efficient and refined product.

7. Rooftop systems shade the structure underneath, cutting energy usage in the summer months. This is an additional energy savings above and beyond the major issue of transmission losses.

8. A decentralized solar collection strategy preserves a place for things such as solar water heaters, which are a much more efficient way to heat water than generating power miles away, losing a significant portion of it by shoving it through wires, and then heating more wires to heat water. The difference in efficiency for this one task is enormous.

9. A decentralized solar strategy doesn’t require huge governmental loan guarantees to get off the ground. It doesn’t require government help at all, though it would be nice if local governments would get out of the way and let people set up these systems without bureaucratic hassles or ridiculous energy buy back schemes. If the government gets involved, it could be in the form of rebates or tax abatements, which are proven to be a more effective way of distributing public funds into the economy than big monolithic projects. Or it could be in the form of innovative projects that use the acres of rooftops on civic structures to generate power instead of just more heat. Even if you are utterly skeptical of governmental action, you could just think of it as a handy way of reducing the hot air coming out of your local legislative bodies, while finally putting them to some useful work.

10. This one is often missed: the secondary costs of a centralized power system, like beefed up transmission lines, large ugly transformer stations, and so on are rarely calculated into the cost of concentrating lots of megawatts in one place, but all of those expensive accessories are going to have to be paid for somehow.

What about wind? Well, it turns out that wind generators work best when they are spaced out generously, and so the laws of physics are already working against a whole lot of centralization. Many of the early attempts at a highly centralized wind generator were a failure because the closely packed mills created turbulence that reduced efficiency and in some cases caused damage. The closest things out there are some very successful county projects, but in those cases people in rural areas rent out a parcel of their own land for the windmill to be erected on. It works, it’s easy money, and it’s out of the bag. You should assume that everything I am arguing for here can work just fine with all of the wind power we can muster.

Of course, we can’t expect people to build a complete power system themselves. There still needs to be some large scale investment in such a system, and I think there is money to be made while strengthening our communities. A number of corporations, like Boeing, have already seen the value in investing in a form of power that is not tied to the fickle winds of international politics. Decentralized power requires an investment in regional and local power storage devices to hold extra power generated on windy or sunny days and release it back into the system on less active ones. The thing is, our current system really needs such a capability too, as even there is energy lost in off-peak hours by idling generators. Soaking up some of that electricity cheaply and releasing it in peak hours could be a profitable business even now. However, for some reason, I can’t fathom getting financing even for mature and dependable alternative power systems, like geothermal, is extremely difficult. Correcting that lack of foresight on behalf of the credit issuers might require some loud complaining by a lot of people. Indeed, the work that is needed to correct a wide variety of outdated policies is the a greater barrier to the widespread adoption of alternative energy than any technical challenge.

All of the problems that we have with our current, decaying electrical system will need to be fixed, unless we care to look forward to a future of power shortages. It’s going to require a lot of investment, no matter what. We can try to hold together the old system with stopgap measures, but the inherent inefficiency of transporting electricity over long distances simply can not be corrected. If we all take the initiative, we can break up the system into something that is more flexible, and sustainable. One that can stand up to trouble in a way more like the internet than a house of cards. And one that will pay off it’s greater upfront cost by sharing the load of that cost better, and paying off bigger in the long run. But we all have to understand what is at stake, and that positive change is going to be opposed by people who would rather build new monopolies than give (electrical) power to the people.

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About the Author

I am a plant biologist and documentarian who loves to write, photograph, explore, and discover.



  • Handmadefire

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  • Aaron Fown

    I agree, HVDC is a great way of transmitting power over long distances. Underground is the way to go, far less issues due to wind and downed lines long term. Thanks for the comment!

  • Aaron Fown

    What about those people who have PV or wind system on their roof, with a battery bank, that supplies all of their needs? I know a number of these people who supply all of their own needs already. What is their grid cost? Oh, by the way, most of these people are off the grid entirely. It’s hard to imagine how their grid losses are any higher than the, oh, zero. Which would be an infinitely large reduction in grid costs, eh?

  • Aaron Fown

    What about those people who have PV or wind system on their roof, with a battery bank, that supplies all of their needs? I know a number of these people who supply all of their own needs already. What is their grid cost? Oh, by the way, most of these people are off the grid entirely. It’s hard to imagine how their grid losses are any higher than the, oh, zero. Which would be an infinitely large reduction in grid costs, eh?

    • Anonymous

      I’m one.  Without spending time doing the math I’d guess that being on the grid is cheaper.

      I’ve got about $10k in my system.  I have to replace the batteries every 5-8 years (a couple thou), but some generator gas for when the sun lets me down, and replace my gen every few years.

      (I’ve cruched the numbers for a wind generator to fill in for when the sun hides, but gen and gas is much cheaper.)

      I’ve got my power usage down to a minimum so I’d guess that I’d save a lot of money were I hooked up to grid power.

      But there was this $300,000 charge to hook up….

      • Anonymous

        You asked about losses – there’s a loss when charging batteries (10%?) and a loss when moving from 24vdc to 120vac (5%?).

        There’s even a small loss between panels and batteries.  That’s because it doesn’t pay to install wire large enough to carry 100% produced power.  On really sunny days one can’t use all the power created so common practice it to size one’s wire for a 2% to 5% loss.

        On days of small sun you’re not going to be pumping at full power.  On sunny days my batteries are generally full by noon.

        Were I on the grid I could ship big hunks of sunny day power to others.

        There’s no free lunch.

  • Aaron Fown

    The Australian plan is excellent insofar as it includes both centralized and distributed alternative energy in the framework. I’m advocated decentralized power, not so much because centralized alternative energy would be bad (it would certainly be better than what we have now) but rather because decentralized power has many benefits which are being overlooked, in my opinion. In many states, such as Ohio, there are barriers in place to prevent an individual from generating power easily, and we need to fight against those misplaced regulations and work to build a more responsive system.

  • Aaron Fown

    I think I was getting my losses confused there. Indeed, the amount of
    total energy loss in transmission for the entire grid was around 6-7% last year,
    depending on the source. That amounted to about 20 billion dollars down
    the drain. However, this is not the same as the sort of losses that can
    be expected from larger solar installations, if they are not located in
    the communities they are serving. Losses from shipping power from the
    desert to the rest of the US have been estimated at 60%+. So, that
    paragraph was poorly phrased, as it suggested that the current system
    looses that much. I will fix that. I think my mistake was in quoting a
    study that also included losses caused by keeping the generators
    spinning while demand is low, which amounts to 30% of the energy being wasted. Consider it corrected.

  • Anonymous

    Andrew – those are LCOE numbers which include transmission.  When people talk about the cost of wind they generally are speaking about the cost of generation at the farm, and not including transmission, integration costs.

    Recognizing transmission and integration costs are important, but one needs to be clear what they are talking about.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thomas-Cheney/716830405 Thomas Cheney

     Large scale solar thermal is dispatchable, small-scale requires batteries or hydrogen which adds a lot to system cost

    • Anonymous

      Neither large scale nor small scale solar require storage.  They can be integrated into the grid when they are available.

      Thermal solar (what I suspect you mean by ‘large scale’) has the ability to include heat storage which makes it dispatchable and allows it to provide power when the sun is not shinning.

  • ResearcherGuy

     If you like fact, here’s one for you.  I was part of a deal over two years ago that developed a massive wind farm in the upper midwest and the cost to break even was at 4.8 cents/kWh.  The PPA was headed for a 5.5 cent/kWh contract when the investment bankers stepped in and said they had a deal to send it all the way to DC to sell for 15 cents.  After transmission costs, the cost was going to total in the 7-7.5 cent range with the obvious remaining 6.8 cents (7.5 minus the original .7 cent profit) all going to that bank.

    Now, anyone out ther care to explain why wind isn’t 5-6 cents on the market?

    • AndrewW

      Name the deal, otherwise is just more typical b.s. 

  • ResearcherGuy

    I now know why I get so pissed ever time I visit this site. It’s not all the biased articles as much as the whole ‘investor’ class and their know-nothing attitudes.

    Distributed solar is so much better there’s no contest. As the article correctly pointed out, the power (in forms of kW, control, distributed jobs and interest avoidance) is put to the people. Also, the power losses are definitely in the 30% range, if not higher. Missing from that, however, was the explaination of where the rest goes. Not counting enormous water uses for centralized power of all kinds, there’s the heat loss. The biggest losses are actually in the fact that the process of converting from AC to DC, which actually does 90% of the work in our homes and small businesses, costs another big chunk of energy. It also leads to many phantom power loads that might be unnecessary if the building had a 48 volt DC bus.

    This best reason, however, for using distributed solar is the availability of designing the system to concentrate that wasted heat and putting it to good use. When you have a 20% efficient system designed this way, it’s pretty easy to make use of 90% of the ‘lost’ heat. Now you can run heat powered equipment to heat water, living spaces, pools, dryers (mentioned above), sidewalks (winters up north), air conditioners, digesters (to turn waste into fuel) and even aid in hydrogen generation for automobile use. The result is a total of 90% efficiency from a system that provides many many uses and when calculating THAT LCO over 20 years in dollars per kWH without any subsidies, it’s under ONE PENNY.

    Now for the problem. It’s the investors who only look to so called experts in certain fields. Not one of the greatest inventions of history would be funded by you guys with this practice because the experts have vested interest in the status quo where they get their paychecks. Remember when the wright brothers built their toy? During that same time, the high paid, ROI centered experts were launching steam powered planes into the Potomic. I’ll bet not one of you shows any interest in the system above which is currently being finalized by a new “Wright” generation. The guys doing it won’t be tying their future to investors however. They will be raising donations from the people so they can get this system into the most underpriveledged hands and actually solve our energy problems.

    Be ready for your energy investment world to be rocked.

  • Joefk1956

    Quote:

    However, it seems that a lot of money is being thrown at a particular type of solar power plant; massive centralized solar plants. It is my opinion that this is a massive mistake.” – Unfortunately the author failed to support this claim with any facts, as when you check the “facts” mentioned in this paper you realize someone failed at mathematics as well as science classes…
    Actually while talking with a few of the world largest PV manufacturers they all support the Ivanpah project and centralized solar power plants!

    They see PV as part of the solution and they understand the need for CSP especially with hybrid / storage to supply the electrical grid.

    When you realize the facts brought above are in fact fictional, you can dismiss this as an ill attempt to change perception for the wrong reasons.

    Why would somebody publish a paper so lacking in fundamentals is beyond my understanding.

    • Aaron Fown

      I have yet to read about any major government supported projects for getting PV and wind power on people’s roof tops, but most if not all centralized projects are at least partially supported by the government. I’m not sure I agree with you that my facts are wrong, unless you can point to some sort of major effort on behalf of governments to distribute alternative energy gear. Please, prove me wrong.

      Oh, and it is natural that PV manufacturers will support centralized power. They will support any one who is buying their stuff! They would have to be remarkably stupid to say “We will only sell to decentralized/roof top power projects,” and I would have to be pretty stupid to claim that. Good thing I didn’t, so I’m not sure how this evidence is in any way relevant.

    • Aaron Fown

      I have yet to read about any major government supported projects for getting PV and wind power on people’s roof tops, but most if not all centralized projects are at least partially supported by the government. I’m not sure I agree with you that my facts are wrong, unless you can point to some sort of major effort on behalf of governments to distribute alternative energy gear. Please, prove me wrong.

      Oh, and it is natural that PV manufacturers will support centralized power. They will support any one who is buying their stuff! They would have to be remarkably stupid to say “We will only sell to decentralized/roof top power projects,” and I would have to be pretty stupid to claim that. Good thing I didn’t, so I’m not sure how this evidence is in any way relevant.

      • Anonymous

        Huh?

        There’s a 30% federal subsidy for homeowner solar.  In my book that’s a pretty major government supported project for getting PV on people’s roof tops.

        I believe there are small wind subsidies as well, but I’m not up to speed on wind.

        I do know that you really don’t want wind on your roof.  You do not want to live with that amount of vibration transmitted through your house.  Wind belongs out in the yard, on top of a tall stick.

  • Lj

    I like this article because I have been saying the same thing for years now and we need to get this idea to the white house so these politicians can finally fulfill at least one campaign promise made to us.

    • Anonymous

      You have been saying what, a combination of facts and “stuff”?

      And, as for “can finally fulfill at least one campaign promise made to us “, here’s PBO’s track record to date…

      Promises Kept 135

      Promises Compromised (Partly Kept) 40

      Promise Broken 42

      Stalled 70

      In the Works 219

      Now if you’d like to further educate yourself take a look at the promises broken and see how many were broken because others blocked his completion.

      PBO can’t close Gitmo if Congress blocks the funding and ability to move detainees to federal prisions.

      PBO can’t sign sign the Employee Free Choice Act if Congress does not pass it.

      PBO can’t enact a windfall profits tax for oil companies if Congress does not pass the legislation needed.

      Here – you can read the rest for yourself.

      http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/obameter/

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  • Anonymous

    That photo is scary. There is something off putting about such a high concentration of solar panels. I agree with the decentralization concept.

  • AndrewW

    The author (remarkably) begins this article with the claim that “that solar and wind power are now amongst the cheapest forms of power generation.”

    The are actually amongst the most EXPENSIVE – especially solar schemes. Solar generated electricity will still cost $.25-$.40 per kWh by 2016 (according to DOE) and it is why we are spending millions to “make solar electricity cost-effective.”

    After such irresponsible information in the first paragraph, I didn’t bother with the rest of the article.

    Green and clean technology is hooting itself in the foot by either being too lazy to do the math or simply acting like cheerleaders.

    • Anonymous

      This article certainly has its problems, as many of us have pointed out.

      However your comment does not hold together either. Wind is now among the least expensive, if not the least expensive way to produce electricity. Read Zach’s two articles on the cost of wind, posted today on this site.

      As for the prediction of $0.25 to $0.40/kWh by 2016 for solar, that number will not hold. Solar prices are rapidly dropping and solar has already reached grid parity in some parts of the world. Sunny parts should be producing power at $0.15/kWh this year.

  • Froderich

    People have been very polite in debunking the nonsense here. I don’t understand the editing process that got this published.

    Distributed PV solar delivers *zero* reduction in grid costs. *Zero.* Grid costs — transmission and distribution wiring, transformers, switches, etc. — are all determined by peak load requirement. Peak load continues in most places until 9 or 10pm in the event. PV is gone by 5 or 6. Zero reduction in the wiring needed.

    So many other fallacies, a nonsense piece.

    • Anonymous

      I think what people are talking about is the cost of hooking rooftop panels to the existing building electrical system, using the existing grid connection as a ‘two way’ as opposed to installing panels in a more remote setting and having to provide grid connections.

      Yes, the grid will still be robust enough to handle post-sundown grid demands. That’s a different issue.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NDA7UFIGEKF7FSM6IRJUS4B6CM give chants a chance

    An unexpected benefit of “in between” ( centralized and decentralized) energy generation popped up on the front page of the main Maui, Hawaii, newspaper. I think it was April 15, 2011. There is a large land-based business on the island that is not very profitable. They raise cattle and grapevines. They don’t really want to start selling off pieces of the land to developers, but they have to make a living. So they went before the public, explaining their idea at a PUC meeting, and there was zero protest against it. NO NIMBYism at all. So, to keep the land in it’s near-native state, they sacrificed about 250 acres out of a 21,000 acre ranch to accommodate a dozen or so wind turbines. I don’t remember many of the details, but the paper emphasized that the total acreage to be used for the project included the access roads. The ranch business said the wind turbines would keep them financially stable for many years to come.

  • Seamus Dubh

    By far number 5 is the best point and the one of most contention when it comes to current energy issues. When you give power to the people the government can’t control. And that in turn is part of the disdain of green energy tech, under current models and pushes it takes power away from the people making them more dependent on the government and there for more under government control.

  • Graham Honor

    Thank you for this paper,
    Now it seems you do not need to know the facts at all to state “10 reasons to”…

    I was under the impression that before writing a paper one does research, ask experts, but I was probably wrong.

    I am trying my best to recall when I have read a paper full of half truths and dam right disinformation, but it seems it was long ago…

    I remember now 3 of them when I was in high-school I read a paper that said that smoking does not harm you at all.

    The recent similar reports were published during the Bush administration, one was saying that global warming is a myth and the other claiming weapons of mass distraction….

    Now to the point decentralized solar, especially on rooftops and in remote areas is great!
    Bur decentralized solar cannot replace base-load demand for electricity anytime soon.

    Concentrated solar power technology does consume a lot of land but if there is something we have plenty of is land.

    According to the CIA the USA has a population of 313,232,044 and area of 9,826,675 sq km~ 3,794,308 sq miles.

    India has an area of 3,287,263 sq km ~ 1,269,289 sq miles about one third of the USA but a population of 1,189,172,906 more than three times the population of the USA that makes India roughly ten times more crowded than the USA.

    Regarding transmission lines they could not care less if your power source is solar nuclear, wind or coal, all power plants need them and even with decentralized power you would require backup, that’s the transmission lines again.

    A decentralized solar system will be far more resilient to natural disasters??? Really??? I am going right now to tell my neighbor that his PV panels broke free during a storm and broke his Mango tree and his fence.
    Luckily his daughter saw the flames from her window and they were able to quickly extinguish the fire.

    A decentralized solar strategy doesn’t require huge governmental loan guarantee???.
    Dam right, it needs far more money for feed in Tariffs over years and years and when there is no sun those PV panels produce zero electricity, the gas turbines comes in and supply the power.

    Who is paying for these gas turbines?
    With centralized CSP plants you do not need these extra turbines.

    I can go on but I think the readers should be spared any more serious comments to this “article”.

    • Anthonyp37

      You are so right, this is a “PRAVDA” type of work. we should have all sorts of solar power. 

    • Aaron Fown

      Oh, where to start. I’m glad that you laid out your disdain so clearly in the first three quarters of this response, but it’s hard to tell where your actual objections begin. So forgive me if I miss one or two while I work through them.

      •I’m not disputing that decentralized alternative energy can’t meet base load requirements for the US now. Centralized can’t either, and that is likely to be the case for some time as we build the gear needed to actually generate all of this power. I’m just proposing that while we are in the investment and research phase, that we should aim towards building a decentralized system, due to the benefits I’ve outlined. There will be a number of critical technologies coming out in the near future that will make the idea of decentralized power much more viable, such as new home energy storage systems. I am not proposing that we can snap our fingers and have this all be done instantly, that’s a straw man.

      •I’m not disputing that we have plenty of free space, though I would personally prefer to use space we are already occupying for more than one use, rather than cluttering up wild areas better used for preserving natural resources with energy generation gear. We have millions of acres of roof space waiting to be used for something in this country, I tend to think it’s better to start there.

      •If you are using independent power, until you run out of the energy that you are using the transmission lines are not used. This results in negligible transmission loss. If you have extra, beyond what is needed to charge your batteries or whatnot, you can send it to your neighbor through a smart grid designed for such load leveling. But we need to build the new grid to handle many sources of generation now if we want this to work. BTW, I made a mistake with my 30% figure, by including losses due to keeping the generators hot in off peak hours along with the 7% or so in pure line loss. I’m sorry for this mistake, but as far as I can tell this is the only inaccuracy in my article. Would you care to point out some others?

      •Your neighbor’s experience with wind damage notwithstanding, if his panels had been secured properly they would have continued to provide power even if the neighborhoods electricity had gone down. If the high voltage transmission cable had snapped in the wind it could have caused a fire too. This anecdote doesn’t really undermine my point. The east coast blackout is ample demonstration of the fact that widespread outages can occur even without a bad weather event to precipitate it, and the only people who had power during that period were people with distributed power (i.e. generators and alternative sources.)

      •Virtually every independent solar system I have seen has some form of energy storage, be it a pressure tank, a battery bank, or something more exotic. When the sun goes out, you get energy from that, not a gas turbine somewhere. Frankly, we already have such turbines all over, I’m not sure why these loans you are talking about to build such things would be necessary.

  • Anonymous

    I am all for High Voltage DC lines, very low loss of electricity over long distances.

    • Anonymous

      Additionally HVDC transmission lines can be run underground.

      It’s more expensive than overhead installation, but is does avoid the visual pollution.

  • http://dottribes.com/iev Corina|EV

    Good point! This is exactly my oppinion! Thanks for underlining in such a good and exact way!

  • http://twitter.com/lavendula13 Jeanne Roberts

    We usually call this (small solar) distributed generation, or on-site generation. You might get more readers that way.

  • Anumakonda Jagadeesh

    Excellent post Aaron Fown. I entirely agree with you. In fact Solar energy especially PV will be a boon as decentralised energy in developing countries. With improved solar cell efficiency through CSP it makes sense to invest in small Solar plants which are viable and easy to maintain.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  • http://twitter.com/WholeBuffalo Whole Buffalo

    -It is not either/or
    -Decentralized solar has some advantages as you note, but the low cost of centralized solar will be very important in displacing coal et al.

  • Ciaran

    I agree with you, I am one of the contestants in GE’s ecomagination contest and we blog about this constantly. One of my inventions is a smart washer dryer combo or Sword for short. Sword is designed to use the heat from solar hot water to dry the clothes effectively removing the electric clothes dryer from the grid. Basically Sword acts as a useful heat dump to any solar thermal hot water system making itself the sthws and a flash heater perform better together than they could apart. This is the decentralized approach and it removes the need for a home’s 30 amp dryer service. Check it out at http://challenge.ecomagination.com/home/Sword-Smart-WashedDryer

  • Susan Kraemer

    I would agree with Bob. I used to agree that distributed would be great.

    But, try selling that, and then see if you think differently about utility-scale. My own experience in attempting to sell solar has led me to realize – sadly – that we will never get enough solar on individual rooftops to make any difference because – not to put too fine a point on it – most people are simply just plain too stupid to do anything different and go solar.

    Even when it costs them LESS than their PG&E bill monthly, with NO UPFRONT COST – (via a PPA) people still just won’t take the leap. Even though they can save enough money over 25 years to buy a second house! Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    So, unless it is mandated that everyone with a roof must have it requisitioned for compulsory energy production – I realized – it ain’t gonna happen fast enough to make the difference climate wise.

    BTW, I myself have solar, and am thrilled with it. But it is very frustrating being unable to get others to see how smart a move it is.

    • Aaron Fown

      I agree that getting through to the public, especially the American public, is difficult. However, I’m not quite ready to abandon a potentially superior solution to our energy just because the public can be a bit. . thick. A fully decentralized system should be our aim 50 years from now, not tomorrow. Plenty of time to educate the public, though I admit we have our work cut out for us.

    • Aaron Fown

      I agree that getting through to the public, especially the American public, is difficult. However, I’m not quite ready to abandon a potentially superior solution to our energy just because the public can be a bit. . thick. A fully decentralized system should be our aim 50 years from now, not tomorrow. Plenty of time to educate the public, though I admit we have our work cut out for us.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t at all agree that a fully decentralized system should be our aim.

        How do people in low wind, highly cloudy areas get their power?

        How would we justify the expense of putting wind turbines and solar panels in places where they would produce only a fraction of what we would get in the best locations?

        If you’re arguing decentralization in order to reduce transmission costs and transmission losses you have to balance that against the cost of installing many more panels, turbines, etc. in order to make up for poor siting.

        Makes no sense to cover rooftops in foggy Seattle when you could put a fourth as many panels inland and ship the power for less money.

        Makes sense to extend the Intermountain Intertie from Utah on up into windy Wyoming and let that line bring abundant evening wind to SoCal rather than build huge amount of storage to save daytime solar for evening use.

        As a general rule, make power as close to where it will be used as possible.  But make wise decisions.  Sometimes it makes more sense to use centralized systems.

        Centralization means that we don’t have to overbuild each local system because we can share supply.

        (Back to my system – I’ve got more power than I can use/store in the summer, but not enough in the winter.  I could use someone else’s surplus winter hydro/wind.)

  • Anonymous

    I think you’ve set up an unfortunate win/loose scenario. These are two different approaches to harvesting energy from the sun and each has its own set of advantages.

    Rooftop has the advantage of being generated close to point of use which decreases transmission needs. It can be installed on existing rooftops which is an efficient use of real estate and can provide additional income for commercial buildings. It’s also spread around a larger area which means that passing clouds will not have as large an impact on total output.

    Thermal solar has the advantage of being located inland, away from coastal weather, where the sun is more constant. It can be built with storage which is very valuable as it can service the peak hours after the sun has set. It can be run with natural/biogas when demand is exceptionally high during the peak-peak hours. Use the solar input to create electricity and switch to gas in the evening.

    Transmission losses are simply a matter of upgrading the grid, which is already underway. We will cut the amount of transmission loss regardless of which generation choices we make.

    How about we don’t make this a contest between different forms of clean tech? Each technology – PV solar, thermal solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tidal ,etc. – has strengths and weaknesses. Use each where they work best.

    The real job is getting fossil fuels off our grid and shutting down the most dangerous of our nuclear fleet.

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