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Clean Power cost of war versus solar

Published on October 24th, 2011 | by Guest Contributor

43

Cost of War.. Spent on Solar Power Instead

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October 24th, 2011 by
 
 
This is an awesome guest post from yet another one of our awesome readers, Rich Loomis. Rich offered the data and idea, and then, with a little nudge, actually went ahead and wrote the whole post. While he points this out below, I just want to highlight that while there’s an initial cost to the solar power alternative, the savings that result from it are tremendous, as well as the jobs that would be created and would feed back into the U.S. economy. Also, mass deployment of solar would bring the cost of solar down (actually, probably the best solution to bring the cost down at this point), so I think his 2nd scenario is likely to be much more realistic than the 1st.

cost of war solar

When the US engaged in war with Afghanistan, and then Iraq, the bill started running and hasn’t stopped. The wars have cost over $2.33 trillion and will cost over $4.53 trillion before they’re over. The cost is so unbelievably large, it’s hard to grasp.

In order to get some context on what $2.33 trillion means, let’s look at what the money could have achieved for Americans, if spent differently. Let’s use the money to install solar panels on every home in America. Is $2.33 trillion enough money to give every home in America a solar panel system? If so, how much solar power would every home in America get?

First, let’s look at the cost of a 3kW solar system for a single home. I’m using the Sharp NU-Q235F4 Mono-crystalline Silicon solar panel for price and efficiency calculations. The Sharp panel is made in the USA. The panel is neither the most efficient nor the least efficient panel on the market. I found the Sharp solar panel for $405.38 each. Using $3.85 per watt to cover labor and panel hardware/inverter, the cost of a 3kW system installed (panels + installation) would run $17,032 per home. This cost does not include tax incentives. The price is around $5.57/watt installed. There are 130,590,000 homes in the US. At $17,032 per home (retail price), the cost to install a 3kW solar system on every home in the US would be $2.22 trillion. Remove this cost from the $2.33 trillion we started with and we’re left with roughly $107 billion that could be used for government administration and fraud prevention.

OK, so the US decided to go down the fossil-fuel-energy-independence path instead of war and has installed a 3kW solar panel system on every home in the country. What did we get for our $2.33 trillion?

What does this mean to the average home owner? Using the Sharp solar calculator in a conservative solar radiation state, a single home will save 3,576 kWh/yr. Using a cost of $0.10 / kWh, the average home in the US will save $357/year in electricity for the next 20 years.

What do we get as a nation? Using Google stats from 2008 (the newest available)

   USA Solar panels manufactured 1,697,670,000
   Solar Nameplate capacity in MW 398,952
   Nationwide solar home electricity generation in MWh/yr 466,989,840
    Electricity usage per capita kWh/yr – 2008 13,654
   U.S.A. population – 2008 304,060,000
   Nationwide electricity usage in MWh/yr 4,151,635,240
   % of nationwide electricity generated from home solar panels 11.25%

Yep, that’s right. The United States would have manufactured and installed 1.7 billion solar panels and would have reduced fossil fuel energy used for electric generation by 11%. All of the numbers used so far are based on retail costs and current panel efficiencies.

The real fun starts when you look at what could have been done. What if the President said the US will only buy solar panels that are 40% efficient and will only pay $2/watt installed (achievable through economies of scale). The picture dramatically changes. Installing a 6kW solar system installed on every home in the US would only cost $1.67 trillion (which includes the 107 billion for administration). The home solar panels would generate 62.5% of electricity usage in the United States. Each home would benefit from a $1,986/year reduction in electricity costs for the next 20 years.

I’ll vote for the person pushing the $2/watt installed, 40% efficient, Made in the USA, 6kW solar systems on every home in the USA Act. References:

  1. Cost of War Watson Institute For International Studies Conservative ($2,331,100,000,000) Moderate ($2,657,300,000,000) Middle Ground ($2,494,200,000,000)
  2. Google population in 2008
  3. Electric usage per capita — Google
  4. Solar panel cost
  5. Solar panel efficiency

Image Credit: United States Marine Corps Official Page

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  • Kevin Martin

    I know that not 100% of homes in the US are pointed in the right direction for solar panels to make any sense. Solar will never be the replacement for fossil fuels. We could have spent these trillions on exploration and drilling too and would have a tangible way to walk away from foriegn oil. The avaerage ROI for a residential solar job is well over 5 years. Not investment grade numbers to me.
    We’d be better off getting more efficient on the demand side. We could do this without government mandates that kill industry as well. Lighting is the low fruit on the tree but HVAC has plenty of ECMs geothermal chillers are good. Building controls are great at eeking out pennies from your utility costs.
    Plus I dont want solar panels on my roof. Ever. Tech moves too fast to be affixing the latest to my home when it’ll be outdated in a decade or less. Drill………..

    • Woods and Water

      I use LED lights, have been off grid since 1984, house is earth sheltered of our own design built with our own hands…the lie that is being perpetrated on the US citizenry is that this current extraction is for our ‘security’…what a bunch of nonsense…we have the highest reserves of oil in 83 years…and more coming all the time…more pipelines, more fracking…have you noticed your fuel prices dropping? No…this is for export…for greed, not for need. Fossil fuels are a danger to us all. Energy efficiency is, of course, the low hanging fruit…and should be accomplished quickly…all new buildings should be designed for natural heating and cooling…quit designing cities for cars…I have a refrigerator and freezers which use danfoss compressors and use a fraction of the energy of most….the future is now…Germany is proving that, the US is lagging even China…of course, coal should be the first out the door.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Most homes have some of their roofs pointed either south, east or west.

      A solar system designed to produce 100% of a homes electricity use will produce about 5x as much power as the home consumes when the Sun is shining. That’s the solar input for a bunch of houses that don’t have solar.

      Then everyone turns to wind and other renewables when the Sun goes down.

      “Solar will never be the replacement for fossil fuels.”

      That’s just a silly statement. Solar is already replacing fossil fuels. Just currently in small amounts. Good stuff grows.

      A five year ROI is a 14.4% return. Where does one put their money that’s reasonably safe and earn 14%?

      You’re pretty poorly informed, Kevin. Stick around, read, and ask questions. You’ll catch up.

      • Kevin Martin

        I come from the demand side.
        Solar will never replace fossil fuels completely you can bank on that. I also believe that the total % of electricity generated by PV figures are over stated. Are your figures based on just homes or total population? Much of the population is in multi-family housing. 1 rootop for who knows how many Americans.
        There is still the problem of converting and storing the power as well. What battery system is going to be employed? Are batteries not environmentally un-friendly?
        I guess I’m green but I am that way because that is the color of the bottom line.
        I am a climate denyer. I don’t deny that change is happening but beleive there is nothing we can do to change it one way or the other, this is historically the way things are.
        I am also against more government control over consumer choices. Let the good stuff survive in the marketplace becuase it’s better. Thats teaching the public how to fish rather than mandating technolgy or tossing them a can of tuna.
        We’ll likely have to agree to disagree on much.
        I appreciate new tech but know better than to jump on the latest bandwagon for the sake of it.
        The energy industries are all tied into politics. It is unnavoidable and bad all at the same time.
        I am a capatalist and believe that less government is better and want my piece of the American dream as well. The new, more efficient tech is going to come to market and the good stuff will survive and flourish based upon consumer demand.
        It is the demand side’s job to educate the consumer. I routinely am told that a 36 month payback/ROI is longer than will be considered for large commercial projects. 18-24 months is the target. How long will it take a $17k PV system to pay for itself assuming $1300.00 in savings per year? That looks like 13 years to me. Not so great.
        Corporations are in a much better position to make energy efficiency minded capitol improvements than individual families are. Many have dedicated energy managers to watch utility expendatures which is great. This is mainly because of the education the demand side has been providing. In lighting it’s been big business since the advent of the T8 linear fluorescent in the 90s. Not all advances in the field have been home runs though. Compact fluorescent is bad tech IMO and Induction was passed by LED before it really got a good foothold. LED is the future but in some applications I would really just prefer to screw in a 100W incandescent. Too bad for me.
        I appluad those who live off the grid. I toy with the idea myself however if I would prefer to live on the grid and use 1950′s appliances and 150W incandescents I should be able to do so without any penalty other than my utility bill increase.
        You are an educator right? Why are more homes not going to solar than are currently? Is it initial investment? Lack of financing? Run out of utility incentive $$? There are solutions to those issues if the measure will produce a good ROI.
        Coal is not the bad guy either. Coal is burned much cleaner now than it has been (creating 50%) of the juice powering your monitor (not you woods and water) and nuclear is still an option that we need to embrace rather than shun.

        • Bob_Wallace

          About half of all Americans “have a roof”.

          “Solar will never replace fossil fuels completely you can bank on that.”

          Sorry, that’s an opinion very likely to fail. We may, in fact, continue to use a very small amount of fossil fuels. But I wouldn’t bet on that being the case 30 years from now.

          We will build storage as we need it. We simply don’t need much storage at this time. Storage is starting to take over from gas peakers, but that’s economics and not grid needs.

          Significant storage needs are several years out. And we’ve got both pump up hydro and very promising battery options that should easily fill the storage role.

          A 13 year payback is a 5.5% return. That is not bad for a low risk investment. Higher than you’ll get with a quality bond. Not that much lower than a volatile indexed mutual fund.

          Climate change is real. We are the cause. We must deal with the problem we have created. Climate change denier junk is not welcome on this site.

          You display a lack of good financial understanding. You want to use incandescent bulbs when the payback for a LED is under one year and the bulb is good for a decade or more.

          This is an example of political wrong-headed thinking. It shows that you are not a capitalist but a party loyal who does not think for themselves.

          BTW, I’ll give you a picture of how humans kill birds….

          • Kevin Martin

            Well if climate change were not such a subjective issue I’d be offended.

            Americans live paycheck to paycheck for the most part and I for one am not parting with my money for an ECM unless it is coming back to me in well under a decade. If I want 13 year ROI I’ll let my banker find me a solution.

            No need to appolgize,

            I’ll take your 30 year bet.

            Tell about these past 17 years of no real change in climate again?

            It’s not due to less human “carbon polution”. Must be because it doesnt matter what we do or dont the Earth is bigger than all of us. We can keep the environment nicer but climate….cant change it. It’s the sun. Can’t change that either. But we can harness it’s power to an extent. 30 years from now solar may be 50% of US power production but that is doubtful.

            I eat birds frequently. Doesn’t mean I like them fried out of mid air our sucked into wind turbines.

            I like how some thought is not welcomed here. Sounds very thought police-y. We should probably outlaw cats as well.

            Just because your preffered energy tech isnt “there” yet doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing. I’d no more want to slow R&D on better PV and storage tech than I would on exploration and drilling of crude. ALL OPTIONS should be employed. We all exhale carbon and toot methane. We must all be climate criminals!

            Pardon my scepticism but how big is Al Gores carbon footprint again? Cimate change is or has become a religion. The climate industry is a cash cow. I benefit from it at the same time as I shake my head because of it. My conscience is clean though because regardless my customers reduce costs.

            Which party am I loyal too? Oh, you don’t know do you?

            I am conservative and niether party playing in DC is. They are both wrong on climate and whether or not anything should be done by the federal government to attempt to control it.

            I want to have the FREEDOM to use incandescents if I so choose and not have nanny mandate that I have to use LED or CFL. That wasn’t hard. When you replace your commercial oven light let me know how long the LED screw in solution you choose lasts.

            “Climate change is real. NO PROOF HERE We are the cause. OF COURSE WE ARE (not), NOW BUY SOME CARBON CREDITS AND ALL WILL BE OK We must deal with the problem we have created. WE DID NOT CREATE IT & CANT DEAL WITH IT. Climate change denier junk is not welcome on this site.”
            Dissenting viewpoints be damned!
            All BS aside have a great day.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let me copy the site rules for you Kevin.

            Then you’ll understand why your comment has disappeared.

            If you’d like to participate while following the rules we’ll be glad to have you.

          • Bob_Wallace

            CT Comment Guidelines -

            We love comments. We love people sharing useful information about cleantech and related subjects. We love it all so much that we let people comment by default… no need for your comment to wait for approval by a moderator!

            However, there is a tendency for people on sites all over the web to spew total crap onto the screens of others. Due to the anonymity and distanced nature of comments on the internet people seem to feel comfortable calling strangers horrible names, spamming, and completely straying from the points of the discussion. That being the case we do sometimes have to remove comments. Here are some things that can get your comments removed:

            using abusive language to describe other commenters, including name-calling

            threatening others

            engaging in all-caps shouting

            making very off-topic comments and thread hijacking

            including spam in your comments

            posting misinformation that is harmful to society

            repeatedly posting illogical or demonstrably incorrect statements

            posting conspiracy theories that are too off the wall to waste time debunking

            touting your or someone else’s perpetual motion machine

            CT respects the 97.1% of climate science peer-reviewed papers which have established a position on global warming and the 98% of climate scientists who have stated their position, agree that global warming is real, caused by humans and extremely serious. The only real debate is what to do in an attempt to minimize the harm, which is a primary focus of this blog. Global warming denying comments are always irrelevant on CT and will be removed.

            Global warming denier sites are not reliable sources. If they make a point and reference a peer-reviewed study published in a reputable journal or industry document, reference the study or document directly.

            If you repeatedly violate commenting rules then you will lose the privilege of commenting.

            Of course, we may change our comment policy at any time if we see the need for that.

            We’re funny that way….

            Read more at http://cleantechnica.com/cleantechnica-comment-policy/#95cY5FVlM7bdXKxE.99

          • Kevin Martin

            Bob,
            Nice. No debating. I get it. If I were hocking solar equipment I’d shut down debate too. I couldn’t do that though because I have a conscience. I appreciate the invite but do not agree and there is no room for differing viewpoints on this page.

            Have a great weekend, hope its not cloudy out.

            Kevin

          • Woods and Water

            Thanks Bob…I’m with you….yes we need better storage than the current battery systems we use…however, lead acid batteries are one of the best ‘wins’ of recycling…Ninety-six percent of all lead-acid batteries are recycled. My pay back on solar electricity? Never connected, used panels from a decommissioned plant in CA (circa 1980) which still provide 95% of rated output…irrigate with solar electricity, cook with solar heat…really? Not possible? Of course it is. Not with in the box thinking or following the lead of the Kochtopus…(which is the main problem in the USA, IMO)…

            We need more research into fusion reactors…but we should abandon fission.

            I’m a co-operatist…not a capitalist…which came first money (an imaginary construct) or labor? That might get me labeled something or other…but my life is a mark of success…as are many folks I know who are living similarly…

            Best of luck to all. At least enjoy today.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You running “brownies”? The used Arco panels from Cabrillo (I think). My second solar system used 400 watts of brownies.

            Lead-acids do have a high rate of recycling. I don’t see why lithium or other technology batteries would do as well. It’s really more about collecting used stuff than the processing system.

            Very enjoyable day. About to head down to the lower garden/orchard and put four new apple trees on the drip system. I’m afraid the rainy season is pretty much over.

          • Woods and Water

            The plant was in the Carrizo plains…and I looked back…I bought my first brownies in 1984 from Steve Baer…I have other panels now, as well. One set of 4 brownies runs the irrigation for my lower gardens…another set runs a cottage we have nearby…We’ve had good spring rains and had our last frost (hopefully forecast) the night before last…looks to be a good year. We’re in northern Minnesota.

      • Kevin Martin

        I know why my last post was deleted. When I was directed to this site I did not read that only some viewpoints on un-settled science are acceptable. Off to find some open mindedness!

        • Woods and Water

          If you’d like to be open minded I’d suggest watching The Years of Living Dangerously…you can probably find it online…especially episode 4 with Rich Joyner…one of your ‘faith’….have a good day Kevin.

  • Rich

    While everyone is fantasizing about spending trillions on solar panels instead of war there is one other issue. The trillions were all BORROWED! The cost factor of interest on the national debt isn’t appearing in any of these “efficiency” calcs. How about just staying outta useless wars and the energy and the borrowed money they consume. That would be good for the environment in and of itself. You wanna go solar than do it. If it’s great you don’t need a government (taxpayer) subsidy to prove it’s efficiencies while picking my pocket in order to prove it.

    • Woods and Water

      You are currently subsidizing the oil industry and the military industrial complex, much of which is about resource control…it would be much better to decentralize our power structures, have US factories which create energy efficient appliances, rebuild our cities (instead of spending billions upon billions each year on roads for automobiles) and rural areas so local communities, people living very near where they work would become a reality.

      Taxes should return to the Clinton era, as should defense spending…and there should be taxes imposed on Wall Street financial transactions…and speculation should either be outlawed or highly taxed.

      • Kevin Martin

        Wow, I am in the energy efficiency business and couldn’t disagree with your politics any more than I do. Nice that we have freedom here and arent bullied into purchasing tech we dont want. Unless it’s CFL lamps. lol those suck.

  • Bruce Brummitt

    We have been supplying our power off grid with photovoltaics since 1984….slowly adding as we had the cash…we purchased a sunfrost refrigerator in 1999 and have a SunDanzer Freezer…our home was built with energy efficiency in mind and conservation is our watch word. We live simply, but elegantly. If half the cost was put in solar applications and the other half in conservation methods we could save far more…and build vastly more efficient appliances and housing. Win/Win all around…jobs with meaning…

  • Pingback: For Price Of Iraq War, US Could Power Half Country With Renewables | CleanTechnica

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bruce-Miller/100000952005408 Bruce Miller

    Uncle B approves of this article! Now: tackle the “Prairie Wind Corridor” and be honest! Use cheaper, better Chinese built Wind Turbines only of you have to!

  • random

    I like this article but why is there no name or sources. This topic has seriously the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever researched, energy is obviously very political. Try finding good sources that compares oil and renewable energy and then try to find sources for the amount of money spent in the wars, both are close to impossible. The other source I have for the costs of these wars is the New york times and the number is drastically different.

    • Anonymous

      In the body of the article:

      ” Google stats from 2008″

      Right there at the end of the article:

      “References:
      Cost of War Watson Institute For International Studies Conservative ($2,331,100,000,000) Moderate ($2,657,300,000,000) Middle Ground ($2,494,200,000,000)
      Google population in 2008
      Electric usage per capita — Google
      Solar panel cost
      Solar panel efficiency”

    • Anonymous

      As Bob says. And the name of the author is in the first line.

  • Pingback: Europe's Largest Solar Power Park to Open This Year | CleanTechnica

  • Ruben

    This article is genius enough to make people think what a peacful planet can bring. Learning from what has not worked in the past and going forward with a sunny solution is intelligent. So why is there so much intelligence abroad being funded by negligence here where clean energy is needed the most?

  • Breath on the Wind

    Interesting sort of alternative reality wishful thinking. Presently silicon solar cells have a theoretical efficiency of 28%. You simply will never get 40% from current commercial technology. It is only extremely expensive (think nasa) cells of a different design that can be over 40% efficient. So it is unlikely you will see both highly efficient and cheap cells in the near future.

    In economics 101 we speak of spending money on guns or butter (military projects or domestic goods.) Each can have their benefits though I am also inclined to go with the butter. Not everyone agrees and it is unlikely under present political realities that we would ever come close to such a path.

    An individuals power comes from collective action. This could be through the model of the corporation or communities. The corporation often has an easier time selling its benefits. A model that promotes collective action in a community that sells as well would first be required.

    • Rich Loomis

      In regards to solar efficiency, Spectrolab, Inc was able to achieve 40.7%. I saw an interesting article on solar3d recently that shows promise. The question isn’t if solar can achieve 40% efficiency, as they already have. The question is, can solar achieve 40% efficiency at $2/watt installed. If the US puts a 1.7 trillion dollar bone out there, I bet we would see all kinds of solutions come out of the woodwork.

      • Breath on the Wind

        Even slightly higher efficiencies have been achieved, but upon closer examination I think you will find that these are triple junction cells and not the far simpler solar panels that are commercially available. It is like comparing an inexpensive bicycle to a Ferrari. No matter how much you improve a bicycle it is not going to be a Ferrari and you are not going to achieve a bicycle cost with the car’s performance. Tremendous increases in performance while decreasing cost will come but todays technology has theoretical limits and we will have to find innovations that take us outside of present of present PV technology possibly including thermoelectrics or making a wider use of metamaterials.

        Just as the science is not magic or devoid of economics so also human nature is not suddenly suspended with the advent of new technology. The success of failure of new technology will always hinge upon its utility to make money until we develop different motivations in our society. We have to personally choose “butter” over “guns” and we may find that the technology has been with us for a long time. War is presently more popular because those in power see this as more profitable.

        • Rich Loomis

          I altered my spreadsheets to include a 25% efficient cell. At $2/watt, we’re still looking at $1.67 trillion to install a 6kW solar system on every home in the US. The yearly savings in electricity would be $1,242 per home per year for the next 20 years, based on a conservative solar radiation state. The home solar systems would generate 39% of the electricity used in the US. That’s a great savings for Americans, a great improvement to the environment, a great investment by our government for our security, and reduces our dependence on foreign oil … I’m good with this, where do I vote?

          • Anonymous

            Cool.

            And I imagine the cost really will come down a lot. Everyone’s predicting it, even Exxon! Most recent projections I’ve seen are $1/watt by 2020. We’ll see.

            But massive investment and deployment would certainly make the price drop and efficiency increase much more quickly.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_37TZOSCKLMZ57ZLRHKYAHLWEM4 lil'Ricky

            Actually, with Twin Creeks Technologies new equipment, they are predicting 40 cents/watt for the panels. So, the technology is here now, March, 2012. Installed price would be higher, of course, but if done on a massive scale that would be reduced. We could also reduce our defense spending because our enemies would then have less money to spend on arms….. And remember as well, all this money would be spent here, putting ourselves to work, paying taxes here. Then the savings for the next 20 years would be a massive economic boom for the US.

          • http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

            Yeah, we’ve covered Twin Creeks, and some other companies potentially cutting costs to a huge degree. They haven’t affected prices yet, but I imagine they will, as will others. This is why costs are projected to come down significantly for years to come.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for that. Yeah, good additional point.

    The savings could really be through the roof.. so to speak..

  • Electric38

    The solar rooftop units should be a little larger KW to allow for electric car battery charging. There could be “plug & play” units available in the near future to cut install costs somewhat. Some building departments are allowing lower cost, fast tracked and simplified permitting. Tax assessors should waive increases for the ROI period).
    The fed is stepping in (Obama Las Vegas speech) to get homeowners on track financially. The new financing terms could allow for solar installs if enough people got behind it. No new home should be allowed to be built without it, especially in the southwest where vast amounts of sunlight are wasted. The business tax deduction for solar PV as re-roofing should be extended to residents.

    Jobs?? Numerous. And what will each citizen do to grow the economy with the extra $2000 of solar energy savings and the extra $2000 in oil/gas savings? Every year.

  • Matthew Peffly

    Then again that is only the direct cost of the war. I’m guessing it doesn’t include the cost to support the injured, VA costs are done yearly so we that we don’t see the impact from a given war. Also guess there isn’t a cost of the lost economic productivity of all those injured or killed, or their families. War just like coal power, has very high indirect cost. Costs that don’t show up in the price tag; but are with you for decades to come.

    • Ed

      Matt:
      Good reply and points out the “hidden” monetary costs of war. However, people rarely factor in the Psychological/Spiritual costs of war. About 10 years ago I ran across a vet from my war who was homeless and near death from “huffing” paint as often as he could.

      So, being someone who understood what he had suffered I sat down to talk with him for a while and asked him, point blank, what is was that had derailed his life (as he had never readjusted to ‘civil’ society)?? We talked for several hours and though vets don’t like to talk about specifics he relayed the story of what he had done that he was never able to “forgive” himself for.

      Turns out that while “torching” a village that had harbored some VC he saw a man enter a hidden tunnel. He promptly tossed in a phosphorous grenade and when they investigated they found that along with that one ‘combatant” there were also 19 other people in that hole. All of them women and children. He hadn’t signed up for that duty and it completely derailed his life. The woman that had waited for him eventually had to give up and he spent the rest of his life slowly committing suicide. How does one factor in the monetary cost of that???
      Ed

    • Kevin Martin

      Probably does not include all of the jobs that are supported back in the US either. I know the military industrail complex is looked down upon but it is real and it is needed.

  • John

    “US engaged in war with Iraq, and then Afghanistan” A historical error in the first sentence. Oh dear.

    • Anonymous

      Corrected that.

  • Chittaluru Akil

    As much as I love this post, I’m very doubtful about the 40%, $2/W scenario…of course, I’m not too knowledgeable about it and I’m pretty sure you could argue for eternity.

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