This post first appeared at Ombailamos.
The United States now generates 12% of its electrical power from renewable energy.
Germany, for comparison, generates 74% of its power from renewables. Much of this power comes from photovoltaics, or for convenience, solar.
Germany is obviously a much smaller country than the U.S. It's also more northerly: much of Germany is situated above the 49th parallel, which forms that long straight border between the U.S. and Canada. Which to my logic suggests that at least as much of our power could come from renewables, especially solar.
You don't have to have uninterrupted days of sun to generate solar power. What you do need is an efficient capture and storage system. What is not efficient? Giant solar power plants in remote deserts, that's what.
Amazing as it may sound coming from this admitted tree-hugging, progressive, social-justice hippie, I'm not a fan of solar power when it takes the form of, e.g., the Ivanpah installation in the Mojave.
I'm not even going to get into the destructiveness, to ecosystems and wildlife, of this kind of installation. Here are just a few other reasons why I think not another red cent of public money ought to go into installations like this.
The Ivanpah installation cost, according to the Nature Conservancy, 2.2 billion dollars. It is expected to power 140,000 homes.
The average American home now consumes roughly 11,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. A residential solar array sufficient to deliver that much power now costs roughly $26,000.
To give each of those 140,000 homes an individual solar array would thus cost 3.64 billion dollars.
That makes the Ivanpah look like a bargain, right? WRONG.
Because the Ivanpah, according to the Nature Conservancy, is a steam generator. It uses solar heat to heat water - groundwater pumped up from underneath the desert; nonrenewable fossil groundwater that no one in their right mind would expect to be replenished by rainfall or snow - that is then boiled to create steam, and the steam turns turbines that create electricity.
This is roughly as inefficent as growing corn to refine corn oil which is then distilled to make corn alcohol which is then burned to power an engine, at roughly twice the cost of petroleum and also using millions of gallons of water in the process.
What's the biggest environmental news these days? The drought. The drought to which there is no end in sight, which has resulted in catastrophic losses of groundwater already, and which has consumed most of many reservoirs over the past three years in California. The drought which is, by the way, not unique to California, but which extends over nearly half the country so far.
What do we NOT NEED in the face of drought? Alternative energy sources that consume water.
A residential solar array does not consume water during operation. Period. It captures power from the sun which is fed directly to the electrical system of the house, and of which any excess can be stored in batteries or fed out to the grid.
Power companies prefer giant installations like the Ivanpah. You know why? Because they are getting huge government benefits, building on (largely) public land, and then they still get to charge you for your power. Forever.
While they do exactly what hydroelectric dams have done: seriously damage the ecosystems in which they are placed, and use nonrenewable water to create power which must then be transported hundreds of miles - leaking all the way.
Capture your power where you need to use it.
Ultimately, I am positive this would prove to be the most efficient and least costly way to solve our energy needs.