Solar Burnout?

NEWSWEEK (Sep 21, 2009. Pg17) announces “Solar Burnout”, the fast approaching demise of the solar energy industry. Typical of the media, the story is long on sensationalism but painfully short on nuance, but it underscores the difficult economic hurdles faced by alternative energy developers. It’s a song that I’ve sung more than once …
( here, here, here and here )

Now, I’m a solar energy fan going way back to the first oil crisis and alternative energy boom three decades ago, and I’d love to see a substantial share of fossil fuel usage converted to wind, solar and nuclear. But I’m also a businessman and a realist who knows that an exciting new technology has to ultimately succeed not on altruism and goverment subsidy, but on its own economic merits.

The science and technology are within our grasp to transition our economy from oil and coal to more sustainable primary energy sources. Unfortunately, the deck of economic development cards is stacked overwhelmingly in favor of the incumbent oil- and coal-based technologies. Breaching the barrier that shields our fossil-fueled present from an alternative energy future won’t be easy, but (perhaps) it can be done …

1. Exploit our North American natural gas resources as a substitute for oil (ie transportation fuel) and coal (electricity), until wind, solar and other alternatives reach commercial maturity. Natural Gas isn’t perfect – it’s a fossil fuel that you burn – but it’s a whole lot better (cleaner, cheaper, and geo-politically safer) than oil or coal.
2. Tax oil, coal and natural gas used for transportation fuel or electricity at an adjustable rate sufficient to maintain an end-user price equivalent to crude oil at about $80 per BBL. Use the proceeds to fund R&D, science education, alternative energy start-ups, etc.
3. A national tax on gasoline and diesel transportation fuel, graduated to reflect the fuel efficiency of your vehicle – drive a gas guzzler, pay a high per-gallon tax rate; drive fuel-efficiently, pay a low rate. Use the proceeds as incentives to individuals and businesses to convert to energy friendly technologies.
4. Streamline regulatory and permitting processes in a way that encourages alternative energy development, while protecting legitimate health, safety and environmental interests.

Let me emphasize — We already have the science, technology and engineering tools we needs to begin building our alternative energy future. I fear, however, that we lack the collective patience and political will to invest the $$$ and the decades of effort required to move beyond our current entrapment in coal mines and Middle East political intrigue.

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One Response to “Solar Burnout?”

  1. Making Clean Energy Cheap « The Alternative Energy Page Says:

    […] to Jenkins’ plea to “make clean energy cheap.” As I’ve written on numerous occasions (here, here, and here, for example), getting to a clean energy future will not be cheap, nor will it come […]

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