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Slideshow: China and the future of solar power

Solar politics
10/9/2012 10:13 PM EDT
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tb1
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re: Slideshow: China and the future of solar power
tb1   10/11/2012 10:56:37 PM
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"I believe the majority of plants are still coal fired." On the US West coast, over 50% of electricity comes from natural gas. Coal is negligible--the few plants left are being phased out. Wind supplies 5% of California's electric power. More than twice as much as generated by coal. I think putting solar panels on roofs makes a lot of sense--it puts the power right where it is used. Most government solar energy numbers don't even count the rooftop panels and end up underestimating the amount of solar power generated by a very large percentage.

Ogemaniac
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re: Slideshow: China and the future of solar power
Ogemaniac   10/12/2012 1:20:31 AM
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Thinking that a few years is "persistence" is what is dooming us in the long run. What happens when the fracking boomlet dries up? We will have burned our bridge fuel in a gluttonous rush rather than milking it slowly as we transisition to something that can last.

Ogemaniac
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re: Slideshow: China and the future of solar power
Ogemaniac   10/12/2012 1:21:52 AM
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The Bush-era program of which Solyndra was part is actually doing better than expected. The government has turned out to be a pretty good venture capitalist.

DMcCunney
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re: Slideshow: China and the future of solar power
DMcCunney   10/12/2012 2:51:07 AM
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Yes, what fuel is used by the plants will depend on location. On the East Coast, I believe coal still largely rules, given the closeness of supply. Hydroelectric will also be a factor, if there are places nearby that *can* be dammed to produce power. (Most locations that can be, *are*, so there isn't a lot of growth from hydro power possible.) Nuclear has a tiny slice of the pie that is likely to rise as demand does. Oil essentially isn't used - I heard of one generating plant that had oil as a backup for natural gas, but dropped it when gas supplies proved stable enough it would never be used. But basically, the fuel used to boil the water to generate steam to spin the generators that make the electricity isn't really a huge factor in electricity costs. I was involved in a government sponsored project to push alternative energy back in the 70's when OPEC was in first flower and gas prices were rising above $1/gallon. The issue wasn't electric power costs, it was heating and cooling, as many places used oil to fire the boilers that produced heat. We pushed solar hot water heating, which accounted for about 20% of the average residential energy bill, and had a relatively fast payoff. We were certainly *aware* of other forms of alternative energy, like photovoltaics, but what would get used would ultimately be what was cheapest, and most alternatives were just too expensive with too long a payback period. For the most part, oil still *is* cheaper overall, which is why alternatives have an uphill fight. People forget that electricity is only one form of energy used, and is about 25% of the total US energy budget.

DMcCunney
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re: Slideshow: China and the future of solar power
DMcCunney   10/12/2012 2:59:35 AM
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Yep, they are, and investment by the government may not be really relevant. The same problems would occur if they were doing things entirely with private capital. In any new market like this, a bunch of people will jump in seeing an opportunity, but some will fail and go under or be acquired. We've seen the pattern over and over here, as markets shake down till there are a few dominant supplies and a batch of smaller niche players. The Chinese official quoted unhappy at the prospect that 2/3s of the current Chinese suppliers will go belly up arguably should not be - it's simply the way the markets work, and the ones that survive will be better for the experience.

DMcCunney
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re: Slideshow: China and the future of solar power
DMcCunney   10/12/2012 3:09:38 AM
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I'd call that stupid, all told. The net effect is to drive up the cost of photovoltaic installations and slow the growth of photovoltaic use. From where I sit, the opportunities for US businesses are in sales, installation, and support, and the cheaper the components are that they build solar installations out of, the better a price they can offer and the faster they will grow. Let the Chinese plants that failed to correctly forecast demand go bust turning out panels they can only sell below cost. That's an *opportunity* for US outfits installing photovoltaics, because they can get the parts cheap.

DMcCunney
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re: Slideshow: China and the future of solar power
DMcCunney   10/12/2012 3:15:44 AM
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The problem for the operators is that they are generally regulated utilities. The sorts of upgrades required cost a lot of money, and the money will have to come out of the prices charged for power. Getting regulator approval to make the upgrades, permit the bond issues needed to finance it, and raise the rates to pay for it will be very difficult and a political nightmare. It will cost a lot of money, and everyone will say someone *else* should pay for it. Things like that are a major reason why ConEd in NYC is pushing conservation and energy efficiency as hard as they can. The last thing they want to do is build new generating capacity because of all the problems involved in doing it.

DMcCunney
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re: Slideshow: China and the future of solar power
DMcCunney   10/12/2012 3:23:38 AM
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Solar can be cost competitive in some areas and applications. But despite the advantages posed by nuclear power, it will have problems simply because it *is* nuclear power, and there is a huge amount of entrenched resistance to the notion, and an awful lot of ignorance about the safety of nuclear power. (The Fukashima reactor disaster in Japan did not help, even if the real lesson is that Fukashima was set up wrong to begin with.)

george.leopold
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re: Slideshow: China and the future of solar power
george.leopold   10/12/2012 1:31:29 PM
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ConEd launched a smart grid initiative in Queens several years ago.

DMcCunney
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re: Slideshow: China and the future of solar power
DMcCunney   10/15/2012 4:23:51 AM
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I'm in Manhattan, but no surprise. As mentioned, the last thing ConEd wants to do is build new generating capacity. Anything they can do to promote more efficient usage of what they already generate is a no-brainer yes notion.

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