I’ve said over and over I’m a climate change sceptic. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was complete crap, and the primary illustration that has been used to prove the case to non-experts (as shown here and here), is a complete fraud (probably assembled by a marketing person, no real scientist would do this) can be destroyed in five minutes by any competent sophomore in engineering school.
But it turns out the whole climate change problem is not that hard to solve. I’ve proposed a solution in two parts.
1. Create a Market
President Trump mentioned at one point that he planned to make use of some of the million square mile area currently under the management of the Bureaus of Land Management and other federal agencies. If you do some back of the napkin calculations, you will find that an area of about 22500 square miles (150 by 150 miles), less than 3% of the total federal lands, if cover completely by solar panels, would replace all energy in the U.S. That means all gasoline, oil, electricity, natural gas, etc. This is with current solar technology.
I propose we start with 1/9 of that, find an area of 2500 square miles. There is a nice area next to the Tres Amigas electrical grid interconnection point that feeds all three major grids in the U.S. But there is a lot of sunny suitable land.
Let’s run power lines to it, let’s set up a billing and revenue process (not very hard, Ebay and Amazon are more complex) and then lease the land to entrepreneurs who want to set up a solar farm, an acre or a square mile. The idea is that anyone, with a tiny investment, can run a complete business here. You install one panel, you get a check at the end of the month.
One proviso: ALL EQUIPMENT MUST BE PRODUCED WITHIN THE UNITED STATES. Why give this business to anyone else?
What we have done is create a massive market for solar panels. This means massive production facilities, and a probable drop in solar panel price by what? 80%? This means we are now a leader in the world in producting panels.
If you run out of space on the first 2500 square mile tract, then do a second, third etc.
Who will invest? Everyone. This is not the blame, punish and sacrifice climate change agenda. This is a utility grade investment.
2. Universal Net Metering
Once the price of solar panels fall so they are dirt cheap, let’s let everyone in on it.
Net metering simply means that any power produced on your roof, your backyard or a farmer’s field, offsets what you buy from the power company and that if you produce more than you consume then you get paid for it.
This is effectively a radical “deregulation” of the power industry that reshapes things in interesting ways. Remember the series of telecom deregulations in the late 1980’s led to the internet boom of the 1990’s, massive creation of wealth and innovations that we had not even dreamed of at that time.
An “energy net” approach means we feed energy into the grid from anywhere and everywhere, much like data flows into the internet from millions of points.
This also means that if a terrorist bombs a power station, conceivably your local community would be powered, at least in part, by thousands of internal power producing nodes within itself. A truly robust and survivable energy grid.
Engineers have been considering this approach for that last 50 years, its not far out of reach.
Let’s consider the potential benefits.
With the leasing of the land, even at cut rate prices and the transport charges on the power lines, the project is massively revenue positive for the federal government.
The whole plan (outlined in the book below), talks about developing superconductor and battery technology which will fuel exports, along with the least expensive solar panels on earth. With these exports and the reduced need to import energy, we will no longer have a balance of trade deficit.
And, oh yes, this will likely create at least 5 million new manufacturing and production jobs in the U.S.
Lest you protest
The biggest objection to solar energy is that the sun just does not shine at night. Storage is just too innefficient and expensive. But imagine this.
The energy industry is somewhere on the order of $1.3 Trillion dollars. Suppose in the transition we develop a price gap between daytime and nighttime energy prices? A few percentage points could mean a gap of say $1 Billion. Not much in a $1.3 Trillion industry. Not enough to cause any pain.
But suppose that gets to be $50 Billion?
If you are an entrepreneur this is not a problem, this is a massive opportunity! Anyone who can solve the problem of cheap storage now has the potential to get a slice of a $50 Billion pie. Can you imagine the race by the smartest people on earth to play in this market?
I’ve been watching the research in battery technology, which is mostly focused on cell phone sized units. I’ve seen almost an order of magnitude improvement in storage capacity, safety, costs and charging time within the last 3-4 years.
My faith in market forces is such that I believe that a dozen solutions for this problem will be waiting by the time the price gap manifests.
President Trump promised to protect coal and other domestic energy industries. Would this destroy them? Perhaps yes, over the very long term. Let’s let competition reign and see where it goes.
But in the short term, imagine doing a deal with India, a large scale coal user. A classic Trump deal could be “India, we will help and perhaps subsidize parts of a new solar energy infrastructure with the latest net-metering technology, but you have to start buying coal from Kentucky and Pennsylvania in the mean time.” 3 or 4 such deals would support U.S. coal, for the next 30 years.
This is not that difficult. I’m actually surprised that I was the first to write it up in a comprehensive manner. But the narrative of the climate change movement has always been the blame, sacrifice and punish model. In their minds, to make a profit on this would be sacrilegious. But in actual fact, no solution is possible without using the massive power of market forces. Their proposed solutions have never had a real chance of success.
The great thing about the “energy net” is that its a good idea whether you believe the Earth is about to be destroyed, or if you are a skeptic like me.
The book is below. It’s not rocket science. And please don’t make fun of my writing, I’m a simple engineer who prefers diagrams and equations to big words.