The Weekend Wonk: Thinking About Solar with Elon Musk

January 17, 2014

The new Steve Jobs, the  most fantastically, ambitiously smart and successful business innovator (PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, and now, SolarCity) of this generation, Elon Musk, has done a lot of thinking about Solar energy. Good God, turning away from the dopiness of climate deniers to this super smart visionary is like swigging pure Oxygen..

Dominic Basulto in the Washington Post:

So what does Elon Musk know about solar that the rest of us don’t?

1. Solar energy is inherently an exponential technology.

If there’s one thing Wall Street loves, it’s a good growth story, and that’s something that SolarCity has been careful to cultivate. The company already has 80,000 paying customers and expects to sign up 1 million customers within the next four years. That means the company will need to literally double in size every few months. Think about that for a minute: 1 million customers over four years means 250,000 new customers in 2014, or approximately 20,000 new customers each month. So the company will have doubled in size — from 80,000 to 160,000 customers — by Memorial Day weekend.

And then the company will double again, from 160,000 to 320,000; and then from 320,000 to 640,000; all the way to 4 million. That requires exponential growth to make possible in such a short time frame, so it’s no wonder that the godfather of exponential technological growth, Ray Kurzweil, has been quick to point out the remarkable growth that’s possible with solar technology.  Just as computers benefit from the ability to cram a growing number of transistors on a chip (Moore’s Law), solar panels also benefit from being able to cram an ever-growing number of photovoltaic cells on them. According to Kurzweil’s calculations, we can expect to be energy independent within the next 20 years.

Note: Ray Kurzweil has sometimes been included on lists of “climate skeptics”, but apparently that is incorrect. Dr. Kurzweil grasps the climate issue, he just thinks that solar is going to take over so fast there will not be a problem.  Coal Barons and Pension Funds be advised:

BigThink.com

Currently, solar power supplies less than 1% of the world’s energy needs, which has led many to disregard its future significance. Where they’re wrong is that they fail to understand the exponential nature of technology, says eminent inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. Just like computer processing speed—which doubles every 18 months in accordance with Moore’s law—the nanotechnology that drives innovations in solar power progresses exponentially, he says.

During his latest Big Think interview, Kurweil explained:

“Solar panels are coming down dramatically in cost per watt. And as a result of that, the total amount of solar energy is growing, not linearly, but exponentially. It’s doubling every 2 years and has been for 20 years. And again, it’s a very smooth curve. There’s all these arguments, subsidies and political battles and companies going bankrupt, they’re raising billions of dollars, but behind all that chaos is this very smooth progression.”

So how far away is solar from meeting 100% of the world’s energy needs? Eight doublings, says Kurzweil, which will take just 16 years. And supply is not an issue either, he adds: “After we double eight more times and we’re meeting all of the world’s energy needs through solar, we’ll be using 1 part in 10,000 of the sunlight that falls on the earth. And we could put efficient solar farms on a few percent of the unused deserts of the world and meet all of our energy needs.”

Back to Musk and The Post:

2. Solar is a brand, not a utility.

Elon Musk thinks about solar energy the same way he thinks about electric cars — it’s easier to sell if it’s backed by a highly-recognizable brand such as Tesla. As a result, SolarCity feels more like a traditional consumer brand, less like a faceless utility. Think about it — there are Yelp reviews for SolarCity. The company has 30,000 fans on Facebook. That doesn’t sound like a utility. This is perhaps the most innovative part of what SolarCity is doing – it’s transforming a sleepy old utility business run by legacy companies into a new kind of energy start-up that has attracted the support of companies such as Google.

And once the customer begins to think of your company as a brand, it makes it easier to grab and maintain market share. While SolarCity may control nearly 25 percent of the U.S. solar energy market, that’s not to say there aren’t a lot of competitors. Going forward, dealing with competitors such as Sungevity or SunPower will be difficult, so having customers view you as the premier solar energy brand matters. That means continuing to innovate and bringing new products to market.

3. Solar is the rare business that can profit from cheap Chinese imports.

Most companies are running scared of China these days, thanks to the ability of the Chinese to out-compete on price on just about everything. The demise of any company usually contains a nightmare scenario of cheap Chinese imports or cheap Chinese labor. So Elon Musk figured out a way to make the Chinese threat work for him, not against him. He got SolarCity out of the business of just selling and installing solar panels, and into the business of selling long-term lease contracts.

Think about the role played by the cost of solar panels. If you’re just manufacturing, selling and installing panels, then the Chinese will be able to offer cheaper panels, and you lose money. However, if you’re offering the panels free to customers up-front, then you’ve just turned the business model upside down. The cheaper the panels are, in fact, the more attractive it will be for customers to consider solar energy as an option, and the more money SolarCity eventually makes. That’s what separates Elon Musk’s SolarCity from a company like Solyndra, which went belly-up once the Chinese started flooding the market with cheap solar panels.

4. Solar energy companies can tap into the power of the crowd.

Perhaps the single greatest change in the solar business that can really propel the business ahead is its ability to tap into the power of the crowd. Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy requires a massive change in preferences, habits and attitudes, and this is where the power of the crowd matters. That’s why you’re starting to see innovations like Mosaic’s unique crowdfunding initiative for solar energy projects.

SolarCity was already the first to market with bonds backed by the revenue from rooftop solar projects, making it possible for institutional investors to invest in the success of future solar projects. (It’s essentially the same logic that makes it possible for investors to buy mortgage-backed securities, thereby creating a robust housing market) SolarCity’s latest move, announced this week, is the ability for individual investors also to participate in this market. SolarCity is essentially creating a new Web-based platform to enable the crowd to make money off other people installing solar panels.

5. You won’t hear about “peak sun” for another 5 billion years.

Unlike a conventional fossil fuel utility, SolarCity doesn’t have to worry about running out of resources. We’ll never hear about “peak sun” the way we hear about “peak oil” because the sun isn’t scheduled to burn out for another five billion years. As long as the sun shines, customers can use solar panels to capture sunlight and transform it into electricity. Any excess electricity can then be transferred back to the grid for other customers. Theoretically, this excess electricity could be exchanged globally.

That’s perhaps why solar energy has such a loyal following in tech circles. In his 2012 book Abundance — which has been endorsed by the likes of Richard Branson, Kurzweil and Arianna Huffington — entrepreneur Peter Diamandis makes the most eloquent case for why the sun is such an important player in any future scenarios of energy self-sufficiency. Diamandis states that Africa has enough solar potential to supply the present world’s energy needs 40 times over.

***

Maybe the growth projections for SolarCity are too rosy. Maybe the cost savings for solar customers aren’t as high as SolarCity claims. Maybe we’re experiencing a Solar Energy Mania on par with the Tulip Mania hundreds of years ago. Maybe one day we all wake up and realize that Solarcity, with all of its talk of being a new kind of utility with fancy financing schemes, is the next Enron. All valid points.

But then again, would you really be willing to bet against Elon Musk?

Bloomberg:

SolarCity Corp. (SCTY), the first U.S. company to sell bonds backed by rooftop solar panels, plans to offer similar products to individual investors.

The company expects to introduce within six months an online system for retail investors to provide debt for SolarCity’s rooftop power plants, according to a statement today.

The system will provide one of the few opportunities for individuals to back renewable-energy projects, which generate steady revenue from selling electricity and may be less risky than equities. The arrangement also provides a new source of funding for San Mateo, California-based SolarCity, said Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive.

“The more sources of capital for solar investments, the more competition and hopefully it will lower financing costs,” Rive said in an interview. He didn’t provide details on the potential returns for investors.

The company is following Oakland, California-based Mosaic Inc. in offering retail investors a share of the revenue stream from financing solar-power systems. Mosaic was founded in April 2011 and has facilitated more than $5.6 million in funding.

“We expect billions of dollars of investment through this platform,” Rive said. He declined to provide a more precise amount or time frame. The company will use the funds to refinance its portfolio of completed solar projects.

The lending technology was developed by Common Assets LLC, which SolarCity bought. The company’s two employees have both joined the solar provider to manage the web-based investment system, according to the statement.

SolarCity installs rooftop solar systems for customers who typically pay little to nothing up front and sign long-term contracts to buy the power.

MarketWatch:

Shares of SolarCity Corp., the rooftop solar-panel installer backed by Elon Musk, rallied Thursday after analysts at Deutsche Bank rated the company’s stock a buy, saying that sinking costs will allow the technology to better compete with existing utility grids.

SolarCity SCTY -2.20%, based in San Mateo, Calif., has Musk, the co-founder of PayPal, co-founder and CEO Tesla Motors Inc.  TSLA -0.71% and founder of SpaceX, as its chairman and largest shareholder. His cousins run the company.

The Deutsche Bank analysts predicted that more U.S. retail power customers will switch to solar as the country nears “grid parity,”  which they predict will happen by 2016. At that point, solar power will cost as much as, or less than,  power from the conventional electricity grid.

The analysts initiated the stock at buy and tacked on a price target of $90 a share. Shares of SolarCity have gained more than 400% since their December 2012 debut, and have rallied 43% in the past three months.

SolarCity popularized leasing, rather than buying, rooftop solar systems, removing one of the main obstacles to homeowners switching to solar: the upfront costs. The Deutsche Bank analysts called this a new, disruptive business model.

The analysts forecast that SolarCity’s customer base could roughly double by the end of 2014, and that growth will accelerate over the next two years.

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53 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Thinking About Solar with Elon Musk”

  1. MorinMoss Says:

    “The new Steve Jobs”?? That’s a putdown of Elon.

    Steve Jobs may have founded a couple groundbreaking companies but he didn’t have the overarching vision of a better outcome for humanity that Elon’s been working towards since his college days.

  2. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    Intelligent grass root mammals running rings around the dinosaurs…
    Can’t wait.

  3. fortranprog Says:

    Brilliant clear vision and polite to denier in this Charlie Rose interview:

    http://climatestate.com/2014/01/12/good-luck-finding-a-more-polite-takedown-of-climate-change-deniers/


  4. Photovoltaics have some crazy growth patterns. Doubling every 2 to 2.5 years. Can this continue? It just might, as production spurs cost declines. The raw costs are now lower than installation. Here’s a weird fact. In 2011, Italy had the most installed capacity that year. That record changed hands from US, Japan, Germany, Italy. Growth is uneven regionally, but the growth trend is dramatic.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_of_photovoltaics

    • Glenn Martin Says:

      Not only can it continue but it poses a grave risk to life on this planet! Studies show that, at this rate, the oceans will be choked with photovoltaic panels by the end of this century. There will be scant land for agriculture not smothered by piles of the things. Our streets will be impaasably blocked by smashed and broken panels while even walking in your own home to the bathroom will mean treading carefully around teetering stacks that threaten to come crashing down on your head at any moment!

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Is this meant to be a joke about exponential growth? If so, it doesn’t work, because “studies” have shown that covering only a small portion of the Earth’s surface with PV panels will get the job done, and no one will keep buying them because of their looks after that functional limit is reached.

        (To say nothing of the fact that a PV panel doesn’t work if it is under a “teetering pile” of them, particularly if the pile is somewhere “the sun don’t shine”, like inside your house)

        Speaking of PV’s and jokes, I am looking at a 4 inch tall plastic snowman on the “joke gifts from my grandsons” shelf above my computer. I got him this past Christmas. He has a PV cell the area of a postage stamp in size in his base, and the small amount of light reaching him from a lamp is causing his head to “bobble” and his arms to swing. Perhaps you have seen such things—-they come in similar configurations—-birds with wings that flap, etc—all powered by that small PC cell and stray light. Take them outside into strong sunlight and they nearly shake themselves apart. Cute little things, and to me a reminder of how Solar is the wave of the future and one of our best hopes to damage the fossil fuel dragon.

        (And if you turn the snowman over, it says “Made in China” on the base).

        • Glenn Martin Says:

          Someone got out of the wrong side of bed this morning.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Actually, that’s not true, although having to read a whole bunch of daveburton’s gibberish when you turn on the computer is enough to ruin anyone’s mood.

            I did smirk a bit when I read your post because it is my kind of humor. I just thought it was perhaps overdone, and that made it a bit “unfunny” for me.

            (So, apologies, but blame it on daveburton—he made me do it!)

          • Glenn Martin Says:

            daveburton sucks the fun out of everything!

    • greenman3610 Says:

      when I first heard Kurzweil say this, in 2009-10, I thought it was a bit checked out and blinkered. But now we are a couple doublings along, prices dropping like crazy, the market is doing what it does, and its hard to see where those trends stop. If someone as clear-eyed (demonstrably) as Musk is seeing it that way –
      it warrants some attention.

  5. daryan12 Says:

    Musk is something of an icon to quite a few libertarians (and thus quite a few deniers) so this is a bit like the Pope telling Catholics not to get worked up about gay marriage, evolution, etc.

    (P.S – the current Pope did say something like that recently, as well as chastising climate change deniers).


  6. Rail Kurzweil is completely crazy. Why all the fuzz about Elon Musk? :-/

    Alex

  7. NevenA Says:

    Green BAU…

    • jimbills Says:

      Totally agree, Neven.

      First off, hyper-optimism is a trick we play on ourselves. What we see here is a case of assuming only those things we want to exponentially grow will, and those things we don’t want to grow exponentially won’t.

      Time will tell, of course. But I take Musk as a consummate salesman and Kurzweil as a nut. And what is the end message of these two?

      If we just sit back, technology will take care of it. In essence, business as usual is the solution.

      Other news:
      http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/17/world/climate-change-un-report/

      “The two main drivers of increases in fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions from 2000 to 2010 were economic and population growth, the latest report draft said. Over the same time period, there has been an increased use of coal relative to other energy sources.”


      • Jimbills – We don’t have a crystal ball. A lot of the discussion goes from the sky is falling to business as usual is just peachy. There is a lot of in between there. Can we agree that growth has to meet demand and neither can grow indefinitely? I think so. As pointed out humorously, if we just replace our previous growth fad with solar exponential growth, we get buried in solar. The conversation needs to expand to include Hubbert, since that math is an extension of the exponential growth. I wonder why we cannot have a planned economy rather than the boom bust caused by compound interest and exponential growth. Why do we have a fed that just controls the dials while the mass behaves in self interest? Look how that turns out. Exponential every time.
        Meantime, Musk and others have discovered wind and solar can grow fast enough to replace dirty old tech. As you say, that gets us nowhere if we keep doing the same thing. We just wind up with a new resource constraint. Copper? Water? Food? I mean why are we thoughtlessly growing?

        • Glenn Martin Says:

          There are some tourist beaches in south Florida that have reached peak silicon.

          https://climatecrocks.com/2014/01/17/beach-erosion-mute-evidence-of-sea-level-rise/

          • L. Kimball Says:

            Availability of Silicon is not the problem. The energy to melt it, and the bed of molten tin it floats on (these sorts of kilns have to run 24/7 of course) is the problem. Can wind turbines generate that kind of energy?

          • greenman3610 Says:

            I’m doing some checking, but don’t assume that current processes represent the best available technology. There are new techniques that may substantially alter the energy input needed.
            And yes, Wind turbine electrons are just as good as coal electrons at supplying energy.

          • L. Kimball Says:

            Oops. Meant to say PV panels of course. Also, I support both technologies but I’m not certain they can sustain the mining, smelting, forging and extruding processes necessary for them to self replicate.


          • L. Kimball. Sure wind turbines can create crystal ingots. However crystal ingots for solar do not need to be pure and there are several other ways of growing n to pure crystalline Si. Some use amorphous or hybrids, and some use altogether different tech with dyes and TiO2. The ingot method is called czochralski and uses electrical heating. It used to be thought that PV price would not come down because it competed with the chip industry demand. That’s over. Some PV use glass not crystal. There is also a ribbon Si production method. And impure polycrystalline Si is grown with chip industry cast offs. The chip industry has moved to larger wafers, so the smaller used wafer equipment converts to solar. Too much loss cutting ingots to wafers is what caused the industry to switch to ribbon pulled from the melt. Wind, PV, and any other form of electrical energy is suitable. Can RE breed RE? Yes. ROEI is sufficiently greater than 1.


          • The amounts of copper, aluminum, and so on are small. Might be some steel and other abundant metals for enclosures. Not a very materials intense industry. The biggest consumption is sand, which is dirt cheap. Pun intended. Production energy use is coming down. Production volumes and demand are rapidly increasing production efficiency. The cost and volume curves prove it. These things were proven years ago, but were forgotten. There is no reason to believe PV will be limited by material resources IF we do not grow demand exponentially while we increase PV. As solar improves production efficiency, solar LCA will improve closer to wind energy levels. Here is NREL on Solar LCA.
            http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/sustain_lca_pv.html

          • FrY10cK Says:

            Christopher Arcus,

            Very interesting. Thank you. But still, do you think RE can mine the ore, refine it, smelt it, create the resins, fibers and composite ovens, stamp, forge and machine the steel towers and transport all the parts from the various factories to be assembled inito a giant wind turbine?

            I hope so.


          • Fry, yes, wind can mine, transport, refine, and all of that. Realize we are talking a real power grid. Wind, solar, geothermal wave, tide, hydro. Why not? Electrons are electrons, they don’t care what generated them. The electric power infrastructure we have already, maybe some changes. Right now mining is using some FF that are not yet convert to electric. Large open pit hauling machinery and shovels come to mind. It’s possible to convert these, but not yet done. That’s a challenge. Commercial and industrial are already starting to convert to electric for practical reasons. Did you know Balqon makes tractors for Port of LA to reduce port smog and lower maintenance costs? The USPS is going for EVs for short haul delivery. Applications like garbage hauling are looking at compressed hydraulic hybrid or electric to be more efficient in start stop hauling.

        • jimbills Says:

          Christopher – my main concern is the how/why people think the way they do. We’re in a quandary mainly because we have a fixed mindset about what we need, when we could do with far less (and did for 99.99% of our existence).

          Hubbert is a good point, of course. Peter made a comment a while back about coal growth estimates being ‘fantastical’. This is ONLY likely to be true because of depletion. Depleting resources plus growing demand will naturally raise their cost, allowing renewables/nuclear to more effectively compete. But it really won’t mean we’ll just stop using fossil fuels. We’ll continue to do so as we build renewables – but if we try and maintain 2-5% economic growth per year we’ll burn everything we can.

          Growth is the problem. I keep harping on it, and I know it’s rather pointless. Who will people listen to? The guy who says ‘cut back’ or the guy who offers shiny new toys like Musk? So, what will happen? Again, this is a matter of how we think and why.

          We’re on an insane path societally. I don’t see how promising a green techno-utopia helps. It just makes us think we’re all good. Business as usual continues.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            And that “business as usual” is that 80% of the world lives well below “western standards” but wants to live like we do in the west, and soon. The only way that will happen is if they continue to use massive amounts of fossil fuels.

            The human species is no different from other living things—-populations grow and populations crash once they use up available resources or destroy their habitat. Why do we humans think we are any different? We are actually worse because we have the capability to develop and employ technology to postpone the inevitable by perhaps achieving a fleeting “techno-utopia”. Case in point is the green revolution and modern medicine—-Ehrlich was not wrong with the Population Bomb, just a hundred years early.


          • Well said. I hope Kurzweil and Musk succeed and it looks like they will. It’s a craven way to buy time, but it needs to be done before people can be taught to think for themselves, stop behaving like Adam Smith automatons, and choose a sustainable, low growth future. It pays to understand Hubbert. The past just shows we switch every time we reach a limit. Cities burning coal did not work because they died in London. Whale oil still exists. Now we switch to RE. FF and wood will still be burned. Call me an optimist. The thing is, it’s hard to get people wearing Alternate reality google glasses and running on a treadmill in the matrix to take their utopia helmets off and realize its a world made real by what’s in their head.

          • jimbills Says:

            There’s a treadmill effect with technology, really. An economic term for it is ‘induced demand’. A greater supply of something increases its demand.

            Two cases:

            1) Road expansion increases traffic –
            http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/05/31/study-building-roads-to-cure-congestion-is-an-exercise-in-futility/

            2) Norman Borlaug’s (and others) work on the ‘Green Revolution’ definitely did put off Malthus’s (and Ehrlich’s) predictions. Food production rose faster than population. But, because of the Green Revolution (and medical advances) we have much higher populations, far more demand, and we have agricultural practices that simply can’t be sustained much past 2050. So, what are some calling for? Another Green Revolution – this time in the form of bio-engineering. Even if it works, we just speed the treadmill.

            More isn’t better. It just leads to more, which increases the need for more, and on and on it goes.

          • andrewfez Says:

            It’s a dissonant attitude for me:

            I realize we need to pull back on energy use significantly – that pushes back the next big crash.

            [Crashes seem like the only way to adjudicate overpopulation. Try telling an American couple making $150k per year they have to abide by a one-child-only policy. Try telling any financial sector worker whose $$ relies partially on population growth to fuel demand that a one child policy is good. Or try telling any modern person that deflation is fun, for that matter.]

            But I also want to retire someday. The only way I can do that is to invest in equities that grow with the economy. I’m glued to the conveyer belt too.

            Go back to sustainable farming, with little use for oil/gas/N,KOH,P04? Are there enough resources to even do that? Even in 1800 people were robbing peat bogs to use as manure for their crops. Sir Humphrey Davy wrote a lecture series in 1800 to 1810 that mentions England was importing resources to keep their agriculture going: grow some wheat – deplete your nutrients from the soil – ship the wheat (with those nutrients) somewhere; your soil eventually is depleted, its only savior being a diverse forest ready to reclaim the land and reinvigorate it (but then you’re out of a living). Slow it down with Norfolk Rotations – a bit more sustainable as it allows for Nitrogen fixation through artificial grasses (meadow fescue, cocksfoot, sainfoin, clover, etc.), and vegetables. But even back then mineral manuring was big: marles, limes, magnesian lime, gypsum, wood ash, bones, shells, etc. (i.e. pulling up resources from one place to supplement another)

            Fun fact: sainfoin is really drought resistant and doesn’t bloat animals that eat it, unlike clover.

            Or just wait for the next big influenza pandemic. We have Bubonic Plague here in pockets of CA. Something’s always hiding around the corner waiting for society to become so poor (i.e. resource depleted) that medicine is not available. Boom – nonlinar drop.

        • Glenn Martin Says:

          To reply seriously to your point, there’s a lot less copper between my TV and my rooftop then my TV and a power plant. I know this only flattens the demand curve and that the link between increased efficiency and increased use is well established but you and I live in countries where the average birth rate has fallen close to or past the replacement rate.
          The trick is to get the rest of the world into that comfort zone where this happens. Increased efficiency and cheap power that doesn’t demand a lot of infrastructure makes that goal more achievable.
          The prediction is that world population will stabilize between 9 and 10 billion people. God knows how we’re going to feed that extra 2 to 3 billion. If a development can help speed this process and result in a lower cap then I say bring it on.

          • jimbills Says:

            Well, the problem isn’t simply population. It’s more along the lines of population times consumption. Increase either and you speed the resource depletion and environmental degradation rates.

            Technology only increases the rates, too. This will cause some to freak, but frankly it’s too much to go into here. However, case in point – fracking.

            If one looks at the projections for resource depletion and environmental degradation, and understands that most of them are based on current usage (not growing usage), it’s pretty much impossible to go to some optimistic la-la-land. Or some do, anyway, just because it’s more comforting to do so.

          • jimbills Says:

            BTW, copper is an interesting case study:

            Click to access ds140-coppe.pdf

            Peak copper for U.S. production was in 1998. It’s fallen to 50% since then. U.S. copper consumption is about 66% what it was in 2000. Copper prices have quadrupled since then.

            World peak in production hasn’t happened yet.


    • You mean business as usual. Not behavioral analysis unit:)

  8. Gingerbaker Says:

    1) Exponential growth of PV can not continue at the same rate indefinitely because there is not nearly enough manufacturing capacity to keep up with such a demand.

    2) Elon Musk is a genius, but remember – he is in it for the money. A legitimate question is – do we want to allow our national energy future to be (once again) in the hands of profiteers, designed by profiteers, shaped by profiteers or do we think it would make more sense to keep the profits ourselves, and reinvest them into a commons project? Which can be planned and implemented on a national and even international basis as intelligently and equitably as possible.

    3) As Chris pointed out – “The raw costs are now lower than installation”. Should we be happy that the most expensive way to install PV – rooftop – is the way our monies will be spent?

    Should we be happy that huge amounts of money will be transferred to billionaires to install renewables in the most inefficient way possible?

    As a public project, we would pay far less for our systems, and then we, the public, would own them. After the short -term debt of the actual infrastructure cost was paid off, we all could be getting all the energy we need for free. Forever.

    Or, we can go with the Elon Musk model, and never achieve full benefits.

    We do not have to settle for corporate ownership of our power system.

    • jimbills Says:

      Roger – on point 1, increased demand in a profitable business takes care of capacity on its own. There aren’t any concerns there, assuming you aren’t referring to limits in the materials themselves, like neodymium. Most of these materials limits, perhaps not all, can be achieved by replacement.

      I also don’t understand how you could think increased production is impossible when that’s the very thing you are calling for.

      The rest of the comment is socialism. It won’t fly in today’s political environment, even though I’d personally prefer it over what we’ll get. Even the ‘liberals’ today are free market fanatics.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        “I also don’t understand how you could think increased production is impossible when that’s the very thing you are calling for.”

        I didn’t say that. I said exponential growth at the same rate is not possible, because there are not enough manufacturing plants. Hundreds would have to be built, they take at least a year to build, and they won’t be built quickly enough because of time lags in the demand-financing equation.

        “The rest of the comment is socialism. It won’t fly in today’s political environment, “

        Only because people might dismiss it out of hand, as you have just done.

        Which is a pretty curious behavior considering power utilities are mostly at least quasi-public NOW.

        And please – it is NOT socialism. Nor are public schools, police departments, public works depts, fire depts, the army, navy, air force, etc.

        Socialism is an economic system and is a very different thing than a public commons project.

        • jimbills Says:

          The first point is simple economics. On the second point, socialism is business owned by the public, which is exactly what you’re describing. We can spin it however we want, but my only point is that it wouldn’t be excepted in this political climate – not that I think it’s inferior.


          • Socialism does not have to be a dirty word. the definition of socialism is bland.
            noun
            1.
            a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
            It is accepted in some places, generally not in US. Breckenridge has community solar, for example. I don’t see how wage slavery is better. I’m not into isms and ists and istas. As soon as they get thrown around people lose the power of thought. We should be able to use words and think. I’m not interested in ideologues. Ideas should serve us, not the other way around. Some may have noticed some ists and istas thrown around as epithets. Turns me off. Most are better behaved.

          • jimbills Says:

            Christopher – the closest analog to what Roger is describing is city water systems. This is completely preferable to privately-owned, corporate water utilities in my opinion. The business itself in a public utility isn’t concerned primarily with profit, so in general costs to the public (the owners) are less than what they’d be under a privately owned system. Another benefit is that a publicly owned business will have greater protection against externalities – as it is owned by the people, the welfare of the people comes first. A privately owned business, concerned first with profit for its shareholders and executives, will cut as many corners as it can to do so.

            One thing I give to the free market fans is that a privately owned system tends to be more efficient, generally, as it doesn’t tolerate waste in the pursuit of profit. This tends to enhance growth, though, which I label our true enemy – another plus in my book for a publicly owned business model over a privately owned one.

            So, I’m not against Roger’s idea. I’m only saying we’re batsheet efftarded stooped politically these days. Roger’s idea would immediately be labeled socialism, which it most certainly is. It’d be labeled much worse, even, and it simply wouldn’t get traction in today’s Congress or even amongst the public. Our corporate media would ensure it.

            Public utilities started in the days when majorities of Americans believed in such things. But nowadays, we have guys like Musk – good little liberal capitalists who would freak about the idea of giving their businesses to be publicly owned or even threatened by public organization. For a small example, search “amazon unions”.

            We have exactly one socialist in Congress, Bernie Sanders, even though the far right will incorrectly label many more as such.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            Jim, you are missing the point. Most of our energy utilities are already quasi-public, if not truly public. Ie – they are already ‘socialist'[sic]

            We have a lot of commons ownership – ownership of common property by the public.

            This would not be a hard sell in any case. People tend to vote with their pocketbooks – and new public renewable utilities would put many tens of thousands of dollars into voters pockets.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            “Most of our energy utilities are already quasi-public, if not truly public”

            Where are you located? This is not true in my part of the world, where the gas and electric “energy utilities” are stockholder-owned corporations. Sewer and water utilities tend to be “public” owned, but even some water companies are profit-making entities.

          • jimbills Says:

            Roger – your point is to convince me that the idea of public ownership of electricity (in this case, 100% solar) is preferable to private ownership. No worries – and I’ve tried to spell it out in full – I agree.

            But you and I are in the tiny minority, and we have exactly zero power to convince the public when compared to a government that relies on corporate donations during elections and a public that is brainwashed 4-6 hours a day by a corporate media.

            In addition, it’s much more difficult to wrest control from already existing privately-owned companies – and in this case they are extremely powerful and influential companies. Even the current solar entrepreneurs would much prefer to keep their profits than have the public receive the benefit.

            The other trend I see is an increase in private ownership over public ownership. The free market advocates are winning across the board. Even once public bastions like schools, libraries, the postal service, and water utilities are being eroded by private and charter schools, e-readers, FedEx and UPS, and bottled water companies like Nestle.

            The term ‘socialist’ at one time in this country meant something very different than now. It means something very different in many European countries now than it does in the States. The fact that it’s a dirty word here, a putdown, attests to how far out of favor it actually is (and how uneducated the public is).

            You and I live in very different parts of the country. You are in Vermont and I am in Texas. Your plan, to really be effective, would require 100% national involvement (and even then it only addresses our country). But I can tell you, a socialist plan simply wouldn’t fly in many areas. When I go to the polling booth, many races are Republican candidates only, and even 99% of Democrats wouldn’t be on board for fear of losing campaign donations and losing face in the media.

            Anyway, I’ve tried to be clear on what my point is. It’s a crying shame, but it is what it is. Best wishes.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            You’re right that “socialism” is badly misunderstood and likely wouldn’t fly in many parts of the country because of ignorance and cognitive dissonance.

            Perhaps we need to go way back in time and look to the idea of communitarianism for solutions? It certainly ought to be more appealing to certain Christians than “that there commie stuff” that the Marxist-socialist-fascist-Nazi-dictator in the White House and the Democrats are pushing.


    • No. We should not be happy with an unequal socioeconomic system that produces wage slaves and 1% billionaires and chews up every limit with exponential growth. Yes, we do not have to have corporate ownership. We can go with a community based approach like Germany. We might achieve a mix of personal and community, not corporate and alienated. Personal and community can exist harmoniously. Corporations want to own your brain, your spirit, and your wallet.
      From Jethro Tull – Living in the Past “wond’ring again”
      The natural resources are dwindling and no one grows old,
      And those with no homes to go to, please dig yourself holes.


  9. Peter – thanks once again. The activity has turned from grading flunking denier science exams to realizing solutions, and moving to the next problem. Bravo. Progress at last. Question. What clean energy can grow fast enough to replace coal in China by 2050 if demand grows 4x? Answer, wind and solar. Yes, there’s more problems. Storage, grid.. Let’s take them one at a time. Let the sun shine in.
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=06X5HYynP5E&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D06X5HYynP5E


  10. While we are focused on growth and exponentially, and whether we can replace FF fast enough, it’s a good time to watch this.
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DF-QA2rkpBSY


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