By Steve Windisch (jibbguy)
April 24, 2011
It was back in 1976 that President Jimmy Carter had Solar Panels installed on the roof of the White House, the type that heated hot water. This event came at the height of arguably the most successful Grass Roots Campaign ever seen in America: The Ecology Movement. This truly “bottom-up” and widely based movement was responsible for more far-reaching legislation passed (in sheer volume), than even the Civil Rights and Womens’ Rights movements; which were also highly important grass roots successes proving the Power of the People when roused. And the Ecology Movement did most of this within a few years; and by uniting many people across the entire political spectrum together on a single issue that broke Party and social barriers. It accomplished wonderful things… By cleaning up the Great Lakes and a thousand water ways that many had declared “dead”, and by instituting real, meaningful air pollution controls that allowed people to go outside safely on hot and still days again. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t “forever” (as we have seen recent legislation attempts in 2011 to partially dismantle these victories, and there were periods when many of the laws for air and water pollution were not well enforced and often openly broken): But it was still, beyond doubt, successful beyond expectations and represented a huge defeat for the polluters… who it is important to remember, back in those days also had many politicians in their pockets and a great deal of political power in Washington. It was one of our greatest Grass Roots Victories in the history of the planet; and concerned, engaged, and caring people can be proud of what was once collectively accomplished against all odds.But… as with many great grass roots movements, it eventually faded from view; mainly because of its own success. In the 1980’s ; there was a “follow-on” in part, with the large Anti-Nuclear movements in America and Europe. These movements put pressure on the United States government and NATO to work closer with the old Soviet Union and others for treaties and an across-the-board lowering of the staggeringly high and growing number of nuclear weapons (peaking then, incredibly, at over 40,000 warheads world-wide). President Ronald Reagan, perhaps as a direct result of the vast and growing Grass Roots pressure, did eventually work for these goals along with the USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev; and together, they actually discussed the total elimination of fission nuclear weapons (an event destined not to happen, but what was truly amazing to all at the time, was that such a serious discussion did in fact take place). Again, this change can be directly attributed to a strong and vocal grass roots movement happening all over North America and Europe. Another effect of the Anti-Nuclear Movement, was a slowing and eventual moratorium on the building of new fission nuclear power plants across the country, accelerated first by the “Three Mile Island” core melt down in 1979 that sent a shock wave of concern across the country despite the industry and media assurances of it not being “any thing to worry about”, and second by “Chernobyl” in 1986 : A very serious disaster that changed the general perception towards fission nuclear greatly in Europe and America, as people realized that the industry and government assurances of “safety” regarding fission nuclear technology were vastly overstated. A third result of the Anti-Nuclear movement were partial Atmospheric Test Ban Treaties that ended most forms of open-air and ocean atomic blast test purposes.
In retrospect, we know now that the Chernobyl disaster was much worse than we had heard in the news at the time. It is estimated by several Studies, that over 800,000 people have died so far as an indirect result of being irradiated; mainly from cancers gotten years later from the high levels of ionized radiation put out by the melted-down and exploded Chernobyl reactor. These deaths were not from exposure to the direct rays themselves in the atmosphere, but specifically from consuming food and water affected by fall-out (the main danger in these situations being irradiated rain water affecting crops, animal feeds and grasses, and water supplies). Many crops in different areas of Europe still show clearly detectable radioactivity from that disaster (and likely will for hundreds or thousands of years); and towns as far as 100 kilometers from Chernobyl still cannot be safely occupied to this day… 25 years later. It may be, as in parts of the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan, that these areas will not be safely re-inhabited until a time when the great-great-great grandchildren of the current victims can return.
President Carter was himself a Nuclear Physicist, who worked with fission nuclear power in the U.S. Navy back in the heady “Admiral Rickover” days. Yet he clearly recognized the future importance of solar energy… abundant, clean, and safe energy where the only “fuel” involved comes freely from the Sun. And he backed his concerns about our energy future with real and significant action by creating the Department of Energy. Back then, we all optimistically expected this alternative energy source to grow and become more prevalent, eventually breaking our dangerous dependence on oil (and we also expected major improvements in the efficiency of solar PV panels to materialize and reach market quickly). However… things did not work out that way at all. In fact, despite all the promises we have heard over these long years, the United States’ energy outlook is now more grim and bleak than in the 1970’s … And now to top it off, two consecutive major energy-related major disasters have happened in as many years.
Every four years or so, and “coincidentally” always during presidential election time, we would hear rhetoric about a wondrous future for Alternative Energy (as we certainly did in 2008 as well). Lots of talk, talk, talk… But in those 35 years; very little action has materialized. Some of us can even remember the oil corporations’ Public Relations advertisements from over 25 years ago on these subjects; and how these energy giants began investing their profits from oil into “Solar”. This was the original genesis for most of the many tax incentives and subsidies given to energy corporations by the U.S. Congress… billions in yearly largess and “corporate welfare”: But these billions in tax breaks turned out to be perhaps the “worst investment” ever seen in History. In all those long years of talk, tax breaks, subsidies, and “investment”… what was actually accomplished on the ground by these oil corporations or the government regarding alternative energy? Very little: Within the borders of the United States, there has been embarrassingly little done considering the incredibly huge and growing need for energy this country had, and still has. We have remained the “prisoners” of polluting fossil fuel corporations and the privately owned monopoly electric utility corporations, and to a lesser extent, the fission nuclear industry. Together, these entities have managed to maintain a Status Quo for energy that has stayed in place for decade after decade, with no major or meaningful changes at all… and the only challenges to this paradigm being disturbing disasters such as the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 (that the liability damages were still being fought in Federal Court by Exxon Mobile’s corporate lawyers up until 2009 ; twenty years later while thousands of the victims had already died), or the more recent “2008 Oil Price Bubble”, an economic disaster for many small businesses and the “working poor” that caused many lay-offs, and that was based purely on speculation and energy commodities market manipulation. These “blips” briefly increased public awareness and spurred greater interest in this broad subject of “Energy”, a situation that Americans generally take for granted and rarely question… but seem to have very little lasting effect either in the minds’ of Americans, nor their elected officials… probably due to all the Billions spent on public relations campaigns by the energy giants (to date, BP has spent more on Public Relations than it has in actual clean up efforts). This strange “forgetfulness” regarding energy topics we can clearly see illustrated today; with the bizarre fact that despite a great deal of professed “outrage” by many members of Congress for the BP Gulf Disaster (back while the mainstream media was still reporting widely on it and the cameras were focused on them)… one year later there has been no legislation at all passed regarding deep water offshore drilling, nor drilling safety in general. In fact, recent cuts in funding and the over-all trend against corporate accountability, suggests that there will be even less regulation and oversight of these drilling operations in the future… virtually insuring another disaster caused by Criminal Negligence, where profits trump safety, will happen again.
So, if these long-promised changes for Alternative Energy ever come, what would we average Americans gain from it? The answer depends greatly on the “fine print details”. We must first understand that real change in the energy sector depends heavily on insisting on a REAL Solar PV Initiative for homeowners and small businesses to install their own solar PV systems. There are many good things to say about large wind farms, or solar thermal centralized projects (and others such as Tide and Geothermal power): They do clearly lower pollution and our dependence on fossil fuels; and “green” centralized projects should certainly be pursued to replace coal as the major fuel for generating electricity. Yet these large-scale projects are usually owned by the same monopoly corporations selling us power now… and are really quite inferior to us ALSO installing widespread PV solar in a de-centralized mass approach. A REAL Solar Initiative must provide a path and means for millions of Americans to install solar PV panels on their own roofs… generating their own energy; and sometimes even selling-back excess power to the grid for credit and helping provide energy for industry during Peak hours (“running the meter backwards”). Below are some of the advantages of a de-centralized Solar Initiative:
> A de-centralized Solar Initiative would be by far the fastest route out of the current energy paradigm. It takes up to 10 years to build a new fission nuclear plant… Well within that time, if there were actual and serious incentives and some specific changes to the present solar industry… there could be many more Gigawatts of power already being produced than those now-proposed fission nuclear plants would ever generate when completed (and all the old and dangerous existing fission nuclear plants could be closed down). This is because there is a tremendous potential consumer base to tap here with business and home owners, that is being held back only by the current conditions of the market. Freeing the solar PV market, so it is actually allowed to prosper… and the sudden demand this creates… would bring about a hugely strong and undeniable reply to those who claim we “must” now build either new coal-fired, or fission nuclear-heated generating plants. The nation of Germany proves such a Solar Initiative is viable and valuable… and that artificially limiting our “choices” is no more than a false, discredited, and lame debate tactic of the industry shills. Germany already generates over 12 Gigawatts of energy from de-centralized solar PV: more than all the Fukushima reactors combined (and it is “the cloudiest country in continental Europe”). It has done this quietly and with only modest incentives; but their investment has paid off as the German citizens have demanded, and gotten, the closing of several aging fission nuclear reactors; and may soon eliminate the dangers of fission nuclear energy altogether within their borders.
> This means huge and growing mass production of solar panels; that soon kicks-in the benefits from the Economy of Scale. We know for fact, that the “PC Revolution”, and the related “PC Memory” industry, proved that items made of relatively cheap materials such as Silicon (that most types of solar panels are also mostly made of), can be produced at costs dozens of times lower when made in much larger quantities. In fact, the only major governing factor for “cost” once the industry spun-up would be the total numbers of units produced. Imagine all the new factories and jobs this will provide our economy. Not only in manufacturing, but installation as well. GOOD JOBS that provide needed taxes to the treasury, and help the economy in general… new jobs for the non-college educated middle class, devastated by the many years of “globalization off-shoring” and plant closings. The jobs generated by a de-centralized Solar Initiative will be several times more than all other schemes for energy currently “on the table” in Congress combined. We could also begin to Export solar panels in large quantities to a world thirsting for cheap and clean energy… instead of continually “exporting” only our manufacturing jobs and sliding towards poverty.
> A large decentralized solar PV presence will end the energy monopolies’ ability to control the energy markets. It can END our dependence on foreign oil… It can END the wars for oil and insure another never happens for reasons of “Energy”. A Solar Initiative can give us back our country by re-creating a strong middle class and manufacturing sector, creating many new entrepreneurs. It can give us back the ability to control the economy from Main Street again… and no longer be fully controlled by the dangerous and highly questionable speculations of Wall Street. It help can end the tilted playing field we now have towards the giant trans-national corporate entities whose market shares and positions never change decade after decade (a highly improbable situation in actual free markets)… and insure, for the first time in over 100 years, that there is true competition and real innovation in the energy sector… TRUE free markets, not the façade of them. REAL change for alternative energy, not continual lies and meaningless gestures designed only to placate temporarily and provide false hope during election season.
> This is the badly needed component to made Electric Vehicles worth the trouble and cost! GOOD CLEAN ENERGY to re-charge our electric cars and trucks; that does not cause pollution or dangerous radiation risks. The wish for a clean, safe, and prosperous future for our children needs no talking points “bullet” for us to remember… but it does require us to understand the inherent risks of blindly continuing on a proved-wrong path.
Over a century years ago, there was another major sea-change for America to deal with. It was the end of the horse-and-buggy era in transportation, replaced by the “Age of Oil”, and the rise of automobiles. The readers can please consider this: If the Horse and Buggy Lobby, and the Washington Lobbies for “Oats and Hay” (meaning the analog of the “Energy” lobby in Congress back in those days), were as incredibly strong and influential as the Energy Lobbies and their allies are today in the United States…. we would still be driving either horse and buggys, or cars designed to only burn “hay and oats” for fuel… One hundred years later. Because these huge corporate profits in the energy sector, larger than any ever before seen in history, are what’s keeping the present paradigm in place in perpetuity. It is important to note this situation is wholly “Political”, and has nothing to do with “Science” (especially when we know solar photovoltaic has been a commercially available technology for over 30 years now)… And it no longer has to do with “consumer desire”: Americans want affordable, clean, and safe energy, this is beyond question… it is just that no one is ever asking them these questions in nationwide polls…. because “no one” wants to hear the answer.
This dangerous current situation regarding Energy frankly has to do mostly with “Corruption”. Corruption and undue Influence both holds the current paradigm in place, and insures there are no challenges to it… no viable alternatives like a de-centralized Solar Initiative being discussed, or ever even mentioned these days in Congress; while a fission nuclear “renaissance”, that only benefits some of the most wealthy corporations ever seen, like General Electric (whose proved-faulty reactors were in part responsible for the Fukushima Fission Nuclear Disaster), and that put us all at risk… as well as frankly absurd industry pork barrel opportunity for endless corporate welfare such as “Clean Coal” ( a complete oxymoron and physical impossibility)… are the only “solutions” being considered.
This corruption and undue influence has created a bizarro surrealistic landscape and “parallel universe” now: Where grown men and women openly pretend that the only options that exist for energy are coal, oil, methane, and fission nuclear… “coincidentally”, the only means with lobbies and big wallets behind them. So we have only the choices of being irradiated by gamma rays, having our water tables destroyed by “fracking”, or being poisoned by benzene, sulfuric acid compounds, and dozens of other proved-harmful and dangerous carcinogenic chemicals. They claim we have no choice but to endure more Fukushima Fission Nuclear Disasters that lower our lives from future risk of Cancer and cause birth defects, more BP Gulf Disasters with huge wildlife kill-offs greatly magnified by the use of poisonous dispersants that also make many local residents ill, more Alberta Oil Sand environmental nightmares, more mountaintop removals polluting hundreds of square miles, more poorly-maintained Alaska Pipelines rusting away and spilling greater amounts of oil each year, more ancient hardwood forests being killed-off by acid rain, more of the Amazon Basin’s and Niger Delta’s ecological destruction without any laws to protect nature and the people living there… All so we can continue on as before; pretending there is nothing wrong and that major and meaningful change in how we produce our energy is not inevitable and completely unavoidable.
And indeed this must change: Because this is not just about corporate shenanigans and smirking “winks and nods” any more… it is about the future of our entire species. Yes: It really has gotten that bad, the statement is not hyperbole… just ask a Gulf of Mexico coastal area resident made ill by dispersant and oil, or a Japanese citizen forced to leave their radioactive village. Ask an indigenous person in Ecuador who’s tribe’s Amazon ancestral home was destroyed by Big Oil corruption and rampant pollution, a mother in Africa who’s children and parents died from oil’s poisons… an environmentalist tagging dolphins and endangered sea turtles washed up dead on a Florida beach.
Every time we ignore these events, because they don’t touch us personally, we are “rewarded” with another one closer to home. And the time to act, to change the current energy paradigm, is now. Before the 40-year old “Vermont Yankee” nuclear power station (identical in design and operation to the ones melting down in Fukushima), or a new replacement, is the forth major — and worst yet– fission nuclear disaster taking the lives of a hundred million people…. before another BP Gulf Disaster kills off already-highly stressed ecosystems for ever… before millions more people die from benzene poisoning and cancer than do now already in cities all over the world from poisonous Diesel fumes.
So then, how is a Solar Initiative to be formulated? What points and actions must it contain to be successful? First, there must be real incentive for homeowners and small businesses across the country to install solar PV systems; including serious tax breaks and no-interest Guaranteed Loans. The money invested here by the government, can be gotten back fairly quickly in a re-vitalized economy with lower Unemployment, Food Stamp, and Public Assistance rolls; and the newly-swelling income and corporate tax revenue from an economy waking up from economic Depression; with secondary benefits percolating out to many other sectors such as “Retail”, tourism, and the housing industry. Second, there must be incentives and further help for Industry to start-up, tool-up, and open up our now-deserted factories across the country; manufacturing and bringing in the machinery needed to produce solar panels efficiently and cheaply in massive quantities, as well as all the associated electronics and hardware needed for “Grid Tie” operation and installation. It’s a tall order; and a Big Job. But Americans have done more ambitious tasks, and have done so with great success time and again. We can do this in less time, and for less cost, than any other “solution” now being discussed by Congress: Germany’s fine example proves it beyond question.
Third…. There is something that must be done with the current solar PV industry first before any of this can likely happen. It must first be “Freed”: Made free from the present “leaders”… who are, and this is often amazing news to many folks… the oil corporations themselves such as BP who are the largest players in the solar PV market. Their “leadership” here, for decades now, has been an utter, complete, and perennial FAIL … in fact, in the last 3 years we have seen the cost to individuals for installing Solar PV rise significantly, not lower. The obvious and inherent illegality regarding Anti-trust, RICO Act Racketeering, and Stock Manipulation, cannot be denied. Whether corporate lawyers can endlessly argue carefully-crafted “gray-area” legality for these practices is beside the point: It clearly breaks the Intent of Anti-Trust laws (some of them specifically designed to cut off the smothering tentacles of “Standard Oil” in an earlier age); and this situation desperately needs to change. Somehow, these energy giants appear to be immune from Anti-Trust and stock manipulation laws simply because they are in the energy sector (and we can see this illustrated in how speculation on the Energy Commodities Markets allows them to control both “Supply”, and “Price”, and do so rather openly… something that is happening right now, again, as this is being written in April, 2011). They must be “urged”, or forced via threat of investigation or legislation if need be, to sell off all PV solar holdings. Something so important to us all and to our very survival as “energy”; cannot be allowed to be manipulated by a few entities for their own ever-higher levels of profit…. And a true Solar Initiative cannot “work” unless the panels can be manufactured freely and in huge quantities, so the price and Return of Investment Period greatly lowers and Solar PV systems become affordable to the Middle Class of America… and as a side benefit, also eventually affordable to many folks around the world such as those in Rural Africa or South America who will finally be able to join the rest of the planet in increased prosperity via access to clean and cheap renewable energy.
And lastly, there should be redoubled and greater effort, urgency, transparency, and incentive to Universities and some “spin-out” companies holding new Patents on higher-efficiency solar panels, and other related solar-based technologies (such as hydrogen production from water using solar energy, as both Dr. Daniel Nocera of M.I.T. and Dr. Nate Lewis of Cal Tech and their teams have very important and potentially world-changing discoveries for now,)… to insure the major recent improvements and discoveries DO reach market. These new more efficient technologies will allow fewer panels to be mounted on our roofs to produce the same wattage; and the new solar Hydrogen producing technologies show great promise as an alternative method to batteries for storing energy for night-time use (using the Hydrogen efficiently produced from solar energy to then power electrical generators or vehicles). Right now, the greatest Efficiency commercially available for solar PV panels is “19%” (most are around 14%)…. But there are at least 5 different, if not many more, technologies out there right now that could raise the efficiency levels to at least 30% within a short time of being properly funded and pursued. One, such as that put forward by researchers at Stanford University, uses cheap silicon and new thin film manufacturing techniques to raise efficiency, and has apparently been under the “auspices” of the Department of Energy for over 2 years now. These advances in efficiency would greatly help the “R.O.I.” and cost issues. And it should be noted, that many announced improvements in solar PV efficiency have been known about for years (even decades): The time for “feet dragging” regarding more efficient solar technology should end… and this should also be a side-benefit of the oil corporations giving up their industry-dominating solar PV holdings… and solar-related Patents. Patents should be means of protecting an inventor’s intellectual property: Not a weapon to hold world-improving technologies from ever reaching market because it profits a few for the technology to be “shelved” and forgotten. The planet, and Humanity, can not longer tolerate such sociopath behavior: And corporations “caught” doing so, should be Prosecuted both under Law, and in the “courts” of public opinion, losing all their consumer sales via a disgusted populace, and being run out of business.
With better efficiencies married to much lower costs from higher manufacturing volume in a truly free market… Solar PV becomes so attractive, that soon no government incentives would be required; as millions of Americans gladly install them because the price has lowered dramatically and they wish to do their part to end most forms of pollution and make America more secure internationally (and because it personally saves them money and provides them a great deal of Energy Independence from the privately-owned electric utility corporations who are now monopolies). And it should be noted, that the major government incentives mentioned here are only needed to end the current artificially maintained negative situation in the solar PV industry, one that will certainly continue for many more years unless something “real” is done to change it. The prices will not significantly lower until production numbers rise dramatically (assuming the current market leaders even wish for such an outcome to begin with): And the Economy of Scale Benefit cannot happen while they are too expensive for average people to afford… a “Catch 22” conundrum that requires the “Gordian Knot” solution as no other will be effective. Oil Corporations who have solar holdings and make 35 billion Dollars in profits yearly from oil sales (and often pay little or no taxes)… would have an excellent opportunity to start this Economy Of Scale ball rolling all by themselves: But they choose not to, and have so chosen for decades now, and are highly unlikely to ever do so willingly. Therefore the decentralized Solar Initiative must be done despite their vast influence and political power, and against their strong desires. But this can be done… when military arms and technologies are in question; the government will often strip away a Patent or “take” an invention away from a “unsuitable” company or inventor; this happens often, if questions of National Security come into question. Energy is a highly critical subject that has a great deal of National Security issues involved. And the benefits for doing all this are certainly worth the task.
How can we make the decentralized Solar Initiative happen? The answer to this is deceptively simple; yet requires real work to achieve. It is what gave us the above-mentioned great victories of our past such as the Ecology Movement of the 1970’s: Grass Roots Activism and Greater Public Awareness… and by using Brinkmanship and other non-violent means to make those in power so “uncomfortable”, that change becomes more comfortable for them than perpetuating the status quo. We must remind them constantly that doing the right thing will see that they are re-elected or remain in business; that no matter how much money the energy corporations dump into Congressional campaigns, it won’t matter if they can’t get any votes because the Constituents are disgusted with the blatant kowtowing to the energy giants. We must create the perception that taking money from a polluting and corrupt energy corporation, is like openly taking contributions from “Lucky Luciano”. We must remember as Americans united across Party lines for an issue that touches us all, that we do indeed have a very powerful collective voice… and we must learn to use it effectively again.
And then, like the chemical plants indiscriminately dumping mercury into Lake Erie… like the corporations carelessly dumping used oil products into the Cuyahoga in Cleveland to the point of a River being declared a Fire Hazard… Like the mills in Pittsburgh pumping tons of carcinogenic pollutants into the air every second… Like the innumerable cities and towns dumping poorly treated sewage into the same rivers that also provided drinking water… The inevitable and desperately needed changes will finally happen: Through using our remembered collective Voice. And so we can make this Solar Initiative, and the move away from dangerous and polluting forms of energy in general… our next great Victory for all America, and Humanity.
Despite all the talk last year while the media was still watching, Congress fails to pass a single oil spill law.
Dr. Daniel Nocera’s important discovery for the efficient production of H and O from water using solar energy to do it, mimicking the way leaves do it (3 links)
Dr. Nate Lewis of Cal Tech’s similar discovery for efficient H production using solar energy and nano tubes, and his Cal Tech site. Dr Lewis’ and Dr. Noceras’ information has not made the mainstream media yet, but needs to be known widely. Please share it.
Stanford U’s discovery for cheaper, more efficient Solar PV Panels (now over 2 years old, and perhaps under the control of DoE?)
Dr. Helen Caldicott discusses the dangers from the Fukushima Fission Nuclear Disaster, and the 25-year cover up regarding Chernobyl; and her site.
A petition to stop “Hydro-Fracking”, the extremely polluting and poisonous techniques for gas drilling and extraction that destroys water tables for hundreds of square miles, and for thousands of years. And a link for “Gasland” an excellent documentary on this insane practice. For many years, the gas industry made good profits without “fracking”, but now they insist they must… despite thousands of existing wells being deliberately shut down to limit Supply and maintain higher Price (this illegal practice was even admitted by T. Boon Pickens in an interview last year, he is on the Board of BP’s natural gas group).
BP is given permission by the State of Indiana to break the hard-fought Federal Laws for dumping mercury into Lake Michigan; apparently without comment from U.S. EPA
Presient Obama’s highly disappointing speech on Energy negating nearly every campaign promise made on the subject back before his election: Fission nuclear and “clean coal”… at the same exact time Americans are being irradiated with fall out in our rain water.
The number of dead ocean wildlife from the BP Gulf Disaster may be 50 times higher than claimed
Germany’s Solar panels produce more energy than the entire Fukushima complex
Possibly the first mention of its kind in the national U.S. mainstream media: A CNN interview with a Louisiana Gulf Coast doctor discussing severe health issues of residents caused by the BP Gulf Disaster. Will this issue “break out” into wider awareness now?
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