Solar Revolution

Solar Revolution: The Economic Transformation of the Global Energy Industry

By Travis Bradford

Read October 2009

Mr. Bradford is a cheerleader for solar, especially PV. He persuaded me that some of the costs of electricity in present debates are not taken into account. Electricity to our home is about half generation and half distribution, cost-wise. Solar is great for remote applications, because you don’t have to build a line from the grid to the house and amortize that cost. PV could be really useful in developing nations for this reason.

I’ve known people who lived off-grid for years, Ken and Pam Champion and a couple who now lives near Strobels. Other people who came into my shop told their stories. To live with solar and propane in a house off the grid involved many curtailed conveniences. Run your lights, just a few, for a couple of hours. Have a tiny fridge. Watch an hour of TV. Have a tiny house. Heat with wood. Spend a lot of time fiddling with your energy supply and accommodating its limitations. Of course, that was when panels cost more. If panel cost drops rapidly, many more conveniences could be enjoyed. The ROI was long.

Bradford’s justifications for solar were familiar from enthusiasts in the media. Energy independence, so we don’t have to rely on intransigent Middle Eastern regions. The logic seems suspect. People who promote solar, also promote international cooperation and interdependence and a borderless world. Are they saying cooperation is unlikely? One of their dreams crumbles. Energy independence sells, so they use it.

Electric cars thrill him.

I enjoyed learning more about peak power and baseload power, about photons jumping around on a silicon surface, about scalability, knowing how Japan and Germany are adopting solar. It sounds driven by government distortions and subsidies, in some cases. They pay about $.21/KwH. We pay about $.07 per KwH.

His style was non-didactic, though much of the green agenda of the left is thinly masked. Because it was dry, I was able to stomach the arguments. If an advocacy group phrased it, I would have been less amenable.

He is torn between advocacy and chronicling. He says solar will become popular solely due to rising prices for oil, gas, and coal generated electricity. The market will do it. He seems market-reliant. Then he praises national, state and local subsidies and regulatory acts that favor solar development.

I doubt the Peak Oil scenario and the speed with which he claims solar will become competitive.

If solar can cost $.07 per KwH, great! I’m ready. But I know the solar panels being installed around our neighborhood are highly subsidized, a fact which makes me uncomfortable as a taxpayer.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to read most of this book. I skimmed the last 1/3. I am more friendly to PV solar than before, but still wary of some of his assumptions and costs. He did persuade me that some of the costs of traditional generation may not be fully accounted for, though I think he might be exaggerating somewhat.) I’m wary of some of his projections, and his reliance on tax and regulatory policy to make solar work.