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Monday, November 3, 2014

The Solarization of America:

Global Warming is a problem.  Solar power is the solution.  Let's explain.

Europe is already moving to eliminate carbon emissions and create a renewable energy economy.  Germany is already well on its way to an emission-free energy grid.  If Germany can do it, at much higher latitudes than our sun-baked America, we can do it too.  There is no reason why we can't be as technologically advanced and environmentally conscious as Europe is.  We're richer than them, so we can afford luxurious things like doing the right thing for the sake of the planet better than they ever could.  It is shameful for America not to be the leader on this issue.

If Europe and America switch to renewable power, the rest of the world would follow.  Industrialized, wealthy nations would follow because they would be ashamed not to -- countries like Japan, Australia, Canada, etc.  Developing nations like Russia, China, and Brazil could be offered our technology and expertise at building solar power plants at bargain prices (even subsidized prices if necessary), and in this way they too could be converted to solar power.  If America built a gigantic solar power infrastructure for itself, it would gain the technology and expertise necessary to build a cheap, additional solar power grid for China and the rest of the world as well.  Once you can do something once, it's easy to do it any number of times.  So long as we foot the marginal cost of using solar instead of coal, China would be more than happy to see us build them a new energy grid -- air pollution and smog are huge problems for them over there and clean solar would sound like music to their ears.

Solarize America, solarize the world.  Doing one is the same as doing the other.  Global Warming will come to a halt with this policy -- if we don't destroy the world, no one else will.

Global warming has dire results across the board.  It causes hurricanes, droughts, crop failures, the spread of tropical disease, the destruction of our coastal infrastructure (where most people on Earth happen to live), etc, etc.  There's no reason to allow global warming to continue.  Humans should be masters of this world and that includes our climate too.  We should set the Earth to the temperature we want and is convenient for us.  The ability to control the climate is a technology we need to have in our pocket anyway, to prevent both overly warm and overly cold environments, so we may as well master this technology now.

Solar technology is ready to be adopted.  Solar costs have been sinking like a rock for over a decade now and will soon be competitive with fossil fuel power anyway.  To encourage the further improvement of solar power science, the government could institute a 'new solar deal' that could sweep the nation with new clean power.  Every time a solar power company demonstrates in the laboratory a new breakthrough in price cutting, efficiency, storage, or whatever, we promise to build them an economy of scale version of that breakthrough solar power plant.  They only get 1 power plant, and they have to pay back the government investment through their energy grid sales over time, but they get the money upfront to build the power plant of their dreams and the ability to showcase their technology.  If they want to build another power plant with government funding, they must make yet another breakthrough advancement, and then they'll get a freely funded version of that solar plant built as well.  We will keep building new solar power plants so long as they keep coming up with new ideas for one.  Eventually one solar company will emerge as having a power plant so convincingly effective and cheap that it won't even need government funding anymore, and that company will secure the private investments necessary to build itself and take over the American energy market.  I predict some 15 or 30 years of this policy will be all it takes to create a solar power company that's cheaper than coal and then goes on to take over the whole world, displacing all the dirtier types of power on Earth.

Practically every week I hear of a new advancement in solar power that is very promising but just needs a 'economy of scale size power plant' to reap its massive new benefits.  Why don't we reward these companies by giving them what they ask for?  It will come at no expense to the government, because we'll get the money paid back once those companies are selling their energy for a profit to consumers.  It will just spur innovation and a clean environment by getting things done faster than they are naturally proceeding.  Power plants naturally break down and require replacing naturally all across the country every year.  We need to make sure that every replacement we build from here on is a clean energy solar power plant.  Only by acting now can we avert global warming in the future.  And if we follow this plan of building a new power plant every time we make a new advancement, we'll get the trickle of new power plants we need without having to renovate the whole power grid all at once.

The same is true of batteries.  If a company says it can store energy better than ever before, but just needs a gigantic new battery factory which would have the economy of scale necessary to build cheaper batteries than what we have now, we need to be funding that too.  We need enough battery grid storage to fully power our country even when the sun goes down.  We also need transmission lines set up so that any region that doesn't have solar power can be given the solar energy that is being made elsewhere.  For instance, far northern states could benefit from solar energy wires coming out of the Mojave desert that has plenty of sun to spare.  Any company that promises to build a new one of these things should be funded upfront by the government, which will then be repaid through the company's profits later.

If we fully funded the innovators behind solar power, we could emerge as the world's best energy providers, gaining a monopoly on all of that business for America.  Can you imagine the money America would make if we became the energy suppliers of the whole world?  Forget about a trade deficit, we'd be running such a surplus that we could practically buy the rest of the world's real estate with the money we have left over.  How many jobs would be produced if we started manufacturing solar power panels for the entire world's consumption needs?  High paying manufacturing jobs for all that won't require any fancy degrees?  Even today, the world makes a lot of money selling nuclear power plants to less sophisticated neighbors.  Imagine if we get rid of the need for nuclear power by substituting that with solar power plants in the future.  We avoid nuclear weapon proliferation risks, we get rid of the risk of Fukushima-like nuclear disasters, we don't have to clean up radioactive waste for the next million years, and we save money by switching to better, cheaper solar.

As an alternative, the US government could buy out the patent rights of a startup company that demonstrates a new solar/battery breakthrough and then give it away free to all the remaining solar companies.  In this way we could spur innovation and speed up solar competitiveness with fossil fuels.  Both the bought out solar companies, which then fold up their tables and walk away, and the non-bought-out solar companies, which suddenly get an influx of new technological discoveries, would benefit from the government largesse.  Then one almighty company, which has the knowledge of all the other companies and the right to use all of their innovations, can make the ultimate solar panel which combines everyone's strength.  It would be like Voltron.

Right now, how many solar companies have some company secret technology which halves the cost of their solar panels, while not having access to any of the other companies' company secrets which halves the cost of their solar panels?  If we simply combined all these company secrets into one giant company, how many times could we halve the cost of solar power in one go?  Would the price of solar go down to 1/32nd of what it is now?  1/64th?  There's no telling until we get rid of all this insane corporate competition and secrecy at a time when transparency would be the best gift both to the industry and the environment.

Solar power is strictly better than all other possible forms of power on Earth.  Geothermal causes earthquakes.  Hydroelectric kills fish.  Wind kills birds.  Nuclear blows up.  Fossil fuels cause global warming and air pollution.  Solar is pure, clean, harmless and renewable.  There is no limit to the energy of the sun.  Just as decks using Gray Ogres should switch over to Grizzly Bears, it is senseless to keep using inferior forms of energy generation now that we have a superior version in all ways.  If the government can hasten this transition then we should by all means do so -- we did the same when FDR electrified rural corners of the USA, or when Eisenhower built the interstate freeway system so that cars could more quickly criss-cross America, or when in the 1800's we helped fund the intercontinental railroads.  The government has always had a place for spurring technological adoption and infrastructure investments.  Solar power is just the next logical step in this process.

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