If you are a regular reader of The Power Line, you are very familiar with how effective solar/battery systems are at maintaining electrical reliability. It looks like it took Hurricane Sandy to prompt Robert Kennedy, Jr. to take up our ideas and write about them in the New York Times. I’m glad that Mr. Kennedy has taken time out from fighting offshore wind power to make a positive contribution to renewable power in the US.
He and his co-author, David Crane, have a lot of good things to say in their op ed piece. Such as:
Some of our neighbors have taken matters into their own hands, purchasing portable gas-powered generators in order to give themselves varying degrees of “grid independence.” But these dirty, noisy and expensive devices have no value outside of a power failure. And they’re not much help during a failure if gasoline is impossible to procure.
Having spent our careers in and around the power industry, we believe there is a better way to secure grid independence for our homes and businesses. (Disclosure: Mr. Crane’s company, based in Princeton, N.J., generates power from coal, natural gas, and nuclear, wind and solar energy.) Solar photovoltaic technology can significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and our dependence on the grid. Electricity-producing photovoltaic panels installed on houses, on the roofs of warehouses and big box stores and over parking lots can be wired so that they deliver power when the grid fails.
Gosh, where have I heard this before? Maybe here?
First, the investor-owned utilities that depend on the existing system for their profits have little economic interest in promoting a technology that empowers customers to generate their own power. Second, state regulatory agencies and local governments impose burdensome permitting and siting requirements that unnecessarily raise installation costs. Today, navigating the regulatory red tape constitutes 25 percent to 30 percent of the total cost of solar installation in the United States, according to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and, as such, represents a higher percentage of the overall cost than the solar equipment itself.
In Germany, where sensible federal rules have fast-tracked and streamlined the permit process, the costs are considerably lower. It can take as little as eight days to license and install a solar system on a house in Germany. In the United States, depending on your state, the average ranges from 120 to 180 days. More than one million Germans have installed solar panels on their roofs, enough to provide close to 50 percent of the nation’s power, even though Germany averages the same amount of sunlight as Alaska. Australia also has a streamlined permitting process and has solar panels on 10 percent of its homes. Solar photovoltaic power would give America the potential to challenge the utility monopolies, democratize energy generation and transform millions of homes and small businesses into energy generators. Rational, market-based rules could turn every American into an energy entrepreneur. That transition to renewable power could create millions of domestic jobs and power in this country with American resourcefulness, initiative and entrepreneurial energy while taking a substantial bite out of the nation’s emissions of greenhouse gases and other dangerous pollutants.
Regulatory red tape? It only took a group of us solar power producers 13 months to get my system certified at the WV PSC. And the WV Legislature has blocked us from selling renewable energy credits in WV with the anti-renewable Alternative and Renewable Portfolio Standard in WV.
There is a lot right in Kennedy’s and Crane’s piece. They are exactly right that rebuilding from Sandy is the perfect time to rebuild our electrical power system on a reliable foundation with decentralized power systems based on solar panels and local battery storage. As they say:
And as we rebuild the tens of thousands of houses and commercial buildings damaged and destroyed by the storm, let’s incorporate solar power arrays and other clean energy technologies in their designs, and let’s allow them to be wired so they still are generating even when the centralized grid system is down.
We have the technology. The economics makes sense. All we need is the political will.