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Photovoltaic (PV) Electricity Generation: A Melange of (my) Gibberish

I don’t know much about renewable energy in the form of photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation, other than its efficiency is about 10% from solar radiation to electricity.  I’ve collected a mélange of articles that each seem to have interesting, if not humorous, short stories.

First we have the Crips and Bloods of political adversaries; liberal groups like the Sierra Club recruiting Tea Partiers to promote rooftop PV installations in the arenas of politics, regulatory agencies, and with utilities.  The punch line: Promoting PV is good for competition.  Pause for a laugh break.


A couple regulatory issues were being considered in two southern “red” states: Arizona and Georgia.  In Arizona, consideration was being given to lowering the cost at which utilities must purchase electricity from residential PV installations.  In Georgia, lawmakers were considering laws to promote solar power.  Yep.  Sounds like the free market at work to me – you must pay us more and you must promote your competition.  The entire crux of energy efficiency programs is a regulatory play to minimize cost for consumers because there is no competition, by design of the systems we have in place.

A descendent of Barry Goldwater, named Barry Goldwater Jr., has started what I’ll call a political action committee named “Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed” – and yes, the reader can tell when a name is dumb it is due to a lame attempt to make an acronym, TUSK, as in elephant tusk, as in an appendage of the Republican mascot.

He says Republicans should get behind this because it’s about choice, like vouchers for public schools.  Uh Barry, vouchers displace in full the cost of putting a kid in a public school classroom, and generally vouchers are worth substantially less money, like $7,000 versus $12,000 per year.  In the PV/Utility case, the utility still has all the fixed cost, plus Barry wants utilities to hand money to the PV proponents.  It would be like telling the public school district, you still need to spend the $12,000 for the kid you don’t have and won’t get paid for, and on top of that, you should pay a couple thousand bucks for the voucher kid to promote “competition”.

In Georgia, “tea partiers” are simultaneously bashing Georgia Power (unit of Southern Company) to not pass cost overruns for a nuclear plant onto consumers and pushing for rules to promote rooftop PV.  The former would be understandable if the cost overruns are outside the commission approved cost, although I claim almost complete ignorance on this topic.  And they go on to say, “consumers should have a choice.”  Ok.  If you believe that, tea partier, then all costs of both alternatives shall be on the table and subsidies and incentives shall be off the table.  But that’s not what they want.  They want to eat the cake and enjoy its elegance at the same time.

If you like PV, want to promote it, subsidize it, provide tax credits, this, that, and the other, fine.  Argue that case but don’t put a dress on a goat and tell me it’s Ms. America.  It is similar to my love for politicians; either they are clueless, don’t understand the issues or how things work, or they are dishonest.

Certainly the interaction of PV and traditional utilities will be interesting to watch in coming years, but as the technology gains greater acceptance, reality will start to set in, and that reality is the cost of supporting the traditional grid to supply electricity to all these customers when the sun isn’t shining or when their system breaks.  It will also include what could become an overwhelming cost of subsidies and incentives, which to this point probably have been down in the grass with energy efficiency programs costs.

Another issue is going to be the “soft cost” of PV.  To date, it seems the focus on PV cost has been the hardware; the PV panels.  These costs have come down to the point that a PV installation is hitting a floor, and the soft costs continue to creep upward.  These include installation labor, permitting, and code compliance as described in this article.  Much of this is gummed up in bureaucracy and political favoritism (e.g., required union labor) and is one thing for which the US certainly leads the world.

By the way, The Wall Street Journal article was published last summer.  Apparently since that time, Arizona Public Service, the large Phoenix area provider, asked for a $50/month surcharge to cover interconnection costs (backup) and were granted $5/month to rooftop PV owners.  As this article points out, it is likely not the end of the battle as these costs grow in the future.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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