Clean Energy Solutions needed: Small, Medium, Large and Extra-Large

Nov 14, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

I often say that there are two phrases that a professional climate advocate, whether they like or not, ends up repeating.

The first one, which is not the subject of this post, is “The scary part is . . . “  As in “The scary part is that Daniel Yergin might be right when, in his new book, he suggests that climate science is right and fossil fuels are a systemic problem AND that peak oil/gas theory is wrong and we are not running out of fossil fuels.”  But that is the subject of another and different blog post to be written and just one of millions of examples of sentences beginning “The scary part is . . .” that you can write or utter about global warming.

The second one is “We have to do that too . . . ” As in, “Yes, we need to conserve more and be more efficient but we need to build wind farms, like the one proposed off of Cape Cod, too.”   As so many folks, including the folks at Princeton who are more famous for wedges than dairy farmers in Wisconsin, will tell you big systemic problem like global warming requires a huge range of solutions.  As some like to say, there is no silver bullet, perhaps multiple rounds of silver buckshot.

This last point causes me to do something I am reluctant to do – disagree with a very smart guy who has a record of knowing how to get things built.  In an opinion piece, Jiggar Shah, the founder of the solar development company Sun Edison and CEO of the very laudable Carbon War Room disagrees with the wisdom of the “jumbo” solar projects being undertaken by large energy companies like NRG Energy that are chronicled in a recent New York Times article.

My suggestion is simple: We need to do both.  We need the vast network of distributed solar on millions of rooftops that Mr. Shah envisions.  We need to do smart development of large solar as well.  We also need to be far more efficient in how we light and heat all our buildings and how we use energy to travel.

The array of technologies we will need to address global warming range from new smart heating devices for our homes, sidewalks to allow safe travel on foot in all our communities, shareable bicycles like the one I took to work this morning, electric cars powered by clean renewable energy, trains that connect cities and neighborhoods, and intelligently sited wind farms and solar installations on land and in the water.

We need to be relentless in our search for new solutions, recognizing dead-ends like the old nuclear power plants that have proved to be an expensive dead-end while aggressively evaluating new answers.

The good news about solar electric generation, as a source of new answers, is that the price of this technology continues to descend at a very steep rate.

While this is very bad news for folks trying to build a business that depends on making a profit by selling these modules, it creates many new opportunities to deploy solar electric generation as part of a large scale clean energy solution; and to do so in the form of a whole lot of Small on many rooftops, a fair amount of Medium on large roofs and appropriate locations on the ground, some Large and, where appropriate, even some Extra Large.