Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Solar Rip-off?

One of the main impediments to the widespread adoption of solar energy is that it takes years for the energy savings generated by solar panels to offset their high-flying initial price tags, and the cost of photovoltaic energy compared to fossil fuels is astronomical.

Last year I went to a luncheon with the head of one of Germany's leading trade groups for photovoltaics. He said that a rooftop system would cost about $20,000 and would take two decades to pay for itself on average.

His solution? "We should not talk about instruments; we should talk about goals." See full article here.

Translation: Don't worry that the economic model that the Germans use would never work in the U.S. It's more important that we bow at the feet of today's renewable energy fad than think about the system's economic sustainability in the long run.

But according to articles I read recently in Foreign Policy and Time magazines, solar proponents recently have had the chance to have their cake and eat it too, thanks to new thin-film solar panels that can be produced for a fraction of what they used to cost.

Given the benefits these systems supposedly provide for a planet environmentalists say is in danger of overheating because of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, this could be a huge breakthrough for the environmental movement.

But Foreign Policy's list of top 10 stories you didn't hear this year let's us in on a little secret. Nitrogen Triflouride, or NF3, a gas used in the production of these newfangled panels, is 17,000 times more powerful in contributing to global warming than CO2, and it might be in the atmosphere in greater abundance than previously expected.

It's still a blip on the global warming radar because it was not regulated under the famed Kyoto treaty and it's nowhere near as prevalent as CO2. Scientists worry this isn't the only gaseous culprit floating around out there. Check out the article for the details.

This reminds me of when the journal "Science" came out with a study earlier this year about how the hasty trend toward biofuels actually results in a net increase in greenhouse-gas emissions because rain forests - natural CO2 suckers - have been cleared to grow feedstocks for biofuels.

I'm all for protecting God's green earth. Let's just use our heads and look at the big picture as we make attempts to do so.

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