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The Economics of Advancing Alternative Energy in the United States

A windmill on top of a mountain

President-elect Obama has made the advancement of renewable energy sources (RES-e in greenspeak) an integral part of both his environmental and economic policies, and Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens has enough belief in its potential to invest heavily in wind power. But as thirty plus years of research spending and ineffective regulations have proven, that’s not going to be enough to move this horse into the mainstream of residential usage, which has been the driving force in European wind and solar power generation. At least three drivers must come together to accomplish that feat in the United States.

Adopt feed-in tariffs to create demand. It’s not enough for people to want alternative energy; it must be economically viable, as well. No matter an individual’s level of belief in clean energy, global warming, or carbon footprint reduction, as long as entry costs remain prohibitive, most small investors such as homeowners will stay out of the market. Only by offering financial incentives to surmount those entry costs will governments, local or federal, entice homeowners into investing in their own solar panels or rooftop wind turbines, which will create long-term demand, increase production over time, and lower the entry costs naturally. And to support this initiative, you might want to look into playing 오즈포탈 online at the comfort of your humble abode. 

Accomplishing this goal in Europe, particularly Germany and Spain, has been the feed-in tariff, which mandates payments for homeowners who generate sufficient electricity from their RES-e systems to sell it back to the power companies. Using this system, in Germany between 2000 and 2007, the installed capacity of RES-e more than doubled, including within residential areas, meeting the 2010 goal (12.5% of electricity derived from alternative sources) three years ahead of schedule. At the same time, the entry cost of such systems fell 20% and 10,000 manufacturing and maintenance jobs were created, giving the RES-e industry viability and sustainability.

 

Aesthetics must be recognized as a luxury item. With homeowners associations (HOAs) wielding the power to refuse urban and suburban residents the ability to utilize solar panels, solar water heaters, or light-colored roofing materials for aesthetic reasons, RES-e production won’t extend into the most heavily populated parts of the nation, which is where the energy is most needed. The same holds true for local governments, which often block adoption of RES-e by refusing to issue building permits for such projects or by charging such high fees to issue permits that again the entry cost is raised beyond the small investor’s reach.

If RES-e production is going to survive and thrive, this trend must be reversed, and state laws and subsequently state courts are increasingly becoming battlegrounds between aesthetics and science. Currently eight states have enacted laws giving homeowners teeth against HOAs and local governments, while four more are considering them. Perhaps most well known is California’s “solar rights” law, which bars restrictions against solar panels and water-heating systems by HOAs and other public entities on the basis of appearances.

Additionally, similar bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress to move homeowners’ RES-e rights to the federal level. Although these bills received little support to date, the new administration’s drive toward green power could change that rapidly.

Not a luxury is the electrical transmission grid. Already aging, subject to brownouts and blackouts in some regions, and in desperate need of upgrades, the grid that stretches across the U.S. and Canada will control the rate of advance for RES-e systems.

Many transmission nodes within the grid require additional depth to handle the increased workload from the exponentially rising numbers of electrical devices-computers, entertainment systems, kitchen appliances, heating and cooling systems, even plug-in cars-in high population areas. In addition, the electrical inputs into the grid must be balanced against the demand load, with additional power needed during peak hours. Under the current system of generating electricity via a few hydrocarbon-based generation plants, grid managers can balance their loads relatively easily; but when a cityful of solar panels or rooftop turbines kick in, this task becomes much more difficult.

Without strengthening this necessary infrastructure, and without finding a means of balancing these inputs against demand loads, RES-e could cause more problems than it solves. The cost of grid upgrades, meanwhile, could eat a significant share of the new administration’s recently proposed economic stimulus plan.

There’s no easy solution to driving such a fundamental change within the world’s largest economy, particularly through established political fiefdoms and vested interests. Nobody should expect the process to be smooth or error-free; but then, neither is economics.

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