Monday, September 24

Thinking Different: New Ideas For Solar

Sometimes watching the various communication gaffes and tit-for-tat soundbite stalking during campaign season is almost unnerving. It makes for a case study example of all the most basic public relations rules (e.g., there is no such thing as private communication) and sometimes entertainment, but it really doesn't move much forward. It's an exercise in attempting to drive up negatives. That's about it.

But what the nation really needs are solutions, and I don't mean some of the solutions that are typically presented as contrasts during the political season. I mean the kind of solutions that don't subscribe to red-blue ideas. Here's one example of what we ought to be hearing from a presidential candidate.

How to make alternative energy work without the nonsense. 

There have been many schemes cooked up around solar energy. The worst of them, probably, was Solyndra. It received at least $70 million from a Department of Energy loan guarantee without much of a business model, proving why government is best left out of corporate investments based on preferred policy and not profitability. Government could have created the market instead of the company.

What might have worked is a government program that gave distressed homeowners (and then later expanded to other homeowners) guaranteed loans to have solar panels installed on their homes. They could make the purchases from any U.S. owned and operated solar panel company, creating jobs fueled not by government directly but by consumer choices in the new market.

The loans would be paid back, plus a modest interest rate, from any excess energy sold back to power companies (not the already distressed homeowners). The immediate benefit for the homeowner would be a reduced power bill, thereby either increasing their disposable income or stretching any benefits from local, state and federal programs. The immediate benefit for the power company is that it can sell any excess back on the open market. And then it gets better.

Once the solar panels are paid off, the distressed homeowner could collect excess income from the power the solar panels generate. If they are on a federal program, half of the energy sold could be deducted from what they normally receive in government aid (giving them a modest boost and freeing up government program money) and move them closer to independence, not further away from it.

It would also reduce the environmental impact of solar farm schemes that aim to turn large parcels of land into solar wastelands (and displacing whatever ecosystem that exists there). Instead, it moves solar panels where they belong — on real estate already wasted (e.g., roofs). At the same time, the guaranteed increase in demand would eventually lead to cheaper solar panels, opening the market to people who can purchase them outright without having to wait 25-35 years to see a return on investment or seek government assistance.

This kind of program wouldn't necessarily work everywhere, but it would in Nevada and many other states with a similar climate. It would have been especially worthwhile to Nevada because the state doesn't currently export any significant energy (fossil or otherwise). Indirectly, however, it would benefit every state because this idea would lead to energy independence and possibly rein in volatile energy prices.

Diatribe is dangerous because it depresses new ideas. 

What does this have to do with communication? Everything. As long as people are polarized between moving toward alternative energy (without a clear understanding of it or its economics) and tapping traditional energy solutions, everybody is too busy trying to sell their plan without looking for new ideas. How can they? They are too busy selling whatever is on the table.

While I am certain that my little idea isn't perfect and would probably need some fine tuning (thousands of pages if it is a government job), it's an illustration of what might be possible if people invested their time in solutions rather than whose idea and ideology it might be or what they can get out it.

Instead of politics, it produces a win for every stakeholder, while stimulating the economy, protecting the environment, and nurturing energy independence. It helps people in need, opens a new market, lifts the economy, and brings in private enterprise (without looking like a payoff to past campaign donors). It is absolutely ridiculous these things need to be at odds. At least, I think so. What do you think?
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