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One of SunPower's current installations is shown here. SunPower signed a contract to provide California with 250 MW of flat panel solar photovoltaic power by 2012, helping to reestablish the U.S. as the global leader in solar.  (Source: MMA Renewable Ventures/SunPower)
California is thinking green with solar, nuclear, and wind

California is thinking green.  Hot on the heels of San Francisco's announcement of its big green tax cut -- subsidies for solar panel installation that will provide citizens with energy savings -- California has more big solar news.

The state's largest utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has signed deals with OptiSolar and SunPower to provide 800 MW of new solar power to the state in the form of massive solar photovoltaic plants.  The move will reestablish the U.S. as the global leader in solar power by being the world's largest set of grid-tied photovoltaic installations, surpassing solar-hungry Spain and Portugal.

The arrays will provide residents with 1.65 billion kilowatt hours each year and will power up to 250,000 homes.  Jack Keenan, CEO and senior vice president of PG&E states, "This commitment not only moves us forward in meeting our renewable goal, it's also a significant step forward in the renewable energy sector.  Utility-scale deployment of PV (photovoltaic) technology may well become cost competitive with other forms of renewable energy generation, such as solar thermal and wind."

With the upcoming capacity, 24 percent of PG&E's power will come from renewable resources. This exceeds the 20 percent that the state demands of the company by 2010.  Keenan says the new installation will help to ease California's massive power demands during peak afternoon hours.

The estimated completion date for Optisolar's 550 MW is 2013, while SunPower should finish up its 250 MW in 2012.  Both plants will be built in the sunny central San Luis Obispo County, north of Los Angeles.  The new farms are somewhat unique in that typically farms of this size have used solar thermal technologies instead of photovoltaics.  One cost efficient thing about the new plants is they'll be able to use almost entirely preexisting lines.  This will reduce the construction costs and thus reduce the cost per kilowatt hour as well.

OptiSolar's plant, the larger of the pair, will cut as much carbon emissions as removing 90,000 cars from the road.  It will use the company's cutting edge thin-film photovoltaic equipment.  It has already filed for permits and hopes to begin construction by 2010.  Randy Goldstein, CEO of OptiSolar states, "The Topaz solar farm will grow clean electricity on previously disturbed, unused farmland with low-profile panels minimizing visual impact.  It's designed to be compatible with key wildlife species and avoid environmentally sensitive areas."

OptiSolar currently employs 400 people in Hayward, California at a solar panel manufacturing plant.  In order to aid the construction it plans on creating another in Sacramento.  This new plant will create 1,000 "green-collar" jobs.

Meanwhile SunPower brings considerable experience to the table, having installed 350 MW in capacity in 450 sites on three continents.  Among its achievements are the installation of the largest U.S. photovoltaic facility, 14 MW at Nellis National Air Force Base in Arizona, and the installation of the world's first utility-scale photovoltaic plant in Bavaria, Germany.  The company has plans to sell solar panels at Wal-Mart, JC Penney, and Macy's to compete with IKEA's new solar offerings.  Sam's Club is also offering competitive products.

Adam Browning, executive of the Vote Solar Initiative praises the initiatives stating, "What you are seeing here is the foundation of an industry that can deliver electricity cleanly, cheaply, and reliably than the fossil fuel alternatives.  That's really good news because the Department of Energy predicts we will need 386 gigawatts by 2015 just to keep up with load growth...This is a very large, great leap forward in economies of scale. This is the wave of the future."

California also is considering new nuclear expansion with California firm Fresno Nuclear Energy Group LLC.  The company plans to build a new plant in San Joaquin Valley, in addition to California's four operational nuclear plants, which provide the state with a great deal of electricity.  The firm has contracted Constellation Energy in Baltimore to design build and operate the plant. 

The new nuclear plant would provide 1,600 MW of power, and would cost approximately $4B USD.  Californian citizens will vote this fall on whether to allow the construction of the plant.  Costs for nuclear range between $0.05 and $0.11 by current estimates, while costs for solar range between $0.15 to $0.20.  Both can be significantly cheaper than this thanks to federal subsidies.

Officials behind both the solar and nuclear projects warn that if Congress does not renew tax credits for alternative energy, efforts will likely slow and whither.  It currently looks likely that Congress will indeed renew these measures as they enjoy strong national support.



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RE: Clarify, please
By Ringold on 8/16/2008 11:04:49 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
On top of that Greece, Sweden, and Hungary aren't a part of Western Europe, so no, most of Western Europe, and as I've been saying, the majority of Europe, is below the United States based on public debt


Italy, Belgium, France, and Germany all rank higher. Those three combined are practically Western Europe, as far as making up the bulk of that economic area.

quote:
In addition, it also does not take into account a prior point I was making, that Germany is supposedly going to weather the housing bubble burst much better than other major western economies.


Except for.. Their shrinking durable goods output, stubbornly high (almost 8%) unemployment, and a Bravarian state-owned bank losing billions. They may do better, but I think they're still going to feel the pain. Pain as well as everything else has been globalized.

quote:
all while we are not in a huge industrial boom and not having unprecedented economic growth


I looked at your chart, and I see a GDP line that is continuing a trend, despite intermediate term oscillations one way or the other, higher from 1890 till today. Not sure how this ties in to debt.. except that at some points we had more than today, and we managed to stick to the trend?

quote:
On page 2 of the above link they also indicate the growth rate output per capita, the US comes in both last and below average. It's the inability for the current economy to maintain a status quo that will continue to hurt it.


Notice our real GDP per capita is also significantly higher. What you did here was reveal what is commonly known; advanced economies, relative to others, have a hard time continuing to race ahead. For the US to sustain much higher rates of growth than we have in recent decades would be inflationary (aka, demand-pull inflation).

quote:
Purely as a question out of interest, as I'm not an economist, what happens when China let's their currency increase at a reasonable rate (similar to their economic growth)?


It won't happen, not yet, as they might as well commence nuclear weapon testing in their industrial areas; it would be a lot of mutual pain. Hard to even say who would be on the better end of it. In the long run, we'd just switch to cheaper labor in Vietnam or in Africa. Rapid changes in economics, be it price levels (inflation) or exchange rates, always hurt. Slow and steady ones can be anticipated and accounted for. The Chinese are smart folk. :)


RE: Clarify, please
By HsiKai on 8/17/2008 1:59:39 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Italy, Belgium, France, and Germany all rank higher. Those three combined are practically Western Europe, as far as making up the bulk of that economic area.


I'm not going to get into a pitched battle over statistics, but those four countries (out of _ in the EU) account for only 29% of the population. The UK alone rivals all of those, with the exception of Germany, while having a public debt of more than all of those countries combined, in addition to having only a public debt of 43% of GDP. However econstats actually suggests it's ~38% (see: http://www.econstats.com/weo/V029.htm ). And it is the UK that is most similar in the housing market troubles, which I am not arguing wont precipitate into something worse, nor spread across Europe, but will have more U.S.-like effects, and thus have a causal relationship.

The UK almost seems like an outlier in that it has the second largest economy in Europe, and likely the largest by population, but maintains a lower public debt as a percent of GDP even though the GDP (both public and private) is second highest in the world. Though as you said their significant unemployment rate may exacerbate the problem. (debt as a % of GDP: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_... )

quote:
They may do better, but I think they're still going to feel the pain.


Yes. I'm not arguing that all countries in Europe will fair better than the US, simply because I doubt either of us know enough about each European country's specific economy and current problems, but that most of them could weather this much better (see one of my first links to the NY Sun).

quote:
I looked at your chart, and I see a GDP line that is continuing a trend, despite intermediate term oscillations one way or the other, higher from 1890 till today. Not sure how this ties in to debt.. except that at some points we had more than today, and we managed to stick to the trend?


Perhaps I should have pointed it out more clearly, but with respect to the chart ranging from 1934-2006, the point I was making was that there are two obvious and significant increases in expenditures (read: debt) at two specific points. One correlates to our entering the war (and continues until the end of it) while the other major increase correlates to 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At both points we increased our spending (and debt) by about a trillion dollars, but during the 1940s that ended after the war. During the war we had a period of serious economic growth, but during our wars now, we don't. We have below-average growth, while there is no end of the war clearly in sight (though 16 months seems to be a popular number that doesn't indicate when spending will end). So, my point is this: Our economy and circumstance now cannot be compared to those circumstances during WWII at the very least because our war funding is not included in the public debt. Our expenditures since ~9/11 have been significantly increased and do not follow a trend.

There was, as I remember, a problem with housing after WWII when soldiers were returning, but I wasn't under the impression that it was due to illegal loans and superfluous Tupperware parties.

quote:
... advanced economies, relative to others, have a hard time continuing to race ahead.


Exactly my point, so why are we spending more than during WWII? Why is our debt, as I first said to Sol, disproportionately higher than ever before? Twenty-percent increases annually are likely not a good sign especially when you take into account the weak dollar; off-budget debts accrued by the war; and weaker growth.


RE: Clarify, please
By Solandri on 8/17/2008 3:01:06 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Perhaps I should have pointed it out more clearly, but with respect to the chart ranging from 1934-2006, the point I was making was that there are two obvious and significant increases in expenditures (read: debt) at two specific points. One correlates to our entering the war (and continues until the end of it) while the other major increase correlates to 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At both points we increased our spending (and debt) by about a trillion dollars, but during the 1940s that ended after the war.

Spending is only half the story. A deficit is spending minus revenue (and debt is accumulated deficits). If you look at the plot of expenditures vs. revenue I've given, you'll see that the increase in debt post-9/11 is mostly due to the recession that followed and possibly Bush's tax cuts, not due to a rise in spending.

(If you look into it further, you'll find that the increase in services - i.e. Social Security and Medicare - far exceeded war expenditures, it was just masked since the debt for those was internalized by the government borrowing from the Social Security fund.)

quote:
Exactly my point, so why are we spending more than during WWII? Why is our debt, as I first said to Sol, disproportionately higher than ever before? Twenty-percent increases annually are likely not a good sign especially when you take into account the weak dollar; off-budget debts accrued by the war; and weaker growth.

Sigh. We are not spending more than we did during WWII. We have 2.5x as more people and our economy is nearly 6x larger than it was during WWII.

Say you made $20,000/yr after taxes while in college and paid $1000/mo in rent. That rent represented 60% of your net income.

But now you're paying $3000/mo in rent! That's crazy! How will you survive? But wait, you forgot that you're now earning $120,000/yr. So that rent represents only 30% of your net income. Never mind, false alarm.

(Those numbers are proportional to the inflation-adjusted GDP and Fed expenditure figures from WWII to now.)


RE: Clarify, please
By HsiKai on 8/17/2008 3:41:56 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
We are not spending more than we did during WWII. We have 2.5x as more people and our economy is nearly 6x larger than it was during WWII.


Those expenditures were adjusted to 2007 dollars, so just for inflation. I understand that we "have more people" now. The increased spending on medicare and SS is no doubt related to that increase (and as noted virtually every day on the news: baby boomers). That does not justify the massive increase, nor does it take into account the $752 billion from the Iraq/Afghan wars which are as of yet not officially on the books. Compare the increase in expenditures to normal growth of expenditures. And, again, compare the increase in accumulated debt to the normal amount our debt increases (especially during Republican administrations).

From wiki: "The CBO has indicated that: 'Future growth in spending per beneficiary for Medicare and Medicaid—the federal government’s major health care programs—will be the most important determinant of long-term trends in federal spending.'" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Us_federal_budget )

So as you say, increased spending with respect to those is due to the number of people we have that rely on it. Though I think an increased number of people relying on social security (beyond the number of people who are retired, so to oversimplify: totalSS - retiredSS = unemployedSS + misc.) is detrimental to the economy and shows exactly what position the economy is in.

quote:
Say you made $20,000/yr after taxes while in college and paid $1000/mo in rent. That rent represented 60% of your net income.

But now you're paying $3000/mo in rent! That's crazy! How will you survive? But wait, you forgot that you're now earning $120,000/yr. So that rent represents only 30% of your net income. Never mind, false alarm.


That's fine over the course of 60 years, adjusted for inflation, et cetera, but when your rent increases by 300%, but growth (and specifically your pay) only increases, by 50%, there's a problem.

I don't like your analogy because a lot of it is based on an idea that an individual has a better job (because you have skills) when they get out of college versus your analogy being based on a specific time frame. But taken over a 4-year time frame here are some sample numbers to play with:

In year One your salary is $50k and increases by 5% each year to keep up with rising costs of living. However, inflation is 10% each year, so the $50k you make year Two is really worth $52.500K (in year One dollars). But, you have to take into account the 10% inflation, so you really only have $47,250 compared to the first year. All of a sudden that extra $2.5K you were bringing in doesn't look like much, does it? By year Four you're making $52.093K (in year One dollars), but in actuality it looks more like $57.880K except you're cost of living has risen by 13.3% since year One, while your salary only has increased 5.8% in the same period.

(Check my numbers on those if you like, compounding annually without scratch paper and in calc is not a strong suit of mine.)

All of that, however, is proportional. I shouldn't have to spell out what a 20% inflation rate (or any other disproportionate amount) would look like, especially compared to a standard rate of growth.


RE: Clarify, please
By HsiKai on 8/17/2008 3:05:36 PM , Rating: 2
And just for the sake of comparison, the combined GDPs derived from the purchasing power parity of Italy, France, Belgium, and Germany are $7,019,014 out of the total EU's $14,712,369, in millions as of 2007. So I wouldn't say that "most" of the purchasing power of Europe lies in those four countries especially when, as you go to great lengths to point out, most of them have lesser debt as a percent of GDP.

Also, as a correction, the first line should read "...four countries out of 47 European and 27 in the EU..."


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