Aug 08

My readers know that I have great optimism for the future of solar power. As the cost of solar cells drops, the challenge is to bridge the gap from sundown to sunrise. A recent article “‘Major Discovery’ Primed To Unleash Solar Revolution” suggests that “MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn’t shine.”

The article goes on to describe a low cost, low loss method used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, in effect creating a household fuel cell. While this system may still be years away, it may provide the much needed storage solution once solar (and wind) power becomes economically viable.


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Jun 25

I just caught a story titled “McCain call for $300 million prize for car battery”. The prize is offered “for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.” There’s a part of this that I think is great, regular reader know I am excited about solar power and the prospects for a 21st century electric car. I was encouraged to hear McCain interviewed on CNBC and state that the goal should be to create an electric car that combined a charged range of 240 miles along with a plug in fast recharge capability. If nothing else, this shows he ‘gets it’ and knows what the goal is.
Now, reading that he’d like to be able to offer this challenge, it appears at first blush to be a ‘put your money where your mouth is’ approach. I think the intention is good, but the number may not be so high to get any attention. We currently have the X Prize, a series of prizes that include one for this very goal, and with a $10 million prize.
I think that the $300M may be better spent promoting Solar Power in general along with storage technologies that may overlap the automotive use. Even if solar cells were free, there would be an issue of storage, and we have a crisis that goes beyond just the current high oil prices. Solar can solve multiple issues, but storage is key, without it, we are missing a vital link in the enegy chain.

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Jun 02

Sometimes I struggle to choose a title for my posts. You see, there are many times that a potential reader will glance at a title and read or skip the post based on those few words. Other titles I considered for todays were, “Did Congressman Hinchey cut class that day?”, “Stupid Congressional Tricks”, “Repealing the Law of Supply and Demand”, and “Hinchey is a @#$%’ing moron”. That last one was a bit harsh as I have no other experience with this Gentleman from New York, and this post is regarding this one story that came to my attention.

Straight from WBNG (Binghamton, NY) news comes this news soundbite; “In the short term, Hinchey will outline a variety of new legislative steps on which he is working, including a bill that would give the president the authority to cap gas prices at $2.49 per gallon.”

Let me offer a simple, but illustrative, image to help explain the absurdity of this proposal;

supply/demand curve

I first presented this last August in my post “Anti-Gouging sounds like price controls to me“. This chart is the classic supply and demand curve. The two lines intersect at point B, the point at which the amount demanded is the same as the amount supplied. If we were to lower the maximum price allowed, the demand of course would go up, yet at the same time the seller is less willing to offer as much product at that lower price. As an article on price control from The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics offers,”When the U.S. government set maximum prices for gasoline in 1973 and 1979, dealers sold gas on a first-come-first-served basis, and drivers got a little taste of what life was like for people in the Soviet Union: they had to wait in long lines to buy gas. The true price of gas, which included both the cash paid and the time spent waiting in line, was often higher than if prices were not controlled at all.” Short term, I don’t have the answer for the current problems we are facing. I do know that oil has limited supply at a given price. At a higher price, old wells can be reopened and deeper wells can be dug at a higher cost. I also know that not nearly enough has been done to improve the efficiency of alternative fuels, specifically, wind and solar. While Congressman Hinchey is at it, he may as well propose that President Bush repeal the law of gravity. That proposal is no more absurd than interfering with the law of supply and demand, and no more chaotic in whatever the results.


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Apr 25

When I wrote about The Next Bubble two weeks ago, I didn’t mention any of the companies involved in solar power. Part of my reason for that is I am not really a stock picker, and randomly suggesting companies in the industry would do my readers no justice. Last week I saw an episode of Fast Money on CNBC which brought to my attention that an ETF was introduced which “tracks solar and clean energy stocks.” It is the Clayton/MAC Global Solar Index, and trades on the NYSE under the ticker symbol TAN.

The top 5 fund holdings are:
First Solar – 8.77 %
Renewable Energy Corp – 7.45 %
Q-Cells – 6.44 %
Suntech Power Holdings – 6.19 %
JA Solar Holdings – 5.25 %

I am not recommending or discouraging purchase of this ETF, but it is a good alternative to trying to pick individual stocks when you believe a particular industry is ripe for appreciation.


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Apr 18

In the scramble for solar related plays on words, Barron’s beat me to this one. They used it in the index of this week’s issue to reference their article on Applied Materials efforts in this market (solar power).

The pricing and discussion of cost of solar power can be a bit confusing. The typical benchmark used is dollars per KW. Currently, there are systems priced at $4.75/W or $4750/kW. (But this is for the Solar Panel only, the installed system will cost nearly twice this or about $9500. Now, for this to make sense, you need to ask how much power this really is. A 1KW system will produce about 1800 KWh/yr in Southern California. If 1 kWh costs about 20 cents, this is $360 worth of power, and a return of 3.8%/yr. Now, this isn’t great, admittedly, but as I’ve discussed prior, even with modest cost improvements, that number (the return on investment) will rise over time, and soon be a compelling alternative to buying off the grid. A site called solarbuzz offers much data on the progress of solar technology.


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