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Priorities - Rationale and Proposal

The components of the Solar Grand Plan (SGP) are:
  1. Local/state/federal solar and wind energy programs
  2. Development of a national solar and wind production and distribution system
  3. Electrification of the U.S. transportation fleet
SGP’s key components are massive solar installations in the desert Southwest and massive wind farms in the Midwest, which with an interstate transmission system will provide a majority of the nation’s electricity at lowest cost.

The question is how to get from NOW to THEN without pricing ourselves out of current/transition fossil fuels market and wrecking the economy/environment; and what ASAP can do to support this transition.

Market forces will contribute in making the needed transitions:
  • As prices for fossil fuel energy sources rise, renewable energy sources are becoming more mainstream; both in attitude and implementation.
  • Gasoline prices will continue to rise, driving consumers toward renewable energy sources. If this rise is gradual rather than in sudden shocks, the market will be able to adapt in a rational manner.
  • Computing power (for intelligent management of complex systems) is getting cheaper.
  • Residential and commercial solar systems are getting cheaper even faster than anticipated.
    • The first step for those interested in purchasing a solar system is to perform an energy audit to determine if the greatest return will come from a rooftop PV electricity system or a rooftop concentrating solar system for hot water and spacing heating, or maybe even a combination of both.
  • Electric cars are in the showrooms and increasing in types to attract buyers (note: hydrogen fuel cell electric cars, while ready for commercialization, will not emerge until it is clear that liquid fuels supply cannot meet demand).
Implementation of SGP should maximize usage of the results of these market forces. This will require using “everything” “everywhere” that the market provides:
  • Local PV and wind. This can’t provide the bulk of the nation’s energy needs, but it is going to be built, it will be ubiquitous, and will help.
  • Distributed grid-attached storage, including electric cars, hybrid cars, fuel cells both mobile and stationary, and PV-attached storage. An enormous capacity will be built over time.
    • Distributed storage may turn out to be a key ingredient in SGP implementation, particularly given the issue of having to firm variable renewable energy supplies. Grid-level use/management of this storage could be obtained by fiat or by imaginative use of electric rates and smart meters.
  • Concentrate on activities that are needed to bridge market results into the full SGP.
Given the favorable movement of market forces, it would make sense for ASAP to concentrate on areas where markets could get “stuck” and be unable to rationally respond:
Market Problem ASAP Potential Actions
Entrenched interests successfully lobby for extended government support of existing energy sources. This injures both renewables and the environment. ASAP should monitor these efforts, publicize egregious actions, and promote alternate options. But this is a negative approach, and ASAP impact will be limited due the size of the existing infrastructure and players. Most results will be obtained by long term market forces.
Major shock(s) to the system, probably related to the availability of fossil fuels. Not much, other than continuing to urge progress toward the SGP.
Transmission line bottlenecks (e.g. lots of cheap solar power in the southwest with demand in the northeast). The market has difficulty here because this is a bureaucratic problem: power distribution is highly regulated, players are entrenched, and there are large legitimate bureaucratic challenges such as establishing rights of way. ASAP could have a significant impact here by taking a positive approach and lobbying for this to be a focus item at government legislative and executive levels. Educational/advocacy involvement in specific high-profile proposed implementation instances might also be helpful.
Intermittency of renewable energy. ASAP could vitally participate in this with both research and education. A serious analysis of firming options is needed, taking into account the recent CAES setbacks and positive market forces. Advocacy of solutions should then be undertaken.

Recommendations:

Top priority:
  • Transmission line advocacy. Rationale:
    • This is a very long lead time item.
    • This gates other very long lead time items, such as PV and wind power plant construction.
    • This is a bureaucratic issue, not a capital allocation issue, and therefore ASAP could have an impact.
Important secondary priorities:
  • Maintaining tax credits for solar (investment tax credits) and wind (production tax credit) power until their electricity prices are competitive with electricity from fossil fuel power plants.
  • Firming variable solar and wind power supply. This problem must be solved, and it must be perceived to have been solved. This is in the secondary list only because it is not as large or as long term an effort as transmission line advocacy. Some of the solution to this will involve utilizing expanded geographies, which leads back to transmission lines.
  • Watch-dogging the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying activities.
  • Continued publicizing of the SGP. Even now, most people don’t know about it.