Saturday, May 08, 2010

Power to the Future

So the purpose of one set of tasks for the near-term future--edging towards Climate Cataclysm-- is to make things as good as possible for as long as possible.

It's important for the future in general that the life-killing, civilization-ending heat-trapping gases be severely and all but completely curtailed. Clean energy technology and a clean energy economy provide energy to compensate for less fossil fuel burning. But particularly when clean energy is scaled to be locally produced and controlled, it will in itself be vital to making things as good as possible for as long as possible. So every step towards that is worth notice, and there are two today.

The House passed its version of the "Home Star Energy Retrofit Act," and all that needs to happen now is working out differences with the Senate version. It provides incentives to homeowners for energy efficient retrofits. Buildings account for 40% of U.S. energy use, and this program is big enough to create jobs and support businesses engaged in this work. This effort, widely supported by business and labor organizations, is the "low-hanging fruit" of saving energy and cutting heat-trapping gases.

The first big investments in clean energy were part of the Recovery Act, and the Department of Energy reported on progress a year later. Some 5,000 projects have been funded, but since these projects were designed for long-term benefit, most are just beginning to be implemented: conducting research, building wind farms and factories for electric battery.

This last item is a particular emphasis: Currently there are only three battery factories operating in the U.S., he says. Through the Recovery Act and related incentive programs, 30 battery and battery component factories are now being built. This will result in the capacity to build enough batteries for 500,000 electric vehicles a year, “whereas today we can hardly touch the topic,” Rogers says. Meanwhile, the DOE is funding research projects that could increase the performance of batteries threefold to sixfold, while reducing costs by 90 percent or more. All of that is designed to work with other programs with the goal of efficient and affordable electric vehicles.

What concerns me, however, is that so much of the emphasis, at least in what's being publicized, is on battery and wind technology, not so much on solar. Solar seems the most decentralized, and therefore the most adaptable to circumstances. I hope for one thing that people taking advantage of these retrofit programs include home solar. Getting as much power as possible directly from the sun offers a kind of security.

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