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January 03, 2007


That is a pretty much good for environment/pocket invention, but unfortunately I know a couple of persons who has it at home, but are having problems with hot water during winter :P

Liliane, it sounds like your friends have solar hot water systems. I think Leila is talking about photovoltaic systems, which generate electricity. In an urban "on the grid" area these systems are tied into the grid so that when there's not enough electricity generated, you get electricity from the grid, and if you're generating more than you use, you send electricity into the grid and your meter runs backwards. That's much less expensive and high-maintenance than having battery storage.

Thanks, Peter. That's what I was going to say.

Meter runs backwards - i.e. you sell your solar-generated power to the electric company when you're generating too much to use at home. Then at night or in winter when you're not generating any, you buy power from the electric company.

Note that solar systems are within the reach of most consumers only because they remain heavily government-subsidized. Is the subsidy good public policy? To the extent that it reduces CO2 emissions and dependence on foreign oil, yes; to the extent that it discourages conservation and disadvantages competitors to solar, no. Either way, it's important to remember that the cost of solar power remains relatively high. Solar power is likely therefore beyond the reach of most Lebanese citizens, who presumably have no such subsidy.

There's a huge amount of R&D money now trying to reduce the cost of photovoltaic power, but it may or may not eventually produce substantially cheaper systems. Of course a steep increase in oil prices will make PV power more attractive eventually.

Isn't Applied Materials retooling to produce photovoltaics? I posted about this recently.

And "competitors to solar" -- would that be nuclear? Alison's arguments for nuclear have changed my mind from "absolutely never" to "maybe she's got a point."

About Applied Materials: sort of. AMAT bought Applied Films, a German company that designs equipment which could be used to build solar cells, among other things. Lots of other local companies are involved in solar (Sunpower, Nanosolar, Miasole, Solfocus, Nanodot, etc.). In fact, there are too many such companies.

There are more competitors to solar besides nuclear, most importantly conservation. But consider windpower: does it get the same subsidies as solar? If not, why not? Could we reduce the environmental impact of hydropower if we used the money that is subsidizing solar to build fish ladders and reduce water losses? These are all complex questions.

I have this friend who is an energy specialist, LBL and government consulting, with a focus on renewables. Actually he just changed jobs and works for the renewables research division of a Big Oil company. He's too busy to hang around blogs but I wish he'd chime in and comment.

Conservation - I like that one the most. It's easy, doesn't take new technology or infrastructure. JUST USE UP LESS ENERGY for God's sake. I am not the biggest conservationist on the planet, but it's not hard to turn off some lights; turn down the heat and wear a sweater; walk to the store; drive a car that gets better gas mileage (I switched to my Toyota recently for in-town driving, because it gets 3 mpg better than the heavier, more powerful Honda). we live in a house that's not very big; we don't have AC (ok we don't need it much here in Oakland), we bought energy efficient appliances, etc. etc. Everybody can do *something*, even if it's just installing flourescent bulbs or line-drying the laundry in good weather. Something!

Re: cost of solar power in Lebanon - well of course I imagine people there will find the cost too high for the time being. But "too high" is relative. There are plenty of LEbanese who are building themselves perfect palaces, buying themselves SUVs, putting on enormously expensive weddings, and so on. People have the money. People will buy a $20K diamond ring or a $40K SUV but solar power for the roof is "too expensive."

An economist (or Thorsten Veblen) could explain this better than I.

And anyway, my husband and I haven't actually bought our solar power system yet so I can't judge anybody else. The money seems daunting. We need to do other maintenance first. If oil prices explode, of course it will look like a better deal. (but by then the price of solar may go up too - it takes petroleum products to make solar cell batteries & arrays)

Hi Leila:

Couldn't find your e-mail. Can you help us spread the word about this petition?

A Call for Interfaith Reconciliation

Let Rep. Virgill Goode know that his attacks on Muslims are not acceptable. Please add your name to this petition, which will be hand-delivered to Rep. Goode's office.

A Call for Interfaith Reconciliation

As religious people from diverse traditions, we call upon Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode to re-examine his opposition to newly-elected Representative Keith Ellison, a Muslim, taking his unofficial oath of office using the Qur'an, and to apologize for his statement that, without punitive immigration reform, "there will be many more Muslims elected to office demanding the use of the Quran."

Mr. Goode insinuates that having more Muslims in the United States would be a danger to our country. As people of faith, we reject such ill-considered words.

An attack against one religion is an attack against them all. Next week, it could be Jews. Next month, it could be Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals. Right now, it is Muslims. It is they who feel targeted by repression and abuse, and they who live among us in a growing climate of fear.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once implored us: "No religion is an island! We are all involved with one another. Spiritual betrayal on the part of one of us affects the faith of all of us."

We hold it to be self-evident that all Americans have the right to practice their faith, whatever it may be, and that any Americans - regardless of race, color or creed - may be elected and sworn into office holding whatever book they consider sacred.

We would point out that there are some five million Muslims in the US. Many have been here for generations. They are every bit as American as Rep. Goode. Some Americans have also converted to Islam, including Rep. Ellison. We call for a renewed unity among people of conscience and of faith.

We would further point out that just as it was appropriate for the late President Ford to be honored by a profoundly Christian memorial service, so it is equally appropriate for Rep. Ellison to be sworn into office, in a private ceremony, holding the book representing his deepest religious convictions.

Above all, we urge all Americans to stand up for religious freedom and to deplore the hurtful words of any public figure who would disparage a particular religion.

In a spirit of reconciliation and peace, we invite Rep. Goode to join with us in an inter-religious delegation to visit a mosque in his district, in order that the healing may begin.


George Hunsinger
Princeton Theological Seminary

David A. Robinson, Executive Director
Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement

Rev. Robert Edgar
National Council of Churches

Stephen Rockwell, Director
Institute for Progressive Christianity

Jeffrey Boldt
Wisconsin Christian Alliance for Progress

Katie Barge, Director of Communications
Faith in Public Life

Rev. Debra Hafner
Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

Rev. Peter Laarman, Executive Director
Progressive Christians Uniting

Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, Executive Director
California Council of Churches

Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs
The Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs Progressive Faith Foundation

Elizabeth Sholes, Director of Public Policy
California Council of Churches

Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D.
Co-Director, Faith Voices for the Common Good

Jesse Lava, Co-founder and Executive Director

Rev. Dr. Larry L. Greenfield, Executive Minister
American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago

Rev. Cedric A. Harmon
Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Rev. Chuck Currie
Parkrose Community United Church of Christ, Portland, OR

Joseph C. Hough, Jr., President
Union Theological Seminary, New York

Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., Co-director
Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual

Rev. Harry Knox, Director of Religion and Faith Program
Human Rights Campaign Foundation

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Chair
Department of Religion, Temple University

Vincent Isner, Executive Director
Faithful America

Rev. Timothy F. Simpson
Christian Alliance for Progress

Sign the petition


Leila, the term "solar batteries" is not quite right. The things on the roof are "solar cells," and being completely literal you could say that tying them together makes them a "battery," but in common usage a battery is something that stores electricity. Some solar installations also have a large bank of (usually) lead-acid batteries somewhere in the house in addition to the solar cells on the roof. That also requires a charge controller to keep the batteries charged but not overcharged (i.e. exploding), and you store electricity locally in the batteries rather than just send excess capacity to the grid. These systems are what you need when you're "off the grid," but they're quite a bit more expensive, require maintainance, and the batteries wear out and need to be replaced or rebuilt after some number of years. If you live in an area with a reasonably reliable grid, an "intertie" system without batteries makes more sense. Rooftop solar cells are usually waranteed to last 20 years. The only problem in certain urban areas is that they're rather expensive and can be vandalized with a thrown rock; some people say that the Unisolar amorphous silicon ones are sturdier, if a bit less efficient in direct sun.

You can also go whole hog and get an intertie system with batteries as well, i.e. charge your batteries and then when they're full send the excess to the grid, but this makes little sense unless electricity gets really expensive, the grid becomes too unreliable, or you've got too much money and like eco-status symbols.

Did I happen to mention that solar panels (including solar water panels, which make a whole lot of sense if you've got a swimming pool in the southwest) were technically a no-no in the CC&Rs where we used to live in San Diego? Can't have that blight of black panels marring the uniform red tile roofs... People blew it off when installing solar pool heaters, but it was something to think about when considering installing photovoltaics. That might be something that will require legislation to get past.

Interesting about the community rules in San Diego. The New York Times article about California solar featured a REpublican Navy doctor in Escondido who installed solar on his roof. They reported that the community board approved his panels, which they supposedly must do under California law - according to the Times - seems there was legislation enacted already (when? Don't know) forcing all such associations to accept solar installations.

Thanks for the clarification on solar batteries vs. solar cells.

A battery for storing electricity in a solar installation is just a standard deep-cycle lead-acid battery. A photovoltaic panel consists of a bunch of photovoltaic cells wired together on a metal panel, so nobody really talks about a "solar battery."

Interesting to know about the law concerning PV panels.

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