Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Solar energy proposals, such as Oklahoma SB 1456, bring questions to my mind

Is it worthwhile for people, with home solar installations, to sell power to the power grid during periods when the solar installations are producing extra power? Maybe the cost of safely collecting this power, from all these small sources, is higher than the value of that power? See more article below picture.

Solar collectors on a house I biked past today. Power line in the background.

I keep reading about utilities that now wish to charge a fee to customers who have home wind or solar installations. A fee for selling power back to the grid. Wouldn't this mean that the utility just doesn't pay for that power anymore? Currently the utility credits the customer for that power. Right? Maybe they just want to credit the customer less? None of this has been explained very well.

One wonders what the true economics is behind these proposals, or if utilities, in some states, are just trying to wipe out alternative energy? Are they all friends to the evil Koch Brothers? Is this just a sinister plot, or is there some real economics behind these proposals?

Is it really worthwhile to sell power back to the grid? If the costs are higher than the benefit, why would anyone want to do this? If utilities start charging the owners of rooftop solar panels for the privilege of sending their power back to the grid, wouldn't the owners of the rooftop panels just not send that extra power to the utility? Wouldn't they just use their solar panels for their own power and use power from the power grid at times when the solar doesn't provide enough power, but not try to sell the extra power back to the grid?

This brings up the question of storage, which is also a bit expensive, but coming down in price also (like solar panels). Maybe it's better for the owners of small rooftop operations to find a way to store energy, during times of excess power from the solar collectors, rather than selling it back to the grid? Is storage a better strategy than selling power back to the grid? Storage, such as batteries within the home, for times when less solar power is available; such as for use at night.

These proposals, such as Oklahoma SB 1456, that keep cropping up in a few states, bring questions to my mind.

Finally, an article that explains the science behind this beyond just the politics. Explaining the problem some utilities face integrating distributed solar into their power grids. The need for better storage. Thanks to a reader for pointing this out. Vanadium: The metal that may soon be powering your neighbourhood BBC News Magazine June 13 2014.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Trying to prime Western Washington University's sometimes balky minority pump

Always a mystery why some topics go viral while others don't. WWU President Bruce Shepard's comments about wanting Western to be less white, or at least have a larger percentage of minority students than it has today, has gone viral and hit national media.

I am only slightly critical of these comments just to say that the stir is somewhat of a waste of breath. A bigger problem, in society, is the growing gap between income classes which contributes to the barriers of getting into college. The cost of college, enrollment ceilings and so forth. This effects minorities, but it also creates the perception of a "zero sum game." If we provide more to some (minorities) we have to take that away from others (whites). Ideally, there should be enough abundance for all.

There has been a long history of trying things, like I remember a College Of Ethnic Studies, at WWU, which was created in late 60s (I think) and later dissolved in 1975. It sputtered due to soft interest and limited funding. Artificially trying to entice more minority students, to WWU, could be hard if minority students tend to cluster in areas of larger population. In larger populations, there are enough people, of the various minority categories, to get the ball rolling on various clubs and so forth so people feel less isolated. A certain population level creates a threshold size to get various clubs and activities for one's special interest off the ground. I remember, WSU, in Pullman, seemed to have a much larger African American student population than Western, over the years. Part of that might just relate to the size of the student body and what can be offered in terms of clubs and camaraderie.

As for income gap, all the college presidents and top personnel, as a class, are making much higher incomes relative to the rest of society than they did back in my college days of the 1970s and budgets are tighter.

A Google search has brought me to this article, from years past, about Western's College of Ethnic Studies and another college president. The story of the traffic stop is hilarious.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Random lottery may be more representative than popular election given money in politics

In light of recent Supreme Court decisions, such as the one today and Citizen's United, things have evolved to the point where popular vote doesn't create governing bodies that represent the people. Maybe it never did. Popular election elects people who win a popularity contest and, these days, that means people with money for media. Popular elections still may be the best thing we have as in saying, "democracy is a terrible idea, but all the other options are worse."

On the other hand, there could be merit to some other options besides popular vote; like random lottery for selecting members of a representative body. A random lottery would be better at selecting a representative cross section of the people than popular vote. A random lottery would select people from every walk of life including janitors, the disabled, scientists, teachers, farmers and whatever. Not necessarily just people who can manipulate media for name recognition.

Going viral on the internet, even without having money, is one counterweight to money that still exists in popular democracies, but that factor may not be enough. Maybe at least one body of our legislative branch could be selected by some kind of random lottery if we totally redesigned the system.