Monday, September 20, 2010

California to be Solar Powered and the Wake of the Oil Spill

We all knew that the BP Gulf disaster would have far reaching ramifications not just in loss of jobs or environmental (of which scientists are still trying to pinpoint the actual effects). Approximately 186 million to 227 million gallons of crude oil came spilling out into the gulf and is now lost and unusable. Mix that with the fact that this was an accident that has other fiscal impacts and it leads to the conclusion that one of the longer term effects of this disaster is going to be increased gas prices.

According to the Guardian, the BP oil disaster has driven up insurance premiums for Oil companies participating in “deep water operations by 25-30% and deepwater drilling by 100% or more.” The Gaurdian explains;
However, the full impact will not be felt until 1 January onwards when the bulk of reinsurance is bought, insurers warn. The disaster has also fuelled demand for insurance, as regulators are moving to a tougher stance on how much cover is needed by oil and gas companies.
The costs from both the decreased supply and these increased premiums are going to be passed onto the consumers meaning higher gas prices and I, for one, am excited about this.

Before anyone starts to speak to me about the negative effects on the lower income earners that rely on their cars I will say that yes, it will be tough for them but hopefully this will continue to spur on the green transportation movement. This includes the highspeed rail project in California (which is hurting for funding a bit) and the Vactrain efforts.
If you are unfamiliar with Vactrains they are basically a system of highspeed vacuum sealed rail lines with magnetically levitated that could literally get passengers from Los Angeles, California to New York City in less than an hour.

Sound like science fiction? Apparently China, Switzerland and, yes, the United States are working on developing these technologies. It appears that these are either never actually going to be produced because of expense, or will be around long after I can enjoy them. China is hoping to pump theirs out in the 2020 to 2030 range.

For more local solutions, electric vehicles are constantly being improved as is solar solutions. When I first heard about slim solar panels and how they were not only more efficient to produce but more “aesthetically pleasing” I was sure that this was just the first step in solving domestic demand issues. It appears that Walmart is starting a new solar project of installing thin solar panels to 30 of its locations in California and Arizona. This on top of the 31 existing installations Walmart has in Hawaii and California.

Even if other companies and organizations fail to capitalize on the momentum it looks like America’s solar industry is in for a boost. Not only is a Renewable Electricity Standard still hypothetically viable but it looks like the there is significant interest in the industry to bring big bucks into the market.

A broad view of parabolic trough solar collectors at Kramer Junction in the Mojave desert in California. Image source.

From the NY Times Green Blog;

California regulators have licensed what is for the moment the world’s largest solar thermal power plant, a 1,000-megawatt complex called the Blythe Solar Power Project to be built in the Mojave Desert.

This is big news. It has taken about 3 years of environmental reviews by the California Energy Commission but in the past 3 weeks it has the potential of generating 1,500 of Sun Powered energy and have additional solar projects on the dockets to be passed by the end of 2010 that will generate an additional 2,900 megawatts.

This is compounded by the fact that First Solar, the world’s largest photovoltaic company (by market value) and a company that produces the thin film PV cells, is currently working on building 3 large Solar Plants in North America and is planning on working on its biggest project ever next year in California (the 290 MW Agua Caliente plant). According to the Reuters article describing this amazing news, the investment in North America is as a result of declining demand in Germany (a frontrunner for “Greenest Country in the World”) and a burgeoning market in the USA.

So bring on the higher gas prices, bring on another oil crisis. We had a road beginning to be paved during the oil crisis under Carter, but as a result of Regan, all of that headway was turned back on its own head. As I have said before, hopefully the sticker shock will get people to realize that gas is a stop-gap and a more long term solution needs to be established.

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