Letters to the Editor

Solar options

October 30, 2009


To the editor:

The recent “Thinking solar power” article suggests a relatively high cost associated with going green, especially here in incentive-poor Kansas. I hope this article doesn’t dissuade readers from considering renewable energy alternatives.

Solar electric (photovoltaic or PV) systems are among the most expensive renewable energy technologies. Several highly effective and lower cost alternatives exist. For example, solar hot water systems produce more than three times the energy compared to PV, and at a fraction of the cost. Even with today’s low energy cost, and Kansas’ lack of incentives, solar hot water systems have a very attractive payback, especially in commercial and industrial applications.


Richard Heckler 8 years, 5 months ago

One of the most important features discussed in going green is Energy Conservation = how many ways can we as consumers cut back on energy use.

Some people are of the mindset that using energy efficient products says it's okay to burn a light longer than before which in fact does contradict the effort. Westar officials have said Kansas does not need MORE electricity just CLEANER.

However these officials noted consumers are wasting a ton of electricity by not turning out lights and not turning off many other items when finished thus creating more demand thus increasing the cost of juice.

Using less is one big step to creating less pollution. However this step cannot erase the fact that coal and nukes are the two most polluting and the two most expensive sources on the market. Our wallets need a long term break.

Brent Garner 8 years, 5 months ago

Using any resource wisely is a good idea. Especially when it comes to energy. However, unless you can figure out a way to flatline demand short of killing off a sizeable portion of the human race, then additional sources/supply of energy is going to be needed. I very much would like to have energy sources that were "clean" and "renewable" as that makes good sense, but not at a price that bankrupts the typical consumer. When there "green" technologies become cost competitive with existing technologies you will see a rapid transition to them. But forcing that issue with subsidies or taxes is not a good idea for the long term.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 5 months ago

How many days a week do you turn off all your electricity to enforce conservation, merrill? I remember you commenting that brownouts were good for the environment.

jafs 8 years, 5 months ago

merrill's point is quite good.

Having been interested in conservation for over 20 years, I can say with absolute certainty that it is pretty easy to live comfortably with all the modern conveniences and still use much less energy than the average American.

It takes a certain amount of mindfulness.

My wife and I live in a 900 sf house with central heat/air, washer/dryer, computer, tv, stereo, frig, and stove. We use all of these appliances on a regular basis. When we contacted the electric company to find out our average daily usage, they said "Does anyone live there?" because it was so low.

Setting the thermostat to 68-69 in winter, not heating at night or in the bedroom, setting it to 76-77 in summer, not using the systems when they're not necessary (much of spring and fall), and replacing our lights with CFL's is what we do.

It costs less, is less damaging to the environment, and creates less wear and tear on heating/cooling systems.

If we can do it, anyone can, and right now without waiting for new sources of energy to be developed.

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 5 months ago


By referencing merrill's copy-and-paste crap, which no one reads, no one reads your post.

Kirk Larson 8 years, 5 months ago

I'm with you jafs. bkgarner neglects that we as a country are terribly wasteful. We can go a long way toward conserving energy before we have to worry about increasing supply if we really put our minds to it. In the mean time, we should be subsidizing and investing in transitioning to renewable energy. Energy is not like other commodities where you can wait for cost pressures to spur demand. By the time fossil fuels become so expensive that even Tom Shrewman thinks we need to go solar, how will we afford the energy it will require to develop the infrastructure to make the change? We have to think ahead of the game!

devobrun 8 years, 5 months ago

Where are the numbers evaluating this alternative energy?

How much energy is needed to build the solar stuff? How much backup expense is there?

The unit of energy is joules. kilojoules, megajoules, gigajoules, etc. To what does the subsidy go? Ultimately it goes to energy from fossil fuels to power the construction of the solar stuff. It goes to the factory, the people, the transportation and it goes to the construction and maintenance of the solar system. All powered by coal and oil and natural gas.

Subsidies are required because the solar system doesn't provide enough energy to construct the system.

None of you are engineers. You are sheep.

And I am an engineer. These solar systems are games. You bought it because of your feelings, guilt. You are wrong about alternative energy. It isn't taking over the traditional methods because it doesn't work. Now, just think how guilty you will feel when solar energy systems are revealed to be erroneous. How many times have you been taken in by foolish marketing? Do you own a pet rock? Well, this is the pet rock of energy.

jafs 8 years, 5 months ago


A meaningful comparison between differing forms of energy production is difficult to make.

It would have to include initial costs and also costs of operation over the lifetime of the products.

There are certainly initial costs to produce solar panels. However there are also initial costs to produce coal plants.

There are also costs to transport coal, as well as associated environmental impacts, and costs to manufacture/maintain large transmission lines.

Also, it is possible to produce solar panels to power factories that make solar panels - thus the first generation might require other sources of energy, but the next ones wouldn't.

You are right to point out that there is no "free lunch" but I think a bit exaggerated in your dismissal of any benefit to alternative energy generation.

And, one of the difficulties in comparing these technologies is that we're comparing large centralized systems (the current coal plant system) to smaller less centralized ones (a home solar powered system, for example).

You'd have to measure the cost of manufacturing the panels, transporting them to the home and operating them without any energy costs for the lifetime of the product to some percentage of the costs associated with the coal plants and the costs of transmitting and operating them over the same time.

It could be done, but it would be difficult.

imastinker 8 years, 5 months ago

Devo - I'm an engineer myself, although my nose probably isn't as high in the air about it as yours. It certainly doesn't take an engineer to understand these very simple solar hot water systems.

The comments in this article were right on. It would seem that you are not familiar with solar hot water heating systems - which can be done DIY and usually for a few hundred dollars. They use a hot water tank located outside and another inside before the primary hot water tank. There is a temperature switch in the outside tank that turns on a circulation pump to circulate a ethylene glycol solution between the two tanks to preheat the water going to the primary hot water tank. This tempers the water temperature and lowers the amount of energy needed to heat to 120 degrees or so.

Solar hot water is a GREAT solution for heated pools - the only problem being that they can actually get TOO hot.

This setup can also be used to directly heat floors in a radiant heating system or temper water going to a geothermal setup. The initial investment is pretty low and it's simple enough to be done by an average person with reasonable mechanical aptitude. I am against most "green" investments because they are very poor investments but this is a great one for most people!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 5 months ago

Throughout human history, we have always relied on the continued use of old technologies during the development and implementation of new ones.

At the first moment it was first discovered that metals made better tools than stone, stone tools were not immediately abandoned.

Even after the first internal combustion engines were built, steam engines were the predominant type of engine for transportation and industry for many years.

Our current technologies are not sustainable, and need to be replaced. Just because we need to continue to use them while transitioning to new ones doesn't mean that the transition is any less necessary.

devobrun 8 years, 5 months ago

jafs: nothing could be further from the truth than your statement "A meaningful comparison between differing forms of energy production is difficult to make".

The unit of measure is the joule. The input to the system is the quantity of joules for design, construction, maintenance of an energy system. The output is the number of joules that are useful to a consumer. That is, the number of joules delivered. Aka exergy.

Don't forget the requirement for backup systems in the event the sun doesn't shine (like about 1/2 of the time). Oh, and don't forget storage systems for your 120 degree water. Just add up the costs (energy costs in joules) and use a balance sheet.

If the energy balance sheet is negative, them don't do it. Simple as that.

Example: Let's say you save a gigajoule of heating over the life of your house by installing 24 inches of insulation in the attic instead of 12 inches......but it takes 1.5 gigajoule to make the stuff. Don't bother.

stinker: How much energy does it cost, in joules? How much fossil fuel energy does it save? Swimming pools and movie stars, stinker? Smoke and mirrors and no significant change in the fossil fuel outlook. New discoveries in the oil patch add up to more found energy in the last 5 years than the energy "found" by alternatives.

Bozo, you may be correct on the current unsustainability of fossil fuel energy sources. However, chasing after alternatives that cannot replace them is delaying the inevitable. Real alternatives must be found. Don't just buy any new technology. Most of this stuff will not be significant or fecund.
Thomas Edison said that he may know how to build a light bulb, but he certainly know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb. Engineers mostly make big scrap heaps in the back of the plant until they get it right. Since marketing always leads engineering, the hype is always better than the facts. And that is where we are now. Hype without the real goods.

Industry average for oil is 1 barrel of oil equivalent to produce 3 barrels of oil usable to the consumer.

Coal is far more efficient than that. That's why it is the cheapest.

Solar is what? Jafs, stinker, anybody.................Joules in and joules out please.

Never mind the man behind the curtain.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 5 months ago

"Since marketing always leads engineering, the hype is always better than the facts. "

And guess who can afford the best hype around? (one hint-- it's not the new alternatives.)

devobrun 8 years, 5 months ago


The most effective hype comes from the government, with help from the press. The first rule of hype is to get your product in the news. Get it on people's tongues. Set the agenda. Publicity at all costs. Discussion by politicians, pundits, skeptics, naysayers, promoters, town-hall meetings, are all part of the hype machine.

If we are talking about alternative energy, we are thinking about it. Hype, bozo, hype.

The news can play one article against another. They help stir up controversy. Their intent is to sell papers. Or, in today's world, they charge advertising rates to ATA Blackbelt Academy on the basis of the number of people on the discussion boards. Like us.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 5 months ago

You're either extremely deluded or misinformed if you think that the major energy players don't exert a great deal of influence over what the public hears from mainstream media, devo-- the best hype goes to those with the fattest wallets.

devobrun 8 years, 5 months ago

The biggest wallet in the world is the American public. National Institute of Health, EPA, FDA, NASA, and on and on all feed money to institutions around the country for the purpose of setting the agenda.

Jim Hansen works for NASA. He travels the world giving speeches and interviews and press releases about the agenda of global warming.

He enlists help from Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA: From Time mag: "On April 17, Jackson's EPA issued an endangerment finding on greenhouse gases, concluding that carbon dioxide and other emissions posed a threat to public health and welfare."

I could go on and on regarding government leaders and advisers who use taxpayer money to further their careers, further their agenda, further the hype.

Method: Scare the public, ride in to save them.

Sell the message. Sell the press. But above all, set the terms and topics of the discourse. Oil, coal and natural gas companies don't sell themselves nearly as much as all the "scientists", bureaucrats, politicians, and lobbyists that serve the government.

Secretary of Energy Chu from Wiki: "Chu has been a vocal advocate for more research into alternative energy and nuclear power, arguing that a shift away from fossil fuels is essential to combat global warming.[4][5][6] He also spoke at the 2009 National Science Bowl about the importance of America's science students, emphasizing their future role in environmental planning and global initiative. Chu said that a typical coal power plant emits 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant.[17]

Chu warns that global warming could wipe out California farms within the century."

This makes newspapers, bozo. This is hype, bozo. Government, bozo, the most powerful influence in our lives. Indoctrinating children. scaring hell outta everybody.

Big business doesn't even come close.

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