6 Jobs

Written by David Simmons on . Posted in 5: Anatomy of Destruction, Books

Anatomy Of Destruction
Chapter Six: Jobs

 

Imagine that an intelligent race of aliens is watching us and takes pity on us. They have plenty of crystalline silicon that can be used for solar systems. They bring it to earth along with a large supply of grid-tie inverters. They have a transporter device like the kind on the television show Star Trek. They use this transporter to beam a thin-film photoelectric coating onto all earth roofs. Our roofs look the same, they just now are capable of producing electricity. The aliens have their computers analyze all houses and determine the proper place to put the grid-tie inverters. Their transporter beams it into place and hook it up. We need some electricity at night, so let’s say they also put up neighborhood power centers that use electrolysis to split water and Bacon fuel cells to store the energy. These particular aliens are shy and don’t want thanks. They have their computer do all this beaming in a few microseconds and then head back where they came from. We now have a solar world. It has not cost us a dime. Is this a good thing?

In fact, it will be a tragedy of immense proportions. To see why, let’s move a little ahead in time.

The coal plants can’t operate if there is no demand for their products. They shut down and lay off their workers. The world now has about 50,000 coal power plants, employing roughly 1 million people. They get pink slips the first day. The coal plants no longer need coal. Even if they want to buy coal or have contracts that require them to buy coal, they can’t buy any because they no longer have any money coming in and don’t have any way to pay for it. They have to lay off their workers. Millions of coal miners lose their jobs the first week. About half of all rail traffic is now coal. The coal companies aren’t shipping and have no money coming in to pay their bills. Rail companies lay off large numbers of people. They how have twice as many locomotives as they need and cancel orders already place to buy more. The miners cancel their equipment owners and so do the power plants. Millions more hit the street. Steel companies get cancellations.

People now live n homes that produce free electricity for them. But they owe money on their homes and, without jobs, they can’t make their mortgage payments. Banks foreclose and kick them out. They live on the street. The free electricity doesn’t do them any good there. Stores get free electricity. But they have no customers. What good does free electricity do them? They close, laying off their workers. Unemployment soars. The unemployed compete for the few available jobs by offering to work for less money than the people working there. Employers see their sales collapsing and have to cut costs. They have no choice but to accept these offers and wages plummet. As this happens, soon even people who have jobs don’t have enough money to pay their bills. Their spending drops, reducing demand still more. The few remaining businesses can see the handwriting on the wall. They have to cut costs fast. They lay off workers and cut wages for those that remain. If they complain, they will join the people on the street.

Our governments tax incomes, profits, investment returns, transactions, and other things that are jointly referred to as “activity.” As activity collapses, their tax revenues collapse. They can’t afford to pay social security, unemployment compensation and other payments. If they try to print money to cover these costs, people will no longer trust government paper money and will switch to hard money such as gold, which the government can’t print. The government can’t keep paying its bills and replace the incomes of the unemployed.

In the 1920s, amazing new technologies came along. For the first time, electricity was available for businesses. They could use machines to replace their workers. Trucks could replace horses and carts. A truck could haul many times what a horse cart could carry, at much higher speed. The telephone made it unnecessary to hire couriers for business communication. At first, people had jobs building the new machines needed to replace labor. But once built, hundreds of millions of workers worldwide were redundant. Once the unemployment rate began to rise, it spiraled out of control. Soon, demand collapsed for everything. People couldn’t even buy food. With no demand, the price of farm goods fell so much that farmers couldn’t even make enough to cover shipping costs. They couldn’t justify paying costs to produce something they couldn’t sell, so they couldn’t raise anything. With no income they couldn’t afford their mortgage payments and they got evicted. The native plants were long gone and there was nothing to hold the soil in place so the winds blew it away. Giant dust clouds covered the globe. In some cases, people would not see the sun for weeks because of the dust. Millions starved to death.

I know people who lived through the depression and they tell me stories. By comparison, the war that ultimately ended the depression was a happy time. Society functioned. It didn’t function during the depression and no one knew for sure it ever would again. The library is full of books telling the horrors of the depression. They described it as a total collapse of society.

But it wasn’t really. It was just a blip compared to what could happen to this type of society if it loses a reallylarge number of jobs. The aliens may have thought they were doing us a favor. They thought we were destroying our world to get electricity. But they were wrong. We were destroying our world to make sure people had jobs. We destroy our world because our societies have a desperate need to make sure people are employed. It is better to have them working to destroy the only planet we have than to have them unemployed. Any suggestion that eliminates jobs is unacceptable. Governments know how much these societies need jobs. The people in them know this too. If a change to the world eliminates jobs, it will face massive opposition. This is clearly true in capitalist societies. They can’t function without jobs. But it is far more true in communist societies. These are “workers societies.” They are built around keeping people working. The worst suggestion you could make in a worker’s society is to suggest a change that will allow production to take place without labor. The intermediate societies, called “socialism,” are half way between the horror of capitalism and the compete horror of communism. All these societies depend on jobs to function. They absolutely most have them.

If we went to non-destructive methods of energy production, we would lose 500 million jobs right away, and many more over time.

The people who run our societies were born into systems that pay people to destroy. They have their advisors that tell them what would happen if these subsidies fell: jobs would disappear. They see that any job losses lead to horrible problems. More job losses make things worse and significant job losses lead to collapses that this society often needs a major war to deal with. The severity of the depression wasn’t nearly as bad as it can get. If you want to know how bad it can get, you need to go back to 322 AD, the year Rome collapsed and the society our current republics were modeled after fell into a thousand-year dark age. Even this is probably not the worst case possible. It is just the worst we know about so far. Perhaps a conversion to solar would cause a world catastrophe that would make the 1,000 year dark age seem like a minor event by comparison. They don’t know and they aren’t about to find out. They are going to make sure solar doesn’t succeed.

The governments could end the subsidies for destruction and destruction would disappear. Not because of concern and passion, but because of the immutable laws of economics and the invisible hand. The very idea of eliminating the largest source of employment in the world, just to allow the invisible hand to cause non-destructive processes to take over, would never even occur to them. True, they might pay lip-service to solar during the campaign. Some of them might truly mean it and create some tiny programs that offer subsidies that offset some of the government-imposed costs on solar. But when jobs start disappearing they take care of the situation. They don’t want another depression on their watch. They will do anything they have to prevent it. They have to create jobs and that means they have to back destruction.

 

Problems in Society

 

We live in societies that have a strange problem: they want less efficiency, rather than more. If we use inefficient processes, people have jobs. Jobs mean spending and demand. Demand means businesses expand and can hire more workers. More demand for workers means higher general wage levels, increasing spending for the entire working class. As they spend more, businesses expand more and hire more workers, making things better yet. Our societies don’t need or want more efficiency. They want to use processes that create jobs.

As long as we live in societies that need jobs to function, our governments will have no choice but to enact policies that work to prevent the invisible hand from working. If we want a society that does not have destruction, we have to find one that doesn’t have the structural problems that make them depend on jobs.

 

Other Societies

 

Not all societies need jobs to function. Consider the society of the Tainos who lived in the Carrabian when Columbus arrived, the Nez Pierce who lived on the western slopes of the Rockies when Lewis and Clark passed through in 1803 and, in fact, all the other Indian societies that Columbus, Americus Vespuci, and Lewis and Clark encountered and wrote about. These people had societies that worked differently. They didn’t think of the land as ownable and no one owned it. Although no one owned it, the land was very bountiful and produced immense quantities of good things. They shared the good things the land provided. Everyone got a personal income as their share of the good things from the land. Their society didn’t need jobs or want them. They wanted the land to be as healthy as possible so it could give them the maximum in gifts and they could have the highest personal income.

If you were to advise them that they form a government to take part of everyone’s personal income as taxes so they could create jobs destroying the world that now provides everything they needed, they would think you must have eaten the wrong kind of mushrooms and need to get to the medicine man for treatment. In fact, you can tell by the actual words of the Indians that have been recorded that they thought the whites were insane to treat the world as they did, and more insane yet to have governments that worked to encourage people to destroy it.

I have to say “appear to have had” because they were only studied enough to determine their weaknesses so they could be exterminated and their land taken by people from our societies. We have less than 90 days of non-aggressive study of the tribes in the Caribbean before the warships came and the genocide began, and less than 2 years of study by Lewis and Clark before westward expansion of the United States took all land with any productive capabilities and any Indians who wished to survive were forced to abandon their old ways. Basically, all we know about these societies comes from the logs of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and the journals of Lewis and Clark in 1802, with a few words of a few prominent Indians like Chief Joeseph who learned enough of the ways of our societies to learn to use the press as a tool to provide public awareness of the genocide.

This book explains a range of possible societies. I will start with the simplest possible society to explain, one I call the Indian society, which is the society type that the Indians appear to have had. I will go through an endless range of possible societies until I get to a type I call “the republic,” which is the type we have. I show there are an infinite number of gradients between these two extremes, each of which is a different possible society.

The Indian society interacts with the land in a certain way that leads to certain obvious flows of value and incentives. For example, if everyone shares the bounty the land produces, everyone wants it to be as bountiful as possible so they can get the highest personal incomes. Everyone has a stake in the health of the land. Everyone benefits if society is harmonious and if people get along with each other. If we were born into a Indian society, we would have nothing to gain from war and no forces pushing us toward war.

The republic interacts with the land a different way that leads to entirely different incentives. They divide the land into parcels and assign each parcel to an individual owner, with a government claiming rights to tax and regulate owners. Almost everyone has no income from the land and the majority have no income at all unless they work. This society absolutely depends on jobs to function and the government overseers have incentives to extract whatever free value they can from the land and use it to create jobs. More destruction means more jobs so they have incentives to subsidize destruction. Because the republic does not divide the free wealth of the land evenly (which the Indian society does) it has an unfair distribution, giving some much more than an equal share and others none at all. Everyone wants to be the one that gets more and they naturally fight each other to get more. The republic is inherently full of conflicts. You can think of it this way: draw a line in the sand and say that everything on one side of the land belongs to one group and everything on the other side belongs to another group. You can expect people to fight over the location of the line. Both sides want more. Humans have a natural empathy that would normally work to prevent conflict. We know that the Indian societies were conflict-free and had a social harmony that was so profound that people from republics could barely believe it was possible. But the republic has such incredible forces pushing toward conflict that it overcomes this empathy and allows events called “wars” to exist.

 

Jobs

 

 

Why don’t we do this? Not for the reason the coal, oil, and gas lobbies tell us. But there is a reason. To explain the reason, I have to get into some fairly complicate issues not directly related to solar. You see, the societies we live in have structural elements that make them depend on the use of processes that require a large amount of labor and a great many economic activities. Solar is 100% efficient, meaning once the photoelectric devices exist, no labor is required to produce electricity with it and no labor is needed to provide materials to it. It needs no labor and generates no economic activity at all.

To see that we use coal rather than solar because of these societal factors, not anything specifically related to solar, consider this thought experiment. Imagine that some advanced alien race sees we are destroying our world and decides to help us out. They use a start-trek style transporter system to transport 9,450 tons of silicon wafer to the earth, attached to photoelectric roofing tiles like the type several companies make now, and transport it directly onto the roofs of existing structures. Then they hook them up with grid tie inverters like the kind I use to feed my solar into the grid. When you wake up tomorrow you find you have a new roof and see your meter is turning backwards, as the electricity the roof produces supplies all your household needs and feeds a large surplus into the grid. You call your neighbors and friends on remote parts of the world and find the same is true for all of them.

Sounds like a good thing. But consider the impact it would have on the worldwide economy. Millions of people worldwide work in fuel-driven power plants. These plants can’t sell electricity because no one will buy electricity if they get it for free. They all close and lay off their workers. There are about 50,000 coal plants worldwide, most of which are enormous, and each of them employs about a thousand people in all phases of their operations. They lay off about 50 million people. Gas supplies about a half of the remaining electricity and employs perhaps 25 million people, who also lose their jobs, and about half of the remainder comes from nuclear. The nuclear plants lose all of their revenues and lay off perhaps 5 million people worldwide, with a total of about 80 million pink slips issued the first week. The coal mines have no customers so they tell their employees to hit the road, along with the miners and drillers for other fuels. It takes a lot of work to extract the roughly 12 billion tons of fuels that used to be burned and the people who used to do it are no longer needed. At least 100 million more lose their jobs. The railroad system loses half its cargo (half of all rail capacity is devoted to moving coal), most gas and oil infrastructures now sit idle, and all the companies that used to move billions of tons of fuel lose their customers, shut down, and lay off their workers. Perhaps 50 million more lose their work. The makers of dynamite, the giant coal-moving trucks and bulldozers, the sophisticated equipment used to drill for oil and gas, the immensely complicated machines needed to enrich uranium to make it usable as a fuel in nuclear plants lose their customers, worldwide, adding hundreds of millions more to the bread lines. The untold number of small businesses that make the individual parts that the large companies assemble into the giant machines that we need for destruction close and lay off their workers. The formerly self-employed people who worked in fields dependent on this activity lose their jobs. Most steel produced worldwide goes destructive industries and as the biggest destructive industry in the world collapses steel demand plummets. Between the mill workers, iron ore miners, transport system operators, fabricators, and all the businesses that had supplied them, at least 100 million more lose their jobs worldwide. Governments haven’t figured out how to tax sunshine yet. They get their revenues from wages, profits, transactions, fuel use, road use, sales, and other activities. The electricity is there, but the activity the government needs is gone. Perhaps a fourth of activity worldwide comes from the extraction and use of fuels, much of which goes to make electricity. As this activity dries up, government revenue collapse and they have to cut back dramatically on services and lay off large numbers of employees. The collapse in incomes and spending will trickle down through the system. The stores, restaurants, beauty salons, bars, pawn shops, and bordellos no longer have customers and start shuttering their doors. The people who worked at these places have no jobs and nothing to spend; as they stop spending the places they had formerly shopped at will lose their customers, and this will go on to the next level until the entire system is impacted.

We still have the production. The electricity is here and free. But electricity is about the only thing most people will be able to afford. With a third of the world’s jobs gone, and governments unable to help the unemployed, people realize they have to work or die. They have to compete for work the only way they can, by offering to work for less money. Prevailing wage rates will fall. The lower wages won’t create work, they will destroy it. As wages fall, spending falls, demand falls, more and more businesses will have to close and lay off their workers, creating still more demand that forces people to offer to work for less money still. All this because we switched (involuntarily) from a destructive power system that employs millions destroying the world to one that doesn’t destroy anything so it doesn’t need to employ people destroying for it.

The point here is that the type of society we live in needs to use labor-intensive methods of production or it will collapse. This is a very important issue and I will deal with it. But it is not directly related to solar and deals with some concepts that are quite complex, so I want to separate these discussions from solar and put them into a different book. For more information about the different ways human societies could work, see Possible Societies, available from this link.

5 Totally Nondestructive Fuels

Written by David Simmons on . Posted in 5: Anatomy of Destruction, Books

Anatomy of Destruction
Chapter Five: Totally Nondestructive Fuels

 

A fuel is a physical material that stores energy. The most important fuels we now use are fossil fuels. These fuels come from fossils, or decaying organic materials that lived in the past. Mostly, they come from the 4 billion year period when the only organic materials on earth were blue-green algae. Algae is a plant that uses the energy of the sun and photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide from the air and water into carbohydrates (I explain how this process works below).

A carbohydrate is some material that contains mainly hydrogen and carbon. It may contain some other materials. All animals on earth, including humans, eat carbohydrates to power our bodies. Our most important fuel is glucose, which is

6H12O6 This formula means each molecule of glucose has 6 atoms of carbon, 12 atoms of hydrogen, and 6 atoms of oxygen. The algae have a similar chemical composition. They are made mostly of carbon and hydrogen, with some oxygen and other materials. When the algae was alive, it was made of carbohydrates. We could have eaten it.

This algae dominated the earth for 4 billion years. There were no animals on earth. Nothing ate the dead algae. When it died, it collected in low spots and got covered with dirt and silt. It got buried deeper and deeper. Over time, the chemical composition of the dead algae. (It did not decay. Decay comes from bacteria, which are animals. During this time, the environment was far too hostile for any kind of animals, including bacteria.) The pressure changed the chemical composition. Carbon and hydrogen bonds are quite strong and the carbon and hydrogen stayed together. But oxygen is a philandering material that likes to attach itself to other elements and oxidize them. The oxygen and other loosely-bound elements headed off to do their own thing, leaving carbon and hydrogen. If a material has only carbon and hydrogen, we call it a “hydrocarbon” rather than a “carbohydrate.” Trillions of tons of hydrocarbons remained trapped under the ground. Depending on geologic factors, these hydrocarbons took either a solid form, as coal, a liquid form, as oil, or a gas form as natural gas.

All these fuels were at one time water and carbon dioxide. When the blue green algae dominated the world, our atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide, like atmosphere of Venus is now. Carbon dioxide holds heat in the atmosphere, preventing it from escaping into space. If the atmosphere is mainly carbon dioxide, the planet can’t give away the energy the sun sends to it each day, so it gets quite hot. A good example of this is the planet Venus, which is about the same size and mass as the earth, and only slightly closer to the sun. Its 90% carbon dioxide atmosphere holds in the sun’s energy, giving it an average temperature of about 464 C, which works out to about 867 F, far too hot for humans or any animals to live. We are slightly farther from the sun so our temperature was slightly lower, getting just to the point where liquid water could exist in extreme places like the poles or the tops of very high mountains. (Carbon dioxide is fairly heavy and stays close to the ground. High mountains rise above it and can radiate their energy more easily due to the scarcity of carbon dioxide which is why they are cooler than lowlands.) Using the energy of photosynthesis, the growing algae extracted carbon dioxide from the air and water. It broke the bond between the carbon and oxygen so it could use the carbon, and broke the bond between hydrogen and oxygen in water (which is H2O, or two atoms of hydrogen to one of oxygen). It used solar energy to reform the carbon and hydrogen into carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are one kind of fuel. The energy to make this fuel came from the sun. Hydrocarbons are also a fuel. The energy to make the carbohydrates they came from originated with the sun. Hydrocarbons, including gasoline, are a solar-created fuel.

The algae dominated the earth for 4 billion years. At the start of this period, the earth’s atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide, the earth was very hot, and the algae had few places suitable to support them. But over hundreds of centuries, the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere declined, allowing the earth to cool. The cooler the earth got, the more place could support life and the more algae could grow. They extracted more carbon dioxide, the earth cooled more, and algae could grow even faster. It took a very long time to “terraform” the earth, a term that means “make a planet capable of supporting life.” After about 4 billion years of this, the environment was able to support more complex life. Primitive bacteria could evolve. Now there was something to eat the algae and it didn’t accumulate anymore. The bacteria and other animals consumed the carbohydrates and exhaled carbon dioxide into the air, just as we do. At some point, the carbon dioxide emissions of animals, combined with the effects of fire and other natural actions that destroy carbohydrates and emit carbon dioxide, balanced the uptake of carbon dioxide by plants. Carbon dioxide levels stabilized and the earth’s temperature stabilized. The carbon that had once been in the atmosphere was now buried deep underground, but the actions that had been adding to it stopped operating.

Now, we dig up and pump hydrocarbon fuels in incredible quantities and burn it. When we burn the hydrocarbons, the heat of the fire breaks the bond between hydrogen and carbon. Both materials then burn, or combine with oxygen. The hydrogen combines with oxygen at a ratio of 2 atoms to one, forming water. The water is very hit when it comes out of an engine or power plant smokestack, so it is in the form of steam. If you look at a smokestack or car exhaust on a humid day, you will see the steam come out. In reality, steam is always coming out, you just can’t see it normally because steam is invisible unless the humidity level is very high. You can’t see the other main component of exhaust, carbon dioxide, because it is “clear” or invisible in the spectrum of light our eyes are capable of detecting.

 

What happens?

 

When you burn gasoline, you are actually using solar energy to power your car. Billions of years ago, algae grew, using the power of the sun, turning carbon dioxide and water into hydrocarbons. It took energy to break the bonds between oxygen and carbon/hydrogen. This energy came from the sun. When you burn the gasoline, you are taking back that energy and using it to create mechanical energy. Gasoline is a solar energy storage system.

Burning gasoline that was pumped from underground causes destruction for several reasons. Most importantly, it puts the carbon dioxide that the growing algae took out of the air back into it. When the algae dominated the earth, it was too hot to support animal life of any kind. We often hear the term “global warming,” referring to the effect of increasing carbon dioxide emissions. The scientists who talk about global warming are looking at incredibly short periods of time, often focusing on what may happen in a period of a few decades if we keep burning fossil fuels at our current rate. They use the cute term “warming” which seems to me is a kind of propaganda. Mentally, most people think of warming as good. I have lived in some very cold places and when it gets warmer everyone gets happy. The scientists tell us that the earth’s temperature may warm by 4-10 degrees F in 100 years. Hardly seems like a catastrophe. But it took 4 billion years for the algae to terraform the earth and make it as it is now. Even with hundreds of millions of people worldwide dedicated to extracting the fuels and burning them, we can’t undo 4 billion years of terraforming in a mere century. But given enough time, we can undo it. We can make the world unable to support animal life by forcing up the carbon dioxide levels to those that existed before the earth was capable of supporting animal life.

Another problem comes from sulfur and other contaminants in the fossil fuels. In addition to carbon dioxide, the earth’s atmosphere had a lot of sulfur in it billions of years ago. This sulfur found its way into the fossil fuels. The problem with sulfur is that it easily forms acids like sulfuric acid, which are highly aromatic and float around the atmosphere destroying things. Sulfuric acid destroys the lungs of animals, including humans. Breathe it in and your lung tissue dies. The sulfur is in the fuels. In fact, as much as 5% of all fossil fuels are sulfur. As we burn this sulfur, it becomes sulfur dioxide, which becomes sulfuric acid.

This happens when we burn gasoline that we get from under the ground. But gasoline doesn’t have to come from underground. What if we used solar energy to create fresh gasoline, that has never been under the ground, and burned it? If the gasoline came from taking carbon dioxide out of the air, then when we burned it we wouldn’t be adding to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, merely replacing carbon dixoide we took out of the air to make the gasoline. Since we are making it, we can decide what will go into it. We don’t have any reason to add sulfur so there is no sulfur to create sulfur dioxide or sulfuric acid.

As I explain below, gasoline is not a perfect fuel or, for that matter, even a good one. Because it requires extremely high compression to burn, gasoline engines work in ways that create other pollutants, mainly ozone (O3, a highly reactive form of oxygen) and oxides of nitrogen. It is probably impossible to burn gasoline without any destruction at all. Other fuels, however, can be burned in ways that produce exactly no pollution or pollution risk at all. However, these fuels are not now in common use and the people who would prefer we keep burning fuels from under the ground (big oil, gas, and coal companies) tell us they are impractical and dangerous. Many people believe the propaganda about the impracticality and danger of these other fuels, so they dismiss the idea of a solar-generated fuel as impractical in general and accept that we must keep burning the pumped fuels. I will explain the other fuels below and show they are not impractical at all. But I want to start my discussion of fuels with gasoline because it is in common use now so no one could possibly say it is an impractical fuel in a working system. If I can show that we can make gasoline with solar energy at a reasonable price, I can show that solar-generated fuels for vehicles are possible. After I show this is possible, I will explain why gasoline is such a horrible fuel, why we use it now, and why other fuels we can make much more easily out of solar energy are superior, can provide all out fuel needs, and can be made and used for energy in unlimited quantities without any environmental destruction whatsoever.

 

Non-destructive Gasoline

 

First I have to give you some simple chemistry: Gasoline is a mixture of hydrocarbons molecules. They are made of carbon and hydrogen. Current gasoline is made of oil pumped from the ground. The oil consists of a mixture of various different sizes and shapes of hydrocarbon molecules. At the refinery, people separate the molecules various different ways. The lightest molecules become natural gas or propane. The next lightest become kerosene, use for jet fuel. The heaviest molecules become asphalt for roads and lubricating oil. Next heaviest is diesel fuel. This leaves a broad range of refined products roughly in the middle of the range. These products are used to make gasoline.

The average ratio of hydrogen to carbon in this mixture is 8 atoms of carbon for every 18 atoms of hydrogen. This gives us C8H18, the chemical symbol for “octane.” If you look on the pump when you buy gas, you will see an “octane rating.” This is how close your gasoline performs to pure octane. Gasoline with a 100 octane rating would burn like pure octane, the gold standard for cars running on gasoline. Gasoline is not pure octane. The amount of actual octane in each gallon varies. But the refinery modifies it in various ways and adds in various chemicals to make it meet the octane rating on the pump.

Let’s say we wanted to make a hydrocarbon molecule and chose octane. If you want to burn this in your car, you would be burning a fuel with a 100 octane rating. Your car would run better on this fuel than on gasoline. Let’s first consider what happens when you burn this fuel in your car.

One molecule of octane will combine with 25 molecules of oxygen (O2) to become 18 molecules of water (H2O), 16 molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2), plus energy. This is how gasoline works: The carbon-hydrogen bond is stable at room temperature. But the intense heat and pressure of an engine causes them to split. The hydrogen and carbon are now free gasses. Your car engine has an air intake which breathes in massive amounts of air. This air is 29% oxygen. Oxygen wants to react with hydrogen very badly. It burns and releases large amounts of heat. It burns into H2O or water. The water is extremely hot—over 2000 degrees F—and is in the form of steam. Most of the energy of the engine comes from the expanding properties of steam. The extremely high pressure from the steam pushes down the piston. The carbon now also burns with the oxygen to form carbon dioxide. This doesn’t generate a great deal of pressure so it doesn’t contribute much to the operation of the engine, but it does generate large amounts of heat. (This is why gasoline engines are so inefficient. Only about 1/3 of the energy in gasoline goes to making steam that moves the piston. The rest is waste heat from the carbon-oxygen reaction.) A gasoline is a kind of steam engine. A standard steam engine has the heat source outside of the piston and is called an “external combustion steam engine.” A gasoline engine is an “internal combustion steam engine.”

The start products are octane and oxygen. The end products are carbon dioxide, water, and energy.

All chemical reactions are reversible. In fact, chemists say that we can’t tell by watching a reaction whether time is moving forward or backward, because everything would happen the same way either way. If you have 18 molecules of water and 16 molecules of carbon dioxide, and can put back as much energy as was released when the gasoline burned, you can turn this into one molecule of octane and 25 molecules of oxygen. This can be done now. The technology is very simple. Here’s how it works:

You start with water. Put a tiny bit of salt into water so it can conduct electricity, then put in two electrodes (anything made of metal) and run DC electricity through them at 1.2 Volts or higher. You will see tiny bubbles forming on both electrodes. If you want to try this yourself, the easiest way is to take a 9v battery and put it into water with a tiny bit of salt. The bubbles on the positive terminal are hydrogen. The ones on the negative are oxygen. To make gasoline, you just need the hydrogen. Don’t worry about the oxygen. You can let it vent into the air. Oxygen in the air is not harmful. We breathe oxygen. And it doesn’t matter that you are adding oxygen to the air anyway, because you will take it right back out when you burn the gasoline. This means the oxygen part of the process is a circle, with oxygen going briefly into the air from water electrolysis, and then going back into water as the gasoline burns.

You have to collect the hydrogen to make the gasoline. Hydrogen is the lightest element on earth and it goes upward. If you turn a flask upside down over the positive terminal, the hydrogen will fill this container. Warning: do not try this at home. Hydrogen gas is very explosive and the slightest static spark could cause it to blow up, destroying your home and yourself. Now you have a container of hydrogen. Run a pipe from the top of this container to the apparatus where you will combine it with carbon.

You get the carbon from carbon dioxide. You do basically the same thing, using electricity to separate the carbon from the oxygen. This is harder to do, but the point here is that it is possible. It can be done. You need a platinum or palladium electrode and a temperature of about 550C. Again, you just need the carbon and can let the oxygen bubble into the air. Now you have carbon and hydrogen. Put them into the same place and they combine. Carbon has four holes in its outer electron shell that it wants to fill. It wants to form four bonds. It can’t really form them with other carbon atoms for quantum-mechanical reasons. But hydrogen has one electron which it wants to share and wants to form one bond. Put these two elements in the same place and they combine to form methane, chemical symbol CH4.

Methane is also known as “natural gas.” As you drive down the road you occasionally see vehicles that say they run on CNG, which is compressed natural gas. If you are making a fuel, and just want any fuel that can run your car, you can stop right here. You need to go to a mechanic and have some changes made to your car, but it runs perfectly well on natural gas. (The changes involve mostly piping: the natural gas is a gas while gasoline is a liquid. You need a different fuel tank and fuel piping, and a different injection system to get the fuel into the engine.) In fact, it runs better on natural gas than on gasoline, because the ratio of carbon to hydrogen is better. (The carbon burning leads to mostly wasted energy. Most energy comes from the hydrogen burning into steam.) But if you must have octane, you are almost there.

I mentioned above that refineries take pumped oil, separate it, and use the middle range of distillates to make gasoline with a certain octane rating. In fact, there isn’t much actual octane in most oil and they have to make most of it out of lighter distillates like methane. To make octane, they basically heat the methane. They do this in a closed vessel with no oxygen, to prevent it from burning. The methane throws off hydrogen molecules and turns into chains of carbon, surrounded by hydrogen. You can keep doing this and the chains will get bigger and bigger. When you get to C8H18 you are done. You have octane. You can burn it in any gasoline engine on earth.

 

Why Don’t We Make Gasoline out of Electricity?

 

We could make gasoline out of electricity in any system. But if electricity is expensive, the gasoline would be too expensive. Some numbers may help understand this. Gasoline contains 115,000 BTU of energy. (Because there really is no such thing as pure gasoline, there is no exact standard and this is an estimate. Actual energy content varies from sample to sample.) Electricity contains exactly 3,412 BTU per KWH. If you could make gasoline with electricity with no energy loss, you would need 33.4 KWH. The energy intensive part of the process, electrolysis, is about 50% efficient with current technology, so it would require a minimum of 67 KWH of electricity to produce a gallon of gasoline with current technology. With electricity at 10¢, this means $6.70 per gallon. The input materials, water and air, are free. So you don’t have to consider them. The only cost that you would have to pay per gallon of gasoline would be the cost of the energy.

You could consider the gasoline to be an electricity storage device. Of electricity costs 10¢/KWH, it would cost you $6.70 to store energy in a liquid form. As I write this, wholesale gasoline brings $2.25 per gallon, about a third as much. It would not make sense to make gasoline out of electricity with prices like this.

In current systems, electric cars do far more damage to the environment than gasoline cars. Coal has 8,000 BTU per pound. At 25% efficiency you need 57 pounds of coal to make 33.5 KWH of electricity, the amount that contains the same 115,000 BTU of energy in a gallon of gasoline. This compares to the 6.24 pounds of fossil fuel you burn if you use gasoline. Which does more damage to the environmental: burning 57 pounds of coal (to make the electricity) or burning the 6.24 pounds of gasoline directly? It wouldn’t make sense to use fossil fuel generated electricity to power vehicles in any form, either directly in battery powered cars, or indirectly by making gasoline or other fuels out of the electricity.

Now consider a society structured so that the artificial costs of solar don’t exist. You could put a few hundred dollars extra into your house and it would produce from 1.5 to 3 times the energy you need. You would have plenty of extra electricity to use for any purpose you want. Perhaps you could put it into an electric car. Perhaps you could use gasoline or some other fuel. If the energy comes from the sun, the car doesn’t harm the environment no matter how you get the energy into the car. For practical purposes, energy is free. Free as electricity and free as fuel.

But there are a lot better fuels than gasoline.

 

Non-destructive gasoline

 

I claim this manufactured octane is a non-destructive fuel. You may say that gasoline is inherently destructive. There is no way to have gasoline that is environmentally friendly. It is true that gasoline pumped from the ground is inherently destructive. But not all gasoline. If you pump gasoline and then burn it, you release carbon into the air that had been underground for billions of years. You also burn contaminants, mainly sulfur, which produces sulfur dioxide and turns into sulfuric acid. This is not pure octane, of course, and doesn’t burn efficiently so it produces carbon monoxide, a very dangerous toxin, and hydrocarbons, the soot that you see in the air over most big cities.

Manufactured gasoline doesn’t add any carbon to the air. Remember, you took the carbon out of the air to make the gasoline. When you burn the gasoline, you put it back. This is a cycle. Nothing is added to the atmosphere that wasn’t already there. If nature is balanced before, it is balanced afterward.

The manufactured gasoline has no sulfur or other contaminants. It doesn’t have impurities that prevent complete combustion, so no carbon monoxide or hydrocarbons.

There are some pollutants, but they don’t come from the gasoline, they come from the way the engine works. The engine has a very high compression. It squeezes the air that goes into it very tightly at a high temperature. The air contains both nitrogen and oxygen. When you squeeze this under high compression the nitrogen in the air combines with oxygen from the air to form oxides of nitrogen. These are pollutants. The squeezing also causes oxygen to break apart and recombine with other oxygen in a form called ozone. Ozone, chemical symbol O3, is a very powerful oxidizer that can harm anything it touches. These pollutants do come from the exhaust. But neither of them come from the gasoline. We also get heat pollution, of course, and noise pollution.

If we could burn gasoline with lower compression ratios, we would have far less of these pollutants. Many other fuels require much less compression to burn. Natural gas, for example, has less of the carbon that requires the high pressures to burn so it can run in much lower compression engines. If we just burn CNG made from solar-generated electricity, we would produce only tiny amounts of these pollutants. Less carbon means less waste heat and lower compression ratios mean much quieter engines. All pollutants will be lower with CNG made from solar, but still not zero.

If we want zero pollutants, we have to get rid of the carbon entirely, leaving only the hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used to produce usable energy reactions that take place at normal atmospheric pressure and temperature. If your car runs on pure hydrogen with these atmospheric pressure and temperature devices, it will produce no pollutants of any kind.

 

Non-destructive Gasoline

 

If we had unlimited free (or even extremely low cost) electricity, we could make all the fuel we want out of it, with no destruction of any kind. We could make just about any kind of fuel we want, but I want to concentrate on gasoline, because people know what it is, how to use it, and are used to using it. After I have explained how to make non-destructive gasoline, I will explain some of other fuels that we could also make that might be preferable to gasoline.

First I have to give you some simple chemistry: Water is H2O, or two parts hydrogen and one of oxygen. Carbon dioxide is CO2 or two parts oxygen to one part carbon. Gasoline is a hydrocarbon, made of carbon and hydrogen. Because gasoline is made of oil pumped from the ground, not all gasoline molecules are identical. But the average ratio of pumped gasoline is 8 atoms of carbon for every 18 atoms of hydrogen. This gives us C8H18, the chemical symbol for “octane.” If you look on the pump when you buy gas, you will see an “octane rating.” This is how close your gasoline performs to pure octane. Gasoline with a 100 octane rating would burn like pure octane, the gold standard for cars running on gasoline.

Gasoline is not pure octane but I need a molecule to explain the reaction, so let’s say you have some gasoline that is pure octane. One molecule of octane will combine with 25 molecules of oxygen (O2) to become 18 molecules of water (H2O) and 16 molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2), plus energy. This is how gasoline works. The heat causes the gasoline to combine with oxygen (“burn”) and break down into water and carbon dioxide. The water is in the form of steam. The steam has a lot of pressure and pushes down on the piston, causing the engine to turn. Then the gases (mostly carbon dioxide and steam) exhaust into the air and the system draws in more oxygen and mixes it with gasoline.

The start products are octane and oxygen. The end products are carbon dioxide, water, and energy.

All chemical reactions are reversible. In fact, chemists say that we can’t tell by watching a reaction whether time is moving forward or backward, because everything would happen the same way either way. If you have 18 molecules of water and 16 molecules of carbon dioxide, and can put back as much energy as was released when the gasoline burned, you can turn this into one molecule of octane and 25 molecules of oxygen. Theoretically, this can be done. No one does this for profit in the world today but if electricity were cheap enough they would be able to do it for profit. Here’s how:

You start with water. Put a tiny bit of salt into water so it can conduct electricity, then put in two electrodes (anything made of metal) and run DC electricity through them at 1.2 Volts or higher. You will see tiny bubbles forming on both electrodes. (If you want to try this, the easiest way is to take a 9v battery and put it into water with a tiny bit of salt). The bubbles on the positive terminal are hydrogen. The ones on the negative are oxygen. To make gasoline, you just need the hydrogen. You can collect it. You don’t need the oxygen and can simply let it bubble into the air.

You can do the same thing with carbon dioxide but it is slightly harder to do. You need a platinum electrode and a temperature of about 550C. (I didn’t say it would be easy. Only that it could be done.) Again, you just need the carbon and can let the oxygen bubble into the air. Oxygen is not a pollutant. We breathe oxygen. Our air is 29% oxygen. You can put as much into the air as you want. (But don’t worry about this anyway, you will be taking it right back out again shortly). Now you have carbon and hydrogen. Put them into the same place and they spontaneously form methane, (CH4), a basic hydrocarbon.

The methane is also known as “natural gas.” As you drive down the road you occasionally see vehicles that say they run on CNG, which is compressed natural gas. You can run engines on this directly. But if you absolutely must have gasoline, all you have to do is heat the methane. (You need to do this in a closed vessel with no oxygen so it doesn’t burn.) This causes the methane to throw off hydrogen molecules and reform in to chains of carbon, surrounded by hydrogen. This is a very common procedure done to day in modern refineries, which take various hydrocarbons in oil, including methane, and make them into octane for gasoline. You can keep doing this and the chains will get bigger and bigger. When you get to C8H18 you are done. You have octane. You can burn it in any gasoline engine on earth.

I claim this is a non-destructive fuel. You may say that gasoline is inherently destructive. There is no way to have safe gasoline. It is true that gasoline pumped from the ground is inherently destructive. But not all gasoline. If you pump gasoline and then burn it, you release carbon into the air that had been underground for billions of years. You also burn contaminants, mainly sulfur, which produces sulfur dioxide and turns into sulfuric acid. This is not pure octane, of course, and doesn’t burn efficiently so it produces carbon monoxide, a very dangerous toxin, and hydrocarbons, the soot that you see in the air over most big cities. Manufactured gasoline doesn’t add any carbon to the air. Remember, you took the carbon out of the air to make the gasoline. When you burn the gasoline, you put it back. This is a cycle. Nothing is added to the atmosphere that wasn’t already there. If nature is balanced before, it is balanced afterward.

There are two pollutants that any piston engine produces, and this will produce both of them. The first is oxides of nitrogen. Our air contains nitrogen and oxygen and if we compress these gasses together (which happen in a position engine) they combine to form oxides of nitrogen, a pollutant. The other is ozone. The compressed oxygen combines with other oxygen atoms to form oxygen, symbol O3, a powerful oxidant. (It accelerates rusting and other oxidation processes, and is thought to accelerate aging..) To eliminate these pollutants, we must move to an engine type with lower compression ratios. The only gasoline engine now known that can operate at compression ratios low enough to prevent the creation of ozone and oxides of nitrogen is the Wankel. If we want to use gasoline with no pollution at all we would have to use this type of engine.

The manufactured gasoline has no sulfur or other contaminants. No sulfur dioxide. It doesn’t have impurities that prevent complete combustion, so no carbon monoxide or hydrocarbons. None of the pollutants that come from pumped gasoline.

 

Why Don’t We Make Gasoline out of Electricity?

 

We could make gasoline out of electricity in any system. But if electricity is expensive, the gasoline would be too expensive. Some numbers may help understand this. Gasoline contains 115,000 BTU of energy. (Because there really is no such thing as pure gasoline, there is no exact standard and this is an estimate. Actual energy content varies from sample to sample.) Electricity contains exactly 3,412 BTU per KWH. If you could make gasoline with electricity with no energy loss, you would need 33.4 KWH. The energy intensive part of the process, electrolysis, is about 50% efficient with current technology, so it would require a minimum of 67 KWH of electricity to produce a gallon of gasoline. With electricity at 10¢, this means $6.70 per gallon. The input materials, water and air, are free. So you don’t have to consider them. The only cost that you would have to pay per gallon of gasoline would be the cost of the energy.

You could consider the gasoline to be an electricity storage device. Of electricity costs 10¢/KWH, it would cost you $6.70 to store energy in a liquid form. As I write this, wholesale gasoline brings $2.25 per gallon, about a third as much. It would not make sense to make gasoline out of electricity with prices like this.

In current systems, electric cars do far more damage to the environment than gasoline cars. Coal has 8,000 BTU per pound. At 25% efficiency you need 57 pounds of coal to make 33.5 KWH of electricity, the amount that contains the same 115,000 BTU of energy in a gallon of gasoline. This compares to the 6.24 pounds of fossil fuel you burn if you use gasoline. Which does more damage to the environmental: burning 57 pounds of coal (to make the electricity) or burning the 6.24 pounds of gasoline directly? It wouldn’t make sense to use fossil fuel generated electricity to power vehicles in any form, either directly in battery powered cars, or indirectly by making gasoline or other fuels out of the electricity.

The high capital costs would make them quite expensive still in current systems, but they would be able to generate returns on investment of about 10%, compared with current return rates of 2%, so they could compete at any return rates up to this figure. This would cause solar to replace coal, even in current systems. I will explain this with the example in Chapter Eight.

Now consider a society structured so that the artificial costs of solar don’t exist. You could put a few hundred dollars extra into your house and it would produce from 1.5 to 3 times the energy you need. You would have plenty of extra electricity to use for any purpose you want. Perhaps you could put it into an electric car. Perhaps you could use gasoline or some other fuel. If the energy comes from the sun, the car doesn’t harm the environment no matter how you get the energy into the car. For practical purposes, energy is free. Free as electricity and free as fuel.

But there are a lot better fuels than gasoline.

 

A Crappy Fuel

 

Originally, when people started to pump oil out of the ground, they needed it for lighting and lubrication. Before pumped oil, people used whale oil for this. By the 1850s whales were getting pretty hard to find and whale oil was quite expensive. People found that if they distilled oil pumped from the ground, they got 4 major products. The first was a very light distillate, kerosene. Kerosene was a very good lighting fuel, almost as good as whale oil. The heavy distillate was good for lubricating oil. The lighter of the two intermediate products was called “heating oil” and was very useful for heat. In 1898, Ferdinand Diesel found another use for heating oil and most people now call this “diesel fuel” for the engine he invented. This left one product, gasoline, which had no use. People dumped it into pits to get rid of it.

As demand for oil increased, people looked for a use for the enormous amounts of useless gasoline people had to get rid of. Some people found that under unique circumstances they could use it as a fuel for engines. It wasn’t and still isn’t a good fuel. It required significantly more fuel to generate the same amount of usable energy as diesel engines. It is far more dangerous than diesel. Drop a match in diesel and it goes out. Do the same thing with gasoline and you go to the hospital or morgue. Gasoline is also highly corrosive. It will dissolve almost anything so the engines had to be made to withstand the corrosion. Gasoline doesn’t naturally lubricate as diesel does, so you have to mix lubricating oil with gasoline. (If you have a chainsaw or other small engine, you probably still have to do this.) The gasoline strips oil from the cylinders, making them rust and corrode very rapidly if left alone for a short time. Gasoline engines are temperamental and would often backfire, shooting flames out of every hole in the machine and occasionally causing the entire engine to simply explode like a bomb. People didn’t build gasoline engines because gasoline was a good fuel. They built them because they wanted to find something, anything, to use the gasoline for.

Some of these problems of gasoline engines have been solved, but not all of them. Now forced lubrication systems can constantly replace the lubricants that gasoline strips, so we don’t have to mix lubricating oil with gasoline. But other problems are as bad as ever. Tens of thousands of people are killed or maimed in accidents caused by gasoline fires every year. (Think about this. You probably know at least one person in this category. I know several.) Everyone who has used both types of engines knows that diesel engines are far more efficient, using only ¾ths as much fuel to go the same distance as gasoline. Diesel engines run at far lower speeds than gasoline engines, so they don’t wear nearly as rapidly and will last roughly 10 times as long as a gasoline engine in the same application. The diesel naturally lubricates the engine, keeping wear down and reducing maintenance costs compared to gasoline. They just aren’t very good engines and their fuel is dangerous, inefficient, and highly destructive.

 

A Better Fuel

 

If you have ever studied chemistry, you will know that hydrogen is a unique atom, with only one proton and election. This atom is so tiny that it can do things that no other atom can do. For instance, it can hide within the matrices of certain metals. We don’t fully understand how this is possible just yet, but we know that certain metals can hold many times their own volume in hydrogen. For example, palladium can hold more than 300 times its own volume in hydrogen, in a special molecular form called “palladium hydride.” This jams the atoms of hydrogen together even more closely than if they were in liquid or solid hydrogen. In fact, the atoms are so close together that when people first discovered palladium hydride, they thought the atoms were close enough together to fuse into helium, releasing immense amounts of energy, in a process called “cold fusion.” This turned out to be incorrect, but the point here is that hydrogen can be squeezed into extremely tiny containers and we can get far more hydrogen fuel into a given space than we can any other fuel. The hydrogen literally disappears into the metal matrix until it is needed. While it is in the form of the metal matrix, it is safe.

Other much more common metals can also store hydrogen at very high densities. If you own a device that has a nickel metal hydride battery, this uses shaved nickel, the second most abundant material in the earth’s crust, to store hydrogen as a hydride. When you hook the battery up, the nickel releases the hydrogen which then combines with oxygen, stored in another part of the battery, to create pure water and generate electricity. You can recharge these cells. If you apply electricity to them the water separates again into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen goes into hydride form to be used again.

A device that turns hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and water is called a “fuel cell.” If you have watched TV commercials, you have seen many that tell you about the wonderful coal and oil companies that are working on fuel cells to solve our energy problems, but that no practical fuel cells yet exist. This is actually a lie, or I should say, a tricky distortion of the truth. The coal and oil companies know how easy it is to make hydrogen out of coal and oil. All you do is heat it up. The problem is that this hydrogen made from coal is extremely dirty and has contaminants they can’t eliminate. Coal contains large amounts of sulfur. Even in minute quantities sulfur destroys the type of fuel cell used in your nickel metal hydride battery, which is called an “alkaline” fuel cell. These cells can only run on pure hydrogen and oxygen made from water electrolysis. Run them on the dirty hydrogen from coal and atmospheric air (the air you breathe which is already heavily contaminated with sulfur from more than a hundred years of burning coal and oil), and the sulfur ruins these fuel cells within minutes.

Fuel cells do exist. They are extremely cheap, which is why you probably already have dozens of them in your home. They are also extremely efficient, produce no pollutants of any kind in operation, require no maintenance, and last many decades even if used constantly. They are a proven technology. But they can not tolerate any sulfur at all. Even after a century of trying no one has been able to figure out how to make them tolerant of sulfur. You can use them to generate electricity from hydrogen made with water electrolysis. But they can not burn hydrogen made from coal. No way no how. Of course, the coal companies keep trying. This is what they are trying to do and, so far, have always failed to do. Many chemists say they are wasting their time.

They spend most of their effort on an entirely different type of cell, called an “acid fuel cell.” These cells are not nearly as efficient as alkaline cells, they produce enormous amounts of waste heat (the alkaline cell produce no waste heat and operate at room temperature) they wear quickly, and they are extremely expensive. But they have one advantage over the alkaline varieties: they can be made to be somewhat tolerant of sulfur. Not totally tolerant. But somewhat. This give scientists hope that they can make fuel cells that can burn dirty hydrogen made from coal and oil with oxygen that comes from the sulfur-contaminated air of our cities.

When they say they are working on fuel cells to solve our energy problems, they aren’t lying. If we had fuel cells that were tolerant of sulfur, we would no longer need gasoline and could burn “coal gas,” or hydrogen made from coal in our cars. We have unlimited amounts of coal so we will never run out of fuel for fuel cell vehicles. But they are lying when they imply this is green energy. The energy comes from coal, our dirtiest energy source. Saying “clean coal” is like saying “clean dirt” or “dark light.” There is no such thing.

Now let’s come back to the alkaline fuel cell. Thomas Edison took out the first patents on this device more than a century ago. Alkaline fuel cells are basically alkaline batteries with a continuous flow of new electrolyte in the form of hydrogen and oxygen. You probably have dozens of them in your home and thousands within a mile of your home. But these fuel cells can only use hydrogen and oxygen from water electrolysis and this requires electricity. Electricity is fantastically expensive in republics. Even with the massive subsidies we have on coal, there is no way to make it cheap. In some of the societies I will explain in the next few chapters, it is not just cheap, it is free. We can have unlimited fuel for any type of vehicle, without any destruction. Unlimited gasoline if we want. But hydrogen can run a fuel cell which will provide electricity in a way that will make the car much cheaper to operate, faster, more efficient, more powerful, and totally quiet, without any risk of pollution under any circumstances.

We could make non-destructive gasoline, kerosene (jet fuel), and diesel if we want out of water, electricity, and air. We could make it in unlimited quantities, without depleting, or adding a gram of carbon to the air. If consumers want these fuels, they will be able to buy them in the society I explain later. But carbon-based fuels are crappy fuels and I doubt anyone would want them if there were alternatives.

If we made our own electricity with photoelectric panels, electricity would be free. The raw materials for non-destructive fuels are water and air, also free. They aren’t harmed by using them this way and get replaced in exactly the same state as when we started. If we use these fuels, we are really running the machines on electricity. The electricity comes from the sun, so we are really running the machines on solar energy.

 

Energy

 

We can get all of our energy from the sun. All of it. Your roof now produces many times more energy than your home uses. Even with current technologies, that use essentially garbage silicon wafers, we can turn that electricity into usable electricity at a 13% efficiency. At this efficiency, your roof will provide 3-4 times more usable electricity than the average home uses.

It takes about a pound of dirt, properly processed, to produce enough silicon wafer to give you all this energy. The silicon doesn’t generate electricity it merely sorts out the electricity that is already being generated as the sun hits your roof into the electricity you can use and the electricity you can’t use. The usable electricity goes into your system to run anything that runs on electricity.

You will get a lot more than you need. You can use the excess to turn water into hydrogen and oxygen and store these materials (hydrogen in hydride form) for later use. If you need electricity when the sun is not shining, a fuel cell will convert this hydrogen and oxygen back into electricity and water. The next day, the sun can separate the water again into hydrogen and oxygen for later use.

Soar energy is free. It falls to earth each day whether we use it or not. Solar electricity is free. All sunlight turns into electricity as soon as it hits the planet. All we have to do is collect it. We have had the technology to do this for more than a century. The material we need, silicon, is the cheapest and most abundant material on earth. Societies have to be structured in ways that create incredibly bizarre flows of value in order for destructive energy to be cheaper than non-destructive energy. This stands to reason: destructive energy requires a continuing flow of new resources to replace those destroyed. Someone must dig up the resources. These people have to be paid. Destructive energy can never be cheap, let alone free. Non-destructive energy is naturally free. Only in systems with incredibly large distortion flows of value will destructive energy be cheaper than non-destructive energy.

4 Costs of Free Electricity

Written by David Simmons on . Posted in 5: Anatomy of Destruction, Books

Anatomy of Destruction
Chapter Four: Costs of Free Electricity

 

I have electricity.

I have never bought an ounce of coal, oil, gas, uranium, or any other fuel for it. My fuel costs are zero. The panels don’t have any moving parts to maintain or lubricate. Lubrication and maintenance costs are zero. Nothing wears out that might need to be repaired or replaced. My repair costs are zero. My capital set-asides for replacement of worn out parts are zero.

If you own a device that has any moving parts, you have to set aside money to replace them in order to break even. For example, when I was in the trucking business I knew motors would last about 250,000 miles before they would need a rebuild that costs $5,000. I set aside 2¢ for every mile into a fund. When the rebuild time came, I had the money in the fund to pay for it. People who run capital intensive businesses know that they incur repair costs over time, not at the instant everything breaks. I knew a lot of other truckers who didn’t set aside money. When rebuild time came they didn’t have the money, couldn’t afford to fix the trucks and couldn’t run them. They went out of business. A good businessman will determine set aside amounts for each wear item and set aside the appropriate amount. This is a true cost. Solar panels don’t wear so they don’t have set-aside costs.

Depreciation is the amount that must be set aside to replace the entire item when it is so worn out it is cheaper to replace than it than to repair it. (See footnote above for set-aside description.) The units don’t depreciate so these costs are also zero.

 

In only have a 2 KW system that covers about ¼ of my roof. I don’t need much because I designed my house in concert with the ecosystem to take advantage of natural (called “passive”) energy flows. In the winter, my south-facing windows keep the house warm so I don’t need heat (except on cloudy days, which are very rare in Tucson). My pool and spa both have thermal panels to heat them and don’t need any supplementary heat. (If the weather is cloudy I have to go without a Jacuzzi until the sun comes out. My pool is large enough it can stay warm several days without heat.) I live in a canyon with westerly winds constant all summer long. I built a system that allows the wind to blow through pads that a pump system keeps wet, cooling the house all summer long with evaporation. I only need AC in the very few days that are both hot and humid, during the monsoon season. This little system provides all he electricity I need.

 

Let’s add all that up. (I’ll wait if you want to get a calculator.) I get zero.

Each year these panels give me about 4,000 KWH of electricity.

Total cost per KWH exactly 0¢.

 

Why Don’t We Use Solar?

 

I wanted to explain how everything works so you can see there isn’t any magic. No advanced technology. No alien help. No help from God or any Great Spirit. It is very simple: the sun generates electricity, whether or not we use it. The semiconductor simply makes it usable. We make the semiconductor out of the most abundant and by far the cheapest material on earth. And we don’t even need very much of this raw material. The total amount of silicon in the semiconductors of my panels is only about 3 pounds, about the weight of a liter bottle of water. Consider that your house has perhaps 30,000 pounds of concrete in it (just about all homes built in the last hundred years have foundations made of concrete) and concrete is almost entirely silicon. If just 1/10000th of this silicon were on your roof in the proper configuration, you would have all the electricity you ever want, totally for free.

Sounds good. Why don’t we do it?

The answer is unique to the type of society we have. Our current societies have flows of value that distort the real costs and benefits of options in ways that make people who want to use solar pay massive artificial costs to the little pieces of paper with numbers on them (or tokens made of gold or silver in some societies) used as “money.” These artificial costs, called “capital costs” are not costs of anything valuable to humankind that is needed for solar. They are costs of replicating a flow of value that these societies naturally have.

These flows of value are entirely artificial. The only way to fully understand this is to realize that some societies do not have them, some societies have very tiny flows, some have larger flows, and some (the ones we live in) have extremely large flows. When you understand all of these options (the topic of Chapter Three) you will realize that these flows only exist in societies structured a certain way, as ours are. They are not natural costs of solar in any way. They are simply flows of value that the realities of current types of societies require people to replicate, in order for these societies to function.

Here in this appendix, I want to tell you two things. First, how do the systems work? Second, why don’t we use them in current systems? Much of this book is about where the value that makes solar and other non-destructive processes uneconomic comes from and why it flows as it does. Here I just want to tell you what the flows are and allow you to confirm for yourself that they exist:

We live in societies where the rich get richer without doing anything, without effort and without risk. (Again, don’t worry about why this happens yet. I explain this in the text. The only point is that it does happen.) There is a flow of value called the “risk-free returns” paid to money every year. This flow takes place at a rate called the “risk-free return rate.”

A flow of money is called “risk-free” is there is no chance of default or no chance the person who is supposed to pay will decide not to pay and you won’t get it. In the United States, the government guarantees almost all mortgage so if you make a mortgage loan to someone through these programs, you know you will be paid the interest and principle of the loan. If you want to find the current rate, look up the rate for FNMA or GNMA bonds. This is the rate that people who invest in these mortgages get. You can invest money in these bonds at the current rate. There is no chance you will not get paid back, with the full promised interest, so these investments are free risk. You don’t have to do anything to get this money, so they are also free of effort. (In fact, you could be dead. You would get the exact same return.)

The amount that the mortgage holder pays is higher, exactly 5/8 of 1% higher in the United States. Of this extra, 1/8 of 1% goes to pay paperwork processing costs. This goes to the company that sends out the mortgage coupons, sends out late notices, processes the money and sends it through to the people who get it, and deals with problems and repossession if necessary. The other ½ of 1% goes into a “loss reserve fund” to cover potential loan losses. If someone doesn’t pay on time, they still have to pay bond-holders on time and they use the money in the fund to pay these amounts, until they can repossess the property and sell it to recover the amount owed. When the United States government set up this system in 1954, loss rates had never been greater than ½ of 1% times total outstanding debt, so the government thought it never would and this insurance premium would cover all losses. This happened for many years and the government decided to get out of the mortgage business and sold the companies that put the deals together as “Fannie Mae” and “Freddie Mac.” These companies put together the loans, sold the bonds, collected the loss reserve amounts, and paid out losses out of the reserve fund. Any money left over was profits and went to the shareholders. This worked fine until 2008 when losses soared from their typical ¼ of 1% per year to more than 10% per year. The government had to take over the mortgage companies and pay the losses themselves. They had to do this because they had essentially cosigned for the loans. The companies both went bankrupt and the government had to take over all their debts. As I write this, the government is responsible for these debts, roughly $20,000,000,000,000 ($20 trillion) in addition to its “regular” debt.

If the government doesn’t have the money to pay these obligations, it can and is obligated by law to print the money to pay them. This is what makes these obligations risk free: There is no chance of default. As long as there is a United States government, the rich will get richer without risk or effort. (Don’t think this is a capitalist thing. Communist countries do the exact same thing.)

The exact rate changes from time to time, but for most of my life it has been about 10%, so I want to use this figure for the sake of example. Now I will give you the short answer, and long answer to the above question: Why don’t we use solar?

Quick answer: Solar panels generate at 2% return on investment. Money generates a 10% return, or five times as much. If you want to borrow money to make the investment, you have to pay five times more as interest than you get from the panels in the form of free electricity. You lose massive amounts of money. If you use your own money, you have to give up the 10% you would have collected as automatic, effort-free and risk-free returns. Giving up money is paying a cost. You give up 10% a year times the amount you could be collecting returns on, the invested amount in the panels. You only get a 2% return on the panels in the form of free electricity. So it costs you five times more each year to own the panels (in the form of lost free money you would have gotten) than the panels produce.

The solar electricity is not expensive. It is free. Nothing could be cheaper than free. But it is “uneconomic.” This is because of the flows of money that take place in the type of society we live in. Not because of any cost of anything valuable to humankind that has to be paid to make free solar energy usable.

 

The Long Version:

 

Seems impossible. It is free. Yet it is uneconomic? How can that be? Let’s look over the exact numbers to see why:

If you look on Ebay, you will see hundreds to thousands of solar systems for sale. The size of this worldwide market leads to a very narrow “spread” of prices, or a very small difference between the maximum and minimum prices of the panels. A lot of people are always looking for deals. If the offered price of a system is extremely low, people will bid it up. If the offered price on a system is higher than people know they can get a similar system for, they won’t bid and it won’t sell. The only systems that actually sell, therefore, are neither overpriced nor underpriced. The market makes sure prices stay in a very narrow range. The cost for a 2kw turn-key system has been about $14,000 for several years. If you want it installed with an inverter, going through government for permits, taxes, inspection fees, and other bureaucratic costs, you will also have to pay local costs that depend on labor rates. In most places in the United States, this will add another $6,000 to the system, for a total investment of $20,000, right at $10 per watt of capacity.

My system produces just over 4,000 KWH per year. Where I live, the electricity costs exactly 10¢ per KWH, so I get slightly more than $400 worth of electricity every year from the system. It required an investment of $20,000, so I get a return of 2% on the investment. You can do the same thing. I get a 2% return. You can get a 2% return if you want. Anyone can.

Why don’t people do this?

There is a very simple reason. We live in societies that have mechanical flows of value that make the rich richer at a certain rate. One such flow of value is called the “risk-free return rate.” This is the rate at which people can get richer without any effort, any work, any skills, or any risk. The exact risk-free rate varies over time, but for most of my life it has averaged about 10% so I want to use this figure for the sake of examples. (The above footnote shows you how to check the rate at the current time. It has never been below 4 %..)

So here’s your decision. You know you can get a 2% return investing in solar. Anyone can. This return is not risk-free of course. Your home may be hit by a hurricane that rips the roof apart or hit by a meteor that destroys it. It is not entirely without effort. (At the very least, you have to watch the wiring to make sure the birds haven’t chewed through the insulation on the wires, for example). If the risk-free rate is 10%, you can get five times the return on investment without risk and effort by simply choosing not to invest in solar. Just keep the money. Put it in a government backed mortgage security and collect free money, without doing anything.

Even superficially, “not-solar” has a big advantage over solar. But actually the advantage of “not solar” is much larger than it appears because of compounding. The risk-free return does something that solar return could never do: It grows at an exponential rate. Let’s consider what happens over an average working life of 50 years if you go with solar or choose to simply sit back and collect free money. If you go with solar, you will get $400 worth of free electricity every year for fifty years, a total of $20,000 in value, as returns on your investment. You will still have the panels, which are still worth the same amount (you don’t have to take them down; they add $20,000 to the value of your home). So if you invest in panels, you essentially get $20,000 worth of free electricity, and then get every dime you invested back at the end of this period.

To calculate this, use the function future value in a spreadsheet. Put in 10% for the rate, 50 for the time in years, 0 for the payment because you aren’t paying anything into or out of the account except interest, and $20,000 for the present value or starting investment. This leads to a formula =-FV(10%,50,0,20000). You calculate this and should get $2,347,817. (Calculations are quite complex and some computers do them differently leading to slightly different end figures. This is from Excel.)

Now say you agree not to invest in solar. You put the money into government insured mortgages at 10%. The first year you get $2,000. But the second year you get interest on the principle and interest on the interest. Then you get interest on the interest plus interest on the interest, and then interest on the interest on the interest on the interest. This kind of growth is called “exponential” and is the same rate that the nuclear reactions called “explosions” take place. The money grows at a fantastic rate. After 50 years you wind up with an amazing $2,347,817. Compare this to the (pathetic) $40,000 you would have wound up with ($20,000 in panels and $20,000 in electricity) if you had invested in the panels. You wind up with more than 70 times more by choosing to not invest in solar and not generate free electricity than if you had chosen solar.

 

What If We Had A Society That Worked Differently?

 

In current systems, the rich get richer at a very, very, very rapid rate. In 2010, about $40,000,000,000,000 ($40 trillion) flowed to money as risk-free returns. You don’t have to do anything to get this money. You don’t even have to take on risk. You get paid for having something, not doing something.

Chapter Three explains that we can make mechanical changes in our societies that alter the rate at which the rich get richer. By adjusting a variable called the “price/rent ratio” we can cause some part of the money that had gone to make the rich richer to an entity I call the “community of humankind,” to use to meet the needs of the human race. If we cause this to happen, the amounts paid per dollar of existing wealth will fall. They get less free money for each dollar they already have, so their rate of return will fall.

For example, we might choose a system where the rich still get richer without effort or risk, but they only get richer at an average rate of 4% a year, not the 10% they average in republics. Now the solar return is only half of the prevailing risk-free rate people can get not investing in solar. People who might have been willing to justify some loss on investment, but not the full 8%, may choose solar now.

Let’s say that we choose a system where the rich still get richer without effort or risk, but they only get richer at a rate of 2% a year. Now people are comparing a 2% return with solar with a 2% return for doing nothing and ignoring solar. Solar now breaks even. Many people will chose solar.

We can also choose a system where the rich get richer automatically at only 1% a year. If we have a system like this, people will compare a 1% free return doing nothing and collecting a return from an already-existing asset to double that return making an investment in a system that will produce free electricity forever. If people are self-interested, if they are greedy and selfish and want as much as they can get for themselves and the people they love, people will build solar.

I will also explain an entire range of options where the free wealth of society doesn’t go to the pieces of paper with numbers on them called “money” at all. It all goes to the community of humankind to help advance the interests of the human race as a whole. If we choose a system in this broad range, the rich will still be able to get richer. But not without taking on risk, putting out effort, or doing something. In a society like this, people have to compare a perpetual flow of electricity that they can produce totally free and sell for market rates, to nothing. Invest in solar and get free electricity. Don’t invest and get nothing. In this system, people will have very powerful incentives to invest in solar. They can get free money investing in solar.

They get free money investing in solar in any system. But in current systems, they get more free money if they don’t invest in solar.

Our current societies have flows of value that send more than $16 trillion a year to money as risk-free returns. Is this right or wrong? That is a value judgment. You must decide that for yourself. I am just comparing societies. If we choose this option for society, we must accept that people will not choose non-destructive technologies, even those that lead to totally free electricity.

 

The Rest of the Story

 

The flows of value that lead to destructive incentives come from markets.

In the United States, the government wants to appear to encourage solar so they set up a system to pay subsidies through a tricky mechanism that appears to encourage solar, but actually encourages coal. Here’s how it works: If I put up solar, my utility can buy the “capacity” from me. They don’t buy the panels or electricity: I still own them. They really own nothing but the right to say their utility produces electricity with solar. For each unit of solar capacity they add, utilities can get free pollution permits. They can use these permits to emit more pollution or sell them to people who want to build a destructive pant and wouldn’t ordinarily be allowed to because of the pollution. The more solar they can claim to have, the more they can pollute and the more money they can make selling pollution permits to others. So, of course, they want the maximum in capacity they can get. They therefore buy the capacity of anyone in their systems. This makes it appear that the utility (together with the government) is subsidizing solar. In fact, they are subsidizing coal.

Our governments could take steps to counteract these incentives. They could have true subsidies on solar, rather than the phony ones we have now. We could simply make it legal for people to invent and market products that would allow people to use solar in a way that competes with current utilities. We could stop subsidizing coal with the billions in depletion allowances, billions in subsidies on trains (coal is the huge majority of rail freight and over half of rail capacity goes to haul coal), exemptions from pollution requirements for natural gas fracking (it is totally legal for natural gas drillers to destroy entire public aquifers by “fracking” or cracking the rocks that hold water and gas separate, so the gas will leach out through the aquifer and the gas companies can collect it), or any of the thousands of other subsidies on destructive industries that current governments provide. If a tiny fraction of the money that went to subsidize destructive options in current systems went to build automated solar photoelectric roofing tile factories like the ones I will be describing in Chapter Eight, solar photoelectric roofing substrates would cost little more than our current roofing materials. The electricity is already there. All we have to do is collect it.

 

Individuals can build solar. But they can not sell it. If you check solar inverters you will see they all conform to a standard called UL-1741. Inverters made to this standard are unable to produce electricity unless connected to a complying electrical grid. They have electronic mechanisms that are designed to detect signals that the utilities send out. Without these signals, the inverter immediately shuts down and stops producing electricity. My system is UL-1741 compliant. (All systems must be. This is the only thing the utility checks for.) This means I can’t produce electricity unless I am hooked up to the grid and the power is on. If we have a power outage, my power goes off, even though the system is capable of providing all my electricity. I have tried and not been able to find a way to override the system, so I can’t produce electricity unless I am connected.

In the United States, all utilities are regulated monopolies. It is illegal to compete with them. If my system could produce electricity without a connection to the grid, it would be able to compete with them. To prevent competition, the power companies created this standard. The United States and every other country I have checked requires it. In these systems, it is not legal for people to produce electricity privately and sell it in competition with utilities.

 

 

Why do governments subsidize destruction and not subsidize non-destructive alternatives?

The answer is simple: we live in societies that depend on jobs and “activity” to function. Unemployment destroys these societies. These societies need jobs. Destruction provides work. If we use destructive energy systems, we have to employ millions of people worldwide to dig up and transport an endless stream of fuels to the furnaces to provide our energy over time. We need to employ millions more to make the equipment to move the fuels, millions more still to make the steel for this equipment, millions more to extract additional coal to make the additional steel we need for the additional equipment to mine the additional coal. The endless use of destructive processes creates ever more jobs as people have to work more and harder each year to find and exploit the increasingly scarce resources. More work means more incomes, more spending, more demand, more production, more profits, more investment returns, more tax returns, and a better-functioning society.

We could get all our energy for free from the sun with no destruction at all. But the non-destructive system doesn’t create the things these societies need more than almost anything else: jobs. No one has to extract sunlight from underground mines, so if we used solar we would lose almost all of our current mining jobs. No one has to run trains to haul sunlight to our roofs where it can generate electricity, so if we used solar we would lose roughly half of all transport jobs in the world today (more than half of all train traffic is coal; add in oil and gas transport, which has facilities that only transport these items, and roughly half of everything transported is fossil fuels). Photoelectric systems don’t have any moving parts to lubricate or wear so they don’t need armies of people working full time to keep them in repair, as gas-fired and coal-fired plants do. Solar photoelectric panels work on a sub-atomic level that doesn’t wear in use, so if we used this system we wouldn’t have to build and rebuild, over and over again, to keep producing energy. Build the panels once (in factories that are almost totally automated and require virtually no labor). Set them in the sun. That’s it.

Imagine the catastrophic effects on our systems if we were to start using this free energy. At this time, more than 100 million people worldwide have jobs directly related to fossil fuel use. If we used solar, these people would lose their jobs and incomes. More than a billion people have jobs indirectly related to fossil fuel use. They would lose their incomes also. They would stop spending and “demand” (the amount they can afford, not the amount they need to stay alive) collapses. Businesses that sell other things can’t sell anymore and lay off nearly everyone. Now nearly everyone has no jobs and nothing to spend. We can produce energy for almost nothing. But no one has anything to spend so it really doesn’t matter that it doesn’t cost anything to produce energy anymore. Our systems won’t be able to function.

The people in governments know this. They don’t want to appear to favor destruction, but they know we need the jobs. So they say they want solar and other non-destructive technologies in their public speeches, but spend their time in back rooms encouraging the destructive options. Then they use tricks to try to convince us that they aren’t doing this. They call programs that provide massive subsidies for coal, and thus increase the amount of pollution in the skies, the “Clear Skies Initiative.” Programs that pay people to destroy forests have names like the “Forest Preservation Act.”

During the campaigns, they tell us how much they care. We really want to believe them and delude ourselves that this time things will be different. But once in office they have to take care of business. They need to keep society functioning. The society they run needs destruction to function. Once in power they will work hard to give this society what it needs. It needs jobs. It needs destruction. They will make sure it gets it.

Later I will be talking about systems without the flows of value that induce destruction. In these societies, solar is literally free. Nothing can compete with free. No one would even consider coal. In current societies, solar does generate returns. They are often close to what people need to justify them. But they could be a lot closer. In fact, in many applications, solar would be cheaper than coal even with the fantastic artificial costs discussed above, if our governments just encouraged it. But as long as our societies work in ways that depend on jobs to function, we can’t expect them to really do anything like this. Republics need jobs. Republics have massive capital costs that make solar uneconomic. As long as we have republics, our governments will do everything in their power to prevent solar or any non-destructive option from gaining any traction.

3 An Almost Magic Power Source

Written by David Simmons on . Posted in 5: Anatomy of Destruction, Books

Anatomy of Destruction
Chapter Three: Energy→Matter→Energy, With Zero Loss

 

Almost earth materials are either conductors or non-conductors, also called insulators.

Conductors conduct electricity.

Insulators do not conduct electricity. Almost all elements on earth do either one or the other. But there are a very few elements that work almost like magic to selectively conduct or not conduct electricity. These elements can be used to make a kind of one way gate that will allow the electromagnetic waves we call ‘sunlight’ to be converted directly into electricity, with no loss, no fuel, no costs, no wear and tear, no pollution, no need for human involvement whatever.

 

Semiconductors

 

If you look at a chart of the periodic table of elements, you will see that almost all of the elements on the left and lower side of the chart are shaded one color, and if you look at the key you will see this shading indicates they are ‘conductors.’

Some chemists use conductors the alternate word for conductors ‘metals.’

A metal is anything that conducts electricity when is in a solid form. You will note that both oxygen and hydrogen are metals/conductors. These elements are not solid in their normal form, but if you cool them off enough to make them turn into a solid, they will conduct electricity.

The reasons that some elements conduct electricity come from quantum mechanics and are too complex for me to go into here. If you want an explanation I would suggest Linus Pauling’s fantastic book ‘General Chemistry,’ a book designed for freshmen in college, which explains enough of the basics of quantum mechanics to understand conductivity. I can give you a sort of basic idea by substituting the analogies that are taught in high school for what actually happens: High school students are taught that atoms have something called ‘electron shells.’ If the outer shell is not full, an electron can enter and kick another electron already in that sell out of the atom. It will flow to the next atom and if it is the same material the same thing will happen. Put electrons in one end of the material and they will flow out of the other. These materials are called ‘conductors.’

Some atoms have no vacancies in their outer shells. Electrons can’t get into these shells to kick other electrons out so if you try to put electricity (electrons) into these materials it won’t go. These materials are called insulators. Because of the realities of quantum mechanics, most elements turn out to be conductors. Only a few elements are insulators. Most periodic tables show conductors (metals) in one color, non conductors (insulators) in another color. There is a thin line between insulators and conductors in a third color. These materials are special. They can conduct electricity sometimes and not conduct it other times. They are called ‘semiconductors.’

First I should tell you what this term means. As the name implies, a semiconductor conducts electricity sometimes and doesn’t conduct electricity other times. We can take advantage of this capability to make devices that conduct electricity when we want them to conduct it, and not conduct electricity when we don’t. This will allow us to make a sort of one way gate for electrons to flow through. This will make all solar energy usable.

The most abundant material on earth is silicon. If you look on a periodic table, you will see that this material is a semiconductor. This means we can have as many solar photoelectric devices as we want, literally covering every surface of every house and building if we want, and with the advantages of mass production they can be extremely cheap.

 

Why This Makes Solar Electricity Usable

 

Let’s mentally expand the electrons to human size. Think of the one-way turnstiles used for exits in subways and public transit systems. You can go out easily. But the turnstile only goes one way and if you try to go back in you will be stopped by a barrier. You can’t go back. Now think of the photons as high school bullies and the electrons as their helpless victims. Whenever a bully sees a victim he can’t help pushing him. If there is no one-way gate, the victims just get pushes around and cry. But say you put up a line of one way gates that lead out of the school yard all the way around the yard where the fence used to be. Whenever a bully sees a victim, he pushes him through the gate and outside of the yard. The victims are afraid. They are supposed to be in school and want to be there because the outside world is an even more dangerous place than the school. They try to get back but can’t. They have no choice but to run around the fence/gates until they can get back to the front door of the school and back inside.

Once they get back inside they are safe. Unless another photon/bully comes along and pushes them through the one-way gate again. Then they have to run around the fence. Now imagine we make the victims do some work to get around the road. (We might put a staircase up and then back down in the middle of it.) They have to work. As long as the photons/bullies are there, we will have the electrons/victims working for us.

The semiconductors that create electricity have a one-atom thin area called the ‘NP barrier,’ which I explain below, that acts like a one-way gate for electrons. The electrons can get through going one way, but can’t get back. The photons from the light push electrons through the gate. You may remember from high school that atoms like to have the same number of electrons as they have protons. Their electrons are on the other side of the gate. The electrons want to get back with their electrons. But they can’t, because the gate only lets them go one way. They look for another way to get back. If you put a piece of wire from one side of the gate (where the extra electrons are) to the other side (where the extra protons are and the electrons want to get back) the electrons will flow though this conductor. If you don’t put any load in the wire, they will flow freely, just like the victims of the bullies will run back without doing any work if you don’t make them. But put something in the way, say a light bulb, and they will do whatever work is necessary to get back home. They will light up the bulb, run the refrigerator motor, or power the microchip in the big screen television.

Once the get back home they will go back into orbit around their proton, like they were before. But the photons from our sun have an incredible amount of power. When another photon hits an electron, it simply can’t hold on to its proton any more. If we put the gate in the right place, it will simply go flying back through it. Now it has to go through the wire and do more work to get back home. If electrons had eyes and could identify coming photons and get out of the way, they might be safe from the next assault. But they don’t have eyes and can’t move on their own. If the sun is still shining, photons are still knocking them across the barrier. As long as the semiconductor is in the sun, electricity will flow through the wire and do work.

It is important that you understand that the semiconductors is not generating electricity. The semiconductor is entirely passive, doing nothing but providing the one-way gate for the electrons to flow through. The photons (light particles in the sunlight) are generating the electricity, exactly as Einstein showed always happens when photons of the right energy level hits any material. The electricity is already there. All the semiconductor is doing is acting as a one-way gate. The semiconductors are entirely passive, doing absolutely nothing. I am stressing this because it will be important when I explain costs. I want you to realize that the semiconductor does nothing and is absolutely unchanged by the process. This tells us how long it will do what it does before it wears out: forever. We need this information to calculate the cost per unit of electricity the device provides.

 

NP Barrier

 

The one way gate for electrons is called an NP barrier. Here is a quick explanation of the way it works:

Silicon has the ability to form a perfect three-dimensional crystal where every nucleus is equally distant from every other nucleus and every electron energy level (called a ‘shell’ in high school) is completely full. This doesn’t normally happen. Most silicon crystals are haphazard. The common name for silicon in nature is ‘quartz.’ If you want to see a lot of quartz/silicon, go to a beach or a desert. You will see mile after mile of it. A third name for it is sand.

If we want to make usable semiconductors, we need all the atoms properly aligned. This means we have to melt the sand and make it recrystallize in the right way. Most commonly, this is done in a special machine called a crystallizing furnace. If a tiny bit of phosphorous is introduced while growing the crystal, the phosphorous will incorporate itself into the crystal. Phosphorous has one more proton and one more electron than silicon. Ordinary, it would be a larger atom because of the extra proton. But if it is in this perfect crystal, it there is no place for the extra electron to go. All the energy levels (‘shells’) are full. The electron can’t fit and must migrate somewhere else. Without the electron to balance out the positive charge, the excess protons give it a tiny positive charge. This is called ‘P’ type silicon. If it is sliced into a thin wafer (thickness about 350 microns, or about 1/80th of an inch) it is called a P type silicon wafer.

After making P type silicon wafer, the manufacturers expose one side of it very briefly to boron trichloride gas. The boron seeps into the crystalline matrix and replaces some silicon. The boron has fewer protons than silicon. But because the electron orbits are all symmetrical, the electrons like to be in them and the orbits fill up anyway, even though there aren’t enough protons to balance them out. The extra electrons give this part of the wafer a negative charge and it is called N type silicon. Now we have a usable semiconductor that can be used to make electricity, because it has the one way gate.

The place where the N and P type silicon come together is called an NP barrier. This is the one way gate for electrons. Electrons can easily pass from the N side to the P side, because the positive charge in the P type attracts the negative charge of the electron. But electrons can not go from the P side to the side that already has an abundance of electrons and a negative charge.

 

Volts, Amps, and Watts: the Basic Units of electricity

Volts

 

Voltage is like desire. It is what the electrons want to do. They want to get home. How badly do they want this? There are a lot of ways to tell. My solar panels operate at about 98 volts. Each panel has two wires coming out of it, a red and a black. When I put them into the sun and bring the wires close together, a continuous lighting spark flies across the gap. I can clearly see lighting and hear a buzz as electrons fly through the air to get from terminal to terminal. I could weld with this system. If I hook two panels in a series, with the negative terminal of one to the positive terminal of the other, I again have two wires, a red and black. Now the voltage is twice as high, at 196 volts. Now I don’t have to bring the wires nearly as close to get the sparks to fly. The lightning bolt is brighter and the noise louder. When I put my system together, I wanted to use the highest voltage my power control mechanism would handle. It can handle up to 400 volts so I wired four panels together in series, giving me 392 volts. This produces a serious bolt of lighting and prominent buzzing noise. The voltage is desire. It is also called the ‘pressure’ because many engineers think of it as similar to the pressure on a water pipe. The pressure tells us how bad the water wants to get out of the pipe. The voltage tells us how badly the electrons want to get back home.

Voltage is potential energy. If I leave the wires far enough apart that the spark can’t jump, nothing happens. But I can hook up a voltage meter and it will tell me that the voltage is 392 volts. No electrons are flowing. But they want to get back home very badly and if I give them a conductor to flow through, they will fairly well fly through it.

 

Amps

 

The spark between the terminals was real electrons moving through the air. How many electrons are there? They have been counted. The total electrons that will flow from one terminal to another with one of my panels are about 3 x 1018 per second.

The number written out is 62,480,00,000,000,000,000 electrons per second. This is a pretty hard number to comprehend it is so high. When dealing with very high numbers, we make them easier to understand by using scientific notation. In this notation, we put the significant digits first, in this case 6.241, and then put the number of zeros that would be after the decimal point in a superscript after 10. This means we multiply the 6.241 by a 1 with 18 zeros after it, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000.

The standard measurement for ‘number of electrons per second moving through a wire is called the ‘ampere.’ One ampere is 6.241 × 1018 electrons. So we have two measures of energy. One is the amount of energy that each electron has, or the voltage. The other is the number of electrons or amperage.

 

Wattage

 

If the wires of the solar panel are just hooked up to each other, with the red touching the black, the electrons go flying through the wire to get home. They don’t do any work because they don’t have to. If you just hook the wires up to each other, you are giving the electrons a free ride. They can get home at no cost. But you don’t have to give them a free ride. If you put an electrical load in their way, and make them push on it to get home, they will push.

An electric light bulb is a standard load. The bulb has a filament made of a material with a high electrical resistance. The electrons have to push against this resistance to get home. You could think of this as forcing them to stretch out an elastic corridor to get through so they could get back home. They push the corridor out of shape, stretching it and releasing it hundreds of trillions of time per second, and it get hot. Within a microsecond it gets red hot and then white, and glows. The electrons are working.

If you put a volt meter into the line, you will see the voltage is a little lower than it was before. The electrons are giving up some of their potential energy by putting it into the bulb. They don’t have as much left so the voltage is lower. If you put an amp gage in the line you will see a certain number of amps. To find the amount of work being done, multiply the voltage times the amperage. The total work done by electricity is called the ‘watts.’ One watt is exactly one volt at one amp. If you have a 1 amp current running thought he light bulb at 100 volts, the bulb will produce 100 watts of light. You don’t have to run a light bulb. You can run a motor and anything that runs on a motor, or any kind of electronic device.

 

Inverter

 

My system is a 3KW system, meaning it produces 3,000 watts of electricity in full sun. Where I live I get about 6.8 hours of full sun per day on a year around average, which works out to 2,500 hours per year. This is about what you can expect in most of the United States. Take the 3KW it produces with this much full sun times 2,500 to get 7,500 KWH, the amount it produces in a year. My utility charges 10¢ per KWH so if I had bought this from the utility I would have had to pay $750 for it.

The panels each have two wires coming out of the, one black and one red. I hook all the black wires together and all the red wires together up on the roof. The panels are set up to make this easy, with connectors at the ends of the wires that just plug into a harness. The harness has only two wires, one red and one black, going from my roof down to a device in my garage called an ‘inverter.’ The inverter converts the DC electricity the panels produce to the AC electricity my household appliances use.

I know that sometimes I will produce more than I use and I don’t want it to go to waste, so I bought an inverter that allows me to feed the excess into the electrical grid. This is called a ‘grid tie inverter.’ When I put it in, I had to call the electric company out to install a special meter that is capable of turning backward. When I feed electricity into the grid, my meter runs backward. When I use more electricity than I produce, it runs forward.

I want to tell you how I hooked it up because I want you to know it is not rocket science. The two wires from the roof hook up to terminals on the grid tie inverters that are color coded red and black. Then I ran a 220 volt dryer cord from the inverter and plugged into the plug my dryer used to plug into. That’s it. It is hooked up. The dryer plug doesn’t take electricity out of the utility system, it feeds it back. (Electricity can go either way through your wires.)

My utility charges a $6.22 monthly service fee to all customers, plus charges for whatever their meter reads. Since my meter always reads zero or negative consumption, my usage fee is always $0 so my entire electric bill is $6.22 a month. I often feed electricity into the grid which, if the world were fair, I would get paid for. But because of PURPA, a law passed in 1978 that effectively makes it impossible for small producers like myself to sell for anything close to market rates, I can’t sell the electricity and don’t try. I have plenty of electricity. I leave the lights on as long as I want. I run the air conditioner with the doors open. Since my electricity is free, I really don’t care; since it is totally non-destructive, I don’t feel guilty.

 

How We Make Photoelectric Devices

 

There are two basic ways to make silicon photoelectric devices. Both methods start with sand. Sand is made of silicon dioxide, one atom of silicon for two atoms of oxygen. To make the devices, you have to get rid of the oxygen. To do this, you heat the sand in the presence of some element that forms stronger bonds with oxygen than silicon does. For example, the hydrogen and oxygen bond together to form H20 or water. If you have some hydrogen (which you can get from water) you can bubble it through molten sand. The heat breaks bond between silicon and oxygen. The oxygen combines with hydrogen to form water, and you are left with water and pure silicon, with no oxygen.

To make the devices, you need to crystallize the silicon. There are two ways to do this. First, you can melt the silicon in a crystallizing furnace. This has a tiny seed of already crystallized silicon hanging from a wire. This seed grows as atoms attach individually to the seed in the proper configuration. The silicon crystal is very fragile so the machine has to be mounted in a special way to prevent vibrations. A tiny bit of phosphorous is added to the mixture to create P type material. After the crystal has grown to about the size of a basketball, the manufacturer takes it out of the furnace and slices it into sections about 1/80th of an inch thick. The top is exposed to boron trichloride gas to form the NP barrier and you are done. The finished material is called a ‘wafer.’ Wafers are very thin and fragile.

To make a panel of the wafers, you need two pieces of glass. Run the glass through a special inkjet printer that prints a network of lines with a metallic ink that conducts electricity. The lines come together at a terminal on each piece of glass. Make a sandwich with the wafers between the glass. The wafers have an N side and a P side and you have to make sure they are all have the same side up. Put the glass together and then seal it with some caulking material so that water doesn’t get between the sheets of glass. You now have a solar panel. Since glass is hard to mount, most manufacturers now build a metal frame around the outside so it can be mounted to the rack facing the sun. That’s basically all there is to it.

The second option is called ‘amorphous’ or ‘thin film’ process. To use this, when you run hydrogen through the mixture to get rid of the oxygen, you have to keep running hydrogen through it until it bonds with the silicon, to form silane gas, chemical symbol SiH4. You can simply electroplate this onto a standard sheet of steel metal roofing material. This website explains the exact process. http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~dbirnie/solarclass/amorphousSi.pdf

After you have the silicon coating the steel, you need to expose it to the boron trichloride gas to create the NP barrier. You need to print a network of lines with metallic ink on the top and then coat it with something to protect the ink from the elements. Done.

Amorphous is far cheaper than wafer systems per watt of electricity, but because it doesn’t produce as much electricity per square ft, you will need to cover a larger area for the same amount of electricity. If you would otherwise have a regular metal roof, you can get metal coated with the amorphous silicon. It will look just like a regular metal roof (it will be blue, the color of the silicon) but it will produce electricity.

 

Costs

 

As I write this, panels made of wafers cost $3.30 per watt. The flexible roofing material that produces electricity sells for $3 a watt. You can check the prices easily on Ebay by looking for ‘solar panels’ to check panel prices and ‘amorphous’ or ‘thin film’ solar for the sheets. The sheets come in 15 inch widths and lengths up to 18 ft long. The price per square foot works out to be about $23. If your home has 2500 square feet of roof space, it would cost about $34,500 for material to roof it with the photoelectric roof. This compares to about $5,000 to roof it with regular metal. If the roof was properly orientated (facing south) it would produce 10,200 watts of electricity an hour. At 6.8 peak sun hours per day on a year around average, that works out to $25,316 KWH a year with a market value of between $2,000 and $4,000 a year, depending on the electricity rates where you live. If you live in California or the North East, where rates are highest, your electric roof will pay for itself in 8 years. If you are building a new house and have to pay roofing costs anyway, you can knock off a year from your saving to not have to buy the regular roofing materials.

Later, I will explain that you can’t really do this because it is illegal to sell your electricity for market rates, under the terms of special legislation designed to protect utilities from solar competition in 1978. But if we had free enterprise and people were allowed to compete with their local utilities by selling electricity for market rates, solar is already very practical. It costs far, far less than nuclear. The initial investment alone is less than half and the operating costs of solar are zero, so they are infinitively lower than the costs for nuclear.

 

How Much Solar Electricity do we have?

 

Photoelectric devices don’t generate electricity. The light from the sun generates the electricity. On average, each square meter of earth’s surface gets 1 KWH (kilowatt hours, a standard measure of electricity) per hour of full sun. Standard efficiency devices (available off the shelf) have an efficiency of 10%, so you would get roughly 1/10th of a KWH per hour per square meter of roof, if you had solar tiles on it. If your roof is 150 square meters (about average in the United States) you will get 15 KWH/hour in full sun. Of course, the sun doesn’t shine all the time. To determine the amount of energy in your location, you have to find ‘full sun equivalent hours’ there. Each place has different amounts. The range is about 8 full sun equivalent hours (Arizona desert) to 5 (Portland Oregon). Multiply this times 15 to get the number of KWH you will get per day as a year around average. For example, the 150 square meter roof would produce between 60 and 120 KWH per day on a year around average. .

Now check your electricity bill to find out how much you use. The average house in the United States uses about 40 KWH per day (this equates to a $120 monthly electricity bill.) So, with current technology, if your roof were made of solar tiles it would provide between 1.5 and 3 times the electricity your home uses for all purposes.

In current systems, this is uneconomic for reasons I explain below. (Uneconomic means ‘the numbers don’t work.’ It wouldn’t make financial sense.) But not all societies have the flows of value that make solar uneconomic. In Chapter Six I will explain that in a certain type of society I call a ‘socratic.’ (This is like a common domain society, except it has extremely strong incentives to improve, invest, manage risk, and advance technology.) In that system, the solarization would add only the cost of input materials and energy to the cost of tiles, so it would add only about 3¢ per watt. In this case, with 15,000 watts of capacity, this would add roughly $450 to the cost of a home. All electricity it uses, and enough to power from ½ to 2 other homes, would be free.

 

A Practical Example

 

I make my electricity this way. I couldn’t get the tiles (they make them but they are expensive) so I use standard off the shelf panels. (Millennium 43s, if you want to look them up. They are very common.) The panels produce DC electricity. My home appliances run on AC so I have to convert it to AC to run them. I use device called an ‘inverter’ for this. This device has a computer in it that detects the line input voltage, current, wave pattern, frequency, and other factors from the incoming utility line. It has a series of switches that switch the current back and forth in a way that makes it alternate at the exact rate that standard household current alternates. My inverter is a ‘grid tie’ inverter, which means that the system is hooked up to the electrical grid. When the panels produce more electricity than I use, the inverter feeds the excess into the grid to sell to other customers. My meter turns backward and I get credits against future use for whatever I send out into the system. If I use more than the panels produce, my meter turns forward and I draw the excess power out of the grid. I only get charged for the net energy I use. Most of the time, I don’t use any and my electricity bill is zero.

I didn’t buy the panels new. They were roughly 20 years old when I got them. But I checked them against factory specs before I bought them. A well-built solar panel does not degrade. They don’t generate electricity. They are entirely passive, doing nothing but allowing electrons going in only one direction to pass. The silicon atoms do this on a sub-atomic level. As long as the atoms are there and are still silicon, they will do this forever. They don’t degrade because they have no parts that can degrade. They produce at new factory specs after 20 years and I have never found out any information about solar that leads me to believe they will produce any less in 100 or 1,000 years than they do now.

The panels are very sturdy and will continue to work even after significant damage. While installing them, I accidentally dropped one of the panels off my roof. My house is three stories high and it fell about 40 ft, directly onto rocks. The glass shattered into pieces but the metal frame around them held everything together. I wondered if it might still work so I glued the glass back together and put the panel into the sun. It produced with the exact factory specifications of the other panels. I decided to hook it up and keep using it until it failed to see how long it will last. It continues to work, in spite of rain ice and 80 mph winds, freezing cold and 110 degree heat. If the glue holds up, it will probably still work in a hundred years, or perhaps a thousand. It is such a simple device that it takes a lot to make it stop functioning. So far, I haven’t found any way to make this happen.

 

Anatomy of Destruction

Chapter Four: Costs of Free Electricity

 

I have electricity.

If you own a device that has any moving parts, you have to set aside money to replace them in order to break even. For example, when I was in the trucking business I knew motors would last about 250,000 miles before they would need a rebuild that costs $5,000. I set aside 2¢ for every mile into a fund. When the rebuild time came, I had the money in the fund to pay for it. People who run capital intensive businesses know that they incur repair costs over time, not at the instant everything breaks. I knew a lot of other truckers who didn’t set aside money. When rebuild time came they didn’t have the money, couldn’t afford to fix the trucks and couldn’t run them. They went out of business. A good businessman will determine set aside amounts for each wear item and set aside the appropriate amount. This is a true cost. Solar panels don’t wear so they don’t have set-aside costs.

I have never bought an ounce of coal, oil, gas, uranium, or any other fuel for it. My fuel costs are zero. The panels don’t have any moving parts to maintain or lubricate. Lubrication and maintenance costs are zero. Nothing wears out that might need to be repaired or replaced. My repair costs are zero. My capital set-asides for replacement of worn out parts are zero.

Depreciation is the amount that must be set aside to replace the entire item when it is so worn out it is cheaper to replace than it than to repair it. (See footnote above for set-aside description.) The units don’t depreciate so these costs are also zero.

 

In only have a 2 KW system that covers about ¼ of my roof. I don’t need much because I designed my house in concert with the ecosystem to take advantage of natural (called ‘passive’) energy flows. In the winter, my south-facing windows keep the house warm so I don’t need heat (except on cloudy days, which are very rare in Tucson). My pool and spa both have thermal panels to heat them and don’t need any supplementary heat. (If the weather is cloudy I have to go without a Jacuzzi until the sun comes out. My pool is large enough it can stay warm several days without heat.) I live in a canyon with westerly winds constant all summer long. I built a system that allows the wind to blow through pads that a pump system keeps wet, cooling the house all summer long with evaporation. I only need AC in the very few days that are both hot and humid, during the monsoon season. This little system provides all he electricity I need.

 

Let’s add all that up. (I’ll wait if you want to get a calculator.) I get zero.

Each year these panels give me about 4,000 KWH of electricity.

Total cost per KWH exactly 0¢.

 

Why Don’t We Use Solar?

 

I wanted to explain how everything works so you can see there isn’t any magic. No advanced technology. No alien help. No help from God or any Great Spirit. It is very simple: the sun generates electricity, whether or not we use it. The semiconductor simply makes it usable. We make the semiconductor out of the most abundant and by far the cheapest material on earth. And we don’t even need very much of this raw material. The total amount of silicon in the semiconductors of my panels is only about 3 pounds, about the weight of a liter bottle of water. Consider that your house has perhaps 30,000 pounds of concrete in it (just about all homes built in the last hundred years have foundations made of concrete) and concrete is almost entirely silicon. If just 1/10000th of this silicon were on your roof in the proper configuration, you would have all the electricity you ever want, totally for free.

Sounds good. Why don’t we do it?

The answer is unique to the type of society we have. Our current societies have flows of value that distort the real costs and benefits of options in ways that make people who want to use solar pay massive artificial costs to the little pieces of paper with numbers on them (or tokens made of gold or silver in some societies) used as ‘money.’ These artificial costs, called ‘capital costs’ are not costs of anything valuable to humankind that is needed for solar. They are costs of replicating a flow of value that these societies naturally have.

These flows of value are entirely artificial. The only way to fully understand this is to realize that some societies do not have them, some societies have very tiny flows, some have larger flows, and some (the ones we live in) have extremely large flows. When you understand all of these options (the topic of Chapter Three) you will realize that these flows only exist in societies structured a certain way, as ours are. They are not natural costs of solar in any way. They are simply flows of value that the realities of current types of societies require people to replicate, in order for these societies to function.

Here in this appendix, I want to tell you two things. First, how do the systems work? Second, why don’t we use them in current systems? Much of this book is about where the value that makes solar and other non-destructive processes uneconomic comes from and why it flows as it does. Here I just want to tell you what the flows are and allow you to confirm for yourself that they exist:

We live in societies where the rich get richer without doing anything, without effort and without risk. (Again, don’t worry about why this happens yet. I explain this in the text. The only point is that it does happen.) There is a flow of value called the ‘risk-free returns’ paid to money every year. This flow takes place at a rate called the ‘risk-free return rate.’

A flow of money is called ‘risk-free’ is there is no chance of default or no chance the person who is supposed to pay will decide not to pay and you won’t get it. In the United States, the government guarantees almost all mortgage so if you make a mortgage loan to someone through these programs, you know you will be paid the interest and principle of the loan. If you want to find the current rate, look up the rate for FNMA or GNMA bonds. This is the rate that people who invest in these mortgages get. You can invest money in these bonds at the current rate. There is no chance you will not get paid back, with the full promised interest, so these investments are free risk. You don’t have to do anything to get this money, so they are also free of effort. (In fact, you could be dead. You would get the exact same return.)

The amount that the mortgage holder pays is higher, exactly 5/8 of 1% higher in the United States. Of this extra, 1/8 of 1% goes to pay paperwork processing costs. This goes to the company that sends out the mortgage coupons, sends out late notices, processes the money and sends it through to the people who get it, and deals with problems and repossession if necessary. The other ½ of 1% goes into a ‘loss reserve fund’ to cover potential loan losses. If someone doesn’t pay on time, they still have to pay bond-holders on time and they use the money in the fund to pay these amounts, until they can repossess the property and sell it to recover the amount owed. When the United States government set up this system in 1954, loss rates had never been greater than ½ of 1% times total outstanding debt, so the government thought it never would and this insurance premium would cover all losses. This happened for many years and the government decided to get out of the mortgage business and sold the companies that put the deals together as ‘Fannie Mae’ and ‘Freddie Mac.’ These companies put together the loans, sold the bonds, collected the loss reserve amounts, and paid out losses out of the reserve fund. Any money left over was profits and went to the shareholders. This worked fine until 2008 when losses soared from their typical ¼ of 1% per year to more than 10% per year. The government had to take over the mortgage companies and pay the losses themselves. They had to do this because they had essentially cosigned for the loans. The companies both went bankrupt and the government had to take over all their debts. As I write this, the government is responsible for these debts, roughly $20,000,000,000,000 ($20 trillion) in addition to its ‘regular’ debt.

If the government doesn’t have the money to pay these obligations, it can and is obligated by law to print the money to pay them. This is what makes these obligations risk free: There is no chance of default. As long as there is a United States government, the rich will get richer without risk or effort. (Don’t think this is a capitalist thing. Communist countries do the exact same thing.)

The exact rate changes from time to time, but for most of my life it has been about 10%, so I want to use this figure for the sake of example. Now I will give you the short answer, and long answer to the above question: Why don’t we use solar?

Quick answer: Solar panels generate at 2% return on investment. Money generates a 10% return, or five times as much. If you want to borrow money to make the investment, you have to pay five times more as interest than you get from the panels in the form of free electricity. You lose massive amounts of money. If you use your own money, you have to give up the 10% you would have collected as automatic, effort-free and risk-free returns. Giving up money is paying a cost. You give up 10% a year times the amount you could be collecting returns on, the invested amount in the panels. You only get a 2% return on the panels in the form of free electricity. So it costs you five times more each year to own the panels (in the form of lost free money you would have gotten) than the panels produce.

The solar electricity is not expensive. It is free. Nothing could be cheaper than free. But it is ‘uneconomic.’ This is because of the flows of money that take place in the type of society we live in. Not because of any cost of anything valuable to humankind that has to be paid to make free solar energy usable.

 

The Long Version:

 

Seems impossible. It is free. Yet it is uneconomic? How can that be? Let’s look over the exact numbers to see why:

If you look on Ebay, you will see hundreds to thousands of solar systems for sale. The size of this worldwide market leads to a very narrow ‘spread’ of prices, or a very small difference between the maximum and minimum prices of the panels. A lot of people are always looking for deals. If the offered price of a system is extremely low, people will bid it up. If the offered price on a system is higher than people know they can get a similar system for, they won’t bid and it won’t sell. The only systems that actually sell, therefore, are neither overpriced nor underpriced. The market makes sure prices stay in a very narrow range. The cost for a 2kw turn-key system has been about $14,000 for several years. If you want it installed with an inverter, going through government for permits, taxes, inspection fees, and other bureaucratic costs, you will also have to pay local costs that depend on labor rates. In most places in the United States, this will add another $6,000 to the system, for a total investment of $20,000, right at $10 per watt of capacity.

My system produces just over 4,000 KWH per year. Where I live, the electricity costs exactly 10¢ per KWH, so I get slightly more than $400 worth of electricity every year from the system. It required an investment of $20,000, so I get a return of 2% on the investment. You can do the same thing. I get a 2% return. You can get a 2% return if you want. Anyone can.

Why don’t people do this?

There is a very simple reason. We live in societies that have mechanical flows of value that make the rich richer at a certain rate. One such flow of value is called the ‘risk-free return rate.’ This is the rate at which people can get richer without any effort, any work, any skills, or any risk. The exact risk-free rate varies over time, but for most of my life it has averaged about 10% so I want to use this figure for the sake of examples. (The above footnote shows you how to check the rate at the current time. It has never been below 4 %..)

So here’s your decision. You know you can get a 2% return investing in solar. Anyone can. This return is not risk-free of course. Your home may be hit by a hurricane that rips the roof apart or hit by a meteor that destroys it. It is not entirely without effort. (At the very least, you have to watch the wiring to make sure the birds haven’t chewed through the insulation on the wires, for example). If the risk-free rate is 10%, you can get five times the return on investment without risk and effort by simply choosing not to invest in solar. Just keep the money. Put it in a government backed mortgage security and collect free money, without doing anything.

Even superficially, ‘not-solar’ has a big advantage over solar. But actually the advantage of ‘not solar’ is much larger than it appears because of compounding. The risk-free return does something that solar return could never do: It grows at an exponential rate. Let’s consider what happens over an average working life of 50 years if you go with solar or choose to simply sit back and collect free money. If you go with solar, you will get $400 worth of free electricity every year for fifty years, a total of $20,000 in value, as returns on your investment. You will still have the panels, which are still worth the same amount (you don’t have to take them down; they add $20,000 to the value of your home). So if you invest in panels, you essentially get $20,000 worth of free electricity, and then get every dime you invested back at the end of this period.

To calculate this, use the function future value in a spreadsheet. Put in 10% for the rate, 50 for the time in years, 0 for the payment because you aren’t paying anything into or out of the account except interest, and $20,000 for the present value or starting investment. This leads to a formula =-FV(10%,50,0,20000). You calculate this and should get $2,347,817. (Calculations are quite complex and some computers do them differently leading to slightly different end figures. This is from Excel.)

Now say you agree not to invest in solar. You put the money into government insured mortgages at 10%. The first year you get $2,000. But the second year you get interest on the principle and interest on the interest. Then you get interest on the interest plus interest on the interest, and then interest on the interest on the interest on the interest. This kind of growth is called ‘exponential’ and is the same rate that the nuclear reactions called ‘explosions’ take place. The money grows at a fantastic rate. After 50 years you wind up with an amazing $2,347,817. Compare this to the (pathetic) $40,000 you would have wound up with ($20,000 in panels and $20,000 in electricity) if you had invested in the panels. You wind up with more than 70 times more by choosing to not invest in solar and not generate free electricity than if you had chosen solar.

 

What If We Had A Society That Worked Differently?

 

In current systems, the rich get richer at a very, very, very rapid rate. In 2010, about $40,000,000,000,000 ($40 trillion) flowed to money as risk-free returns. You don’t have to do anything to get this money. You don’t even have to take on risk. You get paid for having something, not doing something.

Chapter Three explains that we can make mechanical changes in our societies that alter the rate at which the rich get richer. By adjusting a variable called the ‘price/rent ratio’ we can cause some part of the money that had gone to make the rich richer to an entity I call the ‘community of humankind,’ to use to meet the needs of the human race. If we cause this to happen, the amounts paid per dollar of existing wealth will fall. They get less free money for each dollar they already have, so their rate of return will fall.

For example, we might choose a system where the rich still get richer without effort or risk, but they only get richer at an average rate of 4% a year, not the 10% they average in republics. Now the solar return is only half of the prevailing risk-free rate people can get not investing in solar. People who might have been willing to justify some loss on investment, but not the full 8%, may choose solar now.

Let’s say that we choose a system where the rich still get richer without effort or risk, but they only get richer at a rate of 2% a year. Now people are comparing a 2% return with solar with a 2% return for doing nothing and ignoring solar. Solar now breaks even. Many people will chose solar.

We can also choose a system where the rich get richer automatically at only 1% a year. If we have a system like this, people will compare a 1% free return doing nothing and collecting a return from an already-existing asset to double that return making an investment in a system that will produce free electricity forever. If people are self-interested, if they are greedy and selfish and want as much as they can get for themselves and the people they love, people will build solar.

I will also explain an entire range of options where the free wealth of society doesn’t go to the pieces of paper with numbers on them called ‘money’ at all. It all goes to the community of humankind to help advance the interests of the human race as a whole. If we choose a system in this broad range, the rich will still be able to get richer. But not without taking on risk, putting out effort, or doing something. In a society like this, people have to compare a perpetual flow of electricity that they can produce totally free and sell for market rates, to nothing. Invest in solar and get free electricity. Don’t invest and get nothing. In this system, people will have very powerful incentives to invest in solar. They can get free money investing in solar.

They get free money investing in solar in any system. But in current systems, they get more free money if they don’t invest in solar.

Our current societies have flows of value that send more than $16 trillion a year to money as risk-free returns. Is this right or wrong? That is a value judgment. You must decide that for yourself. I am just comparing societies. If we choose this option for society, we must accept that people will not choose non-destructive technologies, even those that lead to totally free electricity.

 

The Rest of the Story

 

The flows of value that lead to destructive incentives come from markets.

In the United States, the government wants to appear to encourage solar so they set up a system to pay subsidies through a tricky mechanism that appears to encourage solar, but actually encourages coal. Here’s how it works: If I put up solar, my utility can buy the ‘capacity’ from me. They don’t buy the panels or electricity: I still own them. They really own nothing but the right to say their utility produces electricity with solar. For each unit of solar capacity they add, utilities can get free pollution permits. They can use these permits to emit more pollution or sell them to people who want to build a destructive pant and wouldn’t ordinarily be allowed to because of the pollution. The more solar they can claim to have, the more they can pollute and the more money they can make selling pollution permits to others. So, of course, they want the maximum in capacity they can get. They therefore buy the capacity of anyone in their systems. This makes it appear that the utility (together with the government) is subsidizing solar. In fact, they are subsidizing coal.

Our governments could take steps to counteract these incentives. They could have true subsidies on solar, rather than the phony ones we have now. We could simply make it legal for people to invent and market products that would allow people to use solar in a way that competes with current utilities. We could stop subsidizing coal with the billions in depletion allowances, billions in subsidies on trains (coal is the huge majority of rail freight and over half of rail capacity goes to haul coal), exemptions from pollution requirements for natural gas fracking (it is totally legal for natural gas drillers to destroy entire public aquifers by ‘fracking’ or cracking the rocks that hold water and gas separate, so the gas will leach out through the aquifer and the gas companies can collect it), or any of the thousands of other subsidies on destructive industries that current governments provide. If a tiny fraction of the money that went to subsidize destructive options in current systems went to build automated solar photoelectric roofing tile factories like the ones I will be describing in Chapter Eight, solar photoelectric roofing substrates would cost little more than our current roofing materials. The electricity is already there. All we have to do is collect it.

 

Individuals can build solar. But they can not sell it. If you check solar inverters you will see they all conform to a standard called UL-1741. Inverters made to this standard are unable to produce electricity unless connected to a complying electrical grid. They have electronic mechanisms that are designed to detect signals that the utilities send out. Without these signals, the inverter immediately shuts down and stops producing electricity. My system is UL-1741 compliant. (All systems must be. This is the only thing the utility checks for.) This means I can’t produce electricity unless I am hooked up to the grid and the power is on. If we have a power outage, my power goes off, even though the system is capable of providing all my electricity. I have tried and not been able to find a way to override the system, so I can’t produce electricity unless I am connected.

In the United States, all utilities are regulated monopolies. It is illegal to compete with them. If my system could produce electricity without a connection to the grid, it would be able to compete with them. To prevent competition, the power companies created this standard. The United States and every other country I have checked requires it. In these systems, it is not legal for people to produce electricity privately and sell it in competition with utilities.

 

 

Why do governments subsidize destruction and not subsidize non-destructive alternatives?

The answer is simple: we live in societies that depend on jobs and ‘activity’ to function. Unemployment destroys these societies. These societies need jobs. Destruction provides work. If we use destructive energy systems, we have to employ millions of people worldwide to dig up and transport an endless stream of fuels to the furnaces to provide our energy over time. We need to employ millions more to make the equipment to move the fuels, millions more still to make the steel for this equipment, millions more to extract additional coal to make the additional steel we need for the additional equipment to mine the additional coal. The endless use of destructive processes creates ever more jobs as people have to work more and harder each year to find and exploit the increasingly scarce resources. More work means more incomes, more spending, more demand, more production, more profits, more investment returns, more tax returns, and a better-functioning society.

We could get all our energy for free from the sun with no destruction at all. But the non-destructive system doesn’t create the things these societies need more than almost anything else: jobs. No one has to extract sunlight from underground mines, so if we used solar we would lose almost all of our current mining jobs. No one has to run trains to haul sunlight to our roofs where it can generate electricity, so if we used solar we would lose roughly half of all transport jobs in the world today (more than half of all train traffic is coal; add in oil and gas transport, which has facilities that only transport these items, and roughly half of everything transported is fossil fuels). Photoelectric systems don’t have any moving parts to lubricate or wear so they don’t need armies of people working full time to keep them in repair, as gas-fired and coal-fired plants do. Solar photoelectric panels work on a sub-atomic level that doesn’t wear in use, so if we used this system we wouldn’t have to build and rebuild, over and over again, to keep producing energy. Build the panels once (in factories that are almost totally automated and require virtually no labor). Set them in the sun. That’s it.

Imagine the catastrophic effects on our systems if we were to start using this free energy. At this time, more than 100 million people worldwide have jobs directly related to fossil fuel use. If we used solar, these people would lose their jobs and incomes. More than a billion people have jobs indirectly related to fossil fuel use. They would lose their incomes also. They would stop spending and ‘demand’ (the amount they can afford, not the amount they need to stay alive) collapses. Businesses that sell other things can’t sell anymore and lay off nearly everyone. Now nearly everyone has no jobs and nothing to spend. We can produce energy for almost nothing. But no one has anything to spend so it really doesn’t matter that it doesn’t cost anything to produce energy anymore. Our systems won’t be able to function.

The people in governments know this. They don’t want to appear to favor destruction, but they know we need the jobs. So they say they want solar and other non-destructive technologies in their public speeches, but spend their time in back rooms encouraging the destructive options. Then they use tricks to try to convince us that they aren’t doing this. They call programs that provide massive subsidies for coal, and thus increase the amount of pollution in the skies, the ‘Clear Skies Initiative.’ Programs that pay people to destroy forests have names like the ‘Forest Preservation Act.’

During the campaigns, they tell us how much they care. We really want to believe them and delude ourselves that this time things will be different. But once in office they have to take care of business. They need to keep society functioning. The society they run needs destruction to function. Once in power they will work hard to give this society what it needs. It needs jobs. It needs destruction. They will make sure it gets it.

Later I will be talking about systems without the flows of value that induce destruction. In these societies, solar is literally free. Nothing can compete with free. No one would even consider coal. In current societies, solar does generate returns. They are often close to what people need to justify them. But they could be a lot closer. In fact, in many applications, solar would be cheaper than coal even with the fantastic artificial costs discussed above, if our governments just encouraged it. But as long as our societies work in ways that depend on jobs to function, we can’t expect them to really do anything like this. Republics need jobs. Republics have massive capital costs that make solar uneconomic. As long as we have republics, our governments will do everything in their power to prevent solar or any non-destructive option from gaining any traction.

 

Non-destructive Gasoline

 

If we had unlimited free (or even extremely low cost) electricity, we could make all the fuel we want out of it, with no destruction of any kind. We could make just about any kind of fuel we want, but I want to concentrate on gasoline, because people know what it is, how to use it, and are used to using it. After I have explained how to make non-destructive gasoline, I will explain some of other fuels that we could also make that might be preferable to gasoline.

First I have to give you some simple chemistry: Water is H2O, or two parts hydrogen and one of oxygen. Carbon dioxide is CO2 or two parts oxygen to one part carbon. Gasoline is a hydrocarbon, made of carbon and hydrogen. Because gasoline is made of oil pumped from the ground, not all gasoline molecules are identical. But the average ratio of pumped gasoline is 8 atoms of carbon for every 18 atoms of hydrogen. This gives us C8H18, the chemical symbol for ‘octane.’ If you look on the pump when you buy gas, you will see an ‘octane rating.’ This is how close your gasoline performs to pure octane. Gasoline with a 100 octane rating would burn like pure octane, the gold standard for cars running on gasoline.

Gasoline is not pure octane but I need a molecule to explain the reaction, so let’s say you have some gasoline that is pure octane. One molecule of octane will combine with 25 molecules of oxygen (O2) to become 18 molecules of water (H2O) and 16 molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2), plus energy. This is how gasoline works. The heat causes the gasoline to combine with oxygen (‘burn’) and break down into water and carbon dioxide. The water is in the form of steam. The steam has a lot of pressure and pushes down on the piston, causing the engine to turn. Then the gases (mostly carbon dioxide and steam) exhaust into the air and the system draws in more oxygen and mixes it with gasoline.

The start products are octane and oxygen. The end products are carbon dioxide, water, and energy.

All chemical reactions are reversible. In fact, chemists say that we can’t tell by watching a reaction whether time is moving forward or backward, because everything would happen the same way either way. If you have 18 molecules of water and 16 molecules of carbon dioxide, and can put back as much energy as was released when the gasoline burned, you can turn this into one molecule of octane and 25 molecules of oxygen. Theoretically, this can be done. No one does this for profit in the world today but if electricity were cheap enough they would be able to do it for profit. Here’s how:

You start with water. Put a tiny bit of salt into water so it can conduct electricity, then put in two electrodes (anything made of metal) and run DC electricity through them at 1.2 Volts or higher. You will see tiny bubbles forming on both electrodes. (If you want to try this, the easiest way is to take a 9v battery and put it into water with a tiny bit of salt). The bubbles on the positive terminal are hydrogen. The ones on the negative are oxygen. To make gasoline, you just need the hydrogen. You can collect it. You don’t need the oxygen and can simply let it bubble into the air.

You can do the same thing with carbon dioxide but it is slightly harder to do. You need a platinum electrode and a temperature of about 550C. (I didn’t say it would be easy. Only that it could be done.) Again, you just need the carbon and can let the oxygen bubble into the air. Oxygen is not a pollutant. We breathe oxygen. Our air is 29% oxygen. You can put as much into the air as you want. (But don’t worry about this anyway, you will be taking it right back out again shortly). Now you have carbon and hydrogen. Put them into the same place and they spontaneously form methane, (CH4), a basic hydrocarbon.

The methane is also known as ‘natural gas.’ As you drive down the road you occasionally see vehicles that say they run on CNG, which is compressed natural gas. You can run engines on this directly. But if you absolutely must have gasoline, all you have to do is heat the methane. (You need to do this in a closed vessel with no oxygen so it doesn’t burn.) This causes the methane to throw off hydrogen molecules and reform in to chains of carbon, surrounded by hydrogen. This is a very common procedure done to day in modern refineries, which take various hydrocarbons in oil, including methane, and make them into octane for gasoline. You can keep doing this and the chains will get bigger and bigger. When you get to C8H18 you are done. You have octane. You can burn it in any gasoline engine on earth.

I claim this is a non-destructive fuel. You may say that gasoline is inherently destructive. There is no way to have safe gasoline. It is true that gasoline pumped from the ground is inherently destructive. But not all gasoline. If you pump gasoline and then burn it, you release carbon into the air that had been underground for billions of years. You also burn contaminants, mainly sulfur, which produces sulfur dioxide and turns into sulfuric acid. This is not pure octane, of course, and doesn’t burn efficiently so it produces carbon monoxide, a very dangerous toxin, and hydrocarbons, the soot that you see in the air over most big cities. Manufactured gasoline doesn’t add any carbon to the air. Remember, you took the carbon out of the air to make the gasoline. When you burn the gasoline, you put it back. This is a cycle. Nothing is added to the atmosphere that wasn’t already there. If nature is balanced before, it is balanced afterward.

There are two pollutants that any piston engine produces, and this will produce both of them. The first is oxides of nitrogen. Our air contains nitrogen and oxygen and if we compress these gasses together (which happen in a position engine) they combine to form oxides of nitrogen, a pollutant. The other is ozone. The compressed oxygen combines with other oxygen atoms to form oxygen, symbol O3, a powerful oxidant. (It accelerates rusting and other oxidation processes, and is thought to accelerate aging..) To eliminate these pollutants, we must move to an engine type with lower compression ratios. The only gasoline engine now known that can operate at compression ratios low enough to prevent the creation of ozone and oxides of nitrogen is the Wankel. If we want to use gasoline with no pollution at all we would have to use this type of engine.

The manufactured gasoline has no sulfur or other contaminants. No sulfur dioxide. It doesn’t have impurities that prevent complete combustion, so no carbon monoxide or hydrocarbons. None of the pollutants that come from pumped gasoline.

 

Why Don’t We Make Gasoline out of Electricity?

 

We could make gasoline out of electricity in any system. But if electricity is expensive, the gasoline would be too expensive. Some numbers may help understand this. Gasoline contains 115,000 BTU of energy. (Because there really is no such thing as pure gasoline, there is no exact standard and this is an estimate. Actual energy content varies from sample to sample.) Electricity contains exactly 3,412 BTU per KWH. If you could make gasoline with electricity with no energy loss, you would need 33.4 KWH. The energy intensive part of the process, electrolysis, is about 50% efficient with current technology, so it would require a minimum of 67 KWH of electricity to produce a gallon of gasoline. With electricity at 10¢, this means $6.70 per gallon. The input materials, water and air, are free. So you don’t have to consider them. The only cost that you would have to pay per gallon of gasoline would be the cost of the energy.

You could consider the gasoline to be an electricity storage device. Of electricity costs 10¢/KWH, it would cost you $6.70 to store energy in a liquid form. As I write this, wholesale gasoline brings $2.25 per gallon, about a third as much. It would not make sense to make gasoline out of electricity with prices like this.

In current systems, electric cars do far more damage to the environment than gasoline cars. Coal has 8,000 BTU per pound. At 25% efficiency you need 57 pounds of coal to make 33.5 KWH of electricity, the amount that contains the same 115,000 BTU of energy in a gallon of gasoline. This compares to the 6.24 pounds of fossil fuel you burn if you use gasoline. Which does more damage to the environmental: burning 57 pounds of coal (to make the electricity) or burning the 6.24 pounds of gasoline directly? It wouldn’t make sense to use fossil fuel generated electricity to power vehicles in any form, either directly in battery powered cars, or indirectly by making gasoline or other fuels out of the electricity.

The high capital costs would make them quite expensive still in current systems, but they would be able to generate returns on investment of about 10%, compared with current return rates of 2%, so they could compete at any return rates up to this figure. This would cause solar to replace coal, even in current systems. I will explain this with the example in Chapter Eight.

Now consider a society structured so that the artificial costs of solar don’t exist. You could put a few hundred dollars extra into your house and it would produce from 1.5 to 3 times the energy you need. You would have plenty of extra electricity to use for any purpose you want. Perhaps you could put it into an electric car. Perhaps you could use gasoline or some other fuel. If the energy comes from the sun, the car doesn’t harm the environment no matter how you get the energy into the car. For practical purposes, energy is free. Free as electricity and free as fuel.

But there are a lot better fuels than gasoline.

 

A Crappy Fuel

 

Originally, when people started to pump oil out of the ground, they needed it for lighting and lubrication. Before pumped oil, people used whale oil for this. By the 1850s whales were getting pretty hard to find and whale oil was quite expensive. People found that if they distilled oil pumped from the ground, they got 4 major products. The first was a very light distillate, kerosene. Kerosene was a very good lighting fuel, almost as good as whale oil. The heavy distillate was good for lubricating oil. The lighter of the two intermediate products was called ‘heating oil’ and was very useful for heat. In 1898, Ferdinand Diesel found another use for heating oil and most people now call this ‘diesel fuel’ for the engine he invented. This left one product, gasoline, which had no use. People dumped it into pits to get rid of it.

As demand for oil increased, people looked for a use for the enormous amounts of useless gasoline people had to get rid of. Some people found that under unique circumstances they could use it as a fuel for engines. It wasn’t and still isn’t a good fuel. It required significantly more fuel to generate the same amount of usable energy as diesel engines. It is far more dangerous than diesel. Drop a match in diesel and it goes out. Do the same thing with gasoline and you go to the hospital or morgue. Gasoline is also highly corrosive. It will dissolve almost anything so the engines had to be made to withstand the corrosion. Gasoline doesn’t naturally lubricate as diesel does, so you have to mix lubricating oil with gasoline. (If you have a chainsaw or other small engine, you probably still have to do this.) The gasoline strips oil from the cylinders, making them rust and corrode very rapidly if left alone for a short time. Gasoline engines are temperamental and would often backfire, shooting flames out of every hole in the machine and occasionally causing the entire engine to simply explode like a bomb. People didn’t build gasoline engines because gasoline was a good fuel. They built them because they wanted to find something, anything, to use the gasoline for.

Some of these problems of gasoline engines have been solved, but not all of them. Now forced lubrication systems can constantly replace the lubricants that gasoline strips, so we don’t have to mix lubricating oil with gasoline. But other problems are as bad as ever. Tens of thousands of people are killed or maimed in accidents caused by gasoline fires every year. (Think about this. You probably know at least one person in this category. I know several.) Everyone who has used both types of engines knows that diesel engines are far more efficient, using only ¾ths as much fuel to go the same distance as gasoline. Diesel engines run at far lower speeds than gasoline engines, so they don’t wear nearly as rapidly and will last roughly 10 times as long as a gasoline engine in the same application. The diesel naturally lubricates the engine, keeping wear down and reducing maintenance costs compared to gasoline. They just aren’t very good engines and their fuel is dangerous, inefficient, and highly destructive.

 

A Better Fuel

 

If you have ever studied chemistry, you will know that hydrogen is a unique atom, with only one proton and election. This atom is so tiny that it can do things that no other atom can do. For instance, it can hide within the matrices of certain metals. We don’t fully understand how this is possible just yet, but we know that certain metals can hold many times their own volume in hydrogen. For example, palladium can hold more than 300 times its own volume in hydrogen, in a special molecular form called ‘palladium hydride.’ This jams the atoms of hydrogen together even more closely than if they were in liquid or solid hydrogen. In fact, the atoms are so close together that when people first discovered palladium hydride, they thought the atoms were close enough together to fuse into helium, releasing immense amounts of energy, in a process called ‘cold fusion.’ This turned out to be incorrect, but the point here is that hydrogen can be squeezed into extremely tiny containers and we can get far more hydrogen fuel into a given space than we can any other fuel. The hydrogen literally disappears into the metal matrix until it is needed. While it is in the form of the metal matrix, it is safe.

Other much more common metals can also store hydrogen at very high densities. If you own a device that has a nickel metal hydride battery, this uses shaved nickel, the second most abundant material in the earth’s crust, to store hydrogen as a hydride. When you hook the battery up, the nickel releases the hydrogen which then combines with oxygen, stored in another part of the battery, to create pure water and generate electricity. You can recharge these cells. If you apply electricity to them the water separates again into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen goes into hydride form to be used again.

A device that turns hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and water is called a ‘fuel cell.’ If you have watched TV commercials, you have seen many that tell you about the wonderful coal and oil companies that are working on fuel cells to solve our energy problems, but that no practical fuel cells yet exist. This is actually a lie, or I should say, a tricky distortion of the truth. The coal and oil companies know how easy it is to make hydrogen out of coal and oil. All you do is heat it up. The problem is that this hydrogen made from coal is extremely dirty and has contaminants they can’t eliminate. Coal contains large amounts of sulfur. Even in minute quantities sulfur destroys the type of fuel cell used in your nickel metal hydride battery, which is called an ‘alkaline’ fuel cell. These cells can only run on pure hydrogen and oxygen made from water electrolysis. Run them on the dirty hydrogen from coal and atmospheric air (the air you breathe which is already heavily contaminated with sulfur from more than a hundred years of burning coal and oil), and the sulfur ruins these fuel cells within minutes.

Fuel cells do exist. They are extremely cheap, which is why you probably already have dozens of them in your home. They are also extremely efficient, produce no pollutants of any kind in operation, require no maintenance, and last many decades even if used constantly. They are a proven technology. But they can not tolerate any sulfur at all. Even after a century of trying no one has been able to figure out how to make them tolerant of sulfur. You can use them to generate electricity from hydrogen made with water electrolysis. But they can not burn hydrogen made from coal. No way no how. Of course, the coal companies keep trying. This is what they are trying to do and, so far, have always failed to do. Many chemists say they are wasting their time.

They spend most of their effort on an entirely different type of cell, called an ‘acid fuel cell.’ These cells are not nearly as efficient as alkaline cells, they produce enormous amounts of waste heat (the alkaline cell produce no waste heat and operate at room temperature) they wear quickly, and they are extremely expensive. But they have one advantage over the alkaline varieties: they can be made to be somewhat tolerant of sulfur. Not totally tolerant. But somewhat. This give scientists hope that they can make fuel cells that can burn dirty hydrogen made from coal and oil with oxygen that comes from the sulfur-contaminated air of our cities.

When they say they are working on fuel cells to solve our energy problems, they aren’t lying. If we had fuel cells that were tolerant of sulfur, we would no longer need gasoline and could burn ‘coal gas,’ or hydrogen made from coal in our cars. We have unlimited amounts of coal so we will never run out of fuel for fuel cell vehicles. But they are lying when they imply this is green energy. The energy comes from coal, our dirtiest energy source. Saying ‘clean coal’ is like saying ‘clean dirt’ or ‘dark light.’ There is no such thing.

Now let’s come back to the alkaline fuel cell. Thomas Edison took out the first patents on this device more than a century ago. Alkaline fuel cells are basically alkaline batteries with a continuous flow of new electrolyte in the form of hydrogen and oxygen. You probably have dozens of them in your home and thousands within a mile of your home. But these fuel cells can only use hydrogen and oxygen from water electrolysis and this requires electricity. Electricity is fantastically expensive in republics. Even with the massive subsidies we have on coal, there is no way to make it cheap. In some of the societies I will explain in the next few chapters, it is not just cheap, it is free. We can have unlimited fuel for any type of vehicle, without any destruction. Unlimited gasoline if we want. But hydrogen can run a fuel cell which will provide electricity in a way that will make the car much cheaper to operate, faster, more efficient, more powerful, and totally quiet, without any risk of pollution under any circumstances.

We could make non-destructive gasoline, kerosene (jet fuel), and diesel if we want out of water, electricity, and air. We could make it in unlimited quantities, without depleting, or adding a gram of carbon to the air. If consumers want these fuels, they will be able to buy them in the society I explain later. But carbon-based fuels are crappy fuels and I doubt anyone would want them if there were alternatives.

If we made our own electricity with photoelectric panels, electricity would be free. The raw materials for non-destructive fuels are water and air, also free. They aren’t harmed by using them this way and get replaced in exactly the same state as when we started. If we use these fuels, we are really running the machines on electricity. The electricity comes from the sun, so we are really running the machines on solar energy.

 

Energy

 

We can get all of our energy from the sun. All of it. Your roof now produces many times more energy than your home uses. Even with current technologies, that use essentially garbage silicon wafers, we can turn that electricity into usable electricity at a 13% efficiency. At this efficiency, your roof will provide 3-4 times more usable electricity than the average home uses.

It takes about a pound of dirt, properly processed, to produce enough silicon wafer to give you all this energy. The silicon doesn’t generate electricity it merely sorts out the electricity that is already being generated as the sun hits your roof into the electricity you can use and the electricity you can’t use. The usable electricity goes into your system to run anything that runs on electricity.

You will get a lot more than you need. You can use the excess to turn water into hydrogen and oxygen and store these materials (hydrogen in hydride form) for later use. If you need electricity when the sun is not shining, a fuel cell will convert this hydrogen and oxygen back into electricity and water. The next day, the sun can separate the water again into hydrogen and oxygen for later use.

 

Soar energy is free. It falls to earth each day whether we use it or not. Solar electricity is free. All sunlight turns into electricity as soon as it hits the planet. All we have to do is collect it. We have had the technology to do this for more than a century. The material we need, silicon, is the cheapest and most abundant material on earth. Societies have to be structured in ways that create incredibly bizarre flows of value in order for destructive energy to be cheaper than non-destructive energy. This stands to reason: destructive energy requires a continuing flow of new resources to replace those destroyed. Someone must dig up the resources. These people have to be paid. Destructive energy can never be cheap, let alone free. Non-destructive energy is naturally free. Only in systems with incredibly large distortion flows of value will destructive energy be cheaper than non-destructive energy.

2 The Politics of Energy: Who wants destruction, why they want it, and how they make sure it continues

Written by David Simmons on . Posted in 5: Anatomy of Destruction, Books

Anatomy of Destruction
Chapter Two: The Politics of Energy:
Who wants destruction, why they want it, and how they make sure it continues

 

A lot of people make fantastic profits from destruction.

The 6.8 billion tons of coal burned each year costs about $680 billion a year, and this is real money that goes to real people. Coal and nuclear plants generate and sell a total of $2 trillion worth of electricity each year, and real people get this money. These people don’t want the destruction to stop and have money to make sure it doesn’t.

This chapter explains who these people are, how much they have invested, how and why they have invested, and how much will lose if we switch to any non-destructive system at all. These people have fantastic sums of money at stake; perhaps a fourth of everything invested worldwide, and can afford to spend fantastic sums to protect their investment. Their biggest threat is solar, because it is the most practical and cheapest non-destructive option. They take steps to make sure the solar never takes over which have proven very effective so far.

Their task is getting more difficult as the cost of solar continues to plummet and the cost of nuclear and coal skyrocket. But they have found ways to fight solar that work and will continue to invest in them, and find new ways to fight solar, as long as they can do so. The only real way to stop them is to understand why they do what they do, the way they got the power and control they have, and the methods they use. Control over public opinion only works if people are willing to allow themselves to be controlled.

 

A Little History

 

The idea of regulated energy systems goes back a long way before the first electric plants. There were already many regulated utilities in the world in the early 1800s, when utilities meant gas, water, and sewer. Like modern regulated utilities, these companies were granted monopoly rights by governments in order to attract capital, with rates for services set by regulators so that the utilities could recover their investment and provide returns to investors. Although these businesses existed prior to 1900, they were quite small and important until Thomas Edison’s electricity production manager, Samuel Insull, got his boss involved in the industry. Within a decade, the regulated industry was the largest industry in the world and Edison’s company (now called GE) the largest corporation in the world. There are sound mechanical reasons that the world was better off with regulated electricity providers in the early part of the 1900s, which have to do with the fundamental nature of electricity, particularly characteristics of AC and DC. New technology that became available in the 1960s and has only been perfected in the last 30 years has eliminated every reason that once existed for having regulated utilities. But they exist, they are still the largest industry group in the world, and if we switched to unregulated small-scale production, these industries would collapse with many trillions of dollars of investment capital lost. The story of regulated utilities starts with an argument between Thomas Edison and one of his employees, Nicholas Tesla.

 

AC and DC

 

In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the first workable light bulb.

Three years later he built power plant in New York City to power the light bulbs his new factory in Schenectady was making and started signing up customers. The plant ran on coal. He had not yet invented an electric meter, so customers would get electricity for free until he perfected one.

“Workable” hear means “high impedance.” Arc lights were already in wide use, but because they had very low impedance they had to be run in a series. If you are an old timer, you are familiar with the old Christmas tree lights that were wired in a series: If one bulb goes out, the entire string fails. It would be impossible to use low impedance lighting in a commercial application because, if you did and a single light bulb went out anywhere in the system, the entire system would shut off until the bad bulb was found and replaced. Arc lighting was generally only used for event where a single generator ran one to a dozen lights with a technician on hand to replace any that burned out and get the system back on line quickly. High impedance bulbs can be run in parallel, which means each light operates separately and if one fails none of the rest is affected. This was the invention that made electric lighting practical commercially.

Edison’s electricity was the same as the electricity produced by a solar panel, DC. DC stands for direct current and means only that the electrons flow only in a single direction.

Nicholas Tesla worked for Edison in his lab in New Jersey. Tesla was very smart but didn’t see eye to eye with his boss on a lot of things. He thought that there was a better kind of electricity. This other kind of electricity would have the electrons moving back and forth at a certain rate, say 6o times per second. The voltage would rise to a peak, fall to zero, reverse and go to a negative peak, then rise back to zero, and it would all start again and repeat 60 times per second. Edison did not like the idea. He thought it was unnatural. It is easy to understand DC electricity and Edison had worked with it his entire life. Batteries are DC and the telegraph systems Edison had worked with from his teenage years run on DC. A lot of people who studied the records say that Edison never really understood how AC electricity worked. He certainly wasn’t comfortable with it.

Tesla built an AC generator to show Edison what it could do. AC electricity turned out to be extremely dangerous. A 200 volt DC shock will make you a little surprised and make your hair stand on end, but it won’t hurt you. A 200 volt AC shock is easily enough to kill you. When Edison saw how dangerous it was, he told Tesla to stop his work on AC and prohibited anyone from working on it in his laboratory. Tesla didn’t care for the ruling. He kept on working on AC and built even more powerful AC generators at Edison’s lab. When Edison found out, he was furious.

Tesla was probably the best researcher in his lab. But he couldn’t keep him if he wouldn’t follow orders. Edison told him to hit the road. Tesla didn’t have far to go. Edison’s rival, George Westinghouse, was happy to have a researcher of his caliber. Westinghouse put Tesla in charge of his research facilities. This was a formative time for electricity. For several years, Edison pushed for DC to be the standard for electricity production. Westinghouse and Tesla pushed for AC to be the standard.

In order to further his cause, Edison did invent one AC device. He knew AC was dangerous. He wanted to make the public aware of the dangers so he built a device that would use AC to electrocute small animals. He called in the press to witness the executions, but they didn’t seem impressed. He decided to go farther. He wanted people to know that AC electricity could kill people, so he had his researchers build a new kind of device to kill people, which he called the “electric chair.” He made the rounds of prisons in the area to try to get it used. He didn’t really care about making a profit selling electric chairs. This was a publicity stunt, designed to make the public aware of the danger of AC electricity. Edison’s people were somehow able to convince the warden at Auburn penitentiary that an electric shock would simply stop the heart, leading to a rapid and painless death. William Kemmerer was scheduled to be executed on August 6, 1890. But Edison’s people were very wrong about how AC electricity kills. The first time, they calculated the voltage too low and the first shock merely knocked him out briefly.

They recalculated and this time got it too high. His body exploded with the residue catching on fire.

The great age of AC electricity had begun.

 

Why We Use AC

 

DC has some great advantages over AC. It is much safer, for one. It is also significantly more efficient. DC motors convert about 95% of the electricity into usable energy; AC motors have an efficiency of 46%, with more than half of the electricity wasted and going to heat. Because the AC motors get hot in operation, they don’t last as long as DC motors. Because they depend on the frequency of the power source, you can’t alter the speed and power of the motors. If you have a ½ horse power motor, you use all the electricity needed to turn what would be a 1 horsepower DC motor all the time, even if all you really need is 1/10th or less to run the device. DC is also far more versatile and can run many things that AC can not run. On the end of your power cords for almost all of your appliances is a plastic box that converts AC to DC. This box will be warm to the touch, because it turns DC into AC by filtering out all electricity that is going the wrong direction and letting that electricity go to warm a resistor, which makes the converter hot. About half of all electricity used for your television, computer, refrigerator, air conditioner, the new super-low energy use light bulbs (LED), and anything with a motor or electronics is simply wasted. This means that, if we use AC rather than DC, we have to use and generate about twice as much. To put this another way, if we used a DC power source like the solar systems I will be explaining in the next chapters, our energy needs would fall by half due to the greater efficiency and by another 20% due to AC power line losses which don’t exist for DC power systems.

The line losses exist because a large part of AC power goes to create electromagnetic waves which radiate outward from every AC electricity wire on earth. Many researchers claim that these electromagnetic waves cause cancer, but the hard research that has been done on this—funded by utilities of course—was never published. It may be that they didn’t want to publish because they didn’t want to spend money on paper, but most likely they didn’t publish because the research showed that the waves do indeed cause cancer. In any case, millions of miles of wire are radiating electromagnetic waves everywhere on earth at this time. Chances are that you are within ten feet of a radiator. The energy in the electromagnetic waves causes a special type of resistance in AC lines called “inductive resistance” that AC lines do not have. About 10% of all AC electricity is lost to this resistance. If you add up all the losses unique to AC, perhaps 60% of all electricity generated is wasted. In other words, if we had DC, we could do everything we do now with perhaps 40% the amount of electricity we now use.

But this inductive property also brings advantages for AC that DC does not have. This property makes it possible to change voltages extremely easily and with almost no loss. The device that does this is called a transformer. A higher voltage means that electricity can be moved much farther over much smaller lines. Edison’s DC power system in New York City could only serve a few blocks and needed copper wires as big around as rail road lines to do it. With extremely high voltage AC (up to a million volts) power can be moved thousands of miles through wires only as big around as a thumb.

Tesla’s system worked by generating electricity at about 50,000 volts. The electricity was sent through wires and could easily go dozens of miles. Then transformers attached to electric poles could step it down to 240 volts. It would go into homes as 240 volt electricity, and could be used either at that voltage or split into two separate 120 volt circuits.

In recent years, people have found cheap ways to transform DC electricity. My solar system is hooked up to an electronic transformer that takes whatever voltage the panels produce and converts it to the voltage needed to run my house. It then converts it into AC, because all household appliances run on AC. It does have a DC tap at this same voltage that I could use, but I don’t have any DC appliances so I don’t use it. In Edison’s time, inverters had not been invented yet. DC simply couldn’t work for a large, commercial power operation, at least not with the technology they had at the time.

Edison’s general manager in charge of electricity production, Samuel Insull, spent several years tying to convince Edison to accept the AC system. Finally in 1910, he managed to overcome the resistance and Edison authorized him to go to AC power.

 

Monopoly Power Systems

 

At this time, governments didn’t have any regulations about electricity. Anyone could make it and sell it. A lot of people built power plants to use for specific purposes. Most of these plants were only in use part of the day. Cities had electric streetcars that only operated at full capacity during the rush hours; the rest of the time the capacity was wasted. Most city people only needed electricity for lighting, so they only needed it in the late evening and early morning. Factories only needed electricity during the daytime when they were running. With many power systems running only a few hours a day, most of the capacity of the power systems was wasted.

Insull thought he could take advantage of the characteristics of AC to create a new type of power system. He would build one giant plant in the center of a city. Wires would feed the entire city. The plant would provide all of the city’s needs. It would replace the mostly-unused small power systems. His power plant would operate at close to full capacity almost all the time, so it could spread the costs of the plant itself and facilities over more units of sales, giving lower unit costs. He could sell electricity for lower prices than people could produce electricity for themselves, and still make a very nice profit.

But there was a problem. This system would require massive investments, larger than any that had ever been contemplated in the history of the earth. The plants themselves would be the largest industrial plants in existence. They would feed a network of lines and poles that would extend to every home, store, business, and factory in the city, perhaps millions of customers. They would require thousands of tons of copper wire, millions of transformers, a network of meters and meter readers, billing and customer service offices, and a small army of engineers, installers, and repair people working around the clock. No one had ever proposed investments on this scale before. It was new in the human experience.

Investors would not provide the capital if they thought others might compete with them and potentially drive them out of business. If someone found a new method of producing electricity that was cheaper, they must not be allowed to use it. They would need a legal framework of laws that protected them. They would need sole monopoly power and rights to produce electricity in each service area. No one else would legally be able to compete with them, no matter how efficient or non-destructive the competition was. They must have the authority to take advantage of their pricing power to set whatever rates are needed to cover their production costs, recover their investment costs, and provide investment returns at market rates. The people who run these companies must be guaranteed profits. The investors must be guaranteed returns. This was the only way this kind of system could work.

Insull looked for a city to start with. He chose Chicago and made his pitch to the city council. His pitch was simple: He would get all the money from investors to build the largest and most sophisticated power system in the world. The city would not have to pay a dime. He would build the plant and run wires to every business and home in Chicago that wanted service, without any cost to the businesses and residences. He would provide the worlds’ most reliable power supply, operating 24 hours a day with no interruptions. His system would spread the costs of the facilities over thousands of customers, so its costs would be quite low and he would pass the savings on to customers. Chicago would have the cheapest and most reliable electricity on earth.

All he needed was monopoly rights. But monopolies have bad reputations for a very good reason: they can charge anything they want and can take advantage of their customers. Insull had an answer for this, however. The city would form a new government agency, a utility commission, to regulate the utility. The utility would tell the commission its costs and the commission would calculate the price of electricity that gives the Edison Power and Light enough to cover its costs, pay market returns for investors, and provide reasonable profits for shareholders. Since the utility did not set its own rates, it couldn’t take advantage of its monopoly. It would be a fair system. Customers would get cheap reliable power. Investors would get returns at market rates. Stockholders would get nice dividend checks from profits.

The city council was told that a great deal of industry would move to Chicago to take advantage of the cheap, reliable power. The industry would create jobs and more people would have an income they could use to buy things they wanted, including electricity and electric appliances. The workers and businesses would pay more taxes so the city would have more revenues and could provide better services.

A good proposal. Of course, I have slanted all the arguments the way I expect Insull did, emphasizing the good and glossing over the problems. But if it was presented this way, I think most reasonable people in the city council would vote for it. This happened. Insull was able to convince Chicago. Edison got the charter and took over the entire electricity market for the city. Insull turned out to be right about just about everything. Industry wanted a reliable power supply at reasonable prices and Chicago grew from a cow-town into the largest industrial city in the world in a matter of a few decades.

To investors and shareholders, Insull’s model was actually better than a regular monopoly in important ways. Regular monopolies are not guaranteed customers. They have to keep people out of their turf. The Western Edison Light Company was a government sanctioned and protected monopoly. If people were foolish enough to try to produce electricity in competition, the managers of Edison’s company could call the police and have them arrested. Regular monopolies don’t have a guarantee of profits. If the costs for a regulated monopoly go up, it may actually lose money. Edison’s company could simply submit the right documents to the utility commission which would jack up the rates and pass 100% of the costs on to customers. Regular monopolies have a hard time attracting investors, because investors know that any change in technology that makes competition possible, or anyone who can find a way to compete, will eliminate their returns and wipe out their investment. Edison’s company didn’t have to worry about this. His investors would make profits as long as the city of Chicago used AC electricity.

Governments want their districts to have electricity so they stand behind the utilities. If utilities can’t make enough money to cover their costs and provide investment returns, governments step in and pay the difference. I live in Tucson and remember when my city went into debt to keep TEP afloat; after it built coal fired plants it didn’t need and couldn’t afford to buy coal for its regular operations. Much of the debt of the state of California comes from government borrowing to support its utilities. Over the decades, utility investments have gotten the reputation as the safest investments people can make.

It is nice to run a business protected by the government. Shareholders can never complain because the profits that pay their dividends depend on government decisions, not actions of the business. Investors get their returns no matter what so they won’t be whining either. The company doesn’t really have to worry about costs, because it can pass all costs on to customers. It doesn’t have to squabble with suppliers over prices; whatever they ask for their goods is fine. It doesn’t have union problems because it can pay its workers whatever they want and pass costs on to customers.

I have run businesses before and lost a lot of sleep over these matters. No one has to lose sleep to run a utility. Having a charter for a monopoly utility is almost like having a license to print money.

 

The Industry

 

Other cities saw how well the Chicago system worked and wanted it for themselves. Insull was happy to help them out. Edison General Electric, the holding company that owned and ran the local utilities, grew rapidly. Within a few years it was the largest corporation in the world. Westinghouse had Tesla and the technology, but he didn’t have anyone with Insull’s business sense. He had to spend the rest of his life trying to catch up.

At first, virtually all their facilities were coal-fired. They needed fantastic amounts of coal. Coal mines opened to supply them. Hundreds of thousands of people got jobs at these mines. The rail companies were overwhelmed and had to expand dramatically to haul the coal. They hired tens of thousands of people to build the rails and run the trains. People have to build the mining equipment and trains. They have to make steel for the equipment, rails, locomotives, and coal fired plants themselves, and the steel plants that will make the steel that wouldn’t be needed if not for the coal-fired utility industry. The system spurred fantastic growth. The stock market boomed. Unemployment plummeted. This didn’t just happen in the United States. Edison and Westinghouse’s power companies were worldwide. Their industrial plants were worldwide. In each case, the model was the same: the company would get a monopoly on power production in a certain service area. The company would use the strength of their monopoly rights to attract investment capital. It would be allowed rates that covered its costs, provided a reasonable profit so it could pay reasonable dividends, and enough to pay market returns on all investment capital.

As I write this, there are roughly 50,000 coal plants on earth, burning a total of about 6.8 billion tons of coal a year, one ton each year for every man, woman, and child on earth. These plants run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and small armies of people to unload the trains, move the coal, store it, move it again to the furnaces, crush it, inject it into the fireboxes, remove the ash, adjust the belts, and all the other tasks needed to keep them functioning. Roughly a half million people work in the plants. Tens of millions work mining the coal, transporting it, building the rails and locomotives, repairing the rails and locomotives, and all the other tasks needed to provide an endless supply of coal to burn in these plants. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide provide services to this industry. They run restaurants, hotels, cocktail lounges, gas stations, car dealerships, beauty shops, bordellos, and all manner of businesses to the people who wouldn’t have work if we didn’t have these giant fuel-using utilities.

 

 

Nuclear

 

Karl Grossman, the author of the very informative and well documented book “Cover Up, What they don’t want you to know about nuclear power” (you can download this for free from Karl’s blog, available at this link) explains the origin of nuclear power.

During World War Two, the United States government undertook the Manhattan Project, the largest government project in the history of the planet, to build nuclear bombs. The details of the project are top secret, of course, but it employed millions in various stages of the nuclear industry, from moving the incredible amounts of rock to move uranium, enrichment that at times required half of the entire electricity output of the United States, engineering and building nuclear reactors, and thousands of other related tasks. Westinghouse and GE had small armies of employees who worked in the nuclear industry and wanted to keep them employed. The government wanted to keep the nuclear industry alive for several reasons. For one, it needed skilled people to build the massive quantities of nuclear weapons it would need to keep up with the Russians and Chinese, and would never be able to justify the enormous expenses—particularly after it already had enough to destroy the world several times over—unless there was a civilian component to the nuclear industry to share the costs. For another, it needed nuclear for the same reason it continues to support coal: It needed the jobs. But the most important reason was related to the enormous legislative power of the giant corporations, mainly GE and Westinghouse that had enough sway in Washington to dictate public policy. The lobbyists for these businesses came up with the public relations campaign called “Atoms for Peace” and lobbied and advertised heavily for these projects.

In 1954, the United States government commissioned a study by the Brookhaven institute to address public concerns about whether the power system might be too dangerous to pursue. The result came back: Nuclear had risks of unparallel magnitude. A single accident could permanently destroy an area the size of the state of Pennsylvania. The battle was short, however, because the lobbyists had already gained enough support on Capitol Hill to get the program through. Obviously, no plant would exist if they had to buy insurance, because no one would be able to afford to buy insurance to cover real losses. The industry had a simple answer: merely pass a law transferring all risks of nuclear to the public. In 1957, Congress passed the Price Anderson act, indemnifying nuclear plants for virtually all risks. The government agreed to supply the fuel for the reactors at a heavily subsidized price. This was necessary because the fuel enrichment facilities could be used to make nuclear bombs and the government didn’t even want people to know how much this cost, for fear they may reverse engineer this process and use the knowledge to make bombs. I could find no information about actual costs of enrichment. The uranium is mined; it goes into a government (taxpayer) facility and is processed at an undisclosed cost, and then goes to the nuclear power plant with no markup whatsoever. There was no known way to deal with nuclear waste, but the government agreed to deal with this issue and pay all costs at taxpayer expense, and, as Chapter One showed, it provide cash subsidies covering roughly a third of construction costs for the first few dozen plants built.

GE and Westinghouse had built all government reactors and would build the commercial reactors. They expected a massive public outcry against nuclear, particularly after the Brookhaven findings were leaked, and created an advertising campaign with the slogan “too cheap to meter,” flooding the media with money. The “too cheap to meter” slogan was nonsense and the corporate sponsors knew this. The fuel cost per KWH was lower than that for coal, at least initially (this is no longer true due to shortages of uranium which have driven the cost up to where it is comparable with coal) but nuclear has far higher construction and facility costs than coal and, even with the massive government subsides on nuclear, the total KWH cost of nuclear no cheaper than coal. But the goal of the advertising was not to enlighten the public about the truth, but to deflect public opposition.

It helped, but didn’t placate everyone and protests continued. Protestors were able to prevent the planned opening of the Fermi 1 reactor in 1957 and able to prevent the first two plants proposed, in Bodega Bay and Malibu California, from even beginning construction. But on May 26, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower inaugurated the first commercial nuclear plant at Shippingport Pa.

Nuclear plants cost a lot to build. But the utilities don’t worry about this because they don’t pay the costs themselves. They raise the money from investors, pay whatever it costs to build, and report the costs to the utility commissions, which calculate the rate needed to pass these costs on to customers. They have a money machine. Their investment returns are built on complicated formulas worked out by Samuel Insull designed to attract investment. He wanted people to provide whatever sum was necessary for whatever project he planned, and the formulas were very generous. The more the utilities invest, the more money they make. Who cares if it costs $7 billion to build a nuclear plant? That $7 billion comes back to your investors plus interest over the life of the plant. Only one thing can prevent this: the total collapse of the central-station regulated utility industrial structure. Only one thing could cause this to happen, competition from more efficient producers like solar, and at least until 1978, this was illegal.

 

Solar and Regulated Monopoly Utilities

 

Insull’s entire idea depended on the idea of economies of scale. Large power plants can spread their costs over more units of production, leading to lower unit production costs. The savings could go partly to customers and partly to the producers. To get these economies of scale, the industry has to build enormous facilities, requiring enormous investments. The whole idea only makes sense if there the large facilities and gigantic distribution systems are necessary. They are for coal and nuclear that produce AC power through large distribution systems. They are not for solar.

A solar photovoltaic system has no economies of scale whatsoever. It costs just as much per watt/hour of capacity to have a 1 watt facility as a 1 billion watt (gigawatt) facility. Your roof produces roughly four times the energy you use; if we adjust this for the higher efficiency of DC, and people started building DC appliances and wiring homes for DC, a figure of eight times would be more accurate. As Chapter Two showed, actual costs are very low and would add only a tiny amount to the cost of a house.

By 1978, the industry realized how serous a risk solar was. Solar has no input costs so it could be sold for extremely low prices by (literally) mom and pop operations that would compete on an individual level with the utilities if they had to. Competition would drive electricity prices down and the utilities would not be able to afford their fuel costs and would go out of business. The utilities could not compete with large centralized solar facilities for several reasons. First, they were bloated monsters with no idea how to compete on price. Second, there are no economies of scale in solar so buying power brings no advantages, even if the business employees people who know how to negotiate profitable business deals. But their big disadvantage came from their tie to AC power systems and their high transportation and distribution costs. You can provide your own power at your own home for far less than utilities can provide solar-generated electricity. If we factor in the relative disadvantage of AC, personally generated solar electricity would cost less than a third of the amount that utilities would have to charge to make a profit.

Prior to 1978, it was illegal to use solar, even to produce your own electricity. The utilities had guaranteed service areas. All consumers in their area belonged to them. But they realized that solar costs were falling so fast that they wouldn’t be able to keep this illegal forever. Rates were set by utility commissions in each state. They wouldn’t be able to stop a cascade of death if one state decided to make solar legal. They needed an overriding federal law to take off the pressure.

They came up with a really nice idea. Their lobbyists would go to the federal government and use their influence to get an overriding Federal law passed that would make solar impractical. The law would be framed to create the appearance of encouraging solar, by legalizing its production. But it actually works to discourage solar, by several mechanisms. The first is to make it illegal sell the electricity in any kind if market. People who used solar (technically, any “small renewable energy system”) could only sell to the utility. And they couldn’t sell at anything close to the market price. As I write this, market prices for electricity on the wholesale market are about 8.4¢ per KWH (you can check today’s prices on this link http://futures.tradingcharts.com/marketquotes/DX.html. Prices are in MWH so divide by 1000 to get KWH prices). My local utility has a buy rate for solar of 8/10th of 1¢, less than 1/10th of the market price.

This law was passed in 1978. It is called the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act and is commonly known as PURPA and it is administered through title 16 of the US Code, section 796. The law was written by lobbyists who obviously wanted to hide its true intent, so it is very deep in legalese, but the bottom line is that utilities have a formula they use to calculate the price they pay for solar. This price is equal to something called the “avoided cost” and it can never be more than a tiny faction of the cost of coal and nuclear due to the way it is calculated. It works out to between 1/10th and 1/5th of the amount the same utilities pay for destructively generated electricity. Coal generated electricity cells for full price. Nuclear energy sells for full price. Solar sells for 1/10th to 1/5th of full price.

If you manage a Wal-Mart, you have a lot of roof space just sitting there, wasted. It could be producing electricity and contributing to the bottom line of the store. Most managers’ incomes come mostly from bonuses that depend on how much money they can make for their company. Every store needs a roof anyway. Why not have a solar roof? If you could sell the electricity for market prices, this makes sense. But if your income depends on some arbitrary formula that bureaucrats make up, which currently leads to numbers too low to justify any investment and can be made lower with a stroke of the pen, it simply makes no sense to invest. The same is true for each of the homes and businesses in the United States. After PURPA worked in the United States, the same concept was taken to the rest of the world and most countries have some version of it.

Of course, the utilities aren’t the only ones that would start to have problems if solar began to really take off. Utilities do not have to worry about how much coal costs, because they just pass the cost on to customers. They don’t have to worry about negotiating coal costs to make them lower. In fact, they prefer higher prices because they get a fixed margin above costs. The higher their costs, the more profit they make. Coal companies obviously love this. Wouldn’t you love to have a customer that insisted on paying more for your product than you needed to make a profit? Train companies love it. About half of all train traffic and profits comes from coal. Equipment makers love it. The utility unions love it. They can ask for anything they want and the utilities will never fight it. The investors in all of these companies love this. The lobbyists love it, because they get enormous sums to use to persuade lawmakers to keep everything as it is. The giant companies like GE and Westinghouse really love it, because they build and supply the endless needs of the largest single industry in the world on a cost-plus no-negotiation basis.

 

Why Governments Also Support Destruction and Don’t Want Solar

 

We all know that the coal, nuclear, gas, oil, and utility spend vast sums on lobbyists each year, and much greater amounts on campaign contributions and still greater amounts on the political action committees that work behind the scenes to provide the real muscle that makes the political process works. The corporations naturally want their people in office. They control incredible power and wealth they can use to make sure this happens.

But the general goals of government coincide with the desires of lobbyists anyway. Governments’ job is to keep the machines of our societies functioning. They know that our societies desperately need something called “economic activity.” This term means “keeping busy in the economy” and “economic busyness” is not something good in and of itself. But activity means jobs that our systems need, it means spending that spreads out and trickles down to the people, and it means millions of transactions that wouldn’t otherwise take place that the government can tax. The people who mine the coal, run the coal trains, man the coal-moving equipment, make the coal-moving equipment, make the steel for the coal-moving equipment, pump oil for fuel to power coal-moving equipment, the people who shovel the coal into the furnaces, remove and bury the ash, and even the rescue workers who dig out the miners when the mines collapse and the doctors who treat the black lung are all involved in economic activities that wouldn’t be taking place if we used solar. Solar generates electricity without any inputs. It isn’t an active system, requiring a great deal of people to do a lot of things. The government wants people to use active systems, like coal and oil, not solar.

The people who run the government are not stupid. They know what the system needs to keep functioning. They know they need to support the types of businesses that generate activity. Of course, they know they can’t come out openly against solar, and they never do this. But they can work against it behind the scenes. They can make the widely-publicized speeches nationwide saying how much they favor solar and how they will work tirelessly for it. (Pause for applause.) But when they go to the luncheons for fund raisers in coal areas, they negotiate the depletion allowances, which are cash payments made per unit of coal. Subsidies on destruction drive down costs for destruction so they encourage destruction. The coal subsidies are enormous, but they rarely make the news because the negotiated laws that provide them are so complex it would take years just to figure them out, and once you did you would never be able to explain them to the general public in a way that makes sense. I found out about them by accident, through a tiny notation in a line of my Schedule E form. I had been speculating on the stock market and bought and held an oil trust for a few months. I got a form from the brokerage which explained how to fill out the Schedule E and referred me to the note to calculate my allowance. For a while, I had owned a part of a company that was raping the earth, and would get paid for it. When I got the allowance, I went back to the statements from the company and realized the depletion allowance completely covered the extraction costs of the oil. The government, or actually the taxpayers, covers the cost of raping the world. The companies and investors get the benefits, plus their subsidy payments.

 

Propaganda

 

The politicians all tell you how much they want to end the destruction. Solar, they pour out their hearts for. They want it. Who doesn’t want something this good? But wishing and hoping doesn’t make it practical, they tell us. We have to be realistic. Solar is just not yet practical. They say this over and over. It isn’t true, as you will see in the next chapter. But if politicians weren’t able to say anything that wasn’t true, they wouldn’t be able to speak at all.

The corporations are even more brazen in their hypocrisy. Right up to the largest oil disaster in the world, British Petroleum was spending a fortune on an endless barrage of ads telling the people it had changed its name to reflect its new priorities, and BP now stood for “Beyond Petroleum.” The ads said the company was now an “integrated energy solutions” company, not an oil company, and its main focus would be on making solar energy a practical system to replace the oil it used to concentrate on. It would take a lot of work, of course. But with work and effort and the support of the far-thinking executives at this integrated energy company, and the efforts of their research crew, they would eventually be able to make it practical, they hoped. The ads featured beautiful and concerned looking scientist-actresses telling us why they were working so hard for BP to make solar practical: for the children. They cared about the world and wanted to leave it safe and clean.

Of course, since solar is now impractical, we have to use oil temporarily. We need to face this fact and not try to fight them. They are trying to help us; they just have to provide oil until they can get the solar system practical. The overt message is that they really care. They want solar. But the subliminal one, repeated over and over and over, is that it is not practical and anyone who thinks otherwise is a foolish idealist. It seemed strange to me that this kind of propaganda could work. But it obviously does. I couldn’t find anyone who actually looked at the numbers to see if it really does make sense. What is the point? The experts all agree that it can never work. Who are we to question the wisdom of the kind, concerned, noble and hard working solar scientists at BP? After the 2010 spill, it was revealed that they made $46,000 every second of every day off their oil operations, and had no significant solar operations at all. They were slow to pull the ads and they began to look more and more ridiculous each day that passed. When the ads finally came down, the airspace was filled by others with the same message, including GE, Westinghouse, and the giant German industrial company, Siemens. They continue, day after day after day.

From a practical perspective, you may wonder why a company would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to saturate the airwaves with messages they are working on solar, when they really aren’t. None of these companies actually ask anyone to buy solar; in fact, the ads all seem designed to prevent people from even thinking about buying. Why would a company advertise to keep people from buying products they produced? The answer is that they don’t really produce solar products; they are only “investing” in research. They can buy a share of a Chinese company that is doing research in solar for $5, and they are investing in research. Now they are not lying when they spend hundreds of millions on advertising to tell the world about their concern. But realistic and objective people would never believe them.

1: Step One: Admit That You Have A Problem

Written by David Simmons on . Posted in 5: Anatomy of Destruction, Books

Anatomy of Destruction
Introduction

 

We could have all the energy we could ever want without ever burning another pound of coal, another gallon of oil, or another cubic foot of gas and without ever having to use another gram of radioactive materials to generate electricity.

In fact, totally non-destructive options are not only possible, they are cheap:

As I write this in 2017, solar photoelectric generating systems are the cheapest energy production option available on earth. I will go over the costs in later and, in the event you don’t believe the numbers, I will give the item numbers so you can test it yourself: for about $300, you can buy a complete system that you simply set in the sun and then plug into your home sockets. It has a meter that tells you how much electricity you are producing; you will be able to calculate, after the first day it is plugged in, that it will produce enough to pay for itself in less than 3 years.

This makes solar far cheaper than coal. Coal plants take about 50 years to pay for themselves. It makes solar far cheaper than oil, gas, and uranium. It makes solar far cheaper than any other option.

It stands to reason that solar panels would be cheap: they are made almost entirely of the most abundant material on the top layer of the earth, silicon dioxide. Roughly 87% of the earth’s surface is silicon dioxide: a few common names for this material are ‘sand’ and ‘rocks.’ The tiny bit of solar panels that are not silicon dioxide are made of aluminum, the second most abundant material in the earth’s surface, making up roughly 8.3% of the earth’s crust. Everything that goes into making solar panels is as cheap as dirt. It is dirt.

Solar systems use no fuel whatever: they turn light directly into electricity by a process Einstein discovered and explained in 1905. It seems mysterious—as do most of the things that Einstein told us about—but it works exactly as he explained it. I know that a great deal of propaganda from the coal, oil, gas, and uranium companies and the governments that sponsor these companies has tried to make you believe it is too good to be true, but it really isn’t. If you don’t believe Einstein, and you have set up the system described above, you can read Einstein’s paper (it is presented later in the book; with the right help, it is actually pretty easy to understand) and do the very same tests he did. You will be able to verify his results exactly. (He shows that different colors of light have different electricity contents. You can verify this by putting colored cellphone in front of the light and get his numbers. The solar systems have no moving parts so they have nothing to wear, lubricate, or maintain. They produce no output except pure electricity, that you can use to power anything you want.

Solar is totally non-destructive, made of the most abundant things that exist on the part of the world where we live, use no fuel, and are cheap. Why is it, then that the nations of the world are currently in the process of building more than 60 nuclear power plants, all of which are very dangerous, use the most scarce materials on the world for fuel, destroy land and contaminate air and water even when nothing is going wrong, and have the potential to destroy thousands of square miles of land (each) and kill tens of millions of people (each) in the event something goes wrong? Why are we burning more than 60 billion tons of coal a year to produce electricity, with plants that have thousands of moving parts and require constant maintenance, produce outputs that are known to cause cancer, emphysema, and heart disease, and require hundreds of millions of people to scrape for rocks in underground mines and do other highly unpleasant work that is totally unnecessary for energy production?

The myth of ‘expensive’ solar:

Until about 2010, propagandists had a ready excuse: they could tell us that solar is too expensive. But solar costs are dropping incredibly rapidly. They fell by half in 2015 and then fell again by a half, to a quarter of the 2015 price, by 2017. It is no longer possible to use accounting tricks to make solar appear to be more expensive than other options.

Why destroy then?

If we took apart the structures that cause us to use the destructive options, rather than totally non-destructive options that we can all verify for ourselves exist, what would these structures look like? How are they put together? What is the anatomy of the structures that are causing us to destroy our world?

This book shows that this can be understood. We can see why it is happening and understand all of the little subsystems that are put together to make our world destructive.

If we understand these things, we are in a position to start making changes that will solve the destructive problems. I will show that, although a lot of destruction has already taken place, we still have time. Our planet is very resilient and it tries to repair itself even as we destroy it. Unfortunately, we have reached the point where we destroy faster than the natural repair mechanisms can work. As a result, problems are getting worse. If we stay on the path we are now on, we will eventually get to extinction. But there are other paths and I will show that it is possible for us to get on them.

What if we don’t understand the anatomy of destruction? What if we don’t understand the structures that are causing us to do all of these horrible things to our world? If we don’t understand it, we are basically helpless to do anything about it. We are basically walking around in a daze, not any idea what must be done, praying that a miracle will happen and whatever is causing the destruction will somehow fix itself without anyone having to do anything.

You can easily verify this yourself by looking on Ebay or anywhere else solar panels are sold: The price of solar has dropped by 50% in the last year after having dropped by 50% in 2015.

These systems use no fuel. They are made of the most abundant materials on earth and only require very tiny amounts of these materials. We can never run out or even low on these materials, no matter how much we use. (See sidebar for more.)

Solar panels are made almost entirely out of silicon dioxide and aluminum. Silicon dioxide happens to be the most abundant material on the crust of the earth, making up 87% of the first 50 miles of the earth’s surface. (We also call silicon dioxide ‘sand’ and ‘rock.’ Number Two is aluminum, making up 8.7% of the crust. It is almost as if someone is trying to tell us something.

Solar generating systems work by turning light energy directly into electric energy, using a process that Einstein discovered and made public in a paper he wrote in 1905: the light first turns into a tiny ‘particle of light’ (now called a ‘photon’) under the standard formula e=mc2. The particle of light only lasts a tiny fraction of a microsecond; it turns its mass back into energy with the first electron it hits, which it sends flying through any conductor around. Moving electrons=electricity. The energy in the light has been turned directly into electricity. This is an amazing process.

Einstein that the little ‘particle of light’ (as Einstein called it; now called a ‘photon,’) lasts only a fraction of a second: it turns its mass back into energy by pushing an electron and making it move down a conductor (‘electrons moving down a conductor’ is the definition of electricity.)

These photoelectric cells have no moving parts to wear so they don’t need maintenance. They will last far longer than any coal plant or nuclear plant could ever last. They are made of 87% silicon dioxide and 8% aluminum, which is, coincidentally, the exact numbers for the composition of the first 50 miles of the earth’s crust. You can buy solar panels for 50¢ a watt of capacity. The average home uses roughly the amount of electricity in a year that 3,000 watts of capacity would produce, so you could buy enough solar panels to provide all of the electricity for an average home for about $1,500.

Each ‘watt of capacity’ produces 1 watt-hour of electricity in full sun; the average location on earth gets 2,000 hours of sun equivalent per year, so each watt will produce 2,000 watt hours, or 2 KWH per year. At the world global average of 10¢ per KWH, this electricity is worth 20¢ a year. The solar will repay its entire cost in less than 3 years.

Coal plants take 50 years to pay for themselves and all nuclear plants that have ever built operate at enormous losses and never fully recover their total costs.

 

Anatomy of Destruction

 

If solar is so much cheaper, why don’t we use it?

We live in societies that work in certain specific ways that make this necessary. These societies literally can’t function smoothly without massive destruction. If we don’t understand that the problems are structural, we are not in a position to actually solve any of them. All we can basically do is complain about it: we can ‘protest’ and tell everyone that we don’t like it and want things to be different. We can pray at night to be forgiven for our sins, including the roles we play in the destruction, and hope that one of the religions that teach us that confessing puts into a state of grace that will allow us to live better lives in the next incarnation. We can look for scapegoats and arrest and prosecute them when this is possible: since this is normally not possible in practice (the destroyers are the most powerful people in society, with the ability to get away with anything they want) we can hang them in effigy, creating movie after movie where the evil ones are faced with concerned person with some special powers that allows the concerned one to defeat the evil one and subject her to some brutal and graphic death.

In other words, if we don’t understand the source of the problem, we can’t do anything at all about it: we can just whine.

If we do understand that the problem is structural, we can begin looking for the structures that induce us to do things that harm our world (totally unnecessary, as we saw in the case of solar). We can figure out how these structures work as they are configured now, how they might be reconfigured to work differently, and which specific changes would create a stable and sustainable configuration, one that did not create the internal pressures that lead to destruction.

If we take this step, we have a place to start. We have something real and solid to work with. We can do something other than whine. We can actually create a plan and start working on that plan.

 

Anatomy of Destruction
Step One: Admit You Have A Problem

 

When I went to school at UC Berkeley, I went with a friend while he interviewed to adopt a pair of black Labrador retrievers. The family getting rid of the dogs were moving across country for a new job and couldn’t take their dogs. They thought of the dogs as their children and wanted to make sure they got a good home, so they set up interviews for prospective adoptive parents. My friend excelled at interviewing. He got approved and was told he could adopt. When we got the word, we went back to pick them up. We put leashes on them and got ready to go.

I felt awkward about just taking the dogs and leaving. I thought we should at least make some small talk to delay the obviously emotional parting for a few minutes.

I asked where they were from. The answer was Kiev, in the Ukraine. I knew Kiev was affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident so I asked if they were there at the time. The woman was totally unemotional when she said “Yes, it was horrible.” I was interested in the government response and I asked how long it took them to take milk off store shelves after the accident. You see, milk has calcium and when you consume calcium your body wants to make bones and it needs iodine for this. The largest byproduct of nuclear reactions is iodine, which comes from the splitting of uranium atoms. In the accident, tons of radioactive iodine had spewed into the air and gotten onto the grass. The cows ate it and it went into their milk. Milk gets to the store quickly. Within hours after the accident contaminated milk was on the shelves.

This milk is very dangerous because it contains radioactive iodine. If you drink it, your body will start to incorporate the iodine into your bones. This will lead to bone cancer. Most people won’t actually die of bone cancer, however. The cancer will spread quickly to the thyroid and thyroid cancer grows much faster then bone cancer. The thyroid cancer will usually be the cause of death.

These deaths will affect almost entirely children and women. You see, growing children and women use a great deal more iodine than grown men. Since men don’t use that much iodine, if we should happen to drink contaminated milk, the iodine will simply pass right through our bodies. Women, particularly pregnant women, and children, particularly young children, need a lot of iodine: even a few atoms of the radioactive iodine will kill them.

Of course, the builders of nuclear power plants know all this. They know that radioactive iodine is very dangerous and it will be released in large quantities after a nuclear accident. One of the first steps in this response plan would be to ban all milk production and warn the people not to buy and drink milk from the local farmers. All milk would then have to be pulled from supermarket shelves and destroyed. This should be item 2 or 3 (after ‘put out the fires’) in any response plans. The Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union at the time and the Soviet Union had the second largest nuclear program in the world, so it would have worked out response plans well in advance. The response team would, presumably, have practice drills all the time to make sure they were ready in case of an accident. They should do their jobs like a well-oiled machine, and work quickly to protect the public from health risks and minimize losses after an accident.

I was curious about how efficient the Russian nuclear accident response teams had been. The answer to the milk question would tell me this. Were they on it immediately? If their response plan was efficiently executed, they could have sent out an emergency order over the radio and television telling parents to dispose of their milk immediately; they could have the milk removed from the stores and issue orders prohibiting sales to all local farmers within a few hours.

It was a pretty simple question.

I didn’t expect an emotional response.

But I got one. Both of them had a look of panic and fear on their faces. The woman held this look for a few seconds; then she started to cry. It turned out that I had hit a very deep nerve. Through the sobs, she was able to tell me that they had not removed milk from the shelves at all. She tried to go on but emotion overpowered her. Finally her husband stepped in to finish the answer.

He said no one told them anything about the danger of drinking milk. Fresh milk kept arriving in the stores and they kept buying it for their two sons. They didn’t know anything was wrong with this. The next year, both boys got bone cancer. It quickly spread to their thyroid glands.

I knew what was coming. My mother had cancer and I visited her often on the cancer ward. I got to know a lot of people with this disease and watched them die, one by one. It is a horrible way to die. Of course, this happened to both of their children. After the deaths, they did some research to figure out how two boys of different ages could suddenly a disease that is normally quite rare at the same time. They learned about calcium metabolism and the role iodine plays in it. They knew that radioactive milk had killed their children.

They didn’t want to live in the Ukraine anymore.

He had connections and was able to get a job at Berkeley. One of the first things the now childless couple did was get the black labs. The dogs were there to fill the emotional hole left by the dead children. They poured all the love that would have gone to their human sons onto the dogs. Recent budget cutbacks at the university had eliminated his position. He had to get another job quickly to keep his visa. He found one, but it was on the other side of the country and they couldn’t take their dogs with them.

That is why they were giving them away.

He was stoic as he told us these things. He went to the piano and got a picture of the two kids, standing on the lawn in front of their home in Kiev. He had kept his composure until then but couldn’t hold on any longer. When we left, they were both on the couch, the sobbing in each other’s arms. We didn’t even want to bother them to say goodbye and let ourselves out.

According to the official Russian news agency, 30 people died as a result of the Chernobyl accident. The two children were not on the list. In fact, none of the cancer deaths were on the list. The Ukrainian government has never officially estimated cancer deaths. Unofficial estimates, like the 2009 by Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment by the New York Academy of Sciences say 985,000 have died so far, with many more to follow.

 

Other Nuclear Problems

 

Just about anyone you ask about nuclear, including its most adamant advocates, has something bad to say about it. Most people probably wouldn’t put iodine at the top of the list. A lot of people worry most about plutonium, because of its extreme toxicity. Plutonium is named after Pluto, the god of Hades; the Greek equivalent of the devil. It is the most toxic substance that exists on the planet. Nature does not make it and none of it existed before the first nuclear plants started to make it. A single gram of this material (less than the size of a dime), properly distributed, could kill everyone on earth. After the people were dead, the plutonium would kill the wolves, vultures, and other creatures that ate the dead bodies; it would kill the maggots that got what was left; it would kill anything that ate the wolves, vultures, or maggots, it would keep killing and killing anything that got this substance in their bodies for roughly a half million years.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, roughly 5,500 pounds of this material is in storage, mostly in waste ponds, tanks adjacent to nuclear power plants, and in 55 gallon steel drums buried at various sites around the main disposal facilities in the United States (Hanford Washington and the Arco Waste facility in Idaho), and similar facilities in Russia, China, France, England, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

The union’s biggest concern is that plutonium can be used to make nuclear bombs; roughly 30,000 nuclear devices could be made out of ‘garbage’ plutonium that the Union of Concerned Scientists claim is not being safeguarded, because, well, people just don’t feel it is necessary to safeguard garbage. Plutonium will not break down into anything safe for more than 500,000 years. During this time, it will have to be kept refrigerated so it doesn’t melt into a critical mass and explode spontaneously. (Accidental nuclear detonations have occurred when plutonium stored as garbage was not kept cool enough and melted together to form a critical mass. The best know of these accidental nuclear explosions took place on 29 September 1957 in Russia; it is called the ‘Kyshtym disaster.’

Many people think that the risks of plutonium alone make nuclear energy impractical. Even if everything else about nuclear power was safe, the plutonium risks alone are too serious to make this method of power production practical.

Others are more worried about far more plentiful waste products that nuclear plants generate. Millions of tons of so called ‘low level waste’ is generated each year. At first, power plant designers expected this waste to be carted away and disposed of in a safe nuclear waste dump that governments promised to build. But no safe disposal method has yet been found. Some people have proposed building government-monitored storage facilities where the waste can be moved until our technology finds a safe way to store the waste. But the dangers of moving the waste have made this impractical as well. This low level nuclear waste now just sits in holding ponds and pools (to keep it cool; it must also be refrigerated). Almost all of these ponds and pools are uncovered and open to the elements.

It is far from safe.

Radioactive gasses including iodine (which “sublimates” or evaporates into a gas as it comes to exist inside the pools) bubble to the surface and are released into the atmosphere. Storms blow nuclear materials away and, as happened in the Fukushima accident in 2011, freak accidents can come along and wash the entire contents of waste holding ponds away. Often, the low level waste contains small amounts of plutonium. This plutonium gets into our oceans or onto the land where it is washed down to the drinking water below.

Many nuclear pants are near cities. The Indian Point Energy Center is only 20 miles from New York City. It stores enough nuclear waste in open ponds to make New York City, uninhabitable for the next half million years. We can only be thankful that the 9/11 hijackers just wanted to make a political statement, not really destroy ordinary Americans. Otherwise New York City would be uninhabitable until about the year 502,001 AD.

Others people believe the greatest problem with the nuclear process is not the radioactive waste at the end of the fuel cycle, which only has killing potential, it is the much larger quantities of waste at the beginning of the cycle which will kill in very known ways and are killing people now. Uranium is not like gold or silver in that it does not concentrate in streaks and veins. It is basically everywhere, but it is in very low concentrations. Ore has to be processed in immense quantities to extract the uranium. This leaves something called ‘tailings,’ mostly crushed rocks which still contain radioactive uranium or other materials that have been irritated by the uranium and are radioactive themselves. One of these elements is radon, produced in known quantities over time as uranium degrades. The radioactive elements leach into the environment in various ways, including gasses like radon, which is now the second major cause of lung-cancer deaths in the United States after smoking.

In the United States, mining companies must estimate the deaths caused from this contamination and report it on government forms. The standard at this time is 394 additional cancer deaths for each reactor-year in uranium mined; almost all of these deaths will be from cancer caused by inhaling radon gas. If you take this figure and multiply it by the number of reactor years worth of uranium mined in the United States, you get 5.7 million cancer deaths. My mother was raised a few miles from a uranium mine in Montana. She died of lung cancer. Since nearly half of all lung cancer deaths are caused by radon, there is a good chance that she was one of the 5.7 million victims that are listed on the forms that the mining companies submit to the government.

If you live in the United States, and you happen to have chosen one of the 50 states where uranium is mined (yes, uranium is mined in all states), you are being exposed to radon that would not be there without the mining activities. You are basically playing Russian Roulette with every breath you take:

Will you get the atom that kills you in the next breath you take?

Probably not. But breathe long enough, and you will get it. The only way you can be sure you won’t die from cancer due to uranium mining is to die from something else first.

Others would say that the real threats of nuclear energy aren’t environmental all, they are military. They say nuclear plants can’t be defended. New high technology weapons like cruise missiles can fly under radar at the speed of sound, hugging the ground almost like a car. There is really no way to protect the plants against these threats. There are 450 commercial nuclear reactors in the world, with an additional 60 under construction as of 2017; they are all well marked on maps and pictured in satellite images. Each of them contains enough radiation, according to Atomic Energy Commission, in its report titled WASH-740, to ‘destroy an area the size of the state of Pennsylvania.’ WASH-740 is about what might happen in the event of an accident. It does not say what may happen if the plant is used as a weapon with an intention of causing as much damage as possible. Opponents of nuclear power say that any country that uses this method of power production is vulnerable to its enemies; it can never be made safe.

Other opponents look at a different problem of nuclear: lack of fuel. They point to the soaring price of uranium—which has skyrocketed in recent years, rising by nearly 1000% between 2001 and 2017—as evidence we have long since passed peak-uranium. Even if the uranium exists, we may not be able to mine it because of dangers of mining, which are generating more and more public resistance all around the world each year that passes. Fuel prices—which already are high enough to put nuclear fuel costs on the same rough level as the cost of coal—will only go up. When we run out of fuel, nuclear reactors are going to be shut down anyway. Why not cut our losses and stop now.

But this is not happening. The global nuclear power industry is not only not making plans to shut down its existing reactors, it is building at a furious pace. Governments have found ways to keep their plans out of the news and prevent protestors from interfering. New plants are under construction in 15 countries (including 4 in the United States) as you read this.

 

Why We Use Nuclear

 

Even the most ardent of nuclear proponents don’t try to argue that nuclear is a good option because of its safety.

Their augment is only that we need it.

Fossil fuels are doing such horrible damage to our environment that we must have an alterative to take at least some of the pressure off us. They don’t support nuclear because they think it is good, but because they think it is the lesser of two evils.

If we use fossil fuels we have to face the fact of wars over supplies. We use these fuels in such prodigious amounts that no country, no matter how well stocked, will have enough to meet their needs indefinitely. The United States has not been energy independent since 1940. We need energy from other countries and some energy-rich countries have ideologies hostile to ours. So far, they have generally been willing to sell to us and we have been able to buy from them. But if we absolutely need the fuels—if there is no nuclear or other alternative to fossil fuels—we may be forced into war to secure supplies. We know this can happen and must be prepared to take the fuels we need. We need big armies and incredibly powerful weapons.

They know we may attack so they spend much of the money we now pay them for fuels to buy weapons to use against us. If we use fossil fuels, we are arming people who will eventually be our enemies. The more we use, the stronger they get and the less likely we will be to be able to take what we need when we need it.

The biggest argument in favor of nuclear is that we need it to ease our dependency on fuels, particularly fossil fuels controlled by other countries. Nuclear proponents also point to the incredible environmental dangers of fossil fuels. These fuels have carbon that has been buried under the ground for millions of years. When we burn it, this carbon combines with oxygen from our air to form carbon dioxide. This both increases carbon dioxide levels and reduces oxygen levels. Carbon dioxide levels are already thought to have risen enough to change our climate. But even if they haven’t yet, they certainly will soon. The chart below, from the National Oceanograpic and Atmospheric Association, illustrates the danger. Note first that the carbon dioxide levels are increasing extremely rapidly. Now look at the end of the line and see how much stepper it is than the beginning of the line. This tells us not only that carbon dioxide levels are rising, but that they are rising at an accelerating rate.

Catastrophic Climate Change (CCC)

 

Many people believe that if this trend continues, it will begin go have catastrophic effects on our climate in the next few decades. Modeling weather is so difficult however, with forecasts of a few weeks into the future not much better than random chance, that we can’t really say what will happen for certain. Some say ice age. Some say more storms and violence. Some predict that the changing weights on the tectonic plates as miles of ice melt will lead to an “earthquake age” that will create new mountain ranges and cause mass extinctions through volcanic emissions.

The next argument for nuclear is that we will soon run out of fossil fuels and, without something to take their place, our world economy will collapse and most of the world’s people will die. Everything we do now, from raising food to flushing our toilet, takes energy that comes from some fuel-based system. If we abandon nuclear we must rely entirely on fossil fuels. A recent academic study on fuel depletion “An econometrics view of worldwide fossil fuel consumption” says that the world’s oil will be gone by 2043, gas will be gone by 2045, and coal will be gone by 2112.

Of course, we have heard about fuels running out before and the claims haven’t proven to be true. So let’s be “optimistic” (in quotes because being optimistic leads to even worse outcomes) and say fuel supplies hold out much longer than predicted. If this happens, carbon dioxide emissions will have been enough to drive carbon dioxide levels up to 10% of the atmosphere in 168 years.

Why is 10% an important number? A Scripps Institute study shows that as carbon dioxide levels rise, oxygen levels fall to compensate. Here is a chart of actual measured oxygen levels:

 

Qqq scripts chart here

Carbon dioxide is replacing the oxygen we need to breathe. If carbon dioxide levels get up to 10%—unlikely, because we will either have run out of fuels or the heat from the carbon dioxide will have killed us by then—oxygen levels have declined so much that humans can no longer survive. So, either we will run out of fossil fuels fairly soon and almost everyone will die (the best case scenario), or we will perish from a lack of oxygen.

Nuclear advocates see inevitable doom from fossil fuels. They tell us we need nuclear to avoid the extinction of the human race. They think nuclear energy is our only hope.

 

The Solar Option

 

There appears to be an almost universal belief that solar is preposterously expensive. In most cases, people don’t even put it with the practical options because it is said to be too far from being practical at this time. Another almost universal belief is that nuclear, while dangerous, is at least cheap. There was a time when both of these beliefs were correct. But that time was long ago. Now, they are both wrong.

Solar costs have declined dramatically. In 1950 solar photoelectric devices cost $100 for a watt of capacity. A watt of capacity produces

 

 

modern LED television set runs on about 15 watts

 

KWH, of electricity in an hour; 1 KW is enough electricity to power 10 100 watt bulbs.) When I put up my own solar system 10 years ago, I had to pay $5,000 for each KW of capacity. Solar prices had fallen to 5% of their 1950 levels. Since then prices have come down even more and you can buy the same type of product I bought now for about $3,500 a KW. In addition, a new technology has emerged, called “thin-film,” which uses an electrical process to “grow” photoelectric silicon crystals directly on steel that can be used for roofing material. This new technology is available now and you can buy it on Ebay or through various contractors for $3,200 per KW of capacity. The market price of solar capacity as I write this is $3,200 per KW.

At the same time, nuclear costs have soared. During the heyday of nuclear power plants in the 1960s, GE and Westinghouse both offered a fixed price for nuclear power plants of $850 million per gigawatt (the average size of a single unit plant), which works out to $850 per KW of capacity. At the time, the United States government wanted to encourage nuclear and offered a cash subsidy to builders of nuclear plants through the “cooperative power reactor program” of $260 million per gigawatt, bringing the cost to utilities down to $590 million per gigawatt or $590 per KW of capacity.

The days of fixed price contracts on any kind of power plant ended with the inflation of the 1970s. It took so long to build a plant that utilities had to agree to “cost plus” construction contracts if they wanted nuclear power. GE or Westinghouse—the only two nuclear plant builders in the United States—would build the plant, get receipts for all the supplies, labor, and other expenses, add in a fixed markup for project management and another markup for their standard profit margin, and give the utilities a bill for the finished plant. The utilities wouldn’t know how much their plant cost to build until after it was finished. The most recent plant to be completed in the United States was the Watts Bar plant in Tennessee. It took 25 years to build and came at $3.5 billion or $3,500 per KW of capacity. Since this plant came on line in 1986, no new reactors have been completed in the United States. But we can tell from completions in other countries that costs have skyrocketed. Projects in Russia and China in 2011 came in at $7 billion a gigawatt, which translates to $7,000 per KW of capacity. Of course, if you start now and it takes 25 years to finish, you could expect inflation that would drive prices a lot higher than this.

Everything that goes into making a nuclear plant is going up in price. If you want a nuclear plant, you have to sign a contract now with a unknown price, make payments each year to reflect the accumulated costs to date without a dime of revenue coming in, and then pay whatever the balance of the bill happens to be in 25 years or so when the plant is finished.

This isn’t a problem for regulated utilities, the kind that now dominate the world power industry, because they don’t pay the costs themselves. When they make a capital investment, they go before the utility board and the government grants them rate increases to recover the capital cost, plus of course, provide standard returns for investors and profits for shareholders. In fact, utilities actually like high-investment projects, because their regulated returns depend on the amount invested. If we had a competitive market for electricity, they would not want to pay more for their facilities than they have to. People who have to compete to make electricity want the lowest costs, not the highest. But we don’t have competition, they don’t have to pay the costs, so they really don’t care that nuclear costs more. In fact, they like it: the more their plants cost, the more costs they can turn into to the utility boards, the more profits the governments grant them, and the more they can pay their investors as dividends.

Now let’s consider solar. You can get solar for $3,200 a KW of capacity right now on Ebay. Nuclear costs $7,000 per KW of capacity. Solar is not more expensive than nuclear. It is less than half the cost. This is true even if we ignore all cost of nuclear fuel, operations, waste, and all other costs of nuclear. Even if nuclear were a totally safe power option with no fuel or operation costs at all, it would still cost more than twice as much as solar. But even this comparison understates the advantage of solar because it assumes both systems will last the same amount of time. They won’t. Nuclear will wear out much faster and have to be replaced. The next chapter explains how solar works and why solar photoelectric devices don’t produce electricity, they merely take electricity the sun already produces and makes it usable. They have no movable or mechanical parts and nothing to wear. The working part of the device is a crystal of silicon. The crystal is not harmed in any way by use. The device will last as long as the elements that hold the crystals last.

Standard panels sandwich the crystals between two pieces of glass. The glass will be worn through in by the elements in between 200-500 years. Thin film systems use stainless steel which should last more than a thousand years.

Nuclear plants wear out quickly. The produce immense amounts of radiation that degrades the steel and concrete the plant is made of. After 50 years, the plant is so badly damaged by its own radiation that it is no longer safe to operate. The plant must be “decommissioned” or taken out of service. No plant has ever been decommissioned and no one knows how to do it or what it will cost. The entire plant is nothing but nuclear waste on a heavily contaminated site. No one has any idea how to take apart machines that are so radioactive anyone coming close to them will be killed. We haven’t found a way to dispose of any kind of nuclear waste, states won’t allow it to be hauled on their roads, and we don’t have anyplace to put it anyway. But let’s be optimistic and say we find reasonable solutions to these problems. Decommissioning cost estimates that make these assumptions say it will cost roughly as much to decommission an old plant as to build a new one. If this turns out to be the case, to produce electricity for 50 years you must build a plant for $7,000 per KW of capacity and then decommission it for $7,000 per KW of capacity, a total of $14,000 per KW. This four times the cost of solar.

Even this understates the solar advantage, because the parts of the solar devices that produce electricity will last much longer. In 100 years, you will need to spend $28,000 per KW for the nuclear system, more than 7 times the cost of solar. In 200 years you will have to spend $56,000 per KW for nuclear, more than 15 times the cost of solar. Even if we totally ignore the cost of fuel, enrichment of fuel (now done at no cost to utilities by taxpayers), spent fuel disposal, risks, and cancers, nuclear is still at least 15 times more expensive than solar.

The common belief that we have to use nuclear because solar is uneconomic is simply wrong.

This is pretty clearly true now, but it was true even several decades ago, when nuclear costs were much lower and solar costs much higher. In 1978, the House of Representatives commissioned a report on energy costs from the Environment Energy, And Natural Resources Subcommittee which submitted a report to Congress that said the following (see appendix for photocopy of original).

 

“Contrary to widespread belief, nuclear power is no longer a cheap energy source. In fact, when the still unknown costs of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel management, decommissioning and perpetual care are finally included in the rate base, nuclear power may prove to be much more expensive such as coal and may not be competitive with safe, renewable resource energy alternatives such as solar power.”

 

The report went on to say:

 

“If the federal government spent only a small portion of what it has already spent on nuclear power development for the commercialization of solar power, solar generated electricity would be economically feasible within five years.”

 

Why Don’t We Use Solar?

 

I have used solar photoelectric for my power for two decades. With panels on less than ¼ of my roof, my house produces all the electricity used by my entire household. I have never paid a dime for fuel, maintenance, repairs, or adjustments. In fact, from the day I hooked up the wires and turned it on, I have not touched it. The system is entirely automated and I can leave for a day, a month, or as long as I want and it will continue to function, produce energy, and supply energy to myself and others.

My system is hooked up to the grid (the standard name for the electrical supply system of wires that connects homes). The device that does this is called a “grid tie inverter.” It monitors the characteristics of the electricity in the grid and makes the electricity my solar system produces match that electricity exactly. It provides this electricity to me first. If I am using the same amount of electricity as my roof produces, my meter does not turn either forward or backward. If I am using less than I produce, the excess goes into the grid to supply other customers. My meter turns backward. When I am using more electricity than I produce, my meter turns forward like a regular meter. At the end of the month I get a bill for the service fee that the power company charges all customers, $6.22, plus whatever net electricity I use. Since I don’t use more electricity over the course of a month than I produce, my electricity charge is $0 and my total bill is the service charge of $6.22.

I only use ¼ of the electricity my roof could generate. If the entire roof were made of solar materials, it would produce four times the electricity my household uses.

Your roof could be doing the same. Everyone’s roof can do this. The same is true for the roof space of commercial buildings, stores, warehouses, factories, and barns. We have plenty enough hydroelectric energy to cover our relatively small nighttime use. (See Chapter Four for details.) If we did this, we wouldn’t need a single nuclear plant or a single fossil fuel plant anywhere on earth. They could all be closed and the damage they do would stop.

 

Why don’t we do this?

 

No book about solar would be complete without acknowledging that there are very powerful forces pushing against solar. Some are pretty obvious. People who extract fuels from the earth get paid for them, collecting more than $5 trillion in 2010 alone for pumping and selling resources nature created billions of years ago. They want to keep getting their checks. The companies that make conventional power plants are the largest industrial companies in the world. They sell to utilities on a cost-plus basis and utilities don’t care about costs because they pass them through to you. Power plant construction, spare parts, repairs, and operational assistance is a very profitable business to be in. These companies want to keep their money coming in too.

The utilities are regulated in ways that guarantee profits, as long as they use the large, central power systems for electricity. If we switched to the fragmented systems built on local production like solar, we wouldn’t need central systems and wouldn’t need to provide monopoly rights and guaranteed profits. The people who own these companies and invest in them want to keep getting their guaranteed profits and returns.

If we used solar, we wouldn’t need the coal, gas, and uranium we now use. The miners and drillers would not be able to sell their products. Chapter Four explains how to make fuels for our vehicles out of excess electricity. If we did this, the oil companies, gas companies, coal companies would sell anything, would all go out of business, and they would lose every dime they have invested in extracting, refining, and transporting billions of tons of fuels. All the companies that make equipment needed for mining, transport, and burning of fuels would lose their customers; the steel mills that supply them would lose their customers, and all the stores and restaurants and beauty salons and bordellos that supply all the people who now have no jobs because we don’t destroy anymore would also go out of business. All these companies want the status quo to remain intact.

They have ways to do this. Corporations can form the type of organization that is now called a PAC (political action committee) to influence elections. The PACs want to make sure that the candidates that support their position get elected. PACs do not have any limit to the amount they can spend to get their people into office, and they do not have to account for their activities or declare them to anyone. They are not restricted to telling the truth and, from what I have seen, they don’t bother much with it. They care about what is effective. They want to get their people into office. They have trillions of dollars at stake. They are happy to spend a few hundred billion if this insures that the right people get elected.

After the elections, they use other methods to manipulate governments and make them do what they want done. Political lobbies take the entire burden off of politicians by providing all the information they need (always slanted, of course, so it meets their needs) and then drafting the legislation itself (virtually all legislation is drafted by lobbies). They then take the intellectual burden off of the politicians by telling them what their beliefs are and take away the stress of having to make a decision by telling them that their reelection PACs and contributions depend on supporting the legislation the lobbies have drafted. These industries would not have lobbies if lobbies were not effective. They make a difference and bring results. They are effective at creating legislation that gives people who benefit from the destructive industries and reduces or eliminates the natural advantage of their most dangerous competitor, solar.

They have been able to get governments to pass massive relief packages that support the destructive industries. People who deplete coal, oil, and uranium get “depletion allowances,” or special payments that go to them based on the amount of fuels they extract. Get more fuels out of the ground and get more money. These are direct subsidies for destruction and reduce the costs of the destructive options. People who spew toxins into our air don’t have to pay the costs of their destruction or pay to cover the health problems of people injured by their actions. They get a free ride. In the United States, the federal government gives away valuable public land to people who agree to mine it. Stake a claim, extract enough to meet the requirements, and you get the land for free. As noted above, the government also contributes hundreds of millions of dollars of the construction costs.

Utilities are protected by governments. Chapter Five explains the way this system evolved and how it affects our power options. Utilities have legal monopolies and protection from competition. Their profits and returns are guaranteed. Yes, fuel powered energy costs more than solar. But they don’t care because they don’t pay the costs, their customers do. The customers can’t go to another company because competition is illegal. We just have to bite the bullet and pay the cost of whatever power systems they use, no matter what they are.

If we had solar, we would not need the central stations. The power companies know this. They have worked for and passed legislation that works against solar, to drive up its cost, reduce its benefits, and make it impossible to use solar in a way that has any hope of competing with utilities. The most important of these laws in the United States was enacted in 1978, when it first became clear that solar would soon be able to replace coal and nuclear. The utility lobby drafted legislation that would allow the Federal Government to take over utility regulation from the states, and pass a federal law that would keep solar from being a threat for a very long time. The law was the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act of 1978, commonly known as PURPA. This law made it illegal for small-scale solar producers to sell their electricity for market prices. That’s right. You can put up solar, but you can’t provide solar to the grid at anything near the fantastic prices that nuclear or coal plants can sell electricity for.

The price people get for solar has absolutely nothing to do with the market. It is set by federal law. It is called the “avoided cost” and it works out to be about 1/5 the market price of electricity. Coal generated electricity sells for full price. Nuclear energy sells for full price. Any destructive energy produced by a centralized plant sells for full price. Under the law, any renewable energy from a decentralized producer—including solar produced by my roof—can only be sold for 1/5th of this price.

Of course, people might just try to get around this law and sell the electricity for full price anyway. The utilities found a way to prevent this also. They lobbied for and got a standard called UL1741 which all solar and other renewable energy system controllers must comply with. Solar needs a controller to make the voltage and other characteristics of the electricity match standards. The UL1741 standard requires manufacturers to make controllers so they are incapable of independent operation. In other words, they must be connected to a grid so that utilities can make sure that producers are complying with PURPA, not illegally selling their electricity to their neighbors for full market price.

If not for UL1741, neighborhoods could build power-sharing cooperatives and stop buying coal and nuclear generated electricity from the grid. This would still be illegal under PURPA, but if it were practical the law would be unenforceable. UL1741 makes sure this never happens by making it illegal to build a device that would make it possible to sell solar-generated electricity for market rates.

Why don’t we use solar? I can say why only ¼ of my roof is solar: If I had more solar, my roof would produce more than my household uses. I would have to sell the excess into the grid for this ridiculously low price. My utility would make massive profits from my investment (because they would resell the electricity I gave to them for five times the price they pay me for it) and I wouldn’t make enough in revenue from the extra capacity to cover costs.

I live in Tucson, a town that gets a lot of sunshine. If I could just get market prices for electricity, I would have a solar roof. Every building needs a roof anyway. If I have to have a roof anyway, why not let it make some money for me? If people in Tucson could sell the electricity their roofs produce for market prices, a lot of people would put up solar roofs. New homes would almost all be built out of solar roofing materials. Demand for coal-generated electricity would fall and, in order to keep making its guaranteed profits, Tucson Electric Power would have to go to the utility commission and ask for a rate increase. As coal-generated electricity prices rise, more and more people would switch to solar. The massive solar demand would induce people to build larger and larger factories to build solar photoelectric roofing materials. With the advantages of mass production, solar prices would fall dramatically. With falling solar prices and rising coal prices, people with excess capacity would begin selling to their neighbors. (Assuming they can also get UL1741 repealed.) They will save hydroelectric (which is actually a form of solar; the sun evaporated the water that falls through the turbine) for nighttime use and supplement it with very simple “pumped storage systems” like the ones used to store electricity for peak hours in California now. Neighborhoods won’t need to buy the fantastically overpriced electricity from nuclear or coal plants at all. All of these plants will close. The coal mines will also close. The coal trains will stop running. The people who invested in the utility and the coal mines will lose trillions of dollars.

This is the doomsday scenario for the utilities. It is what they need to make sure does not happen.

 

Jobs

 

Under pressure from corporations, out governments do a lot to reverse the natural advantages of solar and push us toward destruction. But government would never be able to get away with this if the people themselves didn’t also have needs that the destruction met. It does. It gives them jobs.

Solar generated electricity requires absolutely no labor. Since I put my system up, I have not touched it. My system was made almost entirely by machine and the new thin film systems are made entirely by machines. People who claim that “green jobs” in solar will appear, making devices, fixing them, and supplying solar producers, are wrong. All the supplies I need come from the sun. No one has to mine sunlight, haul it to my roof, or shovel it onto my panels. Nature does this.

Destruction is naturally labor intensive. People have to do a lot of work just to discover the materials we will use as fuels. Once they find them, they have to do a lot more work to dig them up, transport them to the facilities there they will be burned, shovel them into the furnaces, and remove the waste. You can’t dig coal without large quantities of very large and expensive equipment. We need digging machines to extract the coal, trucks to haul it to the trains, trains to haul it haul it to the plant, loaders to put it onto the conveyer belts that move it to the crushers and into the furnaces; then we need more trucks to haul the ash to the dump. People have to make this equipment and this takes a lot of labor. People have to make the steel for the equipment; more labor.

As time goes on, destructive options require more labor to keep going and non-destructive options like solar less. As fuels run low, people have to work longer and harder to find more, work longer and harder to get it out, transport it farther, and then work longer and harder to mitigate or repair the damage they do with the more-invasive extractions. Even with current technology, solar devices require almost no labor to build and last a very long time. In the future we can expect technology to improve in ways that cut costs by cutting the need for human labor in the production of solar panels and eventually eliminate it entirely.

Many advocates of non-destructive energy systems in the past have tried to claim there will be “solar jobs” that will materialize to replace destructive industries. I believe this position damages the credibility of non-destructive energy advocates in general because it because it simply isn’t true. If we know an advocate is lying about one thing, everything else he says is suspect. If we want to prevent the destruction of the world, we have to face the truth about both the forces pushing for and against solar.

We live in societies that depend on jobs to function. A switch to a non-destructive system will eliminate the jobs of people destroying our world. This is a problem that has to be addressed if we want a non-destructive world. There are ways to deal with this issue. I wish I could say they are simple, or that I could explain them in a catch-phrase or cute and illuminating paragraph, but I can’t. There are solutions, they just aren’t simple, cute, and don’t lend themselves to catch phrases. The jobs problem is as the forefront of the obstacles we have to overcome if we want a clean safe world. But it can be overcome if we are willing to take the necessary steps.

This book is designed to explain all aspects of the solar issue. Solar is cheaper than any other power production option. This is a powerful force pushing for solar. Solar is also entirely non-destructive. The only material it uses, silicon, is the most abundant material on earth after oxygen. Sand is almost entirely silicon (also called silica, quartz, and silicon dioxide, among many other names) as are rocks and the inorganic part of dirt. We use almost none of this material and destroy exactly none: If we ever want sand back, we can simply crush the glass-based panels and their silicon will become sand again. If we melt metal-covered thin film we get back both the metal and silicon. Solar produces no waste of pollution of any kind. The complete lack of destruction is another powerful force pushing for solar.

The investment losses in destructive industries are a force pushing against solar. The need for jobs is a force pushing against solar. These are very powerful forces.

If we keep using destructive power systems, it is hard to imagine a scenario where the human race survives much more than a few more centuries. But the solution is within our reach. Solar can provide all our needs. If we want a solar world, we have to be willing to face the truth. We have to understand all the forces pushing both ways, both for and against solar. We have to know its advantages so we can use this knowledge to help us overcome the forces pushing against solar.

One more note: we can’t depend on vested interests and our governments to take matters into their own hands and solve everything for us. We can’t simply say: “Let’s tell them that solar is cheaper than coal and nuclear; once they know this they will stop supporting coal and nuclear and start to support solar.” The 1978 report above shows that they already know this and have known it all along. How did they respond to this knowledge? They immediately passed laws designed to suppress solar. Then, to prevent its cost advantage from becoming apparent, they steadily increased subsidies on destruction until they are now the largest subsidies any government has ever given any private industry in the history of the world.

Governments do not represent we, the people. They represent whoever gets them elected. Now, the corporations are in charge, because they provide the money that makes the election process work. The corporations benefit from the status quo. They craft the public images and convince people their interests are served by voting for destruction.

If we want a better world, the impetus for change must come from us. We have to be educated. We have to know enough about solar to be able to see their tricks and defeat them. If enough people care enough about the world, we can get our people in and then we will be them. Then we can have change.

In many people’s minds, solar is a mysterious process. It seems almost impossible: Energy can travel from 93 million miles away, moving at the fastest speed possible through the vacuum of space, then suddenly materialize as usable electricity on our roof. If you don’t know how this process works, you may be inclined to believe it really is impossible. Obviously, we shouldn’t put our faith in something our logical mind tells us is impossible. If we want people to get behind this technology, we have to understand how it works and be able to explain it in a simple way that makes it easy for anyone to understand. The process really is simple. The next four chapters explains the way process works, the materials used, manufacturing processes, actual costs, and the other practical realities of solar.

I want to first convince you that there is no magic involved. It is real process that uses less valuable inputs than any other power production method and really does have lower costs than any other power production method. This will help you understand how powerful the forces pushing for solar really are. The rest of the book deals with the forces pushing against solar. It explains what they are, why they exist, and how we can overcome them. We can have a non-destructive world powered entirely by the free energy of the sun if we want this.