Gov Schwarzenegger has proposed a pair of bills that would create a 10-year incentive fund, most likely paid for with a new fee on utility bills, to promote the use of solar power in California. Monkeysign takes a look at the bills, explains, and approves.California has for several years now had a rebate program whereby homeowners can get a large proportion (up to half) of the cost of a grid-tied solar system paid for by a special Public Utilities Commission fund. In addition to the rebate, both the state and the feds offer a tax credit for photovoltaic purchases, and in California the tax-assesed value of your property cannot include solar power systems. In other words, the PUC, the state, and the Feds have been practically begging people to install solar systems.
I did the math early last year, and calculated that a completely new solar system sized to provide for all of our power needs would pay for itself in about 6 or 7 years. The components come with warranties ranging from 25 to 40 years, and there is no maintenance needed. It really was a no-brainer. It grated on my libertarian-leaning nerves to make use of quasi-government incentives
My wife and I took advantage of the incentives in December last year and installed a 7.5kW solar array. It's tied to the grid, so our surplus power during the day feeds the grid and we draw power from the grid at night an during high usage. For those of us who hate high utility bills, watching a power meter run backwards can be a transcendant experience. I even went so far as to videotape it the first time I saw it.
Our first full billing period recently elapsed, Jan. 15 to Feb 14, and I am delighted to say that our total electrical bill for the month was $5. Yup, five bucks. And that is all taxes and fees, not consumption. In other words, during the months with the shortest days and the worst weather, our panels still supplied all of our power needs. Yeeeeeee-hah, as Howard Dean might say.
The article linked above on the incentive fund has one egregious error of the type I find most annoying. The AP writer tries to throw in some explanation of how the solar system work, and he includes this whopper:
The goal is to have 3,000 megawatts worth of solar power by 2018, which amounts to about 5 percent of the state's entire electricity usage at peak periods - generally hot summer afternoons when electricity is most in demand, most expensive, and when solar panels are most efficient.Emphasis mine. That single statement, which makes three assertions of supposed fact, gets two of them wrong. First, electrical demand is not greatest on summer afternoons. It is highest on summer evenings, when people have both air conditioners. stoves, washeers, etc. going. The second and flagrantly stupid assertion is that solar panels are most efficient when it is hot. That is exactly backwards from the truth, as panels effficency decreases dramatically as temperatures increase.
This is the kind of blatant error in basic facts that I see all too often in the mainstream media, and it does not speak well for their accuracy or education level. I mentioned this sort of thing on Jay Rosen's blog some time ago:
There is one thing that occurs to me I haven't seen mentioned. The Internet has allowed many people with narrow fields of expertise to quickly disseminate their views on media output, and this has devastated the media's credibility.This AP story is just one more example. Actually, two examples.
For example, I'm an engineer, and when I read the work of most reporters covering science and technology I am utterly dumbfounded at the inaccuracies, distortions, and outright ignorance often displayed. I know their coverage of my area of expertise is appalling, but that is all I can be sure of by myself.
However, when lawyers, doctors, historians, political scientists, etc can all point out similar mistakes being made by the media in their particular fields, and when they can make their views widely known, the net result is the situation we see now: ordinary people take everthing they read and see from the MSM with a huge grain of salt. More and more people simply do not believe you anymore, and they have very good reason not to do so.