Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why are the Koch brothers opposing solar energy?

Before discussing "bad" elites, let us always remember we have allies, among the movers and shakers.  For example: General Stanley McChrystal (ret), in a TED talk, makes a brief but cogent "military case for sharing knowledge," surprising all with his call for overall transparency.

MCCHRYSTAL-TED-sharingOf course there are a million ramifications and complexities that cannot fit into a TED talk. It is a complex world and our Protector Caste has genuine needs for tactical (short term) secrecy. But needs all-too easily become excuses for bad habits that are self-defeating over the longer term … and that could ultimately lead to Big Brother. 

As I regularly argue, during twice yearly trips to DC, there must be an ultimate trend toward an open world, and that secular trend must be the core goal toward which tactically secret methods (ironically) propel the world. Gen. McChrystal makes about as strong a case as you could in a ten minute TED.

"I am more scared of the bureaucrat that holds information in a desk drawer or in a safe than of someone who leaks, because ultimately we'll be better off if we share."

Oh, for a more in-depth appraisal of this new era, see (of course) The Transparent Society.

== Those who want to shut down both light and enlightenment ==

koch-solarThe Yiddish word "chutzpah" means gall and utterly arrogant nerve. It should be re-spelled to "koch-spah" after this news… that the ever-meddlesome Koch brothers are now funding a major campaign against state efforts to ramp up solar energy.

It would be one thing if they limited their attacks to ending tax rebates and minor subsidies for solar and wind… hypocritical, given how much they have benefited from vastly larger oil-gas-coal subsidies, tax breaks and almost free access to resources on public lands.

No, they are also targeting "net metering" which is the law allowing a homeowner who owns a rooftop solar unit to sell excess power back to the utility. 

Please read that again. The Koch brothers do not want you selling your excess power to the market. Their beef is with filling energy markets with millions of little-guy producers. Their "institute" proclaims that its aim is to "preserve the public utility power company concept" -- a state mandated monopoly system in which single companies control all access to energy. Some enterprise capitalists! Some libertarians! (Read in the New York Times: Koch Attack on Solar Energy.) 

But let's dig deeper to the heart of it. WHY are the Kochs (and their Saudi partners) doing this right now? 

Because solar energy is taking off. Because the efficiency and durability of photovoltaics have been skyrocketing, in part because we had the wisdom to use some mild incentives to boost an important new industry, the way the U.S. Postal contracts stimulated air travel, in the 1920s, or public roads spurred the rise of the automobile.

Only with this difference: renewable energy systems are improving far faster than airplanes or automobiles did, in their nascent days! And more spectacular tech advances loom on the horizon, that the Kochs can see coming fast.

Dig it well. They would not be doing this if renewables weren't taking off and a looming threat to the brothers' bottom line. Millions of autonomous citizens, generating and selling their own power is no longer a sci fi pipe dream. It is coming true fast…

...and parasitic dinosaurs are bellowing.

== focus where it hurts ==

Let's get down to absolute fundamentals that ought to spur any person with libertarian - or liberty - leanings: what must shrink is ability of oligarchy to "capture" and corrupt government. 

Given how deeply committed the Koch brothers are, to meddling and altering our elections, we might want to show it goes both ways, by becoming aware of which products in your neighborhood store augment their Georgia-Pacific empire:

Koch-ProductsKOCH BRANDS: Brawny, Angel Soft, Quilted Northern, Soft 'n' Gentle, Dixie cups/plates/etc, Sparkle/Vanity Fair/Zee napkins.

NON-Koch BRANDS: Charmin, Cottonelle, Scott, Bounty, Viva, Hefty cups/plates/etc, Kleenex/Bounty/Scott napkins.

Hmmm. Print it out. Keep it next to your shopping list. Make up your own minds.

== Bad Democratic Oligarchs? ==

This article in the Washington Free Beacon, Oligarchy in the 21st Century, pushes the meme -- and with some fascinating anecdotal support (!) -- that democrats do oligarchy too!  

This fellow asserts that they do it just as much as republicans do! And indeed, the essay is worth reading, with some informative moments… except for a conclusion that is warped and sick and just plain wrong.

Actually, it's kind of sad, revealing something dark in this writer's core, that he assumes rich democrats must have the same reasons for donating to liberal causes as wealthy donors on the right.  To him, the only conceivable reason that a rich person would donate money would be self-interest, cheating and greed. But the narrative does not wash when Bill Gates and Warren Buffett publicly proclaim "my class should be paying higher taxes."

There is another possible motive -- one that this fellow appears to be incapable of even imagining. That the liberal-rich might be motivated by love of a country and civilization and middle-class society that was very good to them.

== Military Matters ==

The US Navy is showing off, announcing the deployment on-ship of a close-defense laser system and the imminent shipboard testing of a railgun system.

140410101202-navy-railgun-story-bodyYou might recall the dramatically exaggerated depiction of a railgun in one of the Transformers flicks. Railguns use electromagnetic energy known as the Lorenz Force to launch a projectile between two conductive rails. The high-power electric pulse generates a magnetic field to fire the projectile with very little recoil. Many sci fi tales have portrayed rail guns used either in space combat or as great big electromagnetic launch systems, hurling cargoes from the Moon or even from Earth. The development of smaller scale guns for the military was an intermediate step, necessary in several ways.

Combine all this with the Navy's new Zumwalt class destroyer and you can see how advanced a service got that was not crushed and half-ruined by a decade of brutally self-destructive and pointless land wars of attrition in Asia.

Here's a thought-provoking essay on how empires -- mostly spread by military means -- do allow (for all their faults) greater safety from violence and opportunities for trade and development. There are feedback loops and ironies. I do not agree in all ways! But interesting.

Defend civilization, especially the ways in which ours has been unlike any others.


Acacia H. said...

So what are your thoughts on the solar roads that are currently being hyped on the Internet? I must admit I'd be tempted to put in that system for my driveway - not for the solar power, so much as for having it melt the snow so I don't have to shovel! Sadly, my area is somewhat shady so I doubt it would provide enough electricity to be worthwhile outside of the no shoveling bit. ;)

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

For some years I've been (way too slowly) putting together a story that has, as a background, something like what the Kochs are pulling now. It results in a 'sunshine rebellion' and a black market in backyard renewable power distributed by a clandestine network of lasers.

Tim H. said...

So the Kochs oppose even a modest degree of de-centralization? Some folks learned all the wrong lessons from the cold war, kind of ironic for people whose Father was so involved with the John Birch society.

Jumper said...

Having seen how roads are built, I don't see much sense in trying to pave with these things. Put the cars underneath.

I was thinking that all ice plants should run, and electric car batteries should be charged, during daylight to soak up the excess watts.

Valkyrie Ice said...

"To him, the only conceivable reason that a rich person would donate money would be self-interest"

I will argue that it IS self interest David, because they are examples of people able to comprehend LONG TERM SELF INTEREST. They understand that investing in the collective secures LONG TERM BENEFITS. They know that investments in society benefits the whole of society, including themselves. Their fortunes were created because other far sighted individuals helped to build the society that made it all possible.

Yeah, its not immediate self gratification, which is all short sighted self interested types like the Kochs understand, but it is still self interest.

David Brin said...

The place to put massive numbers of solar panels, when we truly have the next economy of scale breakthrough, is as roofs over the California Aqueduct. There is no place as perfect. Nearly total sun. The transmission lines have an existing right of way, and savings from evaporation would nearly pay for it all.

DP said...

Because as libertarians, the Kochs don't believe in big government unless it benefits the.

To ironically quote Ronald Reagan, perhaps we should just call the Kochs "the focus of evil in the modern world".

DP said...

Personally I'm not a big believer in solar or other renewable (the capital costs associated with the vast areas needed for the physical footprints of solar arrays and wind farms make then prohibitively expensive). They are also very inefficient operationally, producing power only when available - not when and where it is needed.

But I would be very happy if the market proved me wrong.

If it were up to me we would follow the French and get the bulk of our electricity from nuclear plants and use the off peak kWh to create as much hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles as we could need.

James "Gaia" Lovelock is right, to save the planet and preerve our standard of living we need to go nuclear.

Tony Fisk said...

Daniel. Concentrated solar plants heat molten salts to ~800C which are then used to power AC turbines. They are in commercial operation. They work all hours. People want to build them. The answer to cloudy days is distribution. Have several plants in different areas. There was a study done a few years ago that showed Australia's stationary energy needs could be provided by a mix of solar, wind, and a smidgen of biofuels. Time: 10 years. Cost: $370 billion. Here's the link. I think you'll be agreeably surprised at what was considered economically feasible, four years ago. (meantime, over a million Aus. roofs have solar panels on them. It was they that prevented conventional coal stations from being overwhelmed in this summer's heat waves.)

The nuclear lobby promises much, but delivers little. The most damning thing, for me, is that nuclear supporters are emphatically against renewables. Ask yourself why? Why can't we have both?

I do agree that a convenient form of transportable energy is desirable.

DP said...


I don't have the specs for the Australian design but I am familiar with PS10 in Spain, the world's only large scale commercial concentrated solar power facility. It generates 10 mW from a heliostat field that extends 148 acres. Total facility area is about 200 acres, or 0.05 mW per acre.(see

Meanwhile, the Apex Matagorda Energy Center natural gas power plant will have a capacity of 317 mW and a 22 acre footprint (see or 14.4 mW per acre.

That's a land use ratio of 288:1 in favor of the fossil fuel burning power plant. To convert over completely to renewables (even under optimum solar conditions like sunny Spain or the Australian outback) would require almost 300 times as much land as current fossil fuel plants.

It's not a conspiracy of the oil companies, it's a conspiracy of physics.

Carl M. said...

Net metering is a subsidy -- a subsidy I favor, but a subsidy nonetheless. The price of electricity at the home meter includes the nontrivial cost of getting it to your house. It is not simply the marginal cost of producing the energy.

Altering the grid to work with houses which feed back into the grid may also require significant capital outlays. Who pays for that?

I'm game for the coal based electricity users to foot the bill, but let's be honest here.

This sort of reminds me of the difference in cost of supermarket food vs. what the farmer gets for the raw inputs. Farmers take the hit because sitting at a farmer's market selling directly is also work, and it is effort for the consumer to buy at a farmer's market vs. the more convenient supermarket.

Distributors do useful work. But when they overcharge, by all means make the effort to hook up with producers directly.

Back to electricity: I look forward to the day when we have good enough batteries so we can simply get rid of the grid outside the core cities.

Anonymous said...

There are two aspects of fees that solar home owners need to be charged 1) fee representative of being hooked to the grid ie. shared network cost. 2) reservation of capacity fee ie. paying for the cost of the plant being shut down or idled during the time when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. I am not opposed to solar or wind but these technologies tend to break the grid. Had the US gone full nuclear with modern or next gen technologies rather than wasting money in Iraq (Bush) and Afghanistan (Bush/Obama). We would be free of the oil extortionists at least for home and industry. Natural gas could be saved for cars until electric vehicles are good enough (alas not yet no matter what the fan boys say, although progress is promising). Science deniers on the left have crippled any rational deployment of nuclear power. Hard to comprehend the fear of global warming and the rejection of simple and safe solutions in the same group.

Chinese will move the world into the future, alas I feel that the USA has lost its mojo. They are passing through a dark environmental period though. My last trip I spoke with a Chinese 1% er who was installing hepa filters in his home. He said that the government had just told nuclear officials to reduce their time line in half or they would find new managers who could deliver.

Alex Tolley said...

mW = milli watt
MW = mega watt.

ALEC was trying to get Arizona to implement a $100/month fee to rooftop solar owners, effectively to try to kill installations. The legislature opted for $5.

Energy storage is the key to critics who say that the sun only shines during the day. As Tony Fisk says, solar thermal plants storing heat in molten salts in one good way to do this. By using local storage, these folks claim that solar and wind could generate 80% of power needs without resorting to seasonal storage. Near me, there is a pilot liquid flow battery storage farm. Something like this is going to be the solution for residences.

I've been saying for a few years that the utilities are between a rock and a hard place. Net metered solar, especially in the sun belt was a wedge in the door allowing solar to take off by reducing the payback period, as well as benefiting the utility by generating most power when there is peak load. But this comes at a revenue cost to the utility. To maintain their growth, they will need to charge ever higher permit fees and try to reduce net metering rebates. But as they do this, this just stimulates the demand for power storage. If access rates are high (similar to the charges farmers must pay) then this will stimulate demand for other power sources during seasonal periods. Flow batteries or fuel cells would work nicely here if there are sources to buy the electrolyte or hydrogen sources. Anything to disconnect from the grid. The utilities are trying to extract rents, and that will stimulate disconnection from the grid, just as cord cutters are disconnecting from cable services.

So I see the next step is having cheap solar, but just used or stored, rather than net metered to escape from the utility fees. It isn't that hard to just connect to the grid when you need power. The only thing stopping local California farmers selling stored energy in this situation is the Williamson Act.

Alex Tolley said...

The high-power electric pulse generates a magnetic field to fire the projectile with very little recoil.

How can that possibly be? The recoil is dependent on mass x velocity. The only benefit over explosively propelled shells is that there is no mass ejection of the hot propellant gases, thus reducing the recoil due to these gases.

Alex Tolley said...

Utility control of smart thermostats.

On its face, this looks like a win-win. However I see a lot of potential for abuse. If I understand the economics correctly, when peak loads require expensive power, this has to be sold at below cost to the consumer, so reducing this demand is beneficial to the utility. But as utilities are resisting small scale power generation, the real story is about maximizing utility profits, rather than allowing consumers to make power choices.

I can't recall where I read it, but a power station was bought for what appeared to be the ability to shut it down driving up power costs by the remaining stations. Have we really learned nothing since Enron?

Alex Tolley said...

It's Brayton Point Power Station, and the new owner is a private equity firm, Energy Capital Partners.

Enron 2.0: Wall Street Manipulates Energy Prices

Anonymous said...

I think cheap storage is a long way off - though I will be happy to be wrong. No synergies with semiconductors here just chemistry and mechanical devices which progress slowly.

locumranch said...

It is one thing to condemn the current caste system as a whole, yet it is another to endorse the caste system in general while condemning exceptional fragments, but this is exactly what David does.

A true believer and advocate of specialization, he dances around throne of castes and sings hosannas to our protector, military, intelligence, academic, literary, bureaucratic, industrial & scientific castes, crediting these specialty castes for producing the best-est, free-est & most enlightened civilization in history, all while condemning selected members of the ruling caste for oligarchic tendencies.

What does he expect?

He is a card-carrying specialist, a fellow traveler, luxuriating in the benefits of a caste system which he praises to high heaven, with the temerity to bemoan both the rise of the oligarch (the logical extension of any caste system) and the demise of democratic principles predicated upon equality, egalitarianism & non-specialization.

He forgets that democracy is the sole purview of the non-specialist because, in order to allow any & every citizen an equal voice in the political process, the democratic society must assume a large measure of equality & non-specialization in component capability which would then allow any individual to fulfill the requirements of any political role.

And, just as democracy requires non-specialization in order to function, specialization leads to caste, caste leads to oligarchy and oligarchy leads to tyranny in inevitable fashion, without fail, on earth as it is in heaven.


thrig said...

Oh, rushed nuke plants in China? What could ever possibly go wrong with that? Well, hopefully the grid[†] can be kept up so the cooling ponds don't all burn off, so let's all join hands and say no to war, forever as long as there are cooling ponds to maintain. Granted, the Chinese did delay construction after a little tsunami revealed the distinct lack of clothing over on the nukes in Japan. Whoops! Tsunamis, in Japan. Who could have seen that coming?

An off-grid Australian chap noted that very little energy is available over the several weeks around the Winter solstice, and another commentator noted that their solar panels were quite useless when they were buried under six feet of snow. I know! We can invent a robot that will dig out solar panels, and never mind the long industrial supply chain and resource extraction and pollution and transportation costs and road maintenance costs—road construction crews use a distinct lack of any sort of what might be called progressive technology, I've noted. Maybe if we had built the roads in the proper Roman style? Anyways, one could use less energy, but that's mighty unfashionable among the onwards and upwards and hey check out the natural gas reserve draw-downs after a coldish Winter in America. So much for passivhaus and a proper use for solar energy.

Consumers can (and will) make power choices; unfortunately some of them come with high capital costs, while others are quite easy: for example, I turned off the refrigerator years ago (a welcome relief from the noise pollution); eggs from the farmer's market keep just fine out on the counter, and need only be flipped every few days. I can also highly recommend eliminating your home Internet connection and walking to a coffee shop when necessary for that; the money saved I feel is better invested in the farmer's market than in the mountain-top coal removal required to sustain the modern Internet.

[†] Or some as-yet invented battery or storage technology or something of handy-wavey economics and marketability that will become available real soon now, for sures (collection plate passed, choir sings, coffee and donuts in the basement of the Church of Progress, hooray!), meanwhile check out the 1,000+ new coal plants being or planned to be built.

Alex Tolley said...

@ Thrig
You are right to be skeptical of energy storage systems. "Show me" rules. However, molten salt does work and is economic. Of course the technology is decades old. Flow batteries are potentially inexpensive as the electrolyte (cheap) is decoupled from the cell. Adding electrolyte rather than replacing/recharging expensive cells makes sense. Fuel cells are always the future technology - hitherto enormously expensive. Yet Toyota just announced that they would no power their new electric cars with LiOn cells (like Tesla) but opt for fuel cells. They presumably have worked out that this must eventually be a profitable approach. IMO, there are reasons to be optimistic on energy storage.

High capital cost elimination with solar, is "Solar City"'s business model. Lease the panels which pay for themselves with lower energy consumption over about a decade. As solar energy prices declines, the payback gets shorter, with the caveat that net-metering remains in place at least long enough to get leased storage. (e.g. leased energy storage)

Alex Tolley said...

The place to put massive numbers of solar panels, when we truly have the next economy of scale breakthrough, is as roofs over the California Aqueduct.

India got there first. NIH mentality in CA?

Brian said...

Tony Fisk,

"The most damning thing, for me, is that nuclear supporters are emphatically against renewables. Ask yourself why? Why can't we have both?"

You paint too broad a brush here. There are many nuclear scientists such as myself who are supporters of BOTH renewable energy and nuclear energy. We recognize the potential and limitations of both. Anything to help get us away from fossil fuels.

Solar and wind should be used where they make economic sense. Their geographic limitation and inherent intermittency means they cannot be the sole solution. Nuclear energy seems the ideal complementary energy source as it is not carbon emitting.

And yes, nuclear energy is not perfect, especially current light-water technology. Unfortunately, we're stuck with a system that makes it very difficult for innovation in nuclear energy that would help surmount these issues.

The world regulatory infrastructure is built around large light-water reactors. In the US, at least, large power companies rather like the status quo where prospective licensees have to pay for the imposed licensing costs, which are completely uncapped and therefore a large investment uncertainty for innovative designs. We can thank the Reagan administration for that one. Unfortunately, with the (temporary) glut of natural gas and the windfall established interests are making there, I don't see any motivation to change this in the near future.

dgaetano said...

Here's the current renewable power generation in California:

(as I type this CA is generating 4.5GW of solar power, and anther 1GW of wind)

Here's the historical data:

Wherein we can see that yesterday (5/25/2014) CA generated over 23% of its utility scale electricity from non-hydro renewables: 140GWh.

This data doesn't include residential solar, which just shows up as less demand (I think the current estimate is 1.5GW of residential solar in CA)

daedalus2u said...

The US Navy has had some press releases about generating hydrocarbon fuels from electricity and sea water. From a military standpoint it makes terrific logistical sense. The aircraft carrier reactors have to be run at a certain power level (they cannot be turned up and down rapidly because of stability issues), so turn the excess power into jet fuel.

That process will put a floor on the value of off-peak electricity. Build enough wind and solar to meet peak capacity, then use all of the excess to generate hydrocarbon fuels. No need for coal, oil, or even natural gas.

mollytherealdeal said...

I really like the TEDtalk video from Gen. Stanley McChrystal about the "military case for sharing sharing knowledge".

David Brin said...

Har. Dope-fetishist calls the coiner of "the Age of Amateurs" a slave of specialization. Solipsism and auto-eroticism engender many straw men. Guffaw.

Jumper said...

I wonder if there is an advantage to pump heat into the soil below my house in summer, and retrieve it in winter. This would be a hybrid geothermal system, with solar added.

I like the aqueduct idea, David. Write your governor today! You'll have better luck than I would with mine, "coal ash McCrory."

dgaetano said...

"Meanwhile, the Apex Matagorda Energy Center natural gas power plant will have a capacity of 317 mW and a 22 acre footprint (see or 14.4 mW per acre." (Daniel Duffy)

That leaves out the lifetime fuel footprint, that's cheating ;)

Modern residential PV is 20% efficient, which is what, 0.8mW per acre?

Duncan Cairncross said...


Wind farms do very well as they only use a tiny fraction of the land leaving the rest for farming

Solar power
1 Kw/m2 - for 1/4 of the time (dependent on location) x 15% efficiency
= 37watts/m2 = 370Kw/Ha or about 92Kw/acre
so about 10 acres/Mw

Not too bad most old style power stations cover at least 100 acres

That's Solar PV at 15% - solar thermal with salts is more like 30% so about 5 acres/Mw

But the main thing that is wrong with that is that most solar power will be from "wasted space" rooftops and the like

As far as Net Metering is concerned - yes it does not cover the line costs - but here at least they are covered separately

Here (NZ) (probably cheaper in the USA)
Current situation
$3/watt – installed 1500 – 2500 sunlight hrs/year

Electricity costs ~ $0.12/Kwhr
So a 1Kw installation will cost $3000 and generate 1500 to 2500Kwhrs/year - $180 - $300 per year
6% - 10% per year
At this level of return we should be able to stand back and let people spend their money

Next - $3/watt – any reduction will have the effect of making solar power more desirable
This is made of, $1 for the solar panels, $1 for installation hardware and labour, $1 for the inverters required to convert the DC from the panels to AC for the grid
Each has its opportunities.
Solar panels
Buying a container load (20 houses worth) will half that price – larger orders will reduce it further

These are massively overpriced, the inverter on my electric car cost $600 and can handle 75Kw,
The home solar inverters are $4000 for a 4Kw unit

I know they are not exactly the same but the power handling components are the expensive parts

David Brin said...

Does the training of health professionals carry as much weight as the experiences and knowledge of concerned parents using Google Scholar? More simply, are we all scientific experts now?
This is the title Harry Collins gave his new book. The good news is that rising citizen and patient participation in the give and take of building practical wisdom in a scientific civilization -- as I portrayed in both The Transparent Society and EARTH, in coining the term "The Age of Amateurs." But the bad news is pretty grim. In a plague of indignation-driven silliness, many of our neighbors take this trend to mean they can dispense with specialists, with their hard won expertise, altogether…. a tendency exacerbated by the War on Science.

Frantic, desperate solipsism is a theme of the age. Whatever impressions and Facebook jpegs might support an existing bias, that substitutes for hard work and knowledge and the competitive tug-and-push of true science. It does not foster the Age of Amateurs but hinders and thwarts and poisons it. This trend endangers us all.

LarryHart said...

This is a re-post from the previous comments, but it came right at the end, and I really think it needs to be seen.

This really says it all concerning the economic inequality issue.

From Kurt Vonnegut's novel "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater" published in 1964:

When the United States of America, which was meant to be a Utopia for all, was less than a century old, Noah Rosewater and a few men like him demonstrated the folly of the Founding Fathers in one respect: those sadly recent ancestors had not made it the law of the Utopia that the wealth of each citizen should be limited. This oversight was engendered by a weak-kneed sympathy for those who loved expensive things, and by the feeling that the continent was so vast and valuable, and the population so thin and enterprising, that no thief, no matter how fast he stole, could more than mildly inconvenience anyone.

Noah, and a few like him perceived that the continent was in fact finite, and that venal office-holders, legislators in particular, could be persuaded to toss great hunks of it up for grabs, and to toss them in such a way as to have them land where Noah and his kind were standing.

Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus, the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.

E. pluribis unum was surely an ironic motto to inscribe on the currency of this Utopia gone bust, for every grotesquely rich American represents property, privileges, and pleasures that have been deined the many. An even more instructive motto, in the light of history made by the Noah Rosewaters might be: Grab much too much, or you'll get nothing at all.

locumranch said...

The Kochs are entitled to speak out against solar power by the First Amendment which declares that **speech is free**.

Since then, Citizens United has declared that **corporations are people** and **money is speech**, meaning that the Kochs are now entitled to petition the US Government for a redress of corporate grievances under both the First Amendment & the Bill of Rights.

It also means that **money equals freedom** in the sense that the Kochs, their subsidiaries & other corporations, by virtue of having more money than you or I, now have more rights than you or I, up to and including immunity from criminal prosecution.

And, the difference between an amateur and a professional? A professional gets paid for his services, an amateur does not, meaning that 'The Age of the Amateur' connotes a return to slavery under corporate masters, aided and abetted perhaps by the qualified sell-out or self-righteous specialist.


rewinn said...

As someone with practical experience in home solar I'm happy to report that some of the objections voiced above are mistaken.

//*Altering the grid to work with houses which feed back into the grid may also require significant capital outlays*//

No, it does not. The grid is not altered at all. My PVs feed into my house's box. The only alteration to the grid is the installation of a more modern meter to replace the old "spinning disk". This meter lets the utility shut down my system in an emergency and to read my meter remotely. The cost of the latter alone justifies the new meter.

//*the capital costs associated with the vast areas needed for the physical footprints of solar arrays*//

Home solar converts wasted space (my rooftop) into economically usable space. The cost of land is therefore zero.

Certainly large solar farming operations have land costs, which is why they tend to be sited where there are no competing uses ('s worth nothing that, fundamentally, farming consists of converting solar energy into nutrition ... but I digress.).

//* They are also very inefficient operationally*//


//*producing power only when available - not when and where it is needed*//

Wrong on both counts.

Solar electric peak generation is between 10AM and 4PM (YYMV) which is also peak usage. Certainly to fulfill all needs, we need either baseline capacity of another sort, or some form of storage, but neither issue is at all relevant to the subject of the article: the attempted economic assassination of home solar.

As for the "where" argument: Home solar feeds directly into the home's box, so the juice is used locally; any excess is eaten by the neighborhood. There is essentially zero transmission loss; as a result, each kwh generated by home solar does more useful work than any kwh generated by a coal, hydropower or nuke plant, unless the plants are located right next to where the juice is used.


Wise energy policy, like wise nutrition policy, relies on a variety of sources. Home solar is an important component, comparable to buying food locally, and both not incidentally offer an increment of freedom to those of us to adopt it. It is indeed telling that our most politically powerful soi-disant libertarians attack the this source of freedom, but at least more sincere libertarians are the opposite.

Paul451 said...

Re: Solar Roadways.

Two points: The reason the makers want to use the tiles as road surface is because they contain coordinated LED display systems (and sensors) which would replace road markings and most roadside signage.

Secondly, if you are able to use such panels as a road surface, you don't require additional support infrastructure beyond what you already have for the road. And "roof" over roads or aqueducts would require a substantial support structure, not just to hold the weight, to to prevent winds from toppling it.

Re: Solar and snow.
The Solar Roadway concept includes heaters. One of the intended uses of the solar road tiles is to eliminate snow/ice build up on roads, paths, drives, carparks...

Re: Storage skepticism
Batteries are halving in price every four years. And doubling in energy density every ten.

Paul451 said...

When David mentioned the LA Aqueduct, I thought he meant the LA River, something those of us outside of LA/Cali/US are much more familiar with, thanks to Hollywood. Imagine the property value increase if you removed the concrete trench system and replaced it with a continuous linear park (with a terraced flood system). Some are working towards this goal, but it stuns me that it's taken so long. It just seems so obvious. And for somewhere as hippy/eco/lefty as California to wait so long...

(I wonder if they'll leave a stretch of concrete trench in place for Hollywood to use. It's just too iconic.)

"when Bill Gates and Warren Buffett publicly proclaim 'my class should be paying higher taxes.'"

Just to be clear, did either man ever call for an increase in the tax that would actually affect them? Capital gains, not personal income?

(Turing: "contains ixamsaf" - And you thought the gluten was bad.)

Paul451 said...

Re: Hydrogen economy.

Hydrogen remains a hideously energy intensive (and hence wasteful) power storage system. It was only ever considered because batteries sucked so badly. But since then, battery technology has completely leap-frogged it. But weirdly, the idea of hydrogen seems to have become an ideology for some of its original advocates. Not just greenies. Engineers at major companies (Mercedes and Toyota, for example) which had invested heavily in hydrogen (ICE and FCEV respectively) are still trapped in the same mindset. They can't accept that they chose the wrong horse and time has moved on.

Plus hydrogen stores about 25% of the power used to create it, compress it, transport it, etc, if you use natural gas as the source. (Hydrolysis of water is much much worse.) Batteries are about 80-90%. Once the price of batteries started dropping exponentially, the apparent advantage of hydrogen was lost.

Similarly Alex,
I worry that flow batteries have also missed their opening. If so, it's a pity because it's such a simple-clever-useful technology.

Re: Leased energy storage
In ten to twenty years Tesla (Musk) is going to have a lot of used but serviceable battery packs. And a lot of customers leasing panels through Solar City (also Musk)....

Random aside: Why do so many websites interrupt a first-time visitor with a pop-over trying to get them to sign up for something? I haven't read a single article on your site, I have no idea what your site is like, whether it interests me, I just followed a link. The only thing I know about you so far is that you are In My Way! How many people would (intentionally) click through newsletter or conference sign-up windows before they've read the site? I just can't see the logic, but it's so common. What are they thinking?

Paul451 said...

Carl M.,
"Net metering is a subsidy -- a subsidy I favor, but a subsidy nonetheless. Altering the grid to work with houses which feed back into the grid may also require significant capital outlays. Who pays for that?"

Remember, most suppliers do not pay for the actual grid. Hell they usually pay less towards the grid than the consumers.

Solar feed-in households already pay for the smart-meter upgrades when they install their systems, and depending on the grid operator there's often a flat "connection/line/service fee". But there's little or no additional cost for grid operators from household solar. The feed-in power raises the voltage of the rest of the grid by a fraction, allowing the operators to reduce the supply from mainstream sources; but there's no other effect or burden.

There's a myth promoted by alt.power opponents that the intermittent nature of solar/wind/etc puts an additional burden on the grid. That simply doesn't happened in practice. The reason is that the demand side of the grid is already highly variable. So the grid has built in the capacity to scale supply up and down to meet rapidly varying demand.

The engineering rule of thumb is that grids can cope with variable supply up to half the difference between highest peak and lowest off-peak demand. So if a grid has demand fluctuations from 10GW summer day peak to 2GW winter night baseload, then the same grid can absorb 4GW alternative power. If, otoh, the grid only varies between 7-8GW, it can only handle 0.5GW alternative without some kind of storage system. Provided the total alt.power supply stays under that cut-off, there's no extra costs, and a genuine saving on fuel for FF-based systems.

And as Tony pointed out, in practice it can save the cost of entire new power stations.

[For similar reasons, nuclear is precisely the wrong technology for modern grids. Nuclear has high infrastructure costs and relatively low fuel costs, and works optimally in continuous stable operation. For a highly variable grid, especially if you have or want a lot of alternative power, you want a low infrastructure cost technology which is highly responsive, where life-time fuel cost are more than construction and maintenance costs. Modern gas-fired systems are the ideal. That way you can build entire just-in-case "peaker" plants, which ideally you rarely run. Nukes, otoh, make more sense above the snow-line.]

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

I can't recall where I read it, but a power station was bought for what appeared to be the ability to shut it down driving up power costs by the remaining stations. Have we really learned nothing since Enron?

We've apparently learned nothing since "Who Framed Roger Rabbit".

Valliant: "You're nuts! Who's gonna drive on this freeway of yours when they can ride the Red Car for a nickel?"

Doom: "I bought the Red Car in order to shut it down!"

Valliant: "Then Cloverleaf Industries..."

Doom: "You're looking at the sole stockholder."

LarryHart said...


Granted, the Chinese did delay construction after a little tsunami revealed the distinct lack of clothing over on the nukes in Japan. Whoops! Tsunamis, in Japan. Who could have seen that coming?

According to an Anonymous poster, the ones who saw it coming are left-wing science-deniers.

Anonymous said...

Irrational fear of nuclear power affects both left and right, so my apologies if it appeared I was tarring the left only with that brush. Just seems particularly ironic as the left is more concerned with CO2 production. It has always seemed to me that nuclear power is a good fit for intermittent sources like solar and wind. Gas turbine peaking plants produce CO2 by the way just not as much as coal due to the high hydrogen to carbon ratio. Hydrocarbons are too valuable in the long run to burn for energy when other renewable sources are available. NG is a good way to power transportation during the transition to electric vehicles progresses assuming that route is ultimately successful.

The only distaste I have for "renewables" regards food based ethanol - a payoff to big agriculture which hurts poor people.

I recommend people read beyond the press releases of companies and apply a little critical thinking.

LarryHart said...


I understand that there is a phobia of nuclear power that comes from the left. What I take issue with is the implication that there is no rational basis for that phobia--that it is somehow based on denial of science.

Yes, nuclear power may be mostly safe, but both Chernobyl and Fukashima have demonstrated rather starkly how disastrous a single incident can be. So please, make the case that anti-nuke fears are unfounded, but don't pretend that science says nuclear power is without terrible risk.

LarryHart said...


The only distaste I have for "renewables" regards food based ethanol - a payoff to big agriculture which hurts poor people.


The appeal of using food for fuel only applies when the food is plentiful enough. If people are going hungry because the food producers can make more money selling the food for energy, then that's as evil as oligrachs owning all of the food and making everyone else into slaves (which now that I think about it, sounds like a Simon Bar Sinister plot from "Underdog").

Soon, we'll be living out a Dilbert cartoon in which someone invents a process for running engines on water, and Dilbert speculates (sardonically, but not unreasonably), that we will now all die of thirst.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Larry said
"Yes, nuclear power may be mostly safe, but both Chernobyl and Fukashima have demonstrated rather starkly how disastrous a single incident can be."

Indeed they have
Chernobyl - a total cock-up - 100 dead?
Fukashima - zero dead

The alternative (coal)
Thousands dead every year
Every month more radioactive contamination than Fukashima
Every decade more radioactive contamination than Chernobyl

Sounds like a win to me

Anonymous said...

Meawhile, your co-tribalist financial oligarchs and their media/war machine are inciting wars, revolutions and coups around the globe, churning out mass propaganda against their ancient enemies(e.g. Putin's post-Bolshevik Russia), and quite possibly risking another world war, but it's those (Gentile) Koch Brothers and their subversive Ayrab friends who are the real threat to America!

Nice job running interference for the neoliberal Zio-empire, Brin, you're a master!

No worries folks, we're all going to be living in a super-techno-progressive Star Trek rainbow world real soon now -- just as soon as the space jews show up and teach us about warp drive! Live long and prosper!

LarryHart said...

@Duncan Carincross,

Are you sure you're not leaving something out? There's no reason those two names have become household words that will live in infamy after we are dead?

But in any case, I will grant that the political left worries about environmental risk without much thought to economic cost, while the right does the exact opposite. "Drill, baby, drill!" is more than a simple suggestion that more oil drilling is good for the economy--it reflects a barely-disguised pleasure with harming the environment in order to bring that economic good about.

You might say that lefties say "Screw the economy!" while righties say "Screw the environment!" (I toned it down to "screw" in deference to our host)

Me, I'd like to think that the pleasure is asymetrical--that while righties enjoy making lefties cry over the enviroment as much as they enjoy any economic gain therefrom, the lefties are more concerned with saving the enviroment and less so with tearing down capitalism. But I admit I might just be projecting there.

LarryHart said...

It has apparently escaped the notice of the Nazi "Anonymous" notice that the AIPAC-can-do-no-wrong side of the aisle is the same one that supports the Koch brothers.

Tony Fisk said...

Brian said...

Tony Fisk,

"The most damning thing, for me, is that nuclear supporters are emphatically against renewables. Ask yourself why? Why can't we have both?"

You paint too broad a brush here. There are many nuclear scientists such as myself who are supporters of BOTH renewable energy and nuclear energy. We recognize the potential and limitations of both. Anything to help get us away from fossil fuels.

I'm pleased to hear you say that, Brian and admit I can use smaller brush sizes.

My stance was actually prompted by the response to the ZCA report by the Australian nuclear lobby, as represented by Prof. Barry Brooks. While I don't have problems with Brooks himself, the underlying commentary was very negative, to the extent that the qualifications of the ZCA authors was being called into question (I think you've seen the strategy from climate deniers)

A critique was published with the intention of showing the ZCA proposal to be hopelessly unrealistic. The authors did not respond; preferring to wait until the fossil fuel industry said something directly. The fact they never did, contrasted with the vehement response of the nuclear lobby leads me to suspect that one lobby is using the other as a stalking horse.

Anyway, the critique itself follows the same analyses as ZCA, but takes different set of data (starting with projected energy needs) to produce (surprise!) a different result. At this point it comes down to which were the more accurate data projections. (Four years on and it should be becoming clear)

Meanwhile, as you say, anything is better than coal.

Carl M. said...

@Randy: I did specifically use the word may for additional capital costs for going to smart metering. Obviously, there is the new meter.

When only a small fraction of a neighborhood has solar, then the electricity is simply delivered locally. The meter at the house is enough. But what happens when suburban neighborhoods themselves become net energy sources for the grid? Does this entail new equipment further upstream? I don't know.

But let us assume zero additional capital aside from the home meter. There is still the use of the existing grid. A rather hefty chunk of a residential electric bill is NOT marginal cost of energy consumed by amortization and maintenance of the wires and transformers needed to get the energy there.

Some years back I did some research on the impact of a carbon tax, what it would take for solar to be competitive etc. My recollection (which may be wrong) was that the cost of power at the plant was on the order of half that of residential electricity rates. (I am open to correction on this; the memory is old and I don't have time to redo the research today.)

The current pricing system pricing by the kilowatt hour is both progressive and environmentally correct. If you separately charged for share of power line hookup then the marginal cost of using the hookup would go down. People would use more juice to get their money's worth. Eco-hippies living in tiny houses would pay the same base charge as floodlit McMansion owners.

In other words, we already have a smallish conservation subsidy in effect.

On the other hand, there is a huge subsidy for the grid itself in the form of eminent domain. If the power companies had to pay rent for the space they use for right of ways, lots of rural areas would have gone to alternative energy a long time ago. Sterling engines and Edison batteries may well have been economical a long time ago.

(Actually, rural alternative energy would have been mainly biomass back in the day. My grandfather loved to tell the young'uns about the diesel sawmill he had that would run on lard. He had some plans from WWII for running a car on charcoal using the water gas process. I suspect rural people would have used generators intermittently: when it was time to run motors. With a big enough tank in the attic, you don't need to have a water pump on standby 24/7. You can heat with wood or kerosene without electricity. You can cook with gas. Basically, you just need enough battery power to run the TV and a few lights at night.)

Tony Fisk said...

It seems India has been experimenting with combining solar panels and aquaducts for a while now.

Duncan. Point taken about relative casualties of coal vs nuclear. Unfortunately, it's harder to define coal related deaths as opposed to those arising from glowing ruins (there are of course, exceptions, as happened to Morwell recently)

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan - it is very similar to air disasters. Perhaps 300 people died on MH370, yet the US has 30,000 car fatalities per year, the equivalent of 1 MH370 every 3 days. Yet the public fears air travel and any major accident results in a temporary dip in passenger load.

rewinn said...

@Carl - I appreciate your economic concerns, but a utility can solve it thus:
A) It buys from me all the electricity I produce, and
B) It sells to me all the electricity I use.

Y'all who don't have home PV are already accustomed to #B, and y'all power plant owners are accustomed to #A. Systemwide costs, such as the grid and the legion of green-eyeshaded accountants, would be paid for by a skim from A & B.

Krista Hiles said...

There is really a need of cheaper systems as they will cause a huge boom among essentially all industries in every country. Energy powers everything. So far, with nuclear technology stalled, we don't have anything cheaper than coal and gas for producing electricity. With cheap solar thing will change. The Great Stagnation - which many suspect is really just an energy technology stagnation - would suddenly be a lot less scary. Great post. Keep sharing.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Larry said
"Are you sure you're not leaving something out? There's no reason those two names have become household words that will live in infamy after we are dead?"

The problem with radiation is that it is easy to measure in incredibly small amounts - and there is a natural background level that varies by a large amount
People were evacuated (and probably over a thousand died early because of the evacuation) from areas with increased radiation when the increased level was still much lower than Aberdeen or Denver

There are a lot of people who seem unable to deal with things on a quantitative level - so because a tiny amount of radiation is easily detectable they go all wobbly and panic

Acacia H. said...

Before you guys read this, I have to warn you of two things. First, this is not an Onion article, sadly enough. And second, reading this article could result in excessive eye-rolling and exclamations of "how [censored] stupid do they think people are?!?"

Halliburton-sponsored Study claims solar energy draws energy from the sun and excessive use could permanently damage the sun and cause it to go out within 300 years. I just have one thing to say: how the [censored] is this not an Onion article? oO

Rob H.

A Siegel said...

I pay $7.95 per month for my hook-up to the grid which, in fact, is an overpayment relative the amoritized cost of my grid connection / backup generation. Yet, I find this a reasonable compromise vs paying for the battery storage/attempting to go off grid.

There is another aspect -- which is the actual value of the electricity generated. My summer solar production greatly exceeds my use. If I take the grid value of that production -- a large share of which occurs during peak demand (air conditioning on very hot days) with high MWh prices -- my power provided is actually making a meaningful profit by 'buying' my net metered electricity at 8 cents kWh rather than having to buy electricity at $100s/MWh. My greatest pulls from grid are at times when the spot market is, due to nighttime/nonpeak, typically below $40/MWh and I am often sending power to grid when the wholesale price is $100s ...

My solar home.

myzoski said...


Peter Watts gave a talk to the Symposium of the International Association of Privacy Professional, called The Scorched Earth Society that references The Transparent Society, not in an entirely positive light. Still, it's interesting. From BoingBoing:

Hank Roberts said...

For Rob H.

Remember, always check Snopes

"... the National Report, a web site that publishes outrageous fictional stories such as "IRS Plans to Target Leprechauns Next," "Boy Scouts Announce Boobs Merit Badge," and "New CDC Study Indicates Pets of Gay Couples Worse at Sports, Better at Fashion Than Pets of Straight Couples."

The National Report's (since removed) disclaimer page previously noted that "all news articles contained within National Report are fiction"..."

Hank Roberts said...

I would definitely like Dr. Brin to have a long thoughtful conversation with Peter Watts.

Here's looking at you.

Hank Roberts said...

"... a project developer may put up a project of any size in the State. He can either sell the power to the State’s electricity distribution company at the ‘average pooled purchase cost’ that is determined by the state electricity regulatory commission (which is today Rs 2 per unit), or can sell it to any other consumer directly, whether within or outside the State.

On banking of power (or, injecting power into the grid and drawing it back later), the policy says it allows 100 per cent banking. However, any energy injected into the grid will have to be drawn within that calendar year. No drawing of banked power will be allowed between February and June, and during the peak hours—6.30 pm to 10.30 pm. The developer will have to pay 2 per cent of energy as ‘banking charges’. ..."

Acacia H. said...

Oh thank goodness. I'd hate to think that was real. Though why that site can't have a name like "The Onion" I've no idea. Or rather, ideas but most of them go around "manipulating people and creating rage in people about fictional articles."

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan - was watching "Pandora's Promise" on Netflix. There was a segment where one of the Environmentalist "apostates" was measuring radiation (didn't say what exactly - probably with a "Geiger counter") around the world. The range of values was huge. Chernobyl today was much lower than natural background at some sites, including a very hot beach in Brazil. We have certainly acquired a very extreme worry of radiation even when it is unwarranted. In addition, while we generally assume any dosage level is harmful, there is an opinion that small does of toxins including radiation damage, is beneficial rather than harmful(hormesis).
You would think that by now there would be a boatload of epidemiological data about this.

locumranch said...

I'll try to be serious for a change & point out that the real obstacle to alternative energy development is social rather that technical.

We have a perversely social Old Guard (the Petroleum Industry to name one) that emphasizes cooperation, specialization & interdependency, insisting on an easily monetized type of centralization (the Colonial Economic Model, really) as pioneered by the British Textile Industry.

The Colonial Economic Model is as follows:

An organization collects or purchases raw materials from the periphery, ships those raw materials to a central location for processing by proprietary methods and then returns those processed materials to the periphery for a sizable mark-up.

But this model is not restricted to the Petroleum Industry (and this is, perhaps, where David & I part ways). I see this model everywhere in our culture of specialization & interdependency, this irrational preference for a defunct hierarchical model that amounts to ancestor worship which, among other things, is especially prevalent in academics.

Like you, I've heard all the pros & cons of alternative energy (the limitations of wind & solar, the costs of grid maintenance, etc), but almost no one thinks about the 64 dollar question:

Why does the average person need energy on a 24/7 basis ??


Alex Tolley said...

@locum - to flesh out your comment on who gets to produce (The Colonial Model was about control of manufacturing)

In California, a residence on net-metering cannot be an annual net power producer and get paid for it. Therefore all solar installations are calculated to optimize the net-metering benefit over 12 months - i.e. a financial payback.

There was a short period when California utilities had to permit net power generators. This resulted in a quite a few attempts to build solar farms, that petered out as the available permitting slots disappeared and the utilities atarted their own massive projects to meet their renewables target.

Obviously, if you cannot sell to the utility, you could sell excess to your neighbors, particularly during summer. However, that is illegal, even though it would be relatively easy to accomplish.

Re: Why does the average person need energy on a 24/7 basis.
It isn't a question of needing to use power, but rather having access to it when needed, even if that is as trivial as turning on a light. Without that, we are back to the C19th.
And some of us do need power 24/7, e,g, running computer programs for long periods.

You might as well ask who needs alcohol 24/7. Sometimes you want a drink outside of restaurant/bar(pub) hours. :)

Alfred Differ said...

My clocks and security system wouldn't work well without 24/7 power.

Besides, what is an 'average' person? That's the better question. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

The US Navy would probably be doing much of what it is doing today whether or not we had fought the recent wars in Asia. The only real difference I can think of is we might have one more aircraft carrier afloat if history had gone down a different path.

Pax Americana is based on sea power and that is all about logistics in order to forward stage our assets. Modern tech is changing both offense and defense systems and the underlying supply needs. When opponents develop high speed missiles, we develop high speed anti-missile systems, stealth, AND/OR we pull back. All these things come together in a massive budget that is easily comparable to our recent land war expenses and will probably continue for some time.

Ultimately, we can afford to lose a war over there, or fight one stupidly, or re-fight one later if we keep our sea power foundation in place. That's what we are doing through lots of little innovations offered up by lots of creative minds.

Alex Tolley said...

Britain had a superior navy but failed to quell the American Revolution, and again in 1812. IIRC, The WWI battle of Jutland showed that sea power had only limited effect. Britain suffered some nasty early naval losses at the start of the Falklands War in 1982. Next time the USA fights a war where the enemy can actually hit back, the navy may be in for a shock.

Yes, the projection of global power still relies on platforms - carriers in hostile areas, air bases where allies are nearby. But guerrilla and cyber warfare will probably show the futility of these "superior" forces as we have seen pretty much since WWII.

Walt said...

"The Koch brothers do not want you selling your excess power to the market."

One could also suppose that they do not want to be forced to buy a product they sell.

Alfred Differ said...

Britain owned the seas, but couldn't defend her home turf well after German unification. The owner of the northern plains of Europe owns Europe and can eventually take Asia. Britain was never in a position to do that.

Once the US owned the greater Mississippi river basin, much of what we've done was essentially inevitable. I won't want to sound like a believer in fate or a science of history (evil ideas as far as I'm concerned), but control of the eastern shores of North America combined with the wealth generation of the world's most fantastic combination of fertile ground and cheap transportation ensured our path. Empires are built on excess wealth and we have that a-plenty.

Can we lose it? Sure. Guerilla wars aren't going to do it, though. Neither will cyberwar. Both can get us to spend money stupidly and THAT is the danger. We have a lot we can afford to waste, but the supply isn't infinite.

While I wish we hadn't wasted trillions in the last decade, I think we will manage to retain our sea power and grow it into equivalent space power. That's were this has to go for proper forward-staging. The only way this stops is if we stop ourselves or some power manages to unite the economies of northern Europe with the resources near Russian control.

Anonymous said...

Criticism of covert Zionist power agendas and cultural arrogance does not make one a Nazi -- it can be found across the political spectrum, among all ethnic groups and throughout the world.

The single most important reason why America is at war with much of the world is because of this arrogant Zionist (Jewish, Christian, Masonic and "Judeo-Christian atheist") mentality, which refuses to respect the right of other cultures to have other values, and seeks to impose our model of civilization upon the entire world, in the name of "progress", "freedom", a "new world order", etc.

This is the modern Western form of imperialism: instead of promising a worker's paradise or a thousand year Reich, neoliberal imperialists promise us a Star Trek googletopia. With their network of NGO's, technocrats, neoliberal artists & intellectuals (like the host of this blog), this empire moves in a coordinated fashion to subjugate whatever holdout nations it hasn't yet conquered (e.g. Iran, Russia, Venezuela), using the full range of its propaganda, financial, political and military arsenal. It justifies these conquests with talk about "democracy", "human rights", "freedom", etc., while very often supporting anti-democratic coups, revolutions and dictators (see Egypt & Ukraine).

It's an ingenious method of conquest, which I credit largely to the Jews. The way I see it, the "Bolshevik world conspiracy" has moved its base of operations from Moscow to Western capitols, and has rebranded itself as International Progressive Capitalism, but at its core it remains a Zionist project for world domination. And this move coincides with the influx of large numbers of Ashkenazi Jews into America from Eastern Europe and Russia in first half of the 20th century, as well as the radical re-engineering of our society ever since. Fascinating, isn't it?

rewinn said...

Anonymous Coward's working on the full alphabet:

Dr. Brin

Alfred Differ said...

McChrystal's talk is a demonstration of one of the things we learned from our multi-trillion dollar expenditure. No doubt we could have learned it cheaper, but learning to fight assymetric wars is one of the things empires have to do.

David Brin said...

Do I have a consensus to erase/trash that anonymous/coward Nazi?

Acacia H. said...

No. Censorship should not occur, even if you find something detestable or unpalatable.

That said, it's your website, you can do what you want. And back when I had a problem with 4chan trolls I did excessive censorship by deleting the forum posts of the trolls who were trying to stir up trouble. So this is a case of "do as I say, not as I do." ^^;;

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

If someone comes into your house and pees on the rug in the living room, I don't think we are going to mind too much if you clean it up.

I reserve the concept of 'censorship' for removal of content with the purpose of preventing dissent. David relishes/values dissent, so I don't think it applies here.

Alex Tolley said...

question for physicists/engineers.
Can the rail gun be modified to be a plasma rocket?

If the Lorentz force is acting on the moving conductor between the 2 parallel rails, then the conductor could be a plasma. The force would then accelerate the plasma and become exhaust. No bulky magnets required just high current. I can see some problems - would the plasma stay dense enough or would it just disperse, losing its conductive efficiency? Water could be heated by microwaves to form the plasma that would then become the propellant.

Does anyone know if this would work or not?

Alex Tolley said...

I concur with Robert and Alfred.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

I have a hard time even reaching consensus with myself on the censorship issue.

On the one hand, I believe in the free marketplace of ideas and it is an easy, slipery slope to go from deleting offensive remarks to deleting remarks that advance ideas we wish others didn't get a chance to hear.

On the other hand, this is your "house", and you shouldn't have to put up with insults painted on your metaphorical living room walls. We don't want this "place" to become unwelcome for the rest of us.

One part of me wants to address the Nazi accusations and refute them. Another part realizes how futile that is--the a-hole is never going to change his mind, and no one else takes him seriously anyway.

"He is right? He is right? They can't both be right."

"You are also right."

So at the end of the day, I'm not calling for deletion, but you certainly have my consent (not that you need it) to go ahead.

LarryHart said...


And back when I had a problem with 4chan trolls I did excessive censorship by deleting the forum posts of the trolls who were trying to stir up trouble. So this is a case of "do as I say, not as I do." ^^;;

I was on a web forum where we tried not to ban anyone, but one guy wanted to be banned so much he spammed the list to the point of unreadablility and started sending death thrats to people's personal e-mails. So finally, he got his wish and was the only one who was ever banned from that list. It didn't turn anyone into ideological despots or anything like that.

The standard should be: No censorship for ideas, but yes censorship of deliberate attempts to make a community unliveable.

It's as if someone had a megaphone outside my house at 3am shouting epithets about Obamacare at full volume. I'd want him forcibly removed, not because I disagreed with his politics, but because he's waking my family up at three in the effing morning. There's a clear distinction that even the Supreme Court would recognize.

David Brin said...

Heh, the greatest thwarting of that asshole was how serenely adult you guys are. Leave I'm be, to waft steamy vapors, for the time being.

Tony Fisk said...

From past experience, blocking trolls tends to leave a hole in the narrative. It would be nice to be able to selectively collapse a commenter, so they can be ignored, or checked to make sense of someone else says.

LarryHart said...

Don't mind me. I'm still trying to figure out which side the Gentiles and the Ayrabs are supposed to be on.

Acacia H. said...

@LarryHart - In my case, it was a group of hanger-ons associated with a shock-jock style webcomic "critic" who would drop multiple F-bombs in his reviews, insult the cartonist, and tear apart the webcomic. The sad thing is, his complaints did have merit. If he just limited himself to tearing apart the comics but not disrespecting the cartoonist, I'd not have had a problem. Sadly, he was corrupted by the Dark Side and refused to listen to reason.

His MO was to write up a "review" and then have one of his buddies join the forum of "reviewed" comic and say "you wouldn't believe what they said about your comic at such-and-such site!" and then they'd have fun tearing apart fans trying to defend the comic.

After I critiqued the review site on their comments board and basically told them off, the author proceeded to write a "review" of my review site. As per the MO, one of his buddies joined, posted a comment, and I deleted it the moment I noticed it and the URL. This proceeded to reoccur well over a dozen times.

Finally they went after my website host and she intervened against my censorship - but agreed with my statement of "no links or mentioning the other website's name." The 4chan crowd continued to harass her and badmouth me for the next year until I finally left the website (just before it fell apart). My one regret was that she got dragged into the BS.

So as I said, I'm being a hypocrite in saying don't censor. If I had to do this again, I'd edit the URL and website name out, lock the thread, but let their other comments remain.

Rob H.

Tarb said...

"And, the difference between an amateur and a professional?"

Professionals can be barred from practising, or even end up in jail, for not doing their job according to codes of practise. The differences between the amateur and the professional can be quite stark.

Anonymous said...

Apologies for the previous posts; I'm not an evil or hateful person, I just have a split personality or demon who sometimes takes hold of me. I'll try not to do it again. Live long and prosper!

Hank Roberts said...

Disemvoweling is often an appropriate way to handle intentional vileness.

Remember this may be a rodeo clown, run into the ring to keep you from trampling the Koch brothers after knocking them down. The rodeo clown is a professional at distraction.

David Brin said...

Whoever he is, I am more diverted by the apology than the trolling. We are a civilization in transition and countless problems that ruined past lives are now drifting within our grasp to self-repair, with the aid of science… but also with goodwill.

I say let's offer anonymous our ow goodwill.

Good luck fellah. The battle is winnable and a civilization surrounds you that might get even better.

Alfred Differ said...

Brr. Disemvoweling reminds me a bit of those prison specs, but in reverse. WE become the people who can't see the vile ones.

Re: plasma rockets
Moving gases fast enough to make a plasma is something we've been doing for awhile. The trick is to move them fast enough to get the impulse you want without needing too much mass in the system to do it. The little ion engines do this and have come a long way. Rail guns are at the other end of the spectrum where we try to move a lot of mass at a more moderate speed to get the impulse. In the case of military weapon systems what matters is the kinetic energy dumped into the target. Shooting through the atmosphere favors high mass, low speed projectiles because one can lose a lot of energy heating the air along the way to the target. If not for the air, we'd prefer low mass, high speed projectiles.

Where this goes is a pulsed energy weapon with a rail gun sending projectiles down the center of the beam. The energy beam ionizes the air along the path and blows open a 'vacuum tunnel' for the projectile to punch through the shielding for what comes next.

SteveO said...

I have been saying for years now that the way to even out renewables supply/production problem is just to pump water fro one enclosed tank uphill to another enclosed tank in off-hours when there is little demand. Then when there is demand but no sun or wind or whatever, let the water drain back down through a hydro plant - reversing the process. Electric motor/pumps are pretty efficient, and they don't really need to be that efficient to pay off since the differential in cost between running and not running is not that great (some maintenance) the power is essentially free. If you are clever, you can capture some water at higher elevation and get some free hydro power too.

No worries about battery lifetime or losing charge.

You could get fancier and use the off hours production to generate (inefficiently) hydrogen fuel and probably still make it work, but that will require some more infrastructure than pumps and tanks.

Alfred Differ said...

I used to work for the California ISO. One of the things we saw is that the storage problem is a lot tougher than most people believe. Many people have simple ideas that would help a little, but it all 'boils' down to the cost of setting up these options and the price one can charge for the returned power. Add on to that the costs of transmission and the problem gets quite hairy.

We generally liked the distributed solar (PV and thermal) ideas, but the devil is ALWAYS in the details. PJM had a way of dealing with some of the interesting issues around aggregation of small producers that enabled them to behave like generators instead of just sellng the electrons back to their local distributor, but CA laws are different. There are potential political issues involved and maybe some have been solved in the years since I worked there, but I'm betting they haven't. They would be in the news where I would see them if big stuff like that was afoot. 8)

Jerry Emanuelson said...

I live in a city where most of the water is pumped into a reservoir 2800 feet above the city. The reservoir also normally receives quite a bit of rain. It has a capacity of just under 50 million cubic meters of water.

When the water is recovered from the reservoir, it is drained through a hydroelectric generator that produces 25 megawatts of electrical power.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

There is one major flaw in solar photovoltaics. It is a flaw that is easily and inexpensively fixed; but if it is not fixed, the result could be unimaginably catastrophic.

Photovoltaics are semiconductors (either silicon or thin film) that are completely exposed except for a layer of tempered glass on the outer surface. They are easily damaged by a severe electromagnetic pulse.

Imagine a day 30 years from now when nearly everyone gets their energy from efficient photovoltaics. Now, imagine that same year when 30 or more countries of the world have developed nuclear weapons. One single high-altitude nuclear explosion will take out all of the photovoltaics on most of a continent.

This make the use of such weapons very tempting. One of the basic rules for preventing war is to not make war extremely tempting.

Covering the front surface of photovoltaics with a high-transparency wire mesh is necessary to electromagnetically shield a photovoltaic panel. It is cheaply and easily done, especially if it is done at the factory. It is inexcusable that it is no being done.

Shielding of the back side of the solar panel is also necessary, but this is even easier and less expensive since transparency to light is not an issue.

There are already National Electrical Code standards for solar panel wiring. It would add very little cost to include electromagnetic shielding in the NEC standards.

Throughout the history of energy production, a basic flaw of humanity has been that we have planned for the benefits of the energy production without the foresight to look ahead for to prevent the catastrophes that could have easily been prevented.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Photovoltaics are semiconductors (either silicon or thin film) that are completely exposed except for a layer of tempered glass on the outer surface. They are easily damaged by a severe electromagnetic pulse.

Can anybody chip in with some numbers here?
Solar panels are designed to resist the sun - 1Kw/m2
And probably five or six times that

I can understand a higher power pulse destroying them but how much higher?
And if it takes those power levels to destroy panels 500 miles away the ground under the explosion has seem power levels 2500 times as high (assume explosion 10 miles altitude)

Just trying to get an idea of the vulnerability

rewinn said...

Uhm. Wut? If the Evil Empire (tm) decides to fire a nuke to shut down the electrical capacity of the USA, what does the USA do?

(A) Track the nuke to point of origin and
(B) [Insert hyperbole here].

It's probably hypersonic hyperbole, but intercontinental ballistic hyperbole would work as well.

Alfred Differ said...

Even without the paranoia of a nuke strike against us, we should consider the much more likely scenario of a CME hitting us that is big enough to matter.

I sincerely doubt we will all be drawing power from PV's, though. I suspect the supply will remain diverse for economic reasons without any need to worry too much about disaster scenarios.

One of the neat things I learned from working at CAISO was just how many variations on 'power' are bought and sold. When you pay your utility bill, you aren't actually paying for the flow of electrons even though they calculate it that way. What you are buying is the reliability of that flow. Dig into what is sold on the market and you'll see many of the same terms you see in a futures market. Spot prices aren't the same as reserve prices and those are different again from reserve on reserves. Underneath all that is the mysterious 'black power' that failed to be provided at Fukushima. Most generators need a bit of a jump start to get going, so they are also consumers of electricity that they cannot self-provide. It's not often that sites need black power, but when they do, they REALLY do. (Exit stage left before the meltdown.)

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The Hardtack-Teak and Hardtack-Orange high altitude nuclear explosions of 1958 were estimated to each have produced radio frequency electromagnetic energy radiating downward from the mid-stratosphere of more than 7 trillion watt-seconds within the time period of one microsecond.

Conversion of watt-seconds (joules) to kilowatt-hours is a fairly simple high school math conversion. You can also look up for yourself how many day's worth of your total country's electricity production was converted into radio frequency energy within the space on one microsecond.

The basic math is simply more believable if you do it yourself.

Although light and radio frequency energy are both electromagnetic in nature, they can have quite different effects, especially when the energy is concentrated in an extremely narrow pulse. The old term "radioflash" is much more descriptive than "electromagnetic pulse."

Although light and radio energy are both electromagnetic radiation, they can have drastically different effects, especially when concentrated into a narrow pulse.

In Kazakhstan in 1962, ceramic insulators that had been supporting power lines out in the sunlight for a very long time suddenly arced over, broke in two, and dropped some power lines to the ground after a Soviet high-altitude nuclear explosion.

According to unclassified the IEC standards, the peak nuclear electromagnetic pulse energy density is 6.6 million watts per square meter.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Randy and Alfred both seem to imply that nuclear weapons will not be used in the world again. I hope they are right. This is certainly possible since human civilization seems to be slowly maturing.

It just seems foolish to count on it, especially since privately funded projects like the Red Bull Stratos balloon project have unintentionally shown how relatively low-cost delivery systems could send some very nasty weapons to a high altitude.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Jerry

If I run your numbers
for a "continent spanning" event I get power as 870Kw/m2 - for a millisecond
(500 miles from the blast)

Or input energy = 0.7 joules/m2

This MAY have an adverse effect but I'm not convinced

The example of the exploding insulator - I would assume that it was connected to some long power lines acting as antenna??

Jerry Emanuelson said...


I believe that you may be assuming that nuclear electromagnetic pulse obeys the inverse square law. In most respects, it does not. This is largely because nuclear EMP is produced in the mid-stratosphere through interactions with the Earth's magnetic field. It does not come from the nuclear weapon itself. In many cases, nuclear EMP doesn't even fall off in the fairly linear manner that ordinary radio field strength does.

This means that, unless the weapon is extremely small, the electric field strength (in volts per meter) will be nearly 50 percent of the maximum field strength even in areas near the horizon.

The Wikipedia article on Nuclear electromagnetic pulse is quite accurate and currently has has 47 excellent references.

Especially, see the diagram from the U.S. Government report at:

The only reason that I am bringing up the subject in this thread is that it is important to consider this problem in the context of photovoltaics during the relatively early stages of commercialization of photovoltaics while the problem is easily and inexpensively solvable.

Unknown said...


Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Jerry

I've read the article, interesting
My take is that you need length of conductor to get problems

I suspect that if we did have an EMP event that solar panels would be less of an issue than the grid connecting them together and the inverters feeding that grid

I'm just a mechanical engineer

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Hi Duncan,

You do need a certain length of electrical conductor to get problems. There are interconnecting conductors inside of the solar panels, though.

At 25,000 volts per meter, those short lengths of conductor within the solar panels are sufficient to induce damaging voltages to the individual solar cells within the panel.

The wiring between the solar panels and the inverters and other equipment is even more of a problem.

(Better solar power system electrical codes than what we have now could solve this problem. Also, a one dollar transient voltage protection diode installed right at the output of each solar panel would be a big help.)

The grid-tie situation is, by far, the worse of all possible worlds. The best kind of solar panel system to have is one that is a standby or part-time system using a manual transfer switch. If the solar panel system is completely isolated from the bulk power grid, it is much less susceptible to all kinds of damage.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Jerry

Ok so lets think about probability/severity,

Strikes me that is a low chance event (the nuclear EMP)

National attack - unlikely
Terrorist attack
Needs high altitude, high power device

I think a dirty bomb in a city is much more likely

Probably about the same risk as Yellowstone letting loose

Jerry Emanuelson said...


I agree that a dirty bomb in a city is more likely because it is so easy to do.

On the other hand, there have been about 16 actual high-altitude nuclear EMP events in my lifetime. (There have been no supervolcanoes.)

Of those 16 or so high-altitude nuclear EMP events, they all were tests. Three of those tests, however, were done by the Soviets over Kazakhstan, causing immense damage to the Kazakhstani infrastructure. The Soviets were expecting much of the damage and had actually instrumented some of Kazakhstan's phone lines and other infrastructure to measure the EMP.

Had those three 300 kiloton nuclear weapons been dropped on Kazakhstani cities, it would have caused an immediate international uproar and crisis.

Even more so today, there is an aversion to maiming, burning and killing humans directly.

Attacking infrastructure without immediate death provokes less revulsion against the attacker, and is therefore more probable.

Unlike natural catastrophes, where the probabilities don't change no matter what actions humans take, the probability of a nuclear EMP strike goes down drastically if one's infrastructure is protected against EMP. (There is no point in hitting a protected target.) Conversely, if a country leaves its infrastructure completely exposed to nuclear EMP, the probability goes up dramatically.

In the U.S., the most likely EMP attack would probably be something like a nighttime regional attack by high-altitude balloon in the Washington D.C.-Boston corridor. With a regional attack, you don't need either extremely high altitude nor a large nuclear weapon.

In most nuclear weapons, the heavy steel casing absorbs about 80 percent of the gamma rays. For an EMP attack, you want those gamma rays to escape. All of the nuclear weapons actually exploded in the atmosphere have been what I call suppressed-EMP weapons. To maximize the explosive force, you must minimize the gamma radiation.

Most people have fire insurance, which is roughly a once in 300 year threat for any individual. It makes sense to me to spend far less to avoid the EMP threat, even if one considers it to be only a once in 1000 year threat.

I like this modern electronic world with the possibility for inexpensive resilient solar power in the years ahead. I would like to keep things that way.

Tony Fisk said...

I will have to look into your perceived threat from EMP a little more, Jerry.

Meantime, we have the *other* risk of a massive Coronal Mass Ejection hitting the Earth and playing merry hell with the grid itself. The 'Carrington Event' occurred about 150 years ago. Effect: spectacular aurorae, but otherwise minimal.
Today, an event of the same magnitude could be catastrophic: quite possibly blowing all the substation transformers on a continent. These are components that, under normal circumstances, don't fail very often at all. The number of spares available at any given time are limited. This is a prime candidate for David's riff on failure modes of Zero Inventory Management.

Jerry Emanuelson said...


I agree completely about the CME problem. There seems to be a general attitude that if something has not happened in the past several decades, then it will never happen. Normalcy Bias can be deadly.

Also, scientists investigating the 775 tree ring anomaly have concluded that a CME much larger than even the one in 1859 is possible.

I have been caught myself in the "Just In Time" spare parts situation. I had to order critical television transmitter parts for overnight air shipment on the morning of September 11, 2001. I placed the order by telephone just as the second plane was hitting the World Trade Center.

The "overnight" Fedex shipment from New Jersey to Colorado arrived a week later.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Jerry

I am forced to defend Just in Time

But my defence is not usual

The sayings from reduced inventory are significant BUT they are not the real savings

JIT leads to massively improved quality

Let me defend that,
In industry the manufacturing operations are run by "Manufacturing People"
You can get them in a neck lock and get them to say
"Quality is Important"
But they don't really mean it - output is God
Then you do JIT

What you do is you "steal" all of their "safety stock" (with the excuse of JIT and reducing inventory)

Before it there was a problem the rest of the plant kept running - fed by the safety stock

Now a problem anywhere stops the plant

Surprisingly this does not actually reduce output

BUT it forces them to pay attention to getting the quality right
When the plant stops everybody knows – and they work to stop it happening again

You can get results in a year of JIT that the quality people have spent decades working on (unsuccessfully) without

You still have the problem when the big things happen but you have much better quality the rest of the time

Besides – even before JIT the parts you need if something big happens were not there anyway

Tony Fisk said...

Yes, Duncan. JIT improves quality since less rework is needed on inventory if problems are found.

Still, it does mean that you will have a shortfall in a crisis. As when all the transformers go at once (likely scenario for US: 300 million people without power for a year. Very, very ugly)

Duncan Cairncross said...

"JIT improves quality since less rework is needed on inventory if problems are found."

It does but that is a second order effect - the main difference is the massive change in focus it causes
With JIT we moved from repairs per hundred to repairs per million

"Still, it does mean that you will have a shortfall in a crisis. As when all the transformers go at once (likely scenario for US: 300 million people without power for a year. Very, very ugly)"

The reduction in inventory is not helpful - but for something like transformers with 30+ years life it changes from having 3% replacement parts to 0.1% - worse but not the main problem