Should The Alberta Government Promote Solar & Wind Power?

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coal-wind-turbinesPartisanIssues.com strives to avoid opinion and stick to facts, but we thought you would be interested in a recent debate with one of our readers who called Solar “Shitty Power” because it provides inconsistent output.  I gave this some considerable thought and came up with the following rebuttal.

To be transparent I should tell you that I have lived in Alberta for 25 years, own solar panels and drive an electric car (both of which did not receive a penny of Alberta subsidies).

SOLAR ON A LARGE SCALE IN THE NEAR FUTURE?

As for your new argument of ‘shitty power’, I again disagree.  Solar will work on a large scale when:

  1. Large scale electricity storage is being worked out now
    1. there are some VERY innovative low cost solutions being tested in today
  2. We decentralize electricity and have lots of small production (like the panels on my roof) combined with lots of small storage (like the batteries in my car).
    1. The so called Vehicle To Grid or V2G technology or Reverse Grid has undeniable logic.

It is worth a quick skim of our short article Solar & Wind Just Keep Crushing Production Predictions to see that solar and wind development have been consistently underestimated.

alberta-map-electricity-generation-solar-wind-natural-gas-coal-biomasSOLAR & WIND POWER ARE PRACTICAL TODAY EVEN WITHOUT STORAGE

We are in the luxurious position of having EXISTING large Coal and Nat Gas electrical plants that can be spun to full production on cloudy or windless days.  See the graphic to the right.  In the real world, we will not chose a single source of electricity so it does not ever have to be 100% solar.  If we had to build that base power, you would have an argument, but because those facilities already exist and can increase production with 45 minutes notice solar and wind make an EXCELLENT choice today.

There is even a solid logic to CONSIDER a partial extension of the 2030 mandatory shutdown of coal fired electricity generation so they can be used as BACKUP for Wind and Solar power.  We would need to run the numbers to see if that makes sense, but on its face, having heavy coal pollution a few days a month MAY be more attractive than having constant low emissions from new Natural Gas power generation.  By the time those existing coal  electricity plants NEED to be replaced, we will have large scale electricity storage.

You and all other Alberta tax payers did not pay a penny for my solar array or electric car but the government has a role to play as an accelerator of technology.  SHORT TERM support for an industry can shave may years off development cycles.

ALBERTA NEEDS TO DIVERSIFY ITS ECONOMY

Saudi Arabia is not diversifying because it is easy or fun and the stone age did not end because we ran out of stones.

The Alberta economy NEEDS diversification in the next 25 to 50 years.  It is true that we have improved our position in recent decades but today Alberta is still has 25% of its GDP coming directly from Oil and Gas.  While I can not prove it, I suspect that another 50% of the economy is directly tied to servicing the Oil & Gas sector (i.e. photocopier sales, security, and lawn services to the Oil and Gas sector are not considered part of that 25%).

When you want to branch out, you work from your strengths.  Solar power, wind power, and electricity storage are a natural extension to our existing:

  1. education systems, work force and culture have a serious focus on energy
  2. number of clear sunny days being the highest in Canada (second only to Arizona in the US, I think)
  3. lack of physical connections to major markets limiting
  4. GIANT subsidies to the other energy industries in the province

MY OPINION

I think solar and wind should be a major focus of our Provincial and Federal Governments.  That being said, I am not for subsidizing purchases of consumer/retail products like light bulbs and electric cars.  I am for infrastructure changes that allow the so called ‘green’ industries to grow here.  Things like:

  1. environmental regulation exemptions/reductions (similar to the oil industries) to potentially construct panels in Alberta
    1. Solar panel production is terrible for the environment, but easy to ship from Alberta in flat packs
    2. If Canada were to produce solar panels, where better then the relatively unpopulated grasslands of Alberta
      1. I am not saying we should do this; I am saying we should evaluate solar panel production
  2. reduced taxes on CORPORATIONS in green industry to attract them to setup here (much like we do for many businesses)
  3. having a government agency that understands the needs of green companies (like we have for the oil business)

are all things we should be looking at or we will be left behind like Detroit was when it did not innovate but kept doing what was successful in the PAST.

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