Obama Wants Our Ideas for the Zero Carbon Economy

  • Published on January 9th, 2009

solar panels well designed to cover entire roof
Finally, Obama has given up on that dinner date he’d been emailing me about all through the primary, but he still emails me constantly with this and that – as he no doubt does you too. Today’s email is about what green energy legislation ideas I want to see in the stimulus package. [In his weekly TV address Obama also called for spurring the economy with green job growth -Ed.]

So, Obama; here’s one I want.

It is hard for us credit-poor peasants in today’s shattered Gilded-Age economy to try and find solar financing. I would like to see legislation devised – so that if you want to put up a solar roof, you can, without having to qualify for financing. It would work like this:


You would request a solar roof. A certified solar company would come and install as many electrons-worth of solar as your roof can produce for the grid – not just what you need – which would be better for utilities.

But you would not pay the solar roof company. You would just pay your electric bill as usual. (If you don’t pay your electricity bill, you would get your electricity cut off, same as now. But the electrons from your roof would still go to the grid for someone else.)

Your electric utility would have to accept the same amount monthly from you as you were paying them for coal (etc) electrons, but the utility would just be required, under this plan, to then forward your payment in full to the solar company for the five to twenty years till the panels are paid off.

The panel maintenance and repair would be the solar company’s responsibility permanently, regardless of who lives at the house. If you leave before it is paid off, the next mortgagee still pays the same sum for electricity to the utility, which then transfers to the solar company.

The utility would effectively become the billing and banking arm of the solar industry. They still could cut your electricity off if you don’t pay, just as now, so the default risk is minimal.

What this means is your utility must ‘finance’ your solar over x years at 0%. Your solar would go to the grid and boost the utility’s electron supply, so they would not have to invest any actual new cash.

But the income they got from you would not be a part of the business income, (since they are just passing it through to the solar company). The taxpayer cost of this program would be just to replace some lost profit to the utility for forgoing the profit on supplying your electrons. But they don’t have to pay for the new electrons you make for them. So this would be a pretty frugal fix.

Do you have a zero carbon economy idea for president-elect Obama? I’ll be sending them on to him, so tell me now!

Other legislative ideas I like:
Gas 2.0: Let’s Pay Detroit to Bring Their Gas Sippers Home to the USA
Gas 2.0: Utilities Suggest Huge EV Orders
Inspired Economist: $50 Billion CalCars Plan Could Save Detroit

Image from Flikr user LifeBeGreen

About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.
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  • Frank

    Aren't you forgetting something? Where are the utility company going to get its income from? If solar panels are free, who would want to buy their electricity? You say they can cut off someone who doesn't pay but their electricity would still flow into the system. Great idea – but would the system need it? It means the utility company gets more free electricity if you defaults which means it would be motivated to make billing systems complicated and so on, and then in the end when they sit there with all this "free" electricity… they will have noone that wants to buy it.

    Your idea is sound – but you need to consider first that no utility company would ever want to be a part of this, since it would ruin the financial situation for them. Rather than sitting side by side with the utility companies these solar companies need to replace the utility companies, to compete with them.

    In Sweden there are laws in place so that everyone can choose their own utility company. It doesn't matter who owns the lines up to your house, you pay that separately from the electricity. So, with a system like that in place a company promoting these solar ideas could start and thrive side by side with existing utility companies, eventually out-competing them as they reach critical mass… Which would make more sense financially for all the companies involved.

  • Zero Carbon policy ideas

    #1 All Government Vehicle Fleet Purchasing Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle.

    #2 Massive investment in 10 different renewable storage technologies — ie Salt Nitrate, Ammonia Thermochemical, Advanced Adiabiatic Compressed Air Storage etc. – University / Industry Collaboration

    #3 Build out of 5000MW each of 5-10 leading Solar Thermal technologies — ie Ausra, Brightsource, Sopogy, Heliodynamics, eSolar, Wizard, Skyrfuel etc

    with Government backed loans — Streamline permiting — this is where NEPA maybe holding things up — but don't exempt NEPA just make the process much faster

    During WWII the highly polluting Nuclear program didn't have to get permitting — glass, steel, concrete from solar thermal plants can't do anywhere near that amount of damage.

    #4 Materials research – to reduce the use of concrete and other materials, or replace them with less carbon intensive sources (on a total lifecycle basis).

    #5 Zero Carbon housing – Federally fund 100,000 Zero Carbon houses to be built to demonstrate the technology and then allocate them for the poor.

    #6. Build a Highspeed Rail network (360km+ per hour peak) linking all the major centres – same places the interstate highways go (but into the centres of town with tunnels/land aquisitions) and Federal airports.

    #7 As the tramways did in the 30's with a common tramcar model, build a common tramcar model as an opensource design using lightweight high tensile strong composites — such as those being used by the rocky mountains institute spinoff bright for the "hypercar" concept.

  • You're right Lee: it would also work quicker than a RPS which took years to get CA to 14% renewable energy.

    This idea would happen as fast as people want to put solar on their roofs. I for one would arrange for a solar roof tomorrow, if this was the law now.

  • Lee

    This idea would be cheaper than Al Gore's electranet

    (Because utilities would not be buying your electricity – but they would just be passing the money through…)

    And less NIMBY-prone than the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

    (Because environmentalists sometimes object to transmission for all the new renewable energy we need, so even though we need it, and the utility needs to add more renewable electricity,but becaue of the NIMBY they sometimes can't and so get fined. And we don't get the renewable. Like the sunrise power link in CA, for example)

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  • Mark

    I think citizens of the US should stop wasting money on overpaid actors and sports figures,,,"mindless entertainment". We should start investing in more useful things. I love reading your articles….