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Cost of Solar Panels To Drop 25% in 3 Years

2015-07-31

The Clean Technica blog predicts that the cost of solar photovoltaic panels will drop 25% in the next three years (post is here).   This is on top of the already impressive 6-8% per year drop in costs over the past ten years.  For example, the average home-scale system cost $12/watt installed in 1998 and $4 in 2013 ($3.33 in Florida and $4.94 in California.)  Utility-scale systems have been estimated at, for 20 megawatts and more installed, at $1.88/watt in 2013.

In Germany, a country that is pushing hard for renewable energy and eliminating nuclear generators, residential systems have been estimated to cost half of the price here in the US (see this government-produced document: here), and the difference in cost is primarily “soft” expenses like installer margins.

There are many different predictions of the future cost of photovoltaic power.   Another paper, by the Institute for Policy Integrity (here), shows a graph estimating solar power production as a percentage of total US electric production: rising from less than 0.01% in 2005, it stood at 0.4% in 2012.  However, the US government has predicted that this percentage will remain low: less than 1% through 2025.  This prediction is a gross underestimate, based on the assumption that prices for panels will actually increase 15%; other sources predict price decreases between 10% and 23% in the next five years.  The prediction also assumes that the federal investment tax credit, which is scheduled to expire in 2016, will not be renewed.  More realistic extrapolations by the Department of Energy predict that solar will represent between 4 and 8% of total electricity production by 2025.

These publications suggest that there is cause for optimism over the future of energy production worldwide, even in the United States.  One practice that has been suggested is that households with electric cars could use the batteries in their cars for storage of energy produced by rooftop solar panels.  This would combine the transportation need for energy with household use in a productive fashion and reduce the sale-back of electricity to the grid, a contentious issue with which electric power companies would rather not deal.

All of these practices, however, require investments which the average household in the United States cannot cope, particularly in view of the loss of wealth they have experienced over the last 35 years (since Reagan was elected and started the erosion of living standards which has continued through the Bush administrations and even Democratic presidents.)  There will be a pressing need for the government to step in and provide financing for these investments, a need which can only be realized by the election of sympathetic Senators and Congress-people in the near future.

Forgiveness

2015-07-30

Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again.
Dag Hammarskjold

A New Inquiry Into the Assassination of Dag Hammarskjold

2015-07-28

Dag Hammarskjold was a diplomat and humanitarian, and a truly great man who dedicated his life to public service just as his parents had for generations, but was also an educated, athletic, cultured, sensitive man.  Biographies of him are here and here.  He was Secretary-General of the United Nations when he died in 1961 in an airplane crash in Africa, somewhere in the protectorate of Northern Rhodesia, in an area that is now part of Zambia.  Fifteen others including the pilot and crew were also killed.  There has been speculation for years that he was assassinated, but evidence surrounding the crash has been suppressed and in some cases, ignored.  The United Nations recently established a committee to review evidence which has been brought forward regarding the plane crash.

The Guardian published an article in 2011 that detailed eyewitness testimonies and explained the motives behind the assassination, if not the identities of the assassins.

Hammarskjold was in Africa with a UN military mission responding to the request of a newly independent country, the Congo.  A province of the Congo, Katanga, had rebelled with the support of a large European mining company (which was interested in the huge mineral deposits in the region) and the secret support of Belgium, the United States and Britain.  The Secretary-General, Hammarskjold, ordered UN troops to intervene in a military operation against the rebellious province, Katanga.  The leader of Katanga, Moise Tshombe, had made signals that he wanted to talk peace and Hammarskjold was flying to a meeting with him when his plane was shot down.  Rebel mercenaries may have been responsible for sending the plane that shot down Hammarskjold’s DC-6.  North Rhodesian troops, answering to a white-minority government, sealed off the crash site and prevented any investigation.

There was one survivor of the plane crash, and he was apparently alert afterwards, but a doctor who cared for him stated that he died of kidney failure five days later.  The man could have been saved if he had been transferred to a larger hospital with dialysis capability, but he was left to die.  He would have been able to provide critical testimony that the airplane he was riding in crashed because it was shot down rather than because of pilot error, which was the official conclusion.

The New York Times also published articles recently about the UN report and other details.  A US signals intelligence station in Cyprus picked up a transmission, reported by Charles Southall, a naval aviator, which appeared to be from another airplane which seemed to be saying that it shot down the Hammarskjold plane.  This report has never been secret, but for unknown reasons has been largely ignored.  Charles Southall is 80 years old, still alive, and he confirmed the report in an email exchange with a New York Times writer.

The New York Times also describes the eyewitness testimony.  The incident was witnessed by “…four charcoal burners who were in the forest the night of the crash… The charcoal burners described slightly different memories of seeing two planes in the air and one of them catching fire…[after the other plane shot at it]”

The article also repeated the revelation that “…The report also said the panel had learned that the cryptographic machine used by Mr. Hammarskjold had been “intentionally designed” to allow the N.S.A. and “other select intelligence agencies” to listen in. …”

The conclusion of the eyewitnesses was that there were two planes in the air, and one of them was shot down by fire from the second.  One of the  articles in the New York Times is here.

The official crash report, compiled under British supervision, concluded that the plane crashed due to mechanical failure or pilot error.

The United Nations established a panel which published a preliminary report this month stating that there was some evidence that the airplane was shot down by ground fire or another jet, and additional evidence that a sabotage attempt was made on the airplane.  The report states that the US, Britain, and South Africa are holding documents which they have not released, which bear directly on the issue.  The New York Times published another article on the UN report recently, which is here.

The political situation at the time allows for several groups to have motives to assassinate Hammarskjold, including the Soviet Union, the US, and certain mining companies which had operations in the area.  The UN Secretary General Hammarskjold was trying to repair a cease-fire in the civil war between newly independent Congo and secessionist forces in which the Soviet Union, as well as Belgium, the US and Great Britain on the other side, were involved.   Civil war continued in the Congo from 1960 to 1965; ultimately the country became a dictatorship under Joseph-Desire Mobutu until 1997.

After Hammarskjold was killed, President John F. Kennedy called him “the greatest statesman of our century.”

 

 

 

 

Billy Tauzin is Partly Responsible for High Drug Prices

2015-07-26

This post is about ancient history, that is, something that happened ten years ago.  Medicare Part D, the “prescription drug benefit”, was passed in Congress about ten years ago, at 3 AM, reportedly under heavy pressure from the drug industry.  At the time, Billy Tauzin was chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which “oversees the drug industry.”  (Wikipedia)

Two months later, Mr. Tauzin resigned from Congress.  He immediately became head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhMRA), at a salary of $2 million a year.  He continued in this position for five years and resigned as of June 2010.  We should note that he was recovering from cancer treatment at the time he resigned from Congress; his bills for this treatment were paid by the extremely generous insurance provided to members of Congress.

The problem with Medicare Part D from a cost containment standpoint is that it specifically prohibits the government from negotiating with drug companies over the price of drugs paid for by Part D.  The Veteran’s Administration, which does negotiate with drug companies, pays much less for drugs (and refuses to cover some drugs.)  It is clear that Mr. Tauzin protected the drug companies in the passage of Part D legislation, and for this protection, he received a cozy sinecure in the PhMRA.  The PhMRA actually outbid the Motion Picture Association of America for Mr. Tauzin’s services; they had offered him $1.5 million a year to be their head lobbyist (see New York Times article below.)

The point is that legislation which enshrines advantages enjoyed by large companies, coincidentally saddling ordinary citizens with cumbersome, unaffordable bureaucracy, is brought into being by politicians who are elected by large majorities and frequently have long-term tenures in office.  These politicians sell access and privileges to lobbyists who provide them with campaign money, endorsements, and infrastructure that creates positive publicity which, in turn, makes voters think that he (it’s usually a him) is “on their side.”  In this case, the administration of what appears to be a benefit for Medicare-eligible citizens, drug payment, becomes a cash cow for the companies that provide the drugs and a headache for consumers (see the notorious “donut hole.”)

Wikipedia reports that Mr. Tauzin is now on the Board of Directors of Louisiana Healthcare Group.  One other, related note: Tauzin was originally a Democrat, but switched to Republican (he apparently said the Democrats were unfriendly to conservatives and complained that President Clinton had welshed on a deal he had cut to stop a certain energy tax– see this New York Times article) in 1995.

Another favorite project of Mr. Tauzin’s (see the same New York Times article) was to start hunting clubs.  He would buy land and then sell memberships in hunting clubs that allowed members to hunt exclusively on that land.  The members were always lobbyists, who had money to spend on hunting club memberships.  His biggest deal, apparently, was in 2003, when he committed a million dollars to buy 1,500 acres in south Texas to hunt deer.  He signed up a number of lobbyists as members and claimed that he paid the same fee as the rest of the members to hunt there.  The process of buying land, then selling memberships in hunting clubs for that land to lobbyists is clearly a conflict of interest in which he sells favors to lobbyists who pay for participation in his schemes; it is also completely legal.

Mr. Tauzin’s son, Billy Tauzin III, lost a very close race to succeed Mr. Tauzin as Representative to the US Congress in Louisiana’s 3rd District, to a Democrat.

 

Environmental Assessment in British Columbia: A Clear Conflict of Interest

2015-07-21

An article in the online BC Business (of Canada) (linked here) describes the serious loss of environmental objectivity in Canada related to drastic changes in the process for assessment of business projects for their environmental impacts.  In 2010, the Canada Environmental Assessment Administration’s budget was cut by 40% to $17 million and the environmental regulations were drastically overhauled to remove federal protection for 98 percent of Canada’s rivers and streams.  The Fisheries Act was changed to remove explicit habitat protection for all fish.  The process of environmental assessment for industrial projects was changed to allow the companies proposing projects to hire their own environmental consultants to do project assessments and provide “self-regulation.”

The result has been a confusing, poorly regulated system that confuses industry and provides no protection for the environment.  Companies that hire and pay for their own assessment consultants can pressure those consultants to give reports favorable to their positions and projects.  At the very least, a consultant who gives a negative report will find he gets no repeat business.  Despite this freedom, companies complain that the laws are confusing and the changes have resulted in considerable uncertainty.

With the fall in gas prices, the most damaging projects have been put on hold temporarily.  However, mines are still active, and they go through the same process of self-assessment and self-regulation.  Consulting firms are under heavy pressure to provide favorable reports and gloss over any environmental impacts that may occur.  The article reports on interviews with anonymous scientists who have worked for the consulting firms that demonstrate the drawbacks of the regulatory process.

Instead of evaluations done by scientists employed by government agencies that regulate environmental impacts of industry, outside scientists who are designated Registered Professional Biologists can vouch for the lack of impact that a project will have.  These biologists are hired and paid for by the companies, so they are beholden to them for support and repeat business.

Environmental assessment began in the 1970’s in the US with the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act.  This same process was adopted worldwide; in Canada, laws passed in 1995 started the Canadian environmental protection agency.  The American Environmental Protection Agency has continued to aggressively attack environmental problems and polluters, but the Canadian agency has been slashed and rendered ineffective by the conservative government currently in power.

In a reversal of open scientific discourse, Environment Canada has prevented its scientists from speaking to the press after they publish scientific articles in major journals.  A particularly notorious case occurred in 2011 when the agency refused to allow Dr. David Tarasick to speak to journalists about his ozone layer research when it was published in Nature.  The written policy of the environmental agency and other government agencies is that its scientists must have explicit permission to speak to journalists before they can communicate; this policy makes muzzling of scientists easy.

The major problem with the environment in Canada is that the conservative government has gone to great lengths to gut previous advances in environmental policy and the media has been rendered silent by the government’s explicit policy of muzzling its scientists.  One particularly egregious example of the government’s environmental policy is the free rein that has been given to oil companies to extract tar sands oil from large areas of the Canadian Midwest.  The environmental damage that has been caused by extraction of tar sands oil is enormous and completely unreported.  Only the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline has allowed any of this damage to be covered in American news.

The pipeline for tar sands oil must not be allowed to continue through the United States because it represents an easy out for Canadian developers; all the issues related to the extraction of tar sands oil must be aired in American news media.

Increased Typhoons in the Pacific due to Formation of New El Nino

2015-07-18

There is more good evidence of an El Nino forming in the Pacific– warming water is increasing typhoons, on both sides of the Equator.  In addition, there are westerly winds forming which push the warm water in the Pacific towards South America.  Normally there is a cold water current there, along the coast of Peru.  If enough subsurface warm water is pushed from the eastern Pacific to Peru, the cold water current will be interrupted.  Reversal of the normal cold flow can reinforce the el Nino effect.

There has been a record warmth in the central Pacific, and typhoon activity has been three times normal.  There are indications that this el Nino event may be one of the strongest on record.  El Nino will push temperatures up and shift rainfall patterns worldwide.  There is hope that el Nino will end the drought in the Southwest.  The drought has also set records, now running at a shortfall of rain not seen in over a thousand years.  The last time drought was this severe, the Anasazi were forced out of their cliff houses and abandoned the Southwest.

At any rate, there is an early indication that there will be rain coming to California and the rest of the Southwest.  There have been severe rainfall events in Texas already.  The weather in the San Joaquin Valley is unusually cool for this time of year.  There are clouds with water in them all around, including thunderstorms in the Sierra Nevada.  There is at last optimism that the drought will break.

In China, Illegal Drugs Are Sold Online in an Unbridled Market – The New York Times

2015-07-16

 

 

This post was drafted a month ago and forgotten, but here it is before it’s too late:

An article in the New York Times that may have escaped your notice reveals that the Chinese are not enforcing their drug laws in relation to online sales of bulk quantities of drugs.  Not only the end products, but the compounds used to manufacture them, are available without any apparent restrictions; Mexican cartels are turning to Chinese suppliers for precursor chemicals in order to manufacture methamphetamine in particular.  Most other countries have developed, and enforce, restrictions on specific chemicals that are needed to manufacture illicit drugs, but China has been extremely lax.  Here is a large quote that explains the situation:

 

“They just didn’t see what was in it for them to look into their own industries exporting these chemicals,” said Jorge Guajardo, the former Mexican ambassador to China.

China’s chemical factories and drug traffickers have exploited this opportunity, turning the nation into a leading producer and exporter of synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, as well as the compounds used to manufacture them, according to seizure and trafficking route data compiled by American and international law enforcement agencies.

China is now the source of a majority of the ingredients needed to manufacture methamphetamine by Mexican drug traffickers, who produce 90 percent of the meth consumed in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

As governments around the world have stepped up regulation of these so-called precursor chemicals, the Mexican cartels have increasingly turned to Chinese chemical factories.

Mr. Guajardo, Mexico’s ambassador from 2007 to 2013, said his efforts to persuade Chinese authorities to restrict the export of these chemicals, which are banned in Mexico, came to naught. Instead, he said, Chinese officials said the problem was best handled by Mexican customs agents or claimed that Mexico’s written requests for assistance had used the incorrect typeface or were improperly translated into Chinese.

“In all my time there, the Chinese never showed any willingness to cooperate on stemming the flow of precursors into Mexico,” he said in a telephone interview.

via In China, Illegal Drugs Are Sold Online in an Unbridled Market – The New York Times.

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