Solar Power, Revisited

Ten years ago, I wrote a post about the cost-ineffectiveness of solar power. Things have changed.

Today, we have a solar power array on our house that has, over the two years of its operation, supplied about 86% of our overall power needs and saved us about 6% on our electricity bill after accounting for the cost of the array, itself.

That glowing summary, however, reflects not actual day-to-day array performance but only an annualized average, made possible by a “net metering” policy that allows us to use the local electric grid as a “battery” and that provides some fairly generous — if hidden – subsidies to help defray the cost of the system.

That glowing summary also hides some fairly strict logistical limits that put an upper bound on how much solar power the grid can support without the net metering policy falling apart.

This is my report on my two years of experience with solar power, along with some musings on its benefits and constraints.

Continue reading

Some Numbers on Solar Power

I have a home construction project looming in my future, and I decided that would be a good opportunity to upgrade my environmental footprint (and reduce my energy bills) by adding a solar electrical generation system to the mix. So I did some research on what it would cost me and what I could expect to gain from it. My summary: we aren’t there yet.

How many years would it take, saving $41/year, to pay for the $1088 purchase price of the solar panel?

Answer: ~26 years

Continue reading

“Perpetrating the Autism Myth”

Perhaps later in the season they can do a follow-on episode of “Eli Stone” in which the crusading hero sues another vaccine maker, this time to force them to continue making the life-saving vaccines his clients desperately need after the threat of massive awards in bogus liability lawsuits has forced them out of the vaccine business.

Continue reading

Scientific Faith?

…assuming that things will continue to behave as they have always done — particularly after hundreds or thousands or millions of observations have failed to find an exception to that behavior — does not constitute or require a leap of faith. Faith is not belief despite the absence of proof but belief despite the absence of evidence.

Continue reading

15-year-old “women without husbands”: reporting on statistical analyses

Although I agree wholeheartedly that there is a general ignorance among both reporters and editors (and, by the way, among lawyers, and politicians, and “activists”, and a lot of humanities professors, and even some social scientists, and ecologists, and economists, and physicians) about those subjects, and that much better vetting of such stories is essential, the real problem goes beyond those narrow bounds.

The broader problem is that statistical and mathematical and scientific ignorance is magnified by a fundamental disconnect in language between those who generate such information and those to whom it is reported. Sometimes that disconnect is the result of simple misunderstanding. But often it is intentional – a kind of rhetorical bait-and-switch used to manipulate public opinion.

Continue reading

Health Care? Ask Cuba

Every once in a while a study is released comparing health care in the United States to health care in other countries. Despite the fact that we are the wealthiest nation in the world, and that we have one of the most technologically advanced health care systems in the world, there are inevitably some measures by which we lag other developed nations. We have come to expect that: no one denies that our health care system has problems with cost and access; and no one denies that there are certain groups within our society — bounded by poverty and self-destructive lifestyles — for whom our health care system is woefully inadequate. Those are problems we need to address — and solutions upon which so far we cannot agree.

But when by some measure our health care system trails the undeveloped world that attracts attention.

A recent report ranked the United States behind Cuba in infant mortality. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times used that fact as a springboard for a broad and derisive critique of our market-based system. I agree with much of his diagnosis (and disagree with much of his prescription) but oddities in the way infant mortality is calculated in various countries makes it a dubious and slippery statistic upon which to hang a robust assessment of our current performance.

Continue reading

Perpetual Motion Redux

Ref: Mr. Baylis’ critique of the extraction of energy from moving vehicles using magnets and a street wire grid.

Mr. Baylis’ critique, while valid in every respect, was primarily economic and will therefore leave some readers (particularly those whose belief in the laws of supply and demand and pricing are ephemeral, and those who believe that moral righteousness is reason enough to ignore any and all economic considerations) thinking that overcoming those merely economic obstacles should be a high priority if the result is “free” energy.

However, there is a more fundamental matter of physics with which any such scheme must contend: the energy is not free.

Continue reading

Clean Air Through the Looking Glass

Oh the delicious irony of modern politics. In 2001, after deciding that it’s previous attempt to comply with an EPA dictate for cleaning the air by oxygenating gasoline had resulted mainly in dirtier water, the state of California banned the oxygenating compound MBTE and requested a waiver from the EPA regulation to avoid a mandated switch to ethanol. The state’s argument, that there were other ways to achieve the objective, may or may not have merit — it’s not clear how much of the dispute over that is science and how much is politics. But when, in the past, has that argument even mattered to Democrats — and the California government is pretty much entirely composed of Democrats — when an environmental regulation was at stake?

Continue reading

Arsenic and Old Rhetoric

In a world of boundless resources, where no worthwhile project went undone for lack of funding or attention, we could eliminate arsenic and a host of other environmental poisons to arbitrarily small tolerances with impunity. In the world outside of utopian fiction, however, limited resources must be allocated, and what is used for one thing is unavailable for another….It may be that as a society we conclude that reducing arsenic levels is the best use for those resources, but that conclusion is neither obvious nor unanimous and has nothing to do with science.

Continue reading