Friday, August 15, 2008

The Headlong Rush to Solar

The NY Times reports California is planning two large solar plants:
The plants will cover 12.5 square miles of central California with solar panels, and in the middle of a sunny day will generate about 800 megawatts of power, roughly equal to the size of a large coal-burning power plant or a small nuclear plant.

Sounds great. Except there's a catch.
Though the California installations will generate 800 megawatts at times when the sun is shining brightly, they will operate for fewer hours of the year than a coal or nuclear plant would and so will produce a third or less as much total electricity.

"Or less." Oh, and there's another catch as well.
Neither approaches the economy of fossil-fuel burning plants, said Ms. Zerwer, the spokeswoman for Pacific Gas & Electric. But they will be competitive with wind power and with power from solar thermal plants, which are equipped with mirrors that use the sun’s heat to boil water into steam. And prices will fall, she predicted.

It's great that California is willing to experiment with large-scale solar deployment. This project can only help to improve solar as an alternative to fossil fuels. But the article clearly points up the number one biggest problem with solar (and wind): by it's nature, it can never replace traditional power plants on a one-for-one basis. Which means even after you've developed hyper-efficient batteries, or hyper-efficient transmission, you're still building solar plants that are less cost-efficient than hydrocarbon or nuclear plants that can run 24/7.

Missing from the story is any mention of the life expectancy of the solar cells. Also no mention of transmission costs from what must be a fairly rural site.
(h/t Jonathan Adler at VC)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Obama: the Democrats' Bush

Glenn Thrush outlines seven worrisome signs for the Obama campaign. More interesting to me is this quote from Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown:
This election is about Barack Obama — not John McCain — it's about whether Barack Obama passes muster. Every poll shows that people want a Democratic president, the problem is they’re not sure they want Barack Obama.

This describes exactly how I've felt in the last two elections, only reversed. I knew in 2000 that I didn't want another Democrat, but I also knew I didn't want Bush.

What finally convinced me to pull the lever for a Bush 43 presidency was the people Bush had around him: James Baker, Colin Powell, and Dick Cheney. I think this is a problem for Sen. Obama. Who does he have advising him on foreign policy? I know Madeleine Albright is loosely associated with his campaign, as well as Bill Richardson. But I haven't seen anything that suggests either of those individuals would likely be asked to join the Obama administration.

Who else is there? In my opinion, Sen. Obama needs to spend as much time selecting his foreign policy staff as he does selecting a vice president. I guess we'll find out soon enough where he stands.

All for One?

Sen. Obama's association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a problem. And I don't believe it's just political. It demonstrates a core problem with Obama as a prospective President: he tolerated Wright's agenda and rhetoric until Wright questioned his credibility. Then Obama severed ties.

Given all that, this piece from RealClearPolitics' Steve Mitchell is, in my opinion, a tenuous stretch. Mitchell writes on the subject of embattled Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has been charged with perjury and assault(!). Mitchell opines...
Although Kilpatrick has distanced himself from Obama and Obama has distanced himself from Kilpatrick, they are both inextricably linked to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And, that is Obama's problem.

Nowhere in the article does Mitchell tie Kilpatrick directly to Obama. The only connection routes through Wright, whom Kilpatrick introduced at the Detroit NAACP meeting. Whatever I might think of the Obama/Wright association, linking Obama with Kilpatrick strikes me as entirely unfair. It would be like linking McCain with Ted Stevens or Tom Daschle, just because they all know James Dobson.

Update: Glenn Thrush of Politico also makes the point that Kwame Kilpatrick can damage Obama in Michigan, because he's "an Obama supporter." Meh.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympic Propaganda

The Olympics have been political for as long as I can remember. But I don't remember ever seeing this much propaganda. Case in point, here's a little press release published in Xinhua:
Returning from China after attending the opening ceremony, the president told the Seychelles media at the airport that Beijing was a clean city with high-spirited and progressive people.

Now as it turns out China and the Seychelles have been buddying up recently. I'm not up on my Indian Ocean geopolitics, but for whatever reason the Seychelles seem to be pretty friendly with China. So it's no surprise their president would want to give the Middle Kingdom some good press.

But the propaganda goes way beyond that. Look at the coverage of the Bachman murder: all the stories are laden with assurances that Beijing is a safe city, even though the murder rate rivals that of Atlanta.

Also look at the pollution controversy. Despite assertions that pollution is under control, we still see reports of extreme particulate counts.

I'm not sure what to make of this. It's no surprise that a highly centralized and tightly controlled government like China's would be orchestrating such propaganda. But at the same time, I would kind of expect someone in the Western media to highlight the fact.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

GOP Choice

John Fund of the WSJ observes that the GOP is at a crossroads: rally around old-school pork monsters like Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, or join Sens. Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, and Rep. Scott Garrett in fighting corruption.

Mr. Fund believes that a number of events will combine to reduce the political desirability of earmarks: Stevens' indictment, Young's probable primary defeat, and the defeat of the "Coburn Omnibus". I would like to agree with Mr. Fund, but I think there's more work to do. Republican leaders didn't help defeat the "Reid Ramrod" out of any sense of anti-corruption altruism--they just wanted to black Reid's eye. And even if you knock out Stevens and Young, there are still plenty of pork monsters remaining on both sides of the aisle, including the greatest of them all Robert Byrd.

On a brighter note I'm heartened to see Mr. Fund write this:
The day before, Republicans enjoyed a rare success when they beat back an attempt by Majority Leader Harry Reid to ram through an earmark-laden omnibus bill that Mr. Coburn had refused to help pass by the often-abused "unanimous consent" process.

That's a perfect description of Coburn's procedural tactics. Kudos to Mr. Fund for getting it right.