How To Really Save the Economy

Today’s NY Times has an op-ed by Robert Barro, of the Hoover Institution and Harvard University. It’s not surprising that someone from the Hoover Institution says “Austerity not Stimulus.”  But as Franklin D. Roosevelt proved during the Depression, while both business and government may be able to hire in times like these, ONLY the government is willing to hire.  Therefore we need stimulus. The question is “Which stimulus?”

Because of the NJ Clean Energy Program, we went form 9 kilowatts of solar power to about 400 megawatts in the last 11 years. Suppose we expanded the NJ Clean Energy Program to put a 40 KW solar array on every school in NJ, and the US?

What would it cost? What would it buy?

For starters, taxpayers pay the electric bills of schools. So if new solar is cheaper than new coal or new nuclear then it seems like a good idea.  

And what happens in an emergency?

Here’s the letter I sent the Times, Pres. Obama, Rush Holt, and Senators Menendez and Lautenberg.

Dear Editor,

Re Robert Barro’s “How to Really Save the Economy,” NY Times, Sunday Review, Sept. 11, 2011.  One of the best kept secrets in New York City is the existence of a 40 kilowatt (KW) photovoltaic solar array on the Whitehall Street terminal of the Staten Island Ferry.  Some PV solar modules are guaranteed for 25 years and expected to produce power for 35 to 40 years. They require very little maintenance.

Suppose we were to install a 40 KW solar energy system on each of the approximately 90,000 schools in the US. At a cost of $5,000 per kilowatt of nameplate capacity, each system would cost $200,000.  This 3.6 gigawatts of distributed daylight-only capacity would cost about $18 billion.  The total costs would probably be less because PV Solar is subject to economic forces like Moore’s Law. What would it give us?

Every public school in the country would have a power plant that generates power, during the day, with no fuel cost and no waste management cost. The capital cost would be lower than the cost of new nuclear and significantly lower than the costs of coal with carbon sequestration, with none of the risks or hazards: no arsenic, mercury, lead, thorium, uranium, zinc, or carbon.

The systems would be tied to the electric grid, after all, while most of their operations are during the day, schools need power at night. If these systems could be disconnected from the electric grid, then we would have 90,000 structures distributed all over the United States, with power during the day, in the event of power outages from storms, earthquakes, accidents, etc. Even if we lost 10% in a disaster like Katrina, would would still have 81,000 all over the country. Coupled with efficient refrigeration systems, we would have shelters with power to keep food and medications cold during emergencies; and these would be distributed across the country.

The systems would obviously have to be installed here, and we could even require the components to be manufactured here, further stimulating the economy.

Lawrence J. Furman, MBA

The author writes for Popular Logistics and has an MBA in Managing for Sustainability.  

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