Rooftop solar collectors at the Chumash reservation.

Paul Wellman

Rooftop solar collectors at the Chumash reservation.

The State of Solar Energy

John Perlin Chats About Photovoltaics Past, Present, and Future

Thursday, August 7, 2014
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Talking with John Perlin is a little like chatting with an encyclopedia. His knowledge of the history of the solar power industry runs deep, and he drops dates and names like fruit falling from a tree.

Most recently, the oil-rich Koch brothers’ attempts to stifle home-based solar installations ​— ​which can make our electricity meters run backward ​— ​have him concerned politicians will listen to the arguments of their lobbying group, ALEC, which stands for the innocuous-sounding American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is working with state legislatures to end net metering, arguing that solar-power homeowners selling excess electricity back to the grid is bad for business. Instead, ALEC is saying that those “freeriders,” according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, should instead be paying $50-$100 in monthly fees, at the very least.

<b>LETTING IT SHINE:</b>  An enthusiastic proponent of solar energy as well as a noted historian on the subject, John Perlin has fostered large-scale photovoltaic projects at UCSB and taken his message on the road to national conferences.
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman (file)

LETTING IT SHINE: An enthusiastic proponent of solar energy as well as a noted historian on the subject, John Perlin has fostered large-scale photovoltaic projects at UCSB and taken his message on the road to national conferences.

Perlin recently spoke at the Intersolar North America conference (keynote delivered by Governor Jerry Brown) to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Bell Labs’ invention of the modern photovoltaic, or solar, module. We caught up with Perlin, author of Let It Shine: The 6,000-Year Story of Solar Energy, before he headed to another solar conference in Aspen, this one featuring former president Jimmy Carter.

You’re headed to Aspen for American Renewable Energy (ARE) Day. Is Colorado where solar is most active? Actually, California and New Jersey lead the United States in the amount of solar installations. ARE Day brings together the leaders in renewable energy to exchange ideas with each other, as well as anyone interested in the subject. As this will be my first time at the conference, I really don’t know what to expect, but serendipity has always been my best friend.

Can you tell us about ALEC and how it’s undermining solar? Does ALEC sponsor legislation in California? ALEC is a right-wing lobbying group that has spent, in the last few years, millions of dollars trying to end renewable-energy mandates and net metering and anything else they can do to impede through policy the ascendancy of solar and wind. The group has become especially active in state legislatures since wind and solar have become so successful. As far as California goes, ALEC has avoided these issues in our state.

Given that it’s taken 60 years for solar to reach its current scale, how long do you think large-scale power storage will take to materialize? Ironically, the military and the oil industry have been photovoltaic’s strongest supporters. It’s been Congress and various presidential administrations that have been the impediments. With solar growing so fast, storage will happen quite rapidly, as there’s plenty of money to be made. Solar panels plus storage is the utilities’ greatest nightmare. Who will need them then?

Tesla Motors is committed to building a mega-battery factor in the near future. They also are in partnership with Panasonic, the largest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries, and Tesla Motors has a close relationship with Solar City, the largest installer of rooftop photovoltaic systems, so it’s going to happen sooner than later.

The real question is, what type of battery? Already the larger companies ​— ​SolarCity and SunPower ​— ​are combining batteries with storage in certain cases. Another possibility could be solar-powered fuel cells.

SunPower has some breaking news. It has an agreement with Audi, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Ford for deals on home solar-power installations with the purchase of plug-in vehicles, and also for battery storage for 4-6 hours of electricity use.

Most of us understand the carbon equation by now, but few of us are able to do much about it. You made a movie with Walter Kohn and Alan Heeger, Nobel laureates with the UCSB physics program, called The Power of the Sun in 2003. Did it help spur solar projects on campus? The movie played to an overflow audience at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on November 29, 2005. That inspired Student Affairs to implement solar on their buildings, but the various campus bureaucracies needed for approval of construction projects impeded their efforts. I helped them break through the barriers set up by the solar-phobic opponents, as well as spec the solar technologies needed to make sure the university was getting the best solar equipment on the market. We wanted to show the many skeptics that energy efficiency combined with renewables make a potent pair. With the help of Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Young, Student Affairs Financial Analyst Bill McTague, and Gary Jurich, assistant director of athletics, our dedicated team broke through the red tape to get the large photovoltaic array ​— ​about 150 kilowatts atop the Recreation Center ​— ​on campus.

The installation worked better than expected, turning critics into advocates on the campus. Our most vociferous opponents became our greatest supporters. Our success also inspired a corps of UCSB undergraduates to present a referendum to fund additional solar projects on the campus. The largest majority ever mustered passed the proposal. With the new money in hand, we are now in the process of building an even larger installation ​— ​400 kilowatts ​— ​to cover a campus parking lot.

The student effort also inspired Southern California Edison to team with Student Affairs to introduce energy-saving equipment in combination with the already installed solar unit at the Recreation Center. The two technologies working in tandem show the true power of energy efficiency and renewables to make a building like the Rec Center totally autonomous. It’s a showcase for what the aggregated power of energy efficiency and solar, building by building, can achieve.

Transmission-line energy losses are estimated to be 6 percent. What do you think about large-scale installations like Cuyama’s? Large-scale photovoltaic projects have their place in combating climate change, but they also have many drawbacks from transmission lines, such as impacts on wildlife. Because the technology is modular, every house can become its own power plant. Rooftops make the ideal location, as that’s where the electricity is needed, and there are plenty of empty rooftops the last time I looked. And you are going to see much more photovoltaic rooftop activity at UCSB and the other UC campuses now that UC President Janet Napolitano has mandated that all the campuses must be carbon-neutral by 2025.

Where do you see alternative energy and/or solar five or 10 years from now? In five or 10 years from now, the term “alternative energy” might be used for coal and nuclear. Perhaps. Then utility transmission lines might be considered part of a quaint past, just as those raised on computers regard the typewriter.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Photo caption: John Perlin performs his magic show at the Chumash Casino saying "hocus pocus now I'm going to make this man disappear".

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 4:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Great article. Glad to see SCE involved.

Efficiency and self-supporting (you are on your own) SHOULD be the goals of so-called libertarians, e.g. Kochs and ALEC. But, their opposition reveals their true dogma. Money.

"Instead, ALEC is saying that those “freeriders,” according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, should instead be paying $50-$100 in monthly fees, at the very least."

How can one be a free-rider if one pays for a solar installation. Is that because the power source is the FREE sun. Are they trying to make use of the sun a cost from which they can benefit?

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 8:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

This is a concise and thoughtful article. On a recent train trip from Munich north to Deggendorf (2 hours) on the Danube River we witnessed MILES and MILES of vast fields of solar collectors...between the rows of collectors cows and other animals were placidly grazing. Germany is among the world leaders in solar energy...and they don't even have the brightest climate.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 8:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)

On June 9, 1914, Germany produced over half of its needed electric energy for that day from solar photovoltaic cells - a record. See

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 8:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

And they have no problem in Germany, if energy rates go to zero or negative.

Funny, that the people in this country with the most money complain about "free" energy for the lesser. Heartless.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 9:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Think you meant 2014 not 1914.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 9:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

duh, thanks tabatha, yes, 2014 would be the correct year!

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 9:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

We need more people like John Perlin who have both the knowledge and passion for solar energy. There are so many benefits of solar energy besides the fact that it protects our environment and lowers carbon emissions. Saving on electricity costs every month is something everyone can benefit from. Learn more about the many reasons to go solar.

EnergySage (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 11:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Tabatha, Dr.Dan, who is well into his 90's,(some say he's older) relates far more to 1914 than to 2014. You have to roll with it sometimes but when you realize he was born when Wilson was president, it all makes sense.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 2:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Nope, he was just wishing that solar had been around since 1914. Just imagine, no oil wars.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 3:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Let's hope that they give the flex fuel concept a chance. As of this writing, no flex fuel stations in Lompoc--the nearest one being at Vandenberg Air Force Base and closed to the public.

E85 stations are appearing all over the Midwest I'm told, Indy cars have been burning alcohol since 1965--as a side note.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 6:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

hey, enough with the compliments, I was the Boy Wonder of the Platt's advisor which is why he resigned as Sec'y of State vs. Wilson's stupid choice to enter W W I -- the source of all our problems today.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 9:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The Koch Brothers have got to be the quintessential treacherous, most anti-American force in politics today, without peer - as dangerous as all the world's terrorist groups put together, and then some. How about a war against Koch?

bloggulator (anonymous profile)
August 10, 2014 at 7:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Agreed, bloggulator - because they do not care for the truth, and will lie to impose their dogma of libertarianism on the US, whether the voters want it or not. They are behind voter suppression, and other nefarious highly undemocratic actions. Fight them by not buying their products, and by spreading the truth as far and wide as possible - and fight for fair voting.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 12:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Koch brothers?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 5:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Charles and David Koch. What we also need, tabatha, is campaign finance reform and repeal of the ugly Citizens' United SCOTUS decision.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 7:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Villifying the Koch Bros who represent the best of American ideals that made us a great country is just Lettish smokescreen to cover up the heinous misdeeds of the progressive billionaire darling George Soros, who actually bets against America. Pay this no mind. Just one of several buzz words that demands reflexiive salivating from the Left. Along with Citizens United which busted up the government employee union lock on recent campaign funding.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 8:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

If the disgusting Koch Bros. "represent the best of American ideals" then we're in very deep kaka, Jarv. YOU represent a "Right-ish" smokescreen to cover up the sins of the hyper-wealthy, I'd not cast any stones there.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 9:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The Koch brothers represent the worst American ideals - they pretend to hide behind 'free market libertarianism' but they are actually the worst strain of corporatists who don't have any respect for what it means to be a libertarian. They hijacked the libertarian party just to give it a bad name.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 10:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

gosh, loon, we totally agree, nice!

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 10:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

REAL libertarians cream their pants over solar energy and getting off the grid. The Koch brothers run anti-solar energy ads and try to screw over investors in solar energy who sell energy back to the grid - the Koch brothers don't want people selling energy back to the grid and being self-sustainable, they want to sell everybody THEIR energy!! That is not libertarianism, that has nothing to do with a free market and if DrDan, tabatha and JarvisJarvis aka foo would take an intellectually honest look at the situation they would all stop associating the Koch brothers with their fake libertarianism.

"Last year, APS caught flack when it came to light that the company was secretly funding the Koch-backed conservative group 60 Plus Association to run anti-solar ads, after initially denying it had done so. Those ads came amid a major fight over whether to change the state's solar net-metering policy, which allows homes and businesses with solar panels to sell excess energy back to the grid."

loonpt (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 10:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I said "their dogma of libertarianism" - which was in effect saying "their brand of libertarianism". Libertarianism has become distorted in this country, where the Koch's brand is NOT free market, but market manipulation to serve their wishes.

ACA moves the US closer to free market healthcare with exchanges where options are/should be provided. Kochs paid for ads against ACA. Consumers being able to choose solar is free market capitalism. Kochs lobby against solar. And the list goes on.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 11:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Well, if the Koch Bros engage in market manipulation to serve their wishes, what does that make Leftist billionaire George Soros and the newly emerging Silicon Valley billionaire Leftist cadre?

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 12:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If one preaches free market, then one should practice free market.

Please explain the George Soros and Silicon Valley claims - i.e. provide some info - I am not up to speed on those matters.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 12:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Here is a good place to start on George Soros. Your opinion will differ obviously depending upon where you sit:

Track the politics of any of the big high-tech and Silicon Valley billionaire names and the CEO/Founders. Start with Tom Steyer who is emerging as a major player in both state and national politics. Big money is big money, on both sides ot the fence. Ain't just a GOP thing. BTW: conservatives salivate at the mention of George Soros the same way you do over the Koch Bros.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 12:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

1,2,4,5,6 are all legal and what both the left and right do.

3. I don't know what is meant by this, but obviously that is a right-wing publication, and the worst possible interpretation would be used.

7. Environmental extremism: Actually environmental realism.

8. And Republicans don't do the same thing? There is good and bad on both sides, and the bad should be rooted out.

9. Currency manipulation: This is not kosher. I don't have any opinion on Soros, but he can finance whoever he likes wrt elections - that is done by both parties, but beyond that I abhor any market manipulation including the Wall Street types who nearly crashed the world economy. I can bet there are Republicans among them. As stated before, there are good and bad on both sides, and they should be brought to court for their actions - and most have not. If some one does something wrong and harmful, they should pay the consequences, no matter whether left, right or inbetween.

10. Delusions: Many of the rich have delusions. Sometimes, it is the reason they are rich.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 12:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Are you implying what the Koch Bros do is illegal? Or does that also depend upon where you are sitting. Not sure the Koch Bros intentionally conducted the brazen currency manipulations that broke the banks of several countries and are now betting against the US dollar like Soros likes to brags about. But maybe you can point me to similar Koch Bros currency manipulations they also committed and we can call if a draw.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 3:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What the Koch brothers do is help big business and energy at the expense of small business and property owners.

What George Soros does is use inside information to make large transactions at the expense of other financial companies who have large customer bases of investors and those individuals end up losing out - then Soros takes the profits and uses them to fund revolutions to get pro-IMF and pro-western leaders into power for the benefit of international banking and business interests.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 4:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

My last post was answering the points in the link you provided. Kochs were not under consideration.

And if the actions by Soros are illegal or unethical, they should be stopped and damned.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 11, 2014 at 7:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

'who represent the best of American ideals that made us a great country', ahem, the koch's inherited a company that their daddy built. Kochs, Soros... the main event is elsewhere. Keep your eye on the ball, the lies and mis-information the Kochs sell through ads and propaganda is for the wealthy or stupid.

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 12, 2014 at 10:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

and Jarvis is a self-proclaimed mouthpiece and flunkey for the 1%, just read his blarney

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 2:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Gimme my solar panels and argue about the Koch brothers and work it out amongst yourselves.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 4:48 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Koch Bros vs SEIU sounds like finally a leveling the playing field. I'll put my money on the Koch Bros any day when given that choice. Nothing wrong with inheriting a family grown business, particularly since they did ot blow it up their noses like too many easy wealth inheritors choose to do.

Be sure to check out Breitbart today to see the study that does confirm wealthy individuals and corporate interests do control much of US policy-making at the national level. All the more reason to get rid of the useless Lois Capps and go with the Koch Bros.

Besides occupying, what are you going to do about this. And why is voting for public sector employee unions at the local level going to matter because that only touches taxpayers and not the corporates or wealthy individuals at the national level.

What is good for business is good for America. Never forget this. Tax dollars for the public sector union to suck off has to be generated from somewhere.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 8:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Somebody had better defend the 1% because they are the only group keeping the wolf away from your own door since you suck off the public trough, DD..

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 9:06 a.m. (Suggest removal)

JarvisFOOFIGHTERJarvis, you fool, I work in the private sector and have for over 30 years.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 10:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

More side show tactics from Jarvis to purvey nonsense. Look over there!

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 1:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I wanna give the world a Koch......

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 2:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)


loonpt (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 2:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Jarvis must be a Koch sucker.

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2014 at 3:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

from link to Soros article
3. Wants to curtail American sovereignty: Soros would like nothing better than for America to become subservient to international bodies. He wants more power for groups such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, even while saying the U.S. role in the IMF should be “downsized.”

tabatha:" I don't know what is meant by this, but obviously that is a right-wing publication, and the worst possible interpretation would be used. "

American sovereignity isn't a right-wing publication, regardless of how obvious this is to you. It means US national independence, rather than part of a global fascist-totalirian government.

All markets are manipulated. The Rothschild family sets the price of gold, and monopoly capitalists set the price of market sectors they control. Rockefellers, for example, control 60% of the US pharmaceutical industry.

Obama's Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement, enables NWO monopoly capitalists to manipulate market sectors, including banking and securities, and set energy and food and pharmaceutical prices at levels high enough to cause the deaths of the 90% of the world's population they've publicly announced that they plan to murder. Free trade means the removal of government-imposed trade restrictions that protect national economies, and has been used extensively by international monopoly capitalists to destroy economies in deveolping nations.
IPCC co-founder Maurice Strong announced the Committee of 300 plan to crash the stock market in 1991, and said the G8 Summit, held in January in Davos, would be a good time to do this, since world leaders would be incapable of rapid intervention. Edmund de Rothschild said at the same conference, the 4th World Wilderness Conference, that simultaneously calling in all loans would accomplish the NWO agaenda

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2014 at 8:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

SCE has lobbied against residential solar for years, and claims that its costs associated with residential solar create a hardship. SCE bills residential PV customers at its standard rate and reimburses them for excess generation at SCE's much lower cost/kW to purchase electricity generated by commercial sources, and adds charges for the use of SCE's distribution network. Off-grid solar PV permits are being revoked in California, and off-grid PV is now illegal in Florida.
The trend is support for government and commercial installations and reversion of incentives for residential: customers. Power companies strogly oppose attempts by residential customers to become independent of power companies. The situation is similar in Germany, although residential electricity rates are around double US rates as a result of government subsidies for PV installations, with the cost of subsidies passed on to consumers; subsidies for residential installations have been reduced over 50%, and commercial and government subsidies maintained.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2014 at 8:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

14noscams - you are batting zero for comprehension.

"tabatha:" I don't know what is meant by this, but obviously that is a right-wing publication, and the worst possible interpretation would be used. "

American sovereignty isn't a right-wing publication, regardless of how obvious this is to you. It means US national independence, rather than part of a global fascist-totalitarian government."

I was not talking about American sovereignty - I was talking about the publication in which those points were listed. Each of the points was listed with interpretation by the publication - i.e. it was not neutral.

Take a breath and think about what you are posting.

Next, the The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed regional free trade agreement that was drafted in 2005, thus it is not Obama's TPP. So far it has not been finalized, because there is no agreement. The TPP is something corporations and business LOVE.

You will notice that many Democrats oppose it.

"A number of United States Congresspeople,[78] including Senator Bernard Sanders[79] and Representatives Henry Waxman, Sander M. Levin, John Conyers, Jim McDermott,[80] John Lewis, Pete Stark, Charles B. Rangel, Earl Blumenauer, and Lloyd Doggett,[81] have expressed concerns about the effect the TPP requirements would have on access to medicine.

You will also notice the corporations (mostly right wing) that support it:

On 23 May 2012, United States Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced S. 3225, that would require the Office of the US Trade Representative to disclose its TPP documents to all members of Congress.[92] Wyden said the bill clarifies the intent of 2002 legislation which was supposed to increase Congressional access to information about USTR activity, but which, according to Wyden, is being incorrectly interpreted by the USTR as justification to excessively limit such access.[93] Wyden asserted:

The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations—like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America—are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement. [...] More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing. We hear that the process by which TPP is being negotiated has been a model of transparency. I disagree with that statement.[93]

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 24, 2014 at 2:15 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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