Thursday, September 08, 2005

Are Terrorists Vampires: Open Source Energy

This week I've been working a lot on low income energy needs. Utility bills cost a lot of money. The housing stock for most of the country is horribly insulated. And poor people are poor. Put them together, and things suck.

There are a few government programs that are supposed to help fight this problem. While effective, they are too small to have any real impact.

So while I was in a meeting listening to people talk about this, I was thinking about the way we could solve this problem, especially after the effects of Katrina.

I thought of what might be a great idea - for Iraq. Here it is...

So, as you know doubt know, Iraq also has a huge energy problem. Crumbling infrastructure. Terrorists attacks on energy relay stations and power lines. And no one pays for utilities, because they sit on a lake of oil and feel entitled to free energy, and thus no one conserves. Nor does any individual currently have an incentive to conserve, because of the "tragedy of the commons" issue.

The result has been rolling blackouts, serious social unrest, and complete economic instability - how can you run an office or a factory if you're not sure if none of the machinery or computers work?

Here's my half thought out solution: Solar power.

Right now, we have the capacity to install solar power cells, an industrial battery, and a connection to the power grid for between $5,000 - $20,000 per home. Iraq is mostly desert, and has massive amounts of direct sunlight (little cloud cover, few skyscrapers, and a good spot on the globe - for that sort of stuff at least).

Each installation would essentially remove one home from being dependent on the dilapidated power grid.

Homes would have an incentive to conserve, as they would basically be running down their own battery, and when it runs out they would risk not having power because of the unreliable grid.

Homes that produce more energy then they use (a real possibility if we were to use the higher end solar cells) would feed back into the grid, thus producing power for those homes that don't have it.

This model of open source power would be mostly immune to terrorist attacks. Terrorist attacks are powerful because they disrupt the "choke points" of infrastructure - important roads and bridges, power lines and distribution grids, police stations and train stations - if you blow up one of these places, everything around them stops and the people who depend on them are left incapacitated or worse. But terrorist attacks are useless against individual homes. It would take a standing army to do any large scale neighborhood destruction. And they don't have one.

But wait! There's more!

Rather then building the solar cells and equipment here, we open a series of small factories in Iraq. Factories could be spread throughout the country. The goal would be to create a few hundred factories in small towns, staffed by the local ethnic groups. This would be a huge disincentives for terrorists to attack it, and it would be much easier for local police and our armed forces to guard - build it a few acres out of town, surround it by jersey barriers, and don't let anyone except for local delivery trucks, which can be searched at a gate, drive within 500 feet.

This would train thousands of people on how to build solar cells. You could simultaneously invest in training people to install the cells. All of this would also be a huge jobs program - thus combating another key source of terrorism - unemployment.

Have all of the start up costs paid for by Uncle Sam. Pay for the rollout and installation of cells for the first year or two. Then allow the free market to take hold. You'll have dozens and dozens of factories and installation crews competing against each other, thus keeping costs down. But many of the markets would be inherently local because of ethnic tensions - thus keeping a certain baseline of factories and crews up and running for each of the regions and ethnic groups.

My ballpark estimate, assuming a conservative production cost of $20,000 per home, and the desire to produce enough for 20% of all households, roughly 750,000, in the first two years, is $15,000,000,000 - fifteen billion dollars. Double the cost to $30 billion for construction of the factories and training. That sounds like a lot of money. But in reality, that money would solve one of the fundamental problems with the war in Iraq - and we're already spending around $80 billion a year in reconstructing various pieces of the infrastructure - and doing a poor job of it, partly because it keeps getting blown up.

Are terrorists vampires? Can they be defeated by sunlight? Or at the very least, creative thinking?

Ann Coulter: Vampire or Terrorist?

Anywho, that's my two cents for the day. Somebody inform the President.


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