Sunshine, Obama and McCain

The center two pages of today’s The Marker, Ha’aretz’s economic section, are covered by an ad with the large headline “Win-Win.” It’s for a firm called Sunday, based in Israel as far as I can glean from its website. Sunday is making an offer to anyone with 2,000 square meters of roof space (21,500 square feet in archaic U.S. measurements) or 5,000 square feet of available land: It will turn that space into a solar energy facility, then pay the owner a set fee or a share of the profits on the energy produced.

Sunday is saying: You own a big office in Tel Aviv or factory in Haifa? We’ll turn the wasted sunlight heating up your roof into power and pay you for it. I’m not endorsing any company, but on the face of it, this sounds like a good deal for all concerned, including Israel, which can buy fewer fossil fuels to produce electricity, and the planet, which gets less carbon in its atmosphere.

Israel is a sunny place. But a lot of wasted sun is also falling on convention centers in Los Angeles, condo developments in Phoenix, casinos in Nevada – and other huge roofs from there to Florida. That space could also be exploited for energy. Except getting it to market might present the same problems as the New York Times described recently for wind-generated power:

Expansive dreams about renewable energy, like Al Gore’s hope of replacing all fossil fuels in a decade, are bumping up against the reality of a power grid that cannot handle the new demands.

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

As the ever-impressive Harold Meyerson argues, there is a huge gap between the two American parties, and the two candidates for president, on government investment in improving infrastructure. Obama and the Democratics favor a return to such investment as a way of increasing national productivity and creating jobs. They follow an American tradition dating back to the 19th century Whigs. McCain and the Republicans would prefer to cut taxes and wait for the market to step in. We can all see how well the market takes care of things. Sunday, or an equivalent American firm, will have a better chance of effectively exploiting Sun Belt rooftops under Obama economics.

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