Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Corruption,  cronyism?  Or, incompetence, incapable, inadequacy, or ineptitude?
I think it is a combination of both.  Whatever set of words you choose, the Federal government’s investment in Solyandra fits one word -  FIASCO.

As early as 2007 or 2008 even a novice would have had some doubts about the competitiveness of Solyandra’s solar tubes.  At that time, it was obvious that no one could compete price wise  with Chinese solar panels.  Remember this was a start-up company moving into a highly competitive market place, one that was basically controlled by the Chinese.  

Even back in 2008 it was becoming clear that silicon prices were about to fall dramatically.   Development of larger wafers further cut costs.   Importantly, American labor costs applied to solar panels manufacture could not, and still cannot, compete with Chinese costs.   So, what happened to the Solyndra loan guarantee application?

Solyndra must have furnished a detailed business plan when they applied for a government loan guarantee.   What government bureaucrat accepted the documents?  Who analyzed them?   Was it a team effort?  Were the analysts business-oriented?  What conclusions did they draw?  I am still perplexed by the voluminous 80,000+ pages that were manufactured by bureaucrats, most of whom had never been involved in private business.  Yes, it was a FIASCO.   First of all, a comprehensive business plan does not have to be a very thick document.  Nor, does an analysis of this project require more than a 40 or 50 pages of text and several operation, financial, and marketing projections based on a couple of sets of criteria. .  During the years when I was an engineering consultant, the staff was always cautioned about the fact that the report was not graded on its weight, but on its content.  In fact, in the case of Solyundra,  just a focused cursory look at the Chinese market would have put a nail in the coffin.

My observations are not hindsight, or Monday morning quarterbacking.  My book – The Sky Will NOT Fall – Unmasking the Green Revolution – gives a general analysis of the solar market in about half-a-dozen pages.  It does not even mention cylindrical panels, but the book does point out that solar energy is still questionable economically.  Yes, even using the low-cost Chinese panels.  The use of cylindrical panels is obviously not competitive cost-wise, especially if no real cost controls are in place.

The management of Solyndra spared no cost in any phase of their project.  They made certain that their facility was a showcase of vast proportions.  Their main concern was to be sure company offices and board rooms were extra-luxurious.  They succeeded.    To please the senses of worker’s robots on the assembly line whistled Disney tunes when they moved.   Spa-like showers with liquid-crystal displays showed the water temperature.   There were glass-walled conference rooms to sooth the stressful strain of management meetings.  Extravagance after extravagance was procured as the norm in every facet of the operation.  None of these lavish outlays seemed to have rung a bell with the government analysts?

I thought I had completed this BLOG, but the politicians gave me no choice.  I decided I had no choice but to add another paragraph on Solyndra’s never-ending  saga.  Unbelievable, Solyndra employees are receiving terminal pay.  I regard it as a bonus!   Yes, we lucky taxpayers are being saddled with $12,300,000, which will be split 1100 ways.  Wow, Solyndra goes broke and has to lay off 100% of its employees, and they receive $11,181.32 apiece in terminal pay,  plus unemployment benefits.  Need I say more – FIASCO.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No need to rush into a decision about nuclear waste disposal?

Nuclear power is the only large-scale energy technology that emits and retains waste?  This high-level radioactive waste is contained in spent reactor fuel rods and must be contained for long periods of time.

Fifty-three years ago the Eisenhower administration realized that storage and disposal of nuclear wastes were serious problems.  The administration sought the assistance of the National Academy of Science to formulate an ideal plan.  A committee of prominent scientists was formed, who eventually recommended deep underground geological storage as the best and safest method.  This method of  storage required development of a large cavern where the material could be safely contained for thousands of years until it lost its radioactivity.      

In 1957 the United States Geological Survey (USGS) was instructed to identify the most suitable storage site for the deposit of the nuclear waste.    Prior to commencing the search the USGS requested input from a large number of geoscience professionals.  Over one hundred locations were suggested, most in the western part of the country.   Each site was reviewed, from which a short list was prepared.   By 1984, on completion of extensive geological evaluations, only ten sites in six states remained.  Lastly, these ten sites were subjected to still further scientific analyses.  On completion of the studies, the number of preferred sites was cut to three - Hanford, Washington, Deaf Smith County, Texas and Yucca Mountain, Nevada.    

In 1987 Congress instructed the Department of Energy (DOE) to direct its attention to the USGS chosen site, Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  It was found to be suitable in every respect for a disposal site, plus being located on Federal land.  The DOE conducted some additional research, then commenced development of the site so it would be ready to accept waste by January 31, 1998.

Only 41 years had passed since the USGS was directed to locate and evaluate a suitable storage site.   Forty-one years that saw a growing inventory of spent rods at reactor sites, as well as spent fuel from U.S. Navy warships. Temporary storage was filling up, reaching capacity, in spite of the overwhelming positive evidence favoring development of the Yucca Mountain site.