Solar energy in NM makes a lot of sense – and cents

“Stark reality should trump wishful fantasy,” Carla Sonntag proclaimed on the Sept. 18 Journal op-ed page. She went on to imply that I, Athena, named after my maternal Greek grandmother, was engaging in falsehood or wishful thinking when I informed the Public Regulatory Commission that “one hour of light brings enough energy to supply energy for all of humanity for an entire year.”

Yes, it seems unbelievable, but it is an accepted scientific fact.

I first learned this amazing fact two years ago from a Royal Society of Chemistry journal paper by James Barber entitled “Photosynthetic energy conversion: natural and artificial.” Today, a quick look on Wikipedia under solar energy facts will get you to the same point of equating one hour of the sun’s energy to one year of human energy usage.

I refer to that factoid as the “solar equation” in my educational presentations for the N.M. Solar Energy Association.


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However, before everybody races to cover the sky with solar panels, I must clarify that most of that energy arrives as radiant heat and is useful in keeping our planet warmer than our surrounding space. (Hence we are not living on a frozen planet).

In addition, some of the light energy is already used by plants (remember photosynthesis) as “food.”

Still, solar energy, especially in New Mexico, makes a lot of sense – and cents.

Five years ago, I dreaded receiving my electric bill. Now, after tightening our energy belt and using a home equity loan to finance installation of almost 4kW of photovoltaics, I can’t wait.

As to operation and maintenance, well, so far Mother Nature has washed my panels and – there is nothing more. Except that we have also reduced the amount of carbon dioxide generated from coal-powered electricity.

My point was, though, that we now have the technology, including energy storage, to take better advantage of plentiful solar energy.

New Mexico was originally called the Sunshine State for a very good reason. Why is Arizona racing to take advantage of this resource with a 280 MW concentrated solar power plant and pushing us to buy electricity from their 25-year-old nuclear power plant?

I hope it only means that PNM is watching and taking careful notes on the possibility of including a concentrated solar power plant as replacement for the retiring San Juan coal-fired plants.

I’m hoping and praying we see the light.

Finally, Carla is welcome to call me the “goddess of light,” but every 5th grader knows Athena was the goddess of wisdom in Greek mythology. I wonder what other truths and scientific facts are muddled in pursuit of the dollar.

I feel a bit like Galileo as he tried to convince the world that the Earth orbits the Sun and not vice versa.