Tuesday, October 1, 2013

If I could have a Beer with Michael Skelly,

If I could have a beer with Michael Skelly…

There is one subject I’d consider him a subject matter expert and would love to know his opinion.

Before explaining my questions, here’s the President of Clean Line Energy’s qualifications.  The guy is a Harvard MBA, a former Peace Corpsman, likely sold distributed generation/renewable energy systems in Central America, and knows the large scale renewable energy industry from Horizon Wind Energy, and is now pushing merchant transmission lines as spec projects for venture capital.  Skelly is or was also an independent director of a solar company called Amonix.

It logical to suspect he still has a heart’s passion for Central America and developing countries.  After being in the Peace Corp, that sort of thing probably doesn’t leave a person quickly.

Now, as I’ve learned about the energy industry in the last year, the one huge bright spot for consumers is solar photovoltaic (PV) or, to a layman like myself, “solar panels”.  The price of solar panels has quietly dropped dramatically in the past few years. Edison Electric Institute, a transmission trade organization, put out a report last January explaining to the industry the magnitude of the threat rooftop solar panels could have on America’s energy generation and transmission industry.   It was after reading that report, originally reported by David Roberts at Grist, I began to believe the potential solar panels now has on this industry and reshaping America’s demands for large scale energy generation. 

To put it simply, we are getting to the edge of technology where solar panels could reshape the energy industry like the cell phone technology transformed communication in America.   That in itself is a big WOW!  Since last spring, I’ve also learned most of America is as skeptical as I once was about this coming potential of solar panels.  We’ve all heard about the potential of solar energy since the failed Carter Administration, and 99.99% of consumers find it difficult to believe solar could change our need for big energy transmission projects. 

It’s such a hard sell, that when I explain to people that because of solar’s potential we don’t need grandiose projects like RICL, they roll their eyes like I used to do.  To the typical consumer, solar’s potential is going under the radar, but the President of Clean Line Energy Partners is not your typical consumers.  Every part of his resume gives him unique knowledge on this developing situation, and like I said, I don’t care to talk to him about transmission or debate the potential effects this could have on large scale transmission projects like Clean Line Energy’s projects. 

What really peaks my curiosity is how are developing countries of Central and South America going to receive this new technology with rapidly reducing costs.  About a month ago I was reading an article about extreme poverty around the world in the Rotary Clubs magazine, the Rotarian.  When I read one small sentence that mentioned the potential of Solar PV, the fireworks went off in my head. 

Do we have the potential to bring energy to the remotest villages of developing nations? 

How will solar panels improve the poverty in these nations?
Could it improve education?  Health care? Nutrition? 

Could this be a game changer in the battle against extreme poverty?

A couple things are obvious.  Consider how several South American nations like Columbia and Ecuador advanced rapidly to cell phones.  In the 90’s after meeting a couple people from South America, it surprised me how experienced and articulate they were with cell phone technology.  It became obvious these nations didn’t have the landline communication infrastructure we have in America and when cellular technology came out, these developing nations leap frogged past the United States in accepting this new technology because as consumers, Americans clung to our old technology of the land line phone systems longer than necessary.  The consumers in these nations did not have the quality of the old technology like Americans.

Will new solar technology be the same way?

America will likely attempt to keep the traditional way of energy generation as long as possible with transmission and generation companies kick and scream to keep the current system as long as possible. Additional regulations to protect them will probably be created.  I understand that, but what is the potential for nations that do not have a transmission grid system as advanced as ours?

It’s logical to assume Central American and South American nations have some huge geographical hurdles called “mountains” that have limited their development of an electrical grid.  Just like their limited development of a communication network, I suspect these nations have a very weak transmission grid.  Again I suspect, Skelly is very qualified to explain the transmission grid in such nations. 

Forget our issues in the United States.  How much could the rapidly advancing solar technology transform the electrical generation industry in these under developed nations? 

Yes, I understand if Mike felt as if these were loaded questions that could be spun back to the United States and our changing needs transmission, but the President of Clean Line Energy’s opinion on America’s transmission industry would be largely irrelevant to me.  I have a pretty good idea how this new technology will play out in the U.S.  Skelly’s experience and knowledge about developing nations, the energy industry, and renewable energy would bring an interesting perspective as I suspect solar PV could be a huge game changer in the battle against extreme poverty in the world. 

In a grassroots effort to oppose unnecessary transmission projects, it’s wise to know your opponent and with the internet research is now simple.  When there is a Wikipedia entry about the person, a resume can be constructed quickly.  The challenge is interpreting the information properly.  Some people like Hans Detweiler, there is no interest in meeting.  I haven’t met a person around here who really wants to meet Hans, and there are stories of a few reporters who actually regret meeting him.  However, in this one instance and this one subject, I would be curious about Michael Skelly’s opinion.  The man has given a lot of interviews across the internet for Clean Line’s spec projects. 

The potential of solar energy combating extreme poverty is the one interview he should be giving.  


  1. If I could have a beer with Michael Skelly... first I'd have to make sure that he hadn't put poison in it... but as long as the food tester didn't kick over, the beer would probably be a MICRO(grid) brew.

    If I could have a beer with Hans... it would be an Arrogant Bastard Ale.

  2. “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward." Just how much of a cup of cold water could solar energy become?

    I don't really care about global warming, climate change, carbon footprints,...Economically priced energy is what people care about. The fact that this is "clean" and "renewable" is not the key selling point. What can we do with it to reach others and make an impact in the remotest corners?

    One thing that has always offended my about the "Al Gore" environmentalists is the "I have my millions but you should live in poverty for the sake of the carbon footprint" attitude. Environmentalism should not be a tool to suppress people to perpetual lower class poverty. I think that is either the intent of perhaps the unintended consequence of several in the environmental movement.

    What excites me is the potential to use solar energy to raise standard for the bottom of the economic scale.

  3. I'd like to pull some pork with Hans, while drinking beer. He's just so adorrrrrrrrrrrrrrable when he lies.


  4. Scott, I'd like to extend your comments about PV in South America. As Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute is fond of pointing out, countries in South America, Africa and Asia are now leading the world in the delivery of cutting edge decentralized power technologies. They have the advantage of not having to go "backward" in their engineering of a sensible and properly scaled electrical system. Because they are developing electric power systems from the ground up, electricity will only be applied to work that people want and need.

    When companies build large centralized generating plants, they have to sell a lot of electricity just to get back their original investment. A big plant is a big fixed cost. If companies have more customers using more electricity, they can reduce rates for everyone and sell more electricity. They have to do that, or they will go bankrupt trying to pay off the debt on their plants. That's why Commonwealth Edison gave away free electric clothes irons in Chicago in the early 1900s.

    If you are building a decentralized system in Africa, each customer makes his/her own decision about how much electricity they need and what they need it for. The first choice is almost always lighting so that their children can do school work in the evenings.

    In these situations, no one has to unlearn wasteful habits and they can conserve the farming values of conservation that everyone grew up with in their rural communities. They don't have to implement efficiency programs, because their electricity use has a built in efficiency and conservation ethic.

    These countries represent the future of decentralized electric power, while we in the US, and even the more advanced countries in Europe, struggle with re-engineering our failed and expensive centralized systems.