Here is information about a study on how exercise bio-chemically improves our physical health. This article caused me to jumped on my Treadmill and subsequently join a gym. From a bio-chemical perspective it seems that a little physical exercize initates a cellular process analogous to recycling the trash that builds up in our cell bodies.
Just why exercise is so good for people is, at last, being understood
Jan 21st 2012 | from the print edition
Changing brains: why neuroscience is ending the Prozac era
The big money has moved from developing psychiatric drugs to manipulating our brain networks
Daniel Lieberman: ‘Dieting is a disaster for everyone’
The big one is obesity. We evolved to put on fat wherever necessary, and that was a good thing in human history. Most people until recently had to work hard and they lived just at the margin of energy balance, and a little bit more energy stored in fat meant that you could have more babies, and your babies were more likely to survive. That was pretty powerful stuff, right? Now we’re in this bizarre situation that for the first time in billions of years of evolution we have an organism that is not energy limited any more.
The final point is that our instinct when we are sick is to try to treat each other – which is right and proper. But when we have a mismatch disease caused by this poor fit between our bodies and our environments we treat the symptoms only. On the one hand people are living longer and are healthier than probably ever in human history, but also suffering in new ways that are draining the economy. The US is the worst example but the UK isn’t far behind, in terms of how much you are spending in treating chronic non-infectious diseases that are preventable. We can prevent heart disease, we can prevent flat feet and myopia, but we can only do so if we consider our evolution.
The big one is obesity. We evolved to put on fat wherever necessary, and that was a good thing in human history. [snip] Dieting really is a disaster for everybody, it takes superhuman effort to lose weight, it can be done but it isn’t easy. And that’s because we’re evolved not only to gain weight but to hold onto it. So if that overweight person starts dieting that’s just as hard as if an underweight person starts dieting, you go into a negative energy balance and all kinds of mechanisms kick in that cause us to become less active, to reshuffle energy around our bodies to defeat that effort to lose weight. So of course obesity is our number one problem.[Stop]
Did you know that the Syrian government has agreed to send peace envoys to Geneva? According to Robert Parry at Consortium News, the problem is that the rebels have refused to negotiate. Some rebel groups are insisting on a long list of unacceptable preconditions. On the surface, according to Parry, ” The real problem seems to be how divided the Syrian opposition is, with schisms from pro-democracy moderates to violent jihadists including some who film themselves eating the internal organs of dead Syrian soldiers and executing defenseless captives. ” But the underlying problem is actually, “… the obstruction from al-Qaeda-connected jihadists who are beholden for their military and financial support to Saudi Arabia and other oil sheikdoms operating under Saudi Arabia’s political/diplomatic wing.” Consortiumnew – http://j.mp/1gWqrfv
The scope and depravity of Saudi sponsored violence in the world is enormous and yet hard to spot. It surfaced on July 31st in Moscow when Prince Bandar in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, offered to protect next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi from terrorist attack if Russia agreed to end support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The offer by Bandar came with inducements as well. What amounted to a diplomatic shake down angered Putin, who believes that Saudi oil money is already helping to finance Chechnyan terrorist that target innocent Russian civilians. http://j.mp/14DEu7w
Saudi oil money seems to turn up in many places where terrorist violence stains the ground with blood from innocent civilians. In a recent piece in the Vancouver Sun, Jonathan Manthrope wrote: “The ultimate responsibility for recent atrocities like the Boston Marathon bombing and the butchering last week of an off-duty British soldier is very clear. It belongs to Saudi Arabia. Over more than two decades, Saudi Arabia has lavished around $100 billion or more on the worldwide promotion of the violent, intolerant and crudely puritanical Wahhabist sect of Islam that the ruling royal family espouses. http://j.mp/1b26280
Saudi Arabian petro dollars are bankrolling global terrorism, but the actual funding transactions within the country are complex, filled with shadowy connections and courtyard intrigue. The following diplomatic cable obtained and released by Wikileaks provide a glimpse of the inside game:
:… one leaked cable sent by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2009 noted that “it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.” It adds: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” — running into millions of dollars. “Riyadh has taken only limited action to disrupt fundraising for the UN 1267-listed Taliban and LeT-groups that are also aligned with al-Qaeda,” the cable from Clinton says.” CNN – http://j.mp/1fy6RIP
The record of Saudi funded global terrorism is clear even if it isn’t well publicized in the press. The strategic importance of Saudi Arabia for US interests in the region is hard to overstate. And then there are the political connections between Prince Bantar and moneyed interests here and abroad, including a long friendship with the Bush family. The Syrian sponsored news organizations portray the Bush family connection in an extreme and self-serving conspiratorial way. http://j.mp/14DHhgM
It doesn’t require a conspiratorial mentality to see that Saudi Arabia is complicit in supporting global terrorism. They are dealing from both sides of the deck. Even so the Saudi’s receive special treatment from the US and our allies. It is time for a clear-eyed reassessment of our relationships. If we want the global bloodshed to end and diplomacy to succeed in the world, the Saudi regime must terminate it’s financial support for global terror.
I started thinking about part of a lyric from a song about the progress we have made and looked up the rest of the lyrics. I was struck by how well the words capture aspects of our social condition. Take a look –
The Progress Suite
“Look at the progress we’ve made
Get your vitamin quota
In your soup ready-made
Forget that there’s hunger around you
Look at the progress we’ve seen
Perhaps you should cut down
On sugar and cream
You can’t button your jacket around you
What happens now
Better pray to your gods
And hope that somehow
Far from the shack you call home
They aren’t burning the grain
That has ripened and grown
‘Cause the prices have fallen again, so
Eat up your rice, Billy dear
They’re starving in India
At least that’s what I hear
Come on, my child, cram it down you
But we are okay
In our shiny new car
Look at us now
You can see we’ve come far
Here I am playing electric guitar
Look at the progress we’ve made”
Now consider that this song was first released in 1967, that’s 46 years ago. Sadly, little has changed that can really be called progress. The artists were Chad and Jeremy. The ablum influenced my early social development and political outlook.
How do social problems that may have exist for generations suddenly become urgent public issues and the subject of broad public debate (child labor ? How is it that a public consensus can suddenly coalesce around an issue that has been clouded by uncertainty and discordant opinions for years (gay marriage comes to mind as a recent example, or the drum beat of war leading up to the invasion of Iraq).
Everyone should watch this video and see it as a possible model to explain how public consensus or spontaneous collective perception is achieved in human society. It solves, at least in an abstract way, the mystery of the 99 monkeys, otherwise known as the 100th monkey effect.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect
Of course the 100 monkey effect has not been empirically confirmed in the primate world, however it still serves as a parable that highlights a real phenomenon involving our collective cognition. Before I go on, please see the amazing video below.
Watch 32 discordant metronomes achieve synchrony in a matter of minutes
If you place 32 metronomes on a static object and set them rocking out of phase with one another, they will remain that way indefinitely. Place them on a moveable surface, however, and something very interesting (and very mesmerizing) happens.
The metronomes in this video fall into the latter camp. Energy from the motion of one ticking metronome can affect the motion of every metronome around it, while the motion of every other metronome affects the motion of our original metronome right back. All this inter-metranome “communication” is facilitated by the board, which serves as an energetic intermediary between all the metronomes that rest upon its surface. The metronomes in this video (which are really just pendulums, or, if you want to get really technical, oscillators) are said to be “coupled.”
The math and physics surrounding coupled oscillators are actually relevant to a variety of scientific phenomena, including the transfer of sound and thermal conductivity. For a much more detailed explanation of how this works, and how to try it for yourself, check out this excellent video by condensed matter physicist Adam Milcovich.
While the math and physics of coupled oscillators may be relevant to other aspects of physics, is it possible that it is relevant to some social phenomenon as well?
To help us see what’s going on, imagine the metronomes are sitting on a pool of water. With each tic the device sends a small wave traveling in the opposit direction. In the beginning, the water’s surface would appear chaotic as the metronomes are all out of sync. Over time some waves will start to cancel out others while some waves will reinforce others. The reinforced waves impart subtle resistance forces on the out-of-sync metronomes gradually stretching the swing in one direction and shortening it in the other until all the pendlums are in sync with the ever strengthening wave patterns beneth them. It is this interaction of forces between the metronomes and the movable surface on which they sit that is referred to above as “inter-metronome communication.”
I suggest that all human communications and actions are similarly played out on a movable social fabric capable of transmitting social forces that resist or reinforce an individuals cognitive perceptions. We are all influence by the strength and direction of these pre-cognitive social forces.
To illustrate, there is an old joke about a British mother watching a large military parade and upon seeing her son marching declared, “Look at that? Everyone is out of step but my Aire!”
Now imagine that Aire is highly regarded among his peers, so much so that they feel badly for him. Some of his friends might decide to provide cover for Aire by adopting his step. Other colleagues near by might see this a funny and join in while still others might become confused, thinking they are out of step. At some point Aire’s stride and the impact on those around him could become self-reinforcing, particularly in his units formation. Soon others begin falling into step adjusting their stride thus strengthening the pattern until a “tipping point” is reach and the rest of the marchers fall in step with Aire. Suddenly that British mother is proven correct!
This is only an analogy, but it is worth considering. I suspect that the physics behind coupled oscillators may point the way to actual solutions to certain unexplained social phenomenon that has perplexed social researchers for years.
Median household income remained about the same in 2012 after two consecutive years of decline, according to the latest US Census numbers. It now stands at $51,100 per year for a family of four. That means a single breadwinner with three dependents would have to make $24.57 per hour to be in the middle of middle class. That works out to three and a third full-time minimum wage jobs. Of course median income statistics don’t include employer benefits, such as paid health insurance. Benefits can add up to an additional 1/3 in value above paid wages. People making close to minimum wage are far less likely to have employer benefits, making direct income comparisons more complex than it seems. For example, a person making $24 per hour with a full benefit package would actually be making $32/hr. or about $68,000 per year with wages and benefits.
By Amanda Hess
| posted Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013
Mothers are now the primary breadwinners in four out of ten American households. But the gender shift in these families hasn’t necessarily translated to increased economic agency for women and children. New Census numbers show that U.S. women were more likely to live in poverty than men in 2012, particularly if they’re raising families alone. Over 30 percent of families led by single moms are living in poverty, compared to 16.4 percent of families led by single dads. Families run by women bring in a median annual income of $34,002; those led by men bring in $48,634 a year. There are also a lot more families living in the former category than the latter.
READ MORE HERE: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/09/19/census_poverty_data_not_good_for_women_particularly_single_women.html
The Mismeasure of Poverty
THE Census Bureau reported yesterday that the poverty rate in America held stable between 2011 and 2012, at about 15 percent. According to the official measure, poverty today is higher than it was in 1973, when it reached a historical low of 11.1 percent. [snip]
All things being equal, such programs, whether we count them or not, should have reduced the official poverty rate across generations. But all things have not been equal. Although these programs help the poor, poverty remains high because inequality of economic outcomes has increased sharply since the 1970s.
Before income inequality took off, the poverty rate fell more rapidly with G.D.P. growth. But while the economy grew by 2.8 percent in 2012 and corporate profits went up as a share of national income, the earnings of full-time workers, median household income and the poverty rate barely changed.
Antipoverty programs do help, but their recipients don’t move forward because they no longer benefit much from that other great poverty-ameliorating factor, economic growth.
READ MORE AT: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/opinion/the-mismeasure-of-poverty.html?_r=0
US Census Report Shows Entrenched Poverty and Declining Living Standards
A US Census Bureau report released Tuesday, entitled “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012,” makes a mockery of President Barack Obama’s claims to be restoring “security and opportunity for the middle class” in the wake of the 2008 financial breakdown.
The report provides a snapshot of a society in immense crisis. Poverty is at a near-generation high of 15 percent, close to the high point since the 1965 War on Poverty, the 15.2 percent rate reached in 1983. According to Tuesday’s report, 46.5 million Americans, including 9.5 million families, live in poverty.
Some 20.4 million people live on an income less than 50 percent of the official poverty line, 7.1 million of these being children under 18. More than 48 million remain without health insurance.
More than 31 percent of the population experienced some period of impoverishment during the years 2009-2011. Median household income, at $51,017, was slightly lower than in 2011, and down by 8.3 percent from 2007. The number of people 65 and older living in poverty increased from 3.6 million to 3.9 million between 2011 and 2012.
Despite more than four years of so-called “recovery,” American society remains plagued by mass deprivation and entrenched poverty. The “recovery” under Obama is limited to the wealthy and the super-rich, who have recovered all of the losses they suffered in the immediate aftermath of the Wall Street crash of September 2008 and grown richer than they were before the financial crisis. Social inequality has deepened as a result of policies designed to further redistribute wealth from the bottom of society to the top.
Household Incomes Remain Flat Despite Improving Economy
By ANNIE LOWREY
Published: September 17, 2013
WASHINGTON — Despite the addition of more than two million jobs last year, soaring corporate profits and continuing economic growth, income for the typical American household did not rise in 2012 and poverty failed to fall, new data from the Census Bureau show.
Over a longer perspective, the figures reveal that the income of the median American household today, adjusted for inflation, is no higher than it was for the equivalent household in the late 1980s.
For all but the most highly educated and affluent Americans, incomes have stagnated, or worse, for more than a decade. The census report found that median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $51,017 in 2012, down about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999, mostly as a result of the longest and most damaging recession since the Depression. Most people have had no gains since the economy hit bottom in 2009.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: TUESDAY, SEPT. 17, 2013
Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012
The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that in 2012, real median household income and the poverty rate were not statistically different from the previous year, while the percentage of people without health insurance coverage decreased.
Median household income in the United States in 2012 was $51,017, not statistically different in real terms from the 2011 median of $51,100. This followed two consecutive annual declines.
The nation’s official poverty rate in 2012 was 15.0 percent, which represents 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line. This marked the second consecutive year that neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the previous year’s estimates. The 2012 poverty rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the economic downturn.
The percentage of people without health insurance coverage declined to 15.4 percent in 2012 ─ from 15.7 percent in 2011. However, the 48.0 million people without coverage in 2012 was not statistically different from the 48.6 million in 2011.
These findings are contained in the report Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012. The following results for the nation were compiled from information collected in the 2013 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC). The CPS-ASEC was conducted between February-April 2013 and collected information about income and health insurance coverage during the 2012 calendar year. However, the information on shared households pertains to the circumstances at the time of the survey. The CPS-based report includes comparisons with one year earlier. State and local results will be available on Thursday from the American Community Survey.
- Real median incomes in 2012 for family households ($64,053) and nonfamily households ($30,880) were not statistically different from the levels in 2011.
- A comparison of real household income over the past five years shows an 8.3 percent decline since 2007, the year before the nation entered an economic recession.
Race and Hispanic Origin
(Race data refer to people reporting a single race only; Hispanics can be of any race)
- Changes in real median household income were not statistically significant for race and Hispanic-origin groups between 2011 and 2012. (See Table A.)
- The West experienced an increase of 3.2 percent in real median household income between 2011 and 2012, while the changes for the remaining regions were not statistically significant. In 2012, households with the highest median incomes were in the West and the Northeast (with medians that were not statistically different from each other), followed by the Midwest and the South. (See Table A.)
- In 2012, households maintained by a naturalized citizen or a native-born citizen had higher median incomes than households maintained by a noncitizen. The real median incomes of households maintained by a native- or foreign-born person, regardless of citizenship status, in 2012 were not statistically different from their respective 2011 medians. (See Table A.)
- The changes in the real median earnings of men and women who worked full time, year- round between 2011 and 2012 were not statistically significant. In 2012, the median earnings of women who worked full time, year-round ($37,791) was 77 percent of that for men working full time, year-round ($49,398) ─ not statistically different from the 2011 ratio. The female-to-male earnings ratio has not experienced a statistically significant annual increase since 2007.
- The number of men working full time, year-round with earnings increased by 1.0 million between 2011 and 2012; the change for women was not statistically significant.
- The Gini index was 0.477 in 2012, not statistically different from 2011. Since 1993, the earliest year available for comparable measures of income inequality, the Gini index has increased 5.2 percent. (The Gini index is a measure of household income inequality across the nation, with zero representing total income equality and one equivalent to total inequality.)
- Changes in income inequality between 2011 and 2012 were not statistically significant as measured by the shares of aggregate household income that each quintile received.
- In 2012, the family poverty rate and the number of families in poverty were 11.8 percent and 9.5 million. Neither level was statistically different from the 2011 estimates.
- In 2012, 6.3 percent of married-couple families, 30.9 percent of families with a female householder and 16.4 percent of families with a male householder lived in poverty. Neither the poverty rates nor the estimates of the number of families in poverty for these three family types showed any statistically significant change between 2011 and 2012.
- As defined by the Office of Management and Budget and updated for inflation using the consumer price index, the weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2012 was $23,492.
(See <http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/threshld/index.html> for the complete set of dollar value thresholds that vary by family size and composition.)
- In 2012, 13.6 percent of males and 16.3 percent of females were in poverty. Neither poverty rate showed a statistically significant change from its 2011 estimate.
Race and Hispanic Origin
(Race data refer to people reporting a single race only; Hispanics can be of any race)
- The poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites was lower in 2012 than it was for other racial groups. Table B details 2012 poverty rates and numbers in poverty, as well as changes since 2011 in these measures, for race groups and Hispanics. None of these groups experienced a statistically significant change in their poverty rate between 2011 and 2012.
- In 2012, 13.7 percent of people 18 to 64 (26.5 million) were in poverty compared with 9.1 percent of people 65 and older (3.9 million) and 21.8 percent of children under 18 (16.1 million).
- No age group experienced a statistically significant change in the number or rates of people in poverty between 2011 and 2012, with one exception: the number of people 65 and older in poverty rose between 2011 and 2012.
- The 2012 poverty rate was not statistically different from 2011 for either the native-born, naturalized citizens, noncitizens, or the foreign-born in general. Table B details 2012 poverty rates and the numbers in poverty, as well as changes since 2011 in these measures, by nativity.
- The West was the only region to show a statistically significant change in its poverty rate, which declined from 15.8 percent in 2011 to 15.1 percent in 2012. The South was the only region in which the number in poverty changed, rising from 18.4 million in 2011 to 19.1 million in 2012. (See Table B.)
Shared households are defined as households that include at least one “additional” adult: a person 18 or older who is not enrolled in school and is not the householder, spouse or cohabiting partner of the householder.
- In spring 2007, prior to the recession, there were 19.7 million shared households. By spring 2013, the number had increased to 23.2 million and their percentage of all households rose by 1.9 percentage points from 17.0 percent to 19.0 percent. Between 2012 and 2013, the number and percentage of shared households increased.
- In spring 2013, 10.1 million young adults age 25-34 (24.1 percent) were additional adults in someone else’s household. Neither of these were statistically different from 2012.
- It is difficult to precisely assess the impact of household sharing on overall poverty rates. Young adults age 25-34, living with their parents, had an official poverty rate of 9.7 percent, but if their poverty status were determined using only their own income, 43.3 percent had an income below the poverty threshold for a single person under age 65.
- The number of people with health insurance increased to 263.2 million in 2012 from 260.2 million in 2011, as did the percentage of people with health insurance (84.6 percent in 2012, 84.3 percent in 2011).
- The percentage of people covered by private health insurance in 2012 was not statistically different from 2011, at 63.9 percent. This was the second consecutive year that the percentage of people covered by private health insurance coverage was not statistically different from the previous year’s estimate. The percentage covered by employment-based health insurance in 2012 was not statistically different from 2011, at 54.9 percent.
- The percentage of people covered by government health insurance increased to 32.6 percent in 2012, from 32.2 percent. The percentage covered by Medicaid in 2012 was not statistically different from 2011, at 16.4 percent. The percentage covered by Medicare rose over the period, from 15.2 percent in 2011 to 15.7 percent in 2012. Since 2009, Medicaid has covered more people than Medicare (50.9 million compared with 48.9 million in 2012).
- The percent of children younger than 18 without health insurance declined to 8.9 percent (6.6 million) in 2012 from 9.4 percent (7.0 million) in 2011. The uninsured rates did not show a statistical change for all other age groups: 19 to 25, 26 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 64 and people 65 and older.
- The uninsured rate for children in poverty (12.9 percent) was higher than the rate for children not in poverty (7.7 percent).
- In 2012, the uninsured rates decreased as household income increased from 24.9 percent for those in households with annual income less than $25,000 to 7.9 percent in households with income of $75,000 or more.
Race and Hispanic Origin
(Race data refer to those reporting a single race only; Hispanics can be of any race)
- The uninsured rate for Asians and Hispanics declined between 2011 and 2012, while the number of uninsured did not change significantly. For non-Hispanic whites and blacks, both measures in 2012 were not statistically different from 2011. (See Table C.)
- The proportion of the foreign-born population without health insurance in 2012 was about two-and-a-half times that of the native-born population. The uninsured rate declined for the foreign-born population between 2011 and 2012, while the 2012 rate was not statistically different from the 2011 rate for naturalized citizens and noncitizens. Table C details the 2012 uninsured rate and the number of uninsured, as well as changes since 2011 in these measures, by nativity.
- The Northeast had the lowest uninsured rate in 2012. Between 2011 and 2012, the uninsured rate decreased for the Midwest and the West, while there were no statistically significant differences for the remaining two regions. Similarly, the number of uninsured people declined in the Midwest and the West, while there were no statistically significant changes for the other two regions. (See Table C.)
The poverty statistics released today compare the official poverty thresholds to money income before taxes, not including the value of noncash benefits. The Census Bureau’s statistical experts, with assistance from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and in consultation with other appropriate agencies and outside experts, have developed a supplemental poverty measure to serve as an additional indicator of economic well-being by incorporating additional items such as tax payments and work expenses in its family resource estimates. It does not replace the official poverty measure and will not be used to determine eligibility for government programs.
Both the Census Bureau and the interagency technical working group that helped develop the supplemental poverty measure consider it to be a work in progress and expect that there will be improvements to the statistic over time. See Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012 for more information. The Census Bureau published preliminary poverty estimates using this supplemental measure in November 2011 and November 2012. Supplemental poverty estimates for 2012 will be published in fall 2013.
On Thursday, the Census Bureau will release single-year estimates for 2012 of median household income, poverty and health insurance coverage for all states, counties, places and other geographic units with populations of 65,000 or more from the American Community Survey. These statistics will include numerous social, economic and housing characteristics, such as language, education, the commute to work, employment, mortgage status and rent. Later today, subscribers will be able to access these estimates on an embargoed basis.
The American Community Survey provides a wide range of important statistics about people and housing for every community across the nation. The results are used by everyone from town and city planners to retailers and homebuilders. The survey is the only source of local estimates for most of the 40 topics it covers for even the smallest communities.
The Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement is subject to sampling and nonsampling errors. All comparisons made in the report have been tested and found to be statistically significant at the 90 percent confidence level, unless otherwise noted.
For additional information on the source of the data and accuracy of the estimates for the CPS, visit <http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/p60_245sa.pdf>.
The rapid growth of rooftop solar in the US has caught the attention of electric utilities companies who now see distributed power as a threat to their business model. In the past ten years the number of rooftop solar instillations taking advantage of net metering (explained below) has grown 60 fold to cover over 300,000 homes nationwide. The following graph from the U.S. Energy Information Administration depicts the growth of rooftop solar. The full EIA report can be viewed here: http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/update/?scr=email
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Electric Power Industry Report (Form EIA-861)
While the number of homes with rooftop solar is still less than 1% of all residential customers, the trend suggests this mix will rapidly change in the coming years. At present, all but four states have passed laws permitting net metering incentives for homeowners. California presently leads the nation in the number of homes with rooftop and other home based power generation. The next graph shows how net metering instillations are distributed among the states.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Electric Power Industry Report (Form EIA-861)
The economics behind the jump in solar instillations is largely influenced by an 80% decline in the cost of solar panels over the last 10 years and by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which requires all public utilities to offer net metering to customers upon request.
Net metering allows consumers to directly subtract the kilowatts they generate from the kilowatts they use at the retail rate they pay for electricity. If they generate slightly more electricity than they use they are credited and can carry over that positive balance for a time so they can use it to offset periods where they use more power than they generate. Additionally, net metering requires that rooftop solar systems may not be designed to generate more power than the average use for a given home. In other words, a rooftop solar system cannot be used to generate more power than the homeowner typically uses in a year. The exact details of how net metering works varies from state to state, but the concept is the same.
The problem, as framed by the energy companies, is that they are buying back electricity from customers at the same retail rate that they are selling it rather than buying it at the wholesale rate they pay power generation companies. The marginal difference between the wholesale rate and retail rate includes the expenses associated with transmission, distribution and maintenance of the electrical infrastructure (in addition to the utility company’s administrative expenses and profits). They claim that rooftop solar customers are no longer contributing their fair share towards these essential costs, shifting this burden to the utility companies and their non-solar customers. In their view, the per/customer cost of maintaining the power system will rise as the number of non-solar customers fall. Additionally, grid operators say they face additional costs associated with modifying the distribution system that allows electricity to flow both directions.
Solar and renewable energy advocates say the energy companies arguments are specious and disingenuous. They say that the utility companies their real agenda from the beginning has been to preserve their profits and basic business model.
In a recent article by EE News’s Climate Wire, Bryan Miller of the Alliance for Solar Choice is quoted as saying the alleged cost burden for upgrading the utility grid for two way transmissions isn’t true because solar companies are already paying for any legitimate circuit upgrades needed to connect solar customers to the grid. He also pointed out that the peak hours of solar generated power corresponds with periods of peak demand. This relives transmission congestion which saves money utility companies money. Peak shaving more than offsets grid interconnection costs, according the Mr. Miller.
Other advocates have pointed out other value added savings for utility companies. Distributed generation by rooftop solar customers reduces line transmission losses. According to one source, in California, the largest solar market, distributed generation is cutting transmission losses by up to six-percent. Because solar generation peaks during peak demand periods, utility companies need to buy less electricity on the spot markets at higher wholesale prices. Additionally, customer based solar instillations improve the renewable energy mix for utilities relieving them of costs related to meeting federal guidelines for improved efficiency and greater use of renewable energy over time. On balance, advocates claim that rooftop solar delivers more value than it uses while utility companies argue that government grants and tax breaks offering up front incentives for solar conversion are better than ongoing rate-based incentives.
The net metering debate in California could set a precedent for the rest of the nation. In a recent article published by Greentech Solar, both sides in the net metering debate seem to be coming together in a bill ( AB 327 ) that would modify net metering for future rooftop solar customers. In the case of California, the net metering regulations passed in that state were set to expire. Also, a provision in the law specified that the net metering would not be available to customers once the total of distributed generation reached 5% of the utilities total electricity. The agreement that is emerging would keep in place the net metering arrangement for those who already have it and preserve their rate structure. It would also remove the 5% cap on the net metering arrangements, but establish a different rate structure for new net metering customers going forward. If passed, AB 327 would require the California Board of Public Utilities to come up with a new rate structure that is more acceptable to the energy utility companies. The bill states that after January of 2017:
[…] all new eligible customer-generators shall be subject to the standard contract or tariff developed by the commission and any rules, terms, and rates developed pursuant to subdivision (b) of this section, and shall not be eligible to receive net energy metering pursuant to Section 2827. There shall be no limitation on the number of new eligible customer-generators entitled to receive service pursuant to the standard contract or tariff after January 1, 2017″.
Early adaptors of rooftop solar or other consumer based energy generation systems are likely to have an financial advantage over those who come later. In general, net metering based on retail energy rates is considered an incentive program to encourage development of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. The upfront conversion expenses for consumers will remain substantial in the near term. Government grants, tax breaks and current net metering structures are designed to overcome these barriers. Just how much value distributed solar energy has for utilities is still an open question complicated by the fact that laws and regulations vary from state to state. Advocacy groups are needed in every state to balance the interests of consumers and environmentalists against the interests of the big utility corporations.
Correctional note of 9/6/2013: The emerging agreement on California’s AB327 bill would keep the net metering rate structure in place, not eliminate it as I mistakenly stated prior to this update. Also, a few technical corrections were made to the net metering paragraph.