Once Upon a Grime: A Solar Fairy Tale

PV and ME Question #4: “What’s so funny about solar?”

Chapter 1: The Song of Solar and Coal

Once upon a time, there was a mean, old utility-power mogul named Grimy Electric. A former general in the war against renewables, he was also known by his lieutenants as General Electric — ‘GE’ for short.

‘GE’ craved coal-fired power plants and detested solar.  Underlings unwise enough to use the words ‘solar’ or ‘PV’ in his presence were thrown into the inferno of his nearest coal furnace. Solar was good for one thing only – put-down jokes:

“How many PV installers does it take to change a light bulb? Eleven. One to screw it in and ten to install enough panels to light it.” 

“How many installers does it take to change a light bulb for a homeowner who has just signed a $75,000 contract for a 1 kW rooftop PV system? None. The customer’s already screwed.”

One day, ’GE’ sent his lieutenants into battle to buy two available plots of land just north and south of nearby Skare City for constructing coal-fired power plants. While easily conquering the plot in the north, these soldiers of misfortune were outflanked insecuring the southern parcel. The master strategist was none other than the renewables crusader Princeton Volt, known throughout the land as ‘PV’ due to his love of solar – and solar jokes:

“A photon and a carbon molecule walk into a bar,” he announced to the outwitted lieutenants.“The bartender asks, ‘What’ll it be?’ The carbon molecule says, ‘I’ll have a shot of oil.’ ‘And you?’ the bartender asks the photon. ‘Just give me a light beer.’”

“Knock, knock,” ‘PV’ continued, to which an authority-compliant lieutenant robotically replied,“Who’s there?” “Kilowatt in Italy.” “Kilowatt in Italy who?” “Kill a-what you a-want but a-let my a-solar live.”

‘PV’ smiled and left with deed in hand to fulfill his lifelong dream – design, build and operate the most beautiful solar farm to ever soak up the sun.

Chapter 2: Of Green Grass and Greenhouses

Each of the purchased plots included a glass-enclosed greenhouse, protected under a Skare City zoning ordinance, belonging to Princess Green Grocers and run by Meg A. Watt, known by the monogram ‘MW’ tattooed on her neck. Like ‘PV’, ‘MW’ was a lover of solar humor, especially elephant jokes:

“How do you know if there is an elephant next to your rooftop PV system? The shading lowers your power.”

“How do you know if there is an elephant onyour rooftop PV system? All of your modules are broken and grey.”

“How do you know if there is an elephant aboveyour rooftop PV system? The sky is grey.”

When ‘MW’ visited her greenhouse on ‘PV’s southern plot, it was love at first site for both. Once the solar farm was completed, ‘PV’ and ‘MW’ would lie on the green grass in the shade of the panels. The only thing they loved as much as each other was sharing solar jokes:

‘PV’: “What do you call a string of modules that alternately feels down and positively energized? Bipolar.”

‘MW’: “What did the Buddhist panel say to help it get in touch with its own inner power? Ohhhhhmmmmm.”

‘PV’: “What do you call a quick check of PV demand at midday? Peek load.”

‘MW’: “Why did the solar cell have a poor I-V curve? Because it was ‘substrate’.”

Chapter 3: The Other Side of Skare City

One day making their first visit to ‘GE’s north plot with its coal-fired power plant, ‘MW’ was appalled by the sight of her Princess greenhouse with its glass windows — like the once-green grass — as black as a lump of coal.

“What have you done!” she demanded of ‘GE’, sitting regally on his throne of coal in front of the power plant’s furnace. But no sooner had the words left her lips, when ‘MW’ and ‘PV’ saw the General’s henchmen closing in on them. ‘PV’ tried to stop them with a joke:

“What kind of movies do anorexic modules watch? Thin films.”

Still they advanced. ‘MW’ thought maybe one of her jokes could deflect them:

“Why was the poorly installed PV system afraid to be in the sun? It was scared of its own shadow.” 

But ‘GE’s lieutenants kept coming.

So they decided to put on a quick comedy sketch:

‘PV’: “A pupil raised his hand in Latin class and asked the teacher, ‘What does the word “photovoltaic” mean?’”

‘MW’: “And what did the Latin teacher say “photovoltaic”meant?”

‘PV’: “‘It’s all Greek to me.’”

As the lieutenants over-powered them, it was clear to ‘PV’ and ‘MW’ that their solar routine had bombed.

Chapter 4: Game of Throne

‘PV’ was tied to the hot, opened furnace door and ‘MW’ held fast. ‘GE’ produced three solar jokes, and fixed his eyes on ‘MW.’ “Your sunny-honey here will read them out loud – except for the punch line. Only I know that. If you are able to come up with the punch line for just one of the jokes, he will be freed. Otherwise…’” ‘GE’ grinned, staring at the furnace.

‘PV’ read the first joke:

“A homeowner watches an installer switch on the inverter for his new PV system. The inverter begins to sob uncontrollably. ‘Is that inverter crying?’ asks the homeowner. ‘Those are tears of pain,’ the installer replies. ‘It—” There were no more words on the page.

‘MW’ helplessly looked at ‘PV’, then ‘GE’. “‘It…It…It…’”

“It inverts till it Hz,” ‘GE’ cackled. “Continue!,” he ordered ‘PV’.

“An oil-fueled power plant, a hydraulic fracking rig and a solar installation die and are waiting to get into Heaven. The archangel Gabriel says only two may enter. The oil-fueled power plant says, ‘Take me. While on Earth, I only produced clean energy with no greenhouse gases.’ ‘You dirty liar!’  the solar system yells.’ Then the fracking rig says, ‘Take me. I treated the land with respect, and the whole neighborhood loved me.’ ‘You’re a fracking fraud!’ the solar system exclaims. When Gabriel lets the oil-fueled power plant and the fracking rig through the gates into Heaven, the solar system cries out, ‘Hey, what about me?’ ‘You?’ Gabriel replies. ‘All you did—’“

‘MW’s mouth opened, but nothing came out.

‘—was lie in the sun,’” ‘GE’ finished the joke. “One last try, my precious little princess.”

‘PV’ started the final joke:

“An installer putting in a rooftop PV system can no longer ignore the call of nature. ‘I have to take a piss,’ he tells the other installer. He climbs down and relieves himself, writing the alphabet in the dirt. The installer on the roof shouts, ‘Hey, you forgot the letter ‘V’. The first solar installer answers—“

At first frantic, suddenly ‘MW’s eyes lit up and gave the urinating installer’s punch line. “’I never PV!’”

‘GE’ stood up from his throne, wobbling. “B-b-but…?” he stuttered and stumbled backwards, falling through the opened furnace door and into the fire where he burned to a crisp, producing a hot puff of filthy smoke, thus generating the last kilowatt-hour’s worth of electricity ever to emerge from the dirty coal-fired power station.

Chapter 5: Finally the Punch Line

After the townspeople dismantled the plant to make way for a new solar farm, they changed the name of their metropolis from the old Skare City to New Kappa City. A week later, ‘PV’ and ‘MW’ inspected the northern site with its blackened grass and filthy Princess greenhouse. They watched as a crew of cleaners, scrubbing the windows, found it impossible to wash all of the soot from the grimy glass.

“Just as I feared,” ‘PV’ said, turning to ‘MW’.

“The greenhouse glass is always cleaner on the other site.”

Such lame punch lines convinced ‘MW’ to take her mother’s maiden name ‘Electron,’ change her monogram and neck tattoo to ‘ME,’ and with her lover start a still humorous, but much more intellectually stimulating and insightful blog called PV and ME.

And thus, the sunny duo, along with all the townspeople of New Kappa City, lived happily ever after.

The End

Postscript: Unfortunately, a year later the nuclear power plant in the next county had a meltdown and everybody died of radiation poison.

Add your solar jokes in the comments below.

Next PV and ME Question #5: “Why aren’t solar and other renewables the best of friends?”
Submit your thoughts to be included in the next post.

Deadline for submission: Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Publication date: May 4, 2015

Or submit your own Question Suggestions.

This blog was originally published on PV and ME and was republished with permission.


  • William Hirshman, a former associate editor at the solar magazine PHOTON International, publishes PV and ME -- posing solar questions rarely asked -- at pvandme.com.

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William Hirshman, a former associate editor at the solar magazine PHOTON International, publishes PV and ME -- posing solar questions rarely asked -- at pvandme.com.

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