Scientific American discusses Solar Energy

The Scientific American is putting out a four piece series about solar energy.  The main point of the article is that solar energy needs government intervention to compete with current methods of generating electricity.  The article is straightforward in stating that without government intervention, there is no way that solar will be able to compete.  Much like wind power the problem with these “free” sources of energy is that they are not dependable.

Even with the enormous push over the past 10-15 years, solar power in the United States is only now equal to a single nuclear power plant of 1 GW (1,000 MW) of power.  Of course even that is misleading as in a single year a 1 GW nuclear power plant will produce 4 times as much total power.  That is because all forms of power are rated at their peak capacity.  Solar panels produce only enough electricity to rate that peak energy 21% of the time.

There are several ways that the government is forcing solar energy to increase.  Tax benefits are only the simplest method.  The real trick is that the government is forcing higher percentages of power to be produced by these “green” sources.  So by mandating that higher percentages of power come from solar (and wind), the price of electricity is forced to increase.  This is the only way to make “green” energy competitive.

Another problem with “green” energy is the jobs.  Since the cost of the solar panels is a huge amount of the cost, cheaper solar panels are the key.  China has become a huge problem for solar production in the United States.  So the more “green” energy is required, the more cost will be an issue.  The end result will be most production will go to China.  The main reason that China is becoming dominant is that the government there provides a 50% subsidy to attach a solar farm to the electrical grid.  Companies that expected to increase production this year have had to cut jobs to stay competitive, even with the government help.  This is a sure fire disaster of Spanish proportions in the making.

The only way to really make solar economically viable is to increase the cost of carbon.  Of course increasing the costs of electricity is a sure fire way to ensure that production costs will be higher in the United States.  So a cycle of increasing electric costs is the ONLY way to make solar viable in the future.  It then goes on to question whether a democracy can compete with the government directed programs that countries like China are using.

The article strongly makes the case that solar is the way to go in the future, but to get there it will take massive government subsidies and perhaps maybe getting rid of the free market will help speed things up.  Since the companies in the US are competing with heavily subsidized programs in other countries, we should do the same.  The solution is to force the price of electricity higher and higher until solar makes sense.

The real problem with the entire argument is that simply going nuclear will provide more energy at a lower cost.  The United States will never run out of power and China will not end up taking jobs from the US.  I fail to see any real benefit to solar power.  The problem is that the free market doesn’t want solar because it doesn’t make sense economically.  That is why only governments are pushing it.  The real solution is to drop solar and put that money into nuclear power.

Posted in Cap & Trade by inconvenientskeptic on February 4th, 2011 at 3:32 pm.


This post has 5 comments

  1. Richard Sharpe Feb 5th 2011

    What do you think of Klaes Johnson’s Blackbody document?

  2. nofreewind Feb 5th 2011

    Blog and you seem to be a super nice person, but I think you are way off with your “Solar panels produce only enough electricity to rate that peak energy 21% of the time.” If this was true, then their output capacity rating would be even higher than 21%, yet the reality of solar is that on a yearly basis US solar output capacity is only 15%.
    The references can be found in this text of the above article.
    Average solar output(capacity factor) is only 15% per year across the US.
    Go Here and click on the Electric Capacity and find that for 2009 there was 603 MW’s of installed Solar.
    Then go back and click on Electricity Net Generation and you will that the 603 MW’s produced 808,000 Thousand kWh’s which is 808,000 MW’s.

  3. inconvenientskeptic Feb 6th 2011

    No Free,

    I got the numbers from the US DOE. I have the capacity factor chart from the DOE linked in here:

    It lists nuclear at 90% and solar at 21%. That puts installed nuclear capacity at 4.15x greater than solar.

  4. nofreewind Feb 6th 2011

    John, the trouble is that most of our agencies are all in on this Scam, and they think nothing of publishing exaggerated and misleading numbers. Your link above also gives wind output capacity of 35%, which is also complete “nonsense”. I ran the numbers for wind > MWhrs produced/MW’s installed and came up with 25%. Sadly, this is the situation we find ourselves in when our national agencies publish numbers which are fabrications of reality.

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