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Solar has Won

As I’ve been predicting in this blog for a long time, solar energy just makes way more sense than burning fossil fuels, even ignoring environmental issues and just going on pure economics. The only thing keeping fossil fuels going now is huge governmental subsidies.

The Guardian puts it bluntly — “Even if coal were free to burn, power stations couldn’t compete” with solar energy. Last week in Australia (where they admittedly get a lot of sunshine) the wholesale price of electricity went negative. Yup, the power stations had to pay people to take their electricity.

And it isn’t just a change in the source of energy, it is a complete change in the model. Most of the new solar is being installed in the same place where it is consumed. That eliminates the need for huge distribution networks and centralized power generation stations which use up valuable land. Just put a solar panel on your roof. Businesses are installing panels over their parking lots, which provides shade for cars in addition to cheap energy.

It has become a no brainer.

Sometime around 2018, solar will become the energy source of choice to power cities. By 2040, over half of all electricity will be generated in the same place where it is used. The amount of solar energy generated in Australia is expected to go up 6 times in the next decade alone. And with increased volume, the price will come down due to economies of scale.

With solar coming on so strong, most coal-fired power plants lost money in Australia. No wonder utilities are working so hard to raise taxes on solar power. But it doesn’t matter, even with huge subsidies for fossil fuels and taxes on solar, fossil fuels are doomed.

You just can’t compete with the sun. Free energy and a (bigger than) world-wide power distribution network to boot.

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14 Comments

  1. Mountain Man wrote:

    Solar power is not “free.” There’s a substantial amount of energy and resources used to create the solar cells and to dispose of them when they reach the end of their useful life. And this says nothing about the manufacture and disposal of the batteries needed to store the energy the solar cells generate. Last time I looked solar cells did not “break even.” It costs more to make and dispose of them (and the requisite batteries) than the “savings” in energy use. Bottom line – there is NO free lunch.

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink
  2. Mountain Man wrote:

    As an addendum – conservation of resources is where we need to be putting the greatest emphasis. Using what we have more efficiently produces the greatest bang for the buck in terms of real and immediate benefit.

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    Blah blah blah.

    Denial is not “free.” There is a substantial amount of energy and resources required to create the misinformation and doubt used to maintain the dominance of the fossil fuel industry and even more will be required to dispose of the coal mines, oil wells, natural gas wells, oil tanks, trains, tanker trucks, tanker ships, gas stations, transmission lines, etc. that we needed to store and distribute fossil fuels and energy when we finally abandon this monstrosity. And this says nothing about the pollution, environmental degradation, health problems, and multiple wars we continue to fight for fossil fuels. Bottom line – there is a lot of money being spent trying to sow doubt about solar energy, using empty platitudes like “there is NO free lunch”.

    As an addendum – creating an economy of artificial scarcity for everyone (except the 1%) makes tons of money for speculators.

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink
  4. Max wrote:

    The cost of solar is coming down nicely, but it’s still relatively expensive. Without the grid it would be even more expensive, because you would have to use gigantic batteries to store energy for when you don’t have sunlight (and battery technology is improving very slowly).

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  5. b wrote:

    I’m just waiting for the responses along the lines of “Well I may not be an expert but I heard that solar power drains the sun……..”

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    Who was that politician who recently claimed that wind power was environmentally bad because it reduces wind speeds?

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  7. PatriotSGT wrote:

    IK, here’s a problem I ran into when I investigated using Solar at my home a coupe months ago. I found out that my HOA forbids it since it degrades the aesthetics of the neighborhood. What we need I think, is state and local governments to create laws that override HOA type laws to allow such improvements. The other problem is the storage and it’s not so easily solved. I’d still need to rely heavily on the grid due to my more northern latitude and less frequently sunny days. But, if I could cut my bill by 1/3 or more that would be great.

    (another annoying and wasteful law is mandatory grass cutting)
    There are HOA Nazi’s everywhere.

    I’m glad Solar is working in AU, but I think our energy needs are going to be a tad more challenging to solve. As you know I’ve often said, I think nuclear is our best and fastest option to break independence on fossil fuels. Your idea of Thorium reactors is also great.

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    PSgt, we totally agree! Lots of HOAs prohibit clothes lines, requiring people to use clothes dryers instead. Even Mountain Man would agree that saving energy by drying your clothes on a clothes line would be a good idea, and it costs almost nothing to use this kind of solar energy.

    As for your assertion that it will be a tad more challenging to solve our energy needs, I would agree only if you are talking about the political problems. There are few if any technical problems and they are being solved quickly.

    People made the same kinds of arguments against electric cars, and now Tesla is proving them wrong. And suddenly the major car manufacturers are jumping on board.

    Oh, and Thorium reactors have the same advantage that they can be placed locally. You could build a Thorium reactor the size of a dishwasher and power several homes with it. Or a slightly larger one to power an entire apartment complex. So no need for huge transmission lines.

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  9. Michael wrote:

    If you are considering solar, now is the time to try it. Through 2016, you can file for a federal solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) that constitutes a 30 percent tax credit (http://www.seia.org/policy/finance-tax/solar-investment-tax-credit). Several states have additional incentives, as well.

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  10. Peter wrote:

    I’d still need to rely heavily on the grid due to my more northern latitude and less frequently sunny days.

    Since you did some research, I won’t necessarily disagree. That said, I remember reading about how well Germany is doing with solar power. Yes, Germany. That country in the middle of Europe. That country that is actually a bit north of the United States.

    Regarding HOAs, check your state. Some states have already passed laws restricting HOAs from banning solar installation. Also, consider negotiating with your HOA for an exemption. Consult with a lawyer about your agreement–if it doesn’t explicitly say “No Solar Panels” you may be able to convince them that it will be better for everyone to not fight to hard over this…

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  11. Iron Knee wrote:

    Peter, here’s that article — http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/08/germany-has-five-times-as-much-solar-power-as-the-u-s-despite-alaska-levels-of-sun/

    The main point here: Germany doesn’t get an enormous amount of sunlight, relatively speaking. Its annual solar resources are roughly comparable to Alaska’s [the U.S. state with by far the lowest annual average of direct solar energy]. Just about every single region in the continental United States has greater solar potential, on average, than Germany.

    Yet despite those limitations, Germany has still managed to be the world leader in solar power. At the end of 2012, the country had installed about 30 gigawatts of solar capacity, providing between 3 percent and 10 percent of its electricity. The United States, by contrast, has somewhere around 6.4 gigawatts of solar capacity.

    They then go on to discuss why Germany is so far ahead of the US, concluding “Policy is the big factor” and “there’s no physical reason why the United States couldn’t match or surpass Germany’s solar binge”. The problem is politics, and Fox News.

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink
  12. il-08 wrote:

    Solar power seems so difficult to set up, if there was only some other option for us here in the windy city to use instead… And it isn’t always that sunny here in the windy city. I just don’t know what we could do, and there aren’t any other options being explored here (in…)

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink
  13. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Il-08- i’d think wind power would fit perfectly with the “windy City”. In my state they are building a wind farm off the coast to add to our capacity.

    On the Thorium, unfortunately it will likely run into the same politics as Solar, maybe even worse since some on the left are opposed as well. I’d love to have my own little reactor and forget about power outages, artifically rising rates for incentivizing reduction, etc. I bet some smart guy like you could create one to power a car if they tried, that never need to plug in. Wouldn’t that be something.

    Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 5:29 am | Permalink
  14. DaveS wrote:

    It seems insane to me to be building new fossil fuel power stations, but here in South Africa, they are doing just that: the Medupi power station will cost $45 billion to complete. When all 6 generators are running, the total capacity will be 6x 800MW = 4.8GW.

    $45B can buy you 9 million 2kW roof-top PV systems (at the current price), with a total capacity of 18GW. Sure, it would take years to do so many installations – but Medupi construction started in 2005 and hasn’t finished yet – they hope the 1st of the 6 generators will start operating at the end of this year, and they hope to bring up another generator every 9 months after that, i.e. all 6 will be running 4 years from now – if nothing else goes wrong. How many PV installations could have been finished in 13 years? How many would have been installed already?

    There would be no fuel costs e.g. to buy, store and transport coal for these installations. There would be no negative impact of pumping carbon dioxide – plus other poisonous chemicals – into the air. And 18GW would be removed from the grid, freeing up existing power stations to supply industry etc. The PV installations would have to be maintained, which would employ thousands all over the country.

    Even if I am out by a factor of 3 (since solar power is only generated when the sun is out), it is still a much better deal. Add the cost of coal and damage caused by pollution, and this is simply insane.

    Sunday, July 13, 2014 at 2:10 am | Permalink

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