Solar power ready to shine?

Tom Jackson
Jan 29, 2013

 

 

Although I like the idea of moving to green energy, I've been skeptical about the viability of wind and solar, both because of the cost and because there's no effective way yet to store the power when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.
 
It's usually environmentalists who talk up the viability of green energy. Their hearts are in the right place, but they tend to downplay the real problems with the economics and the technology.
 
However, a few days ago I ran across a piece by Noah Smith, an economist at Stony Brook University who also has an undergraduate degree in physics from Stanford.
 
Smith's blog post, "Solar: It's about to be a whole new world." on his Noahpinion blog argues that after years of criticism from conservative economists, solar power is about to break through.
 
He writes, "The cost of solar power has been falling exponentially for the past 35 years. What's more, there is no sign at all that this cost drop is slowing. New technologies are in the pipeline right now that have the potential to make solar competitive with coal and natural gas, even with zero government subsidy."
 
His post has lots of links, if you want to learn more.
 
There's a good back and forth between Smith and his critics in the comments and in the main I think Smith holds his own. 
 
Perhaps sensing that I don't have a physics degree from Stanford, he didn't answer my question in the comments about space-based solar power. I'm fascinated by the idea of harvesting solar power from space and beaming it to Earth, although it's likely I'm making the same mistake I criticized in my second paragraph, paying too little attention to the economics.
 
Here's the Web site for Edison Solar & Wind, the Milan company that installed the solar panels for the city of Sandusky's greenhouse.

Comments

Contango

@ Mr. Jackson:

Figures that a govt. paid bureaucrat would be touting a boondoggle like alt-energy.

"Even in 2035, with the most optimistic scenario, the International Energy Agency estimates that just 2.4% of the world's energy will come from wind and only 1% from solar. As is the case today, almost 80% will still come from fossil fuels."

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB...

Also, considering the fiscal aspect; as a country, we're borrowing almost 50 cents of every dollar spent, I gotta ask ya: Where's the money gonna come from?

eriemom

New technologies are in the pipeline right now that have the potential to make solar competitive with coal and natural gas, even with zero government subsidy."

What money?

Contango

Money? Energy Dept. and other govt. pork subsidies.

Alt-Energy - the Power Source of the Future (and always will be).

eriemom

I should have copied a shorter phrase instead of the entire sentence so that you would read the entire thing.
"even with zero government subsidy"

Again. What money?

Contango

@ eriemom:

The low price of nat-gas is making alt-energy non-competitive. Some utilities are even discussing mothballing their nukes.

The Big Dog's back

Better than 100%.

The Bizness

Some people will just continue to want to destroy our earth simply because it is convenient... Conservatives just hate solar because it isn't the status quo. Why else would you root against renewables?

Maggdi

As I can understand that no one should be expected to be familiar with every aspect of the technology that runs our world, I will offer that my understanding is that the hazardous waste that is produced in the manufacture of photovoltaic cells is very detrimental to starting a business in the field... unless you, you know, know somebody and can get government loans for renewable energy product manufacture...

mikel

yesterday and today would have been great days to collect solar power!

eriemom

Wind was good.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Akin to "beaming" (heh, a pun considering the sun) solar down to earth, I believe there is a similar technology to do the same with microwaves. Only instead of thawing your peas or warming your soup, the microwaves from a satellite in space would either be directly turned into electricity or boil water to turn turbines. I think working on fusion power generation would be a bigger breakthrough than most of these other forms, but even considering the concept of "cold fusion" it is still a rather distant star to reach. Heh...got a pun twofer in there.

MrSandusky

The problem is that the interconnection clearinghouse agencies that route the power across the grid require a nuclear, fossil, or gas back-up to all solar and wind power.

Us in the industry have been hearing this talk for years. Truth is that if it were really getting that cheap and easy the utilities would be buying more windmills and solar panels. They are in the business of making money, and if it was cheaper than gas, oil, or nuclear to operate trust me they would be rolling it out faster than you can say PUCO.

Oddly enough, think about who is putting up most of these windmills and solar panels...schools, government buildings, and universities...and who pays for these items? You are correct, you the taxpayer.

Trust me folks, when you see FirstEnergy cover Davis Besse in Solar Panels, you can rest assured that the fable of affordable solar energy has come true. Until then it is the fodder of little Jimmie's 7th grade science fair project, and the utopia that the Enviro's, that went to college and graduated with an english degree with no science or engineering classes, dream of.

Oh, and Tom and "The Hero Zone" we can beam energy. The military has been working on it to power drones and have successfully done it for years. It was another Tesla idea Tom Edison tried to steal.

Maggdi

I couldn't agree more Mr. Sandusky. I appreciate people dreaming of better things. That's part of how we get there. But that fact is dreaming isn't the only part of the calculation of making dreams come true...

The Big Dog's back

They better cover Davis-Besse with something before it leaks all over the place.

Maggdi

You know Dog with your vast pool of knowledge and conviction, I'm beginning to worry that we're in the virtual presents of a publicity shy mover and shaker.
Is that an oxymoron?

mikel

good one maggdi!

MrSandusky

Actually people that work downtown, or even in the Register Building itself, get hit with a larger dose of radiation that the workers at Davis Besse. Between the limestone and brick buildings downtown and the flourescent lighting systems that are installed in most businesses your background dose would be much higher than the plant workers get from working near the reactor. Remember, everything has a half-life.

Did you know you get exposed to more radiation from eating one bannana than you do if you live near a nuclear plant? Taking a cross country trip on an airplane gives you 400 times that same dose. People are afraid of what they do not understand, and only about 2% of the population understands radiation.

http://xkcd.com/radiation/

OSUBuckeye59

I would state there are several issues wrt solar power becoming mainstream. One is the solar equipment (panels, etc.) mfg'ers mainly use fossil fuels in the production of solar items. Another issue is the low efficiency of solar panels, where current silicon and indium-tin-oxide-based solar cells are approaching the theoretical limit of 33.7% efficiency. Another issue is the ROI for homeowners to invest in solar power. Adding solar panels to my current old casa is estimated to be a 15-year pay-back: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB....


MrSandusky got it right: when FirstEnergy covers Davis Besse in Solar Panels, then we all will indeed realize the fable of affordable solar energy has come true.

The Big Dog's back

That's the problem with right wing thinking, there never is a Plan B.

coasterfan

With regards to trying to explain the merits of alternative energy to conservatives, I'm reminded of my favorite saying: "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig".

They will continue to bring up Solyndra and ignore two simple facts. #1: more than 99% of the alt energy companies that received federal funding are still in existence. (Think about it: one small company is the ONLY example they can cite as evidence that we shouldn't fund green energy). #2: the failure rate of any new American company/business venture is about 30% after one year. In other words, close to 1 of every 3 new businesses fail.

Let's summarize: 99% of alt. energy companies are still around after one year, compared with 70% of all other new businesses. Anyone who thinks Solyndra is a evidence of a larger problem is someone who doesn't understand basic math. Isn't it ironic that the conservative party, which champions fossil fuels, is a party led by a bunch of old fossils?

Maggdi

Citation, please Coasterfan, on the "more than 99% of the alt energy companies that received federal funding are still in existence."

Pete

Have the Chinese closed on A123 yet? That was another fine investment by the Obama Administration.

Heck, at just $249,000,000 it isn't too bad compared to Solyndra. We should just ignore that one.

Contango

Yep! Read it yesterday.

The Chinese have been busy buying U.S. private assets where there "might" be some value and spending less on increasingly worthless U.S. Treasury bills.

http://bostonglobe.com/business/...

Pete

Did Tax Cheat Timmy sign away a our chance at getting our money back on this one too?

Contango

I wanna know why Turbo Timmy isn't doin' a perp walk.

Looks like he tipped off his buddies on WS to the Fed's rate cut when he was at the NY Fed.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2...

Pete

Same reason Eric the Gun Runner isn't. Libocrits are above the law.

Contango

Tony Mozilo (Countrywide) paid a $50M fine. There was NO WAY, Dems like Frank and Dodd wanted him coming before Congress and testifying.

I woulda given him immunity and listened to him sing.

http://articles.latimes.com/2010...

Maggdi

I know this is off topic, but I can't resist, let's not forget former Gov. Corzine! There's still $1.2 billion missing from his last job.

Contango

I know...I was REALLY disappointed that there was no televised perp walk.

The DOJ didn't press charges - how nice for him.

Sometimes, I wonder how Clinton appointee Frank Raines, the man who helped drive Fannie Mae into bankruptcy is doin' in retirement with all his millions.

None of this is too off-topic. It's about malfeasance at the highest levels, of which the DOE is front and center in many cases.

mikel

and the solar panel producer in the toledo area is sinkinggg and taking all kinds of state money with it.

The Bizness

First Solar's stock has been going up slowly since mid 2012

Contango

@ The Bizness:

Reminds me: How do ya make a small fortune on WS? Start with a big one.

Lousy investment. It's down YOY, a neg. EPS, No P/E (no earnings) and no div'd.

Pure speculation. YUCK!

http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=FSLR

If you wanna throw hard earned money at alt-energy, at least do it in an ETF and get some diversification.

The Bizness

WS is pure speculation.... I will invest in what I think is a responsible way to invest... some times money isn't the goal, a better world is.

Contango

@ The Bizness:

"Pure speculation"? Not the way I "play" it. :)

"Money" is merely a means of exchange.

And where do you think all that WS money goes? It's invested in corps. and financial instruments that help provide people's futures, jobs, etc.

Where do you think schools and other charitable endowment foundations put their donations and capital?

KnuckleDragger

LMAO! This is one of the most ignorant statements I have read yet. Written by someone who obviously has never invested and has no money of his own to invest. I'm certain you think it is ok to squander other peoples money on an investment that is sure to lose.

MrSandusky

Yes, but what you are saying is just like me saying GM's stock has been going up since 2008. Everything goes up after it tanks. First Solar is in serious trouble right now. I believe the other solar companies in Toledo have already closed shop, after they got their money from the Feds...

The Bizness

Xunlight is still in operation, and what other companies? You are starting to just make up stuff.

Contango

"In operation," while livin' off hard working taxpayer money.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xun...

Crony capitalism at its finest.

MrSandusky

Not making anything up, but I will admit when I am wrong. Xunlight, much like most of the other solar companies went backrupt after taking funds from the feds. Funny thing is that I cannot find any finicial or other informational releases from them since September of 2009.

Nice deflection though, I called you on your missinformation and you dodge the point while lobbing one back at me.

By the way how much or First Solar's manufacturing is done in Toledo, compared to what they do overseas?

mikel

yes, still in operation but in default to the state of ohio. good article for you to read since you are apparently blind to the fact that these companies are profitable. google "energy program faces loan defaults, scrutiny 4" you will note that the state of ohio has loaned out $80+ million and has only collected pennies. Also, first solar had a sales decrease of $108.6 million from 2012 to 2011 and also is in default to the state of ohio. first solar recently moved it's headquarters from ohio to arizona. of course, after they screwed the taxpayers of ohio.

goofus

Proof Documentation Or just another rant from the left.

BW1's picture
BW1

You forgot one statistic. How many are profitable?

dontcare

check out Astrumsolar.com, they have a program where you lease the panels. The lease is cheaper than the estimated savings. The estimated savings is garuanteed by the company, if the savings fall below the estimated savings by more than 5 percent they pay the difference. I am having them installed so in summary, my lease is costing approx. 100 per month, my estimated savings is 143 dollars per month. If I do not save approx. 137 dollars per month they will pay the difference. It appears to be cost effective from day 1. We will see.

MrSandusky

I checked them out this morning. Even talked to a sales on via phone and email. Then the truth came out... It would take 11 years for me to get a return on my "investment"...in other words it would take me 11 years to recover the $17,000 cost of having the panels installed from Astrumsolar. There is the lease option, but what if I move? The panels do not belong to me, so I either have to hope that they buyer will keep paying for them, or sell a house with holes in the roof.

Phil Packer

At some point, we just won't have a choice. Even the people that make millions from the current way of doing things know that. The reason this is taking so long though is that if we all could afford solar panels, they couldn't keep raping us each month.

The Bizness

I don't know about your family or life style but I can operate my house's electricity for under $8,000.00 to install the system.

Now if I went to get a grid tie system I could have almost a $0 electric bill for under $2,500.00.

Those are just up front cost. I also do a lot of energy conservation at home, and am mindful of how much energy I am using.

mikel

another interesting tidbit. prezo and his dem buddies and all you libbies on here are constantly whining about all of the jobs going out of country. yet, they and you want to increase both solar and wind energies which are probably 90% subsidized. well, guess where 80% of those products are made. NOT in america but overseas. so, our tax dollars are supporting foreign companies to make these products! kinda like the pot calling the kettle black ehh?

The Bizness

Not true

Maggdi

Citation Biz...?.....

The Bizness

Shouldn't you be asking the guy who made the ridiculous claims for citations? I don't know the numbers but he was just making stuff up.

Maggdi

I would think that when someone accuses someone of a falsehood, they would do more than call 'lair, lair pants on fire!'. Then you admitted you don't have the facts to prove it.
To be honest I certainly prefer citation for any claim. Then again few people will bother to read links offered if it against their established beliefs.

The Bizness

Here is a number I came across with a simple google search.

"Gamesa reports that its domestic content on U.S.-made wind turbines is upwards of 65% and it
has a local supply goal of 75%.
90
Vestas has stated domestic content in one class of its wind
turbines has grown to 80%, and it expects to increase the overall percentage to 90%, including
components and suppliers.
91
The 2011 Wind Technologies Market Report notes “a growing
amount of the equipment used in wind power projects has been sourced domestically in recent
years. Whether that trend continues in the future may depend on the size and stability of the U.S.
wind power market as well as the manufacturing strategies of emerging wind turbine
manufacturers from Asia and elsewhere. ”

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/...

Maggdi

Thank you Biz. I read the report and as far as wind turbine manufacture goes it seems the report supports your understanding. Although it's hard to be certain of domestic content because reporting on this equipment is not regulated as it is in the automobile industry.
I must add that the biggest up tick happened when there was massive amounts of tax dollars being thrown into the industry in 2009. There's a concern that these supports are being phased out and that anymore growth is a dubious proposition.

mikel

i love it, biz, when you challenge me:

"A Chinese wind-turbine company, with financing help from Beijing, has struck a deal to be the exclusive supplier to one of the largest wind-farm developments in the U.S., a sign of how Chinese firms are aggressively capitalizing on America's clean-energy push.

The 36,000-acre development in West Texas would receive $1.5 billion in financing through Export-Import Bank of China. Shenyang Power Group, a five-month-old alliance, would supply the project with 240 of its 2.5-megawatt wind turbines, among the biggest made in the world."

yeah, as stated before, the majority of these items are made out of the u.s. china, vietnam and even canada out produces america.

mikel

biz: sorry to hear about your green energy buddy:

"Energy Secretary Chu steps down after Solyndra scandal"

"He drew fire from congressional Republicans who criticized his handling of a $528 million federal loan to solar panel maker Solyndra, which later went bankrupt, laying off its 1,100 workers. Republicans said Chu and other Energy Department officials missed many warning signs about problems at Solyndra and compounded them by approving a restructuring of the loan even after problems were discovered.

Solyndra was the first renewable-energy company to receive a loan guarantee under the 2009 stimulus law, and the Obama administration frequently promoted the company as a model for its clean energy program. Chu attended a 2009 groundbreaking when the loan was announced, and Obama visited the company's Fremont, Calif., headquarters the next year"

goooooooo greennnnnnn! nypost2.1.13

Contango

Oops! All is not well in the United States of Obama.

"GDP Shows Surprise Drop for U.S. in Fourth Quarter":

http://www.cnbc.com/id/100419252

Keep "whistlin' past the graveyard."

The Bizness

As you well know it was mostly because of a massive drop in spending by our military industrial complex...which in the end could be a good thing.

Contango

@ The Bizness:

Not-to-worry, the Fed Resv. will continue to "print" money outa thin air in order to buy $85B monthly in govt. securities in order to help keep this economy goin' for as long as needed.

Almost a $17T Federal deficit.

Americans will soon have much bigger things to worry about than whether the country's on track with this alt-energy nonsense.

The Big Dog's back

Get a job.

thinkagain's picture
thinkagain

If the cost of solar power had been dropping exponentially for the last 35 years, solar would be free by now. \frac{dN}{dt} = -\lambda N.

Maggdi

Heh

Contango

FYI: I recently saw this co. that looked interesting. But it's not publicly traded as yet.

http://www.ceelite.com/

KURTje

Dynamaxim. H.A.R.P. Operation Paperclip. N.Tesla. VW-XL1. Opps...no Mensa volk. The Wright brothers & Edison from Ohio too. (He used bamboo filiment before tungsten/Japense) Who knew??? some did

Contango

Say it ain't so!

"Scam-Ridden U.S. Biofuel Program Targeted for Fix by EPA":

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/20...

Who watches the watchers?

CelindaB

up to I saw the receipt four $9465, I didnt believe that my cousin woz like they say trully bringing in money part-time from their laptop.. there neighbor has done this for only about 11 months and by now cleared the morgage on there cottage and bourt themselves a Mercedes. read more at, FAB33.COM

CelindaB

what Louise responded I am inspired that a single mom able to get paid $5590 in 4 weeks on the computer. have you seen this web site FAB33.COM

arnmcrmn

Coal is cheap, clean and easy to get to and use and we have a TON of it.