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Solar Power Is Booming — Why Do We Want To Kill It? 415

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-what-we-do dept.
TaeKwonDood writes with a followup to the news we discussed over the weekend about tariffs being places on Chinese solar panels. He writes, "According to Forbes, 'Solar power is booming. Imports from China were a tepid $21 million in 2005, but in 2011 installations totaled nearly $2.7 billion. That's a huge win. And just as advocates for solar power had hoped, a larger market drove down prices. Solar energy cost has declined by two-thirds in the last four years, meaning it will soon start to close in on fossil fuels.' There's just one problem: now the government wants to kill it. The article continues, 'As the market was flooded by both silicon (from silicon producers) and thin-film panels (by Chinese manufacturers), the price for thin-film panels came crashing down – along with Solyndra’s business model. ... Yet that isn’t the only instance of mismanagement. The whole clean energy program remains flawed, even at the consumer level. The people who are the most likely to be impacted by high energy prices, the poor, are the least likely to benefit from the solar rebate scheme because they lack the capital to pay for the installation.'"
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Solar Power Is Booming — Why Do We Want To Kill It?

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  • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @04:58PM (#39501673) Journal

    Probably because you can recognize horseshit when you smell it. Apparently, this article's author has never heard of solar lease programs, which are intended for precisely that market. Instead of paying money to the power company, you pay a lower power bill to a company that sticks panels on your roof (and presumably reaps the profits if production exceeds your usage). There's usually zero up-front cost, and these programs are readily available in many places.

  • by poity (465672) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @04:59PM (#39501683)

    Firstly to address the article, one is a start-up loan guarantee to offset the risks in surmounting what is a huge barrier to entry, the other is a continued subsidy to aid an established industry. Sure they're both in the same vein of using public funds to bolster industry, but not quite comparable beyond that, are they? Continued subsidy of established industry is one of the major arguments made by those who are against US agricultural subsidies, and they make a reasonable point regarding the negative impact it has to the outside world. Many countries feel justified to place tariffs on US agricultural products because of this.

    Now to address your post, let's look at the not so apparent inconsistency in the rhetoric surrounding the motivations behind the subsidy. If the Chinese government indeed only wanted to make renewable energy more affordable for the average Chinese person, as many say is the sole motivation, it could very well have implemented a tax rebate policy with low-income allowances for Chinese consumers (as it's typically done in the US, at least the rebate part) -- and if fearing the money drain to imported panels, they could even have made "for use on domestically made panels only" a condition for such rebates/allowances. Under such a policy, imported solar panels would find it difficult to compete in the Chinese market, but it wouldn't be as big of a deal. That's not what happened. By continuing to subsidize the already established manufacturers directly, it places anti-competitive behavior behind the rather more difficult-to-assail rhetoric of "making energy affordable for the average Chinese person." Unfortunately, this rhetorical sleight of hand is able to misdirect many people.

  • by Moryath (553296) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @05:03PM (#39501737)

    Precisely. Consider what happened with water in my area; we entered a conservation phase, and they promptly jacked up the water rates "to ensure minimum funding to maintain the system." Water conservation phase ended, usage increased and... hey look the rate stayed the fucking same.

    Reminds me of seasonal gas price hiking. Nothing to do with politics, everything to do with greedy-ass oil execs and Saudi princes.

  • Re:Simple (Score:2, Informative)

    by Microlith (54737) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @05:12PM (#39501865)

    There is all this nonsense talk about how oil industry is getting 'subsidies', while in reality those so called 'subsidies' are just deductions in tax payments that the oil companies make, all while the real subsidies is money that the gov't wastes giving uninsured loans or just straight money to all these 'alternative energy' companies

    And yet the subsidies that the fossil fuel companies get are above and beyond what the alternative energy groups get.

    that in reality would have never gotten anywhere based on the real market, all this, while the Chinese companies found all the necessary efficiencies to produce lots and lots of those solar panels very cheaply, and now there are all these tariffs by the US gov't on the Chinese solar panel products.

    Yup, efficiencies like free money from the Chinese government coupled with extremely low labor costs and extremely lax environmental standards.

    who is really gaining when the Chinese are importing cheap solar panels into USA in exchange for US dollars?

    China, of course.

    Unless you're thinking that we actually have a "Free Market," in which case I have several bridges and inland oceanside property to sell you.

  • by Entropius (188861) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @05:13PM (#39501885)

    I spent six years in Tucson and I know folks who have PV panels on their rooftops which provide most of their power. There are lots of urban areas that get a shitload of sunshine.

    I agree, though -- solar isn't going to provide baseload power. It's not just coal and oil, though -- nuclear can, too. So can geothermal.

  • by lupine (100665) * on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @05:42PM (#39502243) Journal

    Have you been to a non-electrified camping ground that allows RVs? People who drive huge vehicles towing huge campers and sometimes an extra vehicle, ATV or boat achieving a paltry 8-13mpg have absolutely no qualms about breaking out the gasoline generators.

    They can't leave the comforts of home behind, including the noise and smog.

  • by matthewd (59896) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @05:43PM (#39502259)

    We just talked to a sales rep from Verango, they do just this type of system. Sunrun buys the panels and maintains them. Quoted us 27.5 cents/kwh to start in the first year to replace the 131%+ tier power that we are charged higher rates in California on.

    I created a spreadsheet to calculate our average cost/kwh over the last year in the upper tiers, and it worked out to 32.5 cents. So we could save 5 cents/kwh, or $31 per month if our usage stayed the same the last year. Not enough for me to bite, even if it costs us nothing. I'd rather find ways to reduce usage and cut our bill by more than that. We'd planned on doing that, which means the savings would be even smaller because our usage in the top tiers would be going down anyway.

    Incidentally, part of his pitch is that energy costs increase 6.9% per year. The 20 year solar contract locks in increases of 2.9%. So part of the argument is that over time, solar costs will go up at a much slower pace than electricity costs from PG&E. The only thing is, there has apparently been so much outrage over electricity costs in California that last year they got the highest tier rates lowered from around 40.4 cents/kwh to 34.2 cents/kwh, and the next highest tier also had a decrease from around 33 cents/kwh to around 31 cents/kwh. (Baseline and 101-130% tier rates went up a little) Which kind of negates the argument that energy costs go up every year, and reinforces the fact that energy companies are regulated by the government, so there are ultimately some political factors involved (aside from market forces, etc) in determining rates that are charged.

  • Re:Chinese Subsidies (Score:4, Informative)

    by Elder Entropist (788485) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @06:00PM (#39502459)

    corn ethanol is a net loss of energy (1.8 units used for every 1 unit produced) to make.

    I'm not the biggest fan of corn ethanol, but this is a very outdated myth from a study in the early 1970s that people keep repeating. We've gotten much more efficient and corn ethanol is now 1.5 to 1.8 units produced for every 1 unit of energy put in. That's still way worse than most other biofuels, but it isn't a net energy loss.

  • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @07:16PM (#39503279)

    Except solyndra was about payback for democratic political donors rather than developing tech.

    I disagree. Proof please?

    If they really want to spur domestic production they should simply tie any subsidies or tax breaks for solar installations to using US made products. The chinese are deliberately trying to crush manufacturers of everything in the US. It's economic warfare and they're winning because we aren't even trying to play.

    So? We're supposed to be fine with everything else being manufactured in China except our solar panels? So what if China heavily subsidizes their industry? Take advantage of it; buy your panels at fire sale prices (~80% off what they used to cost).

    Taxing the chinese products is more proof that obama and the dems have absolutely no idea how to handle the economy. To them it's all magic, which is why so many of their policies turn out to be smoke and mirrors.

    Sooooo we're not supposed to tax chinese products, we're just supposed to be less competitive by relying on US manufacturing to do the job at a higher cost? Your logic is faulty my friend.

  • Re:oil (Score:4, Informative)

    by dr2chase (653338) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @09:09PM (#39504229) Homepage

    Space solar is not likely to be a win under realistic assumptions, especially when we could be deploying solar on the ground right now. http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/03/space-based-solar-power/ [ucsd.edu]

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