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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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  • It's embarassing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Miros (734652) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @05:45PM (#39501545)
    To the government that the US can no longer sustain a competitive domestic solar panel industry. This was predicted in shockingly accurate detail by HBS researchers 3 years ago. [hbr.org] Protectionism is only going to make it worse -- amazing that these ideas still fly.
  • by sycodon (149926) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @06:01PM (#39501719)

    To expand a little bit.

    Obama's "Green" initiatives are about more than implementing a renewable technology such as solar. Just as important in that imitative is "Green Jobs". It is seen as a twofer, ween us off the eeeevil oil and bring manufacturing jobs back.

    The reality is that most of that 21 billion was heavily subsidized by the tax payers, the purchase, the manufacturing and the installation. China is undercutting all of the domestic manufacturers by doing the same thing. It's kind of ironic that we subsidized our solar industry but now they want tariffs because China does the same thing, only much more.

    In the end, the tariffs are a last ditch effort to salvage the whole green jobs thing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @06:06PM (#39501787)

    PV panels also take far more energy to make than they ever return in their lifetime. It is an illusion, similar to ethanol, where one may have x amount of watts provided, but in reality, it took far more energy to drop the petrochemicals for the plants than it would have been just to refine the oil for gasoline or diesel.

    Then there is the fact that solar requires a lot of surface area. Yes, those solar arrays in west Texas are cool looking, but they are next to useless because voltage losses over the long wire lengths burn off most of the energy. In urban areas, the energy gained from having solar cells is not enough to bother. Yes, someone might be able to power a 12VDC fan from a rooftop panel setup, but lets be real here. Homes use far more energy than that.

    As for off-grid setups, its ironic that right next to the solar panels and batteries is some type of gas/diesel/propane powered generator hidden away that does all the work. Lets get real folks... Solar is a cute things to spend money on to appear "green", but the only real energy source we have is coal and oil these days, and likely will remain that way for a while to come.

  • Re:It's embarassing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NoobixCube (1133473) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @06:09PM (#39501809) Journal

    The US designs stuff, now? Pretty much everything in my house is designed by a Japanese or Thai or Korean company. A US company might have designed the basic idea for some of it more than 60 years ago, but nothing new or interesting comes out of America today.

  • by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@@@hotmail...com> on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @06:17PM (#39501935) Journal

    In the end, the tariffs are a last ditch effort to salvage the whole green jobs thing.

    Except this backlash isn't exclusive to the USA.

    "Here is a pair of graphs that demonstrate most vividly the merit order effect and the impact that solar is having on electricity prices in Germany; and why utilities there and elsewhere are desperate to try to rein in the growth of solar PV in Europe. It may also explain why Australian generators are fighting so hard against the extension of feed-in tariffs in this country."

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/03/27/why-generators-are-terrified-of-solar/ [crikey.com.au]

  • by mlts (1038732) * on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @06:21PM (#39501981)

    There is one market where solar is becoming a must, and that is RV-ing. With all the electric-hungry appliances that are running off 12 volts, coupled with the fact that batteries take a long time to come up to full charge, solar is becoming a must have for anyone with a RV who isn't just staying on an RV park's shore power 24/7/365. With rigs getting larger, there is plenty of space to add panels.

    Add to this flexible solar panels that can be rolled up, and I can envision someone able to run appliances like the A/C or microwave off a battery bank that is recharged by the solar panels on the ceiling, awning, and perhaps an extended room.

    So, for RV-ers, it is something that allows for the comforts of home without having to break out the generator.

  • Screw the subsidies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DCFusor (1763438) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @06:23PM (#39501997) Homepage
    I mean, they're nice and if you can get them, do it. But! I went off-grid in '80 or so, when subsidies were hard to find, solar was $7/watt for panels or more, and it still paid off. I just doubled what I have here so as to have enough extra to charge my new Volt too - and it's a pretty big deal to just tell the gasoline man to get lost entirely - more panels is also more times the house system needs no backup. Finally there. !00% NOT Chinese stuff, though I have no axe to grind with them as a people. I just prefer poly xtal big, thick, reliable, conservative cells, that's all - I've got them 30 years old at still 80% of original spec. Even those are down to 3.50/watt or so now, made in USA if you care (I don't much, I'm just trying to get the most kWh/buck). It was hard at first, but built good habits of no waste, and now its fantastic - and no monthly bills...just internet. I got a much better subsidy thusly - I bought raw land and homesteaded on it. Power companies are in a lot of places, in charge of enforcing the building permit and inspections regimes. So, if you're not and never become a customer - well, my buildings are taxed as barns and sheds even though I obviously live here. In today's tax environment - lookee, no property taxes to speak of.
  • Re:Chinese Subsidies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by squidflakes (905524) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @06:24PM (#39502017) Homepage

    Yeah, energy policy in the U.S. is amazingly fucked.

    One thing that really gets me, there are enough geothermal hot-spots in the US to provide a huge amount of power, especially if the R&D were funded like drilling in the 60's and 70's. Even better, we've already got a huge amount of operational know-how and technology from that very investment that could be adapted to geothermal power use. The basic hole drilling technology is the same, and only small modifications would be needed to bring us around to closed cycle steam/water loops and we already know how to turn hot steam in to electrical power.

  • by masonc (125950) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @06:38PM (#39502187) Homepage

    I hear this same argument all the time here in Anguilla where I live. "we don't want solar unless it reduces the cost of electricity for the poor man".
    It's nonsense because solar is not going to drop the wholesale price of electricity, the differential from the price of NG or Nuke is never going to be substantial enough. Electricity in America is very very cheap. There is little point in trying to reduce the cost further, it is mostly administration charges at this stage.

    The reason countries like the USA and other are promoting solar is because it is a renewable source. OIl and other fossil fuels are filthy and news of their imminent demise is not exaggerated. They will run out. America has a responsibility as a first world nation to reduce emissions.

    Turning to renewable sources allows more time before the end of oil and for the technologies to develop. You can't expect we can transition once there is a crisis. Unless we start now and incentivize the use of RE, we will never get to a point where we can manage without fossil fuels. Great strides are being made and the discovery of grid based storage at economical cost will be a game changer.

    Another reason to promote RE sources is energy independence. If countries that are not in the Middle East could survive on domestic production and renewable sources, the politics of the world would change dramatically, and the price of energy would drop, spawning another economic boom. At present, the US public is crying about high gasoline prices caused by geopolitical issues, but at the same time complaining about subsidies for renewable sources aimed at developing solutions to this issue. And blaming Obama for both.

    Let's make this very clear. Oil will get more and more expensive until it runs out, the planet will warm in the mean time from CO2, and there will be instability in the Middle East and Venezuela. Or you can believe the Forbes and Fox News stories that tell you the opposite.

    I live in a country that has probably the highest electricity costs in the world, 43c/KWh, unlimited sunshine, and refuses to allow people to install solar. Figure that policy out. Very soon we will not be a viable state because of high energy costs, but there is still no vision or will to move out of the dark ages.

    Be glad you at least have the right to install solar or wind or whatever.

  • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @07:37PM (#39502869)

    It's not good for those natural gas/diesel plants, as well as coal plants, all whom have enormous capex costs they're locked into.

    Would you want to be a nuclear power plant owner, with ~$1 billion sunk into your facility if someone invents (for the sake of argument) an arc reactor that fits in the palm of your hand and generates all the power you'll need for months at a time in a few seconds?

    Entrenched interests fight the new guy, film at 11.

  • by Anthony Mouse (1927662) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @08:42PM (#39503563)

    Taxing the chinese products is more proof that obama and the dems have absolutely no idea how to handle the economy.

    It's actually a pretty standard response to an unfair subsidy: China pays $X to reduce the cost of Chinese solar panels, we charge $X in taxes to offset the subsidy and destroy the unfair competitive advantage. And China then loses all incentive to continue the subsidy, because the money isn't actually going to their solar industry anymore, it's just going to pay the tariff which would be eliminated if they stopped paying the subsidy.

    Of course, the smart thing to do would be to impose a tariff on Chinese solar panels which doesn't capture the entire subsidy, and then pay the money collected to the domestic manufacturers to eliminate the competitive advantage created by the remainder of the subsidy which isn't collected as a tariff. The consequence is that China is then subsidizing world-wide, rather than only Chinese, manufacturing of solar panels. That's a good thing.

    And, if you want to be strategic, make it known that you won't discontinue this arrangement until few years after China discontinues the subsidy, to give them an incentive to keep it -- since discontinuing the subsidy would then make their solar manufacturing totally uncompetitive for a few years, but keeping it (and thereby subsidizing everyone) would leave their industry on the same playing field as they would have been if they didn't decide to play this game in the first place.

When in doubt, mumble; when in trouble, delegate; when in charge, ponder. -- James H. Boren

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