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Prospects Darken For Solar Energy Companies 435

Hugh Pickens writes "Although global demand for solar power is still growing — about 8% more solar panels will be installed this year compared with 2010 — bankruptcies, plummeting stock prices and crushing debt loads are calling into question the viability of the solar energy industry that since the 1970s has been counted on to advance the world into a new energy age. Only a handful of manufacturers are now profitable in the face of too much capacity, which has contributed to a plunge in prices as government subsidies have been curbed. Prices for solar panels started 2011 near $1.60 per watt, but a buildup of inventory forced manufacturers into a fire sale toward the end of the second quarter that has pushed prices to near $1 per watt now. 'The prices that we're seeing today are likely not covering manufacturing costs in many cases,' says Ralph Romero. With at least seven solar-panel manufacturers filing for bankruptcy or insolvency in the last several months and six of the 10 largest publicly traded companies making solar components reporting losses in the third quarter, public-market investors are punishing the solar sector, sending shares down nearly 57% this year. Although winners are expected to emerge eventually, the question is how much more carnage there will be before that happens. 'The fact of the matter is, nobody really knows which solar companies will be pushed out of business or be forced to merge,' writes industry analyst Rodolfo Avalos. 'Nobody also knows how long it will take for the solar industry to improve even when the forecasted solar global demand for the next 5-10 years is quite promising.'"
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Prospects Darken For Solar Energy Companies

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:19AM (#38513948)

    The summary does not mention the actual need for prices on solar panels to drop to make them more viable, only on the economic repercusions of the shift in the market.

    I thought to myself one day that this was one of the necessary evils or events in a free market economy, prices must shift and therefore allow more efficient companies and technologies to emerge. Any real change requires chaos.

    You wanted change? Here you've got it.

  • by Hungus ( 585181 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:24AM (#38513982) Journal

    How is this a long term bad thing? Either the industry will come up with an idea that will allow a marketable solar power system sans subsidies and thus thrive, or it will die and we can move on to the next idea instead of wasting engineering hours on a failed/NRFPT energy source. In either case we win.

  • by dr2chase ( 653338 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:29AM (#38514010) Homepage

    Recall the workstation industry in the late 80s and early 90s?
    Many companies, many failures, a few survivors.
    Couple that with the suck economy, and anyone who guessed wrong on the timing of the recovery, is in a tricky place.

  • by BigTimOBrien ( 203674 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:29AM (#38514012) Homepage
    Yesterday Iran threatened to stop the flow of oil in response to new sanctions being floated by the US. Who wants to predict how that would affect solar? Also, what effect is the explosion of shale oil operations in the US having on technologies like solar?
    • by ickleberry ( 864871 ) <web@pineapple.vg> on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:34AM (#38514036) Homepage
      The enemy of solar power is not oil but gas and coal. A very small percentage of electricity fed into the grid is from oil. Mostly from peaking plants
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by vlm ( 69642 )

        Actually, gas and coal do not power UPS/fedex/USPO/semi-trailer trucks, or pacific ocean container ships. Both for the end user delivery and delivering raw-ish materials to the manufacturers.

        Try going to a solar panel distributor and ordering a bunch of panels, made in the US or china doesn't matter, the shipping cost of sending a truck out to you full of delicate glass is really quite high.

        I'm told that on islands almost all electricity is generated from stationary diesels. In the continental US it doesn

    • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

      Fark wrote the headline in a more humorous fashion, "Iran threatens to sink own navy if its demands aren't met".

      Someone else pointed out that the biggest competitor to solar is Coal - the magic point where solar is cheaper than coal is around $1 per watt - keep in mind that the US of fuckin' A is the "Saudi Arabia of Coal". Yep, that would really drive up global oil prices, but the US has been a net exporter of oil now for about 6-8 months, yes, net-exporter of oil, and we have enough coal reserves

      • ...but the US has been a net exporter of oil now for about 6-8 months, yes, net-exporter of oil

        Ummm... no. You've confused crude oil with refined gasoline. The US is still a major net-importer of crude oil, but, yes, it's exporting quite a bit of refined gasoline now.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @11:20AM (#38515062) Homepage Journal

      Not at all.
      That is the big lie. Solar != oil at least in the US.
      Solar makes electricity. One percent of the electricity in the US is from oil. Solar and Wind make up more than 3% of the US production. Solar at best competes with coal and natural gas. The thing is that for every kw of wind and solar the power companies build one kw of gas fired peaking plants to handle cloudy days and still days.
      Oil is mostly used for transportation. You can not "practically" power ships, aircraft, and large long haul trucks with electricity. Electric cars are still very rare and even if they become popular it will take many years for them to grow to a large percentage of the market. Trains also use oil in the US but in theory at least some could be electrified but again that would be a multi year project and cost many billions of dollars.

      The whole solar and wind can free us from oil is a marketing lie.

  • by Gotung ( 571984 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:34AM (#38514042)
    This is why you subsidize research, not production.
    • Bingo.. Damn I wish I had a mod point. This is exactly what I was about to type.
    • by BLKMGK ( 34057 )

      This works great to get efficiency up. We've got pretty efficient cells now though and the INSTALLED pricing of them is still sky high despite whatever price per watt they cry about at the wholesale level. You need to incentivize adoption not production right now. No one is buying this stuff if they are struggling, not with payoffs measured in decades. Electricity bills for me are under $200 a month and a panel install of decent size would cost tens of thousands of dollars, the math doesn't add up. The grid

    • Which is basically anything at all as long as it involves buying large quantities of:

      1. micro organisms (yeast).
      2. Large vessels.
      3. Energy to keep it all warm.

      If someone is subsidising their countries product X, everyone else is better placing product X on an import duty roster cancelling the subsidy.
      Otherwise you are taking money from people who need it and giving to those who don't.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Its important to remember that photovoltaic technology is not the the sum total of solar energy. In many ways concentrated solar much more applicable to the industry when discussing competition between solar, natural gas, coal, and nuclear. These power plants exist and are being built in the western US as we speak, although some subsidies are still required to make it competitive with coal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_solar_power (wiki)

  • by sgt scrub ( 869860 ) <saintium@yaho[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:42AM (#38514080)

    China flooding the market, specifically to destroy the competition IMHO, is just half the story. How are people supposed to buy solar panels for the house when they are not even able to make the house payments. Small business owners aren't going to throw up panels any time soon. They rent. Renters aren't going to put up solar panels, their customers are going out of business left and right. Manufacturers with large plants are too busy deciding if they are going to relocate. China needs to learn to let other people make money. A customer base requires someone has an income.

  • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:48AM (#38514134)

    which has contributed to a plunge in prices as government subsidies have been curbed

    Corn costs more to produce than we (or ethanol manufacturers) pay for it. [wikipedia.org]
    Coal power has higher costs than we see. [sourcewatch.org]

    This is all because of government subsidsy. In the case of corn it keeps the price of corn artificially low and the farmer paid. The problem now is that many subsidies have outlived their usefulness but continue own because of the political clout of the companies/groups recieving them, and right now, the government has little or no money to subsidize other things. To me at least, it would make sense to subsideize a promising technolgy and give it a boost, instead we always cut the new guy, while the old belchers with the power, clout, and money (having extra saved from subsidies helps) get paid.

  • by BLKMGK ( 34057 ) <morejunk4me@@@hotmail...com> on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:49AM (#38514136) Homepage Journal

    Look, I WANT solar power on my home. I have a good location South facing, near full time sun during the day, am tech oriented, and I'm not dirt poor! I get HomePower magazine, I track the technology, I'm a buyer looking to do this.

    So why don't I have it? Because my home like so many others is upside down and the cost of a solar install of decent size is looking like $30K or more which will be saving me something like $150 a month on my electric bill. How exactly does THAT make sense? Prices are down per watt? You could've fooled me! The price of raw cells on the wholesale market may have dropped some but the installed price is in the stratosphere IF you can even find a company local to you willing to do it.

    There's a company near me advertising solar LEASING like crazy. They install and maintain the system and you pay them a monthly fee that's lower than your existing electric bill. Now this sounded possibly interesting despite my trepidation about anything that says "lease". I tried to sign up for an estimate - they don't service my area! Say what?! These guys are putting out printed ads and radio like mad here and then won't take my money? Kripes it's like trying to get high speed internet all over again! SolarCity -> asshats!

    Now I know that my area isn't big on subsidies and it's also not someplace like Fla. where the sun roasts anything not moving but there's good potential in my site just no damned affordable way to do it no matter how much these guys claim to have reduced cost. Certainly installing solar makes huge sense in many ways but if the pricing is going to be $30K per house in a market where people are $40K upside down or more with a payoff measured in decades I think the reasons why few are buying are pretty damned clear! The local and federal Govt subsidies need to crank up, this is infrastructure we're talking about and it needs to be supported IMO. This is the technology that can take loads off our grid, why isn't there any incentive to go for it?

    P.S. My neighbors just had to cut down all of their trees that used to shade the front of my home during parts of the day. It was awful but I now have no obstructions and full exposure but cannot take advantage of it. This sucks!

    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      If Gov't subsidies "crank up" and everyone takes advantage of them, then there is no economic advantage.

      Think of it this way - if everyone in America wanted a widget, and that widget cost $100, but people were only willing to spend $50 on the widget, the gov't could step in and subsidise each widget to the tune of $50/each, spreading the cost of the subsidy over all Americans. If "everyone" took the Gov't up on the offer, then each person would be paying for their own subsidy ($50/everybody x everybody = $5

    • by Tryfen ( 216209 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @10:18AM (#38514410) Homepage

      You're looking at it wrongly. I recently had solar power installed because - long term - it pays off.

      Let's say your numbers are correct. $30k to install. $150/month saved. That's similar to my situation in the UK.

      Your payback period is about 17 years (although potentially longer if you had to take out a loan to pay for them).

      Most solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years (or, rather, their operating performance won't drop by more than a certain percentage per year).

      So, for the remaining 8 years, you're earning $150 per month - that's $14k. That's not a terrible ROI.

      However! What if there's an energy crisis? All of a sudden, you're saving $300 per month. Or, depending on where you live, you can sell your excess electricity back into the grid for a profit.

      Worse case scenario, the cost of electricity plummets and you're left with an overprices UPS on your roof.

      I say go for it!

      • by tp1024 ( 2409684 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @10:46AM (#38514670)
        It just so happens that if you manage to invest your money at a 1% annual interest rate above inflation, $30k are worth $38.5k, but you'll likely get offers at 2% (worth $49k after 25y) or 3% (worth $62k after 25y) per annum. Oh, and did I mention that you neglected losses due to inflation? Sure, US inflation will probably be very low (about 1%) in the coming decades, but it's still a lot over a quarter century.
      • by silas_moeckel ( 234313 ) <silas AT dsminc-corp DOT com> on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @10:47AM (#38514688) Homepage

        When looking into the real cost of solar I found that my homeowners insurance premiums would skyrocket. This ate into the payback significantly. Secondly all these rebates etc require professional installation the installers know it and have jacked up there prices to match the panels are 18-27k (90 $200-300 panels 100 watts each, and I can get them much cheaper) the installers all quote in the 50-60k range all the incentives and rebates knock it back down to 20-30k so effectively the installers are pocketing the rebates. I've seen this before whenever the rebates require professional installation.

      • by alen ( 225700 )

        17 year is crazy

        you will get a lot more bang for your money insulating your home to use less energy, buying more energy efficient appliances and electronics, and

        GASP, buy your movies and music and don't rip them to hard disk and have a SAN or server running 24x7 in the closet sucking up juice

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      cost of a solar install of decent size is looking like $30K

      Its the greenies and the middlemen. That's really a $15K system with a lot of people making a profit in the middle and at least some of the customers simply don't care what it costs so prices rise accordingly.

      Look into doing it yourself instead of hiring a general or specialized solar contractor, trying to buy as far upstream as you can, etc. You can say that endless be-your-own contractor paperchasing BS is a lot of work compared to watching a star trek rerun, but then again lowering your costs by the c

      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        In fact the CEO would like it to cost as much as possible, so he has something to brag about on the golf course, I'm so wealthy I spent $50K on my installation that we on /. know is only worth $15K.

        A better way to rephrase that, would be imagine what the consumer electronics market would look like if the market were small enough that a very large fraction of the market was audiophools, the $1000 HDMI cable type of people.

    • The problem you described sounds like an opportunity for someone to create a company which will pay to install a solar panel on a homeowners' roof, but the panels remain the property of the company, while the homeowner pays an electric bill to the solar panel company.

      Sort of a "solar utility company". Now, you say, you'd like to get away from "the electric company" - isn't that the point of solar panels? Well, if the choice is between the local utility monopoly, or a solar utility company, and if the solar

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by cnaumann ( 466328 )

      It is going to cost me about $20K to have the trees removed that currently shade my roof... the cost going green!

    • by jez9999 ( 618189 )

      So why don't I have it? Because my home like so many others is upside down

      Am I the only one who doesn't know what the hell you mean by that?

  • by gadget junkie ( 618542 ) <gbponz@libero.it> on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:51AM (#38514162) Journal
    the subject seems to imply that there's a panel manufacturing problem. In reality, there's a "new economic policy" [wikipedia.org] problem: practically all the demand is government issued, and the private sector has been sucked up in the maelstrom. As in the original plan, I expect a full nationalization will ensue, on economic grounds

    Here in Italy, solar has been heavily pushed via two mechanisms: one is that via tax rebates, building a solar plant is incentivized. the second is that ALL the energy produced is retired by the grid at a heavily increased price, and the increased price is then passed on to the consumers via the electricity bill. Private use is incentivised even more, since there's a counter at thee production level: a user/producer gets paid the higher price on all production, and pays his consumption at the lower general level. It goes without saying that this is a much bigger incentive than using a "net" mechanism, by which only the excess energy produced over consumption gets paid.
    The necessary build of conventional energy plants to guarantee continous production is done by the general electric utilities, and spread on the bills accordingly. The construction boom has been huge.

    The rationale behind my saying that this will all end up in public hands is that most of the "industrial" establishment of solar plant has been funded by banks, with little money coming out of the equity investors' purse. An uncontrolled shrinkage of the incentive schemes would cause a big banking problem; helping the banks is not considered the thing now; and taxing Joe Public to give money to people who could convince banks to sink millions into a tax haven is a problem too, so nothing like a giant nationalization of the existing plants would work.
    Would it help the First Solars [firstsolar.com] of the world? nooooo, because as much as public servants love to spend other people's money, many other investments are more profitable even on a CO2 standpoint. in less than 10 years, the city where I live [wikipedia.org] has become the first in district heating in Europe; the local utility built, in less than three years, a combined gas and steam plant that by selling surplus heat in winter reaches an efficiency of 85%.
  • Subsidies distort the market and are, let's be honest, just a way for corrupt politicians to use our money to pay off their big supporters. Funny how so many of those companies going bankrupt were big Obama supporters... and got juicy loan guarantees.

    I'll be straight with y'all: no political party or politician is smart enough to properly apply a subsidy even if they do it from the noblest of motives. We need to remove the ability of our government to do it in any fashion and we'll all be better off.

    • by BLKMGK ( 34057 )

      I disagree. A subsidy on installations of high efficiency panels at the end user level makes sense IMO. The problem here is that prices for the end user are sky high with returns taking decades to payoff the investment. The benefit to having these installations, as a nation, is lower load on our grid. that's like being able to take trucks off of a heavily traveled highway and thus not have to repair it and widen it every couple of years. How is that not a good idea?

      I agree that a subsidy done poorly is a ba

  • It shouldn't be a surprise that prospects darken for those corporations.

    Solar power [wordpress.com] just isn't viable without energy storage [wordpress.com] on a large scale. Without that, it only works as a supplement to a reliable power supply that has already been established, shaving a few percent off the fuel usage before causing serious trouble. (On the order of 3-5%, at which point it makes up some 30-50% of peak power demand.)
    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      There are many ways to store heat from solar plants. [wikipedia.org] Solar power is not just panels.

      • by tp1024 ( 2409684 )
        All of them extremely expensive and short-term or extremely dilute and unsuitable for urban settings. Solar Millenium went bust because they kept making promises about the price of thermal storage (and the rest of their installations) they couldn't keep. Such as reducing the price of electricity to $0.04 per kWh - but practically solar-thermal stills need subsidized prices on the order of $0.40 per kWh to make the plants viable, despite having large-scale installations that should be more cost-efficient. Wo
  • by kenh ( 9056 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @09:59AM (#38514230) Homepage Journal

    Wouldn't it be great if the Solar Panel industry was able to succeed or fail based on the merits and the value of thier products, not be tossed about by the whims of politicians who shovel money into anything that looks "green" wihen they are up for re-election? The politicians, desperate to curry favor with certain constituant groups tosses obscene amounts of money into companies with trivial advancements.

    The Government builds up manufacturing capacity with grants and low-cost, gov't backed loans, then they subsidise the purchase of solar panels by end-users to create demand for the panels, then they force utilities to pay well above market rates for whatever power the solar panel owner pumps into the electric grid, without allowing the utility the ability to manage the flow of electricity onto their grid.

    And what is the argument for investing ever more money into the solar panel industry? We have to keep up with "threat" of China's investments in their solar panel industry. Here's the problem - first off, solar panels are on their way to being a commodity, and China excells in that space (manufacturing commodity items), second, China has the money to invest in these projects we don't (we perversely are borrowing the money fo fuel our "green initiatives" from China!).

    Solyndra was in the $3/watt solar panel business when the industry was going from $2.50 -> $1.60 -> as low as $1/watt solar panels now - Gov't shouldn't be in the business of investing in businesses it subsidies and regulates - it has the ability to create a false market, subject to the political needs of elected officials, not and real demand on the part of the consumer.

    • Wouldn't it be great if the Solar Panel industry was able to succeed or fail based on the merits and the value of thier products, not be tossed about by the whims of politicians who shovel money into anything that looks "green" wihen they are up for re-election?

      That would be great for every technology. However we live in a time where the demand on money to develop something new is astronomic high.
      Without poitical will and legislation no one is able / willin to spend that (needed) money.
      Would cars have catal

    • by Idou ( 572394 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @11:31AM (#38515188) Journal
      Sure, but no different from nuclear, fossil fuel production, etc . . . How can solar ever move to mainstream with out at least receiving similar subsidizes to the more established forms of electricity production industries?

      How about removing the subsidies from the other industries first?
    • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @01:27PM (#38516688) Journal

      Gov't shouldn't be in the business of investing in businesses it subsidies and regulates - it has the ability to create a false market, subject to the political needs of elected officials, not and real demand on the part of the consumer.

      Nuclear power would disappear overnight if the Government ended its practice of backstopping their insurance.
      Nobody would make vaccines without the Government shielding pharmaceuticals from liability.
      Shipping costs would be rediculously higher without a government subsidized system of roadways.
      The dairy industry would be fucked without the Government's price support program.

      You call those things subsidies, I call them good public policy.
      The free market does not always make the best choices for everyone.

  • Solar energy can beused in a variety of ways, panels are only one of them. While panels are receiving tremendous hype lately, the fact is that they are the least effective way. Solar plants have double the efficiency of panels, and are cheaper as they only need ordinary mirrors. For individuals, using a solar collector for heating is much cheaper and saves more energy. And while solar panels could be useful on vehicles, they are too weak for that. Solar panels are dying for a reason.

  • by Idou ( 572394 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @10:16AM (#38514400) Journal
    This is a company problem. The industry is healthier than ever, with fierce competition pushing technological advances at break necking speeds. There are many, many companies that were depending on subsidizes to survive, but now more and more geographic areas no longer need to be subsidized for solar to make sense. The winners at this point seem to be Chinese manufacturers and innovative firms like First Solar. All companies will temporarily take a hit until the losers disappear, but once that happens, the winners take all (at a non-subsidized price point).

    Didn't we see something similar happen in the PC industry when it was just getting started?
  • New York City is home to 8,175,133 people as of 2011. It uses 64,500 gigawatt-hours of energy per year. Using a standard industrial solar panel (ex Trina Solar 230) which produces 5750 watts (assuming constant supply 5.75 kWh) with a base area of 17.6 sq feet and costs $360. To power NYC it would take 11.2 trillion panels taking up an area of 7081 square miles of solar panels, at a cost that of $500,000,000 per NYC resident.

    NYC is also one of the most energy efficient cities in the US. Other cities would re

    • by rubeng ( 1263328 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @11:20AM (#38515064) Journal

      Something went seriously wrong in your figuring to come up with $500 million per person. It should be under $5000 per person or $34.5 billion total - if your run the numbers like I did below in Python (assuming these panels only produce for 8 hours per day, which is a number I just pulled out of the my hat).

      Throw in extra for installation costs. It would be interesting to know what the total area is of NYC rooftops that have good sun exposure.

      ny_area_sqmi = 302.6
      ny_population = 8175133.0
      ny_demand_watt_hours_per_year = 64500 * 10**9
      panel_watt_hours_per_year = 230 * 8 * 365
      panels_needed = ny_demand_watt_hours_per_year / panel_watt_hours_per_year
      panel_cost = 360.0
      panel_area_sqft = 17.6
      total_cost = panels_needed * panel_cost
      total_area_sqmi = (panels_needed * panel_area_sqft) / (5280**2)

      print 'panels needed', panels_needed
      print 'total cost $ %.2f' % total_cost
      print 'cost per person $ %.2f' % (total_cost / ny_population)
      print 'square miles %.2f' % total_area_sqmi
      print 'percent area of nyc %.2f%%' % ((total_area_sqmi / ny_area_sqmi) * 100)

      panels needed 96039309
      total cost $ 34574151240.00
      cost per person $ 4229.19
      square miles 60.63
      percent area of nyc 20.04%

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @11:36AM (#38515248) Homepage

    The article misses that Hon Hai, the parent of Foxconn, the company that really makes Apple's products, announced last week that they were going into the solar business. The reaction in the industry was that they will force prices down.

    (Hon Hai is a very big company, with over 400,000 employees.)

  • by m.dillon ( 147925 ) on Wednesday December 28, 2011 @03:28PM (#38518148) Homepage

    Because, really, virtually nobody here actually understands what is going on. So I will throw some light on the matter.

    There are two big problems with solar energy in the U.S. right now.

    The #1 problem is that the U.S. is in the middle of a natural gas bonanza that started about a decade ago but really only started ramping up around 2007ish... and kept ramping up right on through the crash and is still ramping up today, with no end in sight. This has caused domestic NG production to go through the roof and domestic NG prices to fall through the floor.

    Power companies switching from coal are going right to natural gas, which has 30% (or better) lower emissions and low prices for at least the next decade. It will take that long for our LNG export infrastructure to ramp up enough for world markets to relieve the downward pressure on domestic natural gas prices. In anycase, just switching to NG allows power companies to meet EPA requirements for probably the next decade (or longer), and that's without any magic technology to make it even cleaner.

    Natural gas used to only be used for peaking plants, except in California where they started to also be used for base load earlier than other parts of the country. Now natural gas is being used for base load across the board (along with nuclear). Nearly all of those coal plants undergoing decommissioning are being replaced with natural gas plants, not solar or anything else.

    The #2 problem with solar energy is China's overproduction of solar panels. China has no problem destroying their environment with the chemical leavenings from the production of solar panels. Chinese companies are facing the same problems that U.S. companies are facing with prices plunging, but they have a much lower cost of production. The result is that non-chinese companies basically can't compete (under ANY circumstances).. because we aren't willing to destroy our environment like the Chinese are.

    This has created a massive drop in price for the bulk panels that large businesses (like Google for example) can purchase. Consumers cannot get at these prices, we just don't buy enough panels, but even so prices are going down for us too.

    This, in turn, has created a huge problem for solar thermal power companies, because the price of bulk panels has dropped below or near par to the cost of constructing a solar thermal (mirror based) energy plant. This makes the ongoing cost of a solar thermal plant, which requires significant maintainence and has parts with limited life spans due to thermal cycling, higher than the near zero running cost of an installed conventional solar panel closer to the buyer (typically on the roof of the business premises).

    Numerous other factors are also creating issues. Germany was the single biggest purchaser of solar panels for the last decade due to massive government subsidies. Those subsidies are now winding down, which only makes the market glut worse.

    And that's the problem in a nutshell. Even the most environmentally minded person has to realize by now that it is impossible to go from coal to solar in one step. Natural gas is the only thing we have in-country that is even remotely capable of replacing coal at the generation levels required. I will applaud government investment in solar energy but anyone who thinks that solar can actually replace fossil fuel is fooling themselves.


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