Monday, April 14, 2014

Here Comes Solar!

Longtime readers of this blog know that I am a believer in the huge potential of solar energy while being against wind energy except for specialized deployment. The UK's Telegraph has a comprehensive article that summarizes where we are with solar:

Solar power has won the global argument. Photovoltaic energy is already so cheap that it competes with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia without subsidies.

As Roger Pielke, Jr. has long contended, the way to get away from fossil fuels isn't a carbon tax, it is investing in R&D to make alternative energy so inexpensive that people turn away from fossil fuels because there is an attractive alternative. Solar has that potential.

It is especially attractive to me because some of the world's poorest live in equatorial areas. It has to potential to significantly improve their lives at lower costs than previous alternatives.


  1. I'm all for making rooftops solar panels! My concern is, out here in the middle of the US, how do they hold up against major hail storms?

  2. From the linked article: 'This remarkable overthrow of everthing we take for granted in world energy politics may occur within "the better part of a decade"'.

    As a noted physicist said of an absurd hypothesis: "It's not even wrong." The weaknesses of this article are manifest, and are demonstrated by the experience of Germany's "Energiewende" , that country's move to so-called renewables. I highly recommend the two following articles for a clear understanding of the folly of pursuing such a strategy:


  3. Hi Richard,

    This blog has written MANY times about the limitations of 'alternative' energy. That said, my independent reading and knowledge of physics indicates solar is making significant progress.

    So, I am sharing this article to provide some balance and to differentiate between wind (small progress), solar (significant progress) and new generation nuclear (unknown but huge potential) in the way of alternative (carbon free) energy.

    Note: the "Der Spiegel" article was the subject of a piece on this blog. I agree with much of what it said about the politics of energy and that in Germany (a cloudy nation) solar probably isn't ready for prime time.


  4. I agree there is progress in the fundamental physics of solar, but two overwhelming weaknesses of the technology assure its peripheral role: 1. Solar can be "harvested", on average, on cloudless and dust-free days, for 6 hours. 2. Point 1., then, requires grid-scale storage to enable market penetration, and there simply is not a physics basis for a storage equivalent of "Moore's Law" in electronics.

    Germany's pursuit of renewables has produced an economically ruinous requirement for what I refer to as a "Five Infrastructure Strategy": 1. Solar; 2. Wind; 3. Storage; 4. Transmission from remote renewable generating sites; and (the clincher because of intermittency) 5. All of the existing traditional sources of generation and transmission to cover the cloudy windless days.

    Germany's energy intensive industries, under competitive pressure from low energy cost countries such as China and the U.S., demand relief from the high-cost renewable regime, requiring German individual energy consumers to pick up the slack. The result is the "energy poverty" noted.

    Many of the world's economic "elite" seem to find a sort of ecological "solace" in promoting renewables, ignoring the unfortunate reality that it is cheap traditional energy source that have (and continue to) lifted billions out of grinding poverty.


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