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Published on September 25th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan

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Solar Subsidies Article in Wall Street Journal Misses The Beat

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September 25th, 2013 by Zachary Shahan 

Originally published on Cost of Solar.

Generally speaking, reading and debunking horrible clean energy or electric vehicle stories in the mainstream media is not something I enjoy doing. But someone has to do it, and since I’ve been studying cleantech in depth for several years now and am in the blogging business, that someone seems to increasingly be me.

Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal this week published a horrible story by Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center. (Curious what the Washington Policy Center is? Read this and this and this.) The piece misses the beat, and then proceeds to actually pick up the drums and drop them out the window.

Rather than link to the article (which would only help it to rank higher in Google) or dwell on the myths (which would inadvertently plant them in your head), I’m just going to respond with several important counterpoints. Get your metronome out and be prepared to share!

1. Solar PV power has consistently been identified as a key solution to global warming, amongst those who are genuinely independent from the energy industry and care about stopping global warming. Yes, wind power is another key solution, but a grid can’t be built on a single energy source, and solar is an excellent supplement to wind power that actually complements it time-wise (day by day and seasonally). Plus, solar PV comes with several of its own important benefits (more on that below). I think this graph by Nathan Myhrvold and Ken Caldeira best nails the importance of solar PV to fighting global warming:

clean energy sources

Yep, nuclear and solar thermal also do pretty well. However, as regards nuclear, citizens around the globe have decided nuclear is out of the question, especially after (and while still) watching the trillion-dollar Fukushima disaster unfold.

Myhrvold and Caldeira (who still want us to support nuclear — even though it’s not going to happen) write:

“Technologies that offer only modest reductions in emissions, such as natural gas and — if the highest estimates from the life-cycle analyses are correct — carbon capture and storage, cannot yield substantial temperature reductions this century. Achieving substantial reductions in temperatures relative to the coal-based system will take the better part of a century, and will depend on rapid and massive deployment of some mix of conservation, wind, solar, and nuclear, and possibly carbon capture and storage.”

The Institute of Physics reiterates:

“[T]echnologies that offer only modest reductions in greenhouse gases, such as the use of natural gas and perhaps carbon capture and storage, cannot substantially reduce climate risk in the next 100 years.

Delaying the rollout of the technologies is not an option however; the risks of environmental harm will be much greater in the second half of the century and beyond if we continue to rely on coal-based technologies.”

The fact of the matter is, solar PV is a critical solution to our global warming crisis. There is no replacement.

2. Social support for solar has driven down the cost of solar to a massive degree. One of the key premises put forth in the Wall Street Journal article is that social support for solar has not had any beneficial effect. How you could come to that conclusion is beyond me. As I’ve written previously here on Cost of Solar, the cost of solar is about 100 times lower than it was in 1977. Looking at more recent years, it’s about 2 times lower than it was about five years ago. A recent analysis found it was 50% lower than in 2008, and another analysis found that the cost of solar panels in the US has dropped 80% since early 2011. These massive cost drops haven’t come about for no reason. They’ve come about mostly due to governmental support for solar around the world that has resulted in a huge ramp-up of demand and production. With economies of scale, costs come down (simple economics, and not something the folks at the Wall Street Journal should miss).

Here are two fun graphics on the massive drop in the cost of solar in recent years:

disruptive-solar

price of solar

Notably, while we continue to send billions and billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies, their costs continue to rise. But people like Todd Myers and the folks who run the Wall Street Journal don’t seem to get the point that subsides should serve a purpose (e.g., to bring down the cost of energy, or to improve our quality of life and our society), so they decide to attack solar subsidies rather than fossil fuel subsidies.

3. The costs of energy are not just in the price at the register. One of the most consistent mistakes people like Todd make is neglecting to care about the externalities that come with fossil fuels. These are subsidies. Instead of making fossil fuel companies pay for the pollution they spew, the public subsidizes their costs “at the register” in the form of health problems and early death. Even if fossil fuel companies are not made to pay for these additional costs (they aren’t in the US), these subsidies should be included in the work of any respectable researcher covering energy costs.

With those costs included, solar is cheaper than coal. The situation with natural gas is more complicated, because there isn’t yet consensus on the amount of methane that leaks into the atmosphere while recovering or using natural gas, nor is there a consensus on the health and water impacts that come with natural gas fracking. But as the study at the top notes, natural gas simply doesn’t cut it climate-wise.

4. Solar power provides electricity at the time of peak demand. Simple economics (again, something that you would expect from an article in the Wall Street Journal): as demand rises, price rises (assuming supply remains the same).

There are only so many power plants in the US. So, as electricity demand rises during the day (peaking in the afternoon), the price of electricity rises. Luckily, solar energy is most available at basically the best time of day (not a coincidence, to be honest). The value of electricity at that time is much greater, which means that the value of electricity from solar power plants is generally much greater than from other power plants. Comparing electricity costs without looking at value is disingenuous.

5. Solar power creates many more jobs (per $1 invested) than coal or natural gas. A lot more:

solar energy advantages jobs

Over 10,000 solar jobs were announced in the second quarter of 2013. Those jobs are boosting local economies across the US and boosting the US economy as a whole. Again, to ignore this is to ignore some of the extra benefits and value of solar power.

6. Distributed solar PV also provides many benefits to the grid that save electricity consumers a lot of money. You can’t just look at one side of the equation. If you want to do a worthwhile comparison of prices, you should include both the costs and the savings.

7. Rooftop solar power competes with retail electricity, not wholesale electricity. Again, Todd seems to completely miss the fact that even if electricity from solar power plants were more expensive than electricity from nuclear power plants, they often aren’t even competing in the same market. It would be like saying toilet paper Walmart buys from suppliers should cost the same as toilet paper people buy from Walmart. Of course that’s not how things work — if Walmart didn’t sell at a profit, it would go out of business.

Rooftop solar power competes with retail electricity, which is much more expensive than wholesale electricity. So, rooftop solar power doesn’t need to cost the same as wind power or fossil fuel power in order to be cost-competitive.

 

All in all, if you want to make solar look bad, simply ignore the unique benefits that solar PV power provides, ignore its greater value, ignore the jobs and local economic activity it creates, ignore the dramatic drop in the cost of solar thanks to government policies, and ignore the fact that rooftop solar competes in the retail electricity market.

If you actually want to offer helpful commentary on the solar energy market, don’t act like a dumbass. (Or, if you are generally ill informed, educate yourself a bit before publishing commentary on the matter.)

 

Don’t have solar on your roof yet? Take advantage of solar’s excellent return on investment and go solar!

 

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About the Author

spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as the director/chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of Solar Love, EV Obsession, Planetsave, or Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media. You can connect with Zach on any popular social networking site you like. Links to all of his main social media profiles are on ZacharyShahan.com.



  • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

    Wow, thanks for the thorough responses here. I had a wedding on Saturday (my own) and haven’t been able to keep a close eye on comments since the Ukraine trip anyway. Catching up now. Much appreciation for all you wonderful, fact-oriented commenters!!

  • mds

    I recommend anyone, on either side of this issue, get a copy of the book “Agnotology” and read chapters 3 and 4. The title is the author’s proposed term for the science of ignorance, the perpetuation of ignorance, and the creation of ignorance.
    Chapter 3 discusses the dis-informational campaign the tobacco companies waged against the science indicating smoking caused cancer. A few specific individuals are mentioned, who wrote articles and posed as scientific researchers, but who’s background was in economics. Their “pier reviewed” articles were published in bought-and-paid-for journals, also posing as true scientific journals.
    Chapter 4 goes into the anti-AGW campaign waged by the fossil fuel companies. In a couple of cases the exact same individuals, with their economics degrees, began posing as climate scientists and experts. I guess the same talents for lying and distorting the truth were called for. It will be interesting to see what history has to say about them.
    Todd Myers, alias WPCGreen, you too are creating a place for yourself in infamy.

  • mds

    Wow, what a lying dirtbag. Thank you Zachary! Well done! Please keep it up!

  • Senlac

    Folks, having read his piece and it’s comments, I recommend putting Todd Meyers on ignore. For the most part I get the sense he is bating people and enjoying it. He is not worth the effort.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Agreed.

  • SolarOne

    A recent article in the Albuquerque Journal seems to indicate that perhaps solar is part of utilities future. A PNM economic modeler discovered that solar was part of the “cheapest option” for future power needs. See the link below.
    https://www.redliontrader.com/pnm-modeling-shows-solar-power-good-economic-choice/

  • Bluestreak2k5

    While I agree that Solar is important, I completely disagree with the statements in #1 about how small reductions from other sources will not help.

    The US just hit 1994 levels and is on record to be the first country to hit the Kyoto reductions target of 1990 emissions level, even though we have never signed it. During the last 2 years we have seen a huge reduction in Coal use and large increase in Natural gas use, as well as 1-2% increase in national Wind/solar electric makeup.

    And they are doing studies on fracking wells pollution, so far nothing has come back with the massive pollution claims stated.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323981304579079400039800412.html

    We have very old Coal Power plants that emit about 2500-3,000 tons/MWH of CO2, while a average Natural Gas plant emits about 1100/MWH. China’s oldest Coal plants emit nearly 6000 tons per MWH. So to say that switching from Coal to Natural Gas will not help when we have already seen the effects of it, makes no sense.

    On top of that Natural Gas works perfectly with Wind and Solar as a spinup reserve that can come online within a few minutes to provide power when there is little solar or wind.

    • mds

      Really, you’re going to quote the WSJ here as a source to backup your position? No other source that might lend some actual credibility.
      They are not saying NG isn’t helping right now. They are saying it will not do enough to reduce CO2 levels causing AGW …IN THE LONG RUN. The graphs are clearly showing projected effects from start of power gen out to the end of the first century of use, long term.
      NG is being built right now, whether anyone likes this or not, because of obvious economics. This is cutting down on CO2 (unless accidental release from fractured geo-strata prove to be large) and is helping our economy. The latter is important to the renewable energy transition too. This will not continue on in the same way. NG is not as cheap anywhere else in the world and they will export it in the future. (Large company money dominates our politics: “Money talks; bs walks”.)
      The price will go up. There is a cyclic history of cost increases for NG. Before that happens cheap power storage, using several different technologies will hit the market. This combined with a continued drop in the cost of solar and wind mean we will not need NG in the fairly near future. …and since NG won’t give us the CO2 reductions we need…

  • JamesWimberley

    Myers has half a point on jobs. Green advocates talk these up, neglecting to point out that they are almost all in installation, hardly any in O & M. They depend on a continuing installation boom, a perfectly reasonable assumption for the next 20 years, but not an inherent feature of the technology. Germany has been losing jobs in solar after a policy-driven slowdown.

    Coal, in contrast, creates jobs for the whole life of a generating plant: in mines, on freight trains, in hospitals caring for respiratory disease and cancer, and in building massive flood defences round coastal cities.

    • Ivor O’Connor

      I think what you say about the jobs being almost all in installation is true. However is this not a good thing? Do we want to employ people doing worthless tasks?

    • mds

      Yes, most of the jobs are in installation, BUT there are jobs in R&D, sales, and manufacturing. …and what’s wrong with jobs in installation anyway?
      A couple of other points:
      1. In terms of solar boom, all we’ve seen so far is the tip of the iceberg. Globally, and in the USA, there are much better solar resources than in Germany. The build out will be much greater.
      2. After the boom (we aren’t there yet) it will slow down again, but there will continue to be installation solar jobs into the future, just like there continue to be framing jobs in the building sector. Solar installation jobs will be permanent additions to our economy at some significant level.
      3. A job doing solar installations is better for you future health than a coal mining job. …and you can be proud of helping to generate energy that does NOT cut down mountains, leave toxic tailings, put toxic chemicals in the air, and cause global warming.
      4. If you are a young person looking for a career in an area that will survive into the future during your lifetime you cannot do much better than solar. You could end up hiring onto the next Microsoft, in the energy sector this time. There are going to be some huge success stories.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Right now we’re rebuilding some (at least one) 30 year old wind farm. The old smaller, tired turbines are being taken down and replaced with taller, higher capacity turbines. Wind farms will probably continue to require refurbishing which will create jobs going forward.

        Solar panels, at some point, may get old enough to justify swapping out with new ones. If 18% panels are down to 80% after 40 years the farm owners may find it profitable to swap them out for much higher output panels and boost the income from the real estate and transmission investment.

        An installation boom? Sure. But jobs will endure, just at a lower level after the boom.

        (It’s likely a 30 year boom. Who knows what the world will be like in 30 years?)

    • Jake R

      Do installation jobs for coal, natural gas and nuclear count?

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Took me a lot of time to come up to speed with Myers and groups sponsoring him. Probably just touched the surface after looking at maybe 20 articles. Reading his wsj posts makes me want to heave. So much cherry picked inaccuracies that are not even self consistent with each other.

    This whole echo chamber of NY Times, Forbes, WSJ, FOX, says the most crazy things. The hatred they spew seems to attract their followers. On the ironic side wind and solar are making investors rich. So you have an internal war. The old nuclear and fossil fuel industries that are losing money versus the new wind and solar making money. The writing is on the wall. I’m now more curious to see how they manage the pivot.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Well put. Frankly, it’s not what I enjoy doing.

  • exdent11

    Zachary,
    One thing I would like to see is a discussion of the cost and effect on climate change of removing CO2 from utilities burning nat gas. I’ve read it can be done using CCS technologies and common sense would conclude it would be less complicated and less expensive than for coal. As a transition fuel until renewables can realistically fill the gap,why don’t environmental organizations push for a results that bends your graph on gas to something approaching solar?

    • Ivor O’Connor

      CCS is a myth.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Southern Company is building a coal CCS plant in Alabama.

        Affordable coal with CCS is more likely the myth.

        • Ivor O’Connor

          Technically you are correct but, well, seriously…

          It would be fun in a sadistic way to force CCS on these plants that have been saying for years it is a viable option.

  • tmac1

    Zachary read the original article and the readers response . So many detail their own rooftop solar success stories.

    Regarding subsidies:
    The idea of a subsidy as you point out is to encourage something society values. Tax credits for raising children, interest on mortgages, generation of non polluting electricity that negates the need for power line upgrades and new power plants being built……these are all examples of decisions made to encourage what a majority has felt to be important. We could decide to get rid of any or all of these.

    Of course the need for subsidies is going down as cost of solar plummets. California used to have $4.00 per watt 10 years ago it has fallen to around $1.00 per watt as solar prices have fallen. (Why oil and coal still need special treatment I do not understand)

    As you and others point out, peaking power is VERY expensive and this is where cheap solar ‘shines’ !

  • WPCGreen

    Thanks for commenting on my piece. Sorry that you did not link to the original article, which you can read here: http://blogs.wsj.com/experts/2013/09/23/stop-subsidizing-solar-power/

    I will address many of the points you make elsewhere (and link back), but two points should be made here.

    First, you link to other groups who make claims about our position on climate change but you don’t, strangely, actually link to us. As a result, you snark “One of the most consistent mistakes people like Todd make is neglecting to care about the externalities that come with fossil fuels.” Some simple research would show that is totally incorrect.

    For our position on climate change and our support of a carbon tax, you can read another piece on the WSJ where I wrote “The smart, flexible approach is a carbon price combined with tax cuts and elimination of costly and ineffective regulation.” In fact, Washington governor Jay Inslee, called the “greenest governor in the country” by environmentalists, included one of our proposals in his climate legislation this year.

    Second, you imply that solar costs are comparable to other sources of energy. Then you post a graphic demonstrating that it takes more labor to generate solar energy than other types of energy. This graphic, however, demonstrates that costs are higher than natural gas and wind. It undermines your basic claim about lower costs. Labor is not the only input, but arguing that solar manufacturers have to spend more on labor doesn’t exactly argue that solar is inexpensive.

    I’ve seen this graphic before and it is emblematic of the silliness of the debate about “green” energy. Ultimately, creating jobs is easy. For example, we could create more agriculture jobs by banning tractors. Solar requires more labor because it is less efficient. My suggestion is that we put people on bicycles — it would create 1,600 jobs as I demonstrate here: http://environmentblog.ncpa.org/how-is-creating-green-jobs-is-like-banning-tractors-to-create-farm-jobs/ They would be horrible, low-paying jobs, but there would be a lot of ‘em.
    Those who truly care about reducing carbon emissions work to ensure we get the greatest amount of carbon reduction for every dollar we spend. By any estimate, solar is one of the least effective at cutting carbon emissions and it shows how powerful the image of green has become, overriding the actual science and economics of effective environmentalism.

    I will provide a link to additional thoughts (for example, why Myhrvold’s comment that we will need other sources of energy sometime “this century” says nothing about solar’s viability today) later.

    • Bob_Wallace

      You’re actually willing to admit that you wrote that? In public?

      Here’s a bit of your wisdom…

      ” Two years ago, NY Times columnist Paul Krugman put it simply: “That’s
      right: Solar power is now cost-effective.” He was wrong then and is
      wrong today. Solar energy is not close to being cost effective for
      consumers or for the environment.”

      Perhaps you don’t realize that utility scale solar is now cheaper than new coal with carbon capture or new nuclear.

      Perhaps you don’t know that residential solar in several markets is cheaper than grid power.

      “Solar energy is one of the worst ways to reduce carbon emissions. McKinsey and Company’s analysis found that nuclear, wind and even coal with carbon capture are more effective.”

      “Worst” is in the eye of the distorter. The lifetime carbon footprint for PV solar is very similar to that of wind and nuclear. All three are so far below coal that the difference between them is of no significance.

      “Then why is solar popular? Huge taxpayer subsidies hide the actual cost.”

      Huge taxpayer subsidies? Are you not aware of the massive subsidies fossil fuels and nuclear energy have received? Would you like some numbers?

      “A new study co-authored by William Nordhaus, a man Krugman calls a
      “mentor,” noted how ineffective subsides are, saying “very little if any
      GHG reductions are achieved at substantial cost.””

      The average coal-fired power plant in the US releases nearly 1,800 pounds of CO2 per Megawatt hour (MWh). The average solar panel releases 0 pounds of CO2 per MWh.

      I’m sorry. You published a page of Fail.

      • JamesWimberley

        Great response! But what can you expect from a WSJ journalist employed by Rupert Murdoch?
        Notice the nice touch of comparing solar’s lifetime carbon emissions with coal + CCS, which does not actually exist. Thorium reactors and high-altitude power kites are even better!

        • WPCGreen

          I’m not employed by the WSJ. The comparison to coal + CCS comes not from me but from the Energy Information Administration.

          Other than that, your comment is accurate.

      • WPCGreen

        “You’re actually willing to admit that you wrote that? In public?”

        Oh, snap! Attitude, however, doesn’t substitute for reality.

        You claim “The lifetime carbon footprint for PV solar is very similar to that of wind and nuclear.” Do you have any data to back this up? I provided links from McKinsey, Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Energy Information Administration.

        “Perhaps you don’t know that residential solar in several markets is cheaper than grid power.”

        This is simply false. Unsubsidized residential solar is not cheaper in any market. If solar was comparable in price, it wouldn’t need such enormous subsidies. You can’t claim it doesn’t need subsidies and then demand huge subsidies.
        True environmentalists emphasize polices that yield the greatest environmental benefit for the dollar. Phony environmentalists substitute personal attacks for data, supporting sexy but failed technologies over effective approaches to carbon reduction.
        Do you care about effectiveness or attitude?

        • Bob_Wallace

          Backup data for lifetime carbon footprints –

          “A 2008 meta-analysis of 103 scientific studies determined that the value of CO2 emissions for nuclear power over the lifecycle of a plant was 66.08 g/kWh, based on the mean value of all the 103 studies.

          Comparative results for wind power, hydroelectricity, solar thermal power, and solar photovoltaic were 9-10 g/kWh, 10-13 g/kWh, 13 g/kWh and 32 g/kWh respectively.

          This study which comprises a full life cycle assessment (LCA) and energy analysis of the technical/industrial system which enables the generation of electricity from uranium apparently comes to the conclusion that nuclear energy creates more CO2 emissions than coal.

          http://www.nirs.org/climate/background/sovacool_nuclear_ghg.pdf

          “This is simply false. Unsubsidized residential solar is not cheaper in any market.”

          OK, end of Q2, 2013 the unsubsidized average price for residential solar in the US was $4.81/Watt. With Hawaii’s 6 avg solar hours per day it would mean electricity at 16.3c against grid costs of 36.6c/kWh.

          In SoCal with 5.5 ave hours it would be 17.7c/kWh which is lower than what average costs are running in places like San Diego.

          BTW, solar is being installed for less than the national average in SoCal. It’s a more mature, competitive market.

          “Do you care about effectiveness or attitude?”

          I care tremendously about effectiveness. That’s why I pushed back so hard against your page of misinformation.

          • WPCGreen

            First, I will go with a 2013 EIA study over a 2008 study of studies. Second, your study does not address cost. Only CO2/kWh. The key is what it costs to generate a kWh. For example, your study makes thermal solar look competitive. Every study says it is even more costly than PV solar.

            Your study also seems to prove my point. I argue that solar is the “worst way to cut carbon emissions.” Your study shows solar PV emits more CO2 on a lifecycle basis (32 g/kWh) than wind (10 g/kWh) or hydro (13 g/kWh). That is what I am arguing.

            Lastly, your price data ignores the value of the PTC and other subsidies. But, let’s say you are correct. Then you should have no problem moving unnecessary subsidies for solar to other environmental projects that can produce CO2 reduction. You cannot simultaneously argue solar doesn’t need subsidies and then demand to protect subsidies.
            The only argument you can make is that we need to do everything: effective and stupid alike. That, however, is a waste of limited resources that could make a difference. If you care, you should demand results, not dreams.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Please point me to your 2013 EIA lifetime carbon footprint study. (Don’t bother pointing me to the 2013 EIA projected cost of electricity in 2018. It’s badly flawed.)

            Yes, solar PV has a slightly higher lifetime CO2 cycle than wind or hydro. I use “slightly” because I am using the numbers in relation to coal, not to each other.

            Ideally we’d replace coal with wind, based on both lifetime CO2 and current price. But we have a bit of a problem with delivery times for wind. It blows a lot less during the daytime. And that means we’d have to store it, adding to both cost and CO2.

            Hydro would be a great replacement. Good cost (for already paid off dams) and can produce in the middle of the day. Problem is, we’ve dammed to many river already. (Salmon, remember them?)

            So what does that leave us to supply our midday peak for the best cost and lowest CO2 footprint?

            Certainly not nuclear. It’s too expensive.

            How about solar? A relatively low CO2 footprint and a rapidly dropping cost. In the West solar is being sold on long term PPAs for 10c/kWh (when you tease out the subsidies).

            We are installing utility scale solar in the US for about $2/watt. Europe is installing for about $1.50. China is installing for about $1/watt. We can certainly catch up with Europe’s price fairly soon, historically we lag them 2-3 years. A few year later we should be at China’s current price, especially since the panel industry is stating further cost drops over the short term.

            Where does that leave us? $1/watt means 5c (SW) to 7c (NE) electricity. Low carbon footprint. Electricity delivered in the middle of the day when demand is highest.

            Now, should we stop subsidizing solar? What would be best would be to switch to a FiT system which has been so successful in Europe and brought their prices down so rapidly. But we couldn’t get that through the House Republicans.

            So how about we stick with subsidizing solar for a few more years? I think the program runs out in 2018 and by then solar should be a few cents cheaper and very competitive.

            Of course we could stop subsidizing solar and waste some more money on nuclear. We’ve tossed many more times as much as solar and wind in the nuclear maw and its price keeps going up and up and up….

            Don’t you live in Seattle? Lots of wind and hydro in that part of the world.

            When the Sun shows its face Seattleites party in the street.

            Perhaps you lack a proper appreciation for the strength of the Sun….

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Do you really think Todd Myers (WPCGreen) will ever change his troll pieces? Remember he makes his money and career off “think tanks” profiting from him trolling RE FUD. And though RE portfolios have been doing much better than almost anything else on the market there are no RE based political organizations willing to pay writers like him. So he has nothing to gain. And his existing audience rarely fact checks. As long as he writes something “definitive” that allow them to sneer and hate he’s in the green…

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m starting to look at some of his other work. There’s this one –

            The Biggest Misconceptions People Have About Renewable Energy

            http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304213904579093702011171762.html?KEYWORDS=todd+myers

            It’s kind of a chop suey of good, stupid, and wrong. Good statement on the price of wind by Ritter. A bit of “look how foolish I can be” from Whitman, and Todd’s own acceptance of the flawed 2018 EIA projections.

          • Bob_Wallace

            There’s this one –

            The Free Market Is the Best Generator of Energy Efficiency

            http://blogs.wsj.com/experts/2013/09/25/the-free-market-is-the-best-generator-of-energy-efficiency/?KEYWORDS=todd+myers

            Which is a Wonder Bread/air sandwich.

            There’s no there there. Of course the market will work to drive efficiency. Savings flow to the bottom line.

            But the market generally does not invest in things with long term payoff. That’s why we use public funds to do the heavy lifting.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            That’s the piece I alluded to this morning when I wrote:

            “So you have an internal war. (As can be seen by simply looking at the wsj’s panel of experts.) The old nuclear and fossil fuel industries that are losing money versus the new wind and solar making money.”

          • Bob_Wallace

            The WSJ panel is just a collection of talking heads making disconnected statements.

            It’s not a panel of knowledgeable people getting together to share ideas, review facts, and make a meaningful statement.

            Look at Whitman’s expert contribution. The Sun doesn’t shine all the time and the wind doesn’t blow all the time. They could have gotten that much expertise from a kindergartener.

            And Todd seemingly hasn’t been able to incorporate two wildly disparate wind prices he’s published. In one place he’s got someone stating that wind is being sold for 3c/kWh and at the same time he uses the EIA prediction that wind will cost more than 8c/kWh in 2018.

          • Bob_Wallace

            On this page Todd demonstrates that he isn’t keeping up with climate science…

            http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303759604579095760652498736.html?KEYWORDS=todd+myers

            “The consensus among scientists is that humans “contribute to,” not cause, global warming. Temperatures began rising, and glaciers receding,in about 1860, long before CO2 emissions from human activity had any impact.”

            (Glacier melt. Soot, Todd, soot. Recall when the Industrial Revolution began?)

            (We have measured human produced GHG warming going back 2,000 years. We started cranking up the temp when we began farming rice. Not a lot of rise, but measurable.)

            (Human’s get 100% credit. Were it not for human activity the Earth’s temperature would have almost certainly continued to cool.)

            Then he goes on to talk about how regulations aren’t a good way to deal with climate change, that a price on carbon would be better.

            On that, I sort of agree with him.

            But then he goes on to state that due to Republican opposition we are unlikely to place a price on carbon.

            But regulations are still bad, even if they are the tool we have. I guess he’s got that “Perfect, or nothing” problem we see in some people.

          • WPCGreen

            Read the IPCC report released Friday. They do not say humans get 100% credit. They write “Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean.”

            “Influence,” not cause.

            They say this influence is greatest “since the mid-20th century.” Blaming what happened in 1860 on humans is contrary to the IPCC report.

            You are a science denier.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Any chance that you realize that the IPCC report is more of a political document than a scientific one? (Probably not.)

            Every single word in that document has to be signed off on by 116 countries. That means that the IPCC report reflects the most conservative viewpoint.

            “Cause” is what the science says. There’s small discussion over whether it is a bit less than 100% or 100%. The problem for those who hold out for less than 100% is that they cannot identify anything which might account for that bit of warming.

          • WPCGreen

            Other deniers have made that same argument.

            “This is a political document, not a scientific report, and it is a shining example of the corruption of science for political gain. The media has failed to report that the IPCC Summary for Policymakers was not approved by scientists but by UN political delegates and bureaucrats.” – Sen. James Inhofe, 2007

          • Bob_Wallace

            You’re really twisted, guy.

          • WPCGreen

            Here’s an even clearer line from the IPCC report on the human influence: “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.” Not 100%. Again, read the science.

          • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

            yep, exactly what i thought when i read that one (before the one referenced above). i just decided to ignore that one.

          • mds

            Yep, “money talks, bs walks” is the expression I learn for this sort of dis-informational operation by Rupert Murdock at WSJ.
            I think the expression should be “he’s in the black…” fits better too. These people have black coats, black hats, and they’re evil. Maybe they’ll admit smoking causes cancer. Only if they get cancer themselves and even then it’s a maybe.

        • Bob_Wallace

          OK, I downloaded and read your Bloomberg link.

          It is not a carbon footprint/MWh analysis but a cost analysis for reducing carbon.

          It was published in January 2010 which means that it was using 2009 numbers.

          They are using pre-2009 cost numbers for nuclear which are totally non-operative today. They are underestimating the cost of new nuclear by 20-40%. (Perhaps more.)

          They are using a LCOE for wind of 7c/kWh when current selling price is ~5c.

          I don’t find the price they used for solar, but solar has fallen at least 50% since 2008. Average US installed solar prices fell 31.5% between Q2, 2011 and Q2, 2013.

          Bad data source. Stale.

        • mds

          “This is simply false. Unsubsidized residential solar is not cheaper in any market.”

          No your statement is false.

          Fact: Residential solar is less than half the price of end-of-grid in Hawaii.

          Fact: Residential solar is less than half the price of end-of-grid in Australia.

          Fact: Solar is now being installed without subsidies in Chile, simply because it is the cheapest alternative.

          Fact: Solar is cheaper than peak electricity in some areas of Southern California that have tiered rates.

          There are other examples.
          You are a liar or a moron. No attitude, just the facts.

          The most important fact of all: SOLAR IS STILL GETTING CHEAPER. Nuclear is getting more expensive. It does not take a genius to decide correctly between them.
          Rupert Murdock, the WSJ, and yourself are looking in the rearview mirror. Myself and my children are heading to a better future. Your dis-informational campaign will not succeed, sorry.

    • mds

      Please explain this to me:

      http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/SunPower-CEO-Tom-Werner-on-70MW-of-Merchant-Solar-in-Chile

      They are planning to install solar in Chile with NO subsidies and NO power purchase agreement (PPA). How can this be when you say solar is always more expensive than other alternatives? Oh, I’m so confused!
      …and solar keeps getting cheaper…
      …and nuclear keeps getting more expensive…
      (How do you insure a plant that is so safe nothing can go wrong, except when it suddenly turns a good size area into a toxic wasteland that will stay that way for many many generations? Maybe WSJ would like to back my new Nuke Insurance Co.? I’ll be working on commissions. You’ll be company owners and we will tie the company to personal liability of the owners, ok? You can, you know, put your money where your mouth is? No? Not interested?)

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      3 things:

      1- you focus on the subsidies given to solar in your piece, but you don’t mention the subsidies given to other energy sources, including externalities. it’s completely unbalanced. if you take these into account elsewhere, that doesn’t make up for the lack of balance here.

      2- yes, you rightfully note here eventually that labor cost is not the same as total cost, yet you spend a lot of time talking about how labor cost is higher for solar. that is actually good for our economy. and it’s good that a huge portion of the cost of fossil fuels (fuel) is free and local when it comes to solar. the important thing is to look at total cost, and also the value of the electricity. when you do, solar starts to look very competitive.

      3- back to cost, with subsidies, a solar power plant in Arizona is to sell electricity for 5.8 c/kWh. with subsidies, about 10.5 c/kWh. coal would be 10-14 c/kWh with subsides or 19-41 c/kWh without subsidies. natural gas — highly debatable. wind — cheaper, but is actually a great complement to solar, more than a competitor.

      Furthermore, still, you ignore the point of subsidies — to drive down technology costs. This is working extremely well with solar power.

      • WPCGreen

        The Energy Information Administration, McKinsey and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (all of whom are linked in my article) show that even when you get “free” fuel from the sun, solar is still far more expensive. It has high labor and material costs. All three of those studies also account for externalities.

        Finally, solar advocates always says it is comparable in price, then they immediately demand subsidies. If solar was the same price, it wouldn’t need subsidies.
        Either you care about getting the maximum CO2 reduction for the dollar or you don’t. No independent study says solar comes close to other forms of renewables. Claims otherwise are based on wishful, but unscientific, thinking.

        • Bob_Wallace

          That’s just whacky. I don’t care what the EIA, McKinsey or Bloomberg say, when wind is being contracted all over the country for 4c/kWh and solar is being contracted in the SW for 5c/kWh there’s no way that anyone could bring new coal or new nuclear on line at a competitive price.

          If you’re looking at the EIA’s 2018 predictions for wind (8.7c/kWh) and solar (14.4c/kWh) when prices are running half as much in 2013 do you not realize that something is wrong with their numbers?

          Take out the subsidies. Add back in 1.15 c/kWh (10 years of 2.3c/kWh PTC over a 20 year contract). That makes wind 5c and solar 6c. And those prices include real estate costs, taxes, and owner profits which are not included in the EIA 8.7c and 14.4c estimates.

          Come on guy. You made a huge mistake. Now it’s time to take on new information and straighten out your thinking.

  • Matt

    Ok it has hurt my head every time I see this chart. What the hey happened in the 90s? Why so flat? Look at 89 and 99 look almost the same.

    • RobS

      Demand growth outstripped supply for both panels but more importantly silicon feedstocks, the price of silicon spiked enormously. The effect was to stall further price falls until supply could catch up with demand again.

      • Shiggity

        The German FiT program is what made solar explode. It started in 2001 and caught on with the 2000s boom until 2008. After that solar got close enough in price to fossil fuels where it could start competing in very sunny regions with high electricity. Now it’s snowballing.

  • jburt56

    Myers should take up twerking.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      HAHA :D

      • jburt56

        He would probably fail at twerking but he would be better at that than he is on alternative energy analysis. I think solar is beginning to freak them out because they realize it is the Götterdämmerung of carbon.

        • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

          At least that would be fun to watch. :D

          • jburt56

            Brunnhilde’s Immolation Scene–

  • Senlac

    Great job Zackary. I think the proper response from me in Wingnut language would be “dido” lol. Especially the that fact that solar, A: generates energy at peek time / peek prices and enhance is more valuable (In electrical generation timing is everything!), and B: rooftop solar is local and avoids the large efficiency losses of electricity from the grid, and should be compared accordingly (maybe a 10-30% discount depending on the grid).

    The bottom line is carbon energy is only going to get more expensive over time, and renewable technologies, like semiconductors and other disruptive technologies, will only become more efficient and less expensive over time. The more we use it the better it gets and the less it costs.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I think you’re a bit high on your grid efficiency numbers. Most of the loss is at the local/distribution level, much less at the transmission levels. Together they add up to something under 10%, IIRC.

      • Senlac

        Transmissions losses are as you say probably less than 10%. But I was also referring to the fact the at lot of our energy production is lost as waste in the grid. This is a complicated issue. I hear the grid overall wastes 30% of the energy fed into it.

        • Bob_Wallace

          How about digging up some facts? “I hear” is a risky basis for decision making.

          Sometimes, no…, quite often we hear things from the right-wing and pro-nuclear/coal industry media that are simply made up.

          • Senlac

            Here are some facts, like I said it is a complicated issue, but our old grid wastes lots of energy not just through transmissions loses.

            http://energyskeptic.com/2011/munson-edison-to-enron/

          • Bob_Wallace

            I don’t see what you’re seeing on that page.

            I see stuff about the inefficiency of coal generation. But generation is not part of the grid. The grid is transmission and distribution and the grid is about 97% efficient (and improving).

          • Senlac

            Interesting, 97% you say, where are your facts Bob? That to me seems to be a claim, although I buy the improving part because I know a lot of investment in smart grid technology is happening.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m sorry, that was a typo. 7% loss, 93% efficient.

            http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=105&t=3

          • Senlac

            Fair enough, but 93% on this old grid is very optimistic. A lot of stuff breaks needs repair. Maybe local generation with relatively short transmission loses are 93%.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, I’d suggest you search for some data that proves the EIA data incorrect.

            Data trumps feelings in my book….

          • Senlac

            OK no more argument on transmission :) But when I read about efficiency goals of 10% by 2015 and 20% by 2020 as mentioned in this ABB report, http://www.nema.org/Products/Documents/TDEnergyEff.pdf, transmission would be only a part of these goals, a smaller part at that, verse other elements like generation and usage.

          • Bob_Wallace

            20% efficiency improvements would mean that we could close half of our coal plants and not need to replace them.

            With the way solar and wind are ramping up we could get rid of coal in a few years. And then we can get to work getting rid of natural gas.

            “The United States is on the way to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, a U.S. government report said Thursday.

            Average U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2009 to 2011 fell to the lowest level for any three-year period since 1994-1996, said the 2014 U.S. Climate Action Report prepared by the State Department.

            The total U.S. emissions are projected to be 4.6 percent lower than 2005 levels, given implementation of programs and measures in place as of September 2012 and current economic projections, the report said.

            “The United States has already made significant progress, including doubling generation of electricity from wind and solar power and establishing historic new fuel economy standards,” the report said.

            In June, President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions to reduce carbon pollution, pledging to limit carbon emissions from the power sector and enhance action on energy efficiency and clean energy technologies.

            “Through the President’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. will take a multi-faceted, multi-sector approach to find opportunities across the economy to enhance efficiency and reduce harmful pollution,” said the report.”

            http://www.evwind.es/2013/09/27/u-s-says-to-meet-2020-carbon-emissions-target/36273

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Seniac, I “have heard” my entire life that grid losses are less than 10%. Now Bob here would have me doubt myself and want me to back it up with data so I did just that. It took less than 60 seconds.

            “Transmission and distribution losses in the USA were estimated at 6.6% in 1997[10] and 6.5% in 2007.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_power_transmission

            Now this old grid needs upgrading for sure. We need to move power from RE spots thousands of miles away. We need HVDC. And even though it will be moved thousands of miles the energy loss will probably still be less than 10%.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I don’t see us moving electricity thousands of miles. Right now our longest shipment, AFAIK, is from Oregon to SoCal. Less than two thousand.
            Moving Wyoming wind to SoCal would be about the same distance.

            I suspect as we develop offshore wind we’re going to supply our coasts from offshore rather than ship wind electricity from the Midwest. We’ve got better wind resources offshore and offshore the wind blows more during day times when demand is higher.

            IIRC, out of the 7% loss most of it is at the local distribution level. A lot of it due to electromechanical switching. As we swap in solid state controls we should see that loss drop. Also swapping out undersized transformer “cans” with solid state will be another energy saver.
            **

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Thanks.

  • walker

    All good points, Zachary. Also worth noting that Mr. Myers’ benchmark for low-cost energy generation was US$0.10 per kWh. Game on. Some California RAM solar projects hit that number on signed contracts in 2011. Wasn’t there a recent 80MW solar project in Palo Alto for $.069 per kWh? Those are also 20-year contracts, with no fuel cost risk. So solar does pretty well already at the register even excluding the externalities which, as you mention, should be included.

    • RobS

      This is key, as soon as you have to bring up externalities you have already effectively lost the argument even if you are correct because the argument gets so complicated about what to actually include, what portion of a problems cost to attribute to fossil fuel use, endless back and forwards debate. Once you can simply say, who cares about stinking externalities solar is now cheaper than coal on an upfront basis then the war is emminently more winnable.

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