Clean Power

Published on October 21st, 2010 | by Guest Contributor


What if Solar Got the Same Subsidies as Coal?

October 21st, 2010 by  

This infograph below was created by our previous parent company, One Block Off the Grid Group Solar, a couple weeks ago. If you haven’t seen it yet, I think it is definitely worth a look. [Note: We are not affiliated with 1BOG in any way now, but we do continue to advertise the company, since we think it is such a good one, on our website.]


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  • Justine

    Our solutions need to be locally scaled, and locally owned and operated, and coupled with significant conservation measures. Even solar and wind become problematic when they are implemented on industrial scales such as mega wind farms or paving swaths of the desert with solar panels.

  • Anonymous

    Personal setups with Passive Solar homes, super-insulation, LED lighting Wind Turbines, Solar cell installatons, gardens, water conservation practices where necessary, modest buillding sizes, sustainable lifestyles, Einstein cycle Solar refrigeration, all, Off Grid, will survive anything, even the strangle hold China has on the U.S. dollar, the Banksters and their manipulations, drought, rain, floods, but is all this necessary? Ask yourself: Will the astounding Asian growth we see stop soon? Can the U.S. economy take many more hits? Will the Asians bid up the world proce of oil? Will the Corporatist continue to sell out America? Will the average American peon take it in the neck? Detroit City, now a Third World slum! Sold out! Factories, capital machinery patents proprietary secrets, even the blueprints, all in Asia now! Frightening times to be sure!

  • lg

    Since 2008 our consumption of energy has decreased. If the government invested in people’s homes by using solar/wind and fly wheel technology we would be better off. No pollution and no fuel cost. We could all get off the grid one day. Put the subsidy money to better use. Think smaller. Do away with the large corporate energy companies. Use our tax money to better our lives not the overbearing money hunger power companies. We pay way too much in subsides to them already and they have not put that money to the betterment of mankind. Pollution is still king and that’s sad. This is all done because of greed. No other reason because the technology has been there.

    • Anonymous

      Fully agree..

  • I was surprised that one of the most powerful nations in the world is ignoring the potential of solar energy. Going green, using solar and alternative energy, recycling is our future and needs to be subsidized.

  • Pingback: Cleantech Investment Sees Huge Increase, Creams Record in 2010 – CleanTechnica: Cleantech innovation news and views()

  • Derrick

    The other website posts a government projection of costs in 2016. They estimate that, subsidies aside, power from a new solar facility costs nearly twice as much as power from a new coal facility.

    The problem I’m having with that is the fact that the graph is only indicating costs for one year. Solar will very rapidly “catch up” to coal after that time. Coal, oil, and natural gas all depend on paying for fuel. Solar does not.

  • This post is seriously mis-representing the basic facts about solar and coal. Solar is more expensive than coal currently. You can find information on the relative costs of power sources all over the internet.

    If we are to have a meaningful discussion about this subject, we have to be using real facts. Vision of Earth has authored a response to this post which you can find at:

  • Solar is sure a good energy source. But concerning America I guess it is high time to invest in efficiency.

    Because, one of the main difference between Germany (and all other European countries) and America is the per capita energy consumption.

    Americans consume twice as much as energy as Europeans do. By investing massively on conservation, Americans would cut their coal consumption fast.

    As a matter of fact, it could be coal-free by 2030 :

  • David Coleman

    We’re way to much of a ignorant and arrogant bunch of idiots in this country to do something good for ourselves. That’s why we are as dependant on the rest of the world as we are. Not to mention we all want to be paid top dollar, but ever product we buy is the cheapest. We are Wal-Mart brainwashed morons. Like these guys that complain about the Mexicans coming to our country to harvest our food. No American will do the job unless we pay them auto industry union scale wages….oh but then we will want to complain because we pay $15.00 for 5Lbs of potatoes, or $2.00 for each onion….arrogence plain and simple.

    I’m as American as they come, red/white/blue, fought for my country, German/Welsh decent white guy, and ashamed as hell of where I live now as to our backward knuckleheaded policies of life. And all ya’ll that say…well go live somewhere else…..why because I won’t except the ignorant ideas of how this country is now run. Well maybe your right, I worked hard all my life, never drawn a dollar of unemployment, or welfare, or any other hand out…maybe I ought to. Because unless you’re getting a check on the side, or scamming someone, or getting paid more than I deserve, I just don’t fit in anymore RIGHT? Well luckily I’m getting old and all you young people will have to live with these wonderful traditions we have…..I’ll be sitting up beside Jesus watching you all on His big screen laughing my arse off. Good luck people….I wouldn’t change a thing….IF I WERE YOU!!!!!!

  • Christopher Childs

    Although we here in Minnesota are still at about 60% electricity-from-coal, the nation as a whole is now well below 50% — EIA has us at about 45% for 2009, _not_ the “over sixty percent” you cite. As a longtime solar advocate (and a solar homeowner), I appreciate this piece and want to use it, but this rather glaring error calls into question the accuracy of other numbers and requires me to backtrack on all of them before citing your work. What happened???

    • @Christopher, the infograph has sources listed for its data,.. but I hope you noted that we did not create the graph.. maybe your comments should be left on the site that originally created this infograph (link is in the article above)

      • Christopher Childs

        @Zachary, I left a similar comment on the 1BOG site and it seems to have disappeared… either they’re still digesting it, or they’ve taken unintended offense. I’ve also backtracked most of the listed sources and they’re only partially helpful — for example, although I’d love to accept the 14%/100% comparison graphic, I haven’t found anything in the listed references that directly pertains to those numbers. I’ll keep looking. But the 60% electricity-from-coal number is just flat wrong, as can be seen in the EIA’s “U.S. Coal Supply and Demand Review”at .

  • Michael Gray

    Do you have the same info for WIND???? We would like to show that to citizens that have been intentially mis informed by the COAL Lobby!! The sooner I can ge the info the better. There is a huge meeting in Idaho on 10/27… I would like to use that info at that meeting…

    Thank you for your prompt attention to this request

    • @Michael: unfortunately, we didn’t make this, a solar company did. have not seen the same for wind.

  • Neko

    I followed Bill’s analysis since he speaks my language. The most overlooked factor is the 20% capacity factor for solar. Solar PV without storage can contribute at most 20% to our electrical energy needs so we need a mixed power source solution. Unfortunately the cost of PV solar with subs begins to work at $0.30 / kwhr and Germany’s cost is close to $0.40 per kwhr. for solar price

    My concern is when we get to 20% solar level the additional subs will be needed for solar with storage and the result is higher energy costs particularly when using feedin tariff structures. But I am assuming the cost subs include tariffs…

    • Mark S

      Keep in mind that SolarBuzz $0.30 / kwhr estimate is based off of unsubsidized, retail single panel pricing average. And the price swing on panels is dramatic.

      “The lowest retail price for a multicrystalline silicon solar module is $1.97 per watt”

      But the average (which is what the $0.30 kwhr is based on) is $3.59 per watt.

      Again, that is for unsubsidized, single panel pricing.

  • Frank Hanlan

    Doesn’t all the extra costs to health care caused by the mining, processing and burning of coal count as a subsidy?

  • What….??
    These are enormous figures…for the energy generation..
    I’ll surely vote for subsidizing solar anywhere in the world..

  • Thanks for the multiple attempts Bill!

    Whether not it pencils out, shifting to energy sources that reduce the impact on the earth, the communities that surround where it happens, and ultimately, the pocketbooks of people when it becomes unmanageably expensive, is a good way to go, in my book.

  • Bill Woods

    Generation from fossil fuels (2005–09): 14,447

    Fossil fuel subsidy: $72 billion -> 0.5 ¢/

    Generation from solar is buried in the 556 of “Other Renewables”, so estimating:
    10 GW [gross overestimate] * 5 yr * 0.2 capacity factor * 8766 hr/yr >1 ¢kW/hr

    If solar were reduced to the same level of subsidies as fossil fuel, there wouldn’t be much interest in solar. There isn’t much *now*; utilities are buying solar to comply with renewable energy mandates, not because it’s cost-effective.

    • Bill Woods

      Grr. lost something:

      10 GW [gross overestimate] * 5 yr * 0.2 capacity factor * 8766 hr/yr >1 ¢kW/hr

      • Solar thermal power plant with molten salt heat storage can get much higher capacity factors than you are showing for solar in general. According to NREL, parabolic solar trough plants with heat storage of (between 4-6 hours, I forget the exact #) have a 50% capacity factor. Power tower plants, like Brightsource and eSolar build, can have capacity factors of 70%. There are about 1000 GW generating capacity potential for solar thermal in the southwest, using a tiny fraction of the available and suitable land.

        If you add the subsidies for fossil fuels to the externalized costs of fossil fuels, the real comparison could be made with solar.

    • Bill Woods

      [3rd try]

      10 GW [gross overestimate] * 5 yr * 0.2 capacity factor * 8766 hr/yr = less than 100

      Solar subsidy: $1 billion -> >1 ¢kW/hr

    • Bill, you’re missing the point. If solar got the same dollar amount of subsidies as fossil fuels for a few years the massive increase in demand would drop the price to below that of coal. Home owners, business owners and utilities would then be economically driven to use it.

      When unsubsidized grid parity is reached, guess what, you can stop the subsidies. When will the coal subsidies stop?

      Every form of energy in mass use in the US has been heavily subsidized by the government.

      No one is arguing that solar will start out cheaper than coal. Coal has been subsidized heavily by the government for decades (a century?). Do you really expect a new (comparatively) energy technology to become cheaper than the incumbent technology if it only gets a fraction of the subsides over a much shorter time period?

      Lets get serious about solar. Get people out of mines and onto roof tops. Switch from a finite, dirty fuel, to a clean limitless one.

      If we spent $50 billion a year on solar for a decade it would hit grid parity with ease. After that cut coal and solar subsides from the federal budget and let the market do the rest. Or we can spend trillions on coal subsidies over the coming decades, destroy the environment and leave our grandkids with an energy crisis.

    • Mark S


      If solar got the same help from the government as coal, it would become cheaper than coal and save people money.

      Bill Woods:
      Solar is not cheaper than coal now, so we shouldn’t invest in it.

      Me: Bill, did you even read the article?

      • @Mark S: Thank You 😀

      • Bill Woods

        Did you read my comment, mangled though it was? My point wasn’t that the cost of solar is higher than coal, but that the cost of solar *subsidies* is already greater than coal subsidies — per unit of energy produced. The total amount is only smaller because solar is still a miniscule fraction of total electricity production.

        By the way, the headline figure of $72 billion looks pretty dubious:
        “First thing to note is that almost none ELI’s alleged subsidies deal with coal electricity (and with those that do the link is very dubious — but I won’t challenge this). Going through every item in their report, an upper bound of $9,961 million of it can be linked to coal electricity at all — the rest being unambiguously oil/gas or some synthetic transport fuel.”

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