Solar: Here It Comes

by: Karl Denninger

And yet another "told 'ya so!"

Long viewed as a remedy for the world's dependence on fossil fuels a fraud upon the public, the solar industry is dimming as makers of panels used to harness the sun continue to fall by the wayside.

There, fixed the lead sentence for 'ya...

There is still light on the industry's horizon. Electricity demand globally is set to rise over the next few years, as developing nations gobble up power and suffer from power-plant pollution—a problem that solar can help alleviate. And as technology advances and costs drop, solar-panel makers can supply power without a need for heavy government subsidies.


Look folks, solar is an interesting idea but it's not economically viable. It requires ridiculous amounts of land to be dedicated to it and it only works when the sun is shining (obviously), which isn't all of the time. Industry and personal users, on the other hand, would like electricity to be available any time the switch is thrown. This sets up a rather serious problem, and that's before we start talking about money, which is also an issue.

Solar has never been viable without government subsidy, and that is unlikely to change at any time in the near future. If and when it does it will rise all on its own without a need for anyone to hand out "free money."

But the numbers do not support any sort of mass-investment on this technology. Among other things manufacturing is energy intensive and creates a pollution problem. We've "solved" that by shoving it in the corner (in China), just like we have with so many other things, but in fact that's a public fraud as well.

I'll be interested in solar when it is cost-effective standing alone as a peaking source. There it might indeed, some day, be worthwhile. But the competition for peaking plants today is natural gas, which today is also quite cheap. It may not be tomorrow, but today it is.

As a base load source solar is next-to-worthless as it simply is unable to provide energy on a 24x7 basis, and that's what's required in that role. Whether or not we like it solar simply doesn't pass the economics test as a prime energy source -- and there's nothing that indicates that in the reasonably near future it will.

PS: The one place where solar does make sense is as a direct domestic hot water heating source, although a backup such as a conventional water heater is also required. This is economic if installed when the house is built or there is room for the required reconfiguration of the domestic hot water system at a reasonable cost -- which is usually (and sadly) not true in existing construction.