In Europe, Spain and Germany, whose populations bought into the 'subsidize legacy technology now and it will be cheaper later' myth, there is a backlash against solar power. Politicians are seeing the financial numbers through a prism of reality and cutting subsidies, which means big companies no longer see it as worthwhile.
The same thing is happening in America. While both Presidential candidates said wind power was terrific when they were sound-biting for votes, no one really believed it. America spent $72 billion on alternative energy in the last four years, a 14,000% increase, and all we got to show for it was bankruptcies and new tariffs on China - and China was the only part of the solar equation that made economic sense, so why Energy Secretary Stephen Chu declared we were in a 'race' with them over cheap solar panels is a mystery.
It's not that solar power is bad, solar power is clearly the future, it is just that our modern hubris - the 'if we throw enough money at it, it will work, because we are smarter than people 40 years ago' kind - is being tempered by the reality that we need more research, not more feel-good fallacies that cost taxpayers billions.
California touts its green energy, for example. While environmentalists block actual solar power plants, lots of expensive individual solar installations have gone up - because they are subsidized. Rather than spend money making older buildings more energy efficient, which has a guaranteed benefit in both emissions and money, California has instead given rebates and subsidies for businesses and homeowners and the state forces utilities to buy the electricity at full price. As I wrote in The 1% Love Solar Subsidies Paid By The Other 99%, it isn't right that the people of East LA are paying for solar power on 6,000 square foot homes in Malibu but the 'buy back' clause makes the problem even worse.
The people who can afford solar power love that power companies have to buy excess electricity from them - they are sticking it to The Man, even though if they have the $15,000 and up to spend on a solar installation in the first place they are The Man. But because energy in California is the special kind of hyper-regulated deregulation social authoritarians love, utilities have to sell it at the same price they buy it.
A transmission and distribution system that nobody has to pay for is an economic miracle. If you believe in miracles, then California government is for you. In the real world, customers are on the hook for an extra $1.3 billion in utility bills annually.
Christopher Martin and Mark Chediak at the San Francisco Chronicle note that San Diego Gas&Electric will be shifting about $200 million in annual costs to customers without panels. Solar customers "avoid charges, not just for energy, but also the costs of the transmission and distribution system. That's why we say it is not sustainable," Dan Skopec, vice president of regulatory affairs for San Diego's Sempra Energy, the utility's owner, told them.
Martin and Chediak say Pacific Gas & Electric will pass on about $700 million in annual costs to people without solar systems while Southern California Edison will hit people with about $400 million annually - $1.3 billion from just three utilities.
And every time a new installation goes onto a rooftop, the costs go higher.
To anyone who can do simple arithmetic - everyone more evidence-based than Paul Krugman, for example - the answer is simple. We need to clean up conflicting environmental regulations that block large-scale solar installations, stop unions from greenmailing green energy companies and stop putting the costs of legacy solutions on the backs of people who can least afford it. Solar power is going to get there, but it takes basic research and not lining the pockets of the wealthy today.
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