5 years ago
August 14, 2017
The Solar Energy Fraud
By Norman Rogers
Solar energy is not always a fraud. If you live off the electric grid, and
you have a reasonable amount of sunshine, solar power, backed up by
batteries, can be a good option for getting a modest amount of electricity.
It will not be cheap electricity.
Solar is good for powering equipment in remote locations. It is excellent
for powering spacecraft. It is good for direct heating of swimming pools.
Passive solar in the form of buildings designed to utilize sunshine for
warmth and light can save energy.
But, do not think that it is advisable to put solar electricity panels on
your roof. Do not think that it is a good idea for your local utility to
build large solar generating farms. Political influence has created
subsidies and mandates that prop up the solar industry. The money is
extracted from taxpayers and utility customers. The solar industry positions
itself as doing a public service by preventing climate change. Even if you
believe the climate change theories, the solar industry is a negligible
force against climate change.
Utility scale solar in the sunniest climates can generate electricity for
about 7 cents per kilowatt hour (KWh). Outside of the sunny south the cost
is about 9 cents per KWh. Most of the cost is capital cost, amortized over
the life of the plant. Government subsides often cut the price in half for
users of solar electricity.
Residential rooftop solar, under the best conditions, may generate
electricity for about 15 cents per KWh. Usually the cost will be
lives in a sunny climate.
A fundamental error is to suppose that if solar could generate electricity
at a cost equal to conventional generators it would be competitive. The
leading type of conventional generator is combined cycle natural gas. These
plants can generate electricity at a cost approaching 3.6 cents per KWh, or
2 to 3 times cheaper than solar. In order to be competitive, solar has to
generate power not just cheaper than the alternative, but, as will be
explained, cheaper than the fuel consumed by the alternative.
Solar is undependable. It does not work on cloudy days or at night. It stops
working if a cloud passes in front of the sun. Yuma, Arizona, is the
sunniest city in the U.S. Even in Yuma, there are 50 cloudy days and 365
dark nights a year.
Adding solar to the electric grid does not displace conventional generating
plants. Those plants are still there. They just work a little less, sitting
idle when solar is working. The only money solar saves is the fuel that
would have been consumed by the plants that are idle because solar is
generating electricity. Natural gas plants, or coal plants, consume 2-3
cents worth of fuel per KWh. Nuclear plants consume 0.4 cent per KWh and
solar has to compete with natural gas plants, the dominant alternative to
solar. Unless the total cost of utility-scale solar is about 3 cents per
KWh, instead of 7 to 9 cents, it is not going to be competitive with gas.
The less-efficient gas plants consume about 3 cents worth of fuel per KWh of
Residential rooftop solar electricity costs 15 cents, and usually
considerably more, per KWh. The electricity generated displaces power from
the grid. If the solar power generated exceeds household consumption, the
electricity is exported into the grid. Some electric meters may actually run
backwards if electricity is being exported. In other cases the metering will
measure both grid and solar electricity and payments will be made according
to a prearranged formula.
If markets were not distorted by political influence, rooftop solar would
hardly ever be competitive. But political subsidies and artificially high
electricity prices make rooftop solar competitive in many places. For
example, in California, many owners of large homes are charged over 40 cents
competitive for those owners of large houses.
Just as in utility scale installations, the true value of rooftop solar
electricity is the cost of fuel consumption avoided when the solar is
operating. The result is that the utility is often effectively forced to pay
retail rates, typically about 13 cents per KWh, for electricity whose true
value is about 3 cents per KWh. The owner of the rooftop solar also loses
money unless his retail rate is in excess of the 15-cent, or more, cost per
The organization, Environment America, has published a report: Shining
Rewards The Value of Rooftop Solar Power for Consumers and Society. This
report reviews 11 other reports by solar advocates and utilities that
attempt to calculate the value of rooftop solar to society. The 11 reports
assign a value from a low of 3.5 cents per KWh to a high of 33 cents per
KWh. This wide variation in the value of solar surely indicates that solid
accounting methodology is absent. All the reports by advocates of rooftop
solar found that the value of the electricity to society was greater than
the current retail price of electricity. The three reports from utilities
found the opposite.
How do the advocates of solar assign a value to society? It is a rather
nebulous idea that rooftop solar has a value separate and greater than its
actual economic value. A favorite trick is assigning a social value to CO2
emissions avoided. This is a highly speculative and subjective benefit.
Another trick is to assume that new grid investment can be avoided or
deferred because the solar is present. But on cloudy days, to say nothing of
night, solar is not present, so how can investment in grid infrastructure be
The point of these studies is to make a case that the economic waste of
solar is justified. Once one starts claiming that a dubious climate disaster
ideology, the door is opened to justifying any green foolishness one can
climate disaster. The exact nature of the climate disaster keeps shifting.
It was global warming and that morphed into extreme weather. Global warming
did not work out because the globe stopped warming 18 years ago. Extreme
weather is a better disaster, because nature is always providing extreme
weather that can be blamed on CO2. The recent California drought that turned
into the California flood is a perfect example.
If the believers in the climate cult were logical, they would be promoting
nuclear power. Nuclear power is reliable, does not emit CO2, and has great
prospects for technological advance. Some of the cultists are promoting
nuclear power, but most have an anti-nuclear phobia left over from the
anti-nuclear power movement of the 1970s and '80s. Most of the cultists are
promoting solar and wind power, even though these forms of power can never
dominate the power grid and provide reliable and economic electricity.