7 impressive solar energy facts (+ charts)

Zachary Shahan

How solar power has changed over the last 10 years

Solar power is in a tremendously different place today than it was in 10 years ago. Below are a handful of impressive stats about solar power’s growth, as well as some general stats about solar energy potential that are also quite noteworthy.

1. Even yearly energy potential from sunshine dwarfs total energy potential from any other source.

The annual energy potential from solar energy is 23,000 TWy. Energy potential from total recoverable reserves of coal is 900 TWy. For petroleum, it’s 240 TWy; and for natural gas, it’s 215 TWy. Wind energy’s yearly energy potential is 25–70 TWy.

[Source: A Fundamental Look at Energy Reserves for the Planet]

2. Approximately 66% of installed world solar PV power capacity has been installed in the past 2½ years.

Furthermore, total installed capacity is projected to double in the coming 2½ years.

[Source: GTM Research]

3. Global solar PV power capacity grew from about 2.2 GW in 2002 to 100 GW in 2012.

From 2007 to 2012, it grew 10 times over, from 10 GW to 100 GW.

[Source: Renewables 2013 Global Status Report]

4. There are now about 1.36 million jobs in the global solar PV industry.

There are also about 892,000 in the solar heating & cooling industry.

[Source: Renewables 2013 Global Status Report]

5. Germany accounted for nearly one third of global solar PV capacity at the end of 2012.

Italy (16%) and Germany (32%) combined accounted for nearly half of global solar PV capacity.

[Source: Renewables 2013 Global Status Report]

6. The price of solar PV panels dropped about 100 times over from 1977 to 2012.

Since 2008, the price of solar PV panels has dropped about 80%.

[Data Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance / Chart Source: Cost of Solar/Unknown]

7. The sunshine hitting Texas in one month contains more energy than all the oil and gas ever pumped out of the state.

Nonetheless, New Jersey has about 10 times more solar PV power capacity installed than the entire state of Texas.

[Data Source: SEIA / Image Source: 1Sun4All.com]

Those are some of the most impressive solar energy facts and charts I’ve seen, but please let us know if there are some big ones you think I’m missing.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Zachary Shahan, editor of CleanTechnica and Planetsave. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of ABB or its employees.

About the author

Zachary Shahan

I'm the director of the CleanTechnica and Planetsave news sites. I've been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and I've been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. I'm also the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity.
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  • Alice the Malice

    Solar power is indeed a hugely inspiring technology in my view: Free and renewable (fuel), plummeting technology costs (as shown in your graph above).. I believe solar will one day power a huge share of our energy needs... once we've decided to take that route! Check comment by Gavin Montgomery in the following blog to see how one company is looking to build a solar-strip around the equator of the moon! https://openminds.swissre.com/stories/527/ Long live innovation :)

    • Yes, I think a solar future is inevitable. Regarding the space-based solar, I think I first covered that about 3.5 years ago. It's an interesting concept. We'll see if it ever actually becomes competitive. I wouldn't bet on it myself, but never say never! :D

      • Dig Deeper

        A solar future? Im sure solar will be a big part of the future, but we will absolutely not manufacture the trillions of panels and batteries required to power a planet of 9 billion + inhabitants when we have abundant fissile materials which can do the job with several orders of magnitude less materials, labor, land, and transmission requirements.

        Mankind is better served to go directly to the source than to try to farm and store the diffuse energy. Fission and Fusion are the largest parts of the global warming and poverty solution.

      • Dig Deeper

        Funny how you continually avoid engaging in dialogue with me.

        • Don't take it personal, I'm just now seeing your comments. Cheers.

    • Johnny

      I'm hoping solar will one day power 75-80% of our energy needs. Right now I can install a 5kW system on my roof which is enough to power my house, but there have been a couple of breakthroughs that would boost the efficiency from 15% to 44%. If that happens, my roof can power two other houses, and regardless whether your house is south facing or not, a system on your roof would be enough to cover all your energy needs. Then solar farms and parking solar canopies would cover apartment buildings and factories.

  • grupoevoasis1stopenergyshop

    Mexico is lining up now for utility scale solar now legislation changes are taking place - I predict a top5 place from 2015

    • Bob_Wallace

      Mexico is already connected to the US grid in the Southwest. Excellent solar potential should mean good opportunities to sell power.

    • Yes, Mexico has a ton of potential. It could really get a boost from taking advantage of that, and I think it will. I'll remember your Top 5 in 2015 prediction and reference this comment if it happens -- a possibility. :D

  • Franklin Beenz

    Zachary, have you looked into deep geothermal ? If heat is tapped from deep in the interior of the planet and, with it, gigantic thermal power plants are constructed, no dangerous waste products of any kind could arise, no
    worst-possible-case-scenarios and super worst-possible-case-scenarios,
    as with I.e. Chernobyl, Fukushima ... all our energy needs could be easily met .. combine that with wind, solar, tidal and we'd have an endless, cheap supply for all

    • Bob_Wallace

      People are working on "enhanced geothermal". Progress is being made but it's not an easy nut to crack.

      Geothermal takes larger diameter holes than do oil wells. It's hard to drill really deep large diameter holes. Especially through hard rock. Lots of friction on the bit (think circumference).

      • Johnny

        I'm not sure if it's a good idea to mess with the internal working of our planet. It sounds like we're letting the air out of a balloon. If everyone is doing it, aren't we in danger of cooling the earth's core?

        • Marion Meads

          Have a clue. What causes the heat in the earth's core?

    • Yes, I think there's a lot of potential there, but it is going to take a while to really get that industry going (if it ever does), and it will never be as big as solar. But still a super useful resource that doesn't get enough attention.

  • Jonathan Lawry

    Positive articles about solar NEVER seem to mention solar's "energy debt". That is, the amount of energy consumed in their manufacture and installation. Silicon-based PV cells take roughly 5-6 years to produce and "pay back" the energy used to create them. Not to mention they become 2% less efficient each year due to silicon decay. I agree that solar has potential, but it certainly ain't "green" for half a decade after you install them.

    • Ezzy

      If it was supported and lobbyed for the way fossil fuels are, the money put into it would certainly help all of those issues. It's like picking on the slow kid at school and not helping them out at all. People just want to see everything burn. There's no money in solving issues, it's in in treating the symptoms.

      • mcbeese

        Resisting discussion of practical challenges does not help the cause.

      • Jonathan Lawry

        There is no oil-specific subsidy or tax breaks, contrary to popular myth. What people are referring to when they say this is really Section 199 of the US tax code, known as the "Domestic Production Activities Deduction". This tax break is open to ALL domestic manufacturers who incur at least 20% of their costs from US based labor and overhead. Oil companies qualify, and valid arguments can be made on whether or not they should. However, it is false to say that this is an oil company specific benefit.

        • Ezzy

          I meant all the corruption behind and for oil companies. It's a mess you'll not soon get rid of. If the world dumped that and the amount of research funds into alternative sources, we'd have replaced oil ages ago. Corruption is keeping it alive, on a machine. Wish they'd pull the plug already.

          • Jonathan Lawry

            Sir, please provide examples of such oil corruption, compared to the squeaky-clean solar industry...like Solyndra. Persuade and convince with facts and figures.

            Oil is kept alive because the energy density is so huge. Please do the math on how much energy transportation consumes. Figure out how large a solar farm you need to power your car.

        • neroden

          You're wrong, Jonathan, and you admit you're wrong up above. Percentage depletion & intangible drilling costs.

          • Jonathan Lawry

            Percentage Depletion (IRS pub 535) is also available to mineral and timber companies. Hence, it is not a specific oil industry credit.

    • Bob_Wallace

      That's very much outdated/incorrect data, Jonathan.

      Silicon solar panels have an energy payback of less than two years. Thin film panels, less than one year.

      And panels lose only 0.5% per year. The oldest panels in use are now 40 years old and still producing 80% of their original output.

      • Jonathan Lawry

        The "two years" is if you install them in Southern Europe or Arizona, which the study you are no doubt referring to was done. The average install's energy payback time is double that. No argument on thin-film, which indeed takes less energy to produce, but they are much more inefficient than silicon is.

        • Johnny

          So what if the average install's energy payback time is four years? These systems last 20-30 years.
          And as Topview pointed out, there is energy debt in every other type of energy as well.

    • Topview

      What's the energy debt of a traditional power plant ? - that has to be factored into the calculation to get a net effect

      • Jonathan Lawry

        It is true that every type of energy generation carries energy debt. I am not sure if a full study has been done on this.

        That said, I challenge everyone to "do the math". The amount of energy required to drive your Prius into town and back for a cup of fair-trade coffee, is the same amount of energy required to power your iPad for TEN YEARS of continuous use. Yes, solar on your roof can probably power the lights and appliances in your own house, but to make a real dent in energy hogs like transportation, you will need massive solar farms in sunny areas (where people like to live and where land is expensive). Just sayin'.

        • Dig Deeper

          A full study has been done.

          The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released a lifecycle carbon emissions study:


          Hydro, wind, and nuclear are the lowest carbon emitters each 1/3rd the 'energy debt' of PV. but the fact that wind and solar rely on idling backup stations and or manufactured batteries makes their carbon emissions higher than advertised.

          hydro is environmentally damaging

          nuclear fission is in reality the greenest energy generation tech known to man.

    • Bernard Finucane

      Unless of course they were produced with green energy to start with.

      • anderlan

        EXACTLY. This. It's called bootstrapping. Jonathan Lawry's chicken and egg argument is a propaganda meme.

      • Dig Deeper

        yea, if the manufacturer of the PV panels was powered by a nuclear plant - because ironically it would be impractical to power it with intermittent solar or wind.

        • neroden

          It's completely practical to power solar panel factories with solar power, right now. The first thing to remember is that most factories *only operate during the day*. You need some batteries to smooth out for clouds and rainstorms but not much.

  • mcbeese

    What is the point of comparing the total solar potential of Texas? It's a useless statistic because it could never be achieved and people know that. Better to stick with realistic numbers that educate people on what is indeed possible, if you want to be taken seriously.

    • Ezzy

      It merely shows that even taking into use a small portion of the sun that shines on Texas, you'll be way ahead of all other sources? If nothing is done about it at all, nothing will ever change and they'll die off in the fumes of their fossil fuels.

      • mcbeese

        It's meaningless because it gives no insight into what is practically possible. How much of the sun hitting Texas can ever be captured? How does THAT amount of energy compare with traditional alternatives? Is it 100 times more or 1000 times less? We're given no clues.

        • Ken Heslip

          It says that if Texas was totally covered in solar panels it would produce more energy in a month than Texas has ever pumped our in oil. That's just potential and no one is suggesting it should happen. But if you extrapolate: If a twelfth of it was covered it would reach that target in a year. A twentyfourth: 2 years. Etc.

          • Dig Deeper

            solar panels efficiency is typically 12-20%, so you have to account for that as well.

            • neroden

              No, you really don't. Nuclear efficiency is typically 1% -- do you account for that?

  • Indeed. Our company servers are 100% solar powered, hence image on home page at owonder dot com. I am now building a new company to architect 100% solar and other sustainable energy 'powered' buildings and communities. Do also check out the superb new HQ for The National Trust in Swindon, England. Lovely work environment and of course, solar powered. There are displays in the foyer showing how much energy is being generated at any given time - very inspiring! Cannot believe the UK is about to decimate it's countryside by fracking.

  • Marcelo Pacheco

    Solar will be the long term solution. And even 10-20 yrs from now, we could get 1/3 to 1/2 of our energy coming from Solar. But the sun doesn't shine in the night, there are rainy days. Battery storage is way too expensive, before it becomes affordable and we can produce it large quantities, will take a long time. I live in Brazil, at 26S lattitude, and this time of the year it usually rains, but we've been having record essentially 2 weeks of almost non stop raining, right in the time of year solar would be at it's peak (end of spring). It just makes me wonder if we can afford to do nothing about large scale base load production (without coal or natural gas).
    Please don't take me wrong, I have no criticism about this article.
    My criticism is on those that refuse to realize we ALSO need nuclear power, lots of nuclear power.
    My Brazil is privileged in we have lots of large dams, and our northern shore is probably just as good as the best places in the world for wind. But places like North America and Europe need nuclear.
    And the people saying yes to solar, are typically saying an even bigger no to nuclear.
    Go read about the potential deaths from radiation in Fukushima versus the 20000 already dead from the tsunami. It has been radically overblown by our sensationalism fueled media. When it's all done I believe less than 500 people will die from cancer (over the next 20 yrs).
    Coal kills 10000 every year from mining and another 10000 from respiration diseases.
    Chernobyl killed less than 10000, and it's extremely likely we're never have a single accident that serious for eternity, even if we go Manhattan Project on nuclear.
    Chernobyl was the result of USSR / Russia's safety irresponsible nuclear policies.

    • Martin Spacek

      Chernobyl killed about a couple of hundred in the immediate aftermath. The notion that Chernobyl has caused thousands or tens of thousands of deaths, birth defects and cancers in the wider population over a longer range of time is a fallacy:


      The real question is, do we want energy farming via solar and wind, or would we rather have an energy revolution by tapping into the incredibly energy-dense atomic nucleus (with something other than your grandpa's nuclear reactor), thereby minimizing our footprint on this planet? Putting off nuclear innovation is as irresponsible as pumping pollution into the atmosphere.

      • Marcelo Pacheco

        A very interesting number, just as impressive as the Texas Solar thing.
        One cubic meter of dirt from a random place has about 2 cubic cm of thorium.
        Those 2 cubic cm of thorium have as much potential to produce electricity than 30000 cubic meters of oil
        Thorium Nuclear is one million times more powerful than Oil
        Uranium not so much, because it needs enrichment (increasing U-235 concentration by removing U-238), Thorium on the other hand has a single isotope, so all of it becomes fuel, no enrichment required (see, two less steps, no enrichment, no solid fuel preparation).
        Notice most physics solar proponents that are known to be pragmatic say nuclear is needed just as much.
        Finally the argument that nuclear power is coming down in the USA is kind of wrong.
        While some plants are closing, and very few new ones came online recently. The number of upgrades performed have increased total nuclear electrical power steadily over the years.

      • Dig Deeper

        nuclear fission is nothing more than a scientific phenomenon, however people commonly associate the word nuclear with all things terrible.

        We would be an incredibly stupid species not to utilize the most energy dense fuel known to man, given that it can be done in a safe and responsible manner - which it can.

        We don't need to manufacture trillions of solar panels and batteries to power the world (which would be required), we need to pull our heads out of our asses and bring nuclear fission technology into the 21st century.

    • Yes, we need many different energy sources, but solar and wind will most likely dominate and shape the grid of the future. Slow-to-start power plants like nuclear plants don't fit that grid as well as the grid of the 20th century. They are also more expensive than just about every other option. There will be much more than solar on the grid, but I'm not so sure there's going to be much nuclear... We'll see.

      • Marcelo Pacheco

        Conventional water cooled uranium powered reactors are somewhat expensive.
        That's a consequence of corporations that don't invest in basic research and just piled on existing know how for military applications.
        Every single reactor that doesn't use water for cooling promisses to cost half to 1/5th of a water/uranium nuclear reactor, be modular and factory built.
        They would also essentially be as quick to build and install than a natural gas power plant.

        BTW, I'm not trying to say solar is bad technically.
        It's a fact that utility scale solar is way more expensive than current nuclear and is 100% dependent on huge subsidies.
        At the same time, solar installed on end user premisses would be at grid parity today if it weren't for the regulatory costs, some improvement in installation costs (even with zero purchase incentives). That's a great deal (because then it competes with retail electricity prices). Even better for data centers that require UPS with large batteries, data centers that use primarily solar PV electricity, with a battery pack large enough to run for 12 hrs would only buy electricity from the grid at the cheapest hours. And can generate some power through a natural gas fuel cell. Win win win.

        • we've got solar going in now in the US for ~8c/kWh without subsidies. the costs have dropped so much so fast that some people just don't realize it. overall, you might be true... if you leave out a number of key costs that jack up the price of nuclear. furthermore, if you look at *when* a new nuclear plant would actually be completed and start producing electricity, and you take into account even conservative solar cost drop projections, new nuclear doesn't compete with new nuclear. here are a few links about the above 3 matters:




          • Marcelo Pacheco

            There's another extremely important need for Thorium / LFTR Nuclear Reactors.
            Rare Earth Mining in the US is essentially stopped due to the presence of Throrium in the mineral.
            If we just had a use for the Thorium mined, rare earth mining could be resumed.
            And guess what is a fundamental material for both Solar PV and Wind turbines ? That's right, rare earth minerals.
            So one could make the case that nuclear fuel for Throrium isn't just going to be free, it might even be subsidized by the companies that need the rare earths for other activities.
            Plus there's over one thousand tons of thorium stored in containers, enough to power all North America for at least a decade.
            Utility scale solar is cute. LFTR Nuclear can replace it easily, if it ever becomes real, given the US govt has decided not to put a penny on nuclear research due to this irrational popular attitude towards nuclear.
            Finally, in utility scale you must consider the cost of the land you tying up, given it's extremely low production density.
            With really cheap energy, desert land at a reasonable distance to the sea could be planted with just one good use of the waste heat of LFTR (sea water desalinization).

          • Dig Deeper

            The Manzanar solar PV project in CA

            200 MW at 20% CF for 680 million.

            Vogtle additions 3+4

            2.3 GW at 85-90% CF for 14 billion

            you do the math buddy

            • Marcelo Pacheco

              Manzanar solar PV project in CA = 200 MW peak capacity when the sun is shinning in the summer time, now account for power generation for winter / rainy days / night time ??? Also account for carbon emissions from those standby power sources.

              Vogle nuclear power plants at 14 billion. Those are WATER COOLED power plants that are expensive, period. I posted lots of information right here why they are expensive, and why the best alternative: LFTR / Thorium reactors will cost much, much, much less. Basics are (LFTR nuclear): Factory construction allows for much higher productivity, not using water cooling reduces 80% of concrete and steel needed for huge containment walls (there are still there in LFTR reactors, with the same thickness, but they will be radically smaller because of no need to prevent vapor explosions - no water to flash in LFTR reactors).

              Plus a significant portion of those costs are a direct result of political / public pressure suspending construction multiple times. As well as total construction time.

              Please take a look at Kirk Sorensen presentations on why LFTR / Thorium research was killed, including white house taped recordings with Nixon talking with congressmen interested in the competing alternatives.

              BTW, again, I'm not saying no to renewables. I'm just saying we can't afford to say no to nuclear. Go watch Pandora's promise. Very eye opening.

          • Marcelo Pacheco

            The same changes that will reduce the cost of newer Nuclear tech will also reduce the construction times in similar proportion.
            Once nuclear is 90% factory built, and is modular (say 500MWt / 250MWe reactors), time to start a nuclear plant will be much lower. Matter of fact, it should take same time compared to a new natural gas plant.
            But yes, Solar can be up and running much faster.
            Wind requires those studies to install the turbines in the best places, those take one to two years ? Wind is intermittent enough, can't put a wind turbine in a place that will produce 10-20% less than the optimal one.
            I'm yet to see a complete study that shows it's even possible to replace all coal and 50% natural gas in North America with Wind / Solar / Biomass / Geo Thermal (plus existing Hydro and Nuclear) alone (in an economical way). The study needs to realistically project total costs.
            Can solar PV price continue dropping non stop without China dumping products below costs ?
            What about rare earth mining to support all that production ?

            Solar at ~8c/kWh without accounting for energy storage for overnight utilization and less than optimal sun days. This number breaks down as solar gets above 25% share. See the troubles in Hawaii due to massive Solar PV adoption since high electricity costs make it a slam dunk in economics over there.

    • Johnny

      10-20 yrs from now, battery will be affordable.

      As for nuclear power, I hope we will make some big progress in that front in the next 10-20 years as well, so that we can have safe and clean nuclear energy.

    • neroden

      US has irresponsible nuclear policies which are just as bad as, or worse than, Russia's.

      And we also have massive massive hydro -- we have Niagara Falls and the Hoover Dam. We don't need nuclear.

  • Personal Shoplifter

    My favorite chart on expected solar/fossil fuel parity, produced by Deutsche Bank. One of the reasons many analysts are warning people away from fossil fuel investment http://www.urgentspeed.com/.a/6a00d8341f604153ef010534fc11a3970b-800wi

    • Yeah, good one. Have seen several like that, but not that one in particular. Thanks. :D

  • dogmandg

    No mention of fusion potential.

    No mention of solar thermal, and the potential to store solar energy in molten salt.

    Cheap storage will be the key. That's why biomass will also play a key role. It won't be the primary source, but it will be a key player.

    • I've written thousands of articles. There are many other topics worth discussing, but I don't tackle everything in a single piece. ;)

    • Neowolf

      No engineering study of nuclear fusion has ever come up with a design that is more than marginally competitive with other energy sources. This assumes the physics works out and the complex reactor is sufficiently reliable. Solar is getting inside the cost curve of fission, never mind fusion, so it's difficult to see how fusion is ever going to be competitive.

      Fusion addresses the minor problem of the cost of nuclear energy: fuel cycle cost, while making the major problem, capital cost, much worse. It's penny wise, pound foolish.

      • neroden

        Fusion is great, but we should use the very large fusion reactor which is located six light-minutes away from Earth, at a pretty safe distance. It puts out enough energy to supply the whole world and it will run for over a billion years without needing to be refueled.

        (You see what I did there, right?)

  • Stuart

    Orbital solar collectors microwaving power to Earth has been mentioned by both the Chinese and Japanese, I do have to ask, has anyone actually proven that this is possible and safe?

    • Marcelo Pacheco

      Anything involving satellites is way too expensive.
      It's like nuclear fusion reactors, pretty ideas on a white paper, but it real life uneconomical.

  • JayM

    Nice Graphs! Here is one more for the nuclear fans: http://www.volker-quaschning.de/grafiken/2013-12_Verguetung_HinkleyC/index.php

    It compares the guaranteed pricing for the planned Hinkley Point C nuke in the UK with the current feed-in tariff for large scale solar in Germany. One gets less than 10 Eurocent/kWh for 20 years without inflation correction, the other gets 10,6 Eurocent/kWh for 35 years with inflation correction (plus free 3rd party liability insurance provided by the British People, plus cover for the long term disposal of the waste). Guess which is which. BTW, wind power is even cheaper than large scale solar. New nuclear is not cheap anymore!

    Now you will say "but what about at night or when it rains". The last thing we need then is a base load power plant that can meet above costs only if it runs 8000+ hours per year, regardless of demand.

    best regards


    • Marcelo Pacheco

      Around 80% of cost water cooled nuclear reactors is concrete and steel for the outer containment dome plus all active redundant systems, plus running water at 150 atmospheres requires all plumbing to be ultra high grade.
      The plant is soo big it must the manufactured on site, precluding any safety/cost gains of centralized manufacturing, on site installation only.
      Solid nuclear fuel with Zirconium cladding is expensive.

      All of this is a direct consequence of GE / Westinghouse / Areva / Hitachi doing absolutelly minimal research on nuclear reactors, instead just taking the existing know how from military nuclear applications (which rejected Thorium because it was useless for nuclear weapons).

      The problem isn't nuclear technology itself. It's penny pinching from the mega nuclear suppliers that only care about profits. And the freaky people that essentially killed nuclear energy in the US because of a single accident that killed nor hurt anyone (three mile island).
      Bottom line, if people continue saying no to Nuclear, then everything else is mute.

      We need people say yes to Nuclear but demand investment on much cheaper AND much safer nuclear technology like LFTR reactors that require none of those expensive items listed above, because it uses cooling materials that can't boil (fluoride salts). And uses a simple fail safe salt freeze plug that requires NO human/computer monitoring, if the plant looses electrical power, the plug looses its cooling, melts and drain the fuel into an area designed to kill the reaction and release the heat to the environment (but not radiation). Plus the reactor has a negative coeficient of temperature that makes its self controlling (it automatically reduces the reaction if the temperature goes up and increases the reaction if the temperature goes down).

      And LFTR reactors run on Thorium that is 1000x more plentiful than Uranium-235 (could be mined off plain dirt), but it's even easier to obtain from rare earth mining (areas with rare earth minerals mixed with Thorium are avoided, because Thorium has no use today and environment agencies forbit the Thorium be placed back where it was mined) and monazitic sands (have a lot on the beaches where I live).

      Bottom line, please before criticising Nuclear energy go watch a few LFTR / Thorium videos on youtube.

      Instead criticize water cooled nuclear reactors, specially those of older design (2nd generation light water nuclear reactors are 80+% of the reactors in operation today, those have the risks of a three mile island / fukushima accident.

      In the case of Fukushima, should be operation crew chose not to shutdown the reactor, it would have probably been fine, because it would have electricity to keep the cooling going.

      • no

        Are you trying to say that the risk is less than that of renewables??????

  • JayM

    Orbital solar collectors were investigated and promoted e.g. by the Space Island Group http://www.spaceislandgroup.com/home.html
    Photovoltaik arrays in space have been proven by countless satellites and space probes. The power transmission has been proven between two towers. Safety would have to be achieved by a rather dillute beam with a large receiving array in a remote place. Not impossible. So in principle orbital solar could work.
    Biggest hurdle is imho the cost. The power yield is about 5 times higher than for PV on earth (more radiation outside the atmosphere, sunshine for 8760 h/a). So the costs could be 5 times higher to break even with the much less risky installation on earth. Will you get solar power into space, with all infrastructure also for beaming and receiving the power to earth and bringing it from the remote receiving sites to the consumer, for less than 7 500 US$/kWp? Also, considering the different risk profile and project duration, the expectation for the Internal Rate of Return will have to be close to 20% cf. 5 - 10% return expectation for PV solar on earth. Considering that, you will be left with only 4 or 5 000 US$/kWp allowable costs.
    Don't think that's the way to go considering how cheap PV has become, and how much cheaper it can still get.
    with sunny regards

    • 5 times higher, before energy conversion you mean. You're forgetting that you have to collect it, convert it to electricity, use that electricity to power it to a laser and associated communications equipment, beam that to the ground and collect the power again. You end up only slightly better than putting them on the ground in the first place.

      Elon musk, who's on the board for solar city and a huge green tech proponent has spoken out strongly against space solar beaming. You just get terrible losses from doing it.

      • Neowolf

        There are some special applications where a laser power beam could be used directly. For example, photochemical production of caprolactam, or (less advantageously) direct heating of materials that would otherwise be heated in arc furnaces. The latter is a very big market. Doing this avoids one or two energy conversion steps,

  • A wind farm costs only 25% of a equivalent solar panel field

    • Indeed, and both wind and solar will continue growing in leaps and bounds. But note that solar PV can often compete with retail electricity prices (rather than much lower wholesale prices) and it also even more decentralized than large wind turbines, allowing for adoption by individuals and communities in the developing world to a greater extent.

      • In the Netherlands the grid is society owned, so families and SMB's can have their own piece of a wind farm, and use their electricity at home. So, why should renewable electricity be sold at fossil wholesale prices?


        • ah, well, in those cases! :D but in a lot of countries, not many people (if anyone) can invest in a large-scale wind turbine/farm.

          • Why can't ordinary people invest or just by in a large scale wind turbine or farm?
            They do buy a part of the regional transportation system, also known as "car"
            They also buy part of the city dwelling development plan, also know as "house", or "property"
            Why should wind farms be excluded from selling shares?

            What nation only allows transport in taxi's alone and not personally driven cars?

            • There simply aren't the purchasing avenues set up for common people to buy a share in a wind farm in many places. It's not as if these can be placed on roofs or in low-wind areas where most people live. So, there need to be cooperatives or crowdfunding opportunities set up for people to buy a share in wind turbines/wind farms. In most places, that hasn't been done.

            • JMichaelOHara

              There's nothing inherent in the wind farm business that would make those businesses unable to sell shares - the problem lies with the size of the business and restrictions on the ability of less-than-wealthy investors to buy shares in any company that has not gone through the expensive process of making a "public offering" of shares. Any organization large enough to develop a large scale wind farm is probably (either) publicly listed (in which case you can look them up and buy a share or two) or they are privately held and don't want your money.

    • Johnny

      This is great, but the land around the turbines always seems to be waste land. Do you know why they don't have solar panels on the ground? I know the turbines are loud but you wouldn't need to visit the solar panels that often to be concerned, would you?

      • Bernard Finucane

        Wind turbines take up almost no land whatsoever, and around here at least they are commonly located on agricultural land in active use..

  • Martin Spacek

    All the charts in this article talk about solar potential and solar capacity, but the one measure that actually matters, production, is omitted. You can have all the capacity you want, but without actual production in the amounts you want at the times you want it, that capacity is worthless. What would be much more interesting are charts showing how production has been increasing over the years. Has production stayed steady as a percentage of capacity (roughly 30%, depending on location?), or has capacity grown faster than production?

    Also, where are the charts showing how many more millions of km of power lines will have to be built out to service solar farms covering vast tracts of land?

    • JayM

      Hello Martin,

      let's start at the bottom of your list of question. PV solar fits on nearly every roof. It is generally under roofs that electricity is needed. No new powerlines are needed if those are not wanted. If large scale solar plants are preferred a lot of power lines will be needed indeed.

      To see how 30+ GWp of PV, representing about 5% of annual power demand, fits into the German power system with a demand of between 40 GW (weekend in summer) to 80 GW (working day in winter) I suggest this set of graphs from Fraunhofer Institute: http://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/de/downloads/pdf-files/aktuelles/boersenstrompreise-und-stromproduktion-2013.pdf

      In many parts of the US sunshine and power demand are correlated more favorably than in Germany due to airco demand, making system integration easier and solar power more valuable.

      More detailed information about PV can be found here http://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/de/downloads/pdf-files/aktuelles/photovoltaics-report-in-englischer-sprache.pdf

      I have not found a good source for the share of PV in the global power consumption over time. Rough data on global power can be found here http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/ieo/table13.cfm

      For PV you can assume roughly 1000 kWh/kWp installed capacity, more in sunny climates. At 100 GWp installed you end up with 100 000 GWh/a or 100 TWh/a out of a total global generation of roughly 20 000 TWh/a. That is only about 0,5% globally.
      best regards

      • Martin Spacek

        Interesting, thanks. So you're saying that on average solar yields production of 1000 hours of peak capacity per year. There are 8760 hours in a year, so that comes to about 11% of peak capacity which is actually produced, so roughly an order of magnitude less than the peak capacity numbers which are thrown around (like in this article). So, the rule of thumb then is to divide any kWp or MWp or GWp value by 10 to get the amount in kWh or MWh or GWh per year. That would be the more honest thing to report...

        As for the roof thing, that's great for residential and maybe commercial, but doesn't cut it for industry. Industry unfortunately requires energy farming, which requires the huge amounts of space and transmission. I also wonder how efficient it is to generate high temperature process heat (say 700C or more) using just power, vs say a blast furnace. What would it take to electrify heavy industry? One potential benefit of next-gen nuclear would be use as a direct source of process heat:


        • JayM

          Hi Martin,
          in total PV in Germany produces about 1000 kWh per kWp installed per year, that is correct. In the South-Western US that number is closer to 1500 kWh/kWp/a. That does not mean, that PV only produces for 1000 hours/a and not for the other 7760 hours of the year. Most of the time the systems do not run at their rated power, but much below, and produce power for more like 4-5000 hours/a.
          You need to multiply the kWp by 1000 to get kWh/a, similar with MWp and GWp (or take kWh = kWp * 8760 hours/a * 11,4% for the same result).
          For the roof top vs. industry see my reply to Alexander. One size doesn't fit all. But it is possible to provide enough PV from existing rooftops to power all of the US at midday, including industry. Whether that is more efficient than large scale ground mounted systems plus long power lines depends on many factors. both will be tried, time will tell which is best (maybe both options will coexist).
          best regards

      • Alexander Gorlin

        (Un)fortunately, there are other facilities in the world besides two-story Häuschen. Why not consider a less widespread but still important example: a 500 MW aluminum smelter somewhere in Norway during the snowy winter? I understand it might be not of concern for Germany, which seems to be happy getting rid of its heavy industry through outsourcing, but I doubt every other country will immediately follow suit, so the problem stays quite relevant.

        • Frank Morris

          build heavy industry near hydro.

          • Alexander Gorlin

            It has nothing to do with photovoltaics.

          • Jonathan Lawry

            That would be an excellent idea, actually, and long ago we had locate industry near hydro (water mills being the only source of large-scale motive force before electricity was broadly available). However, I think heavy industry near the large bodies of freshwater required, would probably face stiff opposition from environmentalists.

        • JayM

          Hello Alexander,

          a fair challenge. A few points in reply:

          - it is a commonly used rhetoric against renewable energy that it cannot do everything and therefore is useless. Well, coal power plants and nukes cannot supply peak power either, so they are completely useless?!? Each method has ist place (although base load plants lose their place as we move from the traditional "base load, intermediate load and peak load" towards "fluctuating renewables plus resisual load").
          - Roofmounted systems can supply a lot more than is needed under that one roof. For example, on an anual average we produce about 4 times the energy we need in our house for household power, hot water and heating. On a good summer day we have more than 20 kW excess from our house. The excess goes to the neighbors, what is left in the low voltage grid goes into the higher voltage grid and frees up power from other sources for industry or even supplies industry on good sunny days.

          - we start to see ground mounted PV near commercial estates in Germany, with relatively short power lines. A steel casting company near where I live has also built ist own 3 MW wind turbine right there on the premises.
          Another good location is near large power plants where we have the lines already to transport power from (multi-)GW class powerplants to the consumers (with groundmounted PV in Germany we are sofar talking 150 MW max).

          - the aluminum smelter is in Norway because there it can be fed with cheap and plentiful hydropower. What is wrong with transporting Aluminum instead of power, if that allows us to use renewable sources in the best way?
          With fluctuating renewable energy we need a system rethink and redesign that seems to be hard to grasp. Germany is one big laboratory where we are trying to make it work. So far it is going well!
          best regards

          • Alexander Gorlin

            - Nowhere in my original post did I say PV is useless, it was the article which was trying hard to convey the indisputable superiority of solar power, so I felt obliged to provide a counter-example. I chose Norway solely for its climate. Of course they rely much on hydroelectricity, it would be strange if they didn’t. My point is: PV is economically out of question in these conditions, even for traditional households.

            - How much did the roof-mounted system cost? When will it pay for itself? I’m asking because a couple of years ago installing PV panels on the roof was a somewhat risky investment: PV cell prices dropped quickly, and it might be more reasonable to wait 3-5 years, install cheaper panels and get your money back sooner than if you were too eager. Also, how does the solar roof affect property price if you ever decide to sell your house?

            - Honestly speaking, the energy policy in Germany, especially after March 2011, makes an impression that the final goal is to suffocate national industry. The decision of the casting company you mentioned might as well have been driven by one of the highest in Europe electricity price. Germany had some ingenious projects in nuclear technology, it was painful for me to watch them go down the tubes. I personally find the green lobby there as damaging as oil lobby in the US.

            I like your optimism but I don't share it.


            • Johnny

              Hi Alex, Here in DC, US, we buy PV panels in bulk to install on multiple houses at once, and for a 5 KW system it costs about $5k after the 30% federal tax credit and some DC incentives. So it will pay for itself in 6-7 years, while these panels last for 20-30 years.

              The major part of the cost now is not in PV cells but in the soft cost, paperwork and installation. Some parts of the US are now working on reducing this part of the cost. So in a couple of years hopefully it will be a great investment even without a federal tax credit.

              As for property value, solar photovoltaic panels increase home values by about 3.5 percent.

              • Jonathan Lawry

                Technically speaking, the 6-7 years is how long it takes to pay back YOUR share....not mine (your fellow taxpayer helping to foot the bill for your panels).

                • Johnny

                  Jonathan, this is the part that I currently don't like about our country. Half of us seem to prefer to live on an island all by themselves, not helping anyone or any cause. We all stand on shoulders of giants, we all live in community. You drive on the roads I foot in to pay the bill. You foot in to pay the metro I ride. There may be more police per capita in your area than mine. So what? We are all working on a cause, to build a better society, to be independent from our needs. If I put on the solar panels, i am one less burden to the grid. It's a good thing. Would you prefer we go back to the good old day where you live in your cave and I live in mine?

                  • Jonathan Lawry

                    This is a slippery slope. You seem to want others to pay for your solar panels out of some sense of "community". Well, if I do that, do I get a say in how you live your life, out of the same sense of community? What you think constitutes a "better society" may be different from what I think.

                    We are a nation of individuals. This is what makes our country great. Forced "community" will lead to chaos.

                    • Johnny

                      Do you stop at a red light? If you do, then we have successfully told you how to drive and force you to obey our definition of a better society.

                      If you have children who go to public school, can I tell your children how to live their lives? I chip in to pay for their education, even I don't have any children of my own.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      I do stop at red lights, yes, but in a car that I paid for myself! Society means we play the game by a certain set of rules, not buy each other equipment.

                      As for kids, my children will be disproportionately paying for your retirement benefits, because of you have not bred more workers into the labor pool, so let's call it even, ok?

                    • Johnny

                      That's what I'm trying to tell you, Jonathan. We live in society. We do things for each other. More or less, it's even it out at the end. In fact, i'd prefer to pay your solar panels once than pay for your gasoline year after year, and by paying for you now, we would enable million others to get cheaper solar panels later that they don't need incentives. So it's a short term loss for a long term gain, unlike gasoline, which has no long term gain.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      Your philosophy illustrates the fundamental difference in views between Left and Right in this country. To the Left, there is apparently no difference between "society" and the State. The State can, and does, compel me to buy your solar panels. On what planet do you think you pay for my gasoline? It's nowhere NEAR even in the end. (note: the gov taking less taxes is not the same thing as giving money. Tax credits are only available if you are making money to be taxed in the first place). Also, do the math: your solar panels might power your house, but don't come close to powering your Prius.

                      Look, I'm done. I will resist in the only way that makes sense to me: taking every legal incentive to reduce my taxable income, so it's some other sap that's buying your panels and not me.

                    • Johnny

                      Jonathan, we pay a lot more for your gasoline. Norway is a producer of oil and does not subsidy gasoline for its people. The price of gasoline there is almost $10/gallon. From there, you can tell how much we subsidy. Over the lifetime of a solar panel, we subsidy for your gasoline much more than those incentives.

                      I don't care much about left or right, I simply support smart programs, so I support this one, even though it was enacted by Bush. Whether it's enough to power your house or your car depends on the size of your system. And if the majority can't, then it's the more we need to support its research to increase the efficiency.

                      My advice to you is to let go of the left and right mentality, and just support each other, support good initiatives to reach a goal. Together we're strong, and can get things done faster.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      Again, everyone here seems to call the absence of tax, or a lower level of tax, as a "subsidy". People! "Taking Less" is not the same as giving! Your example in Norway is because they tax the hell out of gasoline, not because the actual cost of the gas is $10/gal and they "don't subsidize it.".

                      As for "get things done faster", left vs. right matters a lot if we don't agree on the goal in the first place, and we clearly do not.

                    • ""Taking Less" is not the same as giving!"

                      Yes, it is . Because of the simple fact that these companies would be paying more in taxes if it weren't for the subsidies.

                      Mathematics doesn't care about your hair splitting.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      Here's how it's different: You actually have to make money to get a "tax incentive", because you are taxed on profit. If you lose money, you don't get the tax break or any benefit. In contrast, a "subsidy" is something you get whether you make money or not, like what many unprofitable solar companies receive.

                      I am well versed in Mathematics and have a degree in Physics from a fine institution. In a debate, It does not help to dismiss important points contrary to your position as "hair splitting", while expecting others to accept your broad overtures at face value. Is the intent to vent to an accepting audience, or persuade?

                    • neroden

                      Again, Mr. Lawry is simply incorrect. Percentage depletion ends up effectively being *refundable* -- you don't need to have made any profit that year to get the tax break.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      If you do not make a profit, there is no tax due. How can you get a tax break when your tax is zero anyway? That would imply that the IRS is giving you a check for your percentage depletion, which does not happen. Are you saying that you can move your percentage depletion claims to more-favorable tax years? That seems more likely.

                    • FreeSpeechIsntCrime

                      The energy subsidies you are defending (Fossil Fuels and Nuclear) created the national debt you and all of us are paying for with our taxes- and you are insisting we ALL continue paying those subsidies. When you and I pay for gas we also pay taxes on that. You are arguing against yourself as a result of omitting the weight of those subsidies upon our national debt- not to mention the destruction of so many of our natural resources. One way accounting does not a meaningful argument make.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      Again, I submit to you that a "subsidy" is when the government gives money to someone or something, like an unprofitable solar energy venture. In contrast, when the government takes less in the form of taxes, it is not a "subsidy", because the company had to make the money first in order for it to be taxed. This is a "tax incentive". So please enumerate here what "subsidies" you are talking about which are specific to the oil industry. Also, I don't understand your comment that I am arguing against myself. Your comment about paying gasoline taxes as somehow benefiting oil companies, seems to be very confusing. Those funds go to the government (albeit to maintain roads). It's a usage fee.

                    • Your submission is inaccurate. Please try again.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      I challenge you to PROVE it's inaccurate by providing an example of a tax incentive that is available ONLY to the oil industry. I have done my homework and submit here that what everyone is calling "oil subsidy" is actually Section 199 of the US tax code, which provides a tax incentive open to all domestic manufacturers. If people really care enough about advocating solar energy, they must learn to dispassionately argue points with counter-points, not to smugly tell others that they are wrong and leave it at that.

                    • falstaff77

                      "an example of a tax incentive that is available ONLY to the oil industry. ... actually Section 199 of the US tax code"

                      Yes 199 applies ~evenly, but section 263 and the 1990 Tax Act do not:
                      o Percentage depletion allowance - for oil, gas, mining.
                      o Intangible Drilling costs.

                      The butcher, the baker - they can't claim those allowances. So legislative action to flatten the tax code stalls because some enjoy quite unequal treatment under the current law.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      I appreciate you having done some actual google research on the matter, which is more than most on this thread. However, such rules for accounting of inventory exist for most industries. In fact, the butcher and baker (nice Adam Smith reference, BTW), they can deduct nearly all expenses against current revenue, because they are mostly S-corps and sole-props. Their tax exposure typically is far better in percentage terms than a large C-corp oil company. Typically, S-corps and sole-props don't pay corporate taxes at all, only income taxes of the owner. C-corps pay corporate taxes before owners get a cent (which they then pay taxes on.)

                      The fact of the matter is that there simply does not exist a large-scale tax bias in favor of oil companies. Some people say it is so for political gain, knowing that most people not going to do their own research.

                    • falstaff77

                      I agree there is, perhaps always will be, unfair piling on of the oil companies. But it is baffling to me why their clear, industry specific tax breaks are dismissed as the samething as everybody else receives in the code. This is not the case. Yes all businesses write off expenses, but the Butcher n Baker can not 'write off' a failure to produce anything in the way the Percentage Depletion break allows an oil co to do so. If a neighborhood turns bad on a restaurant they go under; they don't get to claim their customers were 'Depleted' on their taxes.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      I appreciate that you are at least referring to these as "tax breaks" (which they are), and not "subsidies" (like the rest of the zealots here do). This shows that we are capable of having a dispassionate discussion, and that says a lot.

                      While I am not an accountant, my understanding is that most mom-and-pop Butchers/Bakers/Restauranteurs are S-corps. As such, they can write off nearly any loss whatsoever. Corporate taxes, and corporate tax breaks, only come into play for C-corps, because S-corps do not pay corporate tax anyway. I will agree with you that a large-scale Butcher/Baker/Restaurant chain, filed as a C-corp, would not get a Percentage Depletion. However, this touches the core of why any "tax break" exists: Incentive.

                      Drilling for oil is inherently more capital-intensive and risky than opening a restaurant. It is far easier to measure population density and figure out where to put a restaurant, and to get it up and running, than it is to drill for oil and gas. You tie up capital for years before you make a return. People only see the successful rigs and think they are simply pumping money out of the ground. It is nowhere near that easy (I worked for a drilling company in college). The tax incentive is used by our government to encourage companies to drill here, otherwise we import the difference. Even with the tax incentive, the oil companies profit margin is dwarfed by those of Google, Intel, even Yahoo...just for some perspective.

                    • falstaff77

                      " ...are S-corps."

                      Yes, many are.

                      "... As such, they can write off nearly any loss whatsoever."

                      They can write off most any business related *expense*. They don't get to tell the IRS, "my business slowed down by half this year, so I don't want to pay any tax on the profit I did make". An oil/gas/mining company can in some circumstances.

                      "...this touches the core of why any "tax break" exists: Incentive."

                      I disagree. Yes taxes provide negative/positive incentives, basic economics. But this not the reason they *exist*. They exist narrowly because of incentives for ... politicians. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_choice#Special_interests

                      "...Drilling for oil is inherently more capital-intensive ... tie up capital for years before you make a return. ... It is nowhere near that easy ..."

                      That all may be true (I disagree with restaurant comparisons given their 60% failure rate), and I applaud difficult free enterprises; I'm a partner in one myself. But a disinterested government actor should say, so what? That is, we part company when you argue in favor of *arbitrary* (Hayek's term) government action to intervene and support one group and not another, which inevitably leads to corruption and ever *more* government.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      I maintain that the tax breaks enjoyed by C-corp oil companies are deductions against corporate tax, which S-corps simply do not have to pay. You can arbitrarily give a C-corp any tax break, and S-corps still pay zero corporate tax.

                      Any conditional tax break is an incentive. The government wants me to own a home, presumably because doing so makes me a better citizen, so I don't have to pay tax on mortgage interest. Renters can't deduct rent, so we are all incentivized to buy homes. Whether or not these are good incentives is a good discussion to have.

                      As for arbitrarily supporting one group over another, the government certainly supports Solar energy in a manner well-beyond taxing profits at a lower rate. So this knife cuts both ways. We could talk about anything in this regard. Why doesn't the government support rabbit farming? The meat is better for you than beef, and this would be a social good?

                    • neroden

                      Mr Lowry is simply incorrect. Percentage depletion, the most obvious tax break specifically for oil companies, *can* be used by S corps and even by individuals. *I have done so myself*. It is simply a tax break exclusive to oil drilling, period. It is unjustifiable.

                    • Jonathan Lawry

                      Percentage Depletion (IRS pub 535) is also available to mineral and timber companies. Hence, it is not a specific oil industry credit. I am still correct.

                    • falstaff77

                      "We do things for each other"

                      Charity is what you personally do for family, your neighbors, or community. There is *nothing* charitable about A using a far away government to force C to buy something for B. Jesus of Nazareth said "give to the poor"; he did not say form a coalition with the Romans to force the other guy to give to the poor.

                      The government route is also inefficient and inevitably burdened with corruption.

                      This social contract lie has been going on since Rousseau, at least, when that monstrous ego enjoyed his mechanism of controlling others to force what he defined as the larger good, all while he treated his wife, mistresses, and several offspring horrifically, no better than cattle.

                    • $20526420

                      Lots of tax dollars go into energy, especially oil. Think of all the money and effort spent on trying to keep the mid east stable all these years because of all that oil under their feet. When it comes to BIG business, you're talking about matters of a stable economy, national security, public safety, a secure place in the world, etc etc. Your vision of a nation of individuals is a false idealistic viewpoint sold to you by politicians talking down to you to get elected.

                  • Dig Deeper

                    but you are not less of a burden to the grid with solar panels - think about it:

                    You put on solar panels lowering your average demand but during cloudy days or active nights your peak demand remains the same. What this means is that the utility has to maintain the same generating capacity and grid infrastructure to serve your energy demand needs but utilize it less. Lower utilization of this capital intensive infrastructure with high overhead means higher average prices.

                    Now if a minority have solar panels it means little to the utility, but it is a slippery slope.

                    • Johnny

                      Many solar roofs come with batteries.
                      We're at the beginning of the evolution. We still try to get the price of everything down, still try to improve the technology, but by the end of the decade, batteries will go side by side with solar roofs.

                    • Dig Deeper

                      No Johnny they won't. The US DOE released a report on energy storage goals at the end of 2013:


                      "The DOE, which has various departments working on storage issues,
                      outlined near-term and long-term performance targets for grid storage,
                      including a AC storage system capital cost of under $250 per
                      kilowatt-hour and more than 4,000 cycles in the short term"

                      If you understand how off-grid systems are designed and storage capacities are sized, then you understand that the economics of the above goal are not practical for a typical American family, especially in addition to the cost of a PV system.

                      The reason the world's top climatologists have wrote an open letter to policy makers about the importance of nuclear power is not based on their lack of knowledge about renewables, instead it is because they understand quite well the practical limitations of intermittent renewables and the costs and environmental impacts of storing their energy for billions of people:


                • FreeSpeechIsntCrime

                  Have you calculated how much of the national debt is owed due to Nuclear and Fossil Fuel subsidies over the last 50 years? Nuclear and Fossil Fuel have owned the energy markets forever. If they cannot exist without subsidies by now then it is obviously not self-sustainable.

                  We owe a debt to nuclear power- just as we owe a debt to fossil fuels- as both have taken our species far- but the costs/risks now clearly outweigh the benefits and both nuclear and fossil fuels have erased much of that debt by destroying far too much of our natural resources. The remediation alone from Ixtoc, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, BP, Fukushima and countless others is incalculable, yet not even considered in terms of how much the world has sacrificed in order for Fossil Fuels and Nuclear to profit incalculably.

                  Nuclear and Fossil Fuels have not only asked of us- they have demanded of posterity. Think about Chernobyl and remember that Fukushima has only begun.

                  It is difficult to imagine Solar requiring such a sacrifice.

                  All of your following comments as a result, seem rather moot, given you do not take into account the reality that the taxes you are complaining about are the result of the energy subsidies you are defending.

                  • Jonathan Lawry

                    A few points:

                    A "subsidy" is when something is directly subsidized with money. Taxing something less (i.e.., taking less money) is not the same same thing as giving someone/something money. I know that many on the left think they are the same thing, but in the real world, you have to make money first and THEN you are taxed upon it. If a government decides to tax you less, they are not writing you a check, but rather, the checks you write the government are smaller.

                    Secondly, there are NO tax incentives (what you call "subsidies") that are specific to the petroleum industry. What most people on your side of this argument call "oil subsidies" is actually Section 199 of the US tax code, which provides a tax break (not a "subsidy") to manufactures and producers who incur at least 20% of gross expenses within the US. Oil companies qualify, as do domestic manufacturers of any physical product. This is an incentive to operate in the US, and by doing so reduces their tax burden (which means the government takes less, not gives more).

                    I challenge you to find even ONE oil-specific tax-break or "subsidy", or would you rather repeat your belief over and over until it is accepted as truth and no one challenges it?

                  • Dig Deeper

                    Here are subsidies relating to nuclear, fossil fuels and renewables, not the difference between military and civilian energy funding:


                    (outlined on
                    page 7 of the doc)

                    Weapons activities: 7.78bn
                    Nuclear non-prolif: 1.9bn
                    Naval reactors: 1.1bn
                    Fed salaries: 0.37bn
                    Nuclear Energy: 0.88bn
                    Energy Eff & Renewables: 1.9bn
                    Fossil Energy: 0.779bn
                    Uranium Enrichment D&D fund: 0.598bn
                    defense nuclear waste disposal: $0

                    Civil nuclear power is funded less than renewables and slightly more than fossils.


                • Well, given that we're still paying for bombs dropped in Iraq, I always enjoy remarks like yours. For their comedic value.

                  • Jonathan Lawry

                    ...and I yours, for the non sequiturs. In a debate, you should argue what is presented only, without inferring positions not actually stated by the participants. To accept as a valid point that we have borrowed money for bombs used in Iraq, then it follows that we should therefore consider any bad idea a legitimate use of borrowed public funds, and this debate would quickly be reduced to chaos.

            • JayM

              Hello Alexander,
              sorry for the late reply to your questions, hope your Holidays were as good as mine, and wish all here a Happy New Year.
              Whether PV is "out of the question" in certain climates also depends on the cost of the alternatives. Especially in remote areas or thinly settled countries it might make more sense than you think to use locally avalable renewable power instead of shipping in fuels.. A PV system with optimal inclination will still deliver over 800 kWh/kWp/a in Trondheim, about half way up the Norwegian coast. That is about what yout get on an East or West facing roof in northern Germany, where these systems are still being built at a feed in tariff of 13 Eurocents/kWh. In a community that has to ship in diesel for power generation this is economic,just as a fuel saver.
              Roof mounted systems in Germany cost about 1200 to 1500 Euro/kWp, fully installed and typically pay back within about 10 years out of a mixture of own consumption (saving 23 c/kWh net of sales tax) and feed-in tariff of 12 c/kWh. With a 20 year lifetime this is equivalent to a 5% "interest" on the invested capital, better than alternative investments with similar risks.
              I do not have a view on property prices, if anything i think PV helps. I read about a study in California where 2 identical subdivisions were built, one with PV and one without. The one with PV sold about 3 months faster, saving the developer quite a bit of interest on his investment.
              How the German energy policy affects industry is subject of much debate, also in Germany. Currently energy intense industry is exempt from the EEG costs but benefits from the Merrit-Order Effect on the power exchange (PV pushes out expensive peaking plants at midday and therefore systematically pushes down average prices at the power Exchange). For these companies power is no more expensive than in the rest of Europe.
              As to your nostalgia about nuclear plants and technology, I do not share that at all. New nuclear power plants are not cheaper than renewable energy (see for example Hinkley Point C), and we would have to replace the 40+ year old plants in the coming years with new plants. Existing plants produce cheap power on the basis that society carries the external costs and implicitly provides free 3rd party liability insurance for big accidents. Just send them off to Munich Re or other big insurance companies with the message "the people gave notice on the implicit free insurance, can you please give us a commercial quote for full 3rd party liability insurance". That would close them down in an instance, since taking the risk assessment from the wholly world of politics to the cold eye of the insurance mathematicians will reveal the true cost of nuclear power. Providing free insurance might not appear on our electricity bills, but that does no make the cost go away for society!
              I am happy that Germany moves ahead, getting us away from nuclear energy and towards a sustainable energy supply.
              best regards

          • Dig Deeper

            Every major non fossil technology does have a place, but the idea that 'flucutuating renewables plus residual load' can approach the economic viability of highly utilized baseload assets is misguided. Large penetrations of intermittent generators create large inefficiencies in the generation of electricity and large redundancies in on-hand capacities. It is widely speculated in the green community that advanced grid technologies such as HVDC lines, Demand side management, and energy storage can greatly reduce these inefficiencies, however under careful scrutiny it is clearly concluded that each of these tools can be better utilized by generation assets that are controllable rather than those which are intermittent and subject to periods of over-supply and drought both out of tune with real-time consumer demand.

            From an economic standpoint nuclear technologies have an enormous edge over renewables when it comes to scaling to meet global demand. As a large scale solution nuclear is also far more environmentally benign as it requires an order of magnitude less raw material inputs and land usage. to power a population of 9 billion plus we will need advanced nuclear technologies.


            • JayM

              @Dig Deeper,
              highly utilized baseload is and has been but a minor part of the system. We already had more intermediate and peak load capacity installed than "highly utilized baseload" before PV and wind made an appearance.

              In Europe the baseload has been kept utilized by artificial measures such as lighting the highways at night, using electrical night storage heating and offering very cheap rates at night to foster demand, not because that demand was there in the first place. Much of what we know as "highly utilized baseload" has been kept busy by artificial means. Shifting those incentives to, admittedly more complicated, load following for intermittent renewables will already achieve some of what is required to balance intermittency.

              BTW, from an economic standpoint nuclear energy is by now significantly more expensive than PV and windpower, even if you include 300 Euro/kW for a back-up gas turbine plant in the cost of PV and wind. Just compare pricing agreements for Hinkley Point C with feed-in tarrifs for PV in Germany.

              And the already-not--so-cheap price for new nuclear power does not yet include 70 Billion Euro for the decommissioning of the Sellafield reprocessing plant or several Billion Euro for salvaging the German dump site Asse. It also does not include the cost of insurance for the entire risk of a nuclear power plant (just ask Munich Re what that would cost). And still, even with those costs borne by the tax payer, nuclear power is more expensive. Cheap nuclear power is a myth!

              France reportedly faces a 340 Billion Euro bill over the coming decades for refurbishing and renewing its fleet of 58 nuclear power stations. 340 Billion Euros pay for 100 GWp PV, 100 GWp Windpower, 80 GW of gas turbine back-up and still leaves 40 Billion Euros for grid infrastructure and storage.

              What do you think they should do? Invest in nuclear power, or revamp the system with renewable energy that is sustainable from an ecological, economic and political perspective.
              best regards

              • Dig Deeper

                "BTW, from an economic standpoint nuclear energy is by now significantly
                more expensive than PV and windpower, even if you include 300 Euro/kW
                for a back-up gas turbine plant in the cost of PV and wind. Just compare
                pricing agreements for Hinkley Point C with feed-in tarrifs for PV in

                Excuse me Mr. Jochen, but are you not aware that natural gas turbines emit carbon and methane into the atmosphere? I think the aim is to create the majority of our energy cleanly, and in that regard nuclear is clearly more cost effective than other options. Also it should be noted that Hinkley C had a cheaper UK strike price than PV or wind (onshore and offshore), and that of the 71 reactors being built worldwide right now it is one of the most expensive examples for which you could cherry pick.

                As far as highly utilized baseload, I suppose you do not have 24 hr shift manufacturing in EU? We do in the US and cheap baseload energy works quite well to attract EU manufacturers to the US lately, especially German ones.

                You are so wildly misinformed it is funny. Germany spent 130 billion USD on its solar PV fleet alone. This fleet contributes ~5% to domestic demand and the output swings wildly from 50% supply surges in the summer to essentially nothing in the winter. For 1/8th of the investment Germany could have built a nuclear plant to provide the same annual output but in a much more reliable and predictable way which incurs less compensatory costs on the rest of the grid system. Both Germany's emissions and costs of energy have gone up during Energiewende.

                "What do you think they should do? Invest in nuclear power, or revamp the
                system with renewable energy that is sustainable from an ecological,
                economic and political perspective"

                Nuclear power is far more ecologically friendly than wind or solar because the power density advantage means it requires an order of magnitude less raw material and land inputs. It also doesnt require gas or battery backup. The volume of its wastes are small in comparison and the handling of them is very heavily regulated. Nuclear power is a renewable resource, fast neutron reactors can used reserves of spent fuel (or waste as you may call it) to provide power for centuries. Furthermore Uranium can be extracted from seawater or alternatively thorium can be used to provide mankinds power needs for millions of years.

                You are going to find yourself on the wrong side of this argument.

                • JayM

                  Always interesting how Information is cherry picked.
                  Hinkley Point C pricing: starting at 10,6 Eurocent/kWh, guaranteed for 35 years WITH Inflation adjustment (so at 2% Inflation we are talking >15 Eurocents/kWh after 20 years and 20 Eurocents/kWh after 35 years).
                  Lare scale PV in germany: <10 Eurocents/kWh, guaranteed for 20 years, WITHOUT Inflation adjustment.
                  Wind in Gemrnay: 9 Eurocent/kWh for a few starting years, then 5 Eurocent/kWh for the remainder of 20 years, WITHOUT Inflation adjustment.
                  "You are so wildly misinformed ...". We can be of different opinion, but I am not misinformed!
                  100 Billion Euro for about 35 GWp of PV sounds about right. But most of this was the learning investment in a new technology and is not relevant for the future costs and decisions. The next 35 GWp will cost well under 40 Billion Euro.
                  best regards

        • Bernard Finucane

          I predict aluminium smelting is going to move towards the equator. And why not? that's where the energy is.

    • 1- yes, production has followed the same trend: http://cleantechnica.com/2013/12/10/solar-wind-power-capacities-go-electricity-generation-solar-wind-go-charts/

      2- one of solar's key benefits is that it can be installed on roofs of buildings already connected to the grid. but if people find it's cost-effective to build solar farms too (as they do), then that's only if it makes sense including the cost of the power lines... as with other power plants.

  • Kate Bachman

    Read about a revolutionary solar thermal process that directly heats, molds plastic. No conversion requiried: http://sustainablemfr.com/renewable-energy/solar-molding-of-audio-components-speaks-volumes Zero emissions, zero input, zero storage, zero conversion i.e. electricity, as with PV.)

    • These kinds of things look great, and can be until some people see those hundreds of acres of shiny mirrors and realize they could be living on them, planting stuff on them or using them for grazing. Expansion of human habitat will always trump the priorities when large tracts of land are involved. Not that it's a good thing, it just is.

  • EV docmaker

    Geothermal, solar, biomass, wind and of course serious battery production will cover all.

    • Dig Deeper

      Geothermal is nothing more but a means to collect diffuse nuclear fission generated heat. Makes more sense to control the source.

  • $6435151

    But how much solar energy is being shielded by chemtrails being sprayed across the USA and Europe by USAF and US Navy planes?

    • sanibonani

      You're kidding right?

  • arne-nl

    You left out an important one: solar power is democratic. You can all make your own.

    • EV docmaker

      Yes...all nuclear is pure fascist that is why politicians and corporations love nukes.

  • The missing factor in these sorts of reports is this: Solar panels made by current and forseeable technology won't produce much more, if any, energy that it took to manufacture them. They are like cosmic savings accounts with a 0.01% interest rate. When inflation is figured in, there is no net gain.

    • anderlan

      I've heard it's more like 10x the energy produced as to manufacture over the life of the panel, and that number improves every year as manufacturing techniques are honed and new chemistries developed. Why are you so down on new technology? Why are you so down on something that disrupts existing markets and empowers more players in the market, small businesses and households? Oh, I can think of a few reasons.

    • Neowolf

      Karl, that hasn't been true for a long time.

  • Obviously all energy on the planet ultimately comes (or came) from the sun...or the same forces that created it eons ago. There's nothing wrong with grabbing what little bit impinges on our surface daily but it is not rational to think it will really be sufficient to the ongoing demands for the next few centuries...because we have neither the ability or will to convert most of the earth's surface to energy conversion. The problem is somewhat analogous to that of providing arable land for agriculture...it is not practicably compatible with suitable land for living on,..not even at subsistence levels. Something has to give and within a few decades we will discover what that will be.

    • anderlan

      So, in a few centuries when we definitely won't be using fossil energy any more, we might not be using solar any more either, so therefore we shouldn't switch from fossil energy to solar now? You fossil fuel lobbyist guys are reaching over your shoulder to wipe yourselves nowadays with your strained arguments to protect old technology and maintain your antiquated centralized market structure so you can remain king for a few more days.

    • anderlan

      So, what you're trying to say is that in a few hundred years we might not be using solar, so we shouldn't switch from fossil to solar now? That makes no sense. We of course won't be using fossil energy either.

    • It actually wouldn't take more than a small fraction of the Earth's surface covered with solar panels, using today's technology, to power the entire planet.

      • Dig Deeper

        not really. Power needs to be supplied where it is needed when it is needed.

        • neroden

          That's why you put the solar panels directly on the buildings which are using the energy, and add batteries to use the energy overnight and when it's cloudy.

  • Dig Deeper

    Yes the Sun releases enormous amounts of energy, but harnessing it on Earth is another thing altogether.
    Delivering that energy precisely when needed to our homes, factories, and automobiles is yet another challenge to utilizing solar energy.
    The environmental impact solar PV has in terms of carbon production, raw materials (including batteries), and land usage is much greater than using nuclear fission via the most energy dense fuels known to man.

    Geothermal energy is nothing more than trying to collect diffuse nuclear fission generated heat.
    Solar energy is nothing more than trying to collect the energy from nuclear fusion.

    Both fission and fusion are far less invasive and far more practical means of providing energy to a world population of 9+ billion humans. The scientific illiterate insist that we use diffuse energy collection systems when we have the option to control the source - fission and fusion.

    • Jonathan Lawry

      Thanks for this. As a physicist (by education), I am often shocked how discussions like these are often dominated by those armed with only a near-religious zeal for renewables, with minimal regard for the actual science and math. People never think of the kilojoules required to lug their Prius to Starbucks for a fair-trade latte....only the energy used by their MacBooks while they are there.

      • I think we can agree that sustainable energy, in principle, is a good goal and that solar is much less finite a source than fossil fuels. We can also probably agree that emitting less pollution for our electricity needs is a good thing, and researchers will likely continue to develop technologies to emit less CO2 per KWh, whether it's carbon-capture-equipped coal plants or more efficient transmission from wind turbines to urban centers.

        I believe the zeal you mention is necessary for stimulating a continued push toward these goals. That zeal is the stimulus that makes many people buy PV systems for their rooftops or choose a car with better gas mileage or an electric car. To criticize people for not calculating the carbon footprint of every action misses the good that people are trying to do with some of their actions.

        • Dig Deeper

          Nuclear power is actually more environmentally friendly than solar. It is less material intensive, produces smaller waste streams, is less land intensive, and has a lower lifecycle carbon footprint according to the IPCC

          • neroden

            False, false, false, and false, but whatever.

            • Bhopal killed more people than Chernobyl, and the latter gave scientists a glimpse at how wildlife does without humans (great, aside from some mutations). Radiation, if not easy to block, is easy to detect and remove, unlike more toxic chemicals used to produce, transport, operate and maintain less efficient power sources. Burning coal creates more radioactive waste than a nuclear power plant, both of which could be consumed even more efficiently by thorium reactors. Even factoring in the nuclear accident deaths, coal kills more people. Solar is excellent but not if you need a lot of power in a small footprint, say a nuclear submarine, though I would be curious about the viability of ultracaps and monthly floating solar recharges. Perhaps trucking those around could help until HVDC lines arrive at the future desert solar plants.

      • David

        The sun powers our world every day. (heat, rain and snow, food). The sun must become our primary source of electricity. We have to get past the naysayers and begin to realize how it's possible. (glad the Wright Brothers were persistent).

      • Tell us your predictions about "solar disasters" and "solar waste" that has no plan for disposal. Also, look at #1 again.

    • no

      Hi Dig Deeper. Agreed! But, at what expense? Solar provides clean energy, with no fallout expected or even on the cards! Your solution puts us all at the mercy of un-tested security measures against a force we have no idea how to contain, let alone deal with! Look at Japan and tell me if you still think it's a great idea to mess with unknown science and it's consequences, or go the logical route and use what has been available for eons, waiting for us to understand it's capabilities? An animal understood is far less dangerous that a rabid one! Even if there is more energy in the rabid one! We need to save the planet at the best of our ability, not test our unknown knowledge in hope to the detriment of our descendants!

    • Solar is forever a cleaner and safer approach than nuclear. There is no
      "solar waste" that has no disposal method, and a "solar accident" is a ground-based solar panel tipping over onto someone.

      • Dig Deeper

        nuclear waste can be utilized as fuel in fast neutron reactors and in its small government monitored volumes presents no threats to anyone.

        Solar PV has factually resulted in more deaths/kWh produced than nuclear power. The US has been powered by 20% nuclear power for decades with no radiation related deaths - with limited solar rooftops we have had fires, and installers fall.

        More to the point an industrialized country cannot practically gain all of its primary energy needs from solar due to the rotation of the earth and unpredictable cloud cover. On the other hand several countries have successfully produced large shares of their energy from nuclear power.

        • Nuclear waste _can_ be recycled/reused (according to you) but it isn't. Until it is, it's just very hazardous waste with no place to put it. And your assertion that the amount of waste is "small" is laughable.

          Your deaths comparison is ridiculous on its head. You discount environmental hazard and deaths to wildlife, as well as a far greater human death-causing potential by nuclear. Besides, I think you're pulling the "falling off roofs" number out of your you-know-what. (after all, you didn't prove it with any link.)

          Yes, an industrialized country can practically gain all of its primary energy needs from a combined renewables portfolio, and stored energy devices only aid this picture.

          Face it, nuclear is dead. Renewables are taking over.

          • ghollings

            Hi Dig Deeper and Metro Issues - Thanks for taking the time to share your opinions. Just a quick preemptive friendly reminder from me to keep your lively discussions civil, as per the ABB Conversations Community Guidelines!..http://www.abb-conversations.com/community-guidelines

            Many thanks!
            Greg - ABB Conversations editor

          • Dig Deeper

            actually nuclear fuel is recycled - see France Russia and China

            stored energy is essential, each all renewable scenario pitched by sources like NREL or Mark Z Jacobson of Stanford includes heavy contributions from Hydropower and Biomass - both of which cause more environmental damage than nuclear power.

        • geoffrey bailey

          Dig Deeper: You are really piling it on talking about solar installers falling. I'm sure their have been accidents building nuclear plants too. I was for nuclear power until Fukushima. Three nuclear engineers quit GE in the 1970s over the design of those reactors, because if the power gets cut off you are screwed. Diesel electric backup generators are known for their unreliability. GE had over 40 years to fix the problem but didn't to save money. Just because nuclear power can be done safely doesn't mean it will. We also don't have a solution for the nuclear waste. In some locations its getting into the groundwater. Nuclear power plants have never been constructed on budget. Without government help, no investors would ever fund nuclear power.

  • Dig Deeper

    Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe, yet powering our cars by it is not so simple - same principle applies to solar energy.

    • Viktor Hrafn Gudmundsson

      Hydrogen cars are not powered by the hydrogen itself, you would need fusion or fission for that.

      By seperating hydrogen from oxygen you're able to charge the hydrogen atom with an extra electron which is then used to power the car when the atom is joint back with oxygen onboard the vehicle. Therefore the source can come from wherever, e.g. solar.

      • Dig Deeper

        Hydrogen cars can be fuel cell (as you have described) or internal combustion engine. In either case compressed hydrogen fuel is needed, and creating the supply and refueling network is a daunting task economically.

        I think fuel cell cars will be a big part of the future but the transition may take some time. Hydrogen fuel cell cars can meet most requirements of the consumer, whereas solar energy is not a practical to meet most needs of an the consumer at the moment because there is no practical or affordable way to store all energy needs for use at night or under cloud cover. Solar PV integrated to a small extent works, but nowhere in the world does it power an entire city - even after 100s of billions of global subsidy and dramatically falling prices.

        If we are serious about fighting global warming we need to embrace the sources that work now - primarily nuclear energy which is completely scalable and has been creating the largest share of global clean energy for decades. I am not suggesting we stop research and support for solar, but the priority for deployment subsidy should shift to the tools that work best now - primarily hydro and nuclear.

        • FreeSpeechIsntCrime

          You are correct in citing obstacles- but if you pay attention to current advancements- we are one simple solution away from overcoming the obstacles you cite.

          Also- if you are pro nuclear- then why not just consider the sun your nuclear source and embrace solar? Such would certainly lower the risk of dealing with man made nuclear accidents- which somewhat contradict any claim of 'Global Clean Energy'. (In fact- that is the first time I have ever heard the phrase in reference to Nuclear Power. I'm afraid it does not fit the mold. Such a phrase to describe Nuclear Power certainly died with Fukushima, if not Chernobyl/Belarus.)

          Nuclear has owned the energy markets forever. If it cannot exist without subsidies by now then it is obviously not self-sustainable.

          We owe a debt to nuclear power- just as we owe a debt to fossil fuels- as both have taken our species far- but the costs/risks now clearly outweigh the benefits and both nuclear and fossil fuels have erased much of that debt by destroying far too much of our natural resources. The remediation alone from Ixtoc, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, BP, Fukushima and countless others is incalculable, yet not even considered in terms of how much the world has sacrificed in order for Fossil Fuels and Nuclear to profit incalculably.

          Nuclear and Fossil Fuels have not only asked of us- they have demanded of posterity. Think about Chernobyl and remember that Fukushima has only begun.

          It is difficult to imagine Solar requiring such a sacrifice.

    • Powering cars by solar is actually very simple. If utilities build solar plants or get energy from such plants, in combination with rooftop solar, electric cars can be charged.

      • Dig Deeper

        There are limitations to how much solar PV is practical for a grid system to handle due to its intermittent nature.

        Germany spent over 130 billion USD on its solar fleet which produces 5% of its annual electricity needs. However at some times of the year this solar fleet produces in excess of 50% of electricity demand, while during other prolonged winter periods it provides less than a quarter percent of demand (and of course nothing at night and little during cloud cover).

        Nuclear on the other hand provides roughly 75% of France's electricity demand throughout the year and does so in all conditions. France has half the per capita emissions and electricity prices of Germany.

        The science is simple - nuclear energy is very important to climate change. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2014/20140221_DraftOpinion.pdf

        • Solar's intermittent nature is handled by having a combined renewables portfolio and utilizing stored energy devices. Solar is far safer and far cleaner than nuclear will ever be.

          Also, you need to face reality: Nuclear was a PR problem that nuclear shilling will ever solve. It doesn't matter how much you argue. People see the accidents, people see the cost overruns, people see the waste storage problem. Solar and other renewables have no such PR problem.

          Renewables are the future. Nuclear is dead.

  • Bubba Nicholson

    All of the sun's energy is harnessed warming the planet, photosynthesis, etc. PV only inefficiently converts a tiny part of that energy to electricity (or heat at a distance). Only by turning away 2.6% or so of solar energy can we reverse solar warming. Big orbital balloons over the equator, Greenland, glaciers, etc. would work, and they could be guided around or brought down easily, unlike polluting the stratosphere.

  • Martin Auer

    As I know nearly
    all energy sources we use on earth are renewable except nuclear power. However
    regeneration rate of gas, oil Coal is really low comparing the consumption.
    Except nuclear power, all energy is coming from the sun: Coal etc. is just
    transformed organic material, which was powered via photosynthesis by the sun; Energy
    produced by wind hyro, tides have all the energy origin from the sun.

    So why shouldn’t
    we use the sun light directly?

    Only solar
    power and nuclear power (including nuclear fusion in maybe a couple of decades)
    remain as an long term energy source. Nuclear power I do not really like since
    there are two big problems, the risk of a nuclear accident and the still not
    solved problem of the nuclear waste. Nuclear fusion is far away (decades) from
    becomming practical. Therefore remains only one energy source.

    Around 10
    years ago I was really skeptical about solar power since the energy efficiency
    of standard modules was around 10-15% (currently 15-20%). As an engineer an
    energy efficiency which is that low I do not really like and I thought I should
    wait until energy efficiency will be improved a lot before using photovoltaic
    as a meaningful energy source. That was completely wrong! The most important
    points of an energy source are only the price and the sustainability! Not the
    energy efficiency! By the way we used the Edison bulb with approximately only
    5% of energy efficiency more than 100 years, without anyone cared about the
    energy efficiency.

    I’m sure in
    future we build solar cells which will have a significantly better energy
    efficiency, but we should not wait until this happens. In the most countries we
    have reached already the point of grid parity (the point where it is cheaper to
    install a solar power plant than to build a Cole power plant). Increasing the
    number of installations will decrease the price/KWh as well it will force the science/industry
    to build solar cells with higher efficiency.

    interesting point of the statistics is that the USA have only 10% of PV
    installation of Europe (which have comparable population and DGP). Why is it
    like that?

    What we further
    can observe is that countries which high government support schemes/programs are
    leading the statistics like Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Czech Republic (with
    a population of only 10 millions). Germany accounted nearly one third of global
    solar PV capacity although Germany is not the optimal place for PV, in Spain
    for example have 50% more solar hours/year. In Germany and Italy PV constructions
    are highly supported by the government (although support has been decreased last
    year). In Germany they call the promotion “Energie Wende” (turn of energy); related
    to the population and DGP the solar capacity in Germany is approx. 20 times
    higher than in the USA.

    we can influence the solar power progress a lot by political actions, and
    therefore increase the speed of dropping the price, which will allow a faster
    adaption towards renewable energy.

    Not the
    issue here, but I see analogies for electric cars. About two years before I was
    looking for current electric cars. Available cars were sparse. The main
    arguments against electric cars where: they are too expensive, battery capacity
    (energy density) is to low and therefore the range is to low, charging time is
    too long. Many experts form the automobile industry told, that the technique is
    currently not available, it will take some decades, until the desired batteries
    will be available. However there exist already a car, which can compete against
    combustion powered cars (currently only on a high price segment). It’s the Tesla
    model S, a car without any compromise, winning awards one by one. There is only
    a matter of time until the price of lithium batteries drop under the threshold
    where medium-class electric cars can compete against combustions. Experts speak
    about 2-3 years. The highest sales figures of the Tesla model S in Europe have
    Norway. There electric cars are highly supported by the government. A further
    reason, why the relative expensive car have high sales figures in Norway is,
    that in Norway the average salary is relatively high (twice as in Germany) and
    therefore the price of the model S is not that important. This means if compromises
    of an electric car are acceptable (for Tesla this is becoming true also for
    long distance travel due to the extension of the superchargers) and price does
    not play a role, there is no reason to by a combustion based car.

    we should not wait until something happens or technique is improved. We just
    have to force/support what we want and need, and technique/and price will develop
    on demand.

    • FreeSpeechIsntCrime

      Here. Here, Martin!

      Folks who insist that Nuclear is the only way should just consider our Star- the Sun- as their nuclear source- and be grateful that it is so far away that we don't have to be concerned with the difficult problem of protecting our children and ourselves from the awful effects of radiation sickness and exposure which leads to genetic mutation, cancer and other illnesses. Solar IS Nuclear Power- (if one Truly believes we live in a Nuclear Model Universe).


      GO TESLA!!!!!!!

      • Dig Deeper

        but controlling the source directly has an enormous advantage for satiating real-time power needs that exist day or night rain or shine.

        furthermore we havent had much trouble protecting our children and ourselves from the aful effects of radiation exposure related to nuclear plants - in terms of deaths per kWh commercial nuclear power is safer than Photovoltaics and only second to wind power.

    • Dig Deeper

      nuclear is actually renewable, we have enough spent fuel to power the US for more than 6 centuries and uranium can be filtered from seawater. Thorium supplies are inexhaustible for all practical purposes relating to civilian nuclear power.

      Why nuclear? because unlike renewables it delivers power as needed. Because it can deliver said power with orders of magnitude less land and raw material usage and the environmental damages associated with these things.

  • dmeharc

    Does ALL power use contribute to Global Warming? Should we just live simpler lives?

    • roger


    • No. Renewables don't, except in the construction of the solar panels, wind turbines, etc.

    • David

      Yes, all power use contributes to Global Warming, in the form of heat pollution. Even with the solar panels running my computer, the computer itself makes heat that escapes into the system. Though I read the other day about thermoelectric motors of sorts, able to convert heat waste into electricity. Not all of it, as I'm pretty sure think that would violate a Law.

  • FreeSpeechIsntCrime

    I've seen far too many *natural gas outlets in homes *structurally damage* the house to the extent that it is difficult for the homeowners to even locate where the house was within the crater left as a result of the explosion. (They weren't home during the explosion. Some haven't been so fortunate.) Besides- do you know how much damage to home foundations and business foundations is presently being wrought upon the nation? Here- fill in the blank: The ensuing earthquakes around 5 days into Fracking Peak Well Injection Pressure are responsible for $__________________________________________________________________ in national foundation damage nationwide in the USA. (Write small. I left you room for plenty of zeroes. You're gonna need them.)

  • Louis Norman Wells

    Human Error is the prime reasom for failures of nuclear power plants,and alas the cause of many other major accidents.Either at the design stage or in subsequent operational use there is a failure to take some significant feature into consideration .Many fall into the category that is covered by the failure to study a sufficiently broad 'What If' list at the design stage of the project concerned , Or worse to deliberately ignore risk,Taking a chance ,or 'It'll be alright on the night' philosophy .Making assurace doubly sure cost's money which is anathema to business operation.but the consequences where nuclear plants are concerned are too dangerous to human life to risk Yet they have been!!! In the case of Fukushima there were at least four situations, so I have learned, which should have been foreseen and ,which did not concern the core nuclear fission system.
    Firstly the geographical site location was wrong
    Secondly the wall designed to protect against a tsunami was not high enough
    Thirdly the backup pumps were sited in such a position that they were put out of action by flooding
    And finally there was no totally independent emergency power line to the site .
    In my view all of these were avoidable errors. but they have resulted in adverse publicity for the nuclear power plant industry .
    It is folly not to consider a world where all fossil fuels have been exhausted,In addition to which we ought not to be burning them anyway There are much more valuable uses to which they can be put. but the investment in Solar Energy and improved nuclear power plants should be being made now .Or are we so selfish that we are prepared to leave these problems to future genrations


    • Solar is forever a cleaner and safer approach than nuclear. There is no "solar waste" and a "solar accident" is a ground-based solar panel tipping over onto someone.

  • What's especially interesting about #5 is that Germany is such a cloudy country. So, it's a mystery as to why so many much sunnier countries aren't clamoring for more solar developments.

    • Dig Deeper

      because it doesn't make much economic sense to integrate large capacities of a generation source that has an unreliable and unpredictable output. The end result is only an increase of overall capacity on the grid and overhead costs associated with it.

      • JayM

        Intermittent yes, unpredictable no.

        The result is also as you state, more back-up capacity and some overhead cost*, but also a large fuel saving, keeping money in the country instead of giving it to energy exporting countries, and the avoidance of economic and physical harm through environmental effects.
        * In the balance, we now see a lot of investment in the capital intense energy industry by citizens at an expected return of 3 - 8%, instead of the common 10 - 20% in the large energy industry, with a large effect on financing costs.

        BTW, last year the "worlds most modern lignite power plant" in Germany went off grid within 7 minutes, taking 2,2 GW of Generation out of the system. Unreliable and unpredictable?

        In Northern Germany not long ago two nuclear power stations went out within 1/2 hour of each other. Unreliable and unpredictable?

        best regards


        • Dig Deeper

          Solar and wind power are unreliable and unpredictable by definition. You cannot reliably predict what the solar or wind resource will precisely be at any given time or what it might by a week from today any better than you can predict the weather.

          Trying to pick a few rare instances where nuclear and coal went offline and suggest that they are as unpredictable is silly. We don't look at isolated instances when determining reliability, we look at the averages from large sets of data. In that regard nuclear power is by far the most reliable generation source known to man, and it is clean to boot.

          Speaking of Germany, how is the energiewende working for them? Last I checked they had increased emissions in each of the last 3 years and are burning as much coal as they had before the Berlin wall came down.

          Renewables have a place but are by no means an adequate response to the problem of global warming.

          • JayM

            Hello @Dig Deeper,

            You cannot predict precisely, but you can predict. Check out the Fraunhofer report on PV, page 35 Picture 31. There you see actual vs. predicted hourly PV production for the year 2012.


            Then check out the analysis of price events in 2013, i.e. those times when actual deviated strongly and unexpectedly from planned power production and demand.


            You will see that the prediction error in the load forecast plays a very large role. Problems arose mostly when load projection error and other errors cumulated, but load projection errors are at least as large, mostly larger, than solar or wind projection errors. An uncertain load forecast ist an old problem in the grid, something we know how to deal with for a long time. Now we also deal with other projection errors. So what?
            When dealing with grid stability the few rare events are very significant, especially when 3% of german generation capacity drops out in one go (the 2.2 GW that went out wihtin 7 minutes, 2 nukes within 1/2 hour of each other, many unplanned 500 MW - 1 GW (= 1 - 2% of generation) shutdowns every year). We have emergency shut-downs and unplanned outages of major conventional power plants several times a year. Also here, that ist something we have dealt with in the past and will continue to deal with. The unplanned, unpredicted variations in renewable energy input are much less. Predictive tools are getting a lot better, with several 100 000 PV plants being evaluated in real time as input for forecasts. A useful development of the market mechanisms might be to add a 6 hour step between the day-ahead market and the hourly spot market, to adjust the trading systems to the new world of energy.
            Whether nuclear energy is clean is maybe a question to ask in Japan or around the geman dump site "Asse", which now needs to be emptied, because the unpredicted and "impossible" water ingress in the salt mine cannot be handled anymore. Unfortunately, nobody knows how to get the barrels with nuclear waste out again, so they decided to think about it for 30 years and leave the problem to coming generations.
            The Energiewende works fine, with the normal problems and lobby fights that you would expect in a mojor transition.
            As to coal / CO2 emissions in Germany, two reasons:
            - we took out 10 nuclear power stations (about 8% of geman generation capacity) in 2011 and compensated most, but not all of this with renewables within 3 years. In that light a 1,5% increase in CO2 emissions is not so dramatic
            - the CO2 price in the certificate trading system crashed, because of economic downturn and more renewable energy than planned. That pushed out gas power and favored coal, especially domestic lignite. This is a systematic problem with certificate trading, if you overachieve for other reasons the inventive to save emissions goes away. By design CO2 reduction targets become CO2 reduction limits. That needs to change, but is not a problem directly attributable to renewable energy, but to a poor choice of policy tools.
            The good thing is that we do not need to have big arguments about this anymore. Nukes are still being promoted and planned, but not many will be built anymore. PV and wind are just too cheap nowadays.
            best regards

            • Dig Deeper

              Hello Jochen, I thank you for being civil.

              Picture 31 appears to show insolation predicted vs actual over a long period of time, not real time prediction - there is an enormous difference. Power demand needs to be satisfied in real-time, it isnt enough to provide the average amount of electricity needed over the span of a week or a day - the precise amount needs to be provided down to the second.

              The increased uncertainty that wind and solar add to day-ahead forecasts are not their large-scale economic downfall - instead it is the low capacity value they provide in the first place. Integrating larger solar and wind capacities into a grid system does not allow for an appreciable sum of conventional capacity to be retired, instead it has to remain operational because the wind and solar generation is intermittent and unreliable. This means that the overall capacity maintained on the grid is very large, with much of it losing utilization to wind and solar while overhead costs still need to be covered. This leads to the deteriorating of profitability for conventional generators and an increase in overall cost of electricity, as demonstrated in Germany where Eon is being subsidized by the government to keep unprofitable generators online.

              It is difficult to argue that renewables are a practical approach to producing energy at a global scale when they have steadily increased the cost of electricity in Germany while emissions have in fact also increased each of the past two years. The large majority of the world hasn't enough money to even approach this modest 11% penetration that wind and solar PV have in Germany.

              Nuclear is clean. The background level of radiation throughout Japan including the large majority of the Fukushima prefecture is below natural background radiation levels of many inhabited spots on the Earth. The World Health Organization reported that Fukushima radiation leakage caused zero deaths and the effect was so small that future deaths due to the radiation will be undetectable compared to societal norms. Some villagers returned to the Chernobyl area some 25 years ago and they are living quite healthy lives as is the wildlife in the area:http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120411084107.htm

              Of course neither Chernobyl (which had no containment dome) nor Fukushima are acceptable and both are completely avoidable accidents, new designs provide core cooling without the need for backup power. Some designs are incapable of melting down altogether. Just as we haven't abandoned passenger flight because of early dangers with airplane technology we will not abandon the most power dense fuel known to mankind.

              "The good thing is that we do not need to have big arguments about this
              anymore. Nukes are still being promoted and planned, but not many will
              be built anymore. PV and wind are just too cheap nowadays"

              Obviously thats not true, even in the EU many nuclear plants are being build, and no country is largely powered by wind or solar. The UK is committing to nuclear. Poland, Czechloslovakia, Turkey, Slovakia, Finland, France, Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Belarus are all building plants. Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, and Finland are all uprating the capacities of existing plants.

              The reason you are opposed to nuclear is because you don't know very much about it. It is a more environmentally friendly option at large scale than renewables because it uses less materials, creates less waste, and uses less land all due to the enormous power density of the fuel.

              Again the reason you are opposed to nuclear is because you don't know very much about it. Learn a thing or two and you will be astonished how you could have ever been against such a non-invasive form of large-scale energy production.

              • JayM

                Hello @Dig Deeper,

                the Chart with the prediction looks at day ahead forecasts per hour vs. actual for that hour. The data is available to everyone here http://www.transparency.eex.com/de/
                but without full (paid) access you cannot download large volumes of data from this site. Also, unfortunately, due to late reporting, the data published on the day itself does not always show all of the actual production. Organisations such as Fraunhofer regularly analyse this dataset more in depth and publish graphs such as the one with the PV forecast..
                You are completely right, back-up capacity needs to be maintained in the system for times when solar and wind produce nothing. But that does not need to be very expensive. If it is only for a few 100 hours per year a simple gas turbine plant is completely sufficient. Starting from scratch (which we are not) and catering for 100% of German capacity (which we would not need) we are talking about 18 bln Euros (@ 300 Euro/kW). Much of this is already present in the form of CHP and emergency generators. That potential just needs to be tapped with a smart control system.
                The deteriorating profitability is largely due to the large historic base of inflexible base load plants (nukes and lignite in Germany) that steam through whether the output is needed or not, and an impatience to let the market do ist trick. We have large overcapacity throughout Europe that has little to do with renewables, and the Big4 (RWE, E.on, EnBW and Vattenfall) have ignored the signs and continued to built conventional power plants when they were not needed anymore. Under the Merrit Order Market mechanism flexible back-up plants will call high prices for short periods. Take out much of the superfluous base load capacity and the market will do the rest.
                Again you suggest that I am not well informed, this time about nuclear. I can assure you that that is not the case. You compare radioactive releases from nuclear power stations with background radiation, which suggets that you either do not know the difference in hazard between radiation exposure from the outside (mainly Gamma) vs. the hazards of ingesting radioactive material (Gamma, Beta and Alpha sources right in your tissue) or ignore it, or worse ... .
                As to nuclear power stations being built. The Finish reactor Olkiluoto, for example, is under construction since 2005, offered with a fixed price of 3,5 billion Euros. Estimates are now up at nearly 7 billion Euros, estimated completion is in 2016 (although even that is being questioned now). Meanwhile interest for the already spent billions is accumulating with no kWh produced.
                Other projects also point to 5+ billion Euros/GW for new built nuclear reactors (and also to large delays in permitting and construction). That equates to 10+ c/kWh still excluding full third party liability insurance and cost of storing the waste for long periods afterwards. The 10 c/kWh, by the way, can only be achieved if the plant runs all hours, i.e. this is not dispatcheable energy at that price but inflexible base load that also needs to be complemented with more flexible middle and peak load plants (which for a long time lived off the merrit order mechanism without much need or calling for capacity subsidies).
                Nuclear power is dead, some misguided nations will (try to) continue down that path for some time, and some not so nice regimes just want to be part of the nuclear club for totally different reasons than "cheap" and "clean" power.
                Go ahead and build a few nukes at 5 billion/GW. They might even make sense for the investor as long as they get base load priority in the grid, run with free liability insurance provided by the people and waste disposal is paid for by the tax payer. Macro-economically they are as dead as a dodo.
                best regards


  • JayM

    "Cheapest Solar Ever? Austin Energy Buys PV From SunEdison at 5 Cents per Kilowatt-Hour"


    5 Dollarcent/kWh with 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit = 7 to 8 Dollarcent/kWh or 5,5 Eurocent/kWh without ITC.

    If it catches on in Texas we are past the tipping point!
    best regards

  • falstaff77

    These "potential" comparisons are silly. People can no more collect all of that solar flux hitting the earth than they can fission all of the uranium/thorium in the earth's crust, core, and oceans. Give it a rest already.

    • David

      Point is even if we get a few percentages of the free energy that hits us (and we can), we wouldn't need the other dirtier fuels. But for the lack of trying.

      • falstaff77

        We can at what cost? If one tosses economics aside as immaterial we could all get along, very poorly, with horse power. And, unlike solar power, at least horses still run at night and in winter.

        • David

          Only if you have food for the horse. Sunlight, when it falls, falls for free, unlike all other forms of electricity production. Regardless of the magic that is the photoelectric effect, you can see the J-Curves of solar production in the graphs above, on scales large and small. Home systems and huge power plants, on the level of states, countries, and globally. Continue the trends that have been cranking right along the last thirty years plus, and solar energy will be 1/100th the cost and hundreds of terawatts will be produced worldwide, in only a few years. That's the beauty of exponential growth. 1 becomes over 1 billion in only 30 doublings.

          • falstaff77

            "Sunlight, when it falls, falls for free, unlike all other forms of electricity production."

            Water flows down rivers for free, wind blows for free, even fossil fuels are in the ground for free. The cost comes about in building the hydro dam or the wind turbine or the gas drilling rig or the solar farm (plus storage) to collect it all, and the transmission from A to B, else it is useless.

            "That's the beauty of exponential growth"

            In the physical world, there are no examples of exponential growth that continue for even relatively long periods of time, much less forever. None. What occurs instead are logistics curves which, when installation costs are included, are what is already apparent in solar PV costs. The installed PV system cost in the US as of 2011 was still $6/W residential ($0.23/kWh@5% discount), taking 12 years to fall by half. (NREL, Figure 2)

            Note also that the PV installed cost still does not include the cost of backup, though utilities are about to start charging residential PV owners for exactly that.

            • David

              Good points about the hydro and wind. I had in mind non renewable forms of electricity production, and should avoid blanket statements in the future. In regards to the exponential growth portion of the logistic curve (much appreciated, btw); it doesn't have to last forever, just long enough. We've seen the cost of photovoltaics drop like a stone in the last 60 years (since they were used almost solely for use in satellites), while the number of watts produced worldwide via PV's has increased, approximately exponentially as well. There's no reason to think both trends won't continue for at least the next few years before leveling out once we reach peak efficiency and installations become saturated. Also, thanks for the PV Pricing link.
              Not to be off topic (haha), but have you heard about piezoelectics? Generating electricity from pressure exerted on crystals, which seems to me like gravity generated electricity.

  • Roxanne Wright

    Based on your article, it's amazing to know just how much potential solar energy shows. As time goes by and as technology advances, solar energy has been harnessed quite easily than before. However, this doesn't guarantee that solar energy will become as popular as other sources of energy today. It's still quite unstable and installation of solar panels can be expensive among majority of people around the globe. Hopefully, there will be a solution to these downsides in the near future.

    [edited by moderator]

  • There is a new factsheet on #solar in #Germany - http://strom-report.de/pv-facts/

  • Be

    Great article. 3 years later, solar and wind are available the cheapest of all energy sources*, doubling every 2 years, the majority of pier installs and can replace all other energy sources in 10-15 years. They can be backed with waste to fuels as well. *Lazard energy version 9.

  • Be

    Great article. 3 years later, solar and wind are available the cheapest of all energy sources*, doubling every 2 years, the majority of all power installs and can replace all other energy sources in 10-15 years, backed with waste to fuels and hydro. *Lazard energy version 9.