Skip to comments.Paul Krugmanís Solar Delusions: Solarís getting cheaper, but it can never be a big reducer of...
Posted on 04/22/2014 3:01:01 PM PDT by neverdem
Solars getting cheaper, but it can never be a big reducer of carbon emissions.
Solar energy can solve global warming. Thats what Paul Krugman claims in his April 18 column in the New York Times, Salvation Gets Cheap.
Krugman extolled the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular. He used to dismiss the claim that renewable energy would be a major source of global energy as hippie-dippy wishful thinking. But now, he says, thanks to the falling price of renewable energy, the process of decarbonization can be accelerated and drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are now within fairly easy reach.
Solar is getting cheaper. And solar capacity is growing rapidly. But Krugman is still wrong. Solar wont result in drastic cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions for two simple reasons: scale and cost.
Before going further, let me be clear: Im bullish on solar. Ive invested in solar. A decade ago, I paid to have 3,200 watts of solar panels installed on my roof. Why? Simple: I got a big subsidy. Austin Energy paid two-thirds of the cost of my $23,000 system, and those panels now provide about 30 percent of the electricity my family and I consume.
I will also gladly stipulate that Krugman is right about the plummeting cost of solar. In 1980, the average global cost of a solar photovoltaic module (which converts sunlight into electricity) was about $23 per watt.(PDF) Today, its less than $1 per watt. Those falling costs are helping accelerate solar deployment. Between 2007 and 2012, according to BP, global solar capacity grew ten-fold and now stands at about 100,000 megawatts.
But that torrid growth doesnt spell the end of hydrocarbons. Even if we forget the incurable intermittency of solar energy which requires grid operators to have stand-by conventional generation capacity (from natural gas, coal, or nuclear) available for periods when the sun isnt shining the reason why cheaper solar panels wont lead to major cuts in global carbon dioxide emissions is that solars contribution remains infinitesimally small.
Between 2007 and 2012, the same period during which solar capacity grew tenfold, global coal consumption rose by the equivalent of more than 10 million barrels of oil per day. Meanwhile, in 2012, the contribution of global solar production was equivalent to roughly 400,000 barrels of oil a day.
Put another way, over the past half decade or so, just the growth in coal use is equal to about 25 times the contribution now being made by all of the worlds solar projects. And the coal-fired power plants that have been built over the past few years are likely to run for decades.
Why is coal use soaring around the world? Because demand for electricity is soaring. Since 1985, global electricity production has been growing by an average of about 450 terawatt-hours per year. The International Energy Agency expects global electricity use to continue growing by about that same amount every year through 2035.
Germany has more installed solar-energy capacity that any other country, with about 33,000 megawatts of installed photovoltaic panels. In 2012, those panels produced 28 terawatt-hours of electricity.
Just to keep pace with the growth in global electricity demand by using solar energy alone would require installing 16 times as much photovoltaic capacity as all of Germanys existing capacity every year.
Despite the math, Krugman has been hyping solar for years. Back in 2011, Krugman claimed that we are on the cusp of an energy transformation driven by the rapidly falling cost of solar power.
Sure, the costs of solar are falling, but it still remains far more expensive than coal, natural gas, or nuclear. Last week, the Energy Information Administration released its latest estimates for the cost of new electricity-generation capacity. By 2019, the agency projects, the cost of one megawatt-hour of electricity produced from solar photovoltaics will be $130. The same amount of electricity produced from natural gas will cost about half as much, $66, while a megawatt-hour of energy produced from a conventional coal-fired plant will cost $96. Nuclear, at $96 per megawatt-hour, will also remain less expensive than solar.
To bolster his claim that solar can save the world from global warming, Krugman cites the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, saying that the new document asserts that the economic impact of drastically overhauling our energy and power systems would be surprisingly small and would basically amount to a rounding error, around 0.06 percent per year.
But Krugman neglects to mention the outlandish assumptions(PDF) the IPCC made in making its cost estimate. Those assumptions: All of the countries of the world begin mitigation immediately, there is a single global carbon price, and all key technologies are available.
A single global carbon price? If theres one clear message from the last decade or so of climate-change meetings in places like Copenhagen, Bonn, Durbin, and elsewhere, its this: The countries of the world will not agree to a carbon tax. Hell, we cant even get universal agreement to ban land mines, and yet the IPCC is making cost projections based on a universal price on carbon!
If Krugman and the IPCC scientists think that the transition to an economy based on renewable energy will be cheap, they havent been paying attention to whats happening in Europe.
In Spain, subsidies for renewables have resulted in some $35 billion in governmental debt that must now be retired. Since 2000, Germany alone has spent about $100 billion on renewable energy, and Germanys environment minister recently estimated that the country may have to spend as much as $1.3 trillion over the next 25 years as it attempts to reach its targets of producing 35 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
Krugman may not want to admit it, but heres the truth: For all of its merits and rapidly declining cost, solar energy cannot even keep pace with the growth in global electricity demand, much less replace significant amounts of hydrocarbons or allow drastic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.
Climate change is among the most difficult issues of our time. If we are going to be serious about it addressing it, we have to be serious about the low-carbon sources that can provide the vast quantities of energy that the world demands at prices consumers can afford. Yes, solar will play a role in the years ahead. But the fuels of the future are N2N: natural gas to nuclear.
Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His fifth book, Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong, will be published May 13.
There is nothing wrong with having 4 to 10 kWhr/day of battery backed up photovoltaic solar, esp. for SHTF.
Ask any physics professor. Solar is cleanest thermally and with regard to CO2. If you continue with him or better, an engineer, they will both tell you that to think it could any where meet even a small fraction of our energy needs is not just sophomoric but downright retard level cognition. (or yer standard DUmmie libturd.)
Solar panels can’t meet the current densities required for anything other than simple lighting and small appliances.
Large solar reflector/steam plants do meet the demand however they require LOTS of land.
Kind of like some particular ranch land in southern Nevada...
it’s very simple.
if he doesn’t name who/how it’s cheaper, and by how much, he’s lying.
it’s what the left does.
hey 0bama...how many have signed up for 0care and have paid.
same type of empty lying “claim”
it’s what they do
Some noteworthy articles about politics, foreign or military affairs, IMHO, FReepmail me if you want on or off my list.
Figure it out. To meet the demands we had decades ago would have required 100% efficiency from an are the size of Texas. It is just not possible.
Solar power would not work reliably in cloudy states like Washington, Oregon, and closer to home for me, Ohio, which is the second cloudiest state after Washington.
My father has a PhD in physics and used to teach at Stanford. He laughed when I told him about your CO2 claim.
He said, “Sure, but only if you use nuclear to power every single step of producing the raw materials and the manufacturing process, not to mention all the transportation involved at each step. Or you could just use nuclear power for all your electric needs and leave solar panels to the granola munchers and the folks that live off grid.”
Just think...the average person wouldn’t have to worry about buying a pesky new roof anymore. And, and, the savings is all expected to pay itself off in about 200 years. The kicker, every rooftop of solar panels comes with a free security guard to keep your $60,000 investment from growing legs! Yea, solar panels are way cool. I wanna eat beans from now until my death to get them..fir sure.
Yer dad is a smart man.
Well, of course, not.
But my tax dollars shouldn't be going to subsidise your SHTF plan [not that I think you believe otherwise]. Solar and wind power make great sense for people who want to be or must be off the grid.
They're lousy, though, as mass generation technologies.
Being hooked up to the grid is a good thing, as is being capable of generating basic needs when the grid goes down. Additional generation can be provided by Diesel powered vehicles in the driveway when in the Winter during grid interruptions. Diesel stores well; a Tactical reserve of same is indicated.
I’m looking for a mini Nuke power plant.
What else do you need?
The author is having a rational argument with an irrational man.
Thanks for the ping!
Speaking of bending the truth, lots of the "paid" that signed up for Ocare are due to states signing up jailed convicts. It bumped up the numbers, but the taxpayers are again paying for it. Millions of jailed convicts, health care costs foisted on us.
Solar is a similar play. Lots of people installing it, but heavily subsidized by the rest of us. So are electric cars, the use of which solar can't create enough energy to recharge them. Lying no matter what they say, it's what the left does.
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