Solar Power Is Most Promising for Research

The Solyndra Disaster


House Speaker Jonh Boehner (R-Ohio) is backing a $2 billion Energy Department loan guarantee (Boomberg News) sought by a uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio. He’s also backing a “relentless” investigation of the $0.5 billion Energy Department loan guarantee for Solyndra. What’s the difference? The nuke plant is stimulus for Ohio, Boehner’s, home state, but Soyndra is in California. 

The Solyndra fiasco cost a hair less than President Bush wasted ever day for 2,134 days on Iraq.

There have also been ridiculous charges of corruption, as if the Administration was intentionally give Solyndra money to line its pockets. This would mean DOE did not care about success, but only about payoffs. It’s just the opposite. The were desperately looking for a big success for solar. But, I still blame the environmentalists. Why? Because solar subsidies are no way to stop global warming, and they are a great way to give a black eye to those of us who care about America’s energy problems and the environment.

Am I just being a Monday morning quaterback? No, I’ve been upsetting my environmentalist friends for years by railing against solar subsidies. You could save five to twenty times as much carbon for the same money, and sooner or later, you will be found out. I predicted this would someday be a real setback for clean energy, but I had no idea how bad it would actually be. Sure the Republicans are misleading, but don’t tell me you’re surprised.

solar thermal in Spain
400 ft tower + 2,650 mirrors
Click — it’s awesome.

Why Solar Needs Research Money, Not Production Subsidies

I’ve been a solar-power fan since the late 1950’s. By the late ’60’s an old college friend was telling me solar was almost here and needed government support. No flip-flopper, he’s still telling me the same thing forty years later. Now Krugman’s saying it too. He’s a great economist, but he’s been snookered on solar.

But I’m still a big fan of solar. I think it’s made great progress and is our best green-energy hope (except for one of those unknown unknowns). But now is the time for an intense research push, and not a time for big production subsidies. Here’s why.

  • We want the US to lead in this technology—its the future.

    • We are not going beat China on cheap production of old technology.
    • Our strength lies in scientific research
  • Solyndra blew three years of federal solar research budgets !

    • The 2012 budget is $166 million (8 hours of the Iraq war) and Solyndra lost $535 million.
  • Scaling up today’s solar plants is a waste of money.

    • We will get more solar breakthroughs and they will radically change how solar panels are manufactured.
    • Read MIT’s Tech Review. It’s full of brilliant new solar ideas—all radically different from today’s technology.
  • Today’s solar installations will be out-of-date in 10 years.

    • That’s OK for disposable cell phones and lap tops, but not for hardware designed to last 30 year.
  • Markets are great at manufacturing, but not a advance research

    • Venture capital has been eager to jump into green tech.
    • But, economists and businessmen agree, markets are not good at advanced research.
    • This is where the government has role and where it’s shown in the past:  jets, radar, nuclear, the internet, etc.