- - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Solar panels are one of the favorite hopes on the left for clean and renewable energy. The evangelists for the sun claim that solar power capacity will double this year, and point out to the credulous that government programs offer tax breaks and incentives to encourage Americans to put up solar panels, and government-funded solar farms, like California’s Ivanpah facility, are popping up like mushrooms (which actually prefer dark places) across the country.

Everybody likes the sun. Its warmth, its heat and its power warm and light a good part of our universe. But even that lucky old sun has limitations. Solar power goes dark for approximately half the day, and the panels are inefficient, bulky and prohibitively expensive. Nevertheless, the true believers are certain that once homeowners gets their panels up and running everyone will see the light. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s not always enough of that sunlight.

The California Energy Commission says that more than 90 percent of the solar panels are installed facing in the wrong direction, south, and should face west. South-facing panels soak up rays and produce power in the hours around midday, just when most people are away at work, and the panels are least likely to be used. By the time people get home and start using electricity, south-facing solar panels have gone off duty.

We should all take notice of this because we’re all paying for it. “There’s a major misalignment between residential solar energy producers and the grid into which they feed surplus power,” writes Sean Paige on the website Solar Secrets, “due to a lack of foresight and an all-too-typical indifference to how the grid actually works, If rooftop solar is generating too much surplus power when it isn’t needed but too little surplus power when it is needed, aren’t we greatly undermining the point of the exercise?”

This crucial question becomes all the more relevant on examining the costs of solar power. Apart from failures like Solyndra, an infamous $500 million boondoggle, so-called “successful” ventures cost taxpayers dearly, too.

Ivanpah Solar Energy Facility, winner of the 2014 Renewable Energy Project of the Year, has, for example, already cost more than $1.5 billion and wouldn’t be around now but for a $1.6 billion federal loan. Despite lofty projections, Ivanpah produces only about a quarter of its advertised output.

Taxpayers will likely have to pay an additional $500 million to retire the loan.

The push for solar nevertheless shows no signs of abating. Government money is lavished on the solar industry at an alarming rate. “It very much appears as if government subsidies and mandates are creating a solar bubble,” says Mr. Paige, “by propping up an entire industry that could implode once those supports are withdrawn.” It’s clear that solar power is not ready for prime time. Just when the world is enjoying the lowest oil prices in decades, the U.S. government is sinking billions into a questionable energy source that provides less than 1 percent of the nation’s energy.

Despite the government’s lavish outlay for solar technology, about all it has to show for it are solar panels facing the wrong direction.

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