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Prospects Darken For Solar Energy Companies

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the no-blood-for-photons dept.

Businesses 435

Hugh Pickens writes "Although global demand for solar power is still growing — about 8% more solar panels will be installed this year compared with 2010 — bankruptcies, plummeting stock prices and crushing debt loads are calling into question the viability of the solar energy industry that since the 1970s has been counted on to advance the world into a new energy age. Only a handful of manufacturers are now profitable in the face of too much capacity, which has contributed to a plunge in prices as government subsidies have been curbed. Prices for solar panels started 2011 near $1.60 per watt, but a buildup of inventory forced manufacturers into a fire sale toward the end of the second quarter that has pushed prices to near $1 per watt now. 'The prices that we're seeing today are likely not covering manufacturing costs in many cases,' says Ralph Romero. With at least seven solar-panel manufacturers filing for bankruptcy or insolvency in the last several months and six of the 10 largest publicly traded companies making solar components reporting losses in the third quarter, public-market investors are punishing the solar sector, sending shares down nearly 57% this year. Although winners are expected to emerge eventually, the question is how much more carnage there will be before that happens. 'The fact of the matter is, nobody really knows which solar companies will be pushed out of business or be forced to merge,' writes industry analyst Rodolfo Avalos. 'Nobody also knows how long it will take for the solar industry to improve even when the forecasted solar global demand for the next 5-10 years is quite promising.'"

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Invisible hand of the free market (-1, Troll)

cbope (130292) | more than 2 years ago | (#38513930)

Don't worry, I'm sure the invisible hand of the free market will step in and all will be OK.

If the visible hand of government lets go (5, Informative)

mangu (126918) | more than 2 years ago | (#38513966)

What keeps the solar power industry from taking off is not the market. It's the subsidies that keep fossil fuels artificially cheap.

Subsidies like spending a trillion dollars to keep military control of producing countries, like fucking up the planet for the future generations, and so on.

Re:If the visible hand of government lets go (1, Insightful)

DemoLiter3 (704469) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514002)

Get your facts straight. Fossil fuels are never subsidized, but instead heavily taxed by the governments.
Solar and wind power however are only possible with enormous subsidies yet still can't produce energy on their own and require 100% backup capacity by conventional plants.

Re:If the visible hand of government lets go (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514054)

I think he meant "fossil fuels are subsidized to produce", not necessarily the end product.

Re:If the visible hand of government lets go (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514124)

Does not change the fact that he's wrong

Re:If the visible hand of government lets go (5, Informative)

ShnowDoggie (858806) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514290)

It is very easy to find tax exemptions for oil and mining exploration. There are even sections in the 1040 instructions for it. I am not a tax expert, but clearly there are government subsidies for fossil fuels.

Re:If the visible hand of government lets go (5, Informative)

DemoLiter3 (704469) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514546)

Examples here in Germany:
1. Extremely high taxes on the nuclear fuel (â145 per gram of Uranium or Plutonium). Despite them, nuclear energy stays profitable and has never received a single cent of subsidies.
2. Extremely high taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, which currently constitute about 60% of the end price, or about 90 Eurocents per liter
3. Taxes levied on electricity contain a special tax that goes to renewable energy subsidies. Currently this tax is about 3.5 Eurocents/kWh. About 2/3 of this tax are for solar power subsidies only, which provides about 1% of total electricity generation.

Re:If the visible hand of government lets go (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514856)

In my country, if we work outside the country in oil and natural gas exploration, we get a huge cut on our personal income taxes. That was done to keep employer costs down so they don't have to pay as much to get employees.

My country and province also bailed out the auto industry some time back.

My province spent public money to build a toll road that has become very profitable for the private sector that never had to invest fully into the infrastructure. That's one small chunk of subsidized infrastructure for fossil fuel usage.

So, fossil fuel production and exploration is subsidized, employment costs are subsidized, the consumer industries that consume fossil fuels are subsidized, and infrastructure that requires the consumption of fossil fuels is subsidized.

That's in addition to military and other costs required to keep production and transporation going. American taxpayers are paying for their military to patrol the Persian Gulf to keep the oil and LNG boats safe from terrorist groups and states. (And if American taxpayers are happy with that, that's their right. It's their taxdollars. But it's effectively a subsidy.)

To go beyond fossil fuels, nuclear energy is subsidized in some parts of the country: Risks and capital costs are absorbed by the public in some jurisdictions, leaving only normal operating costs for the provider.

But for some reason, subsidies for solar and other so-called "alternative" energy sources are a bad thing.

One province in my country is sitting on loads of untapped hydroelectric potential but can't get it to market affordably because of politics. And getting a loan guarantee from the feds to cover the capital costs of alternate routes to market has been very difficult for them. But my country will spend the money and lives to fight a war to get a piece of that Afghan action.

People need to watch the hypocrisy surrounding "alternative energy sources have subsidies so they're bad" because those subsidies are just a very small piece of one very big sweet pie.

In the case of my province, the subsidies for solar are generous and likely not sustainable in the medium-term. However, the growth in our energy consumption is not sustainable either. One of those unsustainabilities is a heck of a lot bigger than the other. And the smaller one is mitigating, however slightly, the larger one.

Re:If the visible hand of government lets go (4, Informative)

rmstar (114746) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514396)

Get your facts straight. Fossil fuels are never subsidized, but instead heavily taxed by the governments.

They are both, subsidized AND taxed. Not everywhere in the same way, though. Did you know the UK subsidizes oil extraction in the north sea? The reason is of course cronyism and corruption.

Re:If the visible hand of government lets go (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514406)

HAHAHAHAHA. Oh, god, I haven't laughed like that in AGES. Not subsidized... LOL. What do you call the Iraq War? Our gifts to Saudi Arabia? Our support for tin-pot dictators across oil producing regions? Our unwillingness to tax the pollution caused by fossil fuels?

Not subsidized. Right. It'd be like saying "We're going to buy everyone a solar panel and hook it to the grid, but not we won't subsidize the sun's production of light, so no subsidies there!"

Get a clue - fossil fuels are the most heavily subsidized product on the market. The subsidies are not as direct, but they're pretty fucking obvious from an economic standpoint.

Re:If the visible hand of government lets go (5, Informative)

copponex (13876) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514602)

Governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits, the London-based research group said today in a statement. That compares with the $557 billion that the International Energy Agency last month said was spent to subsidize fossil fuels in 2008.

Source. [tnr.com]

You were saying?

Simply not true (2)

Idou (572394) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514760)

Fossil fuels generate pollution and green house gases. Who pays for that cost? Not the producers but the public. Economically speaking, that is a subsidy.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (4, Insightful)

nharmon (97591) | more than 2 years ago | (#38513970)

Only if we allow it to. Right now it can not, because the prices are being manipulated by government subsidy. Not just the solar energy prices, but those of coal, nuclear, and wind as well.

It is a lesson we continually fail to learn: Industries built on government subsidy suffer when those subsidies begin to go away, even if the product itself is sound.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514112)

Only if we allow it to. Right now it can not, because the prices are being manipulated by government subsidy. Not just the solar energy prices, but those of coal, nuclear, and wind as well.

It is a lesson we continually fail to learn: Industries built on government subsidy suffer when those subsidies begin to go away, even if the product itself is sound.

B-b-b-but isn't MORE government control the solution to that?!?!?!

(Yeah, it's sarcasm for the "government-can-fix-ANYTHING" slashtards...)

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514620)

The harsh reality is that anytime a government payout is involved, companies and organizations will emerge whose entire raison d'être is to exploit those payouts. A lot of those solar companies included big government subsidies in their business plans, and most of them knew damn well that they couldn't possibly be profitable without them. Another subset (and I *hope* it's just a subset) were likely straight-out hustlers looking to quietly pad their individual pockets with a Uncle Sucker's payout and then declare bankruptcy. The latter are companies where the CEO and top managers drew huge salaries and little in the way of actual production ever got done.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514682)

The biggest subsidy coal gets is not charging coal powered plants for my asthma treatment. Unfortunately that's never going to happen.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (4, Insightful)

skids (119237) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514852)

No, the lesson we refuse to learn is not that "gubment subsidy baaad mmmkayy!" It is that government subsidy needs to be A) predictable over the next decade and B) taper off gradually.

To the extent that the nations have done so, the intended stimulation of the solar industry has worked. Where they have pulled the rug out fast and early, they've caused uncertainty in the investment market. Sometimes intentionally, I would conjecture, given the rhetoric many of those responsible for policy are spouting and the incestuous relationships with established energy sectors many of them have.

Note, though, that a bunch of companies going bankrupt when a sector transitions from its initial phase to the established industry phase is well recognized by economists to be normal, with or without government subsidies. There really is basically nothing unusual to see here, just some trade rag journalists trying to keep their readers subscribed through exaggeration.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (2)

sjwt (161428) | more than 2 years ago | (#38513996)

Companies going bankrupt is the invisible hand of the free market, they overproduced and stockpiled, based of forecasted growth, the real shame here is the closing line of the summery showing how we never really want to learn, saying demand is looking good for the next 5-10 years, their are no certain bets.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (2)

jcr (53032) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514000)

That's exactly what's happening. There are too many vendors trying to sell solar panels and not enough customers to keep them in business, so they're going belly-up. Profit and loss is how you know whether people want you to keep doing what you're doing.


Re:Invisible hand of the free market (5, Insightful)

BlueStrat (756137) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514092)

Don't worry, I'm sure the invisible hand of the free market will step in and all will be OK.

That would be true if there weren't actors like China distorting prices in the market by dumping government-subsidized-manufacturing-produced solar panels on the market at below-cost rates in order to destroy foreign competition.

Free markets only work where there is a fair market. When governments step in to "tip the scales" in order to influence the market, there is no "free market". Same thing applies with Capitalism. As can be seen with the US, when the government steps in to prop up certain businesses and tear down others in an effort to engineer certain outcomes and societal directions, the result is not Capitalism, it's "Crony Capitalism", and that hasn't worked out so well for US citizens.


Re:Invisible hand of the free market (2)

ShnowDoggie (858806) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514408)

China seems to have a model they use to undercut us on manufacting. They start out cheap and with massive government assistance. Once our companies go under they move up a bit and make some profits. Plus their workers are often treated like fodder.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514500)

This is where tariffs are supposed to be used to compensate for the government subsidies. The fact its not being done suggests some US politicians are being bought by Chinese interests.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (2)

todrules (882424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514536)

It hasn't worked out well for a lot of citizens across the world. Take Africa for example. The US gives tons of aid and free food, and the local farmers can't compete with the free food, so they go out of business. The gov't needs to learn to stay the hell out of the way.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (1)

ianare (1132971) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514902)

Exactly, there is a difference between aid and investment. Dumping below cost products, which is what "aid" usually amounts to, is highly destructive to those being "helped". Much better would be to invest in infrastructure, education, or to provide loans for farmers. But doing the latter actually helps nations getting out of poverty, and therefore from out of the yoke of rich nations. Since rich nations obviously have an interest in keeping the status quo, there is little actual help.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514730)

You also have to look at costs of developing solar power. Here in the US, IP has to be respected, so a new product has to be pushed through a labyrinth of avoiding or licensing patents.

China doesn't have that problem. About 6-12 months ago, there were /. articles about Chinese intrusions into US solar company machines. That technology is theirs now, and they don't have to abide by any IP rights.

So, because the cost of development is next to nothing due to IP infringement, combined with the fact that they have actual production capacity, it is trivial for them to make solar cells far less than the competition. It is even more trivial for them to dump the panels far less than cost to shutter the nascent US solar industry.

What does this gain China? Three major strategic victories:

1: Without a solar industry that might start an alternative energy boom, the US economy stays flaccid. This ensures fewer resources for US interests. Though this might slightly hurt Chinese interests, they can at any time let their currency float free, especially once oil stops being traded in dollars.

2: Actively denying the US cheap solar/wind locks the US and Europe into oil and coal, which means they have to continue dealing with the Middle East. Notice that every single port along the African coast that is of any importance now has an unstable government? China is extremely good at providing aid and comfort to enemies of the West, and has been since the days of the Korean conflict. Iran is looking at blocking the Strait of Hormuz, and while the US and Europe duke it out with Iran, China isn't fettered by oil as much -- they have sweetheart deals in Iran, Iraq, and other places. To boot, while the US is dealing with no nuclear power plants, China is having a boom of clean energy due to new designs. This is a core strategic advantage right here.

3: It ensures that another manufacturing technology only resides in China. The US has lost a lot of its manufacturing capabilities to the point where the semiconductor fabs on this side of the pond are just too obsolete to produce mainstream chips. Yes, Samsung has a plant, but what about x86 chips? RAM HDD controllers? Those all come from overseas.

It is obvious from an observer what the heck is going on. China is good at providing arms and support to enemy states. Combine that with its unparalled mode of industrial espionage and the anti-nuke lobby (which is pretty much a shill), and then when you see China actively kill a nascent US industry by theft and predatory pricing you can start to see what their strategy is.

The bad thing is that Congress has broken their Constitutional oath of office. Other times in history, we have seen dumping of goods, with Congress imposing tariffs to stop the practices. Now, Congress refuses to adhere to their duty and protect US interests against an overseas aggressor just because of basic partisan lines (solar == liberal/Commie/socialist, oil/gas/coal == the American way.)

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514746)

Wow really. Solar technology isn't rocket science. How does china recoup it's investment? Do they plan on hiking prices afterward? Solar energy is still competing with fossil fuels man.

A little xenophobia much. There are very few situations where price dumping is effective. In fact price dumping is used by businesses to ruin a market. It's like the nuclear option. Consumers can use other stuff. It's only with high barrier, inelastic demand does price fixing work.

Visible hand of state corruption (4, Insightful)

RoLi (141856) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514098)

The sad thing is that everytime I bring up this massive scandal of enormeous proportions [in-other-news.com], I only get a shrug or something like "it's always been that way" as a response.

But in fact, Richard Nixon was impeached for far less and while certainly there was corruption before it seems to have gotten out of hand with the Bush/Obama bailouts.

Re:Visible hand of state corruption (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514706)

People have gotten used to the idea that wealthy corporations and individuals own the U.S. government (and plenty of other governments as well). They shrug it off because there is no viable alternative to turn to.

With both major political parties completely in the pockets of the rich and powerful, where is there to turn? Even those Occupy protestors couldn't answer that when they were asked. Their whole deluded movement seems predicated on the idea that if they make enough noise, suddenly all the politicians are going to turn away from their bread-and-butter and become honorable men and women. It's quite an epic pipe dream.

Re:Visible hand of state corruption (5, Interesting)

DuckDodgers (541817) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514884)

Nixon was impeached for trying to illegally interfere with an election. As bad as political nepotism is, it's not as serious as fucking with the election process. If Nixon hadn't been pardoned, you could argue that he should have been prosecuted for treason.

Haliburton, which Cheney used to run, got 7 billion dollars in a no-bids contract for part of the Iraq reconstruction. When people complained, the government put the same contract up for bid and then manipulated the process so that only Haliburton could win. That's every bit as bad as the Solyndra scandal - and bank bailout bullshit at the end of Bush's term in office was every bit as ludicrous as bank bailout bullshit after Obama took over. They're all bad.

I take it as a given that anyone with enough resources to play in US politics at the national level is corrupt, in both major US political parties. I still vote according to the lesser of two evils philosophy - I view Obama as the pickpocket that still gets things right occasionally and his Republican opponents as a gang of devil worshipers conspiring to eviscerate any American who isn't hideously wealthy and sell his organs for a few pennies. Given that kind of choice, I'm going to go with the pickpocket every time.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514132)

The invisible hand of the free market has a second name, it's W-I-N-D P-O-W-E-R
Wind turbines are mechanical, sturdy looking, and people can easily grasp how they function. Solar, on the other hand is some sort of expensive, brittle black crystal stuff and - DON'T TOUCH IT YOU'LL BREAK IT - sort of fragile looking. And you want to put them outside in the weather with hail and stuff? Are you crazy? How does it work? You set it out in the sun and magical eco-elves fart out power or something.
People like to invest in things that don't seem completely like magic and are primarily featured in hippie movies about solar powered car races (I love you solar powered car racers, but you kind of make the whole industry look goofy). Wind turbines are a lot easier to sell to investors.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514266)

The problem is simple, the free market has been corrupted.
Government subsidies decreased the costs to these companies so they could produce more product for lower price. However not all companies can get the same subsidies so they are forced to compete with some companies who have the ability to sell more for less, increase supply thus creating a situation where other companies need to sell at a loss as well there isn't that high of demand to allow these companies to invest into more efficient production methods. Thus they go out of business because they don't make money.

"If you build it then they will come", is not an economic principal. A lot of people have been burned by green energy, my father put up a wind turbine (on top of windy mountain) that cost him $20k and he saves $20 a month on his power bill. Other forms of green energy like Geothermal seems to only have a marginal effect. People who have tried going green with big investments have gotten burned. So with solar energy no one really believes the claims on how much they will really save because the green energy market has lied to the public too many times to try to sell their goods.

Solar Panels will need to improve more to a point where their price justifies their cost. Not lower the price where their price justifies their performance, because this method sounds like they are dumping junk on us.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (1)

arpad1 (458649) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514310)

Don't worry, I'm sure the invisible hand of the free market will step in and all will be OK.

That's exactly what's happening.

The solar power industry's entirely dependent on subsidies. Solar power doesn't make any sense on an economic basis and the people who think solar power's the next step in power generation can't change that so they've thrown in with commercial interests, which are perfectly happy to take government money while it flows, in the hopes that those subsidies will "prime the pump".

But even government subsidies have an upper limit and that limit's clearly been reached. Now the "invisible hand", having been thwarted by those subsidies, is going about the business of setting things right by putting an end to companies that offer products not for their economic value but for their narcissistic value.

Re:Invisible hand of the free market (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514796)

It was the very visible hand of government intervention that got them in trouble in the first place.

the TFS only talks about the economics (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38513948)

The summary does not mention the actual need for prices on solar panels to drop to make them more viable, only on the economic repercusions of the shift in the market.

I thought to myself one day that this was one of the necessary evils or events in a free market economy, prices must shift and therefore allow more efficient companies and technologies to emerge. Any real change requires chaos.

You wanted change? Here you've got it.

Re:the TFS only talks about the economics (3)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514064)

Yep looks like the consolidation stage of a typical "land rush". From what I have read $1.00/watt is the magic economic hurdle everyone in the green energy industry is aiming for because of the competition from coal.

The Market Has Spoken (0)

GeneralTurgidson (2464452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38513980)

These guys need to make something people want.

Re:The Market Has Spoken (2)

cryptolemur (1247988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514004)

Well, it says that the projected increase is 8% for next year... wouldn't that be a sign of people wanting these thingamalings?

Re:The Market Has Spoken (3, Interesting)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514104)

Using projections like that is what got solar power in trouble in the first place, they based their production or growth that did not happen, over produced slashed prices to recoup some costs, and finally collapsed. The only reason they didn't collapse sooner is because they were subsidized and were propped up by the tax payers.

Re:The Market Has Spoken (3, Informative)

kenh (9056) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514434)

Spain messed up the solar industry quite badly as I recall - they had such obscenely generous subsidies that they made even the most expensive solar panels cost-effective, because the gov't subsidised the purchase and set the prices for solar electricity sold to the power companies that installing solar panels was like printing money. They drove demand for panels through the roof, creating a false demand that the industry tried to meet, but once Spain understood the true cost of their solar initiatives they ended them, causing demand to plummet and the industry to suffer with excess capacity.

Prices don't go down when demand increases, prices go down when you have more product than buyers.

Re:The Market Has Spoken (4, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514206)

Well, it says that the projected increase is 8% for next year... wouldn't that be a sign of people wanting these thingamalings?

The company-killer is every player in the industry wearing very rose covered glasses thinking they individually will be the sole supplier for the entire markets growth.

The overall market is growing 10%? OK we'll borrow money to expand production by 10% of the world wide market. Later ... Oh sales only went up 10% yoy? Whoops, well I got my golden parachute, bye guys.

Assuming its not that bad, the finances kill them anyway. So, we need to expand production this year by 10% to keep up with demand and the other players. No problemo I'll ring up the bank... Bank says F-off because they make more money borrowing from the fed at 0% and issuing credit card debt at 29.99%. Well OK then we'll sell stock.... Whoops finance says forget that because the market is totally crooked and scheming so no one wants to buy a "real" investment, and due to SOX etc costs we actually cannot raise the money. Well then we'll self invest, raise our current prices so we clear enough additional profit to grow next year.. Whoops that killed our sales because the Chinese will govt finance at 0% and our higher prices killed our sales.

Fundamentally it comes down to
1) People are notoriously bad at making sensible investments during a strong growth phase
2) Corrupt and/or failing financial systems both here and abroad mean we can't get the dough to expand, no matter how much we want or how profitable it would be.

Re:The Market Has Spoken (3, Interesting)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514344)

Beware of the Percent (%) When I see the a Number with a % I worry about the message they are trying to portray.

Because with Percent increase for a small market we should expect a large percentage increase. for a large market smaller percentage increase expected.

8% increase for solar panels isn't a good sign that people are really jumping on this technology. Solar Panels are a small market. 8% increase is probably more closely to people who wanted it but now are in an economic position where they can get it now. Get above 15% then you have some demand.

But for a larger business an 8% increase is a good number because there are so many customers right now that 8% means a lot of extra people are jumping in.

The Percent really summarizes data down to a level that really isn't that useful unless you see it in full context. And you are comparing Apples to Apples, Actually it would be comparing Granny Smiths with Granny Smiths to really make them useful.

Re:The Market Has Spoken (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514006)

Yeah, like breatheable air.

Re:The Market Has Spoken (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514210)

Plenty of people want what they are selling, the problem is that not enough of them can justify the price.

Re:The Market Has Spoken (3, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514790)

People *want* solar, they just can't *afford* it. I'm FAR from some environmental hippie, but even I looked into getting solar panels for my roof. In the end, it was going to cost me something like $25,000-$30,000 and save me about 50%-75% on my electric bill. At that rate it would take decades to pay itself off, and that's assuming that said panels will even last that long and require no maintenance (and I don't buy that for a SECOND). There was just no way in hell I could afford the upfront costs. Aside from a relatively wealthy few and a few clever do-it-yourselfers, solar is simply out of reach for the vast majority of the population.

Free Market at Work (3, Insightful)

Hungus (585181) | more than 2 years ago | (#38513982)

How is this a long term bad thing? Either the industry will come up with an idea that will allow a marketable solar power system sans subsidies and thus thrive, or it will die and we can move on to the next idea instead of wasting engineering hours on a failed/NRFPT energy source. In either case we win.

Re:Free Market at Work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514346)

More like the current recession at work. No one is going to be installing PV panels when they're own personal future looks rather bleak.

People need to think lower down the solar scale and start with somewhat cheaper $3-5k panels for handling their hot water, and not think "let's get off the grid". The impact of simple hot water solar for a large part of the US will work wonders in reducing the country's power consumption.

I'm in FL, we use electric to heat our water only about 9 or 10 days a year, for a family of four. There are over 18m people in FL, that's a lot of homes. I'm sure the residents of CA, and those around the Gulf of Mexico, up to say, Tennessee, could use them for most of the the year. That's around 100m people, even if only 10% of them installed solar hot water, it would make a monument difference to our national power consumption.

Heck, it should be part of the building codes for all new homes in suitable states. Just as it is in areas in Europe, even poor countries like Greece now have it as a requirement.

Re:Free Market at Work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514636)

Heck, it should be part of the building codes for all new homes in suitable states. Just as it is in areas in Europe, even poor countries like Greece now have it as a requirement.

You progressives and your laws. Keep your nose out of my business.

Re:Free Market at Work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514868)

I love how 'progressive' is a disgusting epithet in your world.

Re:Free Market at Work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514756)

The US absolutely does NOT want to reduce power consumption. If we really wanted to, the US could trivially reduce its power demand by 30% over the next decade - or more - and that's just low hanging fruit. The question isn't, "can we", rather the question is, "do we want to", and the answer is a resounding, "NO!"

Re:Free Market at Work (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514654)

No. We won't win. In a free market, the end user is the winner, but here, we have China that cripples every market it touches, what will happen, is that most money will go to them, as well as the research benefits, and in a few decades, instead of buying from competitive manufacturers, we'll be buying from the Peoples Republic of China on their terms. And this applies to all markets, not just solar panels.

The economic game is now played with two sets of rules, and democracy is losing.

This is not necessarily unusual (3, Insightful)

dr2chase (653338) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514010)

Recall the workstation industry in the late 80s and early 90s?
Many companies, many failures, a few survivors.
Couple that with the suck economy, and anyone who guessed wrong on the timing of the recovery, is in a tricky place.

Just wait until Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz (4, Informative)

BigTimOBrien (203674) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514012)

Yesterday Iran threatened to stop the flow of oil in response to new sanctions being floated by the US. Who wants to predict how that would affect solar? Also, what effect is the explosion of shale oil operations in the US having on technologies like solar?

Re:Just wait until Iran blocks the Strait of Hormu (3, Interesting)

ickleberry (864871) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514036)

The enemy of solar power is not oil but gas and coal. A very small percentage of electricity fed into the grid is from oil. Mostly from peaking plants

Re:Just wait until Iran blocks the Strait of Hormu (1, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514342)

Actually, gas and coal do not power UPS/fedex/USPO/semi-trailer trucks, or pacific ocean container ships. Both for the end user delivery and delivering raw-ish materials to the manufacturers.

Try going to a solar panel distributor and ordering a bunch of panels, made in the US or china doesn't matter, the shipping cost of sending a truck out to you full of delicate glass is really quite high.

I'm told that on islands almost all electricity is generated from stationary diesels. In the continental US it doesn't matter, but I could imagine the price of diesel has a big effect on sales on the Hawaiian Islands, which coincidentally probably get a lot more sunlight than seattle anyway.

If oil spiked, the demand for installed panels would be extremely high, but the UPS cost of delivery would probably rise to a multiple of the cost of the panels, its very unclear if this would improve or destroy overall system economic budget numbers. The explosive inflation rate that results would also modify the cost of competitive energy sources... If the coal miners literally cannot afford to drive to work unless you triple their pay, then coals going up in price (probably by a bit less than triple, but...)

Shale oil is a great way to burn nine barrels of high grade crude to produce around ten, plus or minus five, barrels of low grade crude. The EROEI is not that awesome. Its right up there with turning diesel oil into corn into corn oil into biodiesel, or the corn ethanol cycle, lots of arguments about it being microscopically net positive or microscopically net negative cycle, but everyone agrees its right around 1:1 so its pretty irrelevant in the big picture. Also Shale oil needs a lot of water to process, and it seems stereotypically to be located right where there is no water available, changing it from a lack of oil problem to a lack of water problem. If only there were shale oil deposits in the great lakes, or new orleans, then it would be all good, but it always seems to be in a desert or under a glacier or something, almost like a supernatural being put it there just to frustrate us. (yeah I know a glacier has plenty of water, but being a glacier, the water in the plant wants to freeze in the pipes, so its a big problem...)

Re:Just wait until Iran blocks the Strait of Hormu (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514224)

Fark wrote the headline in a more humorous fashion, "Iran threatens to sink own navy if its demands aren't met".
Someone else pointed out that the biggest competitor to solar is Coal - the magic point where solar is cheaper than coal is around $1 per watt - keep in mind that the US of fuckin' A is the "Saudi Arabia of Coal". Yep, that would really drive up global oil prices, but the US has been a net exporter of oil now for about 6-8 months, yes, net-exporter of oil, and we have enough coal reserves to power our country for the next 300 years. Until you can power cars and farm equipment with solar, I don't think the price of oil (mainly transportation & chemical mfg) is going to effect solar tremendously. Gold star for keeping up on world news though.

Re:Just wait until Iran blocks the Strait of Hormu (1)

fatphil (181876) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514514)

$1 per Watt?

Here's my dollar - I'd like that Watt until the heat death of the universe, and beyond.

You don't think you should be measuring energy in terms of energy, rather than power?

Re:Just wait until Iran blocks the Strait of Hormu (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514786)

You don't think you should be measuring energy in terms of energy, rather than power?

Nope. The units actually used in the electrical power business are around $1000/KW.

So a GW class plant probably costs about a gigadollar to build, from "thinkin' bout it" to putting it on the grid.

Yes I'm well aware that the capex of a coal plant is well under $1000/KW (or at least, it used to be?) however for solar, the fuel cost and endless maint cost is quite a bit lower, not to mention the ongoing labor cost which for a truly big solar plant basically rounds down to zero, although a coal plant employes a small, highly trained (=expensive) army. Then you get costs like site security, which is pretty much zilch for windmills vs quite a bit ongoing at a nuke plant.

I fully realize its sloppy accounting to only talk about capital cost per installed capacity, instead of factoring in capital costs, labor costs, financial costs, etc, but its a long term tradition in the power biz to only talk about capex and then fudge the numbers when making comparisons across different technologies.

I've been a utilities stockholder and investor for over a 1/4 century, I've read more annual reports than I can count, etc etc. I've pretty much been on autopilot for a couple years so I don't have current numbers to pull out of my hat, but the $1000/KW number "feels about right"

Subsidies in the wrong place. (5, Insightful)

Gotung (571984) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514042)

This is why you subsidize research, not production.

Re:Subsidies in the wrong place. (2)

Bardwick (696376) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514078)

Bingo.. Damn I wish I had a mod point. This is exactly what I was about to type.

Re:Subsidies in the wrong place. (1)

MorphOSX (2511156) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514160)

This is why you subsidize research, not production.

This is a point, but ultimately the methods of making green energy need to be cheap to produce to begin with. As long as the technology is not being made in ways that are at a low cost, people will choose the cheaper option, or no one will be able to afford it. Solar is, as much as it's a nice idea, not a really viable option because it works better being installed on individual buildings, and unless you're large enough to afford it, it's not a great plan. Wind power, too, is very weather-dependent. There are other alternatives to fossil fuels that can help us bridge the gap (thorium/liquid salt reactors, etc), and research into other technologies like fusion generators and such is good. But like the parent said, have to put lots of funding out there to develop the new technologies, not just produce what we already have.

Re:Subsidies in the wrong place. (1)

emilper (826945) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514606)

but ultimately the methods of making green energy need to be cheap to produce to begin with.

so you subsidize _research_ into production too, not only fundamental research on how to get energy when you leave semiconductors in the sun ...

Re:Subsidies in the wrong place. (1)

BLKMGK (34057) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514286)

This works great to get efficiency up. We've got pretty efficient cells now though and the INSTALLED pricing of them is still sky high despite whatever price per watt they cry about at the wholesale level. You need to incentivize adoption not production right now. No one is buying this stuff if they are struggling, not with payoffs measured in decades. Electricity bills for me are under $200 a month and a panel install of decent size would cost tens of thousands of dollars, the math doesn't add up. The grid and society benefits though if I do the install but I won't take that risk at these prices no matter how much they claim it's gotten cheaper because to me, as an end consumer, the cost of an individual panel hasn't budged the overall cost of install much at all.

Then you just get beer research (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514844)

Which is basically anything at all as long as it involves buying large quantities of:

1. micro organisms (yeast).
2. Large vessels.
3. Energy to keep it all warm.

If someone is subsidising their countries product X, everyone else is better placing product X on an import duty roster cancelling the subsidy.
Otherwise you are taking money from people who need it and giving to those who don't.

The problem is education (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514070)

I, as the consumer, don't really care about the solar energy market (as a citizen and an environmentalist, I do). I care about longevity, installation, viability, and overall cost. And I know little about those things, even though I am really interested in solar energy (and am probably solar's target market).

My options are the Internet, which isn't incredibly reliable for something which is somewhat location specific, or spending hours and hours of my time to gain this information from local contractors.

PV isn't the only Solar (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514076)

Its important to remember that photovoltaic technology is not the the sum total of solar energy. In many ways concentrated solar much more applicable to the industry when discussing competition between solar, natural gas, coal, and nuclear. These power plants exist and are being built in the western US as we speak, although some subsidies are still required to make it competitive with coal.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_solar_power (wiki)

It is the customer base stupid. (4, Insightful)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514080)

China flooding the market, specifically to destroy the competition IMHO, is just half the story. How are people supposed to buy solar panels for the house when they are not even able to make the house payments. Small business owners aren't going to throw up panels any time soon. They rent. Renters aren't going to put up solar panels, their customers are going out of business left and right. Manufacturers with large plants are too busy deciding if they are going to relocate. China needs to learn to let other people make money. A customer base requires someone has an income.

don't blame anyone else for your living situation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514686)

How are people supposed to buy solar panels for the house when they are not even able to make the house payments.

Was that a question? It's hard to tell.

If you had bought a house that you could actually afford, instead of buying the biggest house you could get a loan for, you would be able to afford those solar panels. I make about US$84,000/year and live in a house that cost under $150,000. If I had listened to the lenders, I would be in over my eyeballs in a US$500,000+ house. If you want to occupy something, forget Wall Street; try occupying a home that is within your means.

Since I live well within my means, I'm always taking on home improvement projects that I otherwise wouldn't be able to afford. Not because the house is broken down and needs repair, but because I feel like putting in a large second story deck off of the kitchen, or a big workshop out back, or solar panels!

I this really surprising? (3, Informative)

wbr1 (2538558) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514134)

which has contributed to a plunge in prices as government subsidies have been curbed

Corn costs more to produce than we (or ethanol manufacturers) pay for it. [wikipedia.org]
Coal power has higher costs than we see. [sourcewatch.org]

This is all because of government subsidsy. In the case of corn it keeps the price of corn artificially low and the farmer paid. The problem now is that many subsidies have outlived their usefulness but continue own because of the political clout of the companies/groups recieving them, and right now, the government has little or no money to subsidize other things. To me at least, it would make sense to subsideize a promising technolgy and give it a boost, instead we always cut the new guy, while the old belchers with the power, clout, and money (having extra saved from subsidies helps) get paid.

Okay, this is pretty simple IMO! (4, Insightful)

BLKMGK (34057) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514136)

Look, I WANT solar power on my home. I have a good location South facing, near full time sun during the day, am tech oriented, and I'm not dirt poor! I get HomePower magazine, I track the technology, I'm a buyer looking to do this.

So why don't I have it? Because my home like so many others is upside down and the cost of a solar install of decent size is looking like $30K or more which will be saving me something like $150 a month on my electric bill. How exactly does THAT make sense? Prices are down per watt? You could've fooled me! The price of raw cells on the wholesale market may have dropped some but the installed price is in the stratosphere IF you can even find a company local to you willing to do it.

There's a company near me advertising solar LEASING like crazy. They install and maintain the system and you pay them a monthly fee that's lower than your existing electric bill. Now this sounded possibly interesting despite my trepidation about anything that says "lease". I tried to sign up for an estimate - they don't service my area! Say what?! These guys are putting out printed ads and radio like mad here and then won't take my money? Kripes it's like trying to get high speed internet all over again! SolarCity -> asshats!

Now I know that my area isn't big on subsidies and it's also not someplace like Fla. where the sun roasts anything not moving but there's good potential in my site just no damned affordable way to do it no matter how much these guys claim to have reduced cost. Certainly installing solar makes huge sense in many ways but if the pricing is going to be $30K per house in a market where people are $40K upside down or more with a payoff measured in decades I think the reasons why few are buying are pretty damned clear! The local and federal Govt subsidies need to crank up, this is infrastructure we're talking about and it needs to be supported IMO. This is the technology that can take loads off our grid, why isn't there any incentive to go for it?

P.S. My neighbors just had to cut down all of their trees that used to shade the front of my home during parts of the day. It was awful but I now have no obstructions and full exposure but cannot take advantage of it. This sucks!

Re:Okay, this is pretty simple IMO! (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514336)

If Gov't subsidies "crank up" and everyone takes advantage of them, then there is no economic advantage.

Think of it this way - if everyone in America wanted a widget, and that widget cost $100, but people were only willing to spend $50 on the widget, the gov't could step in and subsidise each widget to the tune of $50/each, spreading the cost of the subsidy over all Americans. If "everyone" took the Gov't up on the offer, then each person would be paying for their own subsidy ($50/everybody x everybody = $50 per person in increased gov't cost/taxes). Of course, if only half of all Americans actuall paid into the tax code, than half of "everybody" would benefit, while the other half would pay, on average, not only for their subsidy but someone elses, costing them $100 in increased taxes for which they get a $50 subsidy...

Gov't "green" subsidies are limited because we can't afford for them to be widely used.

Re:Okay, this is pretty simple IMO! (3, Interesting)

Tryfen (216209) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514410)

You're looking at it wrongly. I recently had solar power installed because - long term - it pays off.

Let's say your numbers are correct. $30k to install. $150/month saved. That's similar to my situation in the UK.

Your payback period is about 17 years (although potentially longer if you had to take out a loan to pay for them).

Most solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years (or, rather, their operating performance won't drop by more than a certain percentage per year).

So, for the remaining 8 years, you're earning $150 per month - that's $14k. That's not a terrible ROI.

However! What if there's an energy crisis? All of a sudden, you're saving $300 per month. Or, depending on where you live, you can sell your excess electricity back into the grid for a profit.

Worse case scenario, the cost of electricity plummets and you're left with an overprices UPS on your roof.

I say go for it!

Re:Okay, this is pretty simple IMO! (3, Insightful)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514670)

It just so happens that if you manage to invest your money at a 1% annual interest rate above inflation, $30k are worth $38.5k, but you'll likely get offers at 2% (worth $49k after 25y) or 3% (worth $62k after 25y) per annum. Oh, and did I mention that you neglected losses due to inflation? Sure, US inflation will probably be very low (about 1%) in the coming decades, but it's still a lot over a quarter century.

Re:Okay, this is pretty simple IMO! (4, Insightful)

silas_moeckel (234313) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514688)

When looking into the real cost of solar I found that my homeowners insurance premiums would skyrocket. This ate into the payback significantly. Secondly all these rebates etc require professional installation the installers know it and have jacked up there prices to match the panels are 18-27k (90 $200-300 panels 100 watts each, and I can get them much cheaper) the installers all quote in the 50-60k range all the incentives and rebates knock it back down to 20-30k so effectively the installers are pocketing the rebates. I've seen this before whenever the rebates require professional installation.

Re:Okay, this is pretty simple IMO! (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514530)

cost of a solar install of decent size is looking like $30K

Its the greenies and the middlemen. That's really a $15K system with a lot of people making a profit in the middle and at least some of the customers simply don't care what it costs so prices rise accordingly.

Look into doing it yourself instead of hiring a general or specialized solar contractor, trying to buy as far upstream as you can, etc. You can say that endless be-your-own contractor paperchasing BS is a lot of work compared to watching a star trek rerun, but then again lowering your costs by the cost of a cheap car is a lot of money per hour. That contractor was planning on supporting his family off of you... you gotta look after your own first, unless you're wealthy enough to raise both your kids and his kids. This doesn't necessarily mean doing your own wiring, it means hiring and paying your own electrician at a competitive rate and pocketing the profit the GC was going to skim off the top of the electrician's rate. Also a GC is always in a hurry to keep turning over and minimize travel expenses, but you can same money by taking a little longer since you have no turnover and you also have no travel expenses to reach the worksite, because you already live at home. A GC needs those panels delivered on a certain precise date or he loses profit; you don't care when they show up at home as long as its before the end of the building season; that alone might be over a 25% price difference in panels. You can buy from a cheap wholesaler who cannot promise when his backorders will arrive, but they're cheap when they get here! Same thing with the electrician, the GC needs a dude with wirestrippers like NOW and if he has to have you pay Sunday nighttime rates oh well, but you can make a deal where mr electrician shows up any ole time he's got some free hours for a substantial discount. Or you have an electrician friend/relative you can pay in beer and steaks. etc.

The demand by greenies for political/ideological/emotional reasons drives up price because they don't care. The CEO's trophy wife wants something to brag about at the gym on the roof of the house and she doesn't care how much it costs as long as its a very visible symbol to others that she cares about the environment, therefore the contractor raises his rates accordingly, and the rest of us suffer. In fact the CEO would like it to cost as much as possible, so he has something to brag about on the golf course, I'm so wealthy I spent $50K on my installation that we on /. know is only worth $15K. Contractor is more than willing enough to help with that goal.

Re:Okay, this is pretty simple IMO! (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514604)

In fact the CEO would like it to cost as much as possible, so he has something to brag about on the golf course, I'm so wealthy I spent $50K on my installation that we on /. know is only worth $15K.

A better way to rephrase that, would be imagine what the consumer electronics market would look like if the market were small enough that a very large fraction of the market was audiophools, the $1000 HDMI cable type of people.

Sounds like a chance for entreprenuership (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514574)

The problem you described sounds like an opportunity for someone to create a company which will pay to install a solar panel on a homeowners' roof, but the panels remain the property of the company, while the homeowner pays an electric bill to the solar panel company.

Sort of a "solar utility company". Now, you say, you'd like to get away from "the electric company" - isn't that the point of solar panels? Well, if the choice is between the local utility monopoly, or a solar utility company, and if the solar utility company can sell you power at a cheaper cost than the local monopoly (a *big* IF, I realize, but at $1/watt, it might be possible).

For this idea to work the solar "utilitly" would need the ability to get a feed-in-tariff on selling power back to the local grid - that way, the solar panels could continue to make money even if the home is vacant because of foreclosure.

Re:Okay, this is pretty simple IMO! (1, Funny)

cnaumann (466328) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514676)

It is going to cost me about $20K to have the trees removed that currently shade my roof... the cost going green!

Re:Okay, this is pretty simple IMO! (1)

jez9999 (618189) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514880)

So why don't I have it? Because my home like so many others is upside down

Am I the only one who doesn't know what the hell you mean by that?

there's a big money issue.... (3, Informative)

gadget junkie (618542) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514162)

the subject seems to imply that there's a panel manufacturing problem. In reality, there's a "new economic policy" [wikipedia.org] problem: practically all the demand is government issued, and the private sector has been sucked up in the maelstrom. As in the original plan, I expect a full nationalization will ensue, on economic grounds

Here in Italy, solar has been heavily pushed via two mechanisms: one is that via tax rebates, building a solar plant is incentivized. the second is that ALL the energy produced is retired by the grid at a heavily increased price, and the increased price is then passed on to the consumers via the electricity bill. Private use is incentivised even more, since there's a counter at thee production level: a user/producer gets paid the higher price on all production, and pays his consumption at the lower general level. It goes without saying that this is a much bigger incentive than using a "net" mechanism, by which only the excess energy produced over consumption gets paid.
The necessary build of conventional energy plants to guarantee continous production is done by the general electric utilities, and spread on the bills accordingly. The construction boom has been huge.

The rationale behind my saying that this will all end up in public hands is that most of the "industrial" establishment of solar plant has been funded by banks, with little money coming out of the equity investors' purse. An uncontrolled shrinkage of the incentive schemes would cause a big banking problem; helping the banks is not considered the thing now; and taxing Joe Public to give money to people who could convince banks to sink millions into a tax haven is a problem too, so nothing like a giant nationalization of the existing plants would work.
Would it help the First Solars [firstsolar.com] of the world? nooooo, because as much as public servants love to spend other people's money, many other investments are more profitable even on a CO2 standpoint. in less than 10 years, the city where I live [wikipedia.org] has become the first in district heating in Europe; the local utility built, in less than three years, a combined gas and steam plant that by selling surplus heat in winter reaches an efficiency of 85%.

ALL subsidies are bad (2)

WileyC (188236) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514164)

Subsidies distort the market and are, let's be honest, just a way for corrupt politicians to use our money to pay off their big supporters. Funny how so many of those companies going bankrupt were big Obama supporters... and got juicy loan guarantees.

I'll be straight with y'all: no political party or politician is smart enough to properly apply a subsidy even if they do it from the noblest of motives. We need to remove the ability of our government to do it in any fashion and we'll all be better off.

Re:ALL subsidies are bad (1)

BLKMGK (34057) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514252)

I disagree. A subsidy on installations of high efficiency panels at the end user level makes sense IMO. The problem here is that prices for the end user are sky high with returns taking decades to payoff the investment. The benefit to having these installations, as a nation, is lower load on our grid. that's like being able to take trucks off of a heavily traveled highway and thus not have to repair it and widen it every couple of years. How is that not a good idea?

I agree that a subsidy done poorly is a bad idea. But subsidies like the Govt. was doing to get people to upgrade their heating and insulation were a GREAT idea (I took full advantage!) and is one way to get people to upgrade\update in order to use less resources. My gas bills have plummeted due to my insulation and updating and while I would've done the upgrades anyway the incentives forced me to choose top tier equipment that someone else might have skipped to save a few bucks. I am now using less electricity and less natural gas, I'd LOVE to go with a high end solar system too but not for $30K or more!

Unsurprising - given what solar is (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514170)

It shouldn't be a surprise that prospects darken for those corporations.

Solar power [wordpress.com] just isn't viable without energy storage [wordpress.com] on a large scale. Without that, it only works as a supplement to a reliable power supply that has already been established, shaving a few percent off the fuel usage before causing serious trouble. (On the order of 3-5%, at which point it makes up some 30-50% of peak power demand.)

This looks to me... (1)

trum4n (982031) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514180)

...like the early automobile industry. Many companies spend money innovating, and advancing the technology as a hole, and most end up going under. The few left end up monster international corporations who build crap we don't want.

Re:This looks to me... (2)

kenh (9056) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514264)

Except the Gov't didn't shovel money at the early car makers to build factories, then offer generous incentives to car buyers and then pay the drivers for actually using the cars. This is what the Gov't is doing with solar panel industry - paying companies to increase production, paying consumers to install them, then forcing utilities to buy the electricity they generate at above market costs.

Re:This looks to me... (1)

trum4n (982031) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514478)

Sounds to me like the only people getting hurt at the power companies. Screw 'em. Upgrade our infrastructure or rot. electric car builder/owner.

Alternate energy generally (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514186)

Congress has ended the corn ethanol subsidy. Alternate energy is in for a bumpy ride. Unconventional oil and gas are coming on line. They will bring down the price of energy generally and make it hard for alternate energies to compete.

The other thing is that we will be energy self-sufficient with shale oil and shale gas. One of the pushes for alternate energy was that it helped us avoid importing energy from people who hate us. That reason won't work any more.

It's This, It's That, It's LIES! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514212)

There's lots of assumptions and suppositions going on in this thread, but a notable fact its the continued use of falsely low pricing.

At $1 per watt, solar photovoltaic(PV) panels are considerably cheaper that most utility electrical costs. This would make them an excellent investment and would drive great, far greater than anything we've seen so far, demand for PV panels. The demand would be there even without government subsidies.

But, the reality is that PV panel pricing is nearly triple the actual market price for PV panels. Most reasonably efficient panels run $2.50 to $3.00 per watt. That makes them an expensive proposition, even with government subsidies. Thus the market has decided that they are still not worth it. I myself am ready to drop $30,000 on a PV panel array as soon as the ten year price per watt reaches parity with grid pricing. Until then, solar is out of the question.

Hardly surprising... (4, Insightful)

kenh (9056) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514230)

Wouldn't it be great if the Solar Panel industry was able to succeed or fail based on the merits and the value of thier products, not be tossed about by the whims of politicians who shovel money into anything that looks "green" wihen they are up for re-election? The politicians, desperate to curry favor with certain constituant groups tosses obscene amounts of money into companies with trivial advancements.

The Government builds up manufacturing capacity with grants and low-cost, gov't backed loans, then they subsidise the purchase of solar panels by end-users to create demand for the panels, then they force utilities to pay well above market rates for whatever power the solar panel owner pumps into the electric grid, without allowing the utility the ability to manage the flow of electricity onto their grid.

And what is the argument for investing ever more money into the solar panel industry? We have to keep up with "threat" of China's investments in their solar panel industry. Here's the problem - first off, solar panels are on their way to being a commodity, and China excells in that space (manufacturing commodity items), second, China has the money to invest in these projects we don't (we perversely are borrowing the money fo fuel our "green initiatives" from China!).

Solyndra was in the $3/watt solar panel business when the industry was going from $2.50 -> $1.60 -> as low as $1/watt solar panels now - Gov't shouldn't be in the business of investing in businesses it subsidies and regulates - it has the ability to create a false market, subject to the political needs of elected officials, not and real demand on the part of the consumer.

Re:Hardly surprising... (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514888)

Wouldn't it be great if the Solar Panel industry was able to succeed or fail based on the merits and the value of thier products, not be tossed about by the whims of politicians who shovel money into anything that looks "green" wihen they are up for re-election?

That would be great for every technology. However we live in a time where the demand on money to develop something new is astronomic high.
Without poitical will and legislation no one is able / willin to spend that (needed) money.
Would cars have catalysts now to clean the exhaust, if there was no legislation demanding it? Would car engines need a quarter fo the fuel they used to need, if there was no legislation demanding it?

Look at China, you demand that your government lets the market run "free" (whatever that is supposed to mean) ... and you demand that China does the same. So ... but China does not obey to your demands. Nor does europe. So instead of arguing against governemnt intervention make it smarter. Like when Japan still had its MITI.

Chinese dumping panels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514248)

The real issue is that the price of panels has been driven down by the Chinese dumping (selling at a loss) of panels. Source: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2009/08/dumping_is_such_a_harsh_word

Even without dumping, the US industry required subsidies to compete. And now the Chinese are selling them at a loss? Of course this doesn't work. Congress should impose a duty on imported panels on a sliding scale to compensate, but this would be assailed as anti-free-trade.

Solar energy is more than just panels (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514348)

Solar energy can beused in a variety of ways, panels are only one of them. While panels are receiving tremendous hype lately, the fact is that they are the least effective way. Solar plants have double the efficiency of panels, and are cheaper as they only need ordinary mirrors. For individuals, using a solar collector for heating is much cheaper and saves more energy. And while solar panels could be useful on vehicles, they are too weak for that. Solar panels are dying for a reason.

This is not an industry problem (2)

Idou (572394) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514400)

This is a company problem. The industry is healthier than ever, with fierce competition pushing technological advances at break necking speeds. There are many, many companies that were depending on subsidizes to survive, but now more and more geographic areas no longer need to be subsidized for solar to make sense. The winners at this point seem to be Chinese manufacturers and innovative firms like First Solar. All companies will temporarily take a hit until the losers disappear, but once that happens, the winners take all (at a non-subsidized price point).

Didn't we see something similar happen in the PC industry when it was just getting started?

No, it is not viable ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514508)

for the failed, or failing companies. Just like Global Crossing failure doomed the internet.

Don't Forget About HOAs (1)

NoSalt (801989) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514564)

I live in a sub-division where the Home Owners Association does not allow solar panels to be installed. The world could completely run out of fossil fuels, and the only hope is solar/wind/geothermal/etc., and all these idiots care about is resale value. Personally, I believe "free" energy would be a perk when it comes to selling a home.

The US Electrical Grid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514570)

The US electrical grid is woefully out of date. It is not designed to accept electricity from many point suppliers.

Germans and Europe in general are moving the direction of a smart grid technologies which will enable them to squeeze inefficiency at the consumer level by market driven inducements. For example, the power company ask you to use less energy than regular while washing clothes and they will give you a better rate. You say "sure" and the signal is given to your "smart" wash machine to curtail wash rinse and spin cycles. Furthermore, the European grids will be able to make use of every roof top as a point producer. America does not have this capability but will have to gain it sooner or later.

Reminds of the GM EV1 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514614)

According to everybody there was just a gigantic demand for electric cars and people would be fighting to buy them if only somebody would build one proper. So GM builds one. Turns out 99% of the people who'd talk all day about what they would buy, in actuality won't buy.

Does solar energy actually make sense? (1, Informative)

Tolvor (579446) | more than 2 years ago | (#38514626)

New York City is home to 8,175,133 people as of 2011. It uses 64,500 gigawatt-hours of energy per year. Using a standard industrial solar panel (ex Trina Solar 230) which produces 5750 watts (assuming constant supply 5.75 kWh) with a base area of 17.6 sq feet and costs $360. To power NYC it would take 11.2 trillion panels taking up an area of 7081 square miles of solar panels, at a cost that of $500,000,000 per NYC resident.

NYC is also one of the most energy efficient cities in the US. Other cities would require a lot more panels. This also does not account for the need of storage batteries, energy transmission loss, and power loss to material degradation (dusty solar panels), life-cycle (panels last about 20 years), or the fact that during the night there will be no energy production.

I go over these figures every few years and it just does not appear that this is a viable solution. It would be *nice* to use solar panels but if it is not realistic the solar panel industry will never thrive. Where would we fit all of these solar panels, and where would we find the money?

Re:Does solar energy actually make sense? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38514758)

"$500,000,000 per NYC resident."

64500 GWh / 8175133 -> 7,89 MWh/year

5750 * 0,2 (load factor, including night) * 365 * 24 =
10 MWh

A simple panel (360) is enough to cover your own production. Of course, losses and storing do things harder on real world.
But some thousands $ should be enough to build a offgrid energy.

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