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Solar Power Is Booming — Why Do We Want To Kill It?

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the it's-what-we-do dept.

Power 415

TaeKwonDood writes with a followup to the news we discussed over the weekend about tariffs being places on Chinese solar panels. He writes, "According to Forbes, 'Solar power is booming. Imports from China were a tepid $21 million in 2005, but in 2011 installations totaled nearly $2.7 billion. That's a huge win. And just as advocates for solar power had hoped, a larger market drove down prices. Solar energy cost has declined by two-thirds in the last four years, meaning it will soon start to close in on fossil fuels.' There's just one problem: now the government wants to kill it. The article continues, 'As the market was flooded by both silicon (from silicon producers) and thin-film panels (by Chinese manufacturers), the price for thin-film panels came crashing down – along with Solyndra’s business model. ... Yet that isn’t the only instance of mismanagement. The whole clean energy program remains flawed, even at the consumer level. The people who are the most likely to be impacted by high energy prices, the poor, are the least likely to benefit from the solar rebate scheme because they lack the capital to pay for the installation.'"

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415 comments

CYA by the White House (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501445)

Because there are other panel manufacturers like Solyndra who got Federal money, and it will look bad if they fail, too.

Re:CYA by the White House (4, Interesting)

sycodon (149926) | about 2 years ago | (#39501719)

To expand a little bit.

Obama's "Green" initiatives are about more than implementing a renewable technology such as solar. Just as important in that imitative is "Green Jobs". It is seen as a twofer, ween us off the eeeevil oil and bring manufacturing jobs back.

The reality is that most of that 21 billion was heavily subsidized by the tax payers, the purchase, the manufacturing and the installation. China is undercutting all of the domestic manufacturers by doing the same thing. It's kind of ironic that we subsidized our solar industry but now they want tariffs because China does the same thing, only much more.

In the end, the tariffs are a last ditch effort to salvage the whole green jobs thing.

Re:CYA by the White House (4, Insightful)

mean pun (717227) | about 2 years ago | (#39501879)

Obama's "Green" initiatives are about more than implementing a renewable technology such as solar. Just as important in that imitative is "Green Jobs". It is seen as a twofer, ween us off the eeeevil oil and bring manufacturing jobs back.

The reality is that most of that 21 billion was heavily subsidized by the tax payers, the purchase, the manufacturing and the installation.

You say that as if it is some kind of dirty secret. But isn't this what the Obama administration has been saying explicitly from the start? And why would they be ashamed of it? It sounds to me like a good investment of public money.

Re:CYA by the White House (4, Interesting)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about 2 years ago | (#39501935)

In the end, the tariffs are a last ditch effort to salvage the whole green jobs thing.

Except this backlash isn't exclusive to the USA.

"Here is a pair of graphs that demonstrate most vividly the merit order effect and the impact that solar is having on electricity prices in Germany; and why utilities there and elsewhere are desperate to try to rein in the growth of solar PV in Europe. It may also explain why Australian generators are fighting so hard against the extension of feed-in tariffs in this country."

http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/03/27/why-generators-are-terrified-of-solar/ [crikey.com.au]

Re:CYA by the White House (4, Insightful)

Nikker (749551) | about 2 years ago | (#39502081)

You guys make me laugh. Even if a hand full of companies employ local workers and produce at competitive prices to the Chinese what makes you think these companies won't in turn out source those jobs to China to become "More Profitable(TM)"?

Common guys lets sit down and think about this for a second. The middle class makes money via manufacturing. People who own these companies make money by giving your money to the Chinese to do the same work for a whole lot less, with the added benefit of not having to see how the sausage is made.

Even if one company attains this insurmountable goal and eventually goes public, then by their responsibility to their shareholders alone they will be obligated to fire every one and send the work out east. So stop it with this stupid pipe dream and find something the Chinese CAN'T do at a fraction of the cost and work up from there. Trying to fantasize you can make a dead simple polymer sheet cheaper than the Chinese is just not going to happen.

Re:CYA by the White House (-1, Flamebait)

intok (2605693) | about 2 years ago | (#39501827)

Solyndra was a Bush program and was designed from the start to fail. What do you expect when they where selling pannels for less then the cost of manufacturing?

oil (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501453)

duh.

Re:oil (1)

32771 (906153) | about 2 years ago | (#39501939)

Figure out how long it would take to replace oil based energy input to society with solar electric energy, and stand in awe. Also don't hold your breath. Feel free to assume that solar cells are 100% efficient.

My W-2 just shuddered with the Force (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | about 2 years ago | (#39501499)

the poor, are the least likely to benefit from the solar rebate scheme because they lack the capital to pay for the installation.'"

Uh oh.

Re:My W-2 just shuddered with the Force (4, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | about 2 years ago | (#39501673)

Probably because you can recognize horseshit when you smell it. Apparently, this article's author has never heard of solar lease programs, which are intended for precisely that market. Instead of paying money to the power company, you pay a lower power bill to a company that sticks panels on your roof (and presumably reaps the profits if production exceeds your usage). There's usually zero up-front cost, and these programs are readily available in many places.

Re:My W-2 just shuddered with the Force (4, Insightful)

rickb928 (945187) | about 2 years ago | (#39501803)

The poor usually don't have their own roofs to put solar panels on. Their landlords may not bother to. Mounting them in the yard may not work either.

Let's focus on the markets that CAN take advantage of roof mounted or ground mounted solar. Or not.

Re:My W-2 just shuddered with the Force (4, Interesting)

mlts (1038732) | about 2 years ago | (#39501981)

There is one market where solar is becoming a must, and that is RV-ing. With all the electric-hungry appliances that are running off 12 volts, coupled with the fact that batteries take a long time to come up to full charge, solar is becoming a must have for anyone with a RV who isn't just staying on an RV park's shore power 24/7/365. With rigs getting larger, there is plenty of space to add panels.

Add to this flexible solar panels that can be rolled up, and I can envision someone able to run appliances like the A/C or microwave off a battery bank that is recharged by the solar panels on the ceiling, awning, and perhaps an extended room.

So, for RV-ers, it is something that allows for the comforts of home without having to break out the generator.

Re:My W-2 just shuddered with the Force (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#39501859)

these programs are readily available in many places.

Indeed. Here in California, I have had representatives of three different companies knock on my door and try to convince me to let them install free solar panels on my roof. We have tiered energy pricing, and solar only makes sense for people who use enough energy to bump them into the 30 cent tier. I don't use enough, so they leave as soon as I show them my monthly electricity bill.

Re:My W-2 just shuddered with the Force (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501921)

There's usually zero up-front cost, and these programs are readily available in many places.

Every single person I know that has applied has been offered a bait-and-switch deal with rather large ongoing costs.

Granted, that's just here in on the Mid-Atlantic coast, which is not exactly a solar wonderland.

Chinese Subsidies (2, Insightful)

Raptoer (984438) | about 2 years ago | (#39501523)

Maybe the tariffs are because the Chinese have been subsidizing their solar exports in violation of the trade agreements?

Part of the problem will of course be that photovoltaics aren't reliable. Concentrated solar onto molten salt and wind are much more reliable than photovoltaics. Or we could just go nuclear.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501581)

Where can I buy my personal nuclear power plant from?

Re:Chinese Subsidies (1)

loufoque (1400831) | about 2 years ago | (#39501663)

Some nuclear reactor designs are stove-sized and would be perfectly suitable for domestic use. The main issues are fear of nuclear power and lack of funding.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (2)

squidflakes (905524) | about 2 years ago | (#39501821)

And lack of manufacture and transport infrastructure for nuclear fuel in those sizes. Not to mention the amazing security and radio-contamination risks involved in domestic reactor use.

If we're going to go that route, I'd rather see municipal sized reactors and home sized solar/wind than the other way around.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (2)

erroneus (253617) | about 2 years ago | (#39502045)

I find it very hard to believe stove-sized nuclear reactors would every be allowed in the U.S. There's just too many reasons it wouldn't be permitted. 1. Terrorist threat. 2. Hardware hackers/modders. 3. (Most importantly) Opposition by power companies who would stand to lose out BIG on such things.

Imagine if people could buy a nuclear power cell for their homes and offices?! Holy cow! It would drive conventional grid power down to bare minimum rates. Power company executives might have to move into smaller mansions and have fewer servants!! Not only that, but they would have a lot less money to contribute to political campaigns.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 2 years ago | (#39501807)

GE or one of about half a dozen companies. Some things, like pebble bed reactors are quite cheap.

Buying the fuel, on the other hand, is quite difficult.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (2)

skids (119237) | about 2 years ago | (#39501607)

Maybe the tariffs are because the Chinese have been subsidizing their solar exports in violation of the trade agreements?

That and them treading into the grey area between legitimate market activity and "dumping [wikipedia.org] "

Part of the problem will of course be that photovoltaics aren't reliable.

I assume you mean regular, in contrast to baseline power, rather than shoddy. Won't be a problem for some time yet, there's plenty of peak-shaving market left in the daytime hours.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (3, Insightful)

Chrontius (654879) | about 2 years ago | (#39501609)

That practice of subsidized exports is called "dumping" and tends to continue only until domestic production in the importing area ends, and then the price is jacked up to make up for the losses.

Basically, we're trying to win in the long term at the expense of the short term, instead of the opposite.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (1)

Miros (734652) | about 2 years ago | (#39501661)

It's really tricky though. We are massively subsidizing our domestic solar industry as well to enable production at below the true cost because we care about it as a means of domestic energy production. In the end import taxes are not going to make up for the fact that it's cheaper and more efficient to make some of these things overseas now. Are the chinese playing fair? Probably not. Does it really matter in the long run? Probably not.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (3, Insightful)

squidflakes (905524) | about 2 years ago | (#39501853)

I wouldn't call what we're doing "massively subsidizing." When compared to the subsidies for petrochem and nuclear we're more offering minimal or token subsidies.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501677)

Basically, we're trying to win in the long term at the expense of the short term, instead of the opposite.

But that is so un-American.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (5, Insightful)

Moryath (553296) | about 2 years ago | (#39501717)

Tell that to the Republicans.

On the one hand they scream (after MASSIVELY SUBSIDIZING their puppetmasters in the big oil companies and the corn lobby) about the subsidization of companies like Solyndra. They do this ignoring the fact that it didn't work because China was engaging in dumping and any trade with China is fundamentally unfair trade due to Chinese environmental-destruction and slave-labor practices.

Then they complain about how Solar power is "not financially viable", and likewise for wind, geothermal, and pretty much every other renewable resource we've got. The Republicans gave the corn lobby a massive gift when Dumbya's administration outlawed MTBE and forced 10% corn ethanol into gas nationwide, despite the fact that corn ethanol is a net loss of energy (1.8 units used for every 1 unit produced) to make. The subsidization of the oil industry is orders of magnitude larger than any subsidization we've ever given to clean power.

It's like when 50 years ago the Democrats became beholden to the Teamsters; in came big trucking and the subsidized interstate system, meanwhile rail shipping - far more energy efficient for long distances - got fucked up the ass having to eat the costs of maintaining the rail lines unsubsidized.

If you see a government policy that's fucked up on energy, follow the money. Chances are, this decade there's a Koch hand behind it - the decade you choose you may find someone else.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501837)

Then they complain about how Solar power is "not financially viable", and likewise for wind, geothermal, and pretty much every other renewable resource we've got. The Republicans gave the corn lobby a massive gift when Dumbya's administration outlawed MTBE and forced 10% corn ethanol into gas nationwide, despite the fact that corn ethanol is a net loss of energy (1.8 units used for every 1 unit produced) to make. The subsidization of the oil industry is orders of magnitude larger than any subsidization we've ever given to clean power.

WTF? Al Gore went around for YEARS telling everyone corn ethanol was going to save the planet. So Bush did something Gore begged for and Bush is the only one at fault? THIS is why you don't compromise with the DNC. Their policies are all complete failure and if the GOP gave a SINGLE vote at any point during the process of putting the failed policy into place it suddenly becomes completely their fault.

I swear, liberals have become so stupid they don't even realize how dumb they sound anymore.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39502053)

Al Gore went around for YEARS telling everyone corn ethanol was going to save the planet

He's even since acknowledged this was a big mistake. Ethanol is such a tragically bad idea even Al Gore has had to admit it.

Itz A11 t3h Ev1L BuShz0rs do1ing it!!1 CHENEY DID IT <slobber>

Re:Chinese Subsidies (4, Insightful)

rickb928 (945187) | about 2 years ago | (#39501845)

MTBE, being water-soluble, was a mistake. Spills became uncontainable.

Ethanol is a loser, but neither party has the will to turn off the subsidies, and every other ethanol source besides corn is a loser as well.

Growing food for fuel is stupid.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#39501963)

Corn receives subsidies. But oil? That has subsidies?

The interstates were Eisenhower's idea, after he tried to travel cross country on 1920-era roads (a near impossible task), and decided to copy Germany's autobahns. I don't know why you place the credit on Democrats.

>>>when Dumbya's administration outlawed MTBE

Yeah. Outlawing poison. What a horrible thing to do. President Idiot deserves a lot of blame for stupid stuff, but this is not one of them.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (4, Interesting)

squidflakes (905524) | about 2 years ago | (#39502017)

Yeah, energy policy in the U.S. is amazingly fucked.

One thing that really gets me, there are enough geothermal hot-spots in the US to provide a huge amount of power, especially if the R&D were funded like drilling in the 60's and 70's. Even better, we've already got a huge amount of operational know-how and technology from that very investment that could be adapted to geothermal power use. The basic hole drilling technology is the same, and only small modifications would be needed to bring us around to closed cycle steam/water loops and we already know how to turn hot steam in to electrical power.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#39501881)

>>> then the price is jacked up to make up for the losses.

Please cite some companies that did this "dumping" and then raising of prices.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501675)

Concentrated solar onto molten salt and wind are much more reliable than photovoltaics. Or we could just go nuclear.

s/Or/And

There's no (non-political) reason we couldn't use nuclear for a nice reliable baseload and supplement it with solar for helping to smooth out peaks in demand. Not to mention the contributions that wind, hydro, and geothermal can make.

Re:Chinese Subsidies (0, Troll)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#39501755)

So you are complaining that the Chinese are taking a few of your dollars and giving you a superior product at a tiny price? So let's see - do you want things for the sake of having them or do you want things so that you can work to make them?

My point is that while the Chinese are having this ridiculous policy of subsidising your purchasing power (both, with any kind of direct subsidies to their manufacturers and by destroying their own currency to give you the cheapest price possible), you are complaining that you are getting a product at the cheapest price possible.

Well then. Why don't you start a war?

Re:Chinese Subsidies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501763)

Or we could just go nuclear.

I'm pretty pissed about this too, but I don't think it warrants going nuclear.

But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor? (4, Insightful)

RyoShin (610051) | about 2 years ago | (#39501535)

The people who are the most likely to be impacted by high energy prices, the poor, are the least likely to benefit from the solar rebate scheme because they lack the capital to pay for the installation.

While I'm not big of the idea of "the long tail" or "trickle down economics", I would think this would help the poor in a small manner. By those able to afford it having solar panels, the power companies have less demand for their energy and so the poor are less likely to see an increase in power prices (and, rarely, a slight reduction). This is, of course, assuming things like the able don't have their own, separate power station from the poor, enough able people install them to actually make some sort of dent, etc.

Even if they get no impact from it, "the poor still can't afford them" doesn't seem like a valid mark against such a program; I didn't see anyone complaining that the tax breaks to those who bought hybrids were bad because the poor still couldn't afford hybrids.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (1)

Miros (734652) | about 2 years ago | (#39501573)

Photo-voltaic panels are not cheap enough or efficient enough to be a truly economic means of producing electricity. The subsidies potentially enable economies of scope and scale to the point where it would be economical. Long way to go though still.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501787)

PV panels also take far more energy to make than they ever return in their lifetime. It is an illusion, similar to ethanol, where one may have x amount of watts provided, but in reality, it took far more energy to drop the petrochemicals for the plants than it would have been just to refine the oil for gasoline or diesel.

Then there is the fact that solar requires a lot of surface area. Yes, those solar arrays in west Texas are cool looking, but they are next to useless because voltage losses over the long wire lengths burn off most of the energy. In urban areas, the energy gained from having solar cells is not enough to bother. Yes, someone might be able to power a 12VDC fan from a rooftop panel setup, but lets be real here. Homes use far more energy than that.

As for off-grid setups, its ironic that right next to the solar panels and batteries is some type of gas/diesel/propane powered generator hidden away that does all the work. Lets get real folks... Solar is a cute things to spend money on to appear "green", but the only real energy source we have is coal and oil these days, and likely will remain that way for a while to come.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (4, Informative)

Entropius (188861) | about 2 years ago | (#39501885)

I spent six years in Tucson and I know folks who have PV panels on their rooftops which provide most of their power. There are lots of urban areas that get a shitload of sunshine.

I agree, though -- solar isn't going to provide baseload power. It's not just coal and oil, though -- nuclear can, too. So can geothermal.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501991)

I'm going to start calling bullshit on this off-repeated meme. I don't know if its true. I've only seen sensationalistic assertions. Furthermore, I don't know if it remains true when you scale up production and improve manufacturing techniques. For all I know you could be using 1980s numbers for 2012 industrial processes.

It's just repeating the sin of the problem with conventional power generation. Cost shifting.
Of course conventional power generation is cheaper. It's cheaper because it's costs a hidden and shifted on to other parties. You conveniently ignore the cost of pollution and exhaustion of non-renewable resources.

With solar, we just happen to know the costs up front.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (1)

RyoShin (610051) | about 2 years ago | (#39501805)

I'm not talking about the able/rich or power plants producing electricity from solar for the poor, I'm talking about decreased demand on the power plants due to the able/rich not needing as much because of their own solar panels. I'm no power station expert, but less stress on the plant likely means lower overall costs which could be passed on to the remaining customers in the form of slight reduction in cost (or, much more likely in my pessimistic mind, a delay in the rising of costs.)

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (1)

Bert64 (520050) | about 2 years ago | (#39501959)

Or an increase in costs, because thanks to lots of users running solar panels there is now far more variation in demand...
Sure the demand on hot sunny days might be lower, but during the hours of darkness it will be just as high as it ever was, so you still need to keep the same capacity available in the coal/gas/nuclear plants.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (4, Insightful)

skids (119237) | about 2 years ago | (#39501857)

Not too long of a way to go. Basically they need to get the panels + installation down another 25-50% (and technologically this is not insurmountable) but in addition to that, they have to do so with something resembling a respectable profit margin. RIght now companies are running things close to the wire trying to compete, and that's not sustainable on a financial plane.

Of course, if the price of competing energy goes up (if there is a recoveing economy, it will) then that makes the competitive point for solar easier to acheive. In some local markets, solar is already cheaper.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#39502031)

Basically they need to get the panels + installation down another 25-50%

A good way to do this is to standardize the mounting brackets, and then change building codes so the brackets are required to be pre-installed on all newly constructed buildings. As prices drop, they can install the panels cheaply because the brackets are already there. This will be much cheaper than retrofitting panels onto an existing roof.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501593)

The power companies will simply increase the price per kilowatt so that their revenue doesn't decrease. And the government will be pleased, as higher energy bills will cause people to be more mindful of their energy use.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (4, Informative)

Moryath (553296) | about 2 years ago | (#39501737)

Precisely. Consider what happened with water in my area; we entered a conservation phase, and they promptly jacked up the water rates "to ensure minimum funding to maintain the system." Water conservation phase ended, usage increased and... hey look the rate stayed the fucking same.

Reminds me of seasonal gas price hiking. Nothing to do with politics, everything to do with greedy-ass oil execs and Saudi princes.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#39502049)

But I thought the water company was owned by the government? How can you blame greedy private executives for the "high prices" of the government-owned water company? Hmmmm.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (2)

Moses48 (1849872) | about 2 years ago | (#39501657)

Poor also don't have the money to get the subsidy for the Tesla cars. They're missing out on like 10 thousand dollars!!!!

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (3, Informative)

poity (465672) | about 2 years ago | (#39501683)

Firstly to address the article, one is a start-up loan guarantee to offset the risks in surmounting what is a huge barrier to entry, the other is a continued subsidy to aid an established industry. Sure they're both in the same vein of using public funds to bolster industry, but not quite comparable beyond that, are they? Continued subsidy of established industry is one of the major arguments made by those who are against US agricultural subsidies, and they make a reasonable point regarding the negative impact it has to the outside world. Many countries feel justified to place tariffs on US agricultural products because of this.

Now to address your post, let's look at the not so apparent inconsistency in the rhetoric surrounding the motivations behind the subsidy. If the Chinese government indeed only wanted to make renewable energy more affordable for the average Chinese person, as many say is the sole motivation, it could very well have implemented a tax rebate policy with low-income allowances for Chinese consumers (as it's typically done in the US, at least the rebate part) -- and if fearing the money drain to imported panels, they could even have made "for use on domestically made panels only" a condition for such rebates/allowances. Under such a policy, imported solar panels would find it difficult to compete in the Chinese market, but it wouldn't be as big of a deal. That's not what happened. By continuing to subsidize the already established manufacturers directly, it places anti-competitive behavior behind the rather more difficult-to-assail rhetoric of "making energy affordable for the average Chinese person." Unfortunately, this rhetorical sleight of hand is able to misdirect many people.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (1)

RyoShin (610051) | about 2 years ago | (#39501849)

and if fearing the money drain to imported panels, they could even have made "for use on domestically made panels only" a condition for such rebates/allowances

Do we do that? If not, why not? It would seem to solve the supposed issue without this tariff. You want cheap panels, fine, no rebate for you.

Of course, if difference in panel price > rebate/tax break allowance, that doesn't matter much, I suppose.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (1)

poity (465672) | about 2 years ago | (#39502027)

Well doing that would still be anti-competitive, less so than directly subsidizing the manufacturers since it doesn't really affect exports, but anti-competitive nonetheless. If the US did it, I'm sure other countries would definitely complain, but if it did it as a retreat from direct subsidies, it may be seen as an easier pill to swallow (hmm, that's giving me evil conspiracy ideas haha). In the US, Japanese hybrid cars are the most popular. This is because rebates are less biased, and they stimulate a sector without picking favorites within it.

Re:But isn't it still slightly helpful to the poor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501871)

I thought all the alternative energy arguments were about climate change and our impact by fossil fuels and carbon footprints and all that possbile man-mad impact, which would kill us all in an apocolyptic disaster.

I'm not sure how poor people factor into this. The poor currently aren't doing anything to cause it (in theory, what with them not owning hummers or polluting factories), so why do we care if they add solar panels? If anything they're getting the benefit of everyone else possibly decreasing use of fossil fuel energies in terms of price, pollution, slowing down our usage of natural resources, etc.

They may not get a tax break on solar panels, but I highly doubt they're getting many other tax breaks that benefit society either (I'm not getting in to the argument of how much tax paid for benefits they may or may not receive). Most people have to be pretty eagerly motivated to throw down $20k on some panels, just to get a percentage back. That same advice was given to me 5 years ago when I was told I should buy the biggest mortgage I could because I'd get a tax break on the mortgage interest.

As an avid boater, I have 4 different methods of generating power, solar, wind, towed, and shore hookup. Boaters have been using alternative energy options for years due to the nature of cruising (sailing, not gay cruising, although as they say, any port in a storm).

Until there is some very good reason to invest in home solar or wind, I don't see the poor getting to into it, unless there's a true economic benefit more than save the planet. You want to see the poor magically buy solar panels? Change laws country wide that allows you to sell energy back into the grid for market rates and get cut a check. It's amazing how much solar and wind generation, and decreased energy cost and usage would erupt overnight.

"Step right up! Cash4Power is in your neighborhood! Bring your stolen bicycles from bums and alternators from cars on blocks in, and we'll show you how to build a windmill and make hundreds of dollars a year while working at home!"

It's embarassing (4, Interesting)

Miros (734652) | about 2 years ago | (#39501545)

To the government that the US can no longer sustain a competitive domestic solar panel industry. This was predicted in shockingly accurate detail by HBS researchers 3 years ago. [hbr.org] Protectionism is only going to make it worse -- amazing that these ideas still fly.

Re:It's embarassing (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501691)

What's the other option? Let China do the same they done with rare earth metals? Factories and mining operations takes time to setup, especially with the red tape that exists in the US. Cheap panels now can mean expensive panels later (or worst, supply shortages). The free market only works when both sides are trying to maximize profit. While generally true, China, who has a heavy hand in it's economy, can easy change things to benefit China at the cost of less profit.

At the local economy, we have laws to prevent dumping to destroy your competitors, only to raise prices afterwards, there exists no such thing on the global economy.

Re:It's embarassing (1)

loufoque (1400831) | about 2 years ago | (#39501729)

Why is it embarassing? To each their specialty. The US conceives and designs stuff, China produces it.

Re:It's embarassing (5, Interesting)

NoobixCube (1133473) | about 2 years ago | (#39501809)

The US designs stuff, now? Pretty much everything in my house is designed by a Japanese or Thai or Korean company. A US company might have designed the basic idea for some of it more than 60 years ago, but nothing new or interesting comes out of America today.

Re:It's embarassing (1)

TheSync (5291) | about 2 years ago | (#39502069)

Pretty much everything in my house is designed by a Japanese or Thai or Korean company.

Obviously you don't have an iPad or a movie in your house :)

However you should also keep in mind that even foreign companies have US R&D teams (Sony [sony.com] , LG [lg.com] , etc.)

And of course Intel is based in the US (although it also has global R&D teams), and I know that ARM has a large presence in Austin [austinnovation.com] even though it is a UK-based firm.

Re:It's embarassing (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501753)

To the government that the US can no longer sustain a competitive domestic solar panel industry. This was predicted in shockingly accurate detail by HBS researchers 3 years ago. [hbr.org] Protectionism is only going to make it worse -- amazing that these ideas still fly.

Well I guess we could bring back slavery if the object is to be competitive. For all the boasting China is still largely a third world economy where a small percentage control all the money. We have a similar system but our baseline is much higher. Republicans have boasted that we could go head to head with the Chinese if we just get rid of that nasty minimum wage. You know the one that keeps factory workers from living in cardboard boxes the way God and corporations intended. I know the party line is cheaper is always better but it's not that simple. What happens is we kill off our industry by letting China dump products? Then once the Chinese economy grows those cheap products become more expensive since their workers now want $6 or $8 an hour instead of $1 so they can too aford the things they make the way Henry Ford intended. Suddenly products double in price and we have no industry left to compete. We have to get out of this "I want it now and I want it cheap" mindset and realize a balanced approach means you can still aford the products 10 years from now instead of simply complaining in 10 years that Chinese goods are too expensive.

Banks can only exist in a carbon world (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501589)

We live in a carbon/credit world economy. Carbon is distributed through banks by extending credit. This is there sole reason to be, without centralized energy distributing banking as we know it is dead. So it's a war and in the US the banks are in charge.

In the future era of distributed renewable energy generation you don't need credit to produce, only access to a renewable energy source.. And that source is likely to be payed off, so production will be free. I call this the robo(eco)nomy. Robots will do our work using renewable power sources, and we will be able to restore the ecology using them as well..

"We" are not trying to kill solar... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501603)

...the greedy oil magnates and commodities traders are. You can't bottle sunshine (well, you can, but try explaining biodiesel to this lot...), therefore the greedheads aren't interested. I hope they all spontaneously combust.

Re:"We" are not trying to kill solar... (1, Funny)

0123456 (636235) | about 2 years ago | (#39501643)

Solar is booming because of subsidies; poor people are being taxed in the West so that Chinese solar power manufacturers get rich.

Eliminate all subsidies and let the market sort itself out.

Re:"We" are not trying to kill solar... (1, Insightful)

Miros (734652) | about 2 years ago | (#39501685)

Without subsidies this market probably wouldn't exist. Solar is massively expensive per watt relative to other sources of energy. Unless you taxed the heck out of them you would just end up with more dirty energy and little to no solar at all.

Re:"We" are not trying to kill solar... (4, Insightful)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 2 years ago | (#39501843)

However, dumping doesn't make sense here. Properly maintained, a solar installation can reliably last for many decades with only minimal replacement.

Dumping exists to cause a mad rush of adoption, to set the hook for lock in. If adoption also translates to reduced demand later (see eg, computer sales figures from 1990 to today for an indicator of saturation with durable goods), then dumping makes significantly less sense.

More likely, china is trying to bolster capital to rapidly develop a thriving industrial production infrastructure, and the current situation provides a ripe opportunity who's time has come.

The US populace *DESPERATELY* wants to be rid of expensive and toxic fossil fuel use. So much so that they are willing to break the bank on one-off investments on domestic solar. (Something highly uncharacteristic of the typical us consumer's demographic profile)

China says "we can make solar cells for you! We can make them DIRT cheap!"

US consumers shout "SOLD!"

US regulators go "Oh No! OMGWTF! If they all switch to solar, we won't have as many reasons to stay in a state of purpetual war with the middle east, and our out-of-channel campaign funding sources will diminish! This is terrible! We have to act! We have to drive the prices of these deleterious cheap solar installs back up to protect our interests!"

So, they institute tarrifs to drive the prices up, in the hopes of preventing widespread solar adoption.

I would bet dollars to holes in doughnuts that the leading voices behind the tarrifs have memberships in the GOP, and hold shares in energy companies.

From the bottom of my heart (-1, Flamebait)

koan (80826) | about 2 years ago | (#39501611)

If you want things like politics and energy policy to make sense in this country the first thing you have to do is flush the toilet called Washington DC.

I could go on and on about Cheney's closed door energy meetings and Enron, how much we owe China, the general stupidity and greed of our leaders, but doesn't everyone here already know these things?

Nothing gets better until we change the people in power.

Re:From the bottom of my heart (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501695)

But the bureaucratic people in Washington are what stopping progress. We vote on the dog catcher, why not vote on the head of the Dept of Energy?

On and on - about CHENEY????? (-1, Troll)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 2 years ago | (#39501709)

I could go on and on about Cheney's closed door energy meetings and Enron

Then I really can't imagine how long you could go on about Obama and the supposed "green" industry sucking down taxpayer money for companies they know will fail.

Wait, I can imagine. You will go on for exactly zero seconds, partisan hack that you are.

Nice try but we ALL will Remember in November, Democratic shill. The time to complain about Cheney has long past and the crimes your masters have committed at this point are far more vast and flawed.

Re:From the bottom of my heart (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501783)

Changing the people in power is incredibly difficult. Those who would best run the country will not run for office. Those that run are not fit for office. That leaves us with people who are all about "collaboration" -- that is the people who honestly believe that reality is whatever the consensus says it is. pi=3 is good enough... Consensus builders have no patience for cold hard facts.

Simple (0, Flamebait)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#39501653)

The US gov't believes it can run the economy for some reason.

There is all this nonsense talk about how oil industry is getting 'subsidies', while in reality those so called 'subsidies' are just deductions in tax payments that the oil companies make, all while the real subsidies is money that the gov't wastes giving uninsured loans or just straight money to all these 'alternative energy' companies, that in reality would have never gotten anywhere based on the real market, all this, while the Chinese companies found all the necessary efficiencies to produce lots and lots of those solar panels very cheaply, and now there are all these tariffs by the US gov't on the Chinese solar panel products.

Who do you think gets hurt in all of this? Well, it's obvious - who is really gaining when the Chinese are importing cheap solar panels into USA in exchange for US dollars? If you can answer this second question, then you can answer the first one.

By the way, Obama believes he is a great genius of a businessman, why is he not using his own money to sponsor all these 'alternative energy' companies but insists on spending other people's money on this?

Re:Simple (1, Informative)

Microlith (54737) | about 2 years ago | (#39501865)

There is all this nonsense talk about how oil industry is getting 'subsidies', while in reality those so called 'subsidies' are just deductions in tax payments that the oil companies make, all while the real subsidies is money that the gov't wastes giving uninsured loans or just straight money to all these 'alternative energy' companies

And yet the subsidies that the fossil fuel companies get are above and beyond what the alternative energy groups get.

that in reality would have never gotten anywhere based on the real market, all this, while the Chinese companies found all the necessary efficiencies to produce lots and lots of those solar panels very cheaply, and now there are all these tariffs by the US gov't on the Chinese solar panel products.

Yup, efficiencies like free money from the Chinese government coupled with extremely low labor costs and extremely lax environmental standards.

who is really gaining when the Chinese are importing cheap solar panels into USA in exchange for US dollars?

China, of course.

Unless you're thinking that we actually have a "Free Market," in which case I have several bridges and inland oceanside property to sell you.

Re:Simple (2, Insightful)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#39501951)

And yet the subsidies that the fossil fuel companies get are above and beyond what the alternative energy groups get.

- it's false, because it makes no sense. The oil industry pays huge amounts of taxes and it provides the people with all the oil they need for all the uses.

The alternative energy industry LIVES on taxes, what does it provide people with? Bad business model and more taxes going towards some chosen contractors for political reasons.

Yup, efficiencies like free money from the Chinese government coupled with extremely low labor costs and extremely lax environmental standards.

- whatever, say thank you, Chinese government, for the subsidy that you are giving to people, who clearly are too dumb to understand that they are getting it (IF that's what the Chinese are doing - they are subsidising you at the moment.)

China, of course.

Unless you're thinking that we actually have a "Free Market," in which case I have several bridges and inland oceanside property to sell you.

- yeah, you have already been sold a bad bridge. Chinese people are NOT gaining, they are losing by subsidising your consumption, and it is done by their gov't destroying their currency in order to cause lower prices for the products that the Chinese are making via the fake exchange rate.

I already talked about it, clearly not everybody is getting the point. [slashdot.org]

Re:Simple (2, Insightful)

skids (119237) | about 2 years ago | (#39501917)

The US gov't believes it can run the economy for some reason.

I think the reason is the abject failure of the private sector to do so.

Re:Simple (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#39501971)

Well that's nonsense, USA government is the entity that destroyed the private sector in the first place, now that they are done with that, you think they can run the economy?

Re:Simple (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | about 2 years ago | (#39501977)

By the way, Obama believes he is a great genius of a businessman, why is he not using his own money to sponsor all these 'alternative energy' companies but insists on spending other people's money on this?

      You clearly have NO understanding of how money laundering works.

    Brett

Re:Simple (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#39502005)

I am fine with money laundering, I am wondering what's wrong with people here who don't want some foreign government to subsidise their own purchases? What? It makes sense - take it and shut up.

Do you think the Chinese are going to sell us... (4, Insightful)

beamdriver (554241) | about 2 years ago | (#39501659)

...their PV panels for less than it costs to make them forever?

Once they drive our domestic PV manufacturers out of business they'll be free to charge what the market will bear.

brains over brawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501665)

What of our salvation vaporware vendor Twin Creeks [slashdot.org] ?

The poor? Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501689)

It makes no sense for the "poor" to buy/install solar. Even if you're "rich" and can afford the $10-30K payment, you're still looking at 7-10 years ROI to break even. If you're poor, why the hell would you ever make that investment? Second, the poor are also probably using less electricity. They have fewer computers, TV's and aren't going to be buying a plugin hybrid/electric car, so they use less electricity. In terms of energy use, the poor care more about gasoline for their cars and heating oil in the winter to heat their homes which they spend more $$$/month then electricity. Not to mention, the poor are more likely to rent then own their home, so where are they going to install it?

That said, it shouldn't be a shock that when the Gov't tries to "help" an industry it often screws it over as in this case. Of course that helps me since I was able to order solar for my home about a month before the tariff was announced and lock in my price. Probably the only way I'm going to get any benefit of my tax dollars being wasted on companies like Solyndra.

False economics (0)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 years ago | (#39501713)

a larger market drove down prices. Solar energy cost has declined by two-thirds in the last four years

Subsidies created an artificial demand and subsidies drove down prices. Solar energy cost hasn't really changed all that much when you take into account the actual cost, including contributions from American and Chinese taxpayers, installation, maintenance, related equipment, etc, etc.

The whole clean energy program remains flawed

That pretty much sums it up. And it's about the only accurate statement in the entire commentary.

Rare earth metals all over again. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501745)

Will we allow china to undersell and then control another emerging high tech resource?

Solar is one of those things that doesn't seem to lend itself to concentrated production then wide distribution. (Like traditional power generation). You need lots of space.. What would our power demands look like if, say, every roof in the US was covered in solar cells? Rather than have them supplement power for just that household, what if they could backfeed in to the grid and reduce your power bill that way? I think that would be simpler and easier to maintain on a wide scale.

slashdot summary gone wild !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501761)

First, import cost of parts has nothing to do with installation costs.
Somehow, you make it look like a "gain". So it's not a "win".
Second, "solar energy cost has gone down". Really?
Did subsidies go up ? Was it the parts or the installation ?
Was that the cost for 50 megawatt plants or homeowners ?
What govt wants to "kill" it ? Just because the govt MIGHT
want to save TAXDOLLARS from subsidies in a bad economy
doesn't mean they WANT to kill it !!.
Third, was Solyndra's business model based on supplying
50 megawatt plants? , Or the cost of build staying the same?
How bout "a BAD or unfeasible business model ?
Fourth, In what way are the poor screwed ? The costs
under ANY circumstances mentioned are ABOVE standard
energy costs.

Oil, coal and gas are subsidized... how does all that compare ?

Fifth, Solar is extremely inefficient. NO matter who is doing it.
The ONLY way it might approach reasonable-ness in cost
is for the govt to force a patent pool among the IP holders
so that the technologies can be combined. As it is,
everyone is merely fighting for feifdoms and their share
of the continuing flow of govt "research" ( yeah, right ) money.

All you need to know is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501793)

"The only problem is that the American market growth is fake, funded primarily by the government, while the real revenue benefit has occurred for Chinese manufacturers. America, the home of Silicon Valley, basically abandoned thin-film silicon to chase after new technology while China embraced it, once again showing that the U.S. government is not particularly qualified to predict market outcomes or to pick winners and losers in the green tech sector."

Translation: Solar will fail or succeed on its own. Keep the government out of it. Stop subsidizing it. Stop slapping tariffs on it.

Preparations (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501799)

They are preparing to scorch the sky.

Stop wrecking My environment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501813)

We don't want panel manufacturing here! Just the panels. Leave that heavy industry in China and let them pollute their earth and water and contaminate their citizens. If we make the panels here and pay domestic wages we won't be able to afford to deploy them, so we'll have to keep using fossil fuels and wrecking our environment. Also, if we have factories here then people without degrees will still have disposable income to buy guns and trucks and vote for republicans and stuff.

Stop the tariffs now!

Nevermind the capital (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39501873)

Nevermind the capital. I could install solar right now if I wanted to. I can't. Why? I rent. No landlord in their right mind will let you install panels and take them with you if you move (not that it'd be practical to do that anyway). The owners are making money just fine without the panels. Why add yet another maintenance chore to their property? Maybe with stronger incentives they would. Apparently, those incentives (from the free market or the government) aren't strong enough. So. My roof remains bare, and it gets hot in the Summer. Even if the panels were just empty shades the house would benefit.

I have to admit though. Even if I could install panels I probably wouldn't at this point. A good panel install costs about $30k. I can (and do) pay all my utility bills with the dividends from a comparable number of shares in the local utility. Option collars can actually be put on for a modest credit without having my shares called away very often. In fact, my shares have yet to be called away in the several years I've been doing this and the ute is yielding 4%. Try getting an insurance company to pay *you* for insuring your house.

Crony capitalism in action (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about 2 years ago | (#39501901)

And on display for everyone to watch.

Are we getting close to stopping this yet? Apparently not.

It was drawn that way (2)

gadget junkie (618542) | about 2 years ago | (#39501905)

I do not see the anomaly. the market for solar power cells was not driven by any big need for solar power production, and so it all hinged on subsidies to the producers, be they the producers of solar infrastructure or the installers/managers. Moreover, when the size of the market was small the impact on energy bills at the wider level was negligible, like having a 0.01c tax surcharge.

Fast forward to today, and things are quite expectedly different: the installed base is BIG, the subsidies are a botload of money, and the shift between the have and havenots has widened. On the "have" side, big producers of energy receiving subsidies, which given the expenditure were well off to start with, all the infrastructure managers (politician), and the lobbyists who have to be paid to make sure the merry go round keeps going. On the "have not" side, traditional energy producers and especially network managers, who have to justify the expenditures required to adjust to a wildly varying power source (backup generators, more transmission lines, etc); small businesses and individuals, who do not have the clout to say that they do not want or can afford to pay money on top of electricity simply because someone goofed ten years back. And goofed they did: If the level of subsidies would be cut to the level rendering viable only the latest and cheapest generation of solar plants, the "stranded asset" problem would be enormous, since may if not all of the older plants would tank.
the saving grace for the old solars is simple and crude: since most of the installations were financed through bank loans, and banks are the "little princes" of western governments, non one will force the situation, unless the taxpayers really get upset.

Screw the subsidies (4, Interesting)

DCFusor (1763438) | about 2 years ago | (#39501997)

I mean, they're nice and if you can get them, do it. But! I went off-grid in '80 or so, when subsidies were hard to find, solar was $7/watt for panels or more, and it still paid off. I just doubled what I have here so as to have enough extra to charge my new Volt too - and it's a pretty big deal to just tell the gasoline man to get lost entirely - more panels is also more times the house system needs no backup. Finally there. !00% NOT Chinese stuff, though I have no axe to grind with them as a people. I just prefer poly xtal big, thick, reliable, conservative cells, that's all - I've got them 30 years old at still 80% of original spec. Even those are down to 3.50/watt or so now, made in USA if you care (I don't much, I'm just trying to get the most kWh/buck). It was hard at first, but built good habits of no waste, and now its fantastic - and no monthly bills...just internet. I got a much better subsidy thusly - I bought raw land and homesteaded on it. Power companies are in a lot of places, in charge of enforcing the building permit and inspections regimes. So, if you're not and never become a customer - well, my buildings are taxed as barns and sheds even though I obviously live here. In today's tax environment - lookee, no property taxes to speak of.

foxtrot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39502001)

uniform Slashtard Obooboo shills

It gets complicated... (1)

MaWeiTao (908546) | about 2 years ago | (#39502011)

Having known and worked with a number of people in the alternative energy industry I can assure you that they've long since stopped being scrappy little upstarts. They're big business and even big oil has entered alternative industry. They're not stupid. They know there's a ton of money in the industry and a massive amount more to be made.

As for the Chinese, they do have a propensity for dumping goods on other countries. It's something the EU has responded a number of times in the past. And of course a lot of it is driven by protectionist policies, as was the case when the EU imposed tariffs on Chinese clothing several years ago. The problem is that the line between meeting consumer demand for cheap goods and dumping is quite blurred. The Chinese government also has countless policies intended to favor their own companies. It's something you'd expect any rational government to do if they want to ensure the success of their own nation. The global economy will eventually change to the point where these practices might not make sense, but we're not at that point yet.

That is not to suggest that these moves are necessarily a good thing. And they don't fix the core problems with American manufacturing. The government is treating the symptoms not the disease. And that's assuming that they're not pandering to special interests, which of course we all know is not the case. But this sort of thing is definitely very complicated.

still too early for solar panels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39502025)

solar powered panels still cost a lot to produce when compared to its output, but more importantly the process in which they are made results in 3 parts environmentally harmful substance to 1 part photosensitive material.

Fox technique: Dressing partisan opinion as fact (1, Offtopic)

guanxi (216397) | about 2 years ago | (#39502043)

* Partisan opinion: Solar Power Is Booming â" Obama administration is killing it

* Partisan opinion masquerading as fact: Solar Power Is Booming â" Why Do We Want To Kill It?

Is this the new Slashdot TV: Fair and Balanced [foxnews.com] ?

it's inefficient (1, Insightful)

superwiz (655733) | about 2 years ago | (#39502079)

It's already reaching the limits of theoretical efficiency given the current harvesting mechanism. And yet it's not profitable. Money isn't just some abstraction. It represents resources which go into production and distribution of the thing. If it's not profitable, then it's an environmental as well as financial net loss. More resources go in than come out. If something cannot be made profitable even at peak efficiency, it represents a net waste of natural resources.
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