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Category — Bergeron, David (solar executive)

Why I’m Not a Member of the Solar Energy Industries Association

“On-grid solar is a perfect storm for taxpayers: concentrated benefits for the industry, diffuse cost for ratepayers and taxpayers, and a strong positive public sentiment for solar created by energy Malthusians.”

I have been a passionate solar energy enthusiast since I was 13 years old. My 8th grade science project was a solar powered car. I read everything I could about fuels cells, solar cells, microwave beaming solar-powered satellites, battery chemistry, ocean thermal energy, wind power, and compressed gas storage.

In college, I studied engineering focusing on solar energy. I now run a solar company which I started 13 years ago in Tucson, Arizona. SunDanzer Development designs, manufactures, and sells solar-powered refrigerators for off-grid use and vaccine storage. My solar refrigerator design was recently selected as NASA’s Commercial Invention of the Year for 2011.

I am a free-market entrepreneur. I serve a market niche, the off-grid home or business. This is where you cannot plug it in but must rely on the sun directly to power your necessities or conveniences. As such, we are the next best thing energy-wise to dense energy that you better know as oil, gas, and coal.

This said, I am not a member of the Solar Energy Industries Association. Nor will I join until SEIA gets out of the crony capitalism business and represents the sustainable solar industry, the off-grid market populated by willing buyers and sellers with taxpayers and on-grid consumers left alone.

Some Background

As recently as a decade ago, a good part of the solar industry was following a healthy free-market path. Solarex in Maryland turned a profit under the direction of Harvey Forest. But around 2006, the federal government began heavily subsidizing solar installations. [Read more →]

October 10, 2012   3 Comments

On-Grid Solar: An Industry in Plight (Government-dependence perils)

“Without these subsidies … ‘On-grid PV,’ would be virtually non-existent. It only exists because the solar industry lobbied government officials to compel citizens to purchase this otherwise non-economic energy source.”

“Included in the list of failed solar companies is Solon of Germany whose corporate slogan was ‘Don’t Leave the Planet to the Stupid.’ Fortunately for taxpayers, it appears Solon will be leaving the planet.”

A recent Wall Street Journal article, Dark Times Fall on Solar Sector(December 27, 2011), surveyed the latest solar industry fallout, as well as overviewed the financial condition of the surviving companies.

But the article seems to mistakenly equate the fallout to viability as if better profits would mean sustainability. The industry is not viable, but this is unrelated to the recent fall-out. The industry was growing and profitable in the recent past and was equally non-viable then. The difference is that with profit-enabling government subsidies intact, many established U.S. and European manufacturers are now competing with China. And they cannot compete.

Risky Business

There is a measure of justice in this recent turn of events. The old adage “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword,” comes to mind. In this case, one might say, “the industry that lives by government intervention dies by government intervention.” [Read more →]

January 6, 2012   25 Comments

Solar Subsidies: Misdirecting Industry and Consumers

“Solar subsidies are a placebo which is giving the general public a sense of security about our energy future and is robbing the motivation of those entrepreneurs that could actually address our energy problems.”

“In the near term, perhaps our bigger concern than climate change is anthropogenic energy policy.”

In a recent Economist on-line debate, the affirmative motion “This house believes that subsidizing renewable energy is a good way to wean the world off fossil fuels” was surprisingly defeated.

In his closing remarks, the moderator softened his strident opposition to the negative case, even admitting that “subsidizing renewable energy, is wasteful and perhaps inadequate [to address
climate-change concerns].”

Beyond the Climate Debate

The debate, indeed, reopened the question whether anthropogenic greenhouse-gas forcing was a serious planetary environmental concern. But such focus short-changed what I think is the more important question for the Economist. Not only are the renewable-energy subsidies (such as for solar) wasteful and potentially insufficient, they are outright diabolical if indeed there is a looming environmental crisis.

I am not evaluating whether anthropogenic global warming is real and potentially cataclysmic; I’m arguing that if there is a valid concern about the enhanced greenhouse gas effect, not only will the subsidies not solve the problem, but may very well prevent or postpone a legitimate solutions.

Grid Solar: Radically Uneconomic, Intermittent

I’ve written before about why on-grid solar power is absurdly uneconomic and has almost no hope of becoming a viable alternative to current generation technology–or even competitive with other more viable renewable technologies. I’m asking the reader to accept this position for the sake of understanding the potential implication of my claim. [Read more →]

December 15, 2011   4 Comments

Solar Power Cost: Don’t Forget Intermittency (energy economics 101)

[Ed. note: David Bergeron is president of SunDanzer Development, Inc., a solar energy company located in Tucson. His earlier posts at MasterResource are Free-Market Solar: The Real Opportunity and Economic/Environmental Assessment of Grid-Tiered Photovoltaics: Arizona Lessons for the U.S.]

“The economic case for grid-tied PV is indeed quite hopeless, and the sooner we stop the misguided subsidies the sooner we can focus on actually addressing our legitimate energy and environmental concerns.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently published an excellent report on the projected cost of electricity generated by different technologies: coal, natural gas, nuclear, and various others, including renewables.

Levelized Cost of Energy

Their Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) calculation combines upfront cost with recurring cost to estimate the average cost of power produced by these technologies. Here is the EIA cost datafor coal, natural gas, and solar PV.

At first glance, it looks like PV could be competitive with coal or natural gas plants if the PV cost were to drop below 10 cents/kWh. But there is an important difference between PV and the traditional technologies which makes this simple cost comparison invalid.

But first, take a look at the cost of electricity from a coal plant. The total cost is projected to be 9.5 cents/kWh per the EIA study. About 6.5 cents of this is capital cost[1] and about 2.5 cents is the cost of the coal. Looking at the natural gas plant, one can see the capital cost is about 2 cents, and the fuel cost is about 4.5 cents.

Solar has no fuel cost element but significant capital investment.

Intermittency = Backup Required

But here is the rub. If you plan to power a city with PV, it is not sufficient to simply build a large PV array, because PV only produces power during the day. At night and during cloudy weather, a back-up power source is needed since there is no practical way to store the PV energy. [Read more →]

October 12, 2011   23 Comments

Free-Market Solar: The Real Opportunity (this solar executive tells the feds and Arizona to cool the subsidies)

[Editor note: David Bergeron is president of SunDanzer Development, Inc., a solar energy company located in Tucson. His first post at MasterResource was titled Economic/Environmental Assessment of Grid-Tiered Photovoltaics: Arizona Lessons for the U.S.  More information on Mr. Bergeron and SunDanzer is provided at the end of this post.]

It’s Saturday. I’m testing a new solar powered vaccine refrigerator that uses ice packs rather than batteries to store energy and maintain cold temperatures. This is a key component of the distribution chain for vaccines and part of a global effort to eradicate polio and other preventable diseases.

Solar energy is my passion, field of study, and occupation. It started when I was 13 years old, a time of the Arab oil embargo and gasoline lines at the pump. Only later did I realize that the long lines were caused by misguided government price controls, not a tiring mineral-resource base.

Today, our government is again engaged in misguided energy activism, policies that mandate inappropriate solutions to real and imagined problems.

Such is the case with grid-tied solar panels, an energy alternative which fails to effectively address either energy security or environmental concerns. Although unintended by state and federal lawmakers, preferences and mandates for political correct energies will ultimately stifle creativity and generate false solutions to our energy dilemma.

Sunny Arizona–Cost-Prohibitive Solar

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) electric panels are far too expensive to provide a sustainable energy alternative to homes and businesses already connected to the electric utility grid.  The on-grid solar industry and associated jobs are artificial and only exist because of special government favor.

The solar industry today is a bubble ready to burst. It is similar in many ways to the housing market bubble created by easy mortgages enabled by government favor.  When the subsidies end, the solar bubble will burst, and much of the industry and jobs therein will vanish overnight. [Read more →]

October 21, 2010   16 Comments

Economic/Environmental Assessment of Grid-Tied Photovoltaics: Arizona Lessons for the U.S.

[Editor note: David Bergeron is president of SunDanzer Development, Inc., a solar energy company located in Tucson AZ. This is his first post at MasterResource.  More information on him and his company is provided at the end of this post.]

The proponents of the Arizona Renewable Energy Standards (RES) make various claims in order to promote grid-tied solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity. Unfortunately, the use of grid-tied solar PV is unlikely to accomplish any of the objectives suggested by its proponents. Specifically, 

  • It will not create jobs in Arizona;
  • It will not reduce global warming;
  • It will not reduce electricity prices;
  • It will not reduce our dependence on imported oil; and
  • It will not position Arizona to be a leader in renewable energy.

Furthermore, there is a good chance that the RES will have outcomes that are directly opposite its intended effects.

The suitability of Solar PV as a grid-tied energy source can be analyzed in a straightforward manner. In Tucson, Arizona, a 1 kW residential or commercial grid-tied PV system costs approximately $5,000 installed[1] and may offset up to $66/year[2] of fossil fuel use. This 76 year simple payback is well beyond the life of the equipment and does not include maintenance cost.

Adding PV to the grid offers no other significant savings in utility generation and transmission requirements and only adds to administrative and engineering burden for the utility. Despite idealistic claims of infrastructure savings from distributed grid-tied PV, these do not exist in the real world because PV is not reliable power, so no significant reduction in generation or transmission infrastructure is possible.

PV system costs must fall by at least a factor of five[3] to offer real value in reducing fossil fuel use. Additional evidence of this is the fact that current federal, state, and utility subsidies cover 65-75%[4] of the up-front cost of these systems and net metering laws provide a rich subsidy for energy produced and yet the systems are still only marginally viable. [Read more →]

June 7, 2010   7 Comments