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Category — Solar Power History

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

Solar is Not An Infant Industry (Part II: Twentieth Century)

“The range of energy possibilities grouped under the heading ‘solar’ could meet one-fifth of U.S. energy needs within two decades.”

- Robert Stobaugh and Daniel Yergin, “The End of Easy Oil,” in Stobaugh and Yergin, eds., Energy Future, Report of the Energy Project of the Harvard Business School (New York: Random House, 1979), p. 12.

”I think … the consensus … is after the year 2000, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of our energy could come from solar technologies, quite easily.”

  – Scott Sklar, Solar Energy Industries Association (1987).

“Before maybe the end of this decade, I see wind and solar being cost-competitive without subsidy with new fossil fuel.”

- DOE Secretary Stephan Chu, Address to Pew Charitable Trusts, March 23, 2011.

Yesterday’s Part I on the long history of solar power ended with two quotations from energy historian Wilson Clark in his 1974 book, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction:

“In 1908, [Frank] Shuman formed the Sun Power Company and convinced English financiers to back his efforts to build larger plants using the flat-plate collectors. In 1911, he demonstrated a plant in Philadelphia with more than 10,000 feet of collector surface. It produced 816 pounds of steam per hour and was used to operate a steam-driven water pump” (p. 365).

“Between the turn of the century and the 1930s in the United States, the first widespread commercial use of solar energy came into being with the installation of solar water heaters in California and Florida. . . . Tens of thousands of these heaters were sold in both states until the middle 1950s” (p. 370).

The rest of the century would be the story of certain tried-and-true applications (water heaters), a lot of better-but-not-nearly-good-enough technological progress, and hype and failure in the political energy era (1970s-to-present).

1930s Solar [Read more →]

March 22, 2012   6 Comments

Solar is Not an Infant Industry (Part I–Pre-Twentieth Century)

“Not satisfied with such direct benefits as he derives from sunshine, man has developed numerous ways of utilizing solar radiation indirectly and of appropriating energies other than his own.”

    – Erich Zimmermann, World Resources and Industry (Harper & Brothers, 1933), p. 43.

“Although much interest in the scientific community has been focused on solar energy at various times in history, widespread development of solar power equipment has never been achieved—primarily because of the high cost of developing solar power compared to that of technologies utilizing cheap fossil fuels.”

     - Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 379.

Solar electricity has a long history, not unlike its cousin windpower. The infant industry argument does not apply, and solar’s diluteness and intermittency suggest that this off-grid starter energy will not be an on-grid resource this century if not far beyond.

But the hype continues. Yesterday at Climate Progress, Stephen Lacey argued in The Real Impact of Loan Guarantees: “Solar Is Now Bankable” and “Becoming Part of a Much Broader Capital Market“:

With panel prices hitting record lows and performance of projects steadily improving, solar photovoltaics have become increasingly attractive to large investors. Investment in solar has surged to unprecedented levels due to interest from large Wall Street banks, investors like Warren Buffett, and technology firms like Google.

Does Mr. Lacey want to get into the weeds of the cost and reliability of solar power, or is his just cover bluster for a politician of his liking to get overbig green lie” Solyndra?

Here are some quotations that put solar in its proper historical context, just in case President Obama does not share any during his visit today at the 48-megawatt Copper Mountain Solar 1 facility in Boulder City, Nevada. Part II tomorrow will look at solar’s history in the twentieth century–and the hyperbole of solar when energy politics entered the scene in the 1970s.

17th Century Solar [Read more →]

March 21, 2012   7 Comments