Friday, February 22, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #96 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: Fox News' solar power stupidity

Appearing recently on that font of intellectualism, Fox & Friends, Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi agreed with host Wretched Carlson that the future of solar energy in the US is "dim." Whether that was a conscious pun or are they really that self-unaware, I don't know. The point is, when she was asked why Germany is doing so well with solar power, why its solar-power industry is doing so much better than ours, Joshi knew the answer:

"They're a smaller country, and they've got lots of sun. Right? They've got a lot more sun than we do. The problem is it's a cloudy day and it's raining, you're not gonna have it." Sure, California might get sun now and then, she admitted, "but here on the East Coast, it's just not going to work."

Now, to really understand what is so outrageous here, you have to know three things: One, Germany is indeed way ahead of the US in developing solar power. It produces over 21 times more solar power per capita than the US and about 24 times more solar power per GDP than the US. In the summer of 2012, solar power peaked at 40% of power demand in Germany and only 0.5% of demand - 1/80 as much - in the US.

Second, because it's a smaller country? What? I have no idea what that's supposed to mean or by what logic it was being argued - and neither does she.

Third, no, Germany does not get more sun. Instead, the US gets far more. The map shows the amount of solar energy for various regions - Germany, Spain, and the US, measured in kilowatt-hours per square meter per year. The bluer the area, the less solar energy; the redder, the more solar energy. Notice that Germany is about on a par with Alaska. Almost the entire continental US plus Hawai'i far outstrips anywhere in Germany on this scale. In fact, in terms of solar potential, the US beats out famously sunny Spain.

So why is Germany doing better? Because it made a commitment to solar power based on government subsidies and decentralization: 80 percent of the solar installed in Germany is on rooftops and built to a local scale as opposed to the large, centralized generation favored by private US utilities.

That is so obvious that Joshi herself had to admit it a few days later, writing on the Fox News website - but not, notably, going back on Fox & Friends to say it to their far larger audience - that the difference between the US and Germany "comes down more to subsidies and political priorities and has nothing to with sunshine." In fact, she even provides a link to Greentech Media in acknowledging that, as the linked article says in its opening sentence, "every energy source in the last 400 years has been subsidized."

But stupidity will not be denied, so she immediately turns to dissing solar power on a completely different basis, that it's not a "standalone" industry because it still relies on subsidies, that is, government support, to grow. This right after admitting, remember, that this is normal for newly-emerging energy sources.

But it's true that the solar industry does get various forms of government support - so let's look at how much.

This is a graph of the average annual subsidies given to fossil fuels, nuclear, biofuels, and renewables over the history of the subsidies for each sort. (Click for a larger image.) The figures are inflation-adjusted so it's a level field for making the comparisons. Over the lifetime of their subsidies, fossil fuels have averaged nearly $4.9 billion in subsidies per year. Nuclear has gotten an average of $3.5 billion; biofuels, a little over a billion; renewables, just $370 million. In a typical year, biofuels get nearly triple the federal support that renewables do; nuclear gets 10 times the support; and fossil fuels, the kind we should be cutting down on, get 13 times the support renewables do.

In fact, you remember that article that Joshi linked to, the one that said that all energy sources have been subsidized, the one she linked to right before grousing that solar still needs federal assistance? The second sentence of that article says, quoting,
By most metrics, renewable energy sources have received far less in subsidies in their early years than any of these other energy sources.
And to top it off, she declares that we don't need no stinking solar because we have something much better: fracking! That destructive, water-wasting, water-source fouling, chemical cocktail to fracture rock, a process that would make us even more dependent on global-warming-driving fossil fuels than we already are.

Such stupidity with the future of the world at stake really is an outrage.


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