When The Government Gets Involved, The Incentive For Innovation Goes Down

Yesterday The American Thinker posted an article about the Crescent Dunes thermal solar plant in central Nevada. The thermal solar plant has failed.

The article reports:

Crescent Dunes was a serious project designed to attack the great weakness of solar electricity.  Sunshine is strongest in the middle of the day, but demand for electricity peaks at the end of the day and in the early evening.  This is especially true during the Las Vegas summer, when air-conditioners are running full blast as temperatures soar well past 100 degrees in the late afternoon.

A method of storing plentiful midday solar electricity so it can be utilized in the evening was needed.  Otherwise, solar would hit a ceiling at far less than 50%.  One method is to use batteries.  That is wildly expensive and quite dangerous as the flammable batteries store vast quantities of energy.  That’s not stopping the Gemini project, scheduled for a site north of Las Vegas.  The Gemini solar project will have a $500-million battery system that stores as much energy as 5 million sticks of dynamite (1,400 megawatt-hours).  There have been dozens of fires at similar installations around the world.

The Crescent Dunes project stores energy in the form of molten salts.  During the day, sunshine is concentrated by motorized mirrors aiming beams of sunlight at a central tower, where the liquid salts are heated to a high temperature.  The hot salts are stored in a large tank.  When power is need in the early evening, heat is taken from the tank to make steam and drive a turbine-generator to make electricity.  Crescent Dunes was plagued by leaks in the salt tank, forcing it to close for months at a time.  By contract, the electricity was sold to NV Energy for $135 per megawatt-hour, or about six times as much as it would cost to generate the same amount of electricity in existing natural gas plants.

Crescent Dunes is eligible for the usual government subsidies amounting to around 75% of the construction cost.  It was granted a $700-million government loan guarantee on the ground that it was pioneering, experimental technology, which it was and is.  That problems emerged is not surprising.  That happens to pioneers.  But the not unexpected failures at Crescent Dunes besmirch the propaganda that solar energy is the wave of the future.  Thus, it is necessary to kill Crescent Dunes for the spurious reason that it is obsolete technology.  Like all utility solar, it is useless, but it was an honest attempt to fix the severe problem that solar doesn’t work well late in the day, and not at all after the sun sets.

If green energy were allowed to emerge on its own in a free market, we might have actually solved some of the problems associated with it by now. However, when you introduce government subsidies into the free market, you lessen the drive to innovate. Useful inventions make money for their inventors. That provides incentive to create new ways of dealing with problems. When the government gets involved, those incentives are gone (at taxpayers’ expense).

That Didn’t Go The Way It Was Supposed To

At one time or another, many of us have had a dream of living ‘off the grid’–private well, private septic system, solar energy, etc. Think of how much you could save on energy bills. Well, the solar industry has promoted various aspects of solar energy over the years, and many people have installed solar panels on their homes to cut utility expenses. I suspect that many of the people who installed these panels also assumed that if the power went out, their solar panels would keep supplying their homes with electricity. Evidently that is not true.

PJ Media reported the following today:

Going solar isn’t necessarily any protection from California’s new “planned” power outages, and local residents and businesses are enduring a lot more than just a few inconveniences.

Bloomberg’s Chris Martin has a story on California’s troubles with one of my favorite headlines ever: “Californians Learning That Solar Panels Don’t Work in Blackouts.” Apparently, many of California’s would-be Earth-savers had no idea that just putting solar panels on their roofs doesn’t mean they’ll have power when PG&E switches it off. As Martin explains:

Most panels are designed to supply power to the grid — not directly to houses. During the heat of the day, solar systems can crank out more juice than a home can handle. Conversely, they don’t produce power at all at night. So systems are tied into the grid, and the vast majority aren’t working this week as PG&E Corp. cuts power to much of Northern California to prevent wildfires.

The only way for most solar panels to work during a blackout is pairing them with batteries. That market is just starting to take off. Sunrun Inc., the largest U.S. rooftop solar company, said some of its customers are making it through the blackouts with batteries, but it’s a tiny group — countable in the hundreds.

Martin quotes Sunrun Chairman Ed Fenster explaining that solar power with local battery storage is “the perfect combination for getting through these shutdowns,” although he fails to mention just what an expensive proposition that is, especially in the rural areas most affected by California’s return to the primitive. Fester, whose company sells those very batteries, expects battery sales “to boom” now that the promised blackouts have begun.

I guess gas generators are probably the only way to have power during the blackouts. Wow.

Following The Money On Renewable Energy

John Hinderaker at Power Line Blog posted an article yesterday about the cost of the a green energy proposal in Minnesota. The article illustrates what will happen if this sort of program is attempted on a national scale.

The article reports:

Today Center of the American Experiment released a groundbreaking paper that addresses a relatively mild “green” proposal: legislation that would raise the renewable energy standard in Minnesota from 25% to 50%. Two of my staffers have been working on the paper for months, drawing on publicly available (but rarely consulted) sources to understand what would be necessary to achieve that 50% goal, what it would cost, how it would impact the state’s economy, and what effect it would have on global temperatures.

The paper is titled “Doubling Down on Failure: How a 50 Percent by 2030 Renewable Energy Standard Would Cost Minnesota $80.2 Billion.” With appendices, it runs to 75 pages. I am not aware of a similarly comprehensive analysis that has been done of any “green” proposal at either the state or the federal level. The paper is fully transparent: all assumptions, data and calculations are clearly set forth. The appendices are largely spread sheets. If anyone disagrees with the report’s conclusions, it should be easy to identify where and why those disagreements arise. You can read the paper here.

The article cites a few highlights from the report:

* Building and maintaining “green” wind and solar facilities, along with transmission lines and necessary natural gas complementary plants (to provide electricity when the wind isn’t blowing, i.e. 60% of the time), would cost $80.2 billion through 2050. For a state like Minnesota, that number is out of the question.

* Every household in Minnesota would pay an average of $1,200 per year, in 2016 dollars, through higher electricity rates and otherwise.

* Electricity prices would rise by 40.2%.

* Electricity-intensive industries like mining, agriculture, manufacturing and health care would be hurt the most. Once again, urban greenies are hammering rural, and physically productive, America. [That last is my commentary, not found in the executive summary.]

* Higher electricity prices are a dead loss that will reduce spending in other areas as household budgets are squeezed. Therefore, according to economist John Phelan, using the generally accepted IMPLAN software, achieving the 50% renewable goal would cost Minnesota 21,000 permanent jobs, and reduce the state’s GDP by $3.1 billion annually. It is one small step on the road to Venezuela.

This really does not sound like a good idea. The push for green energy has always been about government power–whether at the state or federal level. It is interesting that the political left has chosen to attack fossil fuels just at the time when America has achieved energy independence because of fossil fuels and fossil fuels are driving our economic success. Economic success is the enemy of those who espouse socialism–if people are become prosperous, why would they want something different?

Green Energy At Its Finest!

I am not against green energy. I am against government subsidies of green energy. If the free market is allowed to work in the alternative energy segment of the economy, we will get the best, most efficient, and least expensive form of alternative energy possible. Someone will make a huge profit from their invention, but I am fine with that. However, whenever the government gets involved, things get more expensive and less efficient.

Yesterday The Gateway Pundit posted a story that is a glaring example of this. The story is about a solar roadway in Idaho.

The article quotes The Daily Caller:

An expensive solar road project in Idaho can’t even power a microwave most days, according to the project’s energy data.

The Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways project generated an average of 0.62 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per day since it began publicly posting power data in late March. To put that in perspective, the average microwave or blow drier consumes about 1 kWh per day.

On March 29th, the solar road panels generated 0.26 kWh, or less electricity than a single plasma television consumes. On March 31st, the panels generated 1.06 kWh, enough to barely power a single microwave. The panels have been under-performing their expectations due to design flaws, but even if they had worked perfectly they’d have only powered a single water fountain and the lights in a nearby restroom.

Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways has been in development for 6.5 years and received a total of $4.3 million in funding to generate 90 cents worth of electricity.

I have no problem with Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways trying to develop a road that generates electricity. Go for it! However, I do have a problem with my tax dollars paying for their research. Let them create a prototype that investors would be interested in and go from there. That is the way the free market works. That is how people actually prosper.