Comment on “Federal policy can drive the solar industry… but still may fall short”

Yuri Hurwitz posted an opinion piece at PV Magazine USA of the title in this post’s subject line. While I noted his concerns, I thought they were misplaced. And I thought he missed some other concerns which were more important. Below I repeat my comment, slightly expanded. Note Mr Hurwitz’ post was as a guest at PV Magazine.

Thank you for the post. I was aware of all these problems. There are others I can and will add, but let me comment on the ones mentioned.

I understand the constraints on supply, the difficulties with tariffs, and the power of zero Carbon energy, particularly solar, as a means of expanding employment. However, I see little economic that can get in the way of solar or wind and storage which incentives can help. Solar and wind will be the energy supply of choice on sheer economics by 2030 if they are not already. While post-pandemic supply issues are affecting everyone, the sudden surge in demand for solar and wind solutions certainly exacerbates that. But it is a nice problem to have. I’m sure the solar and wind industries will solve these.

For example, Michele Della Vigna of Goldman Sachs reported in an interview on Azeem Azhar’s Exponential View that fossil energy projects projects presently suffer a 10% to 18% premium in loans for their implementation given by major banks in comparison to (comparable) wind, solar, and storage projects. Specifically, loans on the latter have 3% to 5% coupons. Loans on the former have 15% to 20% coupons. (Exponential View is an awesome podcast, by the way. It’s much better than, say, Nelder’s Energy Transition Show.)

But there are other, more social obstacles which wind and solar need to overcome. Whether these were problems that were seeded by vested energy interests through clever PR or whether these are organic, right now, particularly in area which have ample open space to host wind and solar, these energy sources are considered aesthetically unacceptable. That’s silly of course, and it’s downright injust and unethical considering that these area, often suburbs, use lots of electricity, will use more once they get EVs, and yet they expect natural gas plants sited near and sometimes in low income communities and communities of color to provide the electricity they need. They also are conveniently situated away from major pipelines bringing fuels, and away from compressor stations and the like.

But nevertheless it is a big problem. It will eventually be overcome, when the economic argument is compelling enough — and it will be — but in the meantime it is blocking things like community solar which bring many benefits to people of all income grades and people having all kinds of residences.

There is also opposition to agrivoltaics for reasons I do not entirely understand. Here farmers can get income streams from dual use of their properties, something which farmers, for example, in upstate New York have been doing a long time with wind turbines and natural gas wells. But the opposition to solar and, admittedly, recent more ferocious opposition to turbines, is new and somehow different, and that needs to be solved.

The solar industry needs to remake itself in a way which puts a more human face on it. Whether that is by doing better PR or whether that is by having more employment oriented focus — having solar and turbine components built in local areas rather than in Asia. Agrivoltaics should be an easy sell, but it isn’t. If there are vested interests funding opposition , as they certainly did to nearshore wind turbines, SEIA and others need to root that out and expose them. They could find many allies. This human face needs to make it difficult for them to be painted as “another face of big energy who only cares about profits.” That’s not true, of course. Solar and wind and storage are revolutionary technologies, and no one knows the great benefits they’ll provide. But the degree to which solar moratoria and anti-solar-on-farm campaigns are succeeding suggests SEIA isn’t providing for a key part of their mission.

There is no way a federal mandate is going to soothe over these problems.

As I said, I am sure the long term future of solar, wind, and storage are bright. The projections say that the capital cost of building wind+solar+storage in the 2030s per kWh will be one sixth of the cost of transmission of grid electricity also per kWh. Accordingly, no manufacturer, subdivision developer, or home owner will want to buy electricity from the grid unless they absolutely have to do so. That will change whole communities, whole towns, whole cities, and land use policy. But in the interim it would be nice to think these good people in these communities could engage with solar, if only to nudge its implementation in ways more acceptable. I fear that if they oppose it outright and develop a history of doing that, when the unopposable force arrives, all their interests and preferences will get bulldozed by massive economic advantage, and I’m sure that wave will arrive with coarse effects. That is unfortunate, but inevitable.

It’s up to SEIA and the rest of us to provide the arguments and the vision of how solar, wind, storage are all in everyone’s best interests, as we know they are.

There probably will be a residue of progressives who won’t buy this approach. I’ve regarded and spoken with people with these attitudes for a long time. My assessment is that to the degree to which they put achieving other social objectives such as social justice and wealth equity or even biosphere diversity above solving climate disruption is the degree to which they do not really buy that there is an emergency with respect to the climate, one which needs to be urgently fixed with all the means at hand. To selectively rule out classes of means because of who’s doing the solving or what their history might be is preferring a choice which the natural world is not presenting us. That may be due to our collective and historical foolhardiness, but we are here. And we need to move forward knowing where we are.

About ecoquant

See Retired data scientist and statistician. Now working projects in quantitative ecology and, specifically, phenology of Bryophyta and technical methods for their study.
This entry was posted in agrivoltaics, American Solar Energy Society, Berkeley Haas Energy, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, bridge to somewhere, clean disruption, climate business, climate disruption, climate economics, climate emergency, climate finance, climate justice, climate policy, decentralized electric power generation, demand-side solutions, distributed generation, ecomodernism, economic disruption, ecopragmatism, electric vehicles, electrical energy engineering, energy transition, engineering, Hermann Scheer, investment in wind and solar energy, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, Mark Jacobson, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Osborne, Our Children's Trust, photovoltaics, solar democracy, solar domination, solar energy, solar power, solar revolution, Talk Solar, Tony Seba, utility company death spiral, wind energy, wind power, zero carbon. Bookmark the permalink.

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