Solar sized numbers: Germany

Bjørn Lomborg as at it again in Slate: Goodnight Sunshine. Germany is cutting solar-power subsidies because they are expensive and inefficient. There are a lot of numbers to consider.

Germany once prided itself on being the “photovoltaic world champion”, doling out generous subsidies—totaling more than $130 billion … Indeed, despite the massive investment, solar power accounts for only about 0.3 percent of Germany’s total energy. … It is estimated that this increase alone will lead to a $260 hike in the average consumer’s annual power bill.

As many are beginning to note, energy outside of the free market, energy based on ideology, is expensive energy and a government funds sinkhole. It saps the public, misdirects efforts, and inhibits economic growth.

Even with the inefficiency of current PV technology, we could meet the entire globe’s energy demand with solar panels by covering 250,000 square kilometers (155,342 square miles), about 2.6 percent of the Sahara Desert.

Can you imagine what it takes to make and install 150 thousand square miles of electronics (a solar panel is an electronic device)? What would it take to deliver that power thousands of miles to where it is needed? What is the environmental impact of a project so large on a fragile ecosystem? What is the bill of materials needed to do such a thing?

Even with unrealistically generous assumptions, the unimpressive net effect is that solar power reduces Germany’s CO2 emissions by roughly 8 million metric tons—or about 1 percent – for the next 20 years. To put it another way: By the end of the century, Germany’s $130 billion solar panel subsidies will have postponed temperature increases by 23 hours.

Using solar, Germany is paying about $1,000 per ton of CO2 reduced. The current CO2 price in Europe is $8. Germany could have cut 131 times as much CO2 for the same price. Instead, the Germans are wasting more than 99 cents of every euro that they plow into solar panels.

As with the materials requirements, which get into both scarce materials as well as hazardous ones, the ‘green’ impact is questionable. This doesn’t even get into the debate about the impact of CO2 and just into the most cost effective way to achieve a primary goal of the green ideology.

The U.S. is trying to follow Germany but is on the leading edge, not the reality tail. That is how millions of government funds pumped into companies like Solyndra was rationalized. It might be possible to short cut some of the losses if Germany’s experience could be used to evaluate such expenditures.

Comments are closed.