Cost of solar energy dropped 30% in year; Trump's coal plan won't work


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/12/19/cost-of-solar-energy-dropped-3.html


#2

My point exactly. I’m glad we agree! Us Conservatives have been saying this all along! We have to gut Big Government Handouts to solar companies while, through a combination of direct assistance and tax cuts, helping all the Mom & Pop coal operations that have been so badly burned by solar energy.


#3

More interesting without the Trump angle, honestly.

Even if we just flat out paid for mining coal nobody wants out of tax dollars, and threw it in a big heap, it only takes 8 workers to run the machine that does the work of 200 miners. In the meantime those 200 workers all each had 2.58 children.

#####Edit: Grammar fix courtesy @Boundegar!


#4

Doesn’t the manufacture of solar panels require a lot of imports from China, or at least rare earth elements (also owned by China), or coltan (the so-called “blood mineral”)?

I don’t actually know and I certainly hope the picture is a lot rosier than that.


#5

The chart shows a big spike in wind energy generation starting in 2017. Coincidence?


#6

Who’s hoping China adds more subsidies to solar? I know I am!!!


#7

It’s both better and worse than that, sorry.

First of all, the manufacture of solar panels is not necessarily especially messy or toxic. It certainly can be, though - so check the solar score card before you buy yours.

Second, perhaps due to anti-Chinese foreign policies of a certain major western power bloc that we won’t go into, the Chinese are heavily investing in* solar panel production. This means that panels sold worldwide are under extreme downward price pressure from Chinese mass production. Which means that unsubsidized domestic production is getting killed everywhere else, automation for efficiency is driving workers off the assembly lines, and production methods that are cheaper are more attractive than production methods that are cleaner.

The good thing is that most modern solar panels will keep producing power for well over 50 years, so over the energy producing lifetime of a panel even the ones that were produced in a relatively undesirable way are still far better, both ethically and practically, than burning fuel.

* or subsidizing, if you want to put it that way.


#8

I think you mean “each?” Either way, big miners don’t give birth to little miners. (Except those creepy villagers in Minecraft.)


#9

I’ll fix the text, thanks!

I have lived in West Virginia*, and I can confirm this. Big unemployed miners give birth to little unemployed people who wish they could get a job as reliable and rewarding as mining.

* and have relatives in Molly Maguire country.


#10

You know what’s a relatively well paying blue collar job that doesn’t require much training and is mostly in rural areas? That can’t be outsourced? Setting up and maintaining wind farms.


#11

but if a tree falls in a forest…


#12

It’ll work for the toad-like coal magnates and for poor people who want to continue the proud family tradition of back-breaking and lung-blackening labour. And that, my friends, is how you Make America Great Again.


#13

The price of natural gas due to shale fracking has far more to do with why coal isn’t coming back than the cost of solar. With environmental regulations and the ease of converting a goal power plant to a combined gas plant, it has been what has largely displaced coal over the last decade.

For instance, Ohio went from 86% coal power and 1% natural gas in 2006 to 56% coal and 25% natural gas in 2016. Pennsylvania went from 56%/6% to 26%/31% during those same years.

Solar is still has a very, very, very tiny share of US electrical production. Wind power is far larger and of course, many wind farm have on-demand natural gas power plants nearby to fill in the downtime - something that is far harder to do with coal.


#14

I like how Seattle’s electricity is generated:

Hydro: 89.6%
Nuclear: 4.3%
Wind: 3.6%
Coal: 0.9%
Others: 0.9%
Landfill Gas: 0.7%


#15

You might find this interesting…


#16

Except U.S. wind energy potential is not in the traditional, paid-attention-to-by-Beltway-types ‘coal country’. It’s on the High Plains. There are people already transitioning out of coal jobs in the Powder River basin or southwest Colorado and into wind tower work in eastern Colorado/Wyoming/Nebraska etc. However, they aren’t as quaint and accessible as the archetypal West Virginians the Beltway media focuses on.

Check out our near-offshore wind potential BTW. Especially on the CA-OR border. Why we don’t have banks of towers from Mendocino to Olympia I don’t know. Possibly because the BPA is already awash in cheap hydropower. Also, that growth chart is for worldwide renewables generation. Trump’s positioning us to lag behind the rest of the world at an inflection point in the development of these resources.


#17

Trump doesn’t really know anything about anything, he pitched (pun) this coal renaissance idea because it played well in PA and WV, and because it plays well to the big energy interests he’s friendly with. At this point I’m sure all his policy will just be stuff his favorite oligarchs tell him in private. Whether it works or not, whether it has a viable economic future, is meaningless, they are getting all the goodies they want from the US government.

This isn’t about making America great again, it’s about looting the public to serve the already wealthy few.


#18

Well, more precisely “companies transitioning out of coal…”

Example: Storm Mountain, W.Va. in the heart of coal country. “The Mount Storm Wind Farm is located 120 miles west of Washington, D.C. in Grant County, West Virginia. The wind farm includes 132 Gamesa G80 wind turbines each with a two megawatt (MW) capacity along 12 miles of the Allegheny Front. Construction of the wind farm began in 2006 and the project is now fully operational, generating up to 264 MW of electricity for the mid-Atlantic power grid.”

Coal: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Storm_Power_Station
Wind: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Storm_Wind_Farm

I highly doubt that there are any former coal miners working on those turbines. But there should be. However, even if coal miners were trained to do the job maintaining these turbines and their sub systems how many bodies would it require? 10? 5? For the tens of thousands of coal miners in W.Va. that is not much help.


#19

Trump’s an idiot. There. I said it.


#20

The issue is how few people are needed to sustain them compared to how many are needed to mine the coal that would provide the same MWh. The money and (skilled) jobs are in their manufacture and maintenance, with a few in controlling them. The entire operation may sustain maybe 20 guys in the area. Maybe another 24 as intermittent contract support of some kind or another (i.e. repair work if the HVAC goes out at their control plant buildings; a local caterer to provide lunch when they have upper management visit. Snow plow contract 6-8 months of the year to clear the parking lot, etc.)