Solar Energy a Tough Sell

The Miami Herald thinks solar power is a white elephant.

The old saying is, “If it bleeds, it leads.” I guess there wasn’t enough blood in South Florida yesterday.

Florida Power and Light, the principle utility here, has “scaled back grand plans for solar energy in Florida. Sunshine may be free, but generating energy from it is still a costly proposition,” according to a report by John Dorschner in the Miami Herald.

It surprised me to discover that “Florida gets much less direct sunlight than some other places.” The Herald continued that “What’s more, solar can be considerably more expensive than other forms of energy, experts say.”

For the record, FPL Group has desert solar plants and wind facilities throughout the western states. It is the largest U.S. producer of wind and solar power. FPL serves more than 4.4 million customer accounts across Florida.

“I haven’t seen anything yet that shows solar is right for Florida,” Jay Apt, executive director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center, concluded in the Herald.

Now for the real story.

“Backers of solar power insist that costs would drop quickly over time if solar gets support from utilities and politicians. But those who study energy economics are skeptical.”

I want to know where they found these experts. Consider this:

1959: “Only Jules Verne can get a man to the Moon”
1969: “That’s one small step for man …”

1975: “The American automobile industry can’t possibly double the gas mileage on cars. Double? Are you crazy?”
1985: The Corporate Average Fuel Economy for cars reached 27.5 mpg.

1992: “The sweet spot for desktop computers is $3,000” (I paid $3,085 1992 dollars for an 80486-based Gateway 2000 in May of that year).
2002: Gateway sold Pentium 4-based desktops with Windows XP for under a grand (and some for half of that now).

2006: Google founder Larry Page and Silicon Valley venture capitalists John Doerr and Vinod Khosla lit a public fire under solar power with a California ballot issue.

Computer chips and solar cells are, at the engineering level, pretty much the same thing.

“A solar cell is just a big specialized chip, so everything we’ve learned about making chips applies,” Paul Saffo, an associate engineering professor at Stanford University and a longtime observer of Silicon Valley said in the International Herald Trib earlier this year.

That tells us we can link Moore’s Law and solar technology. Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years or so; its corollary is that prices plummet at around the same rate.

In 2006, Solaicx was one of dozens of Silicon Valley firms driving the then-$11 billion worldwide solar energy market. Applied Materials, the world’s largest manufacturer of chip-making equipment, began selling machinery that manufactures solar wafers that same year.

In 2006, SunPower founder Richard Swanson told CNN the solar industry was like the chip industry 30 years before. “It was an extremely fun and dynamic industry,” he said. “But unless you were in it, it was practically invisible until the IBM PC came out in 1981.”

That was a couple of years ago, long enough for the news to reach Florida by now.

So. Mr. Dorschner thinks solar power is a white elephant. I think the Herald and Mr. Dorschner should maybe do a little more research. And maybe, just maybe, they should report what the solar industry is doing that will change the numbers instead of looking to spill enough blood to kill it.

Filed under Bad Journalism and Far Green Angst.Sources:’s_law

5 thoughts on “Solar Energy a Tough Sell


    According to the Miami Herald, “Natural gas, the cleanest and most expensive fossil fuel, costs 9.4 cents a kilowatt-hour, according to the California Energy Commission. That nasty, dirty coal, the biggest producer of greenhouse gases, is also the cheapest. An existing plant can produce electricity for 2.1 cents a kilowatt-hour, FPL regulatory filings say.”

    I love it when a newspaper sneaks its editorial bias into its straight reportage: “That nasty, dirty coal, the biggest producer of greenhouse gases.”

    Wow. Tell us what you really think.

  2. It’s interesting that the article complained about lack of direct sunlight as a reason that solar is less desirable.

    Would you consider Germany to be a particularly sunny land? I wouldn’t, and yet Germany, while not first in the list of countries deriving their energy from solar, is way up there.

    Solar may not be the only answer, but it is a damned fine one and anyone whining that it’s not viable is a fuckwit.

  3. Are solar cells and other chips really similar enough for Moore’s Law to apply? I wouldn’t think solar energy collection to be much about transistor gate size. But I shouldn’t think at all without a little research, I guess, and I can’t be arsed right now. As for Florida, maybe it’s too hazy. I’ve only been there a little, but the sunlight was not particularly intense when I was. All that pointlessly said, I look forward to the installation of solar arrays over all these sun-drenched parking lots.

  4. > As for Florida, maybe it’s too hazy.

    I’m not worried about the sky conditions as much as the mind conditions. After all, we know that solar power generation is horribly expensive and maybe technically difficult today and that seems to be the Miami Herald’s reason we should eschew it.

    If expense and difficulty were a good reason, we’d still be using buggy whips and posting these notes by carrier pigeon.

    For the record, Florida has strong sun but not 100%. That said, Florida is waaaaaaay sunnier than Germany where it already works.

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