Even with Subsidies Electricity produced by Free Sunshine still more costly than that produced by Coal and Natural Gas

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 18th, 2012

Week in Review

There is no such thing as free electricity.  Even when the fuel source to generate that electricity is free (see Solar power growth jumps to new record by Matt Daily posted 3/14/2012 on Reuters).

The national solar industry installed a record number of panels in 2011, more than double 2010, and is likely to see strong growth again this year, according to a new report…

The growth in U.S. demand comes as the makers of the panels that turn light into electricity have struggled to earn profits amid a glut of supplies on the global market that eroded margins…

Despite declining prices for solar panels in recent years, the sector still relies on government subsidies to make the power projects competitive with coal and natural gas.

They’re struggling to make a profit despite government subsidies?  Interesting.  You would think that utilities would jump to build electrical generating capacity that used free fuel.  But they don’t.  For though sunshine is free the infrastructure to catch it is not.  Which makes the capital costs to build the necessary solar panel arrays to capture that free sunshine so great that it’s cheaper to build a plant where they will pay for fuel.  Despite those subsidies.  Which is why they are building coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants.  Not solar power plants.  And they will build even fewer once those subsidies go bye-bye.

There is a simple reason for this.  The concentration of energy available in the fuel.  Coal and natural gas have a high concentration of energy so a little of it can produce a lot of electricity.  Sunshine doesn’t.  So it takes a lot of it to produce the same amount of electricity.  Requiring huge numbers of solar panel arrays.  To catch enough of that free sunshine to produce a meaningful amount of electricity.  Thus condemning it to be the high-cost alternative to coal and natural gas.  As well as nuclear power and hydropower.  And being the least dependable of the four.  For when the sun doesn’t shine coal, natural gas, nuclear fuel rods and falling water can still convert energy into electricity.

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