Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Higher silicon prices II: another criticism of pro-solar policies

Hello future solarDwellers:

This is part II, analyzing why that Slate article is so wrong about saying investing in solar is not a good idea now since silicon prices are high. I think it's good to hear the critique of the cost of solar power, forcing solar advocates, like the solarDweller, to put the pro-solar argument to the test. So . . . . .

Why it's not a good argument to delay support for solar: solar prices have come down 7% a year for the last ten years, precisely BECAUSE state rebate programs have given the solar panel manufacturers confidence to keep increasing production to try to keep up with demand. Kind of like all those subsidies the traditional oil-drilling industry enjoys. The silicon manufacturers have only recently fallen behind a bigger-than-expected solar demand, and will catch up to that demand shortly. Please! Argue against oil subsidies before you yank solar or wind subsidies!!! Which technology has a more important, cleaner, bigger future? Pahh-lease! Let's try out the same logic from the oil company perspective. Imagine this Dept. Of Energy hypothetical announcement:
"Uhh, yeah, all car-driving U.S. citizens, we have an announcement to make: since oil prices have gone up by a crazy 57%, while solar has gone up by 20% over the past two years, ahem, a supply "glitch", we are going to STOP all support of the oil industry until they get their supply and prices back under control. Meanwhile, you shouldn't purchase that over-priced, inefficient gasoline, but use public transportation, bike or walk until this expensive oil problem is resolved"
Let's send THAT policy memo to the President. But, in the face of record oil prices and profits, instead of saying oil is "too expensive to be practical"(as a solar critic might argue about expensive silicon), our President argues for more domestic oil-drilling (drum-roll) SUBSIDIES, because he understands that with more supply, oil prices will come down. And when is the last time oil subsidies DECREASED?

The solar subsidy, being very considerate and decent, on the other hand, is not permanent: the new California Solar Initiative reduces rebates by 7%/year so that the subsidy will "go away" once economies of scale push the price of solar down enough that it can survive in the market on its own.

Secondly, the article says states shouldn't support solar since most of it produced these days is the expensive silicon-based panels. The problem: state rebates don't restrict what "kind" of solar a consumer buys. Under the current rebate program, more consumers can decide to put their rebate dollars toward buying the cheaper "thin film" or flexible solar panels, which use less silicon, for their property, especially if the traditional panels seem too expensive for them. The temporary high price of silicon will naturally encourage investment in non-silicon solar, with or without rebates.

Finally, we should thoroughly debate about possible clean energy policies and plans. For example, if wind energy were as feasible to implement on a small house-by-house basis as solar is now, and at a cheaper price, I might be thinking of being the future windpowerDweller. It would be a smarter way to invest green energy dollars. I'm all for a balance between what form of green energy is doable NOW, and which is also the most efficient, cost-effective green-energy option. But, we have to start with what we have NOW, and build on it so the price will eventually fall.

--the solarDweller
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