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Clean Energy Results

August 30, 2011

The purpose of any proposal is to achieve improvements over existing practices.

Recent events have begun to show that so-called green energy, i.e., renewable energy, is not improving our energy structure, and in some cases is already failing.

In addition to the failure of wind energy to supply electricity when it’s needed on hot summer days, let’s look at how some other renewables have fared.

One of the most stunning failures has been that of Evergreen Solar Inc., which filed for bankruptcy on August 15th.  In 2008 its stock price was over $100 per share. In filing for bankruptcy it claimed that China had an unfair competitive advantage in the manufacture of PV panels, which could be true, but solar companies in general aren’t doing too well. In Germany, for example, eliminating feed-in tariffs has hurt the market for solar.

Evergreen had received $58 million in taxpayer subsidies from the State of Massachusetts in 2008, and it’s very likely that virtually all of this taxpayer money will be lost. So far around 1,000 workers have also lost their jobs.

The PV solar company, Solyndra, has closed one of its plants after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from DOE. It appears as though Venture Capitalists are shying away from capital intensive “pie-in-the-sky” investments. Solyndra also pointed the finger at cheap Chinese products, but the lack of subsidies, such as feed-in tariffs, is also cited as a factor in slowing sales.

If PV solar can’t compete without subsidies, it’s a tacit admission that the electricity it produces is expensive and non-competitive.

Another bankruptcy involved Cello Energy. The company was to produce cellulosic ethanol, but was never able to do so in required quantities.

Then there was the case of Range Fuels with a plant near Soperton, Georgia, that was to produce Cellulosic Ethanol. The plant finally closed after receiving $130 million in private financing, plus government subsidies, presumably all of which has been lost.

Shell has backed away from investing in Algae, as another alternative for gasoline.

“Jatropha was originally thought to be a panacea for producing bio-diesel since Jatropha needs little water to grow.

“Experience has demonstrated, however, that Jatropha isn’t the miracle plant it was originally thought to be. While it doesn’t need water to grow, it does require water and irrigation to produce enough oil to make bio-diesel from Jatropha profitable. BP cancelled its Jatropha program, which is interesting since BP and its partners planted 25% of worldwide plantings of Jatropha.”

Thousands of farmers in India, approximately 85% of those who started growing Jatropha, have abandoned growing it even though the government has encouraged its growth.

Currently there are several Concentrating Solar Power plants (CSP) being built in the U.S., involving loan guarantees from the government. These plants can’t compete with natural gas (NGCC) or coal-fired power plants, and only exist because of government requirements, such as renewable portfolio standards (RPS).

In instance after instance, renewables have not achieved meaningful results, either in improving the power generation and transmissions system or in making electricity more economical and reliable.

The principle of “due diligence” before taking up new ventures has been widely ignored.

This infatuation with renewables can be likened to the Tulip Bulb mania of 1637. Someday, today’s infatuation with renewables may be called the CO2 mania.

It’s true that some people are making money from renewables, but those who do are primarily those who take advantage of government subsidies.

For the rest of us, it’s Caveat emptor, and asking our government to stop subsidizing systems that don’t achieve meaningful results.

[NOTE: Solyndra filed for bankruptcy on August 31, 2011. Presumably the taxpayer money for the loan guarantee has been lost.]

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    August 30, 2011 11:51 am

    Donn,

    Judith Curry’s blog post today is about “Consumer options for choosing renewable energy.

    The readers over there would likely be interested in your real world experience with the different forms of RE.

    http://judithcurry.com/2011/08/30/consumer-options-for-choosing-renewable-energy/

    “JC comment: This post raises the practical economical issues of using renewable energy in the U.S. I would be interested in any personal experiences related to using alternative energy sources.”

  2. August 30, 2011 6:54 pm

    All renewable energy sources require big subsidies to exist. These subsidies may amount to 80 percent of the cost of the project. The only way subsidies can be removed is for fossil fuels to be so expensive that renewables are competitive. Our vastly abundant fossil fuels will be expensive if their us is forbidden by legislation or their cost is made too expensive by draconian regulation. The latter is being attempted by the EPA because the former so far has not been possible.

    Giving subsidies to renewables is like playing a lottery in which the winner has to pay a 500 percent tax on the winnings. The taxpayer alwasys loses.

    James H.. Rust

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