Saturday, October 1, 2011

Here Comes the Sun: Can we make solar energy work?

A few days ago I read an article by Jim Angle titled "Privately Funded Solar Energy Companies Thrive as Solar Industry Booms."  The article states that the solar power industry is actually doing fine, and has grown from around 20 companies in the 1980s to some 5,000 companies today.  This is relevant in the wake of the Solyndra fiasco--a case where the US government gave a private company $530 million USD in stimulus loans only to see it go bankrupt.

I'm generally not a fan of government bailouts, and in this case I don't see how the government will ever recover its loan money, meaning the US taxpayers just lost $530 million.  But setting that aside, I also wonder about the profitability of 'green' energy companies.  That's a big question to tackle, so we might cut it down to, "Can solar power companies make a profit without government subsidies?"

Angle's article answers, "Yes."  He quotes the CEO of the Solaria Corporation saying, "Over the last 20 years, solar has grown from 30 megawatts of shipments to 17,000 megawatts of shipments.  Solar has been the fastest-growing energy technology by far."  And the CEO of Recurrent Energy stated that the industry now employs 100,000 people.  So solar is producing more energy, and it's employing people, and that's good. 

Is it profitable? I don't know.  And is it growing? The Solaria corporate website says over the last 8 years the solar industry has experienced an annual growth of over 40%.  Out of curiosity, I looked at the job listings for Solaria--they have openings for 6 people, with 2 jobs in California and 4 in India.  Recurrent Energy also has 6 job openings, all in California.  12 jobs doesn't sound like massive growth to me.

I hug trees.  I am all in favor of green energy.  Let's kick the oil habit and go green.  But we need to be smart about it.  Energy companies have to find ways to make a profit and grow without subsidies or special government loans or bailouts.  If their business model doesn't work, they will fail and other, more nimble companies will take their place.

I wish these companies luck, and I agree with the optimism.  Solar panels are a good way to decentralize energy production because you can install a few on the roof of one house, or build a huge field of them in the desert.  Hopefully, these and other forms of production can combine to replace some of our current energy problems.

(Here is the link to Angle's article.  And the Solaria site, and Recurrent.  The pic is from:  basinandrangewatch, an organization opposed to building huge solar arrays on public land.  Which brings up a good point, and a possible topic for another blog.)


  1. I heard this new technology by Okayama Solar, they developed a solar technology using "green ferrite" that absorbs solar light AS WELL AS solar heat. So that could only reduce the cost of solar installations, and the need for these government bailouts that don't work.

  2. That's interesting. I haven't heard of those type panels, but new techniques are being invented all the time. Of the renewable energy sources available, solar does look to be one of the most promising.