The U.S. Energy Department is throwing a lot of money at solar power recently, with California seemingly getting the bulk of the federal money. President Obama last year set some pretty ambitious renewable energy targets, by American standards, and this year called for an "all-of-the above" strategy for domestic energy. But why put so much political energy into solar? Should there be a bulk renewable energy initiative?
Energy Secretary Chu last week said he was putting $12 million behind a so-called incubator program that would fund start-up and pilot solar initiatives. This falls under his department's SunShot initiative, which aims to decrease the overall costs of solar energy systems by 75 percent by 2020. This, the department said, would make it cost-effective to use solar power for as much as 18 percent of the electricity generated in the United States by 2030. The Keystone XL pipeline will have leaked more than a dozen times by then, given the track record of the existing line.
Republicans aren't too keen with Obama's solar initiatives, however. They're demanding the White House fork over everything it has on bankrupt solar panel company Solyndra, which went bankrupt despite a $535 million loan guarantee. That's half-a-billion bucks! Politics aside, that's a lot of money. The White House, however, defended the measure by saying the renewable energy sector was getting very competitive and maybe some of Obama's Chicago-style political muscle was just what the doctor ordered. And then it pumped more money into solar.
A sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. What about wind? What about hydroelectric power? What about wave energy? Or algae that makes oil? In Scotland, the government there is throwing money at the smallest of things to get more renewable energy on the grid. They want to go 100-percent renewable, not just make things a bit cheaper to manufacture. This week, U.S. lawmakers proposed a bill that, ironically, was supposed to take the politics out of the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline. This came at a time when most of the press statements coming out of the British Department of Energy and Climate Change -- note the "and" -- had to do with greening up the economy and, of course, launching the largest offshore wind farm in the world. All of Europe, for whatever it's worth, is looking to actually decarbonize the economy. Yet, U.S. lawmakers are still waxing Palin-ic by chanting drill, baby, drill.
Solar power works and is set to get cheaper. Land use, however, is an issue, unless you have a nice big desert to spare. Wind is fine, assuming you're in an area, well, that’s windy. And nobody's too sure about either of those prospects. That leaves biofuels, algae-based solutions, tidal power, and so on. So why solar? Why no WindShot? Or WaveShot? Right now, solar is used to heat salt blocks that boil water for steam energy. Does the United States need a SteamShot? What happened to last year's Sputnik moment? If it's an "all-of-the above" policy, maybe it’s a shot of reality Washington needs to start, at least more than on paper, investing in all of the renewable energy resources.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com