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Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer and political analyst based in Michigan. His work on matters related to the geopolitical aspects of the global energy sector,…

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Solar Insanity: Why is Obama Obsessed with Solar Energy?

Solar Insanity: Why is Obama Obsessed with Solar Energy?

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

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  • David Green on February 12 2012 said:
    Why is O obsessessed with Solar Energy? Simple! This is a "pipeline" issue! The Federal funds and/or lguarnateed loans go to friends of the Obama administration. (like O himself few know how to actually run a business). The money is siphoned off ie. the highly suspect Solydra asset sales, and is then pipelined right back to the Democrats, aligned PAC's and Obama's re-election fund. Just follow the the money trail, (or pipeline!). This is not a secret
  • Fred Banks on February 13 2012 said:
    I can understand and accept Obama's incompetence, but why did he make the fantastic mistake of putting a man like Dr Chu in the Energy Department. A worse mistake would be to leave him there after the next presidential election.

    The distant future is going to be nuclear plus renewables and alternatives. I know it, and some very smart people in or close to the American government also know it, only they won't say it. Dr Chu should know it, and he should have informed his president.
  • Igor Jose on February 13 2012 said:
    Your European examples are preposterous. We all know that many EU countries are bankrupt due to this kind of government largesse. These countries are not competitive and have huge deficits. Investing in expensive energy source will only worsen both problems.
  • art wissing on February 16 2012 said:
    let me know when the day comes when the world needs less oil, less natural gas, less coal,than the day before, i want to mark my calender, i know it is decades away, but still want to be ready.....
  • gbrecke on April 07 2012 said:
    Why is it that so few care about results?
    We recently saw Amonix and others build a HUGE concentrated solar PV install in Alamosa, CO. For the moment, it was a big story in the journals that do no more than copy and paste.
    I was expecting huge fanfare, maybe a live newscast from that field full of monolithic trackers that look like they came off a Star Wars movie set! I was sure it would have been a time for celebration. A place where project leaders could take a bow for their accomplishments. But instead there was only sounds of silence, why is that?
    I’m not so sure the silence bothered me as much as the fact that no one in the media.. not even a single blogger in the AE world seemed to wonder about that silence.
    Is there now a critical need for a website dedicated to making the results available to the public? The projects they are forced to invest in, where does one go to find the REAL Cost per KWH produced, and whether it was sold, or were the power producers paid from the public purse for not producing as rumored to be the case in Washington State for wind power that finds no market when water goes over the dams during windpower’s prime power production each year. What thoughtless Architects we find in Government, building a power plant with no conduit to market, is like building a ship in the desert. Putting the tax payer or rate payer on the hook for it seems a sin, but if he is begging to have his pocket picked, shouldn’t we expect the politician to grant his wish?
    Where are the energy production figures for this huge completed project of concentrated solar PV? Was there anyone in the AE community interested in asking the obvious question.. “why is it that a Solar company like Amonix; who claims to lead the world in Efficient panels targeting inexpensive near desert like land to show off the merits of their technology?
    Wouldn’t we assume that ‘efficiency’ has everything to do with producing more energy per square foot? shouldn’t that question lead to a second question, that being… what should be the goal of a company deploying solar PV, or any type of electrical energy power plant in the desert? The age old measure of cost per KWH.
    Maybe Dr. Steven Chu fully understands what the majority of us are not able to hold on to? The fact that the majority who vote don’t care… that the “do something” mentality rules the day, and he is delivering a full measure of ‘do something’.
    Meanwhile the media is keenly focused on ratings, just what is it our viewers want to hear?
    I feel alone with my concern, it reminds me of days past when I sat in meetings… the building was on fire, the stock was rocketing towards the ground like a meteor, and all present knew the next to be fired was Chicken Little. I will forever remember our fearless leader’s message at the time.. “don’t worry.. be happy.”

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