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A graph: The true cost of banking bailouts vs. Chinese investment in solar power vs. US investment in solar power (including Solyndra)


Since Dave and I founded SPR 5 years ago, something that comes up in conversation often is how much misinformation there is regarding solar power and how much the U.S. government spends on it. To put things in perspective, we compared the cost of the Iraq war to investment in different energy sources several years ago.

Now, after being annoyed enough that the House of Representatives are so brazen as to not just write, but pass a “No More Solyndras” bill, it was high time to provide some more much needed perspective.

There was not even a peep out of the House of Representatives to move toward a full audit of all the U.S. government’s expenditures and promises toward the bank bailouts just two years ago, initial tabulations by individuals at Bloomberg as reported by PBS have put the full costs of those bailouts at $12.8 Trillion dollars. That dwarfs the publicly reported figure of $700 Billion dollars for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

It took the courage of a man who is now dead to sue the Federal Reserve to get insight into where all those trillions upon trillions of dollars actually went. We didn’t hear much about that story, as it seemed not too many members of congress cared enough to look into it further.

Instead, they’d rather declare all out war against investing in solar energy across the country, when compared to these other monstrous obligations is flat out laughable. See for yourself the full estimated costs of the bailout:

Above, you saw our chart. This compares the total cost of those bank bailouts (including TARP) to the amount of subsidy and investment China has committed to developing solar energy technology, compared to the amount of solar subsidies the U.S. has committed to, against finally the cost of Solyndra (the dead horse effigy all our Republican friends making a point to pour as much oil on as possible).

We’ve written before about the effects of China, and how much more solar investment would be required here to even to jump in the pool to compete.

We’re behind.

Outlawing investment in solar innovation just winds back the clock further and protects the wallet lining of those who should frankly be in jail instead of shrugging like Atlas.

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States with the Most Solar Power per Capitca

best states with solar power

Where is the US solar market growing fastest? One way to get at that question is to dig deeper in to some obvious data about how much solar has been installed in the country: Take a look at per capita solar installations to date and last year.

How many watts of solar have been installed per person in each state? The answer to that question will reveal markets where solar panels are becoming vastly more visible across the landscape – worthy of further attention here at SPR. Let’s take a look:

Which states have the most solar power?

I created the chart above from data in the last Interstate Renewable Energy Council report on solar energy trends in the country.

I gathered population data in each state, then divided the total installed watts by total population by to arrive at the associated figures you see in the bar chart above (All this of course before I realized IREC created a table with similar data for the top ten states you see below right.)

In top states figures of close to 40 watts per person are equal to everyone in the state, everyone having 1/5th of a solar panel over their heads. Babies, grandmas, bartenders, everyone. That’s pretty impressive.

What’s also interesting is that the top three states listed above (NV, HI, and NJ) now have more solar installed per capita than California, the solar pioneer in many ways.

In the northeastern corridor, strong state solar incentives have become a key driver to recent installations.

I was particularly surprised at how quickly the Nevada solar market is blossoming over the past few years.

With that in mind, we’ll be updating Nevada state incentives and rebate policies tomorrow afternoon to see if anything new has come to light we’ve glossed over.

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How much surface area would be required to power the planet with solar?

(click the image to enlarge it, courtesy of science-sc.com)

Solar Cynic Joe: 500k square kilometers? It might seem small on the world map, but that’s a whole ton of solar panels…

Science Geek Jane:: How cool!! That many panels would produce 94,000,000,000kWp, or 94 terawatts!

Solar Cynic Joe: BUT, that comes at a cost of $290.836 TRILLION (~5x global GDP). And that number renews every 25 years, because that’s the expected life of solar panels now.

Science Geek Jane: So it’s only about 10 Trillion a year? How much do we spend on energy a year now?

Nerdbot 2000: In 2006, Americans spent $1.158 trillion on energy (8.8% of GDP).
$10 trillion is about 16% of world GDP ($63 trillion). This project would represent the largest single piece of GDP every single year, overtaking health care.

Solar Cynic Joe: In the US, that’s $1.166 trillion a year that would need to come out of something else…

Science Geek Jane: …To power the our share of the entire world without fossils or nuclear? Hey that’s only two times the amount of our defense budget. Think about it.

Dave, Dan and Solar Fred: At the very least, get yourself a quote for solar on your home. We’re willing to bet the farm you won’t be looking at an estimate higher than 16% of GDP! You may be surprised at how good an investment solar panels are for your home.

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Solyndra in perspective

Right wingers are quick to point fingers at solar company Solyndra and their owners for waste after the government awarded them a multi-million dollar grant last year. Now, the company is bankrupt, a result of poor decision-making at the firm and a greedy few at the top.

No matter what industry you talk about, there are bound to be some bad apples out there. Hell, psychopathology runs rampant in a sizable portion of fortune 500 companies. Only a matter of time before you see some ill consequences of poor management in the solar industry.

Dave and his crew at 1bog have released another infographic to put the matter in a little better perspective. Yes, the font is a little small, click it to enlarge!

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U.S. government energy subsidies by type of electricity produced

I made this chart this afternoon after being frustrated arguing with some coal wonks about how subsidies for renewables are a waste of taxpayer money.

These people are certainly entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. As you can see, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power receive multiple times the amount of government cheese as other renewables. These figures are straight from the U.S. Energy Information Association.

Please share and enjoy.

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Fossil fuel and renewable energy subsidies need parity

According to a study by the Environmental Law Institute, U.S. fossil fuels industries enjoyed direct federal payments totaling roughly $18 billion between 2002 and 2008. Of course, that doesn’t include the $54 billion in tax breaks.

Over the same time period, subsidies to renewable power producers totaled just $5.5 billion.

Now, the government included corn based ethanol as a “renewable source” of energy which is frankly maddening, considering more fossil energy is used to produce ethanol from corn than the ethanol’s calorific value.

Really, the graph should look more like this:

I just watched Bill Ritter, Colorado’s former governor, debate a couple fossil and nuclear industry knuckleheads. He valiantly pushed for solar energy adoption and enhanced legislative efforts on a recent intelligence squared debate:

[vimeo width="500" height="400"]http://vimeo.com/20896432[/vimeo]

While the two coal and nuclear advocates fired away at the premise of ratepayer subsidized renewable energy, he spoke calmly regarding the enormous benefit the solar industry has had on Colorado communities, jobs created, and clean energy served up. I couldn’t help but have the following stream out of my mouth as I watched:

“Ratepayer subsidized solar?! Aww that’s terrible!!, I take it you’re much more comfortable with TAXpayer subsidized coal and oil, right?”

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