Living Proof: Large and complicated projects take time. The solar energy project in Laughlin, NV doesn’t break that rule. Yes, the land deal could move faster, but without customers no one can afford to build facilities in this sector on spec. [LVSun article]
Nevada, with its 1.0% year over year sluggish employment growth, and an equally intractable 13.4% unemployment rate [DETR] is perhaps justifiably impatient with any plans for economic development, but impatience doesn’t repeal the law of supply and demand.
And then there’s the matter of competition. The Spanish corporation, Abengoa, has cleared the last hurdle for its plant in southern California:
The 250-megawatt project near Harper Dry Lake is under full construction after receiving a conditional $1.2 billion federal loan from the Department of Energy in June, said Scott Frier, Abengoa Solar’s Chief Operating Officer, on Thursday. The last condition needed for the project to close financing on the loan was the CPUC’s approval of the project’s power purchase agreement with PG&E, said Frier.
Frier said that now that the last condition of the loan has been met, construction will begin in earnest. The project is already being graded and workers are beginning to put down bases for the pylons that will hold the solar collectors. The project — which will power up to 80,000 homes once it is completed — is sited on 1,765 acres of private land near Harper Dry Lake. The project will use parabolic solar trough technology, which tracks the sun and allows for power storage. [DesDispatch]
Thus, the race is on, and California and Nevada aren’t the only states in which solar energy development is under way — New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona are also in the mix.
More specifically, “Planning efforts that are currently looking at establishing new zones include: the Arizona Restoration Energy Design Program, the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation, and the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. The Supplement also makes clear that there is opportunity for industry, the public and interested stakeholders to propose additional zones for consideration.” [SEDP] (pdf) Not only is the federal government looking to expand development, but it is taking an “All Hands On Deck” approach. [SEDP]
One of the arguments brought forth by fossil fuel energy producers in opposition to solar, wind, and geothermal production is that solar is “too expensive.” This argument works IF and only if one assumes that the relative price advantage remains constant over time. One would also have to assume that manufacturing scales would also remain constant over the long term. Neither one of these propositions is economically viable.
Manufacturing scales bring down consumer costs, but the scale depends on the level of investment. In this instance, the U.S. has slipped to Number Three:
“On a global scale, China has now replaced the US as the country with the largest amount of clean energy investment, with $54.4 billion in 2010 and $34.6 billion in 2009. In 2008, the US was the leader in this category; now it trails both China and Germany. American Commerce Department has also predicted that the market value of China’s clean energy industry can reach $100 billion in 2020.” [TCG]
How did the Chinese overtake the United States? The answer is simple, the Chinese invested almost twice as much in clean energy technologies as the U.S. in 2009. [GuardianUK]
The Low Carbon Dragon
Unlike U.S. energy policy, long dominated by fossil fuel producers, and still clinging to outdated concepts like nuclear production, the Chinese have integrated their energy planning and focused their investment on FUTURE economic development:
“For too long, many governments, businesses and individuals have been wary of committing to action on climate change because they perceive that China – the world’s largest emitter – is doing little to address the issue,” said Steve Howard, chief executive of the Climate Group.
“However, the reality is that China’s government is beginning to unleash a low-carbon dragon which will power its future growth, development and energy security objectives.”
The report says that investment in renewable energy in China (around $12bn in 2007) is almost level with world leader Germany as a percentage of GDP. The Climate Group also highlights China’s fuel efficiency standards for cars, which are 40% higher than those in the US. ” [GuardianUK]
The Chinese have demonstrated that investment in cleaner energy technology can increase the scale of production; and, increased scale reduces prices over time.
Not to justify the Chinese practice of “dumping” on world markets, but the current flap concerning the pricing solar panels [Reuters] illustrates the principle that a producer can’t “dump” without the established manufacturing capacity to do so.
Another often repeated line from vested interests is that solar energy and other alternatives to fossil fuel energy production aren’t “ready for prime time.” This contention might make more sense if the United States were the only country on the planet? However, last March Germany produced 12.1 GW from installed solar PV’s — an amount greater than the entire 10.0 GW produced by all six of Japan’s nuclear reactor plants. [Grist]
The hard fact of the matter may well be that the United States energy policy isn’t ready for Prime Time — while others, notably the Germans and the Chinese, have already taken the global stage.
The U.S. can, and should be, a global leader in the production of alternative energy — Nevada certainly could contribute in terms of solar, geothermal, and wind — the question is not one of technology but of political will to break the bonds of fossil fuel dependency and to recoup our capacity for technological and economic progress.