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re: “the future of solar could not be sunnier”

  1. The various gadgets comprising the solar technology manufacturing chain (solar arrays, controllers, inverters, structures, distribution cabling, the ball bearing in the axle of the truck that mined the limestone for the cement in the wall of the factory that produced the oxygen for the smelter that created the steel for the support strut, etc.) are products of the global industrial manufacturing system. The global industrial manufacturing system is so energy intensive that it only runs on one energy type — hydrocarbon. The future of solar is therefore, in a precise sense, the future of hydrocarbon, which is to say — rather cloudy at best.
  2. The continuity of complex industrial societies depends on the uninterrupted supply of colossal quantities of high grade energy. Solar and other so-called ‘renewable’ technologies are inherently discontinuous (e.g. regionally and temporally extensive winter weather systems degrading solar and wind primary sources at periods of high demand). A solar-based energy system therefore must necessarily include a duplicate, hydrocarbon generating system to maintain continuity. The cost of doing so includes the cost of building, maintaining, fuelling, and operating the standby capacity (which must be maintained in idle for the majority of the time) and the increased cost of such energy due to the impact of uncertainty on generators. Such standby is provided currently by legacy thermal generation capacity. The true cost of a system comprising a significant fraction of renewable sources would therefore be significantly higher than current costs and is overlooked in simplistic treatments of economics.

In short, the article is a conspicuous example of the gap in understanding between well intended but uninformed enthusiasm, and the hard reality of replacing hydrocarbon in an economy designed around hydrocarbon.