Solar Energy Will Never Replace Coal!

Solar will never work. It is just too expensive. We will never replace coal and oil as the primary fuels because they are so ubiquitous. Simply a microscopic fraction of our energy is now made from solar energy. It is like a toy. Nice, but like a science project.

Of course all through history we have heard this kind of commentary from the self proclaimed “literati”. Every major technological advancement has been met with scoffers and folks who are dragging their heels. Their arguments appear ridiculous now (looking back) because we have the “spectacles of history.” We can see things so clearly in the past. Hindsight is awesome!

A few examples:

There is a young madman proposing to light the streets of London—with what do you suppose—with smoke!
- Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) [On a proposal to light cities with gaslight.]

The Kölonische Zeitung [Köln, Germany, 28 March 1819] listed six grave reasons against street lighting, including these:
1.Theological: It is an intervention in God’s order, which makes nights dark…
2.Medical: It will be easier for people to be in the streets at night, afflicting them with colds…
3.Philosophical-moral: Morality deteriorates through street lighting. Artificial lighting drives out fear of the dark, which keeps the weak from sinning…

[W]hen the Paris Exhibition closes electric light will close with it and no more be heard of.
- Erasmus Wilson (1878) Professor at Oxford University

Lest you think that these are simply examples of pig-headedness and prophetic impotence in the distant past, there are many recent examples as well:

[Television] won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.
- Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox, 1946.

There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.
- Kenneth Olsen, president and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

How can intelligent people be so unbelievably wrong? They were not able to see even just a little ways around the corner. Many “futurists” are constantly making wild utopian predictions, which keeps us from taking the probable future seriously.

Who would have believed the rise of the internet and and “cyperspace?” Who would have believed the amazing rise of the cell phone industry? These industries have exploded and matured in the past 30 years.

Solar photovoltaic technology was already over 30 years in development when Al Gore “invented” the internet. Today we have solar modules that have been producing energy for over 50 years. The technology is mature, the prices are dropping significantly, and people are starting to realize the benefits that cheap solar energy can have on their constantly rising energy bills.

Once the PV solar system is installed- there are no ongoing fuel costs. There are no fuel drilling/mining/storage/transportation costs. This is huge. It is like paying once for a car and then never paying for fuel at a gas station. How much would a car that never needs to stop at a gas station be worth? That is the type of system that we install when we intall a PV solar system today.

I hesitate to predict huge gains for solar. The big energy players of today are heavily invested in coal and nuclear energy. It will be hard for an industry based upon mining/drilling and burning to switch over to a solar energy model. Even when it is in the best interest of all parties involved many will stick to the “business as usual” model.

The essence of “conservatism” is to conserve something (ie- a way of life). The question is legitimate: “Should our current energy system be conserved?” We mine, drill, store, transport, and burn. Is this method of using fossil fuel sustainable? If not, what is the next step? Will this model become even more expensive through time as fossil fuel becomes more scarce?

50 years from now when we look at our energy mix the dominant energy sources will be renewable energy. Why? Because these technologies make sense. If we can drive down the prices (which is happening) why not use renewable energies? Why should we keep drilling/mining/transporting fuel/storing fuel/burning fuel? There is no advantage to the fossil fuel technologies other than that they are  less expensive. They are cheaper. (if you don’t count pollution or health costs/damages they are currently slightly less expensive than renewable energy)

As fossil fuels get more expensive (through scarcity) renewable energy will come on strong (here’s my prediction) because they make so much financial sense. Not only will the financial benefits overwhelm the fossil fuel energy industry, but there is also the side benefit of not polluting our water, air or land. Not only am I saving money, but I am also sleeping very well at night know that I am not damaging or polluting the land that I will hand over to my children. I am a part of the “solution” rather than being “conservative” and perpetuating an unhealthy energy model.

The speed of change and innovation can sometimes be incredibly rapid. We can see how fast innovation was happening at the birth of aviation:

I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. Two years later we ourselves made flights. This demonstration of my impotence as a prophet gave me such a shock that ever since I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions.
- Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) [In a speech to the Aero Club of France (Nov 5, 1908)]

Wilbur was right to distrust his pessimism towards the new technology of aviation- and we should be confident in our optimism towards the technology of PV (and clean energy). As Bob Dylan belted out so many years ago… “the times, they are a changin.”

Stay Strong,

 

 

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