First Solar Update

A few years ago I was asked to give a presentation in front of a group of Phoenix business leaders on climate and alternative energy.  I can't remember what particular group it was, but it was some public-private group that was heavily invested in advocating for local subsidies to promote strategic businesses - the sort of local MITI that most large cities have, that has this delusion that they can ramp up the city's growth by focusing public and private investment into a few selected industries (that they select, of course).

I told them that I thought their focus on solar manufacturing was dumb.  First, the whole idea that because Arizona is a good solar market meant that it should have some advantage in solar manufacturing made absolutely no sense.  This only makes sense for products with high transportation costs or a particular input cost that can be gotten more cheaply in one particular area (the location of aluminum manufacturing near cheap electricity in the Northwest comes to mind).  By the same logic all car manufacturers would be located in LA.

Second, I said that the whole solar business was completely driven by subsidies.  If the subsidies were to go away, the heart of the business would go away faster than  I specifically mentioned First Solar in a positive context here, saying that though they where wholly dependent on subsidies for their revenues, they at least acknowledged as a corporate strategy they needed to get costs low enough to compete without subsidies.  (Someday, solar will get to that point, I hope, but I am skeptical that current approaches will yield the breakthrough, but that is another discussion).

If you want to understand the financial problems First Solar is having, let me show you four items.

First, from their 2010 annual report:

Geographic Risk. Our solar modules are presently predominantly sold to our customers for use in solar power systems concentrated in a single geographic region, Germany. This concentration of our sales in one geographic region exposes us to local economic risks and local public policy and regulatory risk in German.

This is way back in the notes on page 133.  By the way, I took a whole course in business school on reading financial reports.  Here is the key lesson for those not in the financial industry:  read them from the back.  Skip all the glossy crap at the front, go straight to the notes.

OK, here is the second bit of information.  Here is a world map of solar insolation, which is essentially the total solar energy available to produce power in a location when adjusted for atmosphere, weather, latitude, etc.

See Germany?  I won't insult your geographic knowledge by pointing at it, but much of Germany is in that yellow-green color which, for solar potential, means (in scientific terms) "it sucks."  Let's zoom in, and compare it to the US to get a feel for it (combined from two charts here)

Apparently the better sites in Germany have the same solar potential as ... Seattle!  The sliver of absolute best sites in Germany have approximately the same solar potential as Buffalo, NY.

So we have a company whose fortunes are dedicated almost entirely to selling solar panels into one of the most unpromising solar sites in the world.   Why is Germany buying so much solar?

OK, here is the third bit of information.  For years Germany had enormous feed-in tariffs (mandated above-market minimum prices)  for solar electricity:

The German feed-in tariff scheme has been in operation since 1991 and is regarded as one of the most successful in the world. In Germany, feed-in tariff rates are differentiated according to the source of the renewable energy. Separate tariffs are determined for biogas, biomass, hydroelectric, geothermal, solar and wind energy sources. The tariff paid for solar generators varies between EUR 45.7c/kWh and EUR 57.4c/kWh, depending on the capacity of the system and other design features. The tariff is greater for generators that are attached to the roof of a building or structure and greater again for generators that are attached to another part of a building. In Germany, the feed-in tariff is paid for a period of 20 years

Note the language from several years ago where "most successful" is determined without references to costs.

0.574 Euros per kWh is equal to about $0.75 today and even more several years ago when exchange rates were higher.  Remember this is a wholesale price, and should be compared to a $0.04 to $0.06 wholesale electricity price in the US  (I use US numbers to as its not clear to me Europe has a particularly competitive wholesale market.  The French have some sort of fixed price system set around $0.06).

However one wants to look at it, these are enormous subsidies.  People putting up solar panels in Germany were getting paid 10-15x what a market price for the same electricity might have been.

Finally, here is the fourth piece of evidence leading to First Solar's woes.  In 2010 and 2011 Germany, whose consumers began to balk at paying the highest electricity rates in the world in order to subsidize the method of electrical generation least suitable to Germany, began substantially cutting these tariffs.  In 2012 they will cut them even further:

German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen and Economy Minister Philipp Roesler are set to hold a press conference on Thursday to outline the government's new approach on subsidies. However, the indications are that the cuts will be heavier than the market has been expecting:

  • a 30% cut in the feed-in-tariff (FIT) to 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour for new large solar installations
  • and a 20% cut in the FIT to 19.5 cents for new small plants

The market has of course been expecting cuts in the German FIT system. However, this news is decidedly worse than expected and likely to continue to pressure solar stocks - particularly those such as Yingli (YGE) with a significant exposure to German solar demand.

From a peak of $0.75 per kWh, Germany will now pay $0.255 per kWh for smaller installations, still four times the market price for wholesale electricity but only a third of what they paid during First Solar's boom years.  As I wrote yesterday, Germany was essentially paying $2 for milk from brown cows and $25 for milk from black cows.  This can't be sustained.

If one assumes a wholesale electricity price of 6 cents, First Solar's German customers were getting a 92% subsidy.  Sure, First Solar now faces other problems like Chinese competition and they have shot themselves in the foot on quality, but at the end of the day the only way they can survive is to convince some other government to turn on the taxpayer money spigot to keep them in business.  I am hoping we in Arizona and the US will not be the suckers, but I fear that we will.  One can argue the projects I discussed the other day, including the one where we taxpayers loaned First Solar the money to sell its solar panels to its own subsidiary, are evidence of this.  My guess is that First Solar will be throwing a lot of money and time towards Obama, praying for his re-election.


  1. Evil Red Scandi:

    "My guess is that First Solar will be throwing a lot of money and time towards Obama, praying for his re-election."

    What really sucks is that the alternative is the GOP winning and throwing orders of magnitude more money at the military-industrial complex (and their other, smaller, corporate-welfare leeches). Hard to decide which party will loot us the least. Unless Ron Paul pulls off a miracle and wins the GOP nomination, I'll be supporting Gary Johnson.

  2. Russ R.:

    Just today, Ontario announced that it would be cutting its FIT for renewable power production:

    Following a review of its ambitious clean-energy program, Canada's most populous province said it will cut the rates it pays for power from new solar projects by more than 20 percent and wind rates by about 15 percent, reflecting lower prices for generating equipment such as solar panels and wind turbines.

    Ontario's feed-in-tariff plan, aimed to spur job creation and help replace coal-fired power in the province, has been a source of anger for ratepayers facing higher electricity bills.

    As an Ontario resident, I wish they would eliminate the FIT program outright, instead of merely scaling it back.

    I also wish they would stop selling electric power at an artificially low retail price, and then spending advertising dollars to convince their customers to purchase LESS of their product.

  3. DrTorch:

    " First, the whole idea that because Arizona is a good solar market meant that it should have some advantage in solar manufacturing made absolutely no sense."

    There is some sense to it. First is that if you're doing R&D, AZ favors that. It's truly dumb to put it in a place, say like Toledo, OH, where you'd need to pay for electricity to power lamps to generate light to test your device. Hmm.

    Second is infrastructure. AZ has significant electronics manufacturing infrastructure, and that plays a role in solar PV. Equipment, consumable materials, trained staff...all more available than some place that has never done that sort of production.

    Finally, akin to what you mention, there may be some willingness to find early adopters if they know the product is locally made. This may be a marketing ploy, and it may be minor, but all other things being equal, you're probably going to get a better response in AZ than you would in IL.

  4. Mesa Econoguy:

    From Ronald Bailey at Reason today, re: Obamalini’s solar campaign stop:

    “Yes, America has always been about subsidized electricity. In any case, let's add up once again what federal subsidies (in this case a 30 percent tax break) can conjure into existence and compare costs with a new natural gas-fired electric plant. As the president noted, the new 58-megawatt Copper Mountain facility can generate enough power to supply 17,000 homes. How does he come by that number? Very roughly, one megawatt of installed capacity when operating can supply electricity for 1,000 homes. Since solar is intermittent, the usual estimate is that solar plants operate at 30 percent of maximum capacity. In this case, Copper Mountain would supply enough electricity for 17,000 homes.

    The Electric Power Research Institute latest estimate for building a new 550 megawatt natural gas-fired electric plant operating at 80 percent capacity is $1.2 billion. Using the same form of calculation implied by the president (1 megawatt per 1,000 homes x 80 percent of 550 megawatts) suggests that such a plant could supply electricity to 440,000 homes.

    Now let's scale up the Copper Mountain plant ten-fold for a rough comparison to a 580 megawatt plant. The current plant cost $140 million to build, so a ten-fold increase would (again roughly) be $1.4 billion. Not so much more than a natural gas plant; but then there's the 30 percent capacity factor to take into account. So to get the same amount of electricity generated means that a comparable solar plant would actually have to have maximum capacity of more than 1,800 megawatts. So at $141 million per 58 megawatts of capacity such a plant would cost roughly $4.4 billion to build. That's almost four times more expensive than a comparable natural gas plant would be. “

    President Solyndra called those of us opposed to wasteful and abusive subsidies "flat earthers," so that makes them prosecutable progressive criminals (PPCs, ™ ).

  5. Dan:

    The cool thing will be that the subsidies we gave to them can now be used more effectively for donations to political organizations that benefit the politicians that gave them the subsides. . . so they can get more subsides.

  6. Craig:

    Someday, solar will get to that point, I hope, but I am skeptical that current approaches will yield the breakthrough, but that is another discussion

    Even if solar panels were given away free, mass generation of electicity from them would be uneconomic simply for its diluteness and the fact that it stops at night.

  7. Eric H:

    I was in Germany a couple of years ago. The FIT insanity could have been summarized by a single photograph had I been ready to take it. I was riding a train and saw a neighborhood where houses had solar panels on the roof facing forward. Across the street from each other. Now, one of them might have been pointed south, but no way could both of them have been facing south. The damn things are so heavily subsidized that you put them up and any electricity at all that you generate makes them worthwhile, so nobody attempts to optimize. This is why you should simply ignore any chart that shows how much "installed capacity" or "nameplate capacity" they have in Germany; a 1 kW setup that generates a maximum of 10 W is a joke. You can only pay attention to actual generation figures, which are usually a shadow of the installed capacity (especially in Germany, for reasons you point out).

    Even if solar panels were given away free, mass generation of electicity from them would be uneconomic simply for its diluteness and the fact that it stops at night.

    Except that it's not if you use it simply to run your own meter backwards all day, and of course there is the possibility that someone might develop sufficiently efficient batteries. Payback times here in the US southwest are relatively short with grid-tie.

    There is some sense to it. First is that if you’re doing R&D, AZ favors that.
    Second is infrastructure.

    True dat. One of the solar manufacturers in Albuquerque recruits heavily from the Intel plant across town, and there is at least one commercial test lab here.

  8. Random Walk:

    Given how much higher the feed in tariffs are than the electrical rates, it would be profitable (although dishonest) to charge up a battery at night and sell the stored power back during the day. Perhaps that's what the north facing panel owners are up to !

  9. me:

    @Mesa Econoguy - you need to factor in operating costs over the lifetime of a plant to make this comparison hold water, but I'd bet you wouldn't be far of the mark. In terms of current market prices, solar makes no sense. It makes sense in certain contexts (energy independency and decentralization), but that doesn't apply to the US.

    @Eric H - right on. Note, though, that a drive along the northern coastline will demonstrate beyond doubt that people know how to optimize the directionality and the optimal exposure angles for solar installations. The motivation of the push for lots of renewable sources of energy wasn't cost effectiveness.

  10. Ted Rado:

    If you think the cost of wind and solar power is rediculous now, wait until it reaches a point where existing power plants are not sufficient backup and dedicated backup must be built. beyond that, if energy storage (hydro or compressed air) is attempted, the whole thing goes from horribly expensive to grotesque.

    Why in the world don't the pols quit playing engineer and stick to stealing our money?

  11. IGotBupkis, Climate Change Denier and Proud Of It.:

    >>> (Someday, solar will get to that point, I hope, but I am skeptical that current approaches will yield the breakthrough, but that is another discussion)


    NeVAH GONna haPPEN!

    Look at the solar insolation map for the world. The BEST segment gets the equivalent of less than 7h a day. The solar CONSTANT is 1kW/sq. Meter -- just do the numbers.

    7kW-Hr/SqM -- at 100% conversion (for actual, figure less than 50%, realistic less than 30% -- so 3.5/SqM for pie-in-sky and 2.3kW/sm for good case) contrasted with the typical individual household's need. The areal coverage just to satisfy each household's need would be in the dozens of sqM, so the price of an installation has to plummet, you STILL have to cover a huge area with something that's basically a computer ship, the manufacture of which is one of the more toxic-waste producing processes humans use. The only reason it's not significant is because the areal production of computer chips is steadily DOWN per unit produced, not massively ramped UP. And don't forget the storage techs required for nighttime power, the losses thereof, and the expense of those storage systems added in.

    Solar, like wind, SUCKS. There's a lot of energy in it but it's too dispersed and inconsistent.

    The only earth-bound method that has the slightest chance of actually paying off ANY investment in it is Ocean Thermal, and that's somewhat iffy. The only reason it has any chance is because it's essentially using the entire surface of the world's ocean as a collector.

  12. Mark2:

    @Craig, the problem with solar is not necessarily that it stops at night (though in CA we are having trouble supporting our conventional generation, because of all the focus on 30% renewables) This is because the country has a massive surplus of power at night. The real problem is that 1 Solar peaks at noon, but energy use peeks at 4pm, when the solar panels are fading. 2: The power company has to generate base load power based on a percent of maximum energy use. So since solar fails a few days a year - even in hot summer months - utilities can't really cut back on their base load power generation (even peakers need time to spin up) so the power company can't turn off power plants as solar comes in.

    Basically this is another subsidy for the rich. The rich don't have to pay for power - and in fact can get money back in CA at retail rates. But the power companies still need to generate the same amount of power, so they raise prices on the poor, who live in apartments or can't afford a solar panel system.

  13. Mark2:

    Solar has its uses for things that you don't care if they aren't working all the time. If I installed a fountain in the front yard, I would consider solar, cuz if the fountain stops working a few hours during the day 2 - 3 times a year, it is no big deal. No fountain at night - I am sleeping anyway.

    Solar pool heaters, are also good, a few hours of no heating is not going to affect the pool much.

    I am sure some of you can think of other examples (and I would like to hear them)

    But to use them as a primary electricity source is a bit silly.

  14. Another guy named Dan:

    @IGotBupkiss -About Ocean Thermal: I went to engineering school in Milwaukee. Ont of our homework assignments was to calculate if you could sucessfully power the city with a reversible heat pump using the fact that the water at the bottom of Lake Michigan had an essentially constant temperature of 34F. The basic result was that on very cold days in january and very hot days in July and August it would work, but most of the year you'd be lucky to generate enough power to run the pumps necessary to circulate the working fluid. It would also have required a physical plant that would have challenged the size of all of the existing industrial base in the city.

    This exercise was used to introduce the concepts of thermodynamic availability and Carnot efficiency.

  15. me:

    If you want a concrete example of how solar contributes/doesn't contribute, you can check out for live data. During winter, Solar is pretty much irrelevant in terms of net contribution. Wind is where it's at.

  16. Mercy Vetsel:

    Staggering, especially considering the reputation that Germans have for being practical. So much for the notion that if we only had smarter bureaucrats...

    "$2 for milk from brown cows and $25 for milk from black cows"

    Bad analogy. Black cows produce milk just as efficiently. A better analogy would be paying $25 for milk from pigs. With those incentives and assuming pig milk were indistinguishable to the end consumer, we'd see porcine dairy farms popping up all over the place.


  17. marco73:

    “$2 for milk from brown cows and $25 for milk from black cows”

    More like $2 for milk from cows bred by experts over decades to produce high quality milk in large quantity, carefully managed by farmer/owners with financial interest in producing their products efficiently,
    versus $25 for milk from free range goats who are fed whatever is the trendy goat food of the month, by novices who aren't quite sure what end of the goat to milk, represented by the best paid lobbyists in the business, constantly harping that the "goat milk" economy is just around the corner as long as the subsidies keep rolling in, while providing a bucolic meadow scene perfect for political posturing.

  18. alanstorm:

    Mercy, I'd suggest that the scheme would be to charge $2 for cow milk, and fine everyone $25 for not using pig milk. whether it exists or not. I refer you to the use of cellulosic ethanol, which operates under a similar scheme.

  19. Benjamin Cole:



  20. IGotBupkis, Climate Change Denier and Proud Of It.:

    In another thread where that matter is being discussed.

    AGND: Yeah, I know, it's not one I'm really pushing, though it can't hurt to pay for some research into low-gradient power generation as a whole. I'm just saying it's got the best chance of any actual solar system for providing reliable power on a large scale -- that temperature gradient doesn't really go away at night, so its systems can generate power much more reliably... The main places where it might have plants built would be off the very long coast of Florida/the Gulf, and perhaps a good chunk of Cali. As I understand it, one of the biggest issues is barnacles, which like to form on pipes and which would clearly interfere with the heat exchange process at the heart of it. Then the other question is closed-cycle vs. open-cycle: do you bring the cold water up or warm the cold water lower down (which, of course, gives the Green lunies something to go all Chicken Little over)? The basic question is, do you want to pollute the water with warm water fish or deeper cold water fish (the cold water has minerals and nutrients which would increase the warm water population, or the increased warmth at 90 ft down would be a boon to cold water fish.

    You may find the Wiki article of interest:
    The first operational system was built in Cuba in 1930 and generated 22 kW. Modern designs allow performance approaching the theoretical maximum Carnot efficiency and the largest built in 1999 by the USA generated 250 kW

    Again, I'm not pushing ANY solar, really, even SPS -- solar power satellites (which could only be worthwhile if we develop a serious space presence, which we're not, so far, showing much sign of doing) -- but if there IS one which might bootstrap itself without a massive initial outlay (as clearly would be required for SPS), then that would be OTEC.

    Mark2: agreed. Like wind, there ARE uses, but not in the general case.

    me: Ah, yeah, except that wind has its own Unintended Consequences, not all of them identical with solar (i.e., the inconsistency and unreliability, which defacto requires no reduction in the base load being carried)...

    Wind turbines kill endangered birds, particularly golden eagles, as well as bats:
    The LA Times is hardly a shill for the energy industry:
    "It would take 167 pairs of local nesting golden eagles to produce enough young to compensate for their mortality rate related to wind energy production," said field biologist Doug Bell, manager of East Bay Regional Park District's wildlife program. "We only have 60 pairs."
    Also Here

  21. peter:

    I don't understand the solar companies problem. Where Germany is leaving off Massachusetts is picking up. In Mass electric companies are required to pay a minimum of 35 cents per kwh for renewable energy. However if the total power provided by the electric company is less than 10% renewable then the companies pay a fine of 55 cents per kwh on the difference between what renewable they did provide versus the 10%. Since none of the companies are up to the 10% small generators auction off their power to the utilities. Therefore everyone is paid the 55 cents since that is the ceiling set by the govt based on their penalty. By the way the 35 cents is guaranteed for 10 years. Oh yeah back to the solar companies problem could it be despite these subsidies and the 500 billion being thrown at them they still feel the need to sell their panels significantly below cost in order to get people to buy them? I think solars best chance in this country is with the companies trying to make solar power producing roof shingles. Once they come with a 40 year warranty for a reasonable price they should sell well.
    As far as power from the oceans I would think tidal power generators should be consistent enough as we can predict tides years in advance and regular power plants could reduce their production requirements on a very predictable basis.
    Will solar ever get to the point that even the Germans will use it reliably? Sure. What is it only about a couple hundred million more years before the sun starts to swell enough to cook the earth? I sure even our 30% panels will work everywhere then.
    Ironically All the environmentalists want to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy while the sun that creates all of this "renewable energy" is nothing more than a very large source of "fossil" fuels. How do they plan on replenishing the sun anyways?
    Thought for the night what % of environmentalists have submitted patents for perpetual motion machines and how does that compare to the general population?
    Entropy always wins :)

  22. IGotBupkis, Climate Change Denier and Proud Of It.:

    >>> I think solars best chance in this country is with the companies trying to make solar power producing roof shingles. Once they come with a 40 year warranty for a reasonable price they should sell well.

    When they can produce a solar shingle that lasts 2x longer than a regular shingle, that will, indeed, be a miracle.

    Most roofs only come with a 10 or 20 yr warranty, and that doesn't include warrantying its ability to produce electric power.

  23. Mark2:

    @me it might not be an issue that solar isn't of much use in Winter, since we use more electricity in summer. In winter we use heat from natural gas, oil, even coal, I suppose. In summer we need air conditioning and that typically requires, electricity.

    There are things that could be done, to make solar / wind more workable, we are just not ready to go that far yet, because the expense of conventional fuel is not high enough

    Examples: change work shifts to work around max solar or max wind or both
    If there is a power shortage, send folks home, only work when there is enough power
    Work fewer hours on electricity intensive things.

    Have reserve power in offices so short brownouts can be tolerated, have backup NG generation capability, possibly with efficient fuel cells.


  24. me:


    Here's why this is eminently practical for Germany to do: energy security. I'll just quote myself from another thread:

    Occasionally, there is a strategic role for subsidies. I can shed some light on the utility of solar subsidies in Germany (and confirm that the weather patterns are pretty similar to Seattle weather ;))

    Germany has a huge industrial production sector and is densely populated. A significant portion of German Energy needs is based on imported coal, oil and electricity and existing infrastructure problems. There are issues with internal Energy distribution (the existing networks are at peak capacity).

    As a result of the dependency on foreign energy sources, exposure to economical threats like Russia closing the gas pipelines is a real issue (as in 2009).

    The extremely high subsidies on sustainable energy sources (specifically wind and solar and to a smaller degree biogas) have led to a proliferation of local energy production (if you drive along the northern coastline, about every third house is covered in solar tiles and every larger meadow is full of windmills). As a result, 20% of the countries total energy needs can now be covered through local sources, with a profile that would be difficult to attack centrally (think attack on a single power station).

    This has a huge strategic impact, as it reduces the control of external agents. Not coincidentally, the subsidies have been in free fall since (with the predictable amount of complaints from rent seekers).

    This is one case in which it makes eminent sense for a state to subsidize some economic activity distinctively, and an example of this type of subsidy applied correctly (ie promising to keep the payment up forever to get the infrastructure built and then scaling it back once the strategic objective has been achieved and let market forces play).

  25. drB:

    Me -

    from that viewpoint, why not nuclear? France has 80% or so electricity from it.

  26. IGotBupkis, Climate Change Denier and Proud Of It.:

    drB: Indeed, it would do far more for German power reliability to invest in nuke plants. But Germany is full of postmodern libtards, as is most of Western Europe.... and Fukishima, as little as it ACTUALLY said about modern nuclear power, killed what little interest had been developing.

    Mark: There's an old saying about civilization:
    "Civilization advances by increasing the number of important things one can do without thinking about them."

    Your proposals are generally NOT in that category. Like Mass Transit, there are places where it is necessary, but it is NEVER optimal.

    Or, another way:
    Man does not change to suit his environment. He changes his environment to suit him.

    Your proposals fall into the former, not the latter, category.

  27. drB:


    Here they are called NIMBY's I believe :). They want to drive electric cars and have pollution from electricity production somewhere else, like in China. Or, as in Germany, buy the nuke electricity from France and then drive their electric cars proudly claiming to be nuclear free.

  28. Mark2:

    @me, if Germany were interested in energy security, maybe Germany and France could lift the ban on Fracking in their respective countries and produce their own natural gas.

    Maybe Germany was a bit too quick to shut down their nuke plants too, just another thought.

    Germany is turning their energy sector into a quagmire for no apparent reason but eco silliness.

  29. Zach:

    "I think solars best chance in this country is with the companies trying to make solar power producing roof shingles. Once they come with a 40 year warranty for a reasonable price they should sell well."

    Except in the Midwest, where you're going to replace your roof about once every 15 years or so because hailstorms beat the crap out of it.

  30. IGotBupkis, Climate Change Denier and Proud Of It.:

    >>> Germany is turning their energy sector into a quagmire for no apparent reason but eco silliness.

    Turning your economy and social system into shit is the primary goal of PostModernism. PostModernism is a social cancer.

    >> "Except in the Midwest, where you’re going to replace your roof about once every 15 years or so because hailstorms beat the crap out of it."

    As I noted -- roofs have 10yr and 20yr warranties. This call for 40yr warranty shingles is a call for shingles that last 2x longer than modern ones, AND do the solar job. IIRC, there's a word for that. Oh, yeah, here it is.

  31. IGotBupkis, Climate Change Denier and Proud Of It.:

    >>> Here they are called NIMBY’s I believe.

    Yeah, but NIMBY really isn't the motivation for it, you see. It's how some of them come to it, but most libtards are just useful idiots propagating the suicidal PostModernist meme. The point is to cause social and economic collapse. The destruction of Western Society is its goal, nothing less. And no, that's NOT hyperbole.

    Just read "Barack Obama and the Strategy of Manufactured Crisis"

    In particular, look closely at The Cloward Piven Strategy and Alinsky's Rules For Radicals

    I would point out to you that Hillary wrote her BA Honors Thesis at Wellesley on the Alinsky model. All signs are she adored it.

    These people are the enemies of the West and all it stands for. There is a special place in Hell reserved just for them, in honor of the pain, frustration, and anguish they cause and are going to cause in the coming decades. If there was a button that would reach back in time and kill all the boomers in their cribs, I'd seriously consider pushing it.

  32. Mark2:


    It might work better where I live in San Diego, where hail storms and snow (except in the mountains) is impossibly rare. Could probably get solar to last 25 years.

    People don't realize though, the solar cells wear out over time. In 25 years, I expect that less than half the original power is being generated. That is something else to factor in.

  33. me:

    @All - way to ignore what I've written. Densely populated (really, look at satellite maps some day and do some run-of-the mill calculations about fallout - we used to do that back at where I worked, and it was never pretty; also, corollary: not where all those french power stations are located). Decentralized (add a few single large stations)? And above all - viable? How much nuclear fuel do you guys think is available locally?

  34. drB:

    Me -

    nuclear plants breed their own fuel...if political restraints of spent fuel processing are removed. Then there is thorium technology which for some reason is ignored, and monazite sands can be found in Europe. Germany does not have too many earthquakes/tsunamis to make nuclear plants unsafe; on top of that deaths by nuclear fallout in the world currently are much less than deaths in coal mines.

    I would actually argue that wind could make sense in sparsely populated areas where power transmission lines are uneconomical. Nothing will have 100% safety record if that is what you argue for; and nuclear has safety record that is comparable to other technologies. Also, planning needs to take into account realistic possibilities; not building nuclear plants because we are afraid of martian attack is kind of illogical, isn't it?

  35. me:

    Sigh. I won't get into the impact assessment in detail, but the severity of potential accidents is a major factor. Population density issues make nuclear a terrible choice for Germany (but a perfect technology for energy safety in the US). Also doesn't address independence and centralization issues.

  36. Mark2:

    That reminds me there is a hilarious movie, Mars Attacks, you can probably see it online on Netflix. It didn't do well at the box office, but the whole premise is that these guys are bad, and our incompetence politicians - all they can do is talk peace and try to compromise, and let us know that the hostilities are probably only misunderstandings.

    Maybe it wasn't worth 8 bucks at the theater, but it is worth seeing once for 99 cents, or free.

  37. IGotBupkis, Nukes 'R' Us:

    >>> It might work better where I live in San Diego, where hail storms and snow (except in the mountains) is impossibly rare. Could probably get solar to last 25 years.

    People don’t realize though, the solar cells wear out over time. In 25 years, I expect that less than half the original power is being generated. That is something else to factor in.

    Dude, that 10-20 year thing is universal. It doesn't matter where there is hail, that would only lessen it.

    And as far as the longevity of solar cells, it's less than 50% by year TEN. By year 20 it's more on the order of 10%.

    >> Sigh. I won’t get into the impact assessment in detail, but the severity of potential accidents is a major factor. Population density issues make nuclear a terrible choice for Germany (but a perfect technology for energy safety in the US). Also doesn’t address independence and centralization issues.


    >> Densely populated (really, look at satellite maps some day and do some run-of-the mill calculations about fallout – we used to do that back at where I worked, and it was never pretty

    *Sigh* right back. There is vastly more FUD involved where nukes are concerned than actual risk. The number of off-site deaths attributable to nuclear accidents in the West remains ZERO, to the best of my knowledge, and it's exceptionally low even if my info is out of date.

    And -- just as an aside -- if you say "Chernobyl" as though it had ANYTHING to do with commercial power generation in the West, then you are too ignorant to have an opinion worth expressing. Chernobyl was based on an idiotic, primitive design largely believed -- even back in the fifties with their relaxed attitude towards radiation -- as being generally inadequately safe. And despite this it took more than 20+ years of Russian incompetence to have a serious nuclear accident at one of them.

    And every accident has been with old plants using very old technology in remarkably unusual circumstances... and despite these, the worst cases had almost no real release of radiation at all, and even Fukishima did a lot less than everyone was terrorized into believing.

    The danger of fallout is VASTLY overrated, as Chernobyl showed. There are people living in the "irradiated" areas who have been there for 25 years now, with steady exposure to more fallout than likely in ANY Western accident (radioactive ASH would be almost impossible to come from any failure mode of any commercial-purpose western reactor still in operation, much less from newer designs) and the early deaths attributable to radiation are LESS than the deaths attributable to stress/FUD induced cancers. Radiation, for the most part, that does not kill you outright is more likely to kill you by FUD-stress induced cancers than it is by radiation exposed cancers.

    And yes, it does address independence, as nuke fuel is pretty damned common and it doesn't take a lot to go a long way.

    Contrast this with the special minerals used in giant mofo generators needed to build ridiculous endangered bird-killing wind turbines and the rare earths and toxic chemicals produced by solar cell production.

    Only a fool or an idiot would prefer unreliable "renewable" energy based on vast quantities of special materials over nukes, based on materials findable or make-able (ever hear of a breeder reactor?) from materials available in sufficient quantities in just about any US-sized region of the world's land area (OK, exclude ANTARCTICA from that for the time being).

  38. Mark2:

    @Igotbubkis and Me,

    Your point about nuke plants is valid, there are several modern designs that are almost fool proof, are relatively small, do not need water or other liquids for cooling, etc. Don't ask me the details, cuz I don't understand, but somehow they can directly generate electricity through the molecular activity, rather than requiring all the boiler stuff that a typical power plant uses.

    The problem is that folks scare us about the nuke industry, do we end up not making any of the new safe plants, and the older relatively more dangerous plants are used beyond their natural life range, because there is no replacement.

    If we had new plants in Japan, they could have floated away in the Tsunami, with no harm to anything. In fact DOD started research on small scale nuke plants that would be floated in the ocean for places where there is little room for a land plant.

    I also understand the thorium plants being researched only in China are less radioactively hazardous than regular nuke plants. And don't ask me why.

    So yeah, lets scare everyone so we end up with 100 year old plants. could say the same for coal. I would much rather have a 2012 coal plant than a 1960 one, but utilities are forced to use tha old ones as new ones can not be approved.

  39. me:

    Risk assessment 101: how well do you understand the risk of a prospective course of action? Compare "Wind turbine might fall over and crush some sheep" with "Unproven technology using highly toxic materials might vent some of that stuff in an area with ~ 200ppl/sqm". Research suggesting the new designs to be a lot safer than the old tech doesn't really help (no track record, worst case scenarios involve megadeath and longterm contamination); it doesn't help that the track record of risk projections compared to actual failures in this area is less than impressive.

    Additionally, see my above points re: decentralization, strategic impact of availability of local sourcing.

  40. Ted Rado:

    Everything that man does involves risk. There are tens of thousands of deaths and a million injuries annually from driving. Planes crash, structures collapse, ships sink, etc. To abstain from doing something because there is a risk is absurd. The ultimate question is whether the benefits are worth the cost and risk.

    Safety is paramount in industrial activity. Aside from the human suffering, the cost of a serious accident is astronomical (a la BP). Every company has safety personnel constantly trying to reduce the chance of accidents and to deal with them should they occur. The notion that industry plunges ahead oblivious to risk is nonsense. A serious accident is a financial catastrophe.

  41. Ted Rado:

    The early days of any new technology are far from perfect. In the old days, boilers exploded regularly. That did not stop the use of steam power. Boiler design improved steadily so that boiler explosions are almost unheard of today.

    In the case of nuclear, one could perhaps argue that old plants should be replaced with new, safer, designs. Eliminating nuclear power altogether because of the Japanese tsunami is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    At some point in the distant future, when fossil fuels become scarce, nuclear power may be the only viable alternative. If the decision is between nuclear power and going back to the stone age, which do you think will prevail?

  42. me:

    @Ted: Right, now we're getting somewhere. This is what quantitative risk analysis is all about. You do qualitative analysis "everything has risk, hence taking risk is always OK". The same argument applies to playing russian roulette: since there's always a risk, is it always a good choice? Investment fundamentally is about weighing risk vs returns. Note that your point about catastrophes always also being financial catastrophes has been reduced ad absurdum by all the recent too-big-too-fail nonsense. (If all the potential downside is borne by other people than the folks who benefit on the upswing, decisionmaking by that second group is naturally too optimistic)

    That fails a bit where the objectives of the above push come into play. Nuclear power comes with risks of wide-area long-term contamination, it is a centralized form of energy generation and requires resources found only in certain parts of the world to function. It's a perfectly safe and sane solution for a country like America (natural deposits of fuel, huge stretches of land nobody would mind losing). It is an awful choice for a country like Germany in its present form.

  43. Mark2:

    @me your risk assessment is for plants of 1960's design. Modern plants, if they were allowed to be built would irradiate the lot they were on, but could not eject material over dozens of square miles.

    That is the problem, most folks just listen to the eco-freeks and assume that the danger is still the same for a new power plant as it was for dropping the A bomb on Hiroshima.

  44. Ted Rado:

    Taking a risk in human endeavors is NOt like playing Russian roulette. The benefits are weighed against the risk and a decision to proceed or not is made. Everything has a risk. Women occasionally die in childbirth. We certainly don't consider stopping reproduction as a consequence.

    France is a highly populated county as is Germany. They produce 80% of their power from nuclear. I am sure some very sophisticated analyses were made before embarking on their nuclear power program.

    At Three Mile Island, the enclosure and other safety provisions worked as they were suppose to. In the hysteria that followed, the nuclear power industry was put on the shelf for decades. As Mark2 points out, hysteria replaces careful study.

    The Germans are now getting in a bind. Their wind and solar programs are starting to wither and they are shutting down their nuclear plants in the aftermath of the Japanese catastrophe. They have gone bonkers on the AGW thing. Soon, they will have no nuclear power, declining coal power, and only intermittent wind/solar. It will be interesting where they go as reality sets in. Back to nuclear, back to coal, or sit in the dark?

    One must stick to level-headed analysis and avoid zealotry and hysteria, or we will have a huge mess. There is NO SUCH THING as a risk-free, nuclear-free, fossil fuel-free energy future.

  45. me:

    @Mark2: I understand the point you are trying to make (that new designs are much safer). So: how many hundreds of years of operational record can you point to? How safe are new designs from targeted attacks? What exactly are the consequences of a contractor skimping on materials in the foundation? I don't know. You don't know. That's exactly the point of risk assessment. And it's why building these new designs and gaining the experience is worthwhile and a great idea, but doing so in densely populated areas is a bad one.

    @Ted: I couldn't agree more that sticking with level headed analysis is the way to go. I'd just like to point out that risk analysis is all about quantifying consequences and deciding where the smart money sits with regard to payoff vs risk. As the russian roulette analogy demonstrates, not every risk is a good one just because it's a risk.

    I will note again that both of you focus on "nuclear is good because it is a risk" and ignore the sourcing and decentralization arguments.

  46. Ted Rado:


    Where in the world did you get the idea that I think nuclear is a good idea because it is a risk? One does something despite the risk if the rewards justify it. Driving, flying, mountain climbing, etc. all involve making a judgement along those lines. I was a backpacker for forty years and did many hikes that most would say involved too much risk. I made the judgement that my pleasure and physical challenge were worth it. I avoided hikes where I felt the risk to be excessive, such as solo off-trail hikes where I would not be found in case of accident. I knew those who plunged into the wilderness alone repeatedly. Same situation, different decision.

    Certainly, nuclear plants (and other industrial operations) should be located so as to minimize risk and possible damage. That is a non-issue. The Japanese had a tsunami wall around the power plant. Unfortunately, the wave was so high it went over the top. Power plants in earthquake zones are built to withstand possible quakes. What if an earthquake of a severity way beyond expectations occurs? There are endless scenarios where something happens that is beyond the design allowance. Engineers can try to anticipate this, but there will always be unexpected occurances.

    The problem is that nuclear is the only viable alternative to fossil fuels on a large scale. We all would love to have a cheap, plentiful, non-polluting, risk-free source of energy. That does not exist. Hence, choices must be made. The French continue building nuclear plants. The Germans are shutting theirs down. Time will tell who made he better decision.

  47. Mark2:

    @me, You think it is any safer to skimp on design for any thing else? How many years of operational record can you point to for anything? Lets all live like we did in 1812, just to be safe?

    "But if I finish all of my chores and you finish thine,
    Then tonight we're gonna party like it's 1699"

  48. drB:

    Mark2 -

    Quote from Amish Paradise by Weird Al if I recall correctly :)

  49. me:

    @Ted: I have some insight into the decision making process that led to the German subsidies for alternative energy and the plans relating to not establishing new nuclear power stations and decomissioning existing ones. The risk analysis for those items has been made, and base on the criteria I listed the decision was to create a decentralized locally sourced infrastructure to balance. I've tried to explain what factors went into this and got back the feedback that all human endeavor involves risks and only ecofreaks would not build lots of nuclear power quickly. Hence, my admittedly acerbic reaction. I'll not that all the folks involved are anything but ecofreaks and understand rather well that new style nuclear plants will very likely turn out to be great parts of power infrastructure once they've been sufficiently tested. At this point, the data isn't there and collecting experience is something best done in a different context than Germany.

    @Mark2: I think it's a lot safer to stick with a model with known deficiencies and strictly limited risk (oh, and about 1k years of experience... Windmills have been around for a while ;)

  50. Mark2:

    @me burning coal, and burning wood are even older and more tested. I think we should shut down them newfangled wind plants immediately. You just never know :P