Hurrah for solar power!


And Ya Boo Sucks to the lies told about it.

Here's the good news:

 Solar photovoltaic (PV) power is set to achieve the environmentalists' holy grail of grid parity – the same cost price as fossil fuels – across the European Union by 2017, according to a UN expert.

How excellent! Low carbon energy becoming cheaper than high carbon such. Isn't that just what everyone is delighted to have? If you accept the IPCC's views on climate change then this is truly excellent and even if you don't then it's still nice to have, isn't it?

But now for the lies that are told about it:

 But Sven Teske, a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s recent report on renewable energies, also warned that progress could be endangered by market uncertainty over the future of feed-in tariffs. These tariffs are subsidies allowing fledgling renewable industries to compete with fossil fuels that receive up to 10 times more state aid.

There are two in just that one short paragraph. The first is over those subsidies to fossil fuels. The article's own link is to here, which gives the IEA as the source. The IEA's report can be seen (partially) here. Solar power is not competing with subsidised fossil fuels at all. The subsidies for fossil fuels are all in places like Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia. No, not for their export, but for their local consumption. The subsidies to solar and renewables are all in places like the UK, Spain, Germany and so on, where far from subsidising fossil fuels we tax them heavily.

This is, I'm afraid, the lie indirect. That there are subsidies to fossil fuel consumption, that they are larger than the subsidies to renewables, is correct. But they're not competing with each other as they're not being done in the same markets or places. They're just not competing. However, it's very useful to be able to say that "they're getting money so we should too" and this only works if you elide over the people and places where the subsidies are taking place.

Then we come to the second lie, the more direct one. For we have this rapid approach of grid parity as being the argument in favour of continued subsidy: when of course it is exactly the opposite. For if in 2013 (for some parts of Europe), or 2015 (South of England) or 2017 for all of Europe, it's all going to be cost competitive without subsidy, what on earth are we doing signing people up to 25 year plans of subsidies at four times the going rate for electricity?

Further, if Spain and Germany and China are splurging such sums on subsidies, what should be our reaction here? To add to such? No, of course not. It's to wait three or four years then install the systems that actually make economic sense.

That solar PV will be imminently cost effective is not an argument in favour of 25 year subsidies, it's an argument against them. Wait, do nothing, then everyone will naturally install this new cost effective technology the moment it beomes cost effective.

Time to ban feed in tariffs above the market rate altogether I think.