Opposition to Solar


Environmentalists are alarmed when they read the recent news about the billionaire Koch brothers funneling money trying to change the laws that promote solar development.

I think this is a blessing in disguise for solar. There is a Chinese saying that “a big tree attracts more wind.” The rapid growth of solar over the last few years even during a deep recession has set off alarms in conservative circles supported by the fossil fuel industry. They are afraid of alternative energy eating into their long-term profits.

When something new happens, there always exist traditional interest groups trying to torpedo it. They cannot accept the fact that market forces are turning against them. First of all, the price of photovoltaic modules has dropped precipitously from $3.5 per watt in 2008 to $0.8 in 2013 (Source: US Department of Energy). On the other hand, the prices of oil and other fossil fuels keep on rising. Second, how can you beat the sun with something dug up from the ground? Third, how does sunlight compared with smog and soot in the air? The fossil industry has forgotten an important survival skill – If you cannot beat them, join them!

Two laws they want to change. One is to make it harder for solar owners to sell electricity back to the power company via the grid. The other is to do away with all the solar subsidies provided by government. These two laws were enacted a few years ago when solar was in the budding stage. Although the laws are still useful, solar is now a worldwide multi-billion-dollar industry able to stand on its own feet because of competitive prices alone. Note that Germany (the world’s leading market) and the rest of Europe have almost phased out their solar subsidies but solar continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

The selling of electricity to the power company seems to be overblown by the solar salesmen. If your house is equipped with solar, you’ll save a bundle already in heating and cooling every month. The surplus electricity generated by your solar is not that much to sell to the power company. Normally, people install just enough solar for their own household needs, not with a large surplus to sell. When a salesman tries to sell solar, he tends to overblow this attraction.

No matter how strong the opposition, the solar industry will continue on a rapid growth path because of the strong market fundamentals plus environmental benefits. It will be boosted by technological advancement down the road, such as a cheaper and higher-storage battery, and the increasing popularity of electric cars which you can recharge at home with your own solar panels without having to buy gasoline. Just think about all these potentials that are happening. No wonder the fossil fuel industry is worried.

May 2014

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