“The Great Solar Swindle”

Die Welt, one of Germany’s flagship dailies, wrote up a comprehensive assessment of solar energy as a supply of energy to meet demand titled: The Great Solar Swindle.

The authors of the piece, Daniel Wetzel and Reto Klar, as suggested by the title, conclude that solar energy is a well-executed swindle that was and is promoted by slick industry lobbyists. Today solar panels and systems, massively subsidized by the government, are enjoying a boom in Germany. Solar energy is the number one desired form of renewable energy by Germans, according to a recent survey. The industry, needless to say, is making money hand over fist.

And because the solar energy boom is riding a tsunami of political populism, leaders are afraid of a political backlash should they try to put the brakes on the runaway gravy train.

Indeed behind all the solar energy brightness, the very dark clouds of economic and technical reality are gathering quickly. Despite all the billions in investment, solar energy in Germany today still only contributes a measly 3% of the country’s energy needs. It is many times more expensive than the conventional coal or nuclear power, and thus is causing rates for consumers to rise rapidly. And as Die Welt writes, it is not creating thousands of green jobs, except in Asia that is, where 70% of the solar modules now installed in Germany are made.

Expert council advises the German government to scale back solar installations

One big problem is that solar energy does not work well in often gray and overcast Germany, and so it makes little economic sense to add more solar capacity. Die Welt writes that an…

Expert council for environmental issues, a high level advisory commission for the federal government, recommends no longer forcing the expansion of photovoltaic, but rather to restrict them to very tight limits. Flensburg environment scientist Olav Hohmeyer, a member of the expert council, requests that the current rate of solar expansion be scaled back by at least 85% to only 500 to 1000 megawatts annually.”

Clearly the government is beginning to see that the power supply is becoming vulnerable and is at risk. When the power supply is at risk, then so are the consumers and industry who need a steady supply that can be relied on. Costs and feasibility are now under hefty criticism. Die Welt writes:

The Rhine Westphalia Institute for Economic Research (RWI) says that because of the ‘hype surrounding photovoltaic’, a growing cost tsunami will hit Germany.

and later quotes Thomas Bareiß, energy policy coordinator of Merkel’s CDU/CSU faction:

What is taking place here makes no economic sense and is socio-politically irresponsible.”

The authors list 10 reasons why solar energy needs to be re-evaluated:

1. It is not cheap.

Just for the modules built by the end of 2010, the German consumer will be saddled with pure subsidy costs, or so-called ‘solar debt’, to the tune of € 81.5 billion, which will have to be paid over a period of 20 years.

According to calculations by the RWI, German consumers will incur another €42 billion in costs by 2020.”

Add necessary grid expansion to the cost calculation and costs explode conservatively beyond $200 billion!

2. Nuclear power is not expensive

Cheap energies like coal and nuclear are being  forced out of the market and replaced by expensive alternative energies. The cost of the additional infrastructure needed by wind and solar will make nuclear and coal power look like a real bargain in the long run. And then consider plans by the EU to go ahead with Desertec, which is estimated today at €400 billion, and whose price tag will surely skyrocket over time. Worse, it will be located in the Sahara, i.e. in countries that are hardly stable.

3. There’s no demand for it.

“The solar lobby wants to install 70 gigawatts by 2020.” The problem is that there will be little power generation in the wintertime, and all the surplus generation in the summer time will have to be given away to foreign countries.

4. Energy independence is a fairy tale

At Germany’s latitudes, peak production capacity of solar modules are only possible 875 hours of the 8760 hours in a year. The rest of the time is night, bad weather or winter. That means solar panel owners are forced to draw power from the rest of the grid 9 of every 10 hours, like everyone else has to.”

5. Local communities are being weakened

Energy independence and local production is supposed to strengthen the community, but the opposite is true. For example communities with hydro-power do not need solar or wind power, and so cannot accept it.”

But now public utilities have to invest millions of euros in additional equipment just so that a few dozen people can earn a few thousand euros with solar power.

6. The problem of storing power

Solar panels often produce energy when you don’t need it, or produce nothing when you need it the most. If only there was a cheap way to store the energy. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) says Germany’s current storage capacity using pump reservoirs is 7 gigawatts only.

To be able to supply enough energy for one week without wind or solar and without conventional power plants, 1260 pump-reservoir power plants of the type used in Goldisthal would be needed. ‘Ignoring that Germany has no suitable locations for such facilities’, say Bode and Groscurth and write ‘the costs per kilowatt hour would be astronomical because most of these systems are operated only for a few hours each year’.”

7. Hightech industry – but not in Germany

Global market share of German-made solar cells dropped last year alone from 15.4 to 9.7%. During the same short time period, China’s global market share climbed 25% to 48% overall. Promoted by cheap credits from the Chinese state banks, Chinese manufacturers such as Yingli, Suntech or JA Solar are snapping up complete production lines that use the latest western technology.”

8. Job engine solar industry is a myth

Even using the rosy figures from the German solar industry, the number of jobs by 2020 will not only not grow, but will even shrink.”

9. The solar boom has been a big success – for a few lobbyists.

The rest will have to pay through the nose.

10. Contribution to climate protection is insignificant, and costly.

Photovoltaic is the most expensive way of climate protection. Scientists of the International Energy Agency (IEA) or the RWI have calculated how much it costs to prevent one ton of greenhouse gas CO2 from be emitted from a fossil fuel plant by other energy sources. The result: The CO2 prevention cost for photovoltaic was a record high of €648 per ton.”

16 responses to ““The Great Solar Swindle””

  1. dave ward

    Great article, Pierre. I’ve saved it for future use. It will provide handy ammunition against pro-solar commentators.

  2. R. de Haan

    Great article underlining in detail all the arguments we’re putting on the table over the past years.

    From wind power to solar, from bio fuels to carbon trading, the entire Green Agenda sucks and doesn’t deliver.

    The sooner people wake up to the reality of the Green schemes, the better.

  3. DirkH

    Solar modules have become a fetish in Germany. It’s a largely areligious society; seeing increasing numbers of solar panels around gives us the satisfaction that we have sacrificed for the environment. The very fact that they are expensive and inefficient proves our sacrifice. It tickles our underused religious nerves.

    Maybe the money is not even wasted – if we wouldn’t have chosen to satisfy our irrational desires with this largely harmless and useless decoration, we could instead have opted to throw billions at something possibly dangerous.

    See it as a modern equivalent to medieval cathedrals.

    1. kuhnkat


      medieval Cathedrals are still beautiful and in use. What will we say about those useless, ridiculously expensive, solar and wind generation systems blighting the landscape in 20 years??

      1. DirkH

        We’ll worship them! What else are they good for? 😉

        1. Ed Caryl

          It depends on wether civilization survives their use. If it doesn’t, what is left of mankind will worship them, especially if the still actually power something. If civilization survives, they will wind up in landfills.

          1. Ulrich Elkmann

            Sadly (or not?) they are much too fragile to make Great Picturesque Ruins for future Mad Maxes to roam around in a Hollywood Future – nothing like the Statue of Liberty at the end of “Planet of the Apes”. Just a few transitory struts and crinkled sheets (looking, one imagines, rather like the debris of the weather balloon in the photos of the 1947 “Roswell flying saucer crash”). Another way in which “the future isn’t what it used to be”. Though some nuclear power stations might provide provide the romance of ruins…

  4. T. G. Watkins

    Good post, as usual.
    A serious ‘uprising’ in Mid-Wales(1000+) against the “bird mincers”, ie windmills, as the local population at last understands the futility of relying on electricity from an inherently unreliable source. (Wales is a tiny part of UK – pop. 3m)
    An excellent essay by William Tucker can be found at Climate Realist site titled
    E= mc^2. which is essentially about energy density.
    Solar is even more expensive than wind. Perhaps the German gov. should concentrate on developing Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors and give their solar subsidies to Greece!

  5. Home Solar Energy System

    There are so many advantages that you could gain on installing solar panels. It is one of the reasons why it is highly recommended nowadays. Because of it, cheaper panels are available so that even ordinary households could afford this one.

  6. R. de Haan

    Keeping up the AGW doctrine obviously is more important than any economic effect that will hit our citizens like a brick.

    It’s all part of the lies we’re told.

    AGW in fact has it completely wrong as snow lines are moving South on the Northern Hemisphere and North on the Southern Hemisphere where it results in frozen water falls in tropical Brazil


    In the mean time the Euro which has been celebrated as a determining factor of stability is creating an economic prison that locks up millions of our citizens who are not going to take it.


    1. Ed Caryl

      Another hard winter in the Southern hemisphere! (Sigh)

  7. sunsettommy

    The real problem are the people.Who fall for the baloney so easily.

    ” Solar energy is the number one desired form of renewable energy by Germans, according to a recent survey. The industry, needless to say, is making money hand over fist.”

    The ignorant and their money is soon parted.

  8. R. de Haan

    The real problem is the fact that no one of those receiving government subsidies and a totally mad feed in fee of € 0,40 per KW/hour ask themselves “who is going to pay for this”.

    This fact alone shows Germany is anything but a Social Democracy.

  9. Billy

    Why is it that I have not seen one report of an actual PV installation cost and actual annual energy output and revenue?

  10. Ulrich Elkmann

    I may be mistaken, of course, but judging from the comments above – and the press report(s) – this shows all this signs of an investment bubble that is about to burst, spectacularly (though it may be delayed by the fact that it is basically the government that robs the people to hand out revenues to the gold diggers, not the stock market).

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