Save the planet: Stop the Greens

Climate change is a serious problem, but the solutions are a joke


Subsidy-suckers always seem 'just about' to be cost-effective

I've also been hugely confused by the arguments being put forward by the solar PV industry. Now this is something I know enough to be dangerous about, my day job involving supplying the weird metals required to build such things. (Just one little amusement for you. We're told that solar PV is local, very good local is. But they don't tell you that gallium and germanium from China or Russia is needed to dope the silicon versions, or that the vast majority of the world's tellurium for the Cd/Te type is processed in the Philippines... indeed, actually collected from the world's copper mines by a near global monopolist, II-IV Corporation. Very local such a globalised trade and monopoly is ...)

We're constantly told that solar PV is going to be grid equivalent (ie, cost the same at the point of use as getting coal produced 'leccie from the grid) very soon now. Indeed, the more the speaker is a PV booster, the sooner that date seems to be. So, err, why are the subsidies needed? Modern industry just doesn't turn on a sixpence, if we've built up the momentum needed to get solar PV to being economic in some three (no, really some claim this) years' time, then this is going to happen whether or not today's installations get five or 10 times the current retail cost of that 'leccie.

The nearer the horizon for that price point, where solar PV will be installed as a matter of choice, the less the argument for subsidy. For it's the subsidies we paid a decade or more ago that have accelerated the industry to this point: yet the near term economic switching point is used as the clinching argument for why we should have whacking great subsidies for the next 20 years.

Why?

I can't help feeling that we're in the grips of that great political problem, somethingmustbedoneness. Climate change is real so something must be done. This is something: windmills and spraying money at solar. Therefore we must spray money at windmills and solar. This isn't unusual in politics at all, but given if we accept the first premise, that climate change really is a problem we must do something about, shouldn't we hope for rather better?

My suspicion is that there have been various people around who wanted us to go for local energy systems, low-level energy consumption, whether climate change was or is a problem. And when political attention turned to the thought that it is such, they were the only people actually ready with a plan. So that's what we've got locked into doing.

Take this exchange for example, from George Monbiot:

Last week I argued about these issues with Caroline Lucas. She is one of my heroes, and the best thing to have happened to parliament since time immemorial. But this doesn't mean that she can't be wildly illogical when she chooses.

When I raised the issue of the feed-in tariff, she pointed out that the difference between subsidising nuclear power and subsidising solar power is that nuclear is a mature technology and solar is not. In that case, I asked, would she support research into thorium reactors, which could provide a much safer and cheaper means of producing nuclear power? No, she told me, because thorium reactors are not a proven technology. Words fail me.

To subsidise one uneconomic and unproven technology but not another, both equally capable of solving the problem supposedly under discussion, non-carbon (or rather low-carbon, there are no non-carbon systems) energy generation, well, there's at least a soupcon of a suspicion that the choice there is being made on ideological, not practical grounds.

That there's a bandwagon being leapt aboard. We might even posit that large scale thorium usage would lead to lots of cheap power and that a devotee of a localised, near peasant, lifestyle like Ms Lucas would prefer there be no solution rather than one which allows the continued existence of a large scale industrialised society. Perhaps I'm being unkind here but that is what it seems like.

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