More Solar Jobs Is A Curse, Not A Blessing

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Paul Driessen via The Mises Institute,

Citing U.S. Department of Energy data, the New York Times recently reported that the solar industry employs far more Americans than wind or coal: 374,000 in solar versus 100,000 in wind and 160,000 in coal mining and coal-fired power generation. Only the natural gas sector employs more people: 398,000 workers in gas production, electricity generation, home heating and petrochemicals.

This is supposed to be a good thing, according to the Times. It shows how important solar power has become in taking people out of unemployment lines and giving them productive jobs, the paper suggests.

Indeed, the article notes, California had the highest rate of solar power jobs per capita in 2016, thanks to its “robust renewable energy standards and installation incentives” (ie, mandates and subsidies).

In reality, it’s not a good thing at all, and certainly not a positive trend. In fact, as Climate Depot and the Washington Examiner point out — citing an American Enterprise Institute study — the job numbers actually underscore how wasteful, inefficient and unproductive solar power actually is.

That is glaringly obvious when you look at the amounts of energy produced per sector. (This tally does not include electricity generated by nuclear, hydroelectric and geothermal power plants.)

  • 398,000 natural gas workers = 33.8% of all electricity generated in the United States in 2016
  • 160,000 coal employees = 30.4 % of total electricity
  • 100,000 wind employees = 5.6% of total electricity
  • 374,000 solar workers = 0.9% of total electricity

It’s even more glaring when you look at the amount of electricity generated per worker. Coal generated an incredible 7,745 megawatt-hours of electricity per worker; natural gas 3,812 MWH per worker; wind a measly 836 MWH for every employee; and solar an abysmal 98 MWH per worker.

In other words, producing the same amount of electricity requires one coal worker, two natural gas workers — 12 wind industry employees or 79 solar workers.

Even worse, whereas coal and gas electricity is cheap, affordable, and available virtually 100% of the time — wind and solar are expensive, intermittent, unreliable, and available only 15–30% of the time, on an annual basis. Wind and solar electricity is there when it’s there, not necessarily when you need it.

In truth, about the only thing solar and wind companies do well is collect billions of dollars in subsidies from taxpayers and billions of dollars in much higher electricity rates from consumers. And when you look at the overall picture, solar and wind power generation is far worse than this.

Land. Wind and solar require vastly more acreage. Modern coal or gas-fired power plants use roughly 300 acres to generate 600 megawatts nearly 100% of the time. The 600-MW Fowler Ridge wind farm in Indiana covers 50,000 acres and generates electricity about 20% of the year. Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base solar panels generate a trivial 14 MW 22% of the time from 140 acres; getting 600 MW 22% of the time from such panels would require 6,000 acres.

Backup power. Because wind and solar power generation is random and intermittent, it must be backed up by reliable coal or gas power plants that actually do 80% of the work. So we must build both renewable systems and fossil fuel systems.

Transmission lines. Coal, gas and nuclear plants can be located just a few miles from cities. Wind and solar facilities are often 100–200 miles from cities, and thus require ultra-long transmission lines.

Raw materials. All those wind turbines, solar panels, backup power plants and transmission lines require huge amounts of concrete, steel, copper, fiberglass, rare earth metals and other resources. Ores must be dug out of the ground, processed into usable raw materials, and turned into finished components.

If we relied just on coal and gas power, we wouldn’t need all the land and raw materials (and energy to process them) required for hundreds of wind turbines and thousands of solar panels.

Environmental and human rights impacts. The United States has essentially banned mining for rare earth and other metals, so we import them from other countries. Rare earth metals for wind turbines and solar panels come from the Baotou region of China/Mongolia, where environmental and worker health and safety standards and conditions are horrendous — leaving sick workers and ecological degradation.

High electricity costs. Even with all the hidden taxpayer subsidies, electricity from wind and solar is typically twice as expensive as from conventional sources. That affects family and business budgets. Energy-intensive hospitals and factories face soaring energy cost increases that result in layoffs and plant closures. Studies in Britain, Germany and Spain found that every wind and solar job created resulted in two to four jobs lost in other sectors of the economy that must buy expensive wind or solar electricity.

Wildlife and habitats. Solar panels blanket vast acreage, preventing plants from growing under them and reducing wildlife habitats and populations. Wind turbines are notorious for killing eagles, hawks, other birds and bats — though the actual death tolls are hidden by wind companies and government agencies, which also exempt Big Wind companies from endangered species and other wildlife protection laws.

Climate change. Once we factor in the redundant energy systems, long transmission lines, raw materials required to build all of them, and energy required for mining, processing, manufacturing, transportation, construction and maintenance, wind and solar bring no reductions in carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, even if these gases now drive climate change (which they don’t), wind and solar bring no climate benefits. They are all pain, for no gain.

Even with all of this special treatment, Suniva just became the latest solar company to file for bankruptcy. And now it says it and other U.S. solar companies will totally disappear unless the government immediately imposes tariffs on all solar cells and modules imported from anywhere outside the USA.

Wind and solar are simply a bad deal for consumers, workers and the environment.

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SgtShaftoe's picture

Not really. Solar has so many workers because most solar installs are where utility power is unavailable or prohibitively expensive. It's much cheaper to throw up a solar array to provide 200W of power a mile from the nearest power pole... hell, it's cheaper than running wire a few thousand feet. It's a niche market.

That's a bullshit argument. Though .gov subsidies are bad and can create malincentives.

Moe Hamhead's picture

Nice point.  That's like arguing that cavemen did fine with solar!

Art Van_Delay's picture

Those cavemen just need a Tesla and they're good to move to Cali to praise their idol Musk.

Sucking at the .gov tit is about to end for these green parasites. Thanks to TRUMP

Musk Says He Doesn’t Need Fed Subsides but Still Spent $565K Lobbying to Get Them's picture

With all the chemtrails they're spraying under Kyoto+Paris agreement I wonder what solar energy are they getting.


tmosley's picture

One wonders exactly how they come up with these numbers, given that solar workers are installing PERMANENT power stations, while the others are all producing something that is burned once. If the panels last for 5 decades, its worth it, kinda sorta (not really, due to the opportunity cost).

What I am saying is that solar is shitty, but not nearly as shitty as they are making it out to be. And as another poster pointed out, the small panel applications are really very much cost saving even if they are enormously expensive per watt-hour.

jimmy12345's picture

Exactly, this is more FUD from the fossil fuel industry.

Schlump's picture

This article from the Moron Institute reaches Peak Stupid.

Funded by my good friends in the fossil fuel industries, the Koch brothers.

And I'm a Kochsucker.

giorgioorwell's picture

ZH should really vet these articles a litlte better. This one is the worst piece of fossil fuel propoganda nonsense I've ever seen!   Mises can be a little loopy sometimes but they aren't usually this comically wrong

Stuck on Zero's picture

I agree. The Author doesn't count the tens of thousands of healthcare jobs in taking care of lung disease. Nor does he count the railworkers, and infrastructure workers who maintain the usual energy infrastructure. It's a poor quality hit piece.

Itinerant's picture

He's also not counting his subsidies properly. According to the IEA (real leftwing outfit), those amount to 500$B globally for fossil fuels compared to 130 for renewables. According to the IMF (another leftist lobby), indirect subsidy to fossil fuel industry amounts to $T5.3 globally per year.

Arguing that all that soot and micro-particles are good for the animals, etc. is the height of stupity; a lot of solar electricity is consumed yards away from the source, not miles; the solar industry is just setting up, so of course there are more jobs than in the coal industry which is cruising to a halt; the author also forgets to mention that the costs of solar and wind are going down at exponential rates, so the cost factor will soon be an argument going the other way. It's a little like arguing that computers are more expensive to perform arithmetic than your own brain...

artichoke's picture

Panels last more like 1 decade, not 5.

kochevnik's picture

My Sunpower panels have 30 year warranty.  Not sure what junk you buy

BrownCoat's picture

No such thing as permanent. Solar panels generate less energy over time.

Stuck on Zero's picture

Solar panels last about as long as nuclear power plants but they're a heck of a lot easier to dispose of.

kochevnik's picture

My Sunpower panels have 40 year useful life.  Degradation is only 0.32%/year

SoDamnMad's picture

5 decades for a solar panel life??? I'm not so sure that is true.  Of course, quality might be an item that isn't measured and a lot of shitty panels might have gotten dumped on the market from China. These to be replaced as their efficiency falls or collapses. I have wondered about this.  I shallbe open to read comments from those in the business who are truthful.

jeff montanye's picture

solar without subsidies is cheaper than coal in sunny places like the southwest u.s., mexico, north africa, middle east through iran, most of australia, southern africa, chile, central china and even tibet and nepal.'s+sunniest+places+map&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&

wind without subsidies is cheaper than coal in windy places like the middle of north america from the rockies to the mississippi, the coasts of canada, iceland, greenland, antarctica, tibet, great britain, ireland, southern argentina and chile, horn of africa, coast of norway and japan.

this technology is in its toddlerhood.  the first mass produced, economies of scale generation of installations are being put in place now.  renewable power used to be orders of ten times greater in cost.  do we really think the cost declines are stopping here?  some of the utility and fossil fuel companies may wish so.

and remember that the pollution, such as it is, with renewable energy is pretty much in the manufacture of the plant/materials.  you don't have to keep chopping off the tops of mountains and dumping them in the rivers to keep the juice flowing.

New_Meat's picture

solar without subsidies won't exist.  Solar in households that are selling electricity back to the grid at the mandated avoided cost are another hidden subsidy to buy off the public.

See the wreckage at the end of the Carter regime to see what happens when the subsidies die.

Trucker Glock's picture

Where I'm at, power company buys household generated power for half what they charge for it.

brown_hornet's picture

ya, but who has o pay for the transmission lines and maintenance?

kochevnik's picture

Trans lines for fossil grid, not solar

garypaul's picture

this technology is in it's toddlerhood? I have books from the 1950's discussing it.

any_mouse's picture

About one thousand dollars per member of Congress.

Jeez their souls are cheap to purchase.

I know, Musk, the engineering god, only needs to buy a few senior members who can whip votes and the chairs of select committees.

Musk is assisting with tuition for elite education of children of a few elite members of Congress. It's for the Children.

They want to keep Musk happy. Musk is their key to escaping the Earth when the time comes.

You thought SpaceX would benefit Humanity. How quaint.

LetThemEatRand's picture

All good points.  I would add that solar allows anyone in a place like FL, AZ, NM, CA and other sunny places to be completely off the grid and not reliant upon a faceless corporation with a government monolopy.  

There are negatives to solar just as there are other forms of power generation.  But to write it off is to ignore the positives.  

Moe Hamhead's picture

Solar has been heating swimming pools in Florida for years.  But most folks still use the grid, and heat pumps.

Note:  SW Arizona has the most sunshine days of anywhere in the 50 states. (Or was it 57?)

LetThemEatRand's picture

That's because it's still very expensive to become self-sufficient on solar on a homeowner basis.  It's much easier to pay the monthly electricity bill than invest $40 or $50K to be self-sufficient.

Note that we spent literally trillions of dollars to bail out the banks, the Pentagon is "missing" trillions more, but giving a a few billion to subsidize solar which would be a game changer is a crime or worse, socialism.   How many oil and coal companies do you think are behind the anti-solar propaganda?  Why do people here not see it when they see other bullshit that is far less obvious?

VWAndy's picture

 Because I actually looked into it.

  There is a very nice book put out by Bosch. The Automotive Handbook. Read that sucker a few times. You will see.

LetThemEatRand's picture

Well argued.  Go read a book, the points of which I will not even try to summarize or explain.  I'm right, you're wrong.  Well played.

VWAndy's picture

 No really its been one of the best BS filters for me. Filled in so many gaps in my basic knowing of how shit really works. I actually keep it right here and use it when people call me looking for correct answers. If it didnt have a plastic cover it would have fallen apart.

  page 92

anomalous's picture

Are you suggesting that solar is the first "winner" that politicians chose that was in reality a loser? It is an interesting niche in the big picture, sold very well to the politicos. Might as well hire Mixine Waters to dictate the future energy landscape. No sense, no words..

jeff montanye's picture

the ability of politicians to pick future winners is poor. most of the time they are tilting the table in favor of those who have already won (oil depletion allowance anyone?  "free" air and water?

the marketplace will put wind and solar in place of fossil fuels in time, particularly as a new generation of asians, sick of pollution far worse than that suffered by the west, come to economic power.  

Nassim's picture

Who exactly props up FL, AZ, NM, CA at night and when it is not sunny?

Here, in Australia, it is a sunny day almost everywhere - solar plus wind is supplying 8% of demand. Outside a window of 6 hours out of every 24, solar supplies nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Check it out here:

Live Generation Australia

And read some lies by the same shameless people here:

South Australia already at 57% wind and solar in 2016/17

Right now, wind and solar is supplying only 2% of the electric demand of SA (South Australia) These people are so stupid that they have two entirely contradictory stories on their website. The first one is the reality and the second is just a made-up lie

Schlump's picture

Batteries will make your argument obsolete, dipshit

jeff montanye's picture

and how broadly can a battery be defined?  heat water or other materials to keep one warm at night, freeze water or other materials to keep one cool at night, pump water up to a tank and run a dynamo as it falls during the night or cloudy weather, do similar things with weights, springs, etc., pyrolysis of waste -- i'm no engineer but there are some around.

and don't forget wind.  it has an even greater relationship with whatever can become a "battery".

Recriminator's picture

Until there is a quantum increase in battery capacity, your thought will be a DREAM. It is unlikely, but not impossible for these technologies to develop in our lifetime. 

Recriminator's picture

Until there is a quantum increase in battery capacity, your thought will be a DREAM. It is unlikely, but not impossible for these technologies to develop in our lifetime. 

jeff montanye's picture

it's not just the capacity of conventional batteries; it's everything that can store power, compressed air, electrolysis of water to get hydrogen and oxygen to power fuel cells,

also critical are improving high voltage transmission making the transport of renewable electricity cheaper.  using it to produce liquid or solid materials that can be used at a distance to produce clean energy is another avenue to be explored (the quest reinforced by the best engineers in a billion indians and another billion chinese as those nations become fully developed amid severe pollution).

just the tip's picture

yeah, a battery the size of new zealand.

PiratePiggy's picture

Don't knock New Zealand. The world will need New Zealand as the dumpsite for all the used batteries... don't look to the Yucca Mountain.  lol

techpriest's picture

Some time ago, when I leaned a little to the left on environmental issues, I tried starting a solar company with a friend. One of the things we did was put a pricing grid together to calculate payback periods, basically using local electric price and the average standard sun hours to estimate a payback period.

What we found pretty quick was that solar really only made sense in a few areas if grid power was available. But if it does, great, get it if you want it. Unfortunately, however, in most cases solar is going to projects that make no sense at all, esp. up in New Jersey where they tied them individually to power poles.

not a yahoo's picture

Some time ago, huh? You forgot to mention that since 'some time ago' solar panel efficiency has doubled, and prices are 4 times lower now.

besnook's picture

the only place i know where solar makes sense is hawaii because we pay 40 something cents per kwh to the power company and the panels are now less than a dollar/kw and we have the sun power to maximize the production of the panels. the proble with solar is the same with cable. once the system is put in there is no follow up employment to speak of in maintenance.

Nassim's picture

Hawaii is hugely dependent on diesel generation.

Can Hawaii go 100% Renewable?

The article explains why it would be hugely expensive and dangerous to even try to become entirely "renewable" in Hawaii

LetThemEatRand's picture

Why does everything need to be black and white?  If solar could replace 20% of non-renewables, it would be a huge blow to the likes of Saudi Arabia.  Add in other options and suddenly we're not importing oil.  How much do we spend in dollars and blood keeping the spice flowing?

The thing about oil, gas, and coal is that the secondary costs are never considered in the equation by those who support them.  Just look at the headlines here about Saudi Arabia today to understand secondary costs of dependence on a volume of oil that cannot be produced domestically.  Wouldn't it be nice to consider Saudi Arabia irrelevant?

jeff montanye's picture

why does everything need to be black and white?  because these questions draw ideologues who are not really interested in the best answer to a question but in persuading others of their answer.

i'm not at all convinced the middle east wars have a damn thing to do with oil.  what else would they do with the oil but sell it?  to whom if not to us?  the dollar gold ruse has gone on about as long as it can.  any day, month or year now we are going to feel what it's like to really work for a living.  another reason not to be in debt to the company store.

p.s. the wars are to turn the region except israel into vassals of israel or failed states.  you could call it the greater allon plan:

laser's picture

As our new Sec of State told Bush, it's cheaper to buy oil than it is to steal it.

BrownCoat's picture

Wouldn't it be nice to consider Saudi Arabia irrelevant?

Of course. Solar can work in small niche applications. The problem is distorted markets caused by government do-gooders (and slimey special interests). 

Ethanol was a good example of government folly. Yuge subsidies and a promise of energy independence. Then someone did the math and figured out that burning every calorie produced from corn could not satisfy US transportation needs.

besnook's picture

it is not feasible if you tie to the grid. 100% off gridis the way. 2 solar city battery packs is more thqan most people need and the grid is not affected by energy generation at the wrong time of day.

TruthHunter's picture

When 60% aren't in the work force mostly because they aren't needed, productivity isnt a good argument. 

Jobs are an issue worldwide. There's probably a billion unemployed worldwide.

VWAndy's picture

 Yes the stupid is way better funded.