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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Is-Be's picture

No maintenance or failures in coal fired power stations?

You, jonny citizen, will pay for the cleanup costs. This is called an externality.

Politicians love to throw other people's money at a problem to make it go away. What are the hidden subsidies for coal?

Your choice is not between good and evil, monotheist, but between evil and worse evil.

Unless you accept the fact that No, the physicists don't know everything about everything and accept the empirical evidence that Yes, Cold Fusion happens, you will be stuck in the endless loop of a false choice

 

Cold Fision happens, Everywhere

 

IProtectYou's picture

The author must be one of those economic "ceteris paribus" idiots...

oak111's picture

I am not an economist, but from a The Mises Institute, I would expect a more differentiated look at this issue. I think solar will be a niche market, at least in some regions, but one should look at this issue under the two following perspectives, and not just polemically judge from a short-term and too narrow-minded perspective:

1) In contrast to established or mature technologies, solar is still in the development and ramp up phase. I am certain that other technologies were also "less efficient" on a per worker base at an earlier time.

2) Let's just assume for a moment that other resources have expired, or are economically not any more exploitable. While this moment is likely some time off, future-oriented approaches should be envisaged in time, and not be imposed by circumstances that arrive with certainty somewhere in the future.

Other factors should be taken into account: Environment, sustainability, ....

vegan's picture

Solar is still a young technology, so I'd expect efficiencies to develop. Compared to fossil-fuels, what are the "consumable" input costs to solar? Factoring that in, and factoring in other factors (environmental, geo-political, religious extremism, etc) solar seems like the better choice.

There's a point where we have to decide between paying an extra 2 peoples' salaries, or paying a Saudi Prince for oil. I'd rather the money be used to pay salaries.