More Solar Jobs Is A Curse, Not A Blessing

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.


SgtShaftoe Tue, 06/06/2017 - 20:25 Permalink

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.

tmosley blueyefinity@y… Tue, 06/06/2017 - 20:45 Permalink

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.

In reply to by blueyefinity@y…

Itinerant Stuck on Zero Wed, 06/07/2017 - 20:29 Permalink

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...

In reply to by Stuck on Zero

SoDamnMad tmosley Wed, 06/07/2017 - 00:14 Permalink

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.

In reply to by tmosley

jeff montanye blueyefinity@y… Tue, 06/06/2017 - 21:07 Permalink

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=safa… 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.… 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.

In reply to by blueyefinity@y…

any_mouse Art Van_Delay Tue, 06/06/2017 - 22:02 Permalink

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.

In reply to by Art Van_Delay

LetThemEatRand SgtShaftoe Tue, 06/06/2017 - 20:26 Permalink

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.  

In reply to by SgtShaftoe

LetThemEatRand Moe Hamhead Tue, 06/06/2017 - 20:45 Permalink

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?

In reply to by Moe Hamhead

jeff montanye anomalous Tue, 06/06/2017 - 21:20 Permalink

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?… 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.  

In reply to by anomalous

Nassim LetThemEatRand Tue, 06/06/2017 - 20:46 Permalink

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 AustraliaAnd read some lies by the same shameless people here:South Australia already at 57% wind and solar in 2016/17Right 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

In reply to by LetThemEatRand

jeff montanye Schlump Tue, 06/06/2017 - 21:35 Permalink

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".

In reply to by Schlump

jeff montanye Recriminator Tue, 06/06/2017 - 21:45 Permalink

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,… 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).

In reply to by Recriminator

techpriest LetThemEatRand Tue, 06/06/2017 - 21:39 Permalink

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.

In reply to by LetThemEatRand

besnook SgtShaftoe Tue, 06/06/2017 - 20:43 Permalink

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.

In reply to by SgtShaftoe

LetThemEatRand Nassim Tue, 06/06/2017 - 20:57 Permalink

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?

In reply to by Nassim

jeff montanye LetThemEatRand Tue, 06/06/2017 - 21:56 Permalink

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:

In reply to by LetThemEatRand

BrownCoat LetThemEatRand Tue, 06/06/2017 - 23:00 Permalink

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.

In reply to by LetThemEatRand