Is The Cleantech Bubble Over? The Reality Of Solar Economics by Michael Lynch – Forbes Magazine

Is The Cleantech Bubble Over? The Reality Of Solar Economics

In an earlier post, I noted that advocates of solar energy in particular tend to avoid talking about the cost of the electricity produced by focusing on the fact that costs are dropping, or that prices are sometimes low, or simply pointing to the large increase in installations as evidence of success. Unfortunately, the message seems to be that advocates of solar power are either ignorant of, or willfully ignoring, real world developments.

Consider: two prominent solar companies have run into serious difficulties. Hanergy Thin Film Solar has seen its stock suspended from trading and SunEdison has seen its stock price fall 85% recently. Both had been industry darlings and provided strong gains to ETFs that held them—those same ETFs now suffering the price of their exuberance.

And despite claims that government subsidies are unimportant, solar providers are reeling from cutbacks in government aid. Projects in the UK have been cancelled as the offered prices for power were cut, and hundreds laid off. Supporters make it sound as if the government is working against the industry, rather than cutting assistance, apparently not wishing to admit the technology remains uncompetitive.

Similarly, in Japan and Germany, solar success has been widely hailed as worthy of emulation, with comments such as “And yet a combination of canny regulation and widespread public support for renewables have made Germany an unlikely leader in the global green-power movement.”

But those who are not solar power activists have a different view, noting that solar remains very expensive and that rising amounts of unpredictable and highly volatile generation are adding to utility costs. This has led to pushback from utilities, who feel that solar panel owners should share those costs and that restrictions should be placed on net metering. Such pressure will increase in the US as renewable mandates raise the market share of solar power in some states.

The industry is starting to be affected, as British Solar firm Mark Group has declared bankruptcy, SolarCity’s stock price has been under pressure, and two large yieldcos, designed to use innovative financing to develop solar capacity, have seen their market value crater.

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