Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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EDITORIAL

Fund research, not development

The Blade recently reported on First Solar Inc.’s new Series 6 solar panel, soon to enter production at the company’s factory complex in Perrysburg Township. First Solar is claiming the panel is a “game changer” in terms of both its efficiency as a supplier of power and its cost-efficiency to produce. 

This is good news, and more evidence that government should not be in the business of subsidizing renewable energy infrastructure projects. Renewable-energy technology becomes more efficient with each passing year, so why build expansive solar farms that are virtually certain to be outmoded in a decade? 

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The future of solar energy is bright.

TNS Enlarge

According to clean-tech news site CleanTechnica, solar panels will be roughly 10 percent more efficient in 10 years than today. That’s a massive difference when scaled up to a project as big as, say, the Solar Star project in California.

Solar energy does not appear to even need these efficiency gains to succeed in the free market. A meta-study conducted by the Imperial College London and the Institute for Integrated Economic Research in May this year concluded that more energy is returned from solar power per unit of energy invested than for oil and gas. If it is already profitable for the private sector to build solar-energy infrastructure, why should the government additionally reward these economic actors?

Because the earth’s climate is warming and we need to end our addiction to fossil fuels now, a rebuttal might go. Rather than back physical projects, government should subsidize research into renewable energy. If it were left to private industry to fund research into atom-splitting, the world would not have nuclear energy. The private sector today remains as reluctant as it was back then to pour vast sums of money over many years into developing unproven technologies.

Oil and gas companies should pay the costs they pass off on the planet, and thus to all of us, in the form of greenhouse-gas emissions. But that does not make a tax credit for a manufacturer of solar panels any less an unfair and inefficient use of taxpayer money. Funding pure research generates returns for all of society; funding development benefits mainly the developers. 

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