NYT’s Paul Krugman Whiffs on Renewables

by William Yeatman on April 18, 2014

in Blog

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According to Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times, there’s been a “technological revolution” in the energy industry, one that “many people don’t know about.” This unnoticed upheaval in the electricity market, per Krugman, was prompted by “the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular.”

Here’s his proof:

The [IPCC] notes that “many RE [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions” since it released its last assessment, back in 2007. The Department of Energy is willing to display a bit more open enthusiasm; it titled a report on clean energy released last year “Revolution Now.” That sounds like hyperbole, but you realize that it isn’t when you learn that the price of solar panels has fallen more than 75 percent just since 2008.

I readily understand why no one knows about this “revolution,” because it exists only in Krugman’s mind. His evidence is a single Energy Department talking point and an imprecise statement from a recent IPCC report, neither of which tells us anything about the relative cost of renewables compared to conventional energy. There is, moreover, no mention of any countervailing facts, like the bankruptcies of rooftop solar power manufacturers Solyndra and Abound. And he utters nary a peep about the astronomical costs of utility-scale solar like the Ivanpah project in the California desert. Krugman also maintains total radio silence about the intermittent nature of solar energy, which renders it non-dispatchable, and therefore virtually worthless from a reliability standpoint. Perhaps most telling of all, the inequality crusader ignores the fact that solar is the energy of choice for the 1 percent; taxpayer and ratepayer solar subsidies are regressive.

In any case, Krugman is demonstrably wrong. Solar panels remain expensive relative to conventional energy, which is why the industry’s fate is wholly dependent on political favoritism. More to the point, it is absolutely incorrect to compare solar, a non-dispatchable electricity source, to conventional energy sources that can be relied on 24/7 at a moment’s notice. It’s apples to oranges.

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