Solar energy generates billions in investment and subsidies but when will it exist on its own?

The New York Times had an interesting analysis of the continued growth of solar energy in California. As with most alternative forms of energy, solar has long been criticized as being too expensive and inefficient to provide a substantial alternative to fossil fuels like coal. While this is still the case today (power derived from the sun is “three to five times” more expensive than that derived from coal) there are two main reasons solar energy continues to grow and receive private funding in the state. First, both state and local governments are providing substantial subsidies which have resulted in an huge influx of private investment. And second, California residents and businesses in general are often willing to pay more for access to solar energy because of their personal pro-environment positions.

However, while it is unlikely that either of these two motivating factors will disappear in a state like California, in order for solar energy to cause a material decrease in our burning of fossil fuels, it will have to be more widely adopted across the nation and world. And since everyone doesn’t share California’s willingness to subsidize, in order for this to occur, the price of generating solar power must still come down. Otherwise, the cost of fossil fuels must come up. (We believe the environmental cost may already exceed that of solar. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t priced into its economic cost yet.)

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