Meine Geshcichte ist nicht angenehm, sie ist nicht Süß und harmonisch wie die erfundenen Geschichten, sie schmeckt nach Unsinn und Verwirrung, nach Wahnsinn und Traum wie das Leben aller Menschen, die sich nicht mehr belügen wollen.- Herman Hesse, the Prologue of Demian.
With no disrespect to the transcendent poetry associated with the original which as language cannot be matched, I will translate, using my crude German, the above passage as follows: "My tale is not pleasant; it is not sweet and harmonious as invented stories are, for it tastes of insanity and confusion, madness and illusion, as do the lives of all those who no longer wish to lie to themselves."
"No longer wish to lie to themselves..."
For more than half a century, it has been an element of public dogma - I would argue that the dogma "tastes of insanity and confusion, madness and illusion" - that the world is about to "go solar," and that "going solar" would be a great thing to do. I plainly confess that I was until not so long ago, an adherent of that peculiar faith - inasmuch as I once believed that investing in solar energy was a good idea - at least in part, although I have no apologetics to offer for my strong long time pro-nuclear stance.
It is a matter of some tragedy that when Donald Fagen mocked, in his great 1982 album, "The Nightfly" - in the song I.G.Y - the solar dream with the words...
Here at home we'll play in the city
Powered by the sun
Perfect weather for a streamlined world
There'll be spandex jackets one for everyone
...he was writing ironically of his nostalgia. Almost 30 years have passed since the ironically nostalgic album, and more than 50 years since the year to which the song refers, the International Geophysical Year, which lasted from 1957-1958. (A famous lecture by Admiral Hyman Rickover around that time discussed a possible solar - and nuclear - future. "Energy resources and our future" Plus ça change...)
A liberal Democrat such as myself who criticizes the solar fantasy is often subject to derision from his own side, but my contention - my hope - is that my party is more wedded to something called reality than their party, although it not always clear to me that I can always make the case. Perhaps it is the case that Americans as a culture have become wedded to lying to themselves and one such lie is that solar energy (coupled with wind energy) can sustain even a fraction of the American lifestyle.
Nevertheless, the "solar will save us" meme needs to be questioned, because frankly, it is becoming wasteful to the point of absurdity.
Not so long ago, I noted that the nearly bankrupt nation of Spain invented nearly 45 billion Euros to build the equivalent of a 665 Megawatt power station - albeit one that inherently required redundancy and one that was inherently unpredictable in its performance.
Moreover, the external costs of solar energy, in particular its toxicological impact is entirely missed precisely because solar energy has failed miserably at becoming a significant form of energy. Here in New Jersey, where we are cutting school budgets, cutting services to the poor, cutting mass transit budgets, PSEG spent tens of millions of dollars installing rickety solar cells attached to telephone polls in the last year. It will be very interesting to see - once the roads are all reopened - to see how many of these were ripped down during hurricane Irene being instanteously transformed in electronic waste of a particularly toxic sort.
Now we learn that the much ballyhooed Solyndra Solar PV manufacturing plant in Fremont California (where so called "green" industries have permanently destroyed the groundwater with halogenated solvents) is shutting its doors after burning $1.6 billion dollars investments, including public investments.
Solyndra, a Fremont-based solar panel manufacturer that flared then sputtered, abruptly ceased operations on Wednesday and immediately laid off all 1,100 of its workers.
The shutdown marks a high-profile collapse of a company that received more than $1.6 billion in federal and private funding in recent years.
"This was an unexpected outcome and is most unfortunate," Brian Harrison, Solyndra's president and chief executive, said.
The company received $535 million in taxpayer money from the U.S. Department of Energy and $1.1 billion in private venture capital funding.
"We have always recognized that not every one of the innovative companies supported by our loans and loan guarantees would succeed," said Dan Leistikow, a spokesman for the Department of Energy. "But we can't stop investing in game-changing technologies that are key to America's leadership in the global economy."
Solyndra workers who were laid off on Wednesday were dismissed without layoff packages.
"They are getting no severance," said Dave Miller, a Solyndra spokesman. "They are getting nothing..."
Now, as a person who is extremely critical of the "solar will save us" fantasy, one may think that I am engaging in schadenfreud when I remark on this remarkable expensive failure but that is hardly the case.
That said, I do wonder to myself about how many educations could have been undertaken - some in useful fields like say, um, nuclear engineering - for 1.6 billion dollars. We hear that people have lost their health insurance, but how many people could have had all their health care needs met for 1.6 billion dollars? How many library shelves could have been stocked for 1.6 billion dollars, how many rail cars purchased for that much money.
People lost their jobs, 1,100 of them, and of course this is not a good thing, but the kind of jobs that build a strong and viable society are productive jobs. How many productive jobs could 1.6 billion dollars provide?
Now the article is accompanied by a "it's all China's fault" kind of argument, but this too is garbage and wishful thinking.
It's the fault of physics. The solar industry cannot be made economic, nor can it be made clean or sustainable. In the best case, the very best case, it is a little better than diesel engines in niche settings. It cannot, will not, and moreover should not be subject to vast investments that attempt to put this hexagonal peg into a trapezoidal hole.
Unfortunately, this real lesson of this exercise in waste - is that solar energy has a physics problem (as well - if you study it - a chemical toxicological problem) inasmuch as its energy density is extremely low. This is true in the United States, it was true in Spain, and in reality it is also true in China.
Solar will not save your American lifestyle - even were said lifestyle worthy of being saved - and all the pipe dreams to the contrary will not change that fact.
Our energy and climate crises are real, very real, and I am the last one to deny that, the last one to lie to myself about the subject. But I will say this, that anyone who tries to speak the truth these days has a 100% probability of learning to relate to Cassandra.
Have a nice day tomorrow.
Regards, your pal,