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After billions of dollars in federal subsidies, electricity production from solar finally eclipsed the amount of electricity generated from burning biomass, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
While solar advocates will undoubtedly try to spin this as a major victory for the energy source, you should remind them that it took billions in federal subsidies for solar to surpass burning wood and municipal solid waste (more commonly referred to as trash) in terms of energy produced.
I don’t mean to sound like an Oscar the Grouch here, but the news actually gets worse for solar advocates because the EIA data show that solar is incredibly inefficient, whereas burning trash is much more effective at generating electricity.
We measure efficiency using something called a capacity factor, which is the average power generated, divided by the rated peak power.
For example, solar generated 77 million megawatt hours of electricity in 2017, which converts to 77,000 gigawatt hours. We divide this number by the number of hours in a year (8,760), and you have the average electricity production per hour in GW. In the case of solar, it generated about 8.8 gigawatts of electricity per hour in 2017.
When one considers the number of Gigawatts that could have been produced if solar could generate electricity 100 percent of the time, about 42 gigawatts, it means solar operated at about 21 percent efficiency (8.8/42= .2095, x 100 =21 percent).
Wood and trash, in comparison, are vastly more efficient. Biomass accounted for 64 million MWh of electricity in 2017, or 64,000 GWh. However, there is only about 14 GW of installed capacity for biomass generators.
This means biomass had a capacity factor of about 52 percent making it nearly 2.5 times more efficient than solar power.
Also, for all the hullabaloo abut the cost of solar dropping dramatically, it is still nearly double the cost of burning wood or stoking up the dumpster fire, as these EIA figures from 2015 show.
There will likely be countless puff pieces touting the rise of solar power in the coming days and weeks. Make sure to remind the folks sharing these articles that despite billions in taxpayer subsidies, solar is still far less efficient than burning trash.
Who would have thought we’d wish solar were as efficient as a dumpster fire?
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