Long live the Sun - Why Solar Power will beat Nuclear

Because water is scarce in many parts of the American West, usage is famously complicated. In a pumped storage hydroelectric system you are essentially putting a large amount of water in storage all the time. Which means you are decreasing the natural flow in the river system, which can have environmental consequences. Not an issue maybe in Washington-state, which has a lot of water and few people, relative to California, but a big deal in California.

The LA Times article above cites one problem with PSH systems. To increase storage capacity you need more reservoirs, which means damming and submerging more river valleys, at a time when some people want fewer dams, not more, for environmental reasons.

My state has excess reservoir capacity (I think. I don’t know for sure, but I drive around a lot and see a lot of mountain reservoirs are seldom at more than a small fraction of their capacity). California’s reservoir are low, but only because their long term drought.

So, yeah, lot of water issues in the U.S. West.

Just hoist weights up a tower and get the energy back from pushing them off.

There’s no agreed upon way to calculate EROEI. I recall that the old Oil Drum website used to use it to show when old oil wells would become unproductive, which makes sense. I don’t see how it’s useful wrt solar.

Here’s a graph from the “Oil Drum”, the “cliff” being unsustainable in the long run.


Here’s an article saying EROI is not a useful measure:

Here is a calculation from Ramez Naam, who Noah Smith has linked to above (not a result of internet search looking to confirm)

This is using numbers from 2013, almost a decade ago.

That is to say, the EROI of solar panels being made in 2013 is quite a bit higher than of solar panels made in 2000. That should be obvious – increasing efficiency and lower energy costs per watt make it so. If we used only the estimates from 2010 on, we’d find an EROI for poly-Si solar of around 15. If we used only the 2013 estimate, we’d find an EROI of around 25.

Obviously not negative, not waiting for tech to catch up, it’s already here. The article linked in the OP discuss Swanson’s Law, similar to the familiar Moore’s law.

Swanson’s law is the observation that the price of solar photovoltaic modules tends to drop 20 percent for every doubling of cumulative shipped volume. At present rates, costs go down 75% about every 10 years.[1]

Swanson’s law, the learning curve of photovoltaics (data from 1976–2016)

Also from the article in the OP.

Notice the y-axis is log scale, growth is exponential, like uncontrolled COVID.

I’m not sure what part of this you aren’t tracking. The problem isn’t in the photovoltaics, those are fine. I have them on my house.

The problem is in the necessary storage systems at the scale needed. You post two graphs, neither one has anything to do with the cost effectiveness of battery systems at that scale. When you have either pumped hydro storage available or the ability to purchase standby nuclear/coal power you can hide that. The higher percentage of solar on the grid, this ‘too cheap to meter’ delusion, the more battery systems you need and the more obvious it becomes that the EROEI is negative.

Solar works at small scale with a system like Powerwall and a backup generator. Scaling up battery banks like that is incredibly resource intensive, and the idea of adopting it in a widespread fashion is simply not feasible with current technology.

I can find you an article that says unicorns are real too, but it’s still a horse with a plastic horn glued to it’s head.


The rapid drop in prices of solar PVs changes the math. It allows for the technique of overproduction to be used. Unlike conventional FF plants a solar farm can be economically built that produces three times more power at peak then can be used.

This allows for sufficient power during more of the day and during cloudy periods. This is what changes the math, fewer batteries are needed.

It also means that during peak hours three time more power is produced then can be used so some output needs to be shut off.

Or, if it was used, it’s a matter of turning a switch on. That excess output could be considered “too cheap to meter”.

Overproduction isn’t a technique, it’s a cope to try to save an industry that more and more people are realizing isn’t going to work. Why ‘We’ll simply cover three times more previously productive acreage and that won’t change the EROEI at all’ is where people try to go with this is beyond me, but let’s look at it anyways.

Look at the amount of population and energy usage by latitude. Now run those numbers with even moderate population and GNP increases depending on what fertility rate you’re willing to permit. Run it up to the MIT limits to growth study. Break out your Nautical Almanac.

Where is the energy to run those factories and heat those homes going to come from in the winter, overproduction or not? Are you going to move cities by decree to an increasingly warm equator, thus increasing energy usage for indoor climate control past what you gained by moving the city? Are you going to force factories to close at night? Tell people to keep warm by burning…what exactly? Self-satisfaction of not producing a minuscule amount of nuclear waste?

Like I said earlier, the cost of PV can drop to zero. Zip. Zilch. Nothing. And it still doesn’t work as a large percentage of our energy infrastructure.


Plunging solar PV prices changes all the metrics, old arguments wrt solar are no longer relevant.

Even Forbes has figured it out:

Forbes is not known for reporting unicorns.


Yes, his Bachelor of Arts in History/Political science makes me realize the errors of my ways, and his long and hopeful article that does nothing to address the hard facts of energy storage needs has convinced me.

Why do your arguments always devolve to ‘Look, this is a respectable magazine/newspaper/Cable TV channel’ despite the overwhelming amount of examples of those institutions being horribly wrong? Forbes has reported unicorns 1000s of times. Appeals to authority, even the slim authority of ‘this is a business magazine’, don’t change the fact that the human species lives at high latitudes on our planet, and it’s dark there in the winter. Batteries are needed and right now they cost too much. It’s that simple.


This is the company that wrote that article. They are a for-profit company that essentially are paid shills for the renewable energy industry.

This is similar to posting an article from an Exxon linked PR firm that has shiny graphs and hopeful language that persuasively demonstrates that supporting renewable energy makes you a dirty hippie who will never get a girlfriend. Well, not now that the big oil players are getting in on the scam but I digress.


Here’s another theoretical way of storing solar energy: hydrogen. Use the electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. When you need the electricity, recombine the elements and get electricity and water. Not fuel for cars, etc. but to store excess electrical grid power until you need it.

In the article below: simply chemistry, but no one has ever made fuel cells on such a vast scale. Which means huge amounts of R&D money. A hard sell when there is plenty of cheap LNG on the market.

People also point out the danger of storing large amounts of explosive gas. But then we keep large amounts of gasoline, LNG, and uranium lying around, so what’s the difference?

From Scientific American. Feb. 2020:

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Here’s a key point:

Some U.S. grid studies ruled out hydrogen energy storage because it is costly today. But other modelers say that thinking is flawed. For example, many grid studies being published about a decade ago downplayed solar energy because it was expensive at the time—this was a mistaken assumption, given solar’s dramatic cost decreases ever since. European simulations such as Brown’s take into account anticipated cost reductions when they compute the cheapest ways to eliminate carbon emissions. What emerges is a buildout of electrolyzers that cuts the cost of renewable hydrogen.

Prices have dropped about 90% in the last 10 years, everyone needs to update their assumptions.

I have solar PV installed on my home. It was a purely economic decision. I have reduced my electric bill by about 75%, depending on cloud cover. Everyone wants to know the pay back. My answer? Much less than the electric meter on the outside of your house without PV.

nobody seems to mention the input to make the solar panels?
Like making the batteries.
I’ll bet the 50 year old nuclear plant still wins


Pretty easy to find the data. From the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S Department of Energy (edited for space):

"Over the last thirty years, hundreds of life cycle assessments (LCAs) have been conducted and published for a variety of residential and utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems…Total life cycle GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from solar PV systems are similar to other renewables and nuclear energy, and much lower than coal.”

One does not need batteries for net metering which is where most of the growth of solar is. The power companies thru their political influence usually come up with a formula like this.
If we charge you 10 cents a KWH for the electricity we produce we will pay you 5 cents for the excess you produce and feed back to us. It is a win for the power companies. During the day when the demand is the highest the power company burns expensive fuel such as coal, meanwhile they get excess power at half the rate from those who have solar. Now that power fed from those of us that generate excess power is sold to the other customers at the full 10 cents per KWH. Then as demand goes down in the evening the power companies can maintain the demand with cheaper fuel like gas. The electrical companies are in the business to sell electricity at the highest price possible, they HATE being forced to accept solar power from residential PV owners so they rig the rate with the help of their lobbyists

That data uses a common technique of renewable energy advocates of simply measuring greenhouse gases generated, without including toxic leaching from a lot of Chinese manufacturing techniques, mining, and end of life disposal.

Of course, as always, it doesn’t include the energy storage systems needed or include their effects on the market that widespread adoption would entail.

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Technically they’re not fuel cells but electrolyzers. Nobody serious is looking at fuel cells anymore.

Hydrogen actually has a shot, mainly because their hasn’t been the intense research for so long that there has been into other energy storage systems. ‘What if we had a magic battery?’ isn’t a new thought. Previous methods of manufacturing hydrogen have always been sufficient so there might be more room for advancement there.

If they get there, good for them, but I think it’s important to remember that all of these theoretical technological advances that could occur to make solar viable simply get solar a seat at the table and something to consider. Once it has a seat at the table it has to actually be the best, and the amount of disruption of land, waste materials, and costs of infrastructure changes seems to put it a disadvantage compared to putting some waste under Yucca Mountain.

Are you saying oil production doesn’t share these same possible problems? Are you saying coal mining is without environmental consequences? Certainly nuclear has a few end of life disposal issues.

Everything has end of life disposal issues. The difference with nuclear is that we already built infrastructure to deal with those issues.

The only reason we’re not using it is opposition from people who have no idea what they’re talking about and either cannot or will not do the math. We’re perfectly capable of dealing with radiation safely right now. If for some reason our species can’t deal with some radiation under a mountain in Nevada in a million years the human race will likely have other problems that will supersede that.

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