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Paul Krugman writes: "We are, or at least we should be, on the cusp of an energy transformation, driven by the rapidly falling cost of solar power. That's right, solar power."

Portrait, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, 06/15/09. (photo: Fred R. Conrad/NYT)
Portrait, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, 06/15/09. (photo: Fred R. Conrad/NYT)

Here Comes the Sun

By Paul Krugman, The New York Times

07 November 11

For decades the story of technology has been dominated, in the popular mind and to a large extent in reality, by computing and the things you can do with it. Moore's Law - in which the price of computing power falls roughly 50 percent every 18 months - has powered an ever-expanding range of applications, from faxes to Facebook.

Our mastery of the material world, on the other hand, has advanced much more slowly. The sources of energy, the way we move stuff around, are much the same as they were a generation ago.

But that may be about to change. We are, or at least we should be, on the cusp of an energy transformation, driven by the rapidly falling cost of solar power. That's right, solar power.

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+78 # BradFromSalem 2011-11-07 12:39
I constantly hear over and over how the cost of clean energy is too expensive, and not only that wind mills are dangerous eyesores that make noise.

But not a one of these naysayers will admit to the true cost of burning carbon based fuels or of boiling water with nuclear bombs. We need a real department of Energy with a plan to pick any non polluting energy source as winner. One way is to impose a tax on the polluters. The tax include, the cost of transporting fuel, health care, dirty site cleanup, and so on. If any of the renewable sources create unpaid costs, tax them too. But at the same time invest tons of $$ in materials science and other field that will reap the full potential of renewable, non-polluting energy sources.

Imagine a car, all electric, that plugs into the grid to recharge and not a drop of poison added to our air, not a single chemical left in the ground, and not single person sick from the power you consumed driving that car to work every day.
-5 # Doubter 2011-11-07 14:14
Depends on how you power the grid.
+24 # BradFromSalem 2011-11-07 14:47
You power the grid by non polluting renewables. Duh!
+5 # wipster 2011-11-07 15:41
You stole my line... LOL! I agree completely.
+5 # Doubter 2011-11-07 15:51
generating plants that produce electricity from combustible fuels (coal, natural gas, biomass) or non-combustible fuels (wind, solar, nuclear, hydro power)

Exactly. Depends on how you power the grid!
+6 # jerryball 2011-11-07 17:06
What are you doubting? Your perception skills? Non-polluting such as solar. There is not enough water for hydro, nuclear is proving too dangerous, wind has not enough return. Solar is the topic of the article. Solar it is. See, ...simple.
+10 # doneasley 2011-11-07 22:51
It is said that the sun imparts enough energy each day to power the earth's needs for an entire year. Work is being done at MIT to develop methods of storing solar energy - but, of course, no one's paying attention. Our politics have prohibited us from investing in the industries that will harness that energy. So rather than leading the world in solar development, we're buying solar panels from China. And, speaking of "imposing a tax on the polluters", President Bush rescinded the requirement for polluters to pay compensation into the Superfund - polluters who had damaged our air, soil, and waterways. As usual, he volunteered the taxpayer to be responsible for his irresponsible industrial buddies.
+5 # Daveherbs 2011-11-08 14:17
there is a large effort to be where we need to be according to your comment. Some have the vision, others are corrupted by the Kochs of the world, which is what the uprising is all about.
+30 # banichi 2011-11-07 13:24
The oil/gas/nuclear industry will continue to beat the drum of their industry, because it keeps the profits rolling in for the wealthiest 1% and the corporations and banks that serve them. They can't do anything else, except to lie and exaggerate about how much they support alternative fuels, energy, etc. They don't.

LiberalLibertar ian is right - the only thing I would add to his statement is that my vision is of one where houses, apartment buildings, and skyscrapers are powered by solar, wind, and other alternative sources, and do not need a grid to power them.

That would be true energy independence.

The grid and its conceptual lock on the vision of power generation and delivery is inextricably tied to the economics of oil, coal, gas and nuclear energy - not even nuclear fusion which would be true 'clean' nuclear energy.

Can we do this? Yes. And - no one has yet shown me a comparison of the costs of building a nuclear plant vs. an equivalent amount spent on building solar, wind, tidal, and so forth and the energy each would deliver, much less the downsides of each.
+14 # BradFromSalem 2011-11-07 14:50
I agree completely. The grid can be local and as small as a single device, home or neighborhood. As well as an entire city.

Old ways have gotten us into a fine mess. Everything clean is on the table.
+11 # wipster 2011-11-07 15:26
I too agree. I envy the folks that have not only made their homes energy independent, but also sell power back to the grid... why can't whole communities be built that way?
+9 # ABen 2011-11-08 11:59
Put a 5Kw solar array on my roof last year. I am still tied to the grid, solar doesn't work after dark, but now I produce around 80% of what I use. The panels are made by an American company (stipulated in contract) and panels are guaranteed to perform at no less than 85% of rated power for 25 years. The system was initially expensive, but will be a great long-term investment.
+18 # tuandon 2011-11-07 13:25
We are not going to change as long as men like Tom Corporate is Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He and his cronies are the hacks Mr. Krugman refers to in the article. These people have prostituted themselves to Big Business, and the Devil take the rest of us.
-59 # Robt Eagle 2011-11-07 13:44
So then how come there are companies like Solyndra going out of business so readily? And if we were completely off coal and oil for fuel, how about all the plastic that is manufacturered, that comes from oil, you know? Heavy equipment can not run on solar, wind or geo thermal...and there is a lot of heavy equipment in the US. If the US doesn't start drilling in Alaska and off our shores, we will be bankrupted all by itself by policy of our oil production internally, let alone by the Obama Administration' s bad policies on all other fronts. We MUSt get rid of Obama and Holder or we are doomed to failure as a nation and completely lose our position on this planet as an economic main stay.
+31 # Reductio Ad Absurdum 2011-11-07 14:19
What a crock of doodle-doo!

You paint a sky-will-fall-s cenario about the transition to intelligent energy. While you and your ilk cling to your buggy whips and refuse to enter the future — let alone the present — other countries are getting a huge head start, because they have visionary governments, not governments like ours controlled by regressive Republicans who want to drag us backwards at every single turn.

Get this through your head — OIL IS DEAD! America is decades behind this reality, thanks to scoffers like you.
+7 # Uncle Joe 2011-11-07 16:52
while traveling with my teenage daughter recently I pointed out a vanity license plate "I 'heart'COAL". So she asks me, just what does that mean? My reply: This persons money has been invested in the coal energy and since he has not diversified he must cling to the idea that it's just wonderful, while everything downwind is getting more than their share of mercury and we are all getting a healthy does of carbon. It's a mind set; refusing to be wrong, so just get a gun and shoot your fourth grade teacher for failing you in critical thinking!
+5 # tonenotvolume 2011-11-07 23:29
"so just get a gun and shoot your fourth grade teacher for failing you in critical thinking! Wow! Is that your anti-public school, anti-teacher, anti-union side peeking out or just an unfortunate combination of words? I hope you didn't share that with your teenage daughter or that you explained your words more clearly.
+21 # joyster 2011-11-07 14:32
Ever here of the Commodore Computer or the Edsel, or (insert high tech failure here)? What's I've read is that the solar industry is changing rapidly and if your technology isn't competitive you can be toast pretty quickly. That's why there is government funding of R&D in areas like solar - to take some of the risk and help the industry get up to speed. Just like the EU and China do. Solyndra bet on the wrong tech and it didn't pan out... How this gets you to drilling offshore and us being doomed is a logic trail I can't follow.
+17 # She Cee 2011-11-07 14:12
The government subsidizes an industry, oil, via a depreciating allowance. To my knowledge, no other business receives such an allowance and I'm sure many small businesses would benefit from a depreciating allowance. Instead, they would probably be told to diversify so they would not become obsolete.

The oil industry has known for years that oil would run out someday but instead of diversifying, they keep coming up with methods for extracting oil that are very toxic to our environment.

Why aren't they being told to diversify? They have had years to research and come up with cleaner sources for energy. They can make money with these just as they do from oil extraction, and without polluting the environment.

Where are their brains?

Answer: They are most likely sitting on them.

If I believed in God I would say,"God help us". But this god obviously doesn't give a rat 's ass, quite obvious from the way he is treating "his children" and the earth. It's almost like he is sitting up there and enjoying a cock fight down below, enjoying the horrors down below.

Maybe the 99ers will save us.
+7 # wipster 2011-11-07 15:24
I am so glad to see someone finally write this! I thought the big oil and gas companies were in business too make money... surely they can see that their main product is running out! A smart business person would see the handwriting on the wall and do everything possible to diversify and help invent a product to take it's place. It's like the person said above, just what could be done with solar, tidal, wind, magnetism, et al, with just the money spent on one nuclear plant? And don't get me wrong, I'm not necessarily anti-nuke, but if I had my choice I would far rather invest on something that is 100% safe and wouldn't hurt the environment. I hope the results of the study financed by the Kochers helps to finally convince the 1%er's that climate change is real and we have got to stop using petroleum-based products and that includes plastics... just look in the north and south Pacific to see the mess we've made and will have to clean up before every creature that lives in the ocean is dead.
-1 # phantomww 2011-11-08 09:26
She Cee, you obviously know nothing of taxes. ALL business can depreciate equipment they buy. And to further show that you know nothing of tax law what you probably mean is called depletion not depreciation. The oil industry is NOT the only industry that has depletion. The timber industry also has it. depletion is also allowed for mining (gold, silver, copper, iron ore, clay, gravel, borax etc).
As for oil running out? Not in our lifetime although people have been saying that since the early 1900's when the PA oil fields started to run out. We keep finding more.
+19 # Lolanne 2011-11-07 14:16
Krugman does a service (actually, he always does) in sounding off about this drop in solar energy costs. The public needs to know exactly what is happening in the realms of energy: that fossil fuels are firmly entrenched because they have bought and paid for our legislators. It's just got to stop, before we have no water fit to drink left. If you have not seen the movie "Gasland" please do so. It is available on Netflix or for purchase from for about $16.50. Once you've seen it, you will understand that fracking is the most evil practice to come out of the oil industry since it began. Even if they were made to "pay for" the damage they do, it is impossible to bring back our source of clean drinking water once it has been totally contaminated, not only with the oil from leaking pipes but from all the extremely harmful chemicals used in fracking. As the movie brings out, this is all due to Cheney and his gang setting energy policy that exempted the oil and gas industry from the then existing regulations against water pollution. These people are truly evil. I do not understand how they can stand to look at their sorry faces in the mirror.
+7 # Okieangels 2011-11-07 16:41
We just had a couple of earthquakes in Oklahoma this weekend, the second one causing damage to some buildings. There's already speculation that these earthquakes may have been caused by fracking.
-4 # phantomww 2011-11-08 09:27
Maybe it is because of climate change. Maybe the earth has gotten so hot that it is expanding and that has caused the earthquake. CA is hot so that must be why there are earthquakes there also.
+11 # panhead49 2011-11-07 14:20
Mr. Eagle - Solyndra was a day late and a dollar short - just like this country. It's not that we can't do it. We can - it's just that our corporate overlords DON'T want us to do it. Heavy equipment can be run on cleaner biofuels for start ups and like a semi tractor/trailer - once it has started moving, it's pretty easy to keep it moving with solar.

There is no reason to have to import any oil from any other country if we'd just step up to the bat. We know we can do it - look what we did at the beginning of WWII.

The hard part of this battle is the stick-in-the-mu d (or last century) mindsets such as yours. Like Iaccoca said "Lead, follow or get out of the way".
+13 # Rita Walpole Ague 2011-11-07 14:51
True story, folks. It was 2008, and a friend and I cruised my trawler south, slowly of course.

A $25 solar lantern saved the boat and our hides too. The anchor light suddenly burned out, after we had set the hook in what we thought was an out of the way inlet. I grabbed the lantern (it charges up even on an overcast day, and stays usable for some time) and attached it high on the mast after I'd turned it on.

The lantern stayed on all night, warning what turned out be a totally unexpected number of work boats that we were anchored in their regular routes.

Cannot even begin to say what a devoted fan of solar I became that night, as time and again we were rocked by passing boats and barges, who missed us with our solar lantern saving us that night.

And, save us solar will, when we get out of spoil with oil, frack and whack, etc., all profit and more profit for the evil villainaires, and fouling for our lands and lungs.
+2 # tclose 2011-11-07 15:46
I hope that Prof Krugman is right about the impending parity of solar compared to oil. But he does not show any figures or give any references that do. From what I have read, we still have a way to go before we achieve parity; and it has to be kept in mind that solar is only producing when the sun is shining and requires backup storage for when it is not. I think it will eventually get there, but do not believe that to be the case in the next few years. In the meantime, solar will have to be subsidized as its use will be of benefit even before it reaches parity: in reduced oil consumption from foreign sources, in reduced pollution and CO2 emissions, etc.

Prof. Krugman - please cite your sources.
0 # Tburger 2011-11-07 19:52
How about a report on GE's solar program in Forbes?
+6 # giraffee2012 2011-11-07 18:35
There is only one problem here - if it's a problem - These "lower costing" solar energy panels are coming from China - and putting some of OUR plants out of business.

But, the good news is that as soon as we put a tax the imports equally with the what we pay (They pay 2% and we pay about 22% -- may not have right %)

President Obama is looking better by the day --- Register early - and help get the minorities, old, anyone without an ID - registered and ALL Dems get mail-in ballots.

Go Ohio, Go Wisconsin, Go OWS, Go Dems (until we get a 3rd party)

NEVER vote for a Republican (Stolen from BarbaraK) Vote in the most important election to date: 2012

Don't know about you but I don't want to live under 3rd world rules for the middle/lower class people while the Koch brothers, GE, BofA, etc gain monumental amounts of $$$ by the lobbying the Norquist CULT (yes, I call them a cult -- a bunch of biggots who want to be KING)
+4 # GrandmaJ 2011-11-08 18:39
I wonder if it has occurred to others that fossil fuels ARE stored solar energy. Plants & animals derive their energy from the sun. We just need to find a better way to collect and store that energy that doesn't pollute the earth, and won't run out eventually.
0 # Marjory Munson 2011-11-09 07:04
I said many years ago, "If MG&E (our local electric company) could put a meter on the sun, we would have had solar power long before now."
+1 # Texan 4 Peace 2011-11-10 20:57
Doubter & Libertarian,
that's the car I have now: Nissan Leaf -- runs off my house current, which is powered by the solar panels on my roof. Love it.

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