Tonapah Solar Energy was operating a thermal solar energy plant that used molten salt to store energy so that the plant could operate 24/7. The plant never managed to produce the expected annual output. In fact it never produced that expected yearly output over its entire life. This is another Obama-Era "Renewable Energy" failure like the infamous Solyndra.

California has some photovoltaic solar plants that produce a significant amount of electricity, but that electricity is non-dispatchable. That electricity is produced when the sun is shining and demand is low, but nothing in the late afternoon when demand is high. The site linked to below has charts which show the electricity production in California during the winter and during the summer of 2020. With a lot of natural gas plant production it works reasonably well. But, to go to entirely renewable energy the amount of solar would have to be more or less tripled, and storage of electricity would have to be added to provide electricity at night. Notice that in winter solar only produces about two-thirds as much electricity as it does in Summer, so long-term as well as overnight storage would be necessary. That could be done with batteries, but the battery storage would significantly increase the cost of electricity produced. One estimate of the energy storage required to meet the United States' electricity demand solely with wind and solar electricity is 300 billion kWh. At a price of $50 per kWh, far below the current battery price, it would cost $15 trillion for the batteries. And the batteries have to be thermally controlled, which would add to the cost and to energy requirement. The batteries have a life of 10 to 12 years, so the $15 trillion investment would come up periodically. In short, fully renewable electricity will be expensive.

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Anytime an anti-solar piece pops up that mentions President Obama or Solyndra, you can bet it is an "opinion" piece with an agenda as opposed to a strictly factual analysis.  Solyndra is old news and has zero relevance in the present.  When any technology is in early stage growth, there are missteps and failures.  If those were disqualifying we would not be seeing the continued investment in renewable energy sources, private and public. 

Solar plus storage is already cost competitive, and in some cases cheaper, than combined cycle natural gas power plants in some portions of the country.  Natural gas missed its window of opportunity to become the long term predominant replacement for coal fired power plants when conservatives defeated the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.  At that point in time renewables were not cost competitive and natural gas was the clear and obvious alternative to coal fired generation.  Partisanship killed the CPP and inadvertently created an opportunity for renewables to continue to evolve to the point where many are now scalable and cost competitive depending on location. In the next few years location will largely not matter.  The clear preference by states, regulators and utilities for the lowest carbon power source is now creating a serious challenge for natural gas.  It didn't have to happen.

well, the article presents facts that were presented in Court, so I don't think we can dismiss this episode because the buzzwords "Obama" and "Solyndra" were used.  The company building the plant clearly had numerous technical problems, and it was and is a "bust" (how's that for a technical term?)

However, I strongly disagree with the closing paragraph and conclusion of the article.  The federal government has always taken chances and invested in new technologies, which sometimes work out and sometimes don't.  When acid rain became a huge issue decades ago, the Reagan Administration funded a wide range of new technologies for removing Sulphur dioxide and monoxide from coal fired power plant stacks.  Some of those new technologies worked out, and "scrubbers" helped clean up the air and extended the life of the coal industry and allowed utilities (paid for by consumers) to extend the life of their power plants.  OF course, some of those technologies that were a part of that plan (synfuels) didn't work out, but that doesn't mean that the government was wrong in providing that support.  For all of these projects, there are private parties (investors) who are putting "skin in the game" in addition to any taxpayer funding. so these projects are just boondoggles.   

I don't know if the Tonapah  plant was poorly designed or poorly built (or both), and it's a shame that taxpayer funds turned out to not be a good investment, but, to me, that doesn't mean that the federal government doesn't stop trying to move forward new innovations

Steve, I dismiss the article for being irrelevant to the current state of renewable energy technology.  A decade old project has zero relation to solar projects today except of course to provide partisans with an opportunity to bash old boogie men.  Sad but par for the course.

As to the quote from the Powerline Blog, I offer the following.  Emphasis added is my own.

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well, the story first quoted is from the WSJ, less that a week ago.  The article was about a particular project, partially financed by DOE, that didn't work out and cost taxpayers money.  Those are facts that are neither right nor left.  Just facts.  As I read the article, the point that the writer seemed to be making was that the federal government shouldn't be spending taxpayer dollars on unproven technologies (in this case, molten salt for storage).  That's the point in the article I disagree with - the government SHOULD be supporting untested technologies.  As I mentioned in my post, it wouldn't hurt if there was a behind the scenes review to see just what went wrong with the project - poor theory, poor design, poor construction, or poor operation.  Or all of the above.  DOE should have the expertise to lift the hood and find out.  If it was a poor theory or poor design, then shame on DOE for approving the project to start with.

But the federal government still has a role to play in supporting research and testing new technologies.

It is questionable if we would have the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracture tech without government funding.  I don't know how the Energy Administration kept up the funding for renewable energy technology but under this executive administration that was a feat.  Hopefully it will pay dividends.  I agree.

My interest in addressing the partisan slant of the post is that obstructionist politics based on misinformation and an "us against them" mindset can have unintended and detrimental consequences.  The failure to support and implement the Clean Power Program ultimately was a great disservice to the natural gas portion of the industry and the Haynesville royalty owners who have seen their revenue severely impacted. Imagine where we would be today if the CPP has served to eliminate coal fired generation on an aggressive time line with something close to 100% of that capacity being replaced by combined cycle natural gas fired generation.  It was a huge missed opportunity.  And the impact continues into the present.

Actually, every budget that this administration submitted to Congress included sharp reductions in renewable energy research.  But like every budget that every administration submits to Congress, it is only partly responsible for the final appropriations bills that Congress passes.  So, the budgets for all energy research has remained robust over the past 4 years.


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