Monday, February 02, 2015

An excellent post from Noah Smith on why solar...

is going to beat out nuclear power.

Smith is a blogger who drives me nuts, in that he has really great posts followed by one's that give me severe agita. (I bet I am the same for many of my readers!) This is one of the good ones.

Distributists should certainly welcome this conclusion, but I think libertarians ought to as well: solar puts power (pun intended) in the hands of the individual, as opposed to nuclear, which can only be implemented by huge corporations, the very beasts who lobby the government for special economic favors.


  1. …which can only be implemented by huge corporations, the very beasts who lobby the government for special economic favors.

    I was having a discussion with another economist (you still count as one, right?) about definitions in the field and one of the ones came up was "rent seeking". I raised the point (I think a fair one) that the term is partly normative and may not be deserved in some situations. So what if it were the case that some the things corporations lobby for is something they should indeed get?

    1. I think you can define rent-seeking positively. In fact checking just now I find Wikipedia gives a good positive definition.

  2. You can't endorse a post that links to Vox to for any reason besides ridicule. It's just wrong. And I have to say this was a pretty weak claim without any hard information. I believe he's right, as far as he went, but he doesn't present much of an argument, mostly just signals to his tribe.

    Where he is pretty amusingly wrong is in the older article of his that he links to. Batteries are not going to replace oil in our lifetimes, or my children's. Scott Locklin did a nice job breaking this down a little while back:
    "Lead acid bateries are more like 66kj/lb, and the energizer bunny about 180kj/lb. Nickel Metal Hydride batteries are about 150kj/lb. The most insane kind of battery, which is also explosive (and low in current capacity), is lithium chloride; it stores about 900kj/lb. You can’t generally buy those unless you are NASA or a large industrial firm. By contrast, gasoline stores about 20,000kj/lb. This is why we do not use electric cars on a wide scale; you can store a lot more energy per pound of fuel in a gasoline car. Each gallon is about 6lbs. So a 12 gallon capacity is equal to to 10,000lbs of advanced batteries in terms of energy storage. The next time a hippy tells you “clean electric cars” were destroyed via a conspiracy of oil barons and auto executives, remind him it is really the laws of physics."
    "When someone is talking about a new scheme for “green” energy generation, contemplate energy density considerations. Does the energy come from a small place like an electric generator, or is it dispersed over a wide region, like a solar panel the size of Delaware? If the latter, there are hidden infrastructure costs the inventor isn’t telling you about. Is the energy stored as efficiently as hydrocarbons? If yes, well, that is an important breakthrough which makes all kinds of things possible. Energy density is a simple idea which sorts out lots of bullshit."

    I suppose we should appreciate Dr. Smith acknowledging that oil supplies are finite and if the developed world wants to continue living in the style it has become accustomed to, they'd better figure out how to replace it. That the other option, using less energy, and even using remaining oil reserves to become less oil dependent in the future, is not considered, is less forgivable.

    Also amusing, though understandable considering he is a member in good standing of the tribe of economists, is the excitement about the drop in the price of solar power, and the claim that it is driven by technological advances that have permanently changed the equation. As if price in the company scrip that passes for a sovereign currency is capable of providing a meaningful signal anymore (I exaggerate, slightly). The solar industry is not self-supporting, it needs global supply chains to function at the scale required to achieve its current output, and so it needs oil, or a sufficiently concentrated alternative.


The insidious ideology

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