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Solar jobs cost the Earth

Climate Progress celebrates that the US solar sector employs more people than the US steel industry.

The math is fuzzy, at best. A fact even CP has to acknowledge:

A couple words of caution: These figures are comparing solar manufacturing, sales and installation to steel production alone. If one were to factor in products made from steel, the industry would be up around 160,000 workers.

In other words, they fudged the numbers to fit the agenda.  If it were a true comparison, their argument falls at the first hurdle, so they move the hurdle.  Hey, it’s climate science, fudging numbers is what they do.  But that’s not what this post is about.

It’s about efficiency.  Solar is an inefficient energy source, it’s an even less efficient source of jobs.

According to Wikipedia, World steel production was 1,413.6 million tonnes in 2010, of which the US produced 80.6 million tonnes.  That’s about 5.7% of world steel production.  Today, according to an industry website, the US steel sector employs 135,000 people and operates at between 70% to 80% production capacity.

It’s in the ballpark to say that 135,000 people accounted for 5.7% of global steel production last year (2010).  Not bad for a declining industry sector.

How does Solar match up?

According to Wikipedia, Global solar energy production was 40 GW, of which the US produced 2.5GW.  That’s around 6.25% of world solar energy produced.  According to CP, the US solar industry employs 93,500 workers. Solar PV’s have a typical conversion efficiency between 20% and 30%, depending on the technology and age of the unit.

Fantastic. America’s solar sector is comparable with steel as a percentage of world production, and it’s growing. Solar wins, right?

Wrong, because you can’t leave the comparison there.

Solar is a tiny percentage of total energy demanded and produced.  In fact, solar energy accounted for only 0.064% of total global electricity production in 2008.  In 2009, solar contributed 1% of America’s consumed electricity.

Only a hippie could celebrate the monstrous inefficiencies in employing nearly 100,000 people to produce only 1% of the nation’s power.  Instead of comparing solar power to steel, let’s compare it with coal, which has the same end output, energy.

Using the same source as above, coal produced about 21% of the nations electricity in 2009.  It employed about the same number of people as the steel industry (134,000). Quick and dirty summary:

  • 100,000 solar jobs = 1% total energy produced.
  • 134,000 coal jobs = 21% total energy produced.

That’s an efficiency gap greens can’t account for.  The coal and steel industries became far more efficient as they matured.  Solar panels may yet become more efficient, it’s possible they might attain 40% efficiency soon.  But they need to be replaced every 20 years, and they don’t make sense without generous subsidies.

CP may celebrate green jobs growth, but the figures show it to be a labor intensive sector, which means higher energy prices even before you factor in the cost of subsidies.  Climate Progress says ‘green jobs are real’, and they’re right.  Real and expensive.  Which is bad news for consumers, the economy and the planet.  Or did you forget that PV’s ain’t green?

Because math is hard, here’s a teacher.

Round-up tomorrow.

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