I have heard a lot of buzz lately about “net zero” houses, but I am wondering what people think of the idea in general. I think I understand the concept, but I wonder about the execution. Setting aside the carbon footprint issues, I wonder about the basic approach to producing energy to heat, cool, and light the house.
I have studied superinsulated houses, and have even built one. And I know that when they first emerged the 1980s in Canada, they were said to not need a furnace or heater. This claim was made on the basis that the houses were so highly insulated that they would be heated by lighting, cooking, body heat, and other incidental heat sources.
I find that claim to be dubious. My house is insulated to over four times typical R-value, and during Minnesota winters, I cannot imagine living without a furnace. I figure that a superinsulated house can cut the heating energy input to maybe 25% of what is typical for equivalent normally insulated house.
So, it would seem that a net zero house, even if highly insulated, would require a substantial amount of energy input. Achieving this much heating energy input plus all of the electrical input from on-site production strike me a nearly impossible challenge. In a typical Minnesota winter with lots of dark, snowy days, it seems like it would require huge investment to get enough solar array to even begin to produce the needed heat and electricity.
So how do people make this work?
Dunno about true "net zero"
Dunno about true "net zero" homes (which, as I understand it, can achieve zero external heating load using solar collectors, solar-powered geothermal, etc), but Habitat here a dozen years back built some "super insulated" homes that (at least in theory) required only a small space heater. Unfortunately, they were found to be uninHabitatible, due to the tiny windows and several other features required to reach that degree of heat retention, so the scheme was dropped.
I too find the concept of true "net zero" construction to be a bit silly, except for those End Timers who want to go "off-grid" to save them from whatever the Coming Disaster is. It's better to strike a compromise -- achieve good energy efficiency, add whatever on-site generation is economically and ecologically efficient, but don't strive for zero.
My understanding is that "net
My understanding is that "net zero" applies to the balance of energy use vs energy generation for the year, because, as you say, during the cold and dark of winter, the house would use more energy than it could produce.
Depends on the climate
A net-zero house is unlikely to be built in all climates. It is going to be much easier to achieve in a mild climate - a climate where the exterior temperature norms are closer to the desired interior temperatures year round.
If you build a well insulated air sealed house in a mild climate, equip it with an air source heat pump, install enough PV to over generate your electrical loads in the summer - feeding power back into the grid such that the overall yearly use is zero then you are all set.
You might have a hard time doing this in Minnesota but it could still be possible with a ground source heat pump.
GreenBuildingAdvisor is a pretty great site, often linked to from FHB. They have a decent 3 part story about net zero energy homes.
I think you're right, it is impossible. There are very few places in the US that combine enough annual hours of sunlight falling on PV panels to offset use and yet are not so hot and humid that they require A/C to make the house liveable. And of course you have to ignore the massive costs of installing PV in the first place unless you can force the other taxpayers, the ones who can't use PV at all, to, share in your PV costs through tax writeoffs and rebates. I'm all for tight, well insulated houses but at some point you reach a tipping point and makes the houses so expensive the average person can't afford them. If the average home buyer can't afford super tight construction, more insulation, heat exchangers, solar water panels, PV panels, triple paned windows, etc, etc. then it's all just an exercise in futility single most home buyers are 'average."
I noticed the LEED house that won so many state and National awards, I think it was in Oakland, year before last, didn't reduce energy consumption at all, it just switched from electric to all gas and used more energy than it did before it was LEED certified. I'd call that a scam.
I read that blog piece in Green Energy Advisor, but it seems to confirm my general perception that this net zero movement is long on rhetoric and short on substance. Every sentence of explanation in that piece seems to leave me hanging with ten more questions that it raises, but does not address.
I notice that the net zero movement puts a lot of emphasis on tight buildings. But tight is easy compared to reducing heat loss by the use of insulation. I don’t see any specifics about insulation. They just say the building should be well insulated.
They say that a well insulated house will require 40,000-70,000 btu/sf/year to heat. They say a superinsulated house will require 40,000-60,000. Then they somehow conclude that in relation to better windows, and eliminating thermal bridging, it gets down to 15,000. Then they say the standard for Passivehaus is less than 7500. Superinsulation standards call for high performance windows, minimizing window area, and reducing thermal bridging. So if superinsulated standards are at 40,000, how does Passivhaus get down to 7500?
To just build a superinsulated house costs more than conventional construction, but there has to be some sense of the payback. I just don’t see any clear accounting of the payback or even the performance with these net zero houses.
Tight is better than insulated
Air tightness is more important that insulataion, both are important but tightness is more important. I am not sure why you say that building tight is easy. Very few building built today are very air tight. Really the only way to achieve an air tight building is by the use of spray foam and most building do not have all exterior wall with a 2" coating probably due to cost. Just look at the design of the thermos as an example. Very little insulation but very air tight and they maintain the warmth of the liquid for very long periods of time. Though I suppose you could consider the vacuum as insulation (there are vacuum panels available for houses, draw back is they fail).
Why do you think tight is easy compared to insulating?
Insulate like a pro is a great book that talks about air sealing, insulation and weatherizing. Exterior doors and windows are almost never installed properly or even manufactered to perform well. I have 3x glazed windows unfortunately I was too cheap to opt for fiberglass frames and I have metal frames. The metal frames sweat in the winter in order to deal with the sweat, the windows are drilled at the factor with weep holes. The holes allow water that forms on the inside to flow outside, they also allow some air to come in when the hole is not occupied by water. Exterior doors are so notoriously bad - even brand new ones - that some companies are able to market properly made door sweeps that are descibed as improving the performance of your door by 20%.
The 3 part blog series is by a group of architects so it is going to be a little bit short on building specifics after all they aren't builders.
Net zero has nothing to do with payback and it will be more expensive. I wouldn't expect a payback in less than 100 years for a net zero house if ever. Some things are possible to achieve a payback but they seem to be few and far between when it comes to energy efficiency. High efficiently furnace, tankless water heater, better windows, solar panels - none of these will payback very quickly if ever if you are replacing what you already have and consider the installation costs.
I haven't read enough on the passive haus movement to tell you how they achieve the 7500 btu/sf/year.
You raise some good points and questions. I understand your point about payback never being there with net zero. The objective of net zero is to have zero impact on the environment, and that may indeed be an additional net cost indefinitely over traditional building.
When I said achieving airtight construction is easier than insulation, I realize that both air sealing and insulation are difficult to execute, and perfect air sealing may be more difficult than simply installing insulation. But this is what I meant: With air sealing, the objective can be accomplished 100% with enough care and diligence. And the air infiltration can me measured to prove that it is 100% sealed. But with insulation, the insulating effect can never reach 100% because of diminishing returns and because of the inherent need for windows, which bring down the total R-value even with maximum practical insulation.
And as I mentioned in another thread, although I realize the importance of air sealing in reducing heat loss, I feel that it is being overemphasized to some extent lately. I have heard and read statements that seem to indicate a belief that if you just plug up all the air leaks you will solve the problem of heat loss. It seems to downplay or even disregard the fact that heat is lost by conduction through walls and roofs, and only insulation can reduce that loss.
You mention the thermos bottle as an example of minimal insulation and maximum air sealing, but then as you conclude, the thermos bottle has to be sealed in order to achieve a vacuum, and then that vacuum when combined with the anti-radiant, mirror surface, amounts to a very high degree of insulation.
I understand your point about very few buildings being built airtight. However, I disagree that the only way to achieve airtightness is with foam. Foam may achieve that, but there are potential pitfalls to that objective. The foam needs to be installed without any leaks, and there must be assurance that foam does not crack or separate from structural members due to shrinkage of either the foam or the lumber. Also, when foam is used as flash coat to stop air infiltration and to replace the warm side film vapor barrier, the foam thickness is minimized to only what it takes to keep the interior wall temperature above the dewpoint. So in cold climates, this hair splitting over using just enough foam, but not too much leaves the vapor control on rather thin ice.
Unless I was using a foam contractor that I trusted to do the job right, I would not consider using foam. And I would not want to go the trouble of finding a reliable contractor just to put in a flash coat because not only would that be a relatively small foam job, but also, the foam performance and quality control for a flash coat is especially critical.
My preference is to use fiberglass batts, blown fiberglass, or blown cellulous. And with those, I would use house wrap to control air infiltration and a film vapor barrier on the warm side to prevent outward vapor migration. I would use a higher quality vapor barrier polyethylene film than what is typical, and make sure it is entirely sealed. I would use walls thicker than 2 x 6, and would set the vapor barrier 1 ½” outward from the interior side by adding 2 x 2s onto the inner sides of the studs. The vapor barrier would be sandwiched between the 2 x 2s and the studs. I would also use polyurethane adhesive in this sandwich to level up the clamping effect. The sheetrock screws would not even reach the plane of the vapor barrier. Then I would run the electrical in the 1 ½” un-insulated air space created by the 2 x 2s. All seems would be under these battened joints in the corners, and also where they may happen to occur in field of the walls or ceiling.
For windows and doors, I would look for the best sealing and best built products, but I have not looked enough to know what specific products I would use. This is all part of what I would call a superinsulated approach, which is what I would build if I build house.
How would you attach the 2x2s to the studs such that you aren't perforating the vb? When you say higher than normal, normal is 60 mil, is there something specific you've looked at that is better?
So you'd run the ele in the 1 1/2" space, also the smallest depth of an electrical box - is that the idea?
Why would you go with fiberglass over rockwool? rockwool doesn't degrade when it is wet, can't be burtn by a blow torch and is less likely to be a human made fiber that is potentially dangerous in the lungs.
Yes you have to be careful and about who you hire and how good their job is but vb likely has some down falls as well. The fastner holes from the 2x2 to the studs, if there is settling in the future it could rip (not that foam isn't just as likely to crack). Plastic can degrade overtime, the plastics that were used as part of the space program in the 60s that form a lot of the astronaut gear in the smithsonian have been shown to be much less stable than predicted and in some cases have started returning to their liquid state. Who knows how long vb will last, how stable it is - though you could say the same for the foam.
Thanks for the discussion !
Generally, I don’t think screw piercing the vapor barrier creates a leak. I believe that the polyethylene stretches open to accommodate the screw (or nail) and retains memory that wants to close the pierced hole to a diameter smaller than the penetrating screw. So that retained closing force seals off the film around the penetrating screw. The main source of a breach with sheetrock screws would be when they miss the framing, piece the vapor barrier, and then are withdrawn and repositioned to hit the framing.
I want to make sure the vapor barrier is fully clamped off at each stud, so I would apply a bead of polyurethane between the 2 x 2 and the poly. Then as the 2 x 2 is screwed down, the resistance from the glue squeeze-out would flatten the poly down tight to any ups and downs of the stud surface. This stabilizes the film against any side shifting that might pull the film and tear it around the screw penetrations. The tightly clamped seal extending the full length of the stud will further assure that the screw piercings are sealed. With the sealed clamp-off, the screw hole through the film could be larger than the screw and it would still seal off around the penetration.
Once the vapor barrier and 2 x 2s are in place, the sheet-rocking process will be further away from the vapor barrier than usual, so there will be less potential for damage to the film from positioning the sheet rock. And if any screws miss the 2 x 2, they will not reach the film.
I am not sure what you mean by 60-mil polyethylene. Do you mean 6 mils? A mil is .001”, and 6 mils thick is common. I would use either a reinforced polyethylene 10-15 mils thick, or a thicker non-reinforced film. There are quite a variety of films available for vapor barriers, and under-slab moisture barriers. The latter could be used for a vapor barrier. I would have to look at sheet sizes and pricing to decide for sure. But, in any case, I would opt for something better than typical 6-mil poly.
One thing I would want to steer clear of is polyethylene that has much, if any, slip on it. Slip is an animal fat that is used in the manufacturing process, and it can be so prominent that it rubs off the film and gets on your skin or anything that touches it. And it smells like the alley behind a “greasy spoon.” I am not completely sure how to avoid slip, but it seems to be more associated with 6-mil and under. It might have something to do with how much virgin resin is used to make the film. I believe that the amount of virgin resin tends to rise with the thicker films. I would do a little research on the longevity of the film, but my understanding is that plastic degradation is negligible if there is any at all.
I would run the electrical using 1 ½” deep boxes. I do not want the cables and boxes to penetrate the vapor barrier and have to seal around them. I don’t want cables in the insulation cavity that would require working around them in placing insulation. The electrical cavity could be made deeper to avoid some minor complications in protecting cable and using the thin boxes. However, there is a lot of area to that cavity, and the electrical service only requires a small part of it. And it will not be insulated. So I would want to minimize the volume of the cavity to minimize unused space by keeping the cavity as thin as possible.
I don’t know anything about rock wool, so I guess I will look into it. I know that there was some controversy about fiberglass causing cancer, but I am not convinced that that is a problem, and not worried about it. Once it is installed, it will be encapsulated from the living space. I have the impression that the cancer charge was somewhat trumped up by the fiberglass competitors.
I would run the electrical using 1 ½” deep boxes.
I think you should leave that to the electricians. Using a 1.5" box for anything other than a simple outlet is both a PITA and a probable code violation.
1-1/2" Electrical Space
Yes, I am really not sure what all would be involved with using 1-1/2" boxes. I know there would be some issues about protecting the cables. I did ask the state board of electricity about providing only a 1-1/2" deep cavity and using 1-1/2" boxes just to make sure it was doable. They told me it was, and 1-1/2" would be the absolute minimum. We went over the options for meeting code with protecting the cables, and I made some sketches, but I have not really work this out entirely. I am expecting that using a 1-1/2" cavity will be more difficult than a wider cavity.
It's not a matter of protecting the cables (though that's a separate issue) -- it's about cramming the wires into the box. There's a legal and practical limit as to how many wires can be crammed into a single box.
I am aware of that issue of the number of wires in a box. But I have no idea of what problem will be encountered when using 1-1/2" deep boxes. It does not seem like there should be insurmountable problems. If a box is shallow, can't they make up for that by increasing the other two dimensions to achieve the needed volume? Surely the industry offers a workable approach to this shallow cavity.
However, if not, I would provide fat spots in the wall for outlets and switches. But, I do not want to include the wiring within the insulation cavity. A lot of wiring will be in the interior partition where there will be no issue.
air infiltration and r-value
Air infiltration and R-value are equally important components to a house's envelope. They both contribute to the effective R-value of the envelope. They go hand in hand.
If you have a distrust of foam, then go with cellulose. Dense-packed cells. They'll prvide you with great R-value and superior air sealing, or resistance to air infiltration, the latter being superior to the inherent air movement you'll get through FG batting. Not as good as foam, but far better than FG.
Your framing bays will still have thermal bridging from the studs. So take all the lumber and all the labor that you'd use by "laminating" your vapor barrier within the wall cavity and instead run the 2-by strapping perpendicular to the studs. You'll then cut thermal bridging to a fraction of what is was previously.
Mike Smith photos:
Eliminate your poly. The dens-packed cells can hold and release moisture vapor as needed. Your interior paint can be your vapor retarder.
Nert Zero? Let's take that down a notch for now.
It's fairly easy to build a well-detailed and well insulated framing envelope without running construction costs through the roof. To take that wood structure to the next level requires thoughtful selection of windows and doors. That's where costs can increase. But you can still install "basic" double-pane, low-e, etc, windows in a well insulated wood envelope. THEN if you want to go beyond that you can address the house's mechanicals, etc. Then beyind that you can address on-site energy generation.
But it all starts with a well-detailed envelope, and honestly, that's really within the realm of any construction budget.
But there's no reason that anyone these days should be building a house with "just basic fiberglass insulation". It's an insulation that's almost always poorly installed, and as a result, it's an insulation that almost always performs poorly. Never mind the
"theoretical R-value" of your 3" or 7" or 25" of fiberglass batting. When the wind whistles through it, the effective R-value drops considerably.
Use DP cells. Use closed-cell foam.
I agree with most of what you are saying, but not quite all of it. I am interested in energy efficient housing for the purpose of lowering the operating cost. So I am focusing on superinsulation with all of its attributes including airtight construction, perfect air and vapor barriers, cold side ventilation for roof insulation and walls, compact form and layout, simple roof design, high performance doors and windows, air-to-air heat exchanger, and open plan. I have built one house with these features, and am designing another one incorporating the best attributes and practical experience of the first one.
The new design is developed on Solidworks Cad with every piece individually modeled in 3D. I have a cut list, so I can make the parts without even stopping to think what they are for or how they install. This new design effort is intended to go beyond just building another house for myself, so I am studying it as intensely as I can. I certainly do want to hear all viewpoints on it.
As I mentioned elsewhere, I have ruled out spray foam, and am considering blown fiberglass, blown cellulose, and fiberglass batts. My preference leans toward the batts. I agree that it takes effort to install them correctly. And I would say that most of the time, they are not installed properly. A lot of installers seem to regard batts a shapeless mass than can be molded to fit into any shape of space. Whereas, proper installation requires batts to be cut and fitted with the care as though one were building a wooden cabinet.
There is competition between the different types of insulation, and I believe that fiberglass batts in particular have been denigrated in order to give advantage to newer, higher cost insulation, especially spray foam. For instance, I have heard people say that fiberglass offers no insulation effect at all because air can move through it. I have also heard it said that fiberglass always causes mold.
I conclude that if fiberglass is installed with proper vapor control and protection from exterior moisture penetration, it will not get wet, and no mold will grow. And with the proper anti-air infiltration barrier, air movement will not degrade the fiberglass R-value. Some say that even with an air barrier, air can convect within fiberglass, and thus degrade the insulation from its rated performance. I consider that to be more anti fiberglass propaganda. There may be some convection, but that is accounted for in the performance rating. And the point of fiberglass is to encapsulate air in order to prevent convection. The bogus claim that fiberglass offers no resistance to convection because its cells are open could just as well apply to open-cell foam.
I have heard the claims that cellulose can be so dense that vapor cannot penetrate it because vapor only moves as a component of air, and air cannot penetrate the dense cellulose. And if vapor does get into cellulose and condenses, the cellulose has a relatively large capacity to wick up moisture and hold it, so it can gradually be released back into the living space. I can see how that might happen, but it seems like way too much threading of the needle to expect a consistently ideal performance. And I am not convinced that vapor transmission is mostly the result of vapor moving as a component of air, as opposed to moving by vapor pressure diffusion alone when no air movement is involved. This discounting of diffusion in favor of air movement strikes me as an emerging rationalization for omitting the vapor barrier.
So, whether using batts, blown fiberglass, or cellulose, I will use a film vapor barrier on the warm side. I would not trust this important function to paint. Paint may do the job, but I have no way of knowing whether it will or not. And in today’s world of paint, paint maker’s claims of performance are the very last thing I would trust. So for superinsulation standards, with the extra cost and commitment to insulation performance, I would want a dedicated, high quality membrane vapor barrier.
For studs, I am using a double stud with two 2 X 4s spaced 14” apart outside-to-outside. Therefore, there is a 7” space between them with the small exception of some connecting struts. So I have a thermal break there. There are different options for siding, and I am considering vertical redwood, so I have 2 X 4 horizontal nailers on the outside of the studs, 24” O.C. So there is also a thermal break with the nailers.
In the middle of the superinsulation project, I have noticed the emergence of net-zero with many of the same objectives, so I have been looking into that to see exactly what it is and how it differs from superinsulation per se. I have some ideas about that, which I will post later.
I don't recall any mention of passive solar - that's a huge part of doing something like this in cold climates. The closest house I've seen to what you're talking about was in Wyoming at 7,000' in elevation in a windy spot - but it's often sunny and -20 degrees so maybe it helps there more than where you are. During the coldest months if no heat is added the house stays at 54 degrees - I was impressed. There is a huge amount of mass within the insulation envelope, especially in the passive solar room (it soaks up heat during the day and small fans blow the warm air into the main house) During warm months the solar room is closed off from the rest of the house.
I think the guy who owned that place was off the grid without a generator, but it wasn't luxurious - and since he was a woodworker there was a very small wood stove.....for if he ever had a date over I guess. He also had a wind generator, some black coils for heating water, and fancy pv pannels that moved with the sun.
Yes, I also have not seen much about passive solar in the references I find on net zero. I assume that the only energy sources for net zero would be active solar for heat and direct electricity, passive solar for heat, wind for electricity, hydro for electricity, and various bio fuels for heat. Besides direct active solar for electricity, all forms could be used to generate electricity, and electricity could be used to make heat.
Heat, electricity, and hydro could be stored by various methods to match energy production to demand. I assume that net zero houses are forbidden from heating with wood, coal, oil, or bottled gas.
The energy production is half the challenge, and the other half is to reduce the energy requirement. The latter would require everything that is part of the superinsulation concept including maximum R-values, near perfect air sealing, powered air-to-air heat exchanger, highest performing windows and doors, and optimized architecture, including compact form, space efficiency.
Heat loss through windows must be addressed and limited, either by minimizing window area, and/or by adding insulation at night or when not in use. I have not heard much these days about on-demand window insulation. It promises to save a lot of energy, but is complicated to execute in a way that is reliable and easy to control. Insulating hinged panels, curtains, or roller shades can insulate windows when needed. However, placing these devices inside causes problems with vapor condensation under the insulators; and placing them on the outside causes problems with rain and snow. Exterior devices also require operation from outside; or require more complicated control mechanisms to operate exterior devices from the inside.
But even with every means to reduce the house energy requirement, the challenge of creating all needed energy on site with renewable means, seems like a major challenge. It seems to me that for an average house in a cold climate, this on site energy production would require a plant investment of maybe as much as $200,000-400,000. And this investment will depreciate as the plant wears out. My understanding is that active solar panels, for example, wear out a lot sooner than is widely realized.
All together, it seems to me that a cold climate net zero house would have to be built as a highly efficient, 100% purpose-built machine. And yet, I don’t see much evidence of that in the net-zero house examples. Other than lots of active solar collectors on the roof, there is often very little indication that the house has any special design for the production of energy. In fact most examples appear to indulge in the traditional approach of architecture where a variety of shapes are combined to create visual interest.
Net-zero energy homes
Lots of net-zero energy homes have been built since 2005, when a Habitat for Humanity chapter in Wheat Ridge, Colorado completed construction of the first house in the country that generated more energy than it used for 12 months of operation.
Here are links to three stories with details about successful net-zero-energy houses:
Glad to see you commenting on this, I always enjoy your views.
However, what I see in the 3 examples you linked are well off homeowners who essentialy paid 30 or 40 years worth of electric bills in up front costs.
Site orientation is really available only to people who can afford lots of real estate, long driveways and large yards, certainly not average homeowners.
In my opinion windmills are too silly to even discuss unless you're off the grid. There is no net savings to the grid as a whole since the public utilites have to keep powered up so electricity is available when the wind fails, as it always does. What do you think the chances are that the $40,000.00 windmill will ever produce $40,000.00 plus interest worth of electricity?
I'd also guess that all these houses took atvantage of tax credits, rebates and grants to pay for their expensive energy saving equipment, costs probably not included in their bottom lines. What that means is that they dipped into my pocket so they could brag about not using as much energy as I do. In reality they hid their energy use by billing everyone else for it. That sure won't work for long.
What's the payback period for R-125 cellulose insulation? Why not foam?
What do you think the chances are that the $40,000.00 windmill will ever produce $40,000.00 plus interest worth of electricity?
I'd also guess that all these houses took atvantage of tax credits, rebates and grants to pay for their expensive energy saving equipment, costs probably not included in their bottom lines. What that means is that they dipped into my pocket so they could brag about not using as much energy as I do. In reality they hid their energy use by billing everyone else for it. That sure won't work for long.
Those are great points. From what I can tell, net zero is an objective at any cost. Return on investment is not part of it.
[JOBSITE WORD]tail is not a
cocktail is not a jobsite word!
I've been reading a lot about this and I bumped into this article entitled: More builders crafting net-zero homes caught my attention a while ago. Well, it's true that power bills are annoying. Nobody really likes them, but unless one is willing to live without electricity, there's little one can do about them. There are an increasing number of builders setting up “net zero” homes which generate their own power.Apparently,solar power is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global energy market. The market for photovoltaic solar energy has enjoyed an average growth rate of about 40 percent over the last few years. As concerns about climate and energy supply issues are on the forefront of international politics, support for expansion of the solar energy business continue to be strong.
Baloney, You're obviously a paid shill for the PV industry. The PV industry would hardly exist at all were it not for tax credits, rebates and subsidies, all money taken from everyone else, run through the government sausage grinder and distributed to those in favored industries like PV. Even with the subsidies PV barely works at all in most areas of the US and even in the sunny locations where it does work the lifespan of the cells is shorter than the life of the loans people take to pay for them.
Actually, if we'd get off our duffs we'd have PV working "at parity" -- it's quite close now, but all progress has stopped (in the US) since government subsidies have been cut. The Chinese and Germans are going gangbusters on it, and the Chinese will soon "own" the industry. Meanwhile we'd rather fight wars to defend our oil supply.
Why would the governement cut subsidies to a technology that would save the world and usher in a new era? Why would such an industry needs subsidies at all? Our government doesn't have to subsidise drilling for oil or natural gas or fracking,
Nationally PV is 15% efficient which means it works one hour out of 7 in the areas where it's sunny all day. Even in large arrays it cost 4 to 6 times as much as coal generated power and since no bank will finance these white elephants taxpayers are forced to shell out for them and then pay higher electric rates to boot. All the solar in the US has not shut down or even slowed down one coal fired plant since public utilities are required to have power available at the flick of a switch even when the sun isn't shinning or the wind blowing.
Solar has been the next big thing since I started ready Popular Science in 1955. It cost about the same now as it did then, that's not progress.
Gimme a break!
You wrote: " Our government doesn't have to subsidise drilling for oil or natural gas or fracking,"
That statement is whoefully incorrect. For instance, the State of Alaska is beginning a special session of the legislature primarily to debate and give up to 30% tax rebates to oil and gas development within the state. Given the mentality of Alaska's legislature and governor, this measure wil become law in some form or another. This rebate is a form of subsidizing for drilling oil, etc.
But you know what? Subsidies of this sort wouldn't be nearly so irritating if those same legislators paid as much attention to nuturing the development of alternative forms of energy. But they don't, and neither does the US congress.
I'm sorry but most of us don't live in Alaska so it's not "my government." Aside from that Alaska is a special situation whenin every resident shares in the profits from oil revenue. They have a very good reason to encourage more drilling.
But to deal specifically to your claim here's a cut from the Anchorage Daily News from today.
"Mayer said Parnell's new plan is very similar, in the amount of cash it moves across the table, to HB110, the plan Parnell proposed last year as a way to boost investment and production. At $110-a-barrel oil, the state would get $4.8 billion in production taxes under the current tax structure, $3.3 billion under Parnell's plan and $3.2 billion under HB110, according to PFC Energy estimates.
HB110 cleared the House in 2011 but stalled in the Senate, where it remains a non-starter. Senators have greeted Parnell's new plan with wariness and skepticism. For example, on Friday, the new plan underwent a public drubbing in the Senate Resources Committee."
Looks like it's a non-starter.
Tell us what "alternate form of energy" the Federla government isn't supporting? Ethanol? Wind? Solar?
Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2012/04/23/2436654/tax-plan-gives-money-back-to-oil.html#storylink=cpy
Look up the history of railroads. With a few exceptions, until past 40 years or so railroads never made money -- they lived off of government subsidies. The Union Pacific and Northern Pacific were given enormous subsidies in the form of free land to get them to build the Transcontinental, and other railroads got similar subsidies. The railroad companies made money as landlords, not transport companies.
Oil has also gotten substantial subsidies over the years (though they're probably better obfuscated that the railroad subsidies). (And coal gets a subsidy every time you breath their air.)
As to the PV manufacturers, it costs an enormous amount of money to scale up a chip foundry to the size needed for true low-cost production -- more than can easily be gotten from private investors. And private investors are reluctant to invest anyway precisely because government cooperation is so unpredictable.
The intercontiental railroads are a perfect example of my point!
Just as you say, they were not as much about transportation as they were about fleecing the American taxpayers out of their money, just like "renewable energy" companies do today. Please read up on the Credit Mobilier scandel. The Credit Mobilier was set up and owned by the men who were building the railroad as a way to sell themselves supplies at hughly inflated prices and bill the Federal governement for them, just like the " renewable energy " companies do today. The railroad developers got paid by the mile so their goal was to lay as many miles every day as possible. If that meant working their Chinese laborers to death, just like 'renewable energy" compaines do today, there were plenty more to take their places. Of course much of the track they laid was so shoddy that it had to be rebuilt before a train could use it.
And of course the men who did this could have financed it themselves but it was easier to bride congressmen to cheat the taxpayers then do it themselves. They made monsterous profits at the expense of the taxpayers, just like the PV and wind companiers are doing now.
The Great Northern Railroad received no land grants and was privately financed and was the only one of the 4 transcontinetal railroads to be profitable and not go into receivership
Surely you haven't forgotten Solyrndra or Fisker auto or any of the dozens of other "renewable energy" comaines who have fleeced us then gone belly up without repaying a dime they owed? If you like i can give you a list.
I'll also mention in passing that this was also the era of the great, romantic passenger liners steaming across the Atlantic to Europe and back. The ugly truth there is the same, None of them ever showed a dime of profit. English liners were subsidized by the English governement and American liners were paid by our governement to carry mail. They didn't need ot worry about efficiency so they didn't.
Contrast that with Disney Cruises, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norweigian or Princess Crusies, none of whom receive subsidies, all of whom are constantly building larger ships, are privately financed and are charging less and less for cruises.
If any kind of renewal energy made any sense at all investors would be lined up to throw money at it. The facts are that there are no privately financed wind farms or solar arrays. All are erected and operated on our dimes. Investors understand that the Second Law of Thermodynamics can't be overcome with any amount of money. By the same token crooks understand all too well that they can line their pockets at the public trough aided by politicians who only have to overcome the Second Law with rhetoric.
Without those railroad subsidies it would have taken another 50 years to get railroads across the US. (And it wasn't just the Transcontinental. In the east a number of railroads were given subsidies of similar scale, relatively speaking, some from the federal government, some from the states. This led to the industrialization of the east, and the ascent of the US as a world power.)
In the Solyndra case, keep in mind that it was only one of dozens of projects partially financed under the alternative energy program. It was the only one to go sour. Venture capital investors will tell you that that's amazingly good results -- normally you're looking at failure rates of 50% or higher.
I can name four that went belly-up without even trying.
Solar Trust of America
The Economic Model
The objective of renewable energy is not to be more cost effective than carbon based energy. Instead, the objective is to eliminate the use of carbon based energy. So there is a net cost increase to meet the objective. Some people personally believe that it is worth paying for the objective, but many do not, and many others simply don’t have the ability to pay the price. So the only way to meet the objective of eliminating the use of carbon based energy is to require it by law, and publicly subsidize those who cannot afford the cost. That is where this road leads to.