Gore's Solar Proposal

On July 17, 2008, Former Vice President Al Gore’s July 17 speech – labeled by some adoring members of the press as a “major speech” — offered a solution to the problem he decided to associate with and be defined by: global climate change and energy. Gore practiced a time honored routine. The bigger the lie the more difficult it becomes to challenge. And, as usual, the press let him get away with it.

Gore went a couple of steps farther than he had before. According to the global warming guru, all of our major problems are tied by a “common thread” and that if we only just pull this thread, and say the magic words, all of our economic, environmental and international conflict problems would be solved. So what is this magic that unites everything? According to Gore this is simply the electrical grid right here at home. The way to do this is by replacing all carbon fuel sources that currently feed our power grid with renewables. This means replacing 79% of our electrical energy source within 10 years (846,000 megawatss out of 1,076,000) or 89% if nuclear is also considered a morally repugnant source of energy, because Gore’s version of morality seems to be the only coherent reason, at least to him and his entourage, why something as large as this would be even considered seriously.

To begin with, Gore’s proposal is crazy even in its inception. We use minimum amount of oil for power generation and we use almost only oil for transportation. Unless all cars become 100% electric, a huge challenge on its own, changing our electrical power generation does not address our biggest vulnerability: oil imports.

But even so, let’s see where Gore’s magical thread takes us, and look at the implications of a couple of his proposals. The first that caught our eyes was the catchy slogan, “We should tax what we burn, not what we earn.” And, like most catchy slogans, it’s cute but not wise.

Gore believes that a reduction in payroll taxes, which currently make up 6.4 % of the GDP, or some $840 billion, and replaced by a tax on carbon emissions in the US is a good option. The US currently produces about 26 billion metric tons of CO2 per year. Although he did not specify how large of a cut, let’s say that the whole payroll tax is replaced. After some simple math, this comes out to 32 dollars per metric ton of CO2 , eerily close to the European carbon exchange of about 40 US dollars. When this is compared to the current US carbon exchange rate of 4 dollars per ton, we question why such a strong push to have a minimum benchmark of 32 dollars. Why? As most other people who push and lobby persistently over similar fallacies, the answer is because of money. Gore happens to be the chairman of Generation Investment Management, a London based company with offices in Washington that ironically enough deals in carbon credits and carbon offsetting, for a fee of course. This clearly shows Gore’s morality and altruism.

Now, let’s analyze the economic impact of Gore’s huge transformation proposal, which says that at least 79% of the current infrastructure must be replaced. This amounts to about 850 million kilowatts in newly installed facilities, and of course the decommissioning of perfectly operational power plants. According to Gore, in 40 minutes, enough solar energy reaches the earth to power all of mankind’s energy needs for a whole year and while we don’t refute this factoid, to assume that incipient solar radiation can be harnessed 100 %, is ridiculous even for an elementary school science class, this from the man of “the science is all in” for anthropogenic global warming.

So let’s assume that the American government decides to replace 850 million kilowatts of current power generating capacity over the next 10 years. Solar power plant costs range from 8,000 to 12,000 $/kW installed, and could theoretically replace much of the existing power grid, if we decide to displace entire states and convert them into solar farms. This initiative would require a minimum investment of $10 trillion dollars. With reliability less than 10% this would translate to over $100 trillion not counting any operational costs thereafter. Thus, if all US GDP goes to build solar plants over the next 10 years that will just about do it.

I don’t know where Gore gets his math when he said his proposal would cost the consumer, “the equivalent of 1 dollar per gallon [of] gasoline.” How about more than $35,000 per man, woman and child per year?