Was Solyndra's Failure a Fluke or the Status Quo?

The recent budget proposal from the Obama administration is taking a lot of criticism for its big emphasis on clean energy technology development. While some may critique the method on how this will be funded, others fear the possibility of these clean energy investments failing, the most recent and most widely publicized example being the bankrupt solar company Solyndra. 

Yet while we rake the muck of these failed investments, many of us look over the fact that several industries and technologies were made possible from government funding. Clearly, not every investment the government makes will be a great success, but several successful businesses have developed in large part because of government assistance. There are examples across almost every sector of industry, but for now let's focus on developments in energy and see if a failure like Solyndra is an aberration or just part of everyday business for the government.

Backing energy development: It's just what we do
The concept of having the government grant favorable treatment to the energy sector can be traced as far back as before the Civil War. At that time, the U.S. government's largest asset was land, and for many years it sold that land at below market value to encourage settlement and growth, which also gave a deep discount to the largest energy source at the time: timber. According to a research report by DBL Investors, the subsidies that were granted to the timber industry for energy purposes would have equated to about $25 billion per year in 2010 dollars. 

Every source of energy has in one way or another benefited from governmental spending, especially in its nascent years. 

Source: DBL Investors .

Even during the Great Depression, the oil and gas sector received more than $1 billion a year (inflation adjusted) in subsidies. These kinds of subsidies have always been used to help these industries to find their feet, and they generally provide a financial incentive to make them competitive against the existing energy options on the market.

Like it or not, the development of energy sources in the U.S. has been closely linked to the government developing a structure for that industry to flourish in some way or another, and in the long run these investments have paid large dividends. Of the $17.1 billion spent on R&D for energy efficiency and fossil fuel development from 1978 to 2000, the Department of Energy estimates that it resulted in a return of $41 billion thanks to the additional revenue from industry growth.  

Perhaps this is what makes more recent government spending trends in energy more troubling. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, member countries have reduced their spending on energy R&D from 11% in 1981 to 3% in 2010, making it the least funded sector of all government spending. If we expect to make advancements in energy development and energy security, investments will need to be made.

Three steps forward, one step back
When Solyndra went belly-up in 2011, the Obama administration had funded the company with $475 million in government-backed loans. They weren't the only ones: More than a dozen alternative energy companies have filed for bankruptcy protection despite receiving stimulus funding. 

Yet for the failures that have occurred along the way, there have been some major successes. Of the 14 major advancements in solar efficiency, 13 of them have been helped by government-backed funding. One of those projects, the advancement of thin-film solar efficiency, began with a public-private partnership in 1991 known as Solar Cells, which many of you know today as First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR  ) . The U.S. government was also granted several loans to manufacturing giant GE (NYSE: GE  ) to help it improve efficiency enough that its turbines could compete on the open market.

It may have been a long time coming, but the technology for renewable fuels is very close to the point that they can can compete on the open market against traditional energy sources. First Solar just recently announced a deal with El Paso Electric (NYSE: EE  ) that it will sell electricity to El Paso from its Macho Springs solar facility for 5.79 cents per kilowatt hour, less than half what El Paso pays for electricity from coal. Also, the Federal Energy Regulation Commission has stated that 83% of all additional energy generation in the U.S. for Q1 2013 came from either wind or solar facilities. Perhaps the route to developing better solutions wasn't the smoothest, but it's hard to deny the overall outcome. 

What a Fool believes
Very rarely do breakthroughs in technology happen on the first try, and it can take years to transform an idea into a profitable venture. Just like Thomas Edison's quest to make an effective incandescent light bulb, there will be several failures along the way, but those failures bring us closer to a better solution. 

Not every government loan or investment will be right. The overarching goal is for the successes to outnumber the failures. One of America's greatest strengths has always been its ability to foster innovation. After more than 200 years of experimenting, it would be a shame to get gun-shy because of failure now.

Investors and bystanders alike have been shocked by First Solar's precipitous drop over the past two years. The stakes have never been higher for the company: Is it done for good, or ready for a rebound? If you're looking for continuing updates and guidance on the company whenever news breaks, The Motley Fool has created a brand-new report that details every must-know side of this stock. To get started, simply click here now.


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  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2013, at 7:44 AM, flemsnopes2 wrote:

    Picking winners and losers with other peoples money only leads to corruption and misallocation. The innovations you claim for crony capitalism would likely have occurred faster, and certainly more efficiently, without the elitist interventions of a government hell bent on drying up every last cent of private venture capital. Your profile on MF suggests you have a love for small business, but your defense of big government's largess with taxpayer money belies your real bent.

  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2013, at 4:20 PM, tra115 wrote:

    flem: No, the advancements would not happen faster or more efficiently on its own. That's why we make public funds available for energy development to begin with.

    It helps everyone and is in everyone's best interests to advance the state of the art in energy. This is particularly true now in terms of sustainable energy. The population is growing, and resources are increasingly limited.

    Profit-driven motives clearly and unequivocally do not do what is best, but only what is profitable at that point in time. Profit does not solve problems. Profit has no vision. We need safety laws because profit does not favor safety (air bags? seat belts? factory machinery with guards covering moving parts?).

    Fossil fuels are profitable, but we're literally killing ourselves and the environment we live in. We've known that, as a people, for nearly a century, but profit is driving the resistance against our future and favoring our degrading health and quality of life and future sustenance.

    Additionally, the gov't is not picking winners and losers. The money is made available for a variety of advancements, from wind to solar to biofuels, etc. Anyone can apply for the loans, and they have to pass tests in order to reduce the risk, but it's no guarantee. There are no guarantees of success.

    Providing financial support to energy development with public funds works, it is efficient, and it is effective. The US is falling behind because we aren't doing enough of it. The EU, Brazil, even China, have the vision and foresight that profit lacks.

  • Report this Comment On April 23, 2013, at 6:50 AM, flemsnopes2 wrote:

    Fossil fuels have arguably saved millions of people from starvation through the efficient production of food, even though the profit motive was the primary driver for bringing such products to the market. Conversely, production of government supported, but energy negative, ethanol from corn is currently threatening to starve millions. Of course, such facts don't fit the Utopian narrative associated with leftist economic thought. Your argument only makes sense if you make the assumption that consumers are so stupid they would never demand innovation and progress without an all knowing and benevolent government to guide them.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 9:52 AM, djkumquat wrote:

    ^yes

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 10:03 AM, TMFMorgan wrote:

    There is a difference between R&D and venture capital. One lesson from the last century is that the government is pretty good at the former and lousy at the latter.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 10:21 AM, mdk0611 wrote:

    Well said Morgan. And beyond Solyndra, aren't we now looking at the failure of Fisker? More venture capital down the tubes.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 10:28 AM, goofycat wrote:

    God forbid that any of the green energy schemes subsidized by the Obama administration should ever post a profit. That would defeat the whole purpose of government: to shift control of the means of production from the private sector to the political elite. Almost by definition, federally subsidized enterprises must be hemorrhaging money. Otherwise, they would be evil capitalists who don't need government funding to begin with.

    The purpose of government, as the left sees it, is to continue sucking the lifeblood out of the private sector until the entire economy is controlled by the state. One way to do so is to distort the energy market to the point where otherwise viable fossil fuel companies are driven out of business while alternative energy-producers, those who are incapable of producing profits, continue to operate with the help of perpetual subsidies and mandates. Once the private market has collapsed, government can dole out whatever meager energy supplies remain, and the public can be grateful for what they get. The rationing of energy, like that of health care, food, and other necessities, is an integral part of the left's economic thinking.

    Rationing and the suppression of the private sector can be brought about only by force, for the simple reason that the desire to overcome scarcity and to live well is hardwired into human nature. In order to impose their economic model, liberals always resort to some form of coercion. A prime example is FDR's National Recovery Administration (NRA), which attempted to dictate wage and price controls across the nation. Obama's appointment of aggressively pro-labor members to the National Labor Relations Board (created by the Wagner Act after the Supreme Court ruled the NRA's actions unconstitutional) is evidence that Obama is every bit as dictatorial as his liberal predecessor.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 11:50 AM, SkepikI wrote:

    Morgan, you are way to kind here. The world and the news are FULL of various bad ventures that the worst capital allocators (our government employees) in the history of the planet backed. In our region, at least three ventures have collapsed and one is shaky. Solopower closed its one and only plant in Portland this week- aided by state, local and Federal tax credits and loans...not as big a disaster as Solyndra, but $20 million or more down the tubes. Revolt, A123, SolarWorld (still afloat and producing but heavily dependent on taxpayer largesse, nearly out of cash)

    Then there is the whole tax credit to business and homeowners.... Its like pouring gasoline on concrete firing it up, letting it burn out and then wondering why the concrete won't light....

    Suckers born every minute, they are called taxpayers....(with apologies to PT Barnum)

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 11:58 AM, SkepikI wrote:

    And as for the article, since NOBODY correctly tracks and sums the failures, at any level, local, state, federal, the generic idea that it pays off, ever, is about as believable as the Sasquatch prints hereabouts. Glittering generalities are so wonderful, and facts are so dreary.....

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 12:19 PM, buzzltyr wrote:

    Its a new industry, there will always be failures. Remember earthlink. Does that mean the internet was a bad idea.

    California did 1 GW last year, that is a nuke. And it did not cost the 20 billion a nuke would cost.

    The savings over what the price would have been 4 years ago is 3 billion.

    Time to pull you hear out your buns conservatives. Works great in the southwest. Now it not might work in Tennesssee where the taxpayers have been subsidizing electricity for 50 years but it works in California and Arizona

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 12:23 PM, CluckChicken wrote:

    "Almost by definition, federally subsidized enterprises must be hemorrhaging money."

    So how much did Exxon get from the American people last year?

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 12:29 PM, buzzltyr wrote:

    Lets review

    Computers (financed by the social security admin)

    Internet (national science foundation)

    Jet Airplanes

    Satellite communication

    Satellite photography (CIA)

    GPS (military)

    Composite aircraft

    The list goes on. This idea that all new ideas come from private industry is a full on lie. The truth is private industry does not like to spend a lot of money on research. It has always come from uncle sam

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 1:03 PM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    This must be the most effed-up graph I have ever seen on the Fool.

    For instance, If I make an investment in capital equipment for my company, and I get a tax break in the form of accelerated depreciation, is that a subsidy? When did words lose all their meaning?

    One could argue that Solyndra didn't receive a subsidy, but rather a govt. loan. What is the difference if it is not paid back? Why in the heck is the govt. loaning money to private enterprises with little hope of success? Why can't we let the market sort it out?

    Don't give me that DARPA-internet-govt. investment BS. The internet would have evolved without govt. funding. It was private individuals not the govt. that brought the internet to the masses.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 1:19 PM, CHill8008 wrote:

    And there are the multitude of enterprises funded by private monies (venture capital), that fail, too. That's the purpose of diversification for any portfolio, public or private. These decisions need to be evaluated by process, not in effect. The subsidization has been the practice, but they may also persist beyond relevance as a previous post pointed out with Exxon, or any other bred monopolistic, lobbying monster. Just because the government has had success or failure in the past is not reason enough to justify or reject all subsidies. I like the burning concrete analogy above. Solyndra was just dumb on merit, not because the government did it.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 1:32 PM, damilkman wrote:

    I am calling BS on buzzltyr. I do not know much about Aircraft, Computers, GPS etc, but your dead wrong about the internet. The goverment assisted on R&D for TCP/IP and gave funds to universities. However there were plenty of other network protocols that were developed independently . In 1991 SNA and X25, Appletalks, and Novell's protocol(forget the name) were all just as popular as TCP/IP.

    TCP/IP eventually became the protocol of choice because unlike SNA it was based on open standards that were documented in the RFC's(Request for Comments). This meant that anyone who wanted to add something to a network run by TCP/IP had confidence that everything else on it would be able to talk to it. The RFC's had their origin from the ARPANET. However, it did not require massive governement intervention, loans, and manipulation. This was unlike for example SNA that was propriatary. I still fondly recalling reading articles by IBM pundits that SNA was going to eat TCP/IP's lunch.

    If TCP/IP had failed, Cisco routers in late 80ties and early 90ties were just fine at running X.25, SNA, applenetworks, etc. TCP/IP did not because the standard was available to all and open standards were most popular and SNA got eaten for lunch. The protocol of a centralized giant was beaten by a protocol designed by thousands of unique individuals whose only goal was to build something better despite getting nothing out of it for themselves.

    And to debunk the myth that private industry does not like to spend money on research, the T1 and T3 NSFNET networks were built by IBM with their millions and on MCI transmission equipment not the governments. If the government had their way they would have forced all of us to ditch TCP/IP for OSI. Or perhaps we would have had that evil system that the French Government was promoting. I want to say it was CEGITEL? Thankfully, I forget its name.

    Now I am willing to give the governement it's due as in my opinion how they seeded research for TCP/IP and then got out was perfect. NSFNET also was able to multiply their impact by convincing private enterprise to contribute(ex IBM, and MCI) But I get absolutely riled by revisionist who make it sound like the internet owes its existance only to central governement and private enterprise just came along like an opportunist carpet bagger. We owe our thanks to the thousands of individuals who on their own time, energy, and merit contributed to the RFC's and all the open standards that TCP/IP depends on, not some governement technocrat who was attempting to build an empire. Fortunately the folks at the NSFNET did not behave this way. They realized that every kind of institution be it Governement, Private Enterprise, Academic Institutions, and Individual had something to bring to the table. All of them made the Internet happen.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 1:49 PM, Darwood11 wrote:
  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 2:11 PM, atkinskd wrote:

    The best thing for energy would be tax credits for coming in UNDER per capita usage. Even with 'clean' energy we have a propensity to find ways to spend the 'saved' resources in new and efficient ways. tracking individual fuel/gas consumption, NG, coal, etc. But the municaplities will have nothing of it nor will the energy providers. William Stanley Jevons Put it best way back in 1865.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 2:16 PM, remmdawg wrote:

    Flem and goofycat are entirely correct.

    This isn't rocket science, folks. It's all about basic human nature. Government, by nature, is undisciplined, reckless or even corrupt when spending money. Why? It's other people's money. Moreover, government enterprises don't need to worry about competition or remaining financially viable/solvent. So they are naturally undisciplined when spending money.

    So government shouldn't be doling out money to businesses. As TMF Morgan points out, it should limit its spending to R&D rather than venture capital. Even then, it should stick to areas where private enterprise would not be able to do R&D. And it certainly shouldn't be borrowing trillions of dollars for any of the above.

    I am puzzled why this simple logic escapes so many people on an investing website.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 2:30 PM, Darwood11 wrote:

    "I am puzzled why this simple logic escapes so many people on an investing website."

    Yes, that is a also concern from me. Perhaps the distinction is "entertainment" versus "responsibly investing."

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 2:48 PM, remmdawg wrote:

    Great link, Darwood. I read the same article. The entire process of spending other people's money as "stimulus" is naturally corrupt. Sometimes more corrupt, sometimes less corrupt, but always corrupt.

    I was also reading a reason.com article recently about more solar power boondoggles in California with many more companies taking government money and then going belly up.

    I shouldn't be surprised by the widespread ignorance regarding this issue here at the Fool. It's just a reflection of the ignorance in our greater society. In the recent Presidential election, over half the people rejected a proven business leader while reelecting the most financially inept, irresponsible and corrupt President in US history.

  • Report this Comment On April 26, 2013, at 5:00 PM, TheRealRacc wrote:

    What will we say about government spending when the first man is on Mars thanks to private enterprise?

    We will hear the pundits say that we owe it to Mars rover, Curiosity.

    What do we want to listen to? What do we want to believe?

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 10:58 AM, x4x13x wrote:

    Your assessment ignores the fact that El Paso, which buys the electricity from First Solar, has to build duplicate facilities to generate electricity when solar is not producing. That cost of capital and cost of operation has to be included and the overall cost of electricity from the two alternative methods can then be compared. Pure coal versus part coal and part solar.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 12:19 PM, JeanDavid wrote:

    There have been government subsidies of centuries in this country to favor some industries over others. In the 19th century, the government subsidized roads, canals, railroads. In the 20th century, it subsidized IBM indirectly by purchasing large numbers of their computers, and this also subsidized the semiconductor industry: IBM had Texas Instruments make transistors from which they built their newer computers. They paid for ARPA and the ARPAnet came from that, and the Internet is more of the same. They once subsidized railroads by sending mail across the continent on trains. They then withdrew the mail, and subsidized the airline industry by sending the mail that way. They subsidize the defense contractors by buying lots of military equipment that is either wasted, or destroyed in combat. They subsidize the oil industry. It goes on.

    Now if you are an early investor, buying IPOs, you can expect to lose money a lot of the time. Consider airlines. It is very hard to make money at them, because the pioneers went broke. Similarly with automobiles. And the famous Union Pacific Railroad went bankrupt before 1900. The country benefited, but the shareholders largely did not.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 12:26 PM, eelamon2 wrote:

    I just wish that those of you who are so angry about the money lost on Solyndra in an attempt to ramp up the alternative energy we are going to have to rely on in the future, would get as angry about the billions and billions of dollars in subsidies taxpayers have always given, and continue to give, to Big Oil in various ways, from tax breaks to clean-up costs.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 12:31 PM, KBOKSOFT wrote:

    Seems to me just about everything NASA has made in the last fifty years uses solar technology to produce power. Yet NASA's budget is being cut to the bone.

    If we (American taxpayers) are uncomfortable with our taxes funding high-tech startups with high fail rates, why not dump the money into R&D through NASA? NASA won't fail, and we can all relive our glory years when Americans were bouncing around the moon thumbing noses at the soviets.

    Sure, NASA isn't very efficient in its use of money. Sure, all the best minds are now working somewhere else that can pay them what they're worth. Sure, there is no Soviet Union left to create incentive for success. But at least the American Taxpayer won't be outraged (outraged!) at the waste of a pittance on a startup that didn't make it.

    ...also, clearly this is all somehow Obama's fault...

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 12:49 PM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    @eelmon2

    In what kind of weird alternate dimension does the govt. taking less of my money equate to the govt. giving me money?

    Eww, Big Oil. You tree huggers are like a broken record. I don't know if you got the memo, but BP has paid billions for the accident in the gulf of Mexico.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 12:57 PM, OldNetEngineer wrote:

    , damilkman ->> Remember Tymnet. I was a field engineer for them before there was an internet. Good ole days!

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 1:53 PM, xetn wrote:

    Nothing like a little Keynesian fascist bs. Solyndras was a gigantic taxpayer fraud!

    But, the main question is not whether it was a fraud. The main question is if solar was truly viable, all the major energy providers would be jumping all over it. They only jump when there are government handouts.

    Sun and wind energy will never be viable on their own because the sun does not always shine and the wind stops blowing sometimes. Would you risk an operation at a hospital that claims 100% of its energy is solar?

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 2:22 PM, Momoneypls wrote:

    Solyndra had already been determined not a good business investment before the Obama administration poured good money after bad into this very poorly run company. It was a clear case of political favor, crony capitalism and lack of disciplined business oversight that rolled the taxpayers in the Solyndra debacle. There is no excusing the Obama administration for the tragedy of wasting hard earned taxpayer dollars on Solyndra. In fact, it was shameful abuse of power and wanton display of cronyism and greed.

    The Motley Fool should be embarrassed by this article - EMBARRASSED!!!!! Please put your political beliefs in your back pocket and focus on investment / business issues. If you want to make money through good investments in business and still love the Obama administration, then so be it. But please leave the political cheerleading to the confines of your favorite wine bar.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 2:34 PM, Chontichajim wrote:

    There is no free ride. Either we invest in infrastructure and R&D to support future energy sources or we import the energy and technology from the countries that are willing to make these investments.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 2:38 PM, KBOKSOFT wrote:

    Solar is likely viable, but perhaps not in the same model as coal/gas/oil/nuclear power plants.

    One of the problems with a power plant "sending" people/businesses power is loss through transmission. Power lines are not superconductors (at least not yet). They "lose" a good fraction of generated electrical energy through electrical resistance. (If you're mad because your tax dollars are funding failed/failing startups, you aught to be really mad that part of your electric bill literally goes toward heating electric lines...)

    Anyway, if homes and businesses had solar panels on their roofs, they would produce part of their own electrical needs. In some cases, they may produce more than they need and sell it back to the power companies. It would also save everybody money because little energy would be lost through transmission, fewer blackouts because of grid failure, etc.

    Surely solar has a way to go before it is "viable", but I wouldn't write it off just because the sun doesn't always shine.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 2:45 PM, KBOKSOFT wrote:

    We fund private industry, the taxpayer is unhappy because private businesses fail.

    We fund government research, the taxpayer is unhappy because the government is inefficient, wasteful, etc.

    We fund nothing, the taxpayer wonders why America is no longer a leader in innovation.

    Maybe, just maybe, the taxpayer is the problem...

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 3:42 PM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    xetn, this reminds me of an occasion where google spent a butt-load of money buying solar power for one of its data centers. in the end, it only supplied about 15% of the required power.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 6:52 PM, rd80 wrote:

    @CluckChicken

    "So how much did Exxon get from the American people last year?"

    If you mean taxpayers, none.

    Exxon paid over $31 billion in taxes last year. That's more than AAPL, PG, JPM, INTC, MSFT, DIS and IBM - combined.

    Pretty sure Exxon is the biggest single taxpayer in the US.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 8:42 PM, bobt01 wrote:

    For new technology to flourish it needs to be better, faster, cheaper and renewables are none of these things.

    Take a simple example: I went to my local hardware super store and asked about the latest solar path lights. The guy in the store said if you want to light a path these won't do it use a 12v system, solar is only to light up the way not the path.

    The 100's of billions spent on this technology around the world and the end result is building a house off the grid is still only for the hippy or the very wealthy. Nuclear is the ONLY way forward...

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 9:07 PM, dadyer wrote:

    This is an example of one of the most preponderant problems dealing with leftist statements. It is so easy to make a specious comment or propose a specious program in one short five-minute soundbite or a one-page article.

    But then it takes thirty minutes to dispel, disprove, and expose the fallacies in the statement or position.

    Thanks flemsnopes2, goofycat, SkepikI, damilkman, and others who could see through this crony-capitalism-loving author. As for those of you who agree with Mr. Crowe: Have you never read "Economics in One Lesson" by Hazlitt or "The Law" by Bastiat?

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 10:34 PM, radass wrote:

    Loss wasn't as bad some people believe.

    As we reported recently, the Energy Department has committed $34.7 billion to nearly 40 green projects under low-interest loan programs, according to information published on its website. Two of them — Solyndra ($535 million) and Beacon Power Co. ($43 million) — have filed for bankruptcy, according to a March 12 report by the Government Accountability Office. What, if anything, the U.S. government gets back from the Solyndra deal is up to the bankruptcy court. It looks as if DOE may get back as much as 70 percent of its loans to Beacon. Still, worst-case senario, the government is out a total of $578 million on those two deals. That’s less than 2 percent of the total program, so it’s a stretch to claim the entire $34 billion has been “wasted.”.

    Besides we need those programs for environmental and energy reasons. Many countries like Germany and Denmark are successfully implementing these alternative energy programs.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 10:42 PM, radass wrote:

    Furthermore, new technologies have been successfully experimented with. Esp. in transportation.

    An electric car drove from Munich in southern Germany to Berlin without recharging its battery on Tuesday, setting what organisers hailed as a new world distance record for an everyday vehicle.

    The yellow and purple Audi A2 car took around seven hours to complete the 600-kilometer (372-mile) stretch and arrived in the sumptuous courtyard of the economy ministry in Berlin just before 8:00am local time (0600 GMT).

    The Tesla Roadster can travel 245 miles (394 km) per charge; more than double that of prototypes and evaluation fleet cars currently on the roads.

    There are new batteries that can be charged fully in 10 minutes or less.

    We need infrastructure. Gov't can do something about that as seen in the 1950s with highways.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 11:18 PM, effinayright wrote:

    Just ask yourself: would you have taken the author's advice and invested your own money on Fiskers, Solyndra and the dozen other "green" companies (not TWO) that have gone t its up using PUBLIC money?

    How about it: are you feeling lucky about investing your own money...chump?

    But actually you did: the Obama admin gave the public's money, the companies gave part of it back to the DNC, the rest they absconded with or put in accounts beyond the reach of bankruptcy courts, and the rest they spent like drunken sailors (except drunken sailors spend their own money).

    As for Exxon et al getting "subsidies: how much taxes did Fiskers, Solyndra and the other failed green projects pay the federal government? Can The Fool point to a time when Exxon et al did not pay any federal taxes?

    Oh...it's only the successful companies that in the end paid taxes, when they became profitable. Then where's the list of companies that were able to dip their snouts in the public trough and then go out of business? Won't publish that list now, will you..,.

    And if public "investment" in emerging technologies is such a shite hot idea, why didn't the USSR , which owned and "invested" into all their industries, turn out squat over seventy years, while the West innovated, expanded and in the end, "buried" them?

    btw: Germany, Australia and other countries that have "invested" in solar and wind have wound up with squat, in terms of "saved" carbon emissions and reduced energy costs.

    When I read carp like this I am reminded why I take The Fool with a near-lethal overdose of salt.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 3:52 AM, interdependent wrote:

    There is one big difference that neither the pro-free-market team nor the level-the-playing-field team can ignore.

    The free market is not addressing the dangerous global warming our kids will have to pay for and try to survive. Our generation has created a dangerous carbon 'bubble' in the economy as well as in the biosphere.

    Reinsurance groups are now quite clear that human-caused climate change is costing them money and the one clear explanation for the rising catastrophes is global warming. They know, because they have to pay for it. Heck even the rabid deniers are looking at the science nowadays scratching their heads, admitting that "CO2 tracks the temperature changes exactly and better than any other known theory."

    Introducing new renewable energy super-quickly is not just an investment to make money. It is investing in my kids' wellbeing when they are my age and beyond.

    "Scientific Case for Avoiding Dangeous Climate Change for Young People and Nature:"

    http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1110/1110.1365.pdf

    If you don't like big words, just google "James Hansen TEDtalks"

    You can't put a price on the survival of species, or forests, or clean drinking water. But our kids will need to spend $500 billion more for each year we delay getting off fossil fuels. What we neglect to address now, they will be forced to straighten out, but at much greater cost and amid greater suffering and danger than if we took care of things now. Aren't we supposed to be protecting their future? Our kids need us to figure this out now, not later.

    We will be the Greatest generation in the history of the world once we act decisively today based on known science. And we have everything we need to win this thing.

    If not, whatever history remains to us, we will be known as the civilization that knew our downfall in advance but refused to give up comforts and old, bad habits. If life as we know it and future beings for thousands or millions of years quite certainly hang in the balance, doesn't that make you want to clean up your mess for our kids?

    And for you Deniers who won't listen to 99% of the scientists, b ecause there are 23 scientists who doubt, let me ask, "what if we clean up the world, stop air water and land pollution, restore forests, and our oceans only to find out we were wrong about global warming? (we're not)

    Would that mean that we built a peaceful healthy prosperous world of biodiversity all for nothing?

    Or would you say there's some benefit to that?

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 7:21 AM, dintym wrote:

    Comparing subsidies to the oil and gas industries in the 30's was not to support an unknown energy source. The money went keep already proven energy sources flowing.

    Solar and wind power cannot keep with electricity produced by oil, coal, gas, or nuclear.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 11:00 AM, borneofan wrote:

    I suffered through this same energy subsidy stupidity in the 1970's. Georgia Tech had an abandoned people mover used as a sidewalk to nowhere, it went past a solar furnace that was used once or twice for metallurgical experiments, but was mostly idle. My father worked to install fluidized bed coal gasification schemes at ruinous expense, scrapped for pennies on the dollar a decade later.

    Since any scheme has positive elements (no matter how minor) it is easy for a statist to justify hierarchical command control on that basis. Even the nazi evil produced medical knowledge on the effects of high altitudes on people. By killing them. And all systems make mistakes and have errors, so that is not a basis for a decision either

    The question is not about waste, error, or failure. All systems have these. The question is one of responsiveness, effectiveness, efficiency.

    Which system learns and adapts faster? Hierarchical command control or laissez faire decentralized capitalism?

    Command control starts strong, but scales poorly, and is doomed to fail as information grows exponentially, but processing power cannot. And concentrated power draws graft and bureaucracy and represents a single point of failure. Think the Borg or any US war since Korea. The center cannot hold.

    Complete decentralization is anarchy, a complete failure initially. But at large scales it evolves into systems like the internet, the stock markets, al queda, and evolution itself.

    The right choice depends on the environment and the scale.

    I believe that the US economy is simply to large to control directly; that a government powerful enough to do so could very easily kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. North Carolina sterilized the poor in the name of social progress, the feds imprisoned Japanese during the war, gave syphilis and other diseases to blacks and let them die untreated, and dumped radioactive dust on St. Louis. Massive evils that could only be done by an omnipotent state.

    Autonomy, freedom, and responsibility will more swiftly achieve society's ends, environmental, social, as well as financial. And it will never permit the massive evil deed, "for the war...the children...the greater good". It will however be plagued with lots of missteps and errors and failures. That is how all systems learn.

    Are we an empire, or a country?

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 11:24 AM, tomd728 wrote:

    The biggest threats to our economy and future growth be it infrastructure, energy, technology, medicine, etc. are the democrats and leftists within our government.

    How much of a threat ? Well certainly more than N.Korea........

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 12:14 PM, NFP1026 wrote:

    A slightly off-topic but very serious question that has been bothering me for years:

    Just what does the government (we taxpayers) get back for all the funds invested in successful research and development projects? In my lifetime (67 years) literally billions and billions have been funneled into projects at least some of which have resulted in products that have evolved into many millions of dollars profits for some entity who reaped the rewards of government research with minor risk investment on their part. Microwave ovens, radar, Tang, teflon, nylon etc. Does the taxpayer get a few cents back for every non-stick fry pan or pair of pantyhose sold? Did the government reap any royalties for the taxpayer-funded innovations that came about due to the lunar lander?

    I had an experience back in the 70's with a piece of software developed by The Rand Corporation at 100% government expense. The vast majority of the software was released into public domain by DOD, but the critical components that actually allowed it work as intended was sold for profit by the principal developers employed by Rand. Sounds like a no-win situation for the taxpayer; or is this the crony-capitalism that gets mentioned from time to time?

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 12:28 PM, SadeeqR wrote:

    Wow, Fellow Fools, let's take it easy. Uncle Sam doesn't always get it right, but as the piece suggests, government can play a constructive role in getting businesses off the ground. It would always be preferable to have private enterprise try to make that happen, but among other circumstances, sometimes the risks are such that only the public sector can provide the liquidity or the backing thereof to get things started.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 1:09 PM, EdGrey wrote:

    Wasn't the invasion of Iraq supposed to be a giant wasteful subsidy to the petroleum industry? (And didn't it turn out that way, since now gasoline prices are pretty damn high?)

    The relative pittance that government aid for clean energy would be makes a lot more sense. Just appoint the right people to decide what to subsidize, and Solyndras will be only a small fraction of the total.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 11:32 PM, MidasInvestor wrote:

    It is worth noting that the only reason El Paso Electric will be able to sell electricity to El Paso from a solar facility for 5.79 cents per kilowatt hour is because of federal subsidies. Without the help from Uncle Sam, it would be much more expensive than coal.

  • Report this Comment On April 29, 2013, at 7:14 AM, smacunalum wrote:

    Wow, nothing like a politically charges topic to get the comments flowing. Alright, I'll bite. I think a kick start to some fledgling technologies is fine. But I don't like the method. Throwing money directly at the companies creates inefficiency and, basically, siphoning off to pockets.

    A better way is create a project in the manner of the TVA and throw the money at it. At least in the end "the people" (energy companies) will have something from which to benefit, i.e., a stream of energy created from the sun or the wind or whatever. The companies will have had an opportunity to scale up, become more efficient and have a buyer, albeit temporary, for their products.

    In the end if they are still not competitive, everybody can go home with the money they have legitimately pocketed by creating something that will last. The R&D on the technology can continue and then there will be a time when it can again step up to the plate and take another swing.

  • Report this Comment On April 29, 2013, at 11:00 PM, buzzltyr wrote:

    Can we discuss nuclear power, hoover dam and the TVA, and why the govenment should have never been involved. As usual the conservatives cherry pick facts.

    I grew up in the aeropsace age, beleive me there were dozens of failures for every success

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2013, at 11:47 PM, gnorton100 wrote:

    I believe the US needs to get off the oil habit and Renewable Energy is where we, as a society, need to be moving, phasing out oil dependence.

    Solyndra's failure was NOT a fluke.

    It was a failing company that got the loan guarantee due to White House political payback.

    Solyndra's CEO was a big Obama campaign contributor; I believe $200,000 or $250,000.

    The DOE - that vetted the loan applicants - stated flatly that Solyndra was not a good financial risk.

    After 6 or 7 visits to the White House by Solyndra's CEO, the White House pushed to fast track the loan to approval status.

    Obama Photo Op-ed Solyndra for all it was worth, but backed away from Solyndra and denied involvement in the approval process when the company went belly up.

    Interestingly, an article at the time stated that the CEO was in debt at the time - just about the same amount as the loan.

    Chicago politics at its best.

    Remember Obama's statement from the last election "we will reward our friends and punish our enemies".

    The treatment of Solyndra's CEO certainly shows how friends are rewarded for by Obama.

    That said, there are many good Renewable Energy companies out there with great products.

    And, like oil in its infancy, these companies need subsidies.

    I just don't understand why oil companies are still getting $5 Billion in annual subsidies.

    Some say it's not a subsidy but a helping hand for exploration and development. BULL !!

    When the oil companies made RECORD breaking profits in 25 out of 27 quarters, they certainly no longer need subsidies.

  • Report this Comment On May 04, 2013, at 12:19 AM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    I'm sorry you all, I just can't let this one slip. KBOKSOFT said, "Seems to me just about everything NASA has made in the last fifty years uses solar technology to produce power.".

    Ever heard about voyager 1 and 2?: nuclear

    these probes launched in the 70's. I know at least one of them has transitioned across the heliosphere.

    Maybe that was before your time. How about Cassini?: nuclear

    A much more modern mission to explore the outer solar system. It has transmitted some really stunning images.

    How about Curiosity?: nuclear

    this is the big a$$ rover on Mars now.

    how in the f*ck do you think it could shoot a laser at a rock and accomplish the mission only powered by weak-ass solar cells?

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