The solar energy industry in the United States is growing, but not as quickly as in some countries that have taken the lead. If you saw "Fox & Friends" yesterday, you learned one creative explanation for why we, as a country, are not winning this race.
Reading Will Oremus' report on this, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.
"The industry's future looks dim," intoned host Gretchen Carlson at the beginning of the segment, which was preserved for posterity by the liberal blog Media Matters for America. She and her co-host went on to ridicule Obama's "failed" solar subsidies, adding, "The United States simply hasn't figured out how to do solar cheaply and effectively. You look at the country of Germany, it's working out great for them." Near the end of the segment, it occurred to Carlson to ask her expert guest, Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, why it might be that Germany's solar-power sector is doing so much better. "What was Germany doing correct? Are they just a smaller country, and that made it more feasible?" Carlson asked.
Joshi's jaw-dropping response: "They're a smaller country, and they've got lots of sun. Right? They've got a lot more sun than we do."
Let's unpack this a bit, because energy policy is awfully important, and anyone who watched the Fox segment might be confused right about now.
First, Germans do not get more sun than Americans. In fact, every American state other than Alaska gets far more sun every year than Germany does. Fox's report had this backwards.
Second, the Obama administration's subsidies to the solar industry haven't failed; they've vastly improved domestic solar output and expanded the industry's reach. So, Fox's report had this backwards, too.
And third, if anyone who cares about reality wants to know the real reason Germany's solar industry is ahead of ours, it's because the German government has invested heavily in environmental technology. Indeed, Max Greenberg's report flagged this Bloomberg Businessweek report from a few months ago.
Unlike the U.S., Germany has a national solar policy, a quick, inexpensive permitting process, and a national mandate that utilities sign up rooftop installations under what's known as a feed-in tariff--essentially a long-term contract whereby the utilities agree not just to allow the solar on their grids but also to buy the excess power from consumers.
In other words, the Fox segment might as well have come with an "Opposite Day" disclaimer. The on-air personalities seemed to argue that the United States should do better on solar power, but then said we should stop doing the very things that would help us do better on solar power. They then blamed Germany's superior sunshine, when in reality, Germany gets far less sun than nearly all of the United States.
News consumers interested in energy policy would be better off staring at a blank wall than listening to segments like the one aired on "Fox & Friends."