Infographic: What if Solar Power had Fossil-Fuel-like Subsidies?

posted by Dave Llorens on October 7th, 2010

What if Solar Power had Fossil Fuel Subsidies?

By Dave Llorens

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54 Responses to “Infographic: What if Solar Power had Fossil-Fuel-like Subsidies?”

  1. Dorian Fougeres says:

    It’s striking that so much of the news reports on (tentative) subsidies for solar/alternative energy, or even for the grain and dairy industries, but so little is said about fossil fuel subsidies. I had no idea it was such a large amount.

  2. Zincorium says:

    This would be awesome- so long as we don’t buy the cheap ones from china. One of the largest reasons they’re cheap is because china is burning government subsidized coal to fuel their production. They aren’t using their own product.

    Their coal will run out before ours will- and having the entire industry for coal’s replacement dependent on it is unconscionably stupid. Move production to areas where the energy used can be generated responsibly and spend less energy on shipping.

    At the same time, there’s no reason to stick with pure solar- geothermal, hydroelectric, and wind turbines form valuable pieces of the grid, especially where sunlight is sparser.

  3. When I analyzed the EPAct05 subsidies, we did a similar pie chart showing renewables compared to conventional (fossil and nuclear). The imbalance is striking. Petroleum today still gets “incentives” enacted in the early 20th century.

    Doing what you suggest is of course complicated and political. Short-sighted politicians won’t do it, even though it makes sense.

    It might be more persuasive, though, for you to create a graphic that (a) includes Stimulus money, and (b) includes subsidies to all sources of electricity.

    That includes them all — There is no unsubsidized energy source in the US.

    Also: If you want your infographic to run in the mainstream press, don’t cite Wikipedia as one of your sources.

  4. Have a Brain says:

    This is such Propaganda. Solar is way too expensive. It is not a viable source of energy for the masses.

    WE need CHEAP energy and the economy will flourish. Nuclear and other is what we should be doing. Until energy is so cheap. Inventions will spring forth with cheap energy. Pushing hi cost stuff that does not work. Is keeping all of us poor. BUILD BUILD BUILD ,DRILL DRILL DRILL and we all benefit. I’m sure my view will be taken down or not allowed here. Because this is a one sided site. I say make so much energy that it’s cheap for ALL and life gets better for all.

  5. Don says:

    There are enormous implicit costs when it comes to fossil fuels. Look at the impact on human health in the cities of breathing polluted air. It causes lung, heart and artery disease for one thing. Petroleum poisons the ground and water.

    If we care about people, we will endeavor to switch away from fossil fuels that are dirty. Thanks for the nice infographic!

  6. Jeremy says:

    This is a great diagram and I agree with your ideas, however I don’t believe you are accurate in saying that we will run out of fossil fuels within the next couple of generations. The United States has massive coal reserves that could be converted to automotive fuel and there are also Methyl Hydrates which could be mined from the sea floor which could dwarf the size of all other energy sources The expense and damage of both of these fuels would be very large, however this is where things will be going if we don’t shift over to the utilization of clean photons which are directed at us from the sun.

  7. [...] One Block Off the Grid, recently ran an article asking What if Solar Power had Fossil Fuel-like subsidies? The answer would involve a ratio of 72 to1, which is how fossil fuel subsidies compare with solar today. From an average taxpayer perspective, that means that over the past five years, you would have contributed $521.73 towards fossil fuels subsidies, but only $7.23 towards solar. If the tables were turned, 100% of Americans could soon be receiving their power from solar sources. [...]

  8. When a Cigar Is Just a Cigar: Psychoanalyzing the GOP’s Flourishing Climate Skepticism « THE CLIMATE POST says:

    [...] solar industry gets 1/72nd the subsidies received by fossil fuels, argues solar buying club, One Block Off the [...]

  9. Nancy LaPlaca says:

    this is incredible…wow…

  10. Lizzy Arizona says:

    Let’s follow Germany to a renewable energy future

  11. David Anthony Mason says:

    SOLAR. It is almost like you can see a light going on over our heads. Gee, now THERE’S an idea!

  12. LeGrande Blount says:

    The data is a bit warped. Tax policy is different than subsidies and not directly comparable. I don’t get a tax rebate for the fuel my car burned last year, but there are lots of direct tax credits for everything from solar water heating to solar power generation. Likewise, the solar industry lacks a profitable model while Exxon has hit record profits for the last many years. Thus the calculations appear skewed to support the position of the author.

  13. Alexander Straub says:


  14. Hartmut says:

    I’m from Germany. I agree that it is important to steer away from fossil fuels. However subsidies are dangerous. Goverments always struggle to get them reduced or removed when the subsidized sector has developed its own momentum and sometimes not in the intended direction. We see these issues right now in Germany with lots of lobbying from the renewable energy Industry. For example I’m living in Northern Germany in the country side. We are not far away from having 35 to 50% of all acreage with corn fields for feeding subsidized biogas reactors. Lots of farmers making money by selling expensive electricity. corn fields every where. Mono culture at its best. Terrible! The heat from gas motors driving the generators is very seldom only used for proper heating purposes. Most of the time the biogas motors blow all their produced heat continuously into the air. What a waste of energy. The other negative side effect is the signigficant reduction of the acerage for food production. Subsequently the food prices are going up. And in turn most farmers can afford to have all summer long rain machines on the acres running, feeded by big underground water pumps. reducing water levels and burning lots of diesel fuel. I really favor much more to put heavy taxes on the unfavorbale Energy supplies i.e. hydro carbons, but every politician around the world is afraid of this and for sure no consensus can be reached to try to steer the world towards renewables this way.

  15. Tim Metcalfe says:

    If we were to put as much effort into solar power as we put into fossil fuels, we’d be out of a lot of messes we find ourselves in now.

  16. Jay Alt says:

    Green subsidies are higher than fossil fuel on a KWh or energy density basis.
    However, the fossil fuel power industry is 130 years old and most people feel they should be getting over their need for subsidies. But of course they don’t, they many to coral gmore. Many of their subsidies are built into permanent law, whereas green solar and PV support has been for limited times. That uncertainty, carefully encouraged, discourages long-term investment.

  17. Bob Tregilus says:

    Great graphics on Germany – but Germany does not subsidize solar or any other renewable energy!

    Subsidies, by definition, are a direct allocation of government revenues to a particular business or industry. Renewable energy feed-in tariffs (the policy tool that Germany and 60 others nations use to incentivize renewables) are not a form of subsidy, partly on the grounds that they explicitly integrate any added costs that result from the increasing share of RE sources directly into electricity rates, rather than being funded through government revenues.

    We should not subsidize any renewable energies either. Rather, we need to pay all operators a fair price (tariff) based on the cost of production, plus assuring a reasonable rate of return on investment, to feed renewable energy into the grid. The program costs are then paid for directly by ratepayers – not taxpayers. It’s fair, it’s equatable, simple, and transparent.

    That is why Germany is cleaning our clocks on renewable energies. In solar, if you take the installed capacity on a watts per capita basis, and extrapolate that into a football score Germany is kicking our butts 183 to 7.

    Bob Tregilus
    Co-host -
    This Week in Energy (TWiEpodcast)

  18. Pierre Massé says:

    @LeGrande: If you American capitalist pricks didn’t care so much about needing “profitable models” then maybe you wouldn’t be so far behind.

  19. Tom DiPasquale says:


  20. nathan brown says:

    why do people care so much about money? why not care about making the world and everyone’s life better?

  21. Vonny Kleinman says:

    Take a look at this. A country powered almost completely by the sun is within our reach. IF ONLY WE HAD THE WILL!

  22. Darryn Daz Barber says:

    American government is either is fucking stupid as shit or corrupt ass pigs… or both…

  23. Eric Lane Barnes says:

    Let us make this so.

  24. Here in Minnesota, we are indeed still at about 60% electricity-from-coal, so at first I passed by your claim that this figure holds true for the country as a whole. But the nation is actually now well below 50%: EIA has us at about 45% for 2009, _not_ “over sixty percent.”

    As a longtime solar advocate (and a solar homeowner), I appreciate this piece and want to use it — I’d already posted it to a national list before the error was brought to my attention — but this mistake calls into question the accuracy of your other numbers, and compels me to backtrack on all of them before citing your work. Thus far, your listed references have been only partially helpful.

    How did this error crop up? Did you transpose the “over sixty percent” claim for coal from a source that was referring to _all_ fossil fuels? Can you give more specific references that will support your other numbers?

    • shannon says:

      Indeed! In that last bit “coal” should have been “fossil fuels.” We’re correcting that error and thanks for pointing it out Christopher!

  25. Christopher Childs says:

    Ahem… let me try this again: the 60% electricity-from-coal number is incorrect, as can be seen in (for example) the EIA’s “U.S. Coal Supply and Demand Review” at In an attempt to check other numbers, I’ve also backtracked most of the listed sources and they’re only partially helpful — for example, although I’d love to accept the 14%/100% comparison graphic, I haven’t found anything in the listed references that directly pertains to those numbers. But I’ll keep looking; I may have missed something.

    Seriously, did you folks trash my earlier post, which seems to have disappeared?? If so, would you mind telling me why??

  26. Geordie Keitt says:

    I’m no off-grid fanatic, I just think it’d be interesting to see what would happen if we made sunset laws mandatory for subsidies of all kinds. And in fact all kinds of legislation.

  27. Michael Goode says:

    Anybody still think a clean-renewable energy ran economy is not possible?

  28. Trisha says:

    If you track back on the data, the “fossil fuel” subsidies referenced are almost exclusively tied to oil. Oil use for electricity in the US is only about 1% (mainly in the Northeast and Hawaii). This comparison is misleading to say the least as it implies that coal, the main source of energy in the US, is being subsidized. If you have any stats on coal, I’d like to see them. From what I know, severance taxes paid on coal production is a huge source of revenue for those states and local governments where it is produced. This is the opposite of a subsidy. As coal is almost exclusively domestic, getting rid of it will make us less energy independent as we import much of our natural gas. Finally, since solar and wind are intermittent energy sources, unless you are willing to live with the power going out some of the time, it needs to be backed up with something reliable. Replacing one existing source with two new ones will not bring prices down. We need all our energy sources, including solar, but lets approach our decision making with the facts not some misleading graphics.

  29. Dazed and Confused says:

    Trisha – the info is not hard to find

    “WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget would cut roughly $2.3 billion in coal subsidies over the next decade, a move Kentucky lawmakers worry will mean heavy job losses in economically poor but coal-rich regions of Appalachia.

    “Coal subsidies are costly to the American taxpayer and do little to incentivize production or reduce energy prices,” said a White House Office of Management and Budget analysis released Monday. “Removing these subsidies would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate $2.3 billion of additional revenue over the next 10 years, an amount that represents only a small percentage of annual domestic coal revenues — about one percent over the coming decade.”

    The cuts, along with the repeal of roughly $36 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry, is part the Obama administration’s efforts to uphold an agreement struck last year during the G-20 summit in which member states committed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent.

    Lawmakers from Kentucky, which relies heavily on revenue from the coal industry for both jobs and cheaper electricity rates, have vowed to block the proposed cuts”

  30. ed says:

    this is it.

  31. Ernest Chapman says:

    fuck solar energy! TEA PARTY NATION!!!!!! burn dinosaur juice even though dinosaur bones were put there by god to test our faith! TEA PARTY NATION!!!

  32. Steffani Dowling says:

    whats up daughter? dad. rd

  33. SuperSparky says:

    How about we cut off subsidies period? Let the market decide, not some bureaucrat. If anything requires a subsidy, then it doesn’t deserve to exist in the first place.

  34. Gage Bastian says:

    this is retarded, you’re asking the government subsidize something that it still hasn’t found an effective or efficient solution for

  35. Jan Marie Rushforth says:

    Wonderful comparison and financial comparison – Solar vs. Fossil Fuel – chock full of info in an understandable way.

  36. Peyton Cocker says:

    all we have to do is direct the money to what the PEOPLE think is best, not some senator. The PEOPLE need to wake up and realize that
    WE control this country, and this world. Once we realize that we can stop being controlled and misled by some outside power, we can become the power!!!

  37. Peyton Cocker says:

    the time has come, for an evolution of man. the possiblities are endless once we have a true understanding of energy and how we can manipulate it

  38. Kor Element says:

    Hey, I think Solar power, hydro power, and all the other Renewables need an anthem, and I’m working on that now… Check it out…

  39. Michael says:

    Why not take away all the subsidies for all the energy sources, including some portion of the military. Oh, and let’s add the cost of carbon to the fuels. Wonder what energy we would be buying??? hmmm

  40. Jason Kim says:

    People have used fossil fuels as energy sources for a long time. Unrefined petroleum was already in use around 5000 years ago. You can make a real difference in your own life through what you do and buy everyday. It’s not just a question of doing more, or working in cleaner ways with fossil fuels as energy sources. We seem to be beyond that point – Jason Kim.

  41. Amos Wright says:

    please, soon.

  42. Fp Hoffnung says:


  43. Patricia M DeMarco says:

    So how do we get this information into the mainstream of decision making?

  44. Christian Smith says:

    Those are some interesting numbers

  45. Marci Lancieri says:

    I agree, USA SHOULD SUBSIDIZE SOLAR ! I wish we all could afford it. This would so solve some of our energy problem. Too bad for the Rich Energy Mongers ! USA Solar Technology is nowhere to be found. All the jobs have left the country with the Manufacturing Industry. How sad for us Americans, we could have had it better!

  46. Composer99 says:

    Where does the 6000% ratio come from? What ‘solar’ quantity, given the data constraints (2002-2008 data as noted in the sources), was 6000% greater in Germany than in the US in that time frame?

  47. Composer99 says:

    Also, what is ‘sun’ such that the US gets 3900% more of it than Germany? Is it the integrated total of the photovoltaic solar resource of the US compared to the same for Germany?

    • Shannon says:

      Insolation is the solar radiation that reaches the earth’s surface. It’s measured by the amount of solar energy received per square centimeter per minute. Since the United States’ land mass is so much larger than Germany, our levels of insolation, nationally, are much higher, and yet the amount of solar energy we generate as a nation is much lower than Germany, since they’ve made renewable energy such a big priority.

  48. Tom Evans says:

    I’m a big fan of solar and other renewable sources of energy and I’m surprised by the amount of subsidies that fossil fuels receive. But I’m really surprised that the conclusion that everyone jumps to is that we should be subsidizing solar. I would go the other way and kill subsidies for all sources of energy and let them all compete on an even playing field.

  49. Dr Green says:

    I believe very strongly that subsidies should be provided to any unit that is helping in creating solar power across the world. Creating solar power is eco friendly but slightly more expensive.

  50. [...] infographic from One Block Off the Grid – reminds us that solar would be cheaper than fossil fuels everywhere in the country if there [...]

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Infographic: What if Solar Power had Fossil-Fuel-like Subsidies?

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