Donald Trump betrays total ignorance of solar, energy market dynamics

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Donald Trump is a notoriously hard politician to pin down on concrete policy proposals. His rise to the Republican Party appears to be based largely on personality and media presence, mixed with his ability to tap into American nationalism and concerns about immigration.

Energy has been no different, and there is no section on energy in the brief “Positions” section of Trump’s campaign website.

Trump’s first speech on energy also did not result in a coherent policy platform in this regard, but did solidify his preference for production of energy from domestically sourced fossil fuels, particularly a desire to expand oil and gas extraction and to bring back coal mining and increase electricity generation from coal – while at the same time appealing to the market.

“The market forces are going to do whatever they do,” stated Trump. “All I’m going to do is free up the coal.”

However, Trump’s promise to bring back coal jobs flies directly in the face of those very market forces, which have seen a flat-lining of global coal demand, a collapse in prices and the largest coal miners go out of business.

Trump also did not hesitate to completely mischaracterize the policy positions of his opponent Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration, stating that President Obama and Hillary Clinton were going to “ban fracking”. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has increased dramatically under the Obama Administration, and as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promoted the extraction method globally.

In the press conference before the speech, Trump also repeated myths that show an extremely outdated understanding of renewable energy. Despite his statement that “I know a lot about solar”, Trump revived the old canard that solar and wind are “very expensive”, and estimated a 30-year payback time.

In the last few years the United States has seen contract prices for large-scale solar fall to between four and five U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour. In 2015 GTM Research documented more than 5 gigawatts of contracts signed by companies outside of state renewable energy mandates, for economic reasons.

Wind prices have become even cheaper, with Lawrence Berkeley Labs finding that wind contract prices have fallen to below 2.5 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour.

And while the time that it takes to pay off an individual home solar PV system involves a number of variables, a recent study by solar marketplace provider EnergySage found that residential customers who used its service recovered the investments they made in PV systems in an average of 7.5 years, not 30.

Trump’s utter ignorance of energy issues was noted by leading political figures. During the speech, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune tweeted that “There are open pools of oil and drilling wastewater in ND right now that are deeper than Trump’s understanding of energy issues”.