By John Weber: Furnaces of Industry (Solar Energy is Not Renewable)

Solar panels require large quantities of glass. This excellent essay reviews the energy required to produce glass and shows that solar panels cannot be used to make more solar panels.

You need fossil energy to make solar energy.

This means solar energy is not renewable.

We are so accustomed to having access to affordable fossil energy that we forget how precious and magical our main source of energy is: oil is used to produce more oil, and unlike electricity, oil can be cheaply stored and transported.

All of the above also applies to the materials and equipment needed to produce, install, and maintain wind, hydro, geothermal, and nuclear energy.


In the USA glass manufacturing accounted for 1% of total industrial energy use in EIA’s most recent survey of the manufacturing sector. Overall fuel use is dominated by natural gas (73%) and electricity (24%), with the remaining share (3%) from several other fuels. Natural gas use at glass manufacturing facilities in 2010 was 146 trillion Btu, about 143 billion cubic feet.

If we convert the natural gas to kWh, we get:

143 billion cubic feet Natural Gas = 41,909,163,034.63 kWh

2 thoughts on “By John Weber: Furnaces of Industry (Solar Energy is Not Renewable)”

  1. Here is another excellent essay on the same topic by John Weber. Most analyses of switching to renewables ignore the thermal energy we need to keep civilization running. Replacing electricity is relatively easy. Replacing thermal energy and diesel is hard (or impossible).

    Many materials used in our industrial world require energy from mining to manufacturing for processing and transportation. The energy for some of these products is in the form of high temperatures – 2000° F (nearly 1100°C).
    There are proposals that solar and wind energy collecting devices can provide the energy to maintain the industrial world. To look at this possibility, solar electric panels, wind turbines and concentrated solar installations in the form of parabolic trough collectors (PTC) have been assessed.
    The energy requirements in 2010 for the following essential components of our industrial world are provided: steel, aluminum, chromium, copper, manganese, cement and glass. This energy would be mining, processing and transporting to name some. Other important components of the industrialized world such as nickel and cobalt are not considered because they are part of the high temperature processing of other ore metals.
    The kWh output and area required for installations of solar electric panels, wind turbines and PTC has been researched. This then is divided into the energy (exajoules converted to kWh) required for global production of each material in 2010.
    121,214.45 Square Miles of Solar Electric Collectors
    257,472 square miles and 2,807,276 Wind Turbines
    77183.4 square miles of PTCs”


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