Splashdown for SpaceX

John Stossel:

2 Americans just landed safely after spending 2 months in space.

11 years ago, an Obama committee concluded that would take 12 years and cost $26 billion. Elon Musk did it in 6 years– for less than $1 billion.

Private competition is always better.

On the other hand, says the LA Times:

Elon Musk’s growing empire is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.

And he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.

“He definitely goes where there is government money,” said Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research. “That’s a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day.”

Like the government is liable to cut Boeing off. Because now, it can.

I’m guessing Musk reckons he could find other customers, if the government stopped paying. But I’m guessing further that a chunk of all that money goes to schmoozing the government to keep on paying. In a decade or two, Musk could be no better than Boeing.

This is “privatisation”, and privatisation isn’t the same as a real market, hence the sneer quotes. Private competition is always better. So are lots of customers spending their own money, instead of just the one, getting its money at gunpoint. Let’s hope that in this case it will turn out to be a step in the right direction. As big as it now feels.

But the good news is …

Bloomberg reports that A $1 Billion Solar Plant Was Obsolete Before It Ever Went Online.

The US taxpayer faces an eye-watering bill. Which is very bad. But the interesting thing to me is why it was obsolete:

By the time the plant opened in 2015, the increased efficiency of cheap solar panels had already surpassed its technology, and today it’s obsolete — the latest panels can pump out power at a fraction of the cost for decades with just an occasional hosing-down.

I am not a close student of solar power, but to my uneducated eye this sounds like very good news. The savings that this rapid solar tech progress will yield will surely be worth far more than whatever the US government wasted (by being too impatient and/or corrupt) on this particular slice of pork.

There’s a graph in the Bloomberg piece which says that the “Cost of Solar Technology in $ Per Megawatt-Hour” has fallen from around $350 in 2009 to around $50 in 2019. Which sounds like quite a drop. I had heard rumours about how solar power is getting cheaper, but I had not realised how rapid this improvement had been. And, I’m guessing, will go on being.

New and overdue category here: “Energy”.