GOVERNMENT help for solar power was supposed to be a triple play: jobs at a time of dire short-term need; incubation of an American industry sure to be important on a global scale in the next few years; and a long-term reduction in climate-changing pollution.
But at the same time that the Obama administration was pushing loan guarantees out the door — the one to Solyndra evidently too quickly — SolarWorld, the largest producer of solar cells in the Americas, was proudly asserting to its investors that labor expenses were less than 10 percent of its costs.
Solyndra, which took $528 million in government loans before it declared bankruptcy, had a novel design, using cylinders instead of panels, and it was promising 1,000 or more jobs in the factory. But solar power, which makes extensive use of robots in fabricating the cells, and has no moving parts to service once it is up and running, may be an odd choice for job creation.
"It's just not that labor-intensive," said Howard Axelrod, an engineer and economist. And as for the jobs it creates, there may be a price elsewhere, Dr. Axelrod said. He described the energy world as being like a child's squeeze toy: "You squeeze it and the eyes pop out. If you push in one area, something else is going to happen."
Another economist, Seth Blumsack, an assistant professor of economics and energy at Pennsylvania State University, asked about making jobs, creating an industry and cleaning the environment simultaneously, replied, "It's probably difficult to argue we are doing all three of those things successfully right now."