Predictions favored solar over wind power. What happened?

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Robert C. Seamans, the man President Gerald Ford had entrusted to deal with the energy crisis of the 1970s, didn’t think wind power had much of a future. In 1975, at the dedication of an experimental turbine in Ohio, Seamans opined that wind would never account for more than 1 percent of the U.S. energy supply.

Solar power, on the other hand, was one of Seamans’ great hopes for energy independence. It had been two long years since the OPEC oil embargo, and gas prices were still high. Six months into his term as president, Ford formed Seamans’ agency — the Energy Research and Development Administration — to galvanize homegrown fuel industries and end reliance on foreign oil.

The same year that Seamans scoffed at wind energy, his agency issued a report asserting that the sun’s “virtually inexhaustible potential supply of energy” could represent a quarter of the nation’s energy use by 2020.

Nearly 50 years later, wind and solar farms have sprouted across the country — but solar power accounted for less than 3 percent of American electricity last year, while wind made up around 8 percent. President Biden is aiming to run the U.S. energy grid entirely on clean energy within 15 years, and he has set a goal of cutting the cost of solar energy by 60 percent over the next decade. To hit these targets, policymakers might do well to explore why Seamans’ predictions were essentially upside down.

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