Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bryan Leyland: “Things you know that ain't so” - solar power

As the American humorist Will Rogers said: “It’s not what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.” 

 The solar power industry only exists because deluded governments all over the world  believe that it will make a significant difference to carbon dioxide emissions that, they believe, cause dangerous global warming. As a result they have been conned into providing subsidies of 3 to 5 times the cost of conventional power.

Solar power is available only when the sun shines. In New Zealand and in many other countries its maximum output is in the summertime and zero during critical winter evenings when peak demands occur. Solar power does not reduce the amount of conventional generating capacity the system needs.

The capacity factor of solar power (the average amount of power delivered compared to what the same sized power station running continuously at full output would deliver) varies between about 20% in tropical desert areas to less than 9% in Germany and the UK. It is about 15% in New Zealand.

A solar power installation costs about $3000/kW and the solar cells cost about $1000/kW. If solar cells cost nothing, solar power would still be expensive. 4000 kW of solar cells will generate as much energy as a 1000 kW conventional hydro power station. On the basis of equal energy $12 million worth of solar cells will produce the same energy as a $3 million 1000 kW hydro power station. 

Providing alternative generation when the sun is not shining is expensive. Alternative generation is needed every night when the sun does not shine and if a large cloud suddenly obscures the sun. Much of the alternative generation has to be provided by rapid response open cycle gas turbines that are inefficient and run on expensive fuel and the rest by conventional thermal stations ramping up and down and incur high maintenance costs and high losses because they were designed to run steadily at maximum output. The cost of all this is imposed on the consumers rather than the solar developers.

It is often claimed that storing the solar energy will provide all the power we need at night. But energy storage is expensive and imposes even more costs on the consumer. But what is really needed is energy storage that will store solar electricity during the summer and deliver it during the winter. There is no technology available – or even on the horizon – that could do this.

In spite of all this, organisations like Vector in Auckland offer subsidised solar power installations. The end result is that rich consumers who can afford to buy solar cells rip off the poor consumers who cannot. I think this is disgraceful in the extreme.

Sadly, the Green Party, Greenpeace and other environmentalists continue to tell us that solar power will soon be economic and wind power (which is a bit better than solar but still seriously uneconomic) is already competitive. They bitterly oppose any new large hydropower scheme and will not even contemplate the safer and more environmentally friendly nuclear power option.

So poor consumers are impoverished and, worldwide, trillions of dollars get squandered on ineffective renewable energy. Carbon dioxide emissions hardly change.

When will we see a return to reason?


Jo Holmes said...
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It's a similar story for wind power. These 'green' energy sources require massive subsidies, generate expensive energy that few can afford and fossil fuel powered alternatives to keep the grid operating. They don't work. They will be a blight on the natural landscapes they've ruined for generations to come.

Paul Johnson said...
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Thank you Bryan - well said and so true.

I have project managed several large SP installations out in the Pacific Islands.

One point that is always overlooked is that the energy required to make, package and deliver a SP to the factory's warehouse (not the consumer installation!) requires ~11 years of normal SP operation to recover (break even).

Sure the manufacturing energy is someone else's - China, Japan... and is most probably produced by oil or coal fired power stations.

Next energy spend up is transport of the panels from factory to site and the large amounts of cement required to hold the installation on the ground.

It's a marketing exercise which soothes the guilt and provides warm fuzzy feelings for the relatively affluent (effluent!) middle classes.

Paul J

Peter Caulton said...
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Alternately if our successive governments had not let our population rise another 1.5 million in the last 20 odd years we would not need any alternative energy as the eco friendly power generation we had for 3 million people was quite adequate.A usual we have the wrong people administering our land thanks to our dumb electorate. It would be nice if kiwis took as much interest in the quality of the folks we elect as they do in the quality of the rugby players that are picked for the Allblacks. If they did they would see that the sea of mediocrity the political parties put in front of us to vote for are generally the equivalent of choosing the Allblacks from an under 18 social rugby team from Kerikeri

Simon said...
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Well said Bryan but there is an issue which is deliberately overlooked. Level of Carbon Dioxide need to RISE to help plants grow (and Photosynthesise faster. So much rubbish is put out about Carbon Dioxide you would think it is a poison and not an essential component in the Carbon Cycle which maintains steady oxygen levels. Isn't Science taught in schools anymore?

Rosemary Drew said...
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What about the new Wind Tree turbines being developed in France. Have one in your own back yard

Anonymous said...
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One thing that was left out is that solar works on cloudy days as well but should be used in cojunction with another power sorce eg for winter time other thsn that im pro solar why pay for power and get ripped of when you can make your own. If you dont like solar bulid a water wheel if you have a water sorce nearby

Peter said...
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Can't agree Bryan. As another commenter had pointed out - solar power does produce power in cloudy conditions. Likewise they produce power in winter. This is especially true in New Zealand where we often have sunny days.. Acquaintences who have units say they are highly effective in winter. Sure they cost money to install and take a while to recoup costs.

So did our hydro electric power stations and the cost of producing power has not diminished.

Meantime our power companies and lines companies keep hiking the prices. Regional government sets unrealistic pollution requirements which disadvantage wood burners.
The worst part of our power needs is the increased reliance on government for supply. When (rather than if) Rio Tinto pull out of Tiwai Point we are going to have plenty of hydro electric power for a while. Sadly though we cannot produce this power cost effectively. Too many big wigs getting bigger salaries etc. Selling shares in power schemes only increased the need for power companies to generate a profit rather than provide a service.
European countries have reduced the amount they pay solar power producers. Likewise Meridian here in New Zealand. This does not make them poor investments. It allows solar power producers the opportunity to be independent of government. If not completely to a greater extent that previously.

Anonymous said...
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Good article from a national perspective but you forget that on of the key benefits of solar is off grid independence.
- you get to control the price
- you have uninterrupted power
- over time you save a considerable amount
- if you grid connect and feed power during the day, you actually reduce the cosy of power used by industry (not that they usually pass this on)
- if you grid connect you also effectively get free power from day one.
Power companies are starting to dislike private solar because it reduces tax take and profits, although one could argue that under current buy pack prices the power companies make good profit on buy back private solar.

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