Posts Tagged ‘solar energy’

Subsidies for renewables have only done harm

June 25, 2013

There is a place for solar and wind and tidal and wave energy.  But intermittent and unpredictable sources as these all are cannot be used to satisfy our base load demands. If used – when available – to augment our conventional sources (mainly fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear power) they can play a very useful role – eventually – in reducing the cost of producing power. But this presupposes that they are competitive with conventional production. And they can be in specific situations and especially in remote locations or where grid power is limited.

But subsidies have rarely enabled new technologies to become commercially viable. They tend to isolate and preserve the developers of the new technology from commercial pressures and are usually counter-productive.  By loading conventional fossil fuel sources with short-sighted and useless taxes and by providing hefty subsidies for building solar and wind power the electricity market has been distorted to a destructive and unsustainable extent. Two articles recently address the utter failure of the subsidy regime.

1. Agence-France Press June 23, 2013 00:31

Spanish downturn a disaster for green energy

Spain’s wind turbine manufacturers are laying off workers and farmers who installed solar panels are facing ruin as austerity policies afflict the long-coddled green energy sector.

Further cuts are expected this summer.

State subsidies to clean energy producers have already fallen by between 12 and 40 percent on average in recent years, industry analysts say.

They could fall by another 10-20 percent in a new energy sector reform expected mid-July, according to the Spanish media. …. 

In the middle of the last decade when the economy was enjoying strong growth, Spain put a cap on the price of green energies and provided “fairly generous” subsidies, said Carlos Garcia Suarez, expert in the sector at the IE Business School. …..

2. The Commentator, 21 June 2013

The ‘Great Renewables Scam’ unravels

In many parts of northern Europe, wind and solar projects may be highly visible facts on the ground. But the headline economic fact behind renewable energy is, and always has been, its sheer and blatant “unsustainability”.

Energy insiders have long known that the notion of ‘renewable energy’ is a romantic proposition – and an economic bust. But it is amazing what the lure of guaranteed ‘few strings attached’ government subsidies can achieve. Even the Big Oil companies bought into the renewables revolution, albeit mostly for PR reasons. Like Shell, however, many quickly abandoned their fledgling renewable arms. Post-2008, they knew, the subsidy regimes could not last. Neither was the public buying into the new PR message.

Now it was just a question of time before Europe’s world leading pioneers of solar and wind power, Germany and the UK, decided they had had enough of the self-inflicted economic pain. And all the signs are – as Germany’s solar sector just went belly up and the UK is made aware of how much every wind job actually costs – that the slow implosion of the renewables revolution is under way.

The plain fact is that installing solar panels, especially in the northern hemisphere, makes about as much economic sense as Iran heading up a UN Human Rights Commission (which it has done by the way). Equally, the viability of windfarms has always been the renewables industry’s worst kept secret.

And yet, aided by aggressive and heavily-funded green lobbies, leftist social engineers, appalling journalism, naive politicians and unscrupulous opportunistic renewable energy entrepreneurs, wind turbines and the photovoltaic industry quickly became established facts on the ground, giving the appearance of economic ‘viability’. Why else would government back them using our cash? …… 

… In Europe, Germany was a major green pioneer, especially regarding solar energy. The UK, being the windiest country in Europe, focused on wind power. In both countries, however – to mix metaphors – the wheels are fast coming off.

In June, the sun finally set on Germany’s solar sector with power companies, large and small, seeing their £21 billion investment in solar energy disappear into the ether. As one German commentator wryly observed: “the sun does send an invoice after all”.

By mid-June the German company Siemens announced it was winding down its solar division with a view to shutting down completely by next spring. Siemens had entered the solar thermal systems market when it bought the Israeli company Solel, believing market growth would be rapid. The gamble failed. Siemens lost around €1 billion.

In March, Bosch signalled its withdrawal from the solar cell and solar module market. Bosch board chairman Franz Fehrenbach, who had been behind the company’s push into solar energy since 2008 has further admitted that the German solar sector generally is “doomed to die”. Bosch will lose even more than Siemens, probably around €2.4 billion.

But it is the private investors who bore the full brunt of the loss as the former hot shots of the stock exchange, Germany’s SolarWorld and Q-Cells, among other solar companies, lost tens of billions in capital investment.

Meanwhile, in the UK, wind power is again making the headlines, but for all the wrong reasons. A new analysis of government and industry figures revealed that every UK wind industry job is effectively subsidized to the tune of £100,000 per year. In some cases it rises to £1.3 million per job. In Scotland, with its 230 onshore windfarms, the figure is £154,000 per job. Even if the highly optimistic maximum projection of 75,000 wind industry jobs by 2020 is realised the figure would only drop to £80,000.

But, as the Renewable Energy Foundation, a UK think-tank, has pointed out, to meet its EU obligation of providing 15 percent of its generated energy from renewable sources by 2020 – a ridiculously untenable goal – the lavish subsidies will need to rise still further to £6 billion per year. Neither do the figures take into account the cost to the country of an exodus of energy-intensive industries; a very real threat if green levies on energy bills continue to rise. European industry and power stations have already turned to burning millions of imported tonnes of American wood pellets in a desperate bid to keep costs down. And that, as has been reported, is to the detriment of fine forests in the US and a resultant impact on CO2 levels. ….

Solar Energy is in crisis

September 20, 2012

The solar energy industry is in crisis and I keep reading that it is because subsidies are being reduced or eliminated. As if subsidies come for free. I don’t believe subsidies work and the current crisis only proves that the fundamental issue is not subsidies but that solar energy is not (yet ?) commercially viable. It surely has a place in some very particular situations and the best use of solar energy remains with some isolated users or as a “support” for other energy sources. But for base-load power generation it is just  not viable.

Peter Glover writes in the Energy Tribune:

The global solar power industry is in crisis. The industry blames widespread national subsidy cuts and over productivity; China, in particular, being widely vilified on the second count. However, the real cause of the solar industry’s malaise runs deeper, rooted, as it is, in the inescapable fact that, in terms of current technology, commercial scale solar energy remains a non-viable proposition.

(more…)

Now it’s green vs. green: Sierra Club files suit against Calico solar plant

January 5, 2011

It had to come.

The unholy alliance between the extremists of conservation and environmentalism and global warming is not sustainable. Faith is set against faith. Now conservationists are beginning to find the vast tracts of undeveloped land needed by solar projects objectionable.

Reuters reports:

(Reuters) – A leading environmental advocacy group is suing the state of California’s Energy Commission over its approval of a giant solar plant, underscoring the growing challenge to the nation’s renewable-energy goals from within the environmental community.

The lawsuit, filed December 30 in California’s Supreme Court by the Sierra Club, alleges that state regulators improperly approved the plant, known as the Calico Solar Project.

The suit, obtained by Reuters, charges that regulators failed to fully mitigate the project’s impact on rare plant and animal species, and asks the court to void approval and permits for the plant………. Conflicts between solar proponents and foes are taking on growing importance as the industry experiences a boom, particularly for California. The lawsuit is the latest in a string of suits targeting planned solar plants, potentially setting back the development of solar energy and derailing state and federal commitments to lessening dependence on fossil fuels.

Last week, a group called La Cuna de Aztlan, which represents Native American groups such as the Chemehuevi and the Apache, filed a challenge in federal court to the federal government’s approval of six big solar plants.

In December, the Quechan Indian tribe won an injunction blocking construction of the Imperial Valley solar project, under development near California’s border with Mexico by NTR’s Tessera Solar. The Calico plant was also under development by Tessera until the company sold the plant last month to K Road Sun, a subsidiary of New York investment firm K Road Power. Tessera has been struggling to find funding for its plants, which cost about $2 billion.

Using cerium oxide to mimic absorption of solar energy by plants

December 24, 2010

A new paper in Science:

Science 24 December 2010: Vol. 330 no. 6012 pp. 1797-1801 DOI: 10.1126/science.1197834

High-Flux Solar-Driven Thermochemical Dissociation of CO2 and H2O Using Nonstoichiometric Ceria by William C. Chueh, Christoph Falter, Mandy Abbott, Danien Scipio, Philipp Furler, Sossina M. Haile, and Aldo Steinfeld

In the prototype, sunlight heats a ceria cylinder which breaks down water or carbon dioxide

In the prototype, sunlight heats a ceria cylinder which breaks down water or carbon dioxide

Abstract:

Because solar energy is available in large excess relative to current rates of energy consumption, effective conversion of this renewable yet intermittent resource into a transportable and dispatchable chemical fuel may ensure the goal of a sustainable energy future. However, low conversion efficiencies, particularly with CO2 reduction, as well as utilization of precious materials have limited the practical generation of solar fuels. By using a solar cavity-receiver reactor, we combined the oxygen uptake and release capacity of cerium oxide and facile catalysis at elevated temperatures to thermochemically dissociate CO2 and H2O, yielding CO and H2, respectively. Stable and rapid generation of fuel was demonstrated over 500 cycles. Solar-to-fuel efficiencies of 0.7 to 0.8% were achieved and shown to be largely limited by the system scale and design rather than by chemistry.

The BBC says:

A prototype solar device has been unveiled which mimics plant life, turning the Sun’s energy into fuel. The machine uses the Sun’s rays and a metal oxide called ceria to break down carbon dioxide or water into fuels which can be stored and transported.

Conventional photovoltaic panels must use the electricity they generate in situ, and cannot deliver power at night. Details are published in the journal Science. The prototype, which was devised by researchers in the US and Switzerland, uses a quartz window and cavity to concentrate sunlight into a cylinder lined with cerium oxide, also known as ceria.

Ceria has a natural propensity to exhale oxygen as it heats up and inhale it as it cools down.

If as in the prototype, carbon dioxide and/or water are pumped into the vessel, the ceria will rapidly strip the oxygen from them as it cools, creating hydrogen and/or carbon monoxide. Hydrogen produced could be used to fuel hydrogen fuel cells in cars, for example, while a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide can be used to create “syngas” for fuel. It is this harnessing of ceria’s properties in the solar reactor which represents the major breakthrough, say the inventors of the device. They also say the metal is readily available, being the most abundant of the “rare-earth” metals. Methane can be produced using the same machine, they say.

The prototype is grossly inefficient, the fuel created harnessing only between 0.7% and 0.8% of the solar energy taken into the vessel. Most of the energy is lost through heat loss through the reactor’s wall or through the re-radiation of sunlight back through the device’s aperture.

But the researchers are confident that efficiency rates of up to 19% can be achieved through better insulation and smaller apertures. Such efficiency rates, they say, could make for a viable commercial device.

“The chemistry of the material is really well suited to this process,” says Professor Sossina Haile of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). “This is the first demonstration of doing the full shebang, running it under (light) photons in a reactor.”

It has been suggested that the device mimics plants, which also use carbon dioxide, water and sunlight to create energy as part of the process of photosynthesis. But Professor Haile thinks the analogy is over-simplistic. “Yes, the reactor takes in sunlight, we take in carbon dioxide and water and we produce a chemical compound, so in the most generic sense there are these similarities, but I think that’s pretty much where the analogy ends.”

While cerium is quite abundant in the earth’s crust it is one of the “rare earths” and current production is dominated by China.  Cerium oxide, which is used to finish semiconductors and obtained from the rare earth element cerium, rose in price from $ 4.70 per kg on April 20 to 36 U.S. dollars a kilo on Tuesday, October 19. An increase of 665 percent.


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