Posts Tagged ‘Solar power’

Solar Impulse 2 is more fossil than solar

March 18, 2015

The BBC reports that the much hyped, Swiss Solar Impulse 2 is crossing India on its way to Myanmar:

BBCThe solar-powered plane attempting to fly around the world is in the air again, crossing India and hoping to make it to Myanmar on Thursday. Solar Impulse, with Andre Borschberg at the controls, took off from Ahmedabad at 07:18 local time (01:48 GMT).

It is heading to Varanasi in India’s Uttar Pradesh region, where it will make a short “pit stop” before pushing on over the Bay of Bengal. The leg to Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) will be flown by Bertrand Piccard. The two pilots are taking it in turns to guide Solar Impulse on its circumnavigation of the globe.

So far, they have covered about 2,000km in two segments since beginning the adventure in Abu Dhabi. It will likely be another five months before they return to the United Arab Emirates, having crossed both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans in the process.

It is surely a challenging piloting exercise but it is worth noting, as Pierre Gosselin points out, that some tens of thousands of litres of aviation fuel will be burned to keep Solar Impulse 2 in the air. For safety reasons the batteries on board will probably be fully charged at each take-off. It is not clear as to what extent the batteries will be topped up by using electrical power (which will be predominantly fossil fuel based) at each of the stops.

NoTricksZoneAccording to an audio report by SRF Swiss Radio and Television the Solar Impulse 2 mission involves the substitute pilot, a technical ground crew “of dozens of people” and tonnes of equipment and logistical supplies that have to be flown behind using conventional charter flights. The “fossil fuel-free” Solar Impulse 2 journey is in fact being made possible only with the use of tens of thousands of litres of aviation fuel. This is a fact that is being almost entirely ignored by the media.

The SRF reporter tells listeners:

“It is so that the entire group, the team members, are multiple dozens of men and women, have to fly behind in charter planes. This naturally is the less sustainable aspect of the entire project, but it just isn’t possible any other way. This involves one cargo plane for transporting all the equipment, and a small passenger plane on which the entire group travels to the destinations.”

A promotion video here shows how the aircraft was transported from Europe to its start point in Abu Dhabi earlier this year: With a Boeing 747!

Global map

source Solar Impulse via BBC

Five months, no cargo and no luggage beside the 2 pilots, a large support staff and a great deal of fossil energy somehow seems much less impressive than Jules Verne’s story (published in 1873) envisaging Phileas Fogg and Passepartout circumnavigating the world, with all their luggage and later an Indian princess, in just 80 days.

Green has become the colour of deception.


Subsidy madness in the name of environmentalism is unsustainable

July 6, 2012

I don’t believe in subsidies.

In over 30 years in power generation I have yet to see a convincing case of public subsidies in the market place actually helping to commercialise new technologies. I have seen cases where Government support at the research stage has helped to bring new areas into focus and which has eventually led to commercially driven investments which have deployed the technology. But temporarily distorting the market place by means of public subsidy is unsustainable and does not – in itself – help to make a new technology commercially viable. In fact an artificially distorted market in favour of a new technology only helps to cuccoon and insulate it such that there is no incentive left to make it competitive. Subsidies shift the focus from technology development to  subsidy maximisation and when subsidies begin to be removed all creativity is wasted on prolonging subsidies.

The case of subsiding the market place for the deployment of renewable energy is a case in point. Developing technology for wind and solar power is desirable but distorting the market place to deploy wind and solar is just plain stupid and unsustainable.

1. Der Spiegel

Solar subsidies cost German consumers billions of dollars a year and are widely regarded as inefficient. Even environmentalists are concerned that Berlin’s focus on solar comes at the detriment of other renewables. But the solar industry has a powerful lobby, and politicians have proven powerless to resist.

…… A new study by Georg Erdmann, professor of energy systems at Berlin’s Technical University, reveals just how far Germany’s current center-right governing coalition — made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) — has strayed from its own self-imposed goals. Erdmann has calculated the effects that the latest changes to the EEG will have between now and 2030. He believes that subsidies for renewable energy, including an expansion of the power grid, will saddle energy consumers with costs well over €300 billion ($377 billion). ….

2. BBC News

Fight on for wind power subsidies

Wind power firms warn they may take the government to court if they get caught in a political row over subsidies. After conducting technical studies, the energy department proposed a subsidy cut of 10% for power from onshore wind. But the chancellor is under pressure from back-benchers to scrap subsidies, and is said to favour a 25% cut.

The industry body, Renewable UK, says it may take legal action if the government makes a decision that overrides its own technical evidence. … 


California’s Green Suicide

New economic impact study on California’s Global Warming Solutions Act finds that the average California family will end up paying an additional $2,500 annually by 2020. In addition, the state is expected to lose an additional 262,000 jobs, 5.6 percent of the gross state product, and a whopping $7.4 billion through decreased annual state and local tax revenues as a result.

The California Manufacturers and Technology Association released a new report last week that suggests costs associated with AB 32 may be a lot higher than previously estimated. AB 32, otherwise known as the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger- propelling California to the forefront in the fight against global warming. Successful passage of the law effectively turned the state into one of the most stringent regulators of green house gas emissions in the nation and globally. Some would argue that the move all but eliminated California’s competitive edge in today’s market. ……

“Boom and bust” for solar power in New Jersey

May 14, 2012

As distorting subsidy regimes are reduced or withdrawn and even with the collapse of prices for solar pv modules, solar power shows that it is still a long way from being commercially viable. This report is on the unhealthy and distorted situation in New Jersey where even more “artificial” legislation is planned to keep this non-viable industry alive. It would be far healthier to allow solar power plants to find their natural – unsubsidised – commercial niches. And there are commercially viable niches in industry and in domestic use for solar power  – albeit only as an auxiliary energy source (pv) or in support of domestic heating or of conventional thermal power plants (solar thermal).

Press of Atlantic City

The prices that power companies pay for solar power have all but collapsed, curtailing future development and leaving those who installed systems struggling to repay their loans. A glut of power has meant that prices have fallen by more than 80 percent in the span of a year.

In response, solar power advocates are pushing for state legislation that would limit the amount of solar power that can be produced by large companies, while mandating that power companies buy more solar power. …..


China downgrades solar and wind power – pushes for nuclear, hydro and shale gas

April 8, 2012

Common sense and simple economics are beginning to reassert themselves as the the fundamental weaknesses in the fashionable – but subsidised – expansion of solar and wind power plants are revealed. The expensive, intermittent and unpredictable generation  that derives from solar and wind power plants can – at best – be used to augment an existing system. They are actually useful as an auxiliary heat and power source as small decentralised units. But in a large power grid they are more of a nuisance than an asset and can only increase the cost to the consumer.

China has now published a policy document changing direction towards nuclear and hydro power and an accelerated development of shale gas use. Solar and wind power are downgraded.

Electric Light & Power

China will accelerate the use of new-energy sources such as nuclear energy and put an end to blind expansion in industries such as solar energy and wind power in 2012, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says in a government report published on March 5. 


Subsidies for electricity production in the US show that renewables are far from commercialisation

November 23, 2011

Data for 2010 is now available from the US Energy Information Administration.  Solar and Wind power are still a long way from being commercial with just direct subsidies being equivalent to 7.8 and 5.6 cents/kWh respectively. Indirect subsidies and increased costs for alternate capacity are not included.

My view of subsidies in power generation is that they are usually counter productive and provide windfalls for developers and constructors but rarely lead to benefits for the consumers of electricity.

Factors Affecting Electricity Prices:

The average retail price of electricity in the United States in 2010 was 9.88 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The average prices by type of utility customer were:

  • Residential: 11.6¢ per kWh
  • Transportation: 11.0¢ per kWh
  • Commercial: 10.3¢ per kWh
  • Industrial: 6.8¢ per kWh


Renewable Energy follies: Subsidies discourage maintenance

July 6, 2011

A key problem with subsidising “renewable energy” is that the economics become so distorted that developers/owners focus first on maximising the extraction of subsidies and not on the long-term operation of the plant or the production of power. As soon as payback is achieved the focus is on generating revenues while minimising  expenditure on operation and maintenance (O & M). Inevitably such plants are abandoned as soon as the O & M costs approach the level of revenues. Whereas conventional power plants (coal, gas, hydro and nuclear) have a design life of 30 – 40 years and often carry out maintenance to extend this lifetime, subsidised “renewable energy” plants have a lifetime of less than 10 years and often even less.

For example grants for construction and high tariffs were used for many years to encourage sugar producers in India and Brazil and other countries to build power plants burning bagasse (the waste matter left after crushing sugar-cane to extract juice). But the consequence was that sugar producers could generate more revenue by producing power rather than sugar – especially when the sugar price was low. Sugar producers built power plants which were larger than they needed themselves and based solely on the level of grant that could be extracted. Access to the grid was guaranteed. But again many of these plants were abandoned as soon as the O & M costs became too onerous. Effectively the developers had recovered all the investment (which was mainly grant money anyway) and more from the allowed 16 – 20% rate of return (which in practice was more like about 30-50% ) of the supposed investment. As plants were “cashed out” and abandoned, the grid just had to absorb the disturbances – which were not negligible.

The subsidies in Europe for wind and solar power are encouraging the same behaviour. In Germany the almost profligate subsidy regime has encouraged the implementation of less than serious power projects by less than serious developers. The game has been the extraction of subsidies not of generating power. In Germany wind turbine and photo-voltaic solar cell plants popped up everywhere. Farmers and shop-keepers and schools all have became power generators. Grid stability has been weakened to cope with the plethora of small plants cutting in and out of the grid. The obscenely high feed-in tariffs in Spain have encouraged solar plants to burn more gas than permitted and pass off the power generated as being “renewable power” at the high tariff. But as the subsidy regime weakens and tariffs reduce and grants are scaled down, the likelihood of these plants being abandoned is increasing. Certainly there is no incentive to spend any money on maintenance.

P. Gosselin at NoTricksZone has this about a pv solar plant (2.7 MW) after less than 2 years:

Weed-Covered, Neglected Solar Park: 20 Acres, $11 Million, Only One And Half Years Old! 

solar plant weeds

Over the next few years we shall see many more solar and wind power plants in Europe where money will not be spent on maintenance unless it is absolutely necessary for the generation of short-term (subsidised and inflated) revenues. Long-term maintenance will just not happen. And when the O & M costs become too onerous the plants will simply be abandoned. No doubt bankruptcies will be arranged when the plants are cashed-out such that there is no recourse to the developers/owners for any remaining liabilities.

Subsidies just don’t work for their intended purpose in power generation – but they are short-term gold mines for some developers.

Misguided solar subsidies favoured the wealthy

November 11, 2010

Further confirmation that subsidies in general are counter productive and in the case of solar panels in Australia were misguided:

From ABC News:

A new report has found the Federal Government’s billion-dollar subsidies for solar energy favoured the wealthy and barely reduced Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past decade, successive federal governments have provided generous subsidies to households installing solar roof-top panels.

But the cost effectiveness and fairness of the solar voltaic rebate program is being questioned. Andrew Macintosh, the associate director of the Australian National University’s Centre for Climate Law and Policy, has reviewed the program. He says it has barely reduced Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and it has favoured the rich. “What we found was that the cost of the program was very high,” he said. “It cost the government about $1.1 billion. For that we got about a six-fold increase in solar generation, but still solar constituted only 0.1 per cent of total generation, so a relatively small technology in the overall grid,” he said.

“We’ve been handing out a lot of subsidies for solar systems, but the most people who pick up these subsidies tend to be from wealthier households … and as a result we’re basically providing middle and upper class welfare.”

In June last year the Federal Government cancelled the program at short notice.


Solar power subsidies go wrong even in Australia

October 31, 2010

The evidence that subsidies are inherently unhealthy and can be counter-productive continues to grow :

Now the Sydney Morning Herald reports that in NSW

HOUSEHOLDS will pay an extra $600 on their electricity bill over six years to cover the $2 billion cost of the failure of the state government’s overly generous solar power scheme. If elected in March, the opposition will have the scheme, which runs to the end of 2016, reviewed by the auditor-general so that it can decide on its future.

From midnight last Wednesday, the government slashed from 60¢ to 20¢ per kilowatt hour the tariff paid to households installing solar panel systems because the surging number of applications has blown out the scheme’s cost.

In reports tabled in Parliament last week, the government disclosed that it had been advised that even after slashing the tariff for solar panels, it anticipated 777 megawatts of solar panels would be installed by the time the scheme closed. Already, 200 megawatts of capacity has either been installed or ordered. The reports detailed the total cost to households is forecast to reach $1975 million by 2017, placing a burden on homes at a time when power prices are rising sharply already.

The government refused to indicate when it first became aware that the initial 50-megawatt target had been breached, which triggered an automatic review of the scheme. The government began that review in August. However, Country Energy, one of the largest distributors in NSW, was informing solar industry officials as early as May that the target had already been reached. Even so, the government ”dithered until August” before holding its review, with the report only completed last week, opposition climate change spokeswoman Catherine Cusack said yesterday.

‘Labor’s billion-dollar blowout will be passed on to families who will pay at least an extra $100 per year on their electricity bills every year until 2017,” she said. The total cost to families in some regional areas could be $1000.

The NSW scheme paid existing solar clients 60¢ per kilowatt hour for all energy produced; other states have ”net” schemes that pay for surplus power after domestic use is taken off. NSW had the most generous scheme – now the least. Victoria’s net scheme pays 60¢ per kilowatt hour, Queensland pays 44¢ and Western Australia pays 40¢.

Solar power subsidies are not sustainable

October 28, 2010


The power plant.

Planta termosolar Andasol: Image via Wikipedia


In Spain the huge subsidies (with feed in tariffs as much as ten times the average cost of electricity production) had led to a rush of developers getting into projects which is now proving unsustainable. Bloomberg reports that

Solar investors  were lured by a 2007 law passed by the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that guaranteed producers a so-called solar tariff of as much as 44 cents per kilowatt-hour for their electricity for 25 years — more than 10 times the 2007 average wholesale price of about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour paid to mainstream energy suppliers. Now more than 50,000 other Spanish solar entrepreneurs face financial disaster as the policy makers contemplate cutting the price guarantees that attracted their investment in the first place.

Spain stands as a lesson to other aspiring green-energy nations, including China and the U.S., by showing how difficult it is to build an alternative energy industry even with billions of euros in subsidies, says Ramon de la Sota, a private investor in Spanish photovoltaic panels and a former General Electric Co. executive. “The government totally overshot with the tariff,” de la Sota says. “Now they have a huge bill to pay — but where’s the technology, where’s the know-how, where’s the value?”

The situation in Germany is equally disturbing. The New Scientist reports

Solar power is intermittent and can arrive in huge surges when the sun comes out. These most often happen near midday rather than when demand for power is high, such as in the evenings. A small surge can be accommodated by switching off conventional power station generators, to keep the overall supply to the grid the same. But if the solar power input is too large it will exceed demand even with all the generators switched off. Stephan Köhler, head of Germany’s energy agency, DENA, warned in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung on 17 October that at current rates of installation, solar capacity will soon reach those levels, and could trigger blackouts.

Subsidies have encouraged German citizens and businesses to install solar panels and sell surplus electricity to the grid at a premium. Uptake has been so rapid that solar capacity could reach 30 gigawatts, equal to the country’s weekend power consumption, by the end of next year. “We need to cap installation of new panels,” a spokesperson for DENA told New Scientist.

The experience with highly subsidised feed-in tariffs is proving to be less than successful. In country after country the use of such subsidies is proving to be a major distortion, unhealthy and unsustainable. Countries such as India which are contemplating the use of similar subsidies for promoting intermittent, wind or solar power are beginning to have second thoughts and are now having to consider caps. It is beginning to sink in that such intermittent capacity cannot be counted into the generating base and does not reduce the need for alternative, backup generating capacity. Moreover the use of intermittent power from solar and wind only ensures that the operating conditions for the alternative capacity and for the grid are fundamentally more inefficient. This in turn leads to a hidden cost as a consequence of using the solar or wind power.

It is likely that these subsidies will have to be scaled down drastically.

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