Outrun Change

We need to learn quickly to keep up with the massive change around us so we don't get run over. We need to outrun change.

More tidbits on the foolishness of rooftop solar

Here are two more articles pointing out the risks to the electric grid and economic destruction of rooftop solar. Didn’t realize how big a mess I would find when I started this series of posts!

4/18 – New York Times – Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes The huge increase in solar power generated from rooftops in Hawaii is creating instability in the grid across the islands. The capacity and output from homes is invisible to the electric companies, which makes it increasingly difficult to maintain stable power.

You can translate ‘risk’ as an increased chance of random spikes, brownouts, and blackouts.

You may enjoy seeing the electric companies experience their business model collapsing, but ponder that somehow we all need to have a generation and distribution system in place and operating. Someone needs to fund that massively complex, expensive system.

Our entire society, economy, prosperity, and health is based on having as much electricity available as you want the instant you flip a switch. Really bad things will happen if that instantaneous source of power is not longer reliable.

5/18 – Brian Potts at Wall Street Journal –The Hole in the Rooftop Solar-Panel Craze /Large-scale plants make sense, but panels for houses simply transfer wealth from average electric customers.

Op-ed points out a variety of economic problems caused by rooftop solar. The costs are heavily subsidized to the tune of 30% or 40% of the installed cost by various federal and state subsidies.

Net-metering transfers money from people who don’t have rooftop solar to rich people who can afford to install it. Article says the California PUC says net metering will cost the state $1.1B per year 8 years from now. I think that is the direct cost.

An additional subsidy flows from those who don’t have the means to install rooftop solar to those who do. This is done because of the basic way that utilities cover their costs. There are massive fixed costs for transmission and generation of electricity. That is paid by converting the fixed costs into variable rates per hour of electricity used. People who buy less electricity from utility provide less money to cover those fixed costs, which shortfall will have to be covered by people who don’t install rooftop panels.

Yet another inefficiency is the installation costs – Microinstallations, the author says. Basically getting a crew assembled, driving somewhere, climbing around on a dangerous roof, and installing a tiny capacity instead of the very large capacity the same amount of labor could do in an industrial sized facility.

The entire rooftop solar industry would collapse before lunch today, certainly by tomorrow morning, were it not for multiple layers of massive subsidies. Hmm. Maybe we could call it welfare for the upper middle class.

Article also says the overall cost of a rooftop solar facility is 3 1/2 times as expensive as coal or natural gas.

Specific numbers the author provides for 1 kWh of electricity:

  • $0.06 – coal or natural gas
  • $0.05 to $0.06 – industrial solar plant in the Southwest (I severely doubt those numbers, but that is a discussion for another day)
  • $0.13 – rooftop solar (I’ll guess that doesn’t include the multiple layers of subsidies)

As always, those calculations conveniently ignore the issue of needing a backup power source, either natural gas or coal, instantly available round-the-clock for when or it’s raining or merely clouds passing by.

What to do when it is overcast?

Oh yeah, remember that the rooftop solar thingie works fantastically because in the sunny Southwest geography the sun is shining brilliantly from mid-morning until mid-evening every day of the year.

Don’t forget to keep a couple huge gas plants fired up to provide backup electricity in Southern California when the entire area has been overcast like in the last couple days.

Or for the entire week before we went on vacation.

I can’t quite imagine what the cost would be to have one or several gas plants available that don’t produce electricity most days of the year spread over the few days a year the plant is in use. Who’s gonna’ pay for that?

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