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.

Archive for the tag “solar power”

More economic problems for wind and solar

Photo of wind turbines north of Tioga, N.D. by James Ulvog.

Lots of money is pouring in to construction wind and solar plants, but that will continue only if the massive subsidies stay in place.

7/25/17 – AP at Billings Gazette – Montana ruling casts shadow over future of solar farm – Montana state regulators approved a 80 GW solar plant with reported cost of about $100M.

The approval allows the output to be sold at only $20 per megawatt and that contract only runs for 10 years. Presumably after that time the company would have to sell whatever output is actually generated at market prices.

Company wants a 25 year contract at $43.50. Anything less than that makes it uneconomical.

Let me translate that.

The project will only be profitable if all of the following conditions are met:

Read more…

More on the downside of unreliable solar power: Paying to get rid of excess electricity.

Photo by James Ulvog.

There is so much excess electricity from solar power that sometimes California has to pay utilities in other states to take it. Also, what will we do with all those panels when they wear out?

6/22/17 – Los Angeles Times – California invested heavily in solar power. Now there is so much that other states are sometimes paid to take it – There are two non-negotiable physical laws that undercut the value of solar power.

First, electricity must be used the instant it is generated. Second, solar power is generated when the sun is bright not necessarily when the electricity is needed.

Some days, there is so much solar power in California that “we” have to pay utilities in Arizona to take the electricity in order to keep from overloading the grid in California.

Read more…

More articles on the downside of intermittent power

The heat on that rooftop during a hot day degrades performance.   “Solar Panel” by Marufish is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A few articles over the last month on the substantial problems from trying to rely on intermittent power sources.

  • Heavy use of wind and solar in Germany is also destabilizing the grid in Poland and Czech Republic
  • New words to use when discussing intermittent energy:  energy from weather; wind plants (not farms); corporate welfare recipients
  • Effective capacity from energy sources in US (actual output compared to theoretical nameplate rating):  wind 13%, solar 38%, natural gas 87%
  • Solar panels lose output when it is really hot on the roof

2/16/17 – Wall Street Journal – In Central Europe, Germany’s Renewable Revolution Causes Friction / The country’s surplus power, a byproduct of its shift to green energy, is spilling over into Poland and Czech Republic, straining their electrical grids – Germany’s grand plan of Energiewende (meaning energy revolution) involves generating massive amounts of unreliable and unpredictable power from solar and wind sources in the northern part of the country for use in the industry intensive southern region. An additional problem (beyond massive surge and drops in production) is the country does not have enough power lines to transmit the electricity from the north to the south. As a result the power is transferred into Poland and Czech Republic and then in turn transmitted to southern Germany. Essentially the electricity is rerouted a couple hundred miles east before it is routed 400 or 500 miles south.

The complication is that on those days with lots of sunlight and those hours when there happens to strong wind (but not too much) the Polish and Czech energy markets are overwhelmed with surplus energy.

Read more…

How to cope with the intermittent output from solar power plants during a solar eclipse? Turn off your air conditioning and sweat it out.

For one day in August the Ivanpah facility won’t be incinerating as many birds as usual, due to the solar eclipse. Photo by James Ulvog.

Yeah, turn up the a/c temp is what those of us in California should do during the solar eclipse on August 21, according to the CPUC. Sweat it out.

The eclipse will start about 9 a.m. and hit maximum sun coverage about 10:20, with full sun resuming about 11:54 a.m.

Two issues. That is the front end of peak solar production during the day and August 21 is likely to be a hot day. That means output from solar plants will be lower than usual while demand for electricity will likely be higher than usual.

Drop in amount of sunlight is expected to be about 62% in SoCal, around 76% in northern part of state.

During the eclipse, about two-thirds of the solar production will be lost at the time of day when about 40% of our electricity comes from solar plants. Using those numbers means we will lose about 27% of our electricity production during that three hour time frame.

Read more…

Poor economics for batteries at the industrial scale and to power a home

Industrial backup power system consisting of many batteries. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Someday some wizard will develop a chemistry breakthrough that will do for storage of electricity what horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has done for oil and gas production.

In the meantime, the cost for battery storage of electricity is staggering.

5/22/17 – Wall Street Journal – The Race to Build a Better Big Battery – The unreliable intermittent nature of solar power is a massive problem blocking the way of solar being a viable substitute for fossil fuels.

Major efforts are underway to figure out some way to store electricity on an industrial scale.

One cited experiment is being run by Greet Mountain Power. They have a 7,722 panel solar plant which has a theoretical capacity of providing the power to 2,000 homes when the weather conditions are right.

Read more…

An illustration of the horrible economics of residential rooftop solar power

Wealth transfer to wealthy under construction. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Robert Bryce explains in an editorial at the Wall Street Journal on 4/18/17 the lousy economics of rooftop solar panels: Thanks for Giving Me Your Tax Money.

Mr. Bryce appreciates each of us for giving him our money. Of course, it was done through the tax system so it wasn’t much of a gift. Anyone who did not go along with funding his lark would have to spend some time in jail.

He explains he installed a 8,540 watt solar system on his roof. That means the 28 panels generate 301 watts each.

I have been wanting to see financial results from an actual rooftop installation. Mr. Bryce provides a set of actual numbers.

Here is the breakdown of the actual cost:

  • $7,758 – federal tax subsidy
  •   6,593 – subsidy from city owned utility
  • 18,100 – his out-of-pocket costs
  • 32,451 – total cost

That means you and I covered 44% of the cost.

He says his system is generating about 12 mWh MWh of electricity a year.

Hmm. That would be about 32.9 kWh a day. For a system with 8,540 watt capacity, the potential, or faceplate capacity is 205.0 kWh each day. So what’s the capacity production on his system?

Read more…

Initial reports for solar panels embedded in road. Well, actually, a walkway. Output worth around a nickel per day.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

A prototype of solar panels installed in roads is being tested. Results are not particularly promising. (Similar story could be told of two projects in Europe, but will have to cover that another day.)

10/18/16 – Daily Caller News Foundation – Solar Road is “Total and Epic” Failure, 83% Of Its Panels Break in a Week – The test project is in Idaho. The concept is that 30 panels installed in a street (actually a walkway so the panels are not actually getting the wear of being in a road) will provide enough power to run a water fountain and the lights in a restroom.

Eighteen panels were DOA. Another five panels failed after a rain shower. Not a hail storm. Not an unseasonal torrential rain. Not a blizzard, as happens often in northern locations. Like Idaho.

A shower.

Article says only 5 of the 30 panels were working at the time.

Read more…

More disruption in the electricity grid from all that solar output

Curtailed electricity in California during 2016 was greater than the output from any one of those towers. Photo by James Ulvog.

The routine surge of electricity during the late morning and early afternoon in California is disrupting the electricity system. Matching the excess production of electricity during the day with highest use in the evening is going to be expensive for consumers.

The underlying issue is solar is neither reliable nor dispatchable.  The issue is beginning to be a problem and will get far worse.

3/5/17 – Wall Street Journal – How California Utilities are Managing Excess Solar Power – There is so much solar power in California that when the sun is bright, there is too much electricity and it must be sold cheaply just to get rid of it. Then, when the sun goes down and demand goes up after people get home from work, there isn’t enough electricity and the spot price goes sky high.

Article says that during the day, the wholesale spot price of electricity frequently shrinks to zero. Occasionally the wholesale spot price can hit $1,000 a megawatt-hour after dark. That would be about a dollar a kilowatt. $1.00.

At the end of the article there is a comment that on 178 days in 2016 the wholesale price went negative. The spot was below zero. The solar plants in California had to pay someone to take the excess electricity. I wonder what that does to the bottom line at Ivanpah? (That is a rhetorical question. – Impact on them is zero because I think they are on a multi-decade fixed price contract.)

Huge battery plants can store electricity during the day and discharge at night. That is expensive. Article says the price ranges from $285 up to $581 a megawatt-hour, which is in contrast to a natural gas peaker at $155 to $227 a megawatt-hour. That is around twice as expensive.

3/18/17 – David Danelski of Press-Enterprise at Daily Bulletin – Here’s how California ended up with too much solar power – The amount of solar power now online in California is so high that it is disrupting the electricity market.

The impact of so much solar capacity shows up at two times during the day.

Read more…

Massive experiment to store electricity will add massive cost to consumers

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The Gordon Butte Pumped Storage Hydro Project in Montana is moving forward, having previously received an assessment of no significant impact on the environment from FERC and having just received a 50 year license to operate the facility.

Looks to me like the project will substantially increase the cost of electricity.

Stored water concept

The concept is that electricity generated by wind farms plants or solar farms plants when there is no need for the electricity can be sent to the Gordon Butte facility. The otherwise unusable electricity will be used to pump water from a reservoir uphill to a reservoir at a higher elevation. That “stores” the potential energy.

Later, when consumers want more electricity than the slice-and-dicers and wing-toasters can produce, water will be drained from the upper reservoir to the lower reservoir through turbines thus generating electricity from the stored water.

Read more…

Updates on renewable energy

Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub before it merged into Adobe Stock.

Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub before it merged into Adobe Stock.

A few of many articles of interest for unreliable energy.

  • Very large solar farm completed in snowy Minnesota
  • Fighting over taxes on wind power

10/21 – AP at Reuters – Construction wraps up on largest solar facility in Midwest and 1/21/16 – Star Tribune – Largest Minnesota solar array wins approval from utility regulators and Community Energy Solar – North Star Solar

The North Star Solar facility in Minnesota has over 440,000 solar panels with theoretical capacity of 100 MW. Reported cost is $180M.

Read more…

Additional issues at Ivanpah: melting the salt and high winds

Production possible when there is no rain, or clouds, and if the wind isn't blowing too strong. Tilted photo by James Ulvog.

Production possible only when there is no rain, or clouds, and if the wind isn’t blowing too strong. Tilt angle photo by James Ulvog.

In my learning about energy, I’ve picked up on a few more problems with concentrated solar power, which is the design of the wing-toasting facility at Ivanpah.

Keeping the molten salt melted

All those mirrors focus the sun on the top of the tower in order to superheat a liquid, which is then circulated to turbines, which spin, thus generating electricity. The liquid returns to the top of the tower for another superheating.

The liquid?

Molten salt.

The melting temperature of molten salt is in the range of 225° C or perhaps 260° C. Of course my accounting brain doesn’t think Celsius, so I translated those numbers, coming up with something in the range of 437° F or 500° F. Let’s just call that 400°.

My accounting brain can tell that is really hot.

Another thing I have learned is that once the sun goes down the molten salt is allowed to freeze. It would take a lot of energy to keep that much salt over 400 so that it stayed liquid. That means in the morning it is either sludge or solid and needs to be heated above the melting point so it will work.

Read more…

More news on the damage from solar power

For those panels to pay off, the regulators need to keep rules in place for a decade or two. Not a good bet. Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

For those panels to pay off, you are betting the regulators will keep rules in place for a decade or two. Not a particularly good bet. Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com


Two articles last week on disruptions from solar power. Illustration why it’s not wise to make it decade-long bet on residential rooftop solar. Also, a video surveillance system that might, perhaps allow getting an accurate count on the tally of bird deaths at Ivanpah.

7/26 – New York Times – Why Home Solar Panels No Longer in Some States – Friendly suggestion for your consideration: Don’t place $20,000 on a 12 year bet that politically driven government regulators won’t change the rules.

The story of one specific man in California is used to illustrate the danger of betting on stability in government rules.

In California, electricity rates have been structured so that there are four tiers of consumption. To punish heavy residential electricity users, prices in tiers three and four are steep, running as high as $.36 a kilowatt-hour for tier 4 with PG&E. To protect most folks from rising cost of electricity the lower two tiers were set low, resulting in a cross-subsidy. Read more…

More news on the environmental and ecological damage caused by unreliable renewables.

Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

FWS proposes to allow 4,200 incidental takings (that means killing them) of the above bird each year. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

The bad news just keeps rolling in on how much damage is caused by wind and solar power. An update on the proposal to allow wind projects to kill off a bunch of eagles, more followup on an Ivanpah tower starting itself on fire, and negative electricity prices in Germany.

5/15 – Robert Bryce at Wall Street Journal – An Ill Wind: Open Season on Bald Eagles / Sacrificing 4,200 of the birds a year for green energy sounds fine to regulators.

Proposed rule will extend to 30 years from 5 years the amount of time that wind farm operators are allowed to kill eagles. This will allow taking out up to 4,200 bald eagles a year out of the estimated 72,400 living in the US today.

Read more…

Ivanpah wing toasting facility toasts Ivanpah wing toasting facility

Ivanpah facility toasted itself instead of birds on Thursday. Photo by James Ulvog.

Ivanpah facility toasted itself instead of birds on Thursday. Photo by James Ulvog.

The solar facility that typically sets birds on fire scored itself big time on Thursday.

One of the solar collecting towers at Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System had a fire about two-thirds of the way up the tower. Early reports indicate some of the garage-door sized mirrors were misaligned and focused the searing heat on the middle part of tower instead of the collector. The heat reportedly started a number of electrical cables on fire.

The solar generator set itself on fire instead of setting birds on fire which generates visible streamers. Those are birds started on fire and falling to the ground streaming smoke.

Read more…

More disruption from unstable renewable energy

Unreliable energy. Notice turbines are facing many different directions as indicator of low, irregular output. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Unreliable energy near Palm Springs, CA. Notice turbines are facing many different directions as indicator of low, irregular output. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Renewable energy sources are unreliable because the output is variable and unpredictable. They also require massive subsidies to underwrite installation and production. Here are a few articles I’ve noted that describe the economic and environmental damage from unreliables.


3/26/16 – Wall Street Journal – Solar-Panel Installers Face Clouded Future / Solar-power incentives for homeowners shrinking as local utilities pressure state regulators – Let’s go through the economics again.

Residential solar power only works because of massive subsidies. Federal taxpayers must provide subsidies through federal tax credits, state taxpayers must provide subsidies through state incentives, and electricity users must provide subsidies through net-metering. If any subsidy goes away, the economics of residential solar collapse.

Article makes the point one more time: unreliable renewables only with heavy subsidies. When Nevada announced plans to cut back the massive cross-subsidy from other consumers, solar installers closed up shop in the state.

Here’s why. Look at the payment given to solar-customers for electricity their site produces but doesn’t use:

Read more…

Post Navigation