The Gross Inefficieny and Ridiculous Cost of Solar Power

Discussion in 'Politics' started by DubStyle, Oct 24, 2009.

  1. DubStyle I may be wrong, but I doubt it Registered Senior Member

    Largest solar panel plant in US rises in Fla. - Yahoo! News

    They just finished the largest solar power station in the US. 25MW for $150,000,000 on 180 acres. Thats just absurd. I do consulting for some of the largest power utilities in the world. Here are some stats for context. Based on this project, the solar facility has a cost of roughly $6,000,000 per MW. The most expensive steam generating plant costs AT MOST $2,500 per MW. It takes about 7 to 8 acres of land to generate a single MW of electricity. 7 acres....

    Not only that, but as for the payback goes, this $150 million station will produce about $2 million worth of power per year (assuming a generous wholesale cost of 3 cents per kW-hr). We will all be dead before this operation shows a profit.

    If you built a facility like this in every state, it still wouldnt even produce as much power as a single nuclear reactor.

    I know its hard for for people to conceptualize how much electricity a MW is, but the entire generating capacity of the US is 1,087,791 MWs. A megawatt is nothing...

    The fact of the matter is that solar can never replace a significant portion of the US power capacity. Not only are the economics of it shitty, but its simply not possible to get solar to generate a material amount of our energy needs. Not unless you want to go back to candlelight.

    Another interesting power fact. To get solar (and/or wind) to 20% of our total capacity, we would need every steam gen plant in the country to be re-powered and not shut down so that they can be used to provide power when solar and wind cant run do to environmental factors or when we are in a situation that would need extra power. To get renewables to 33% of our total capacity, we would need roughly 40% additional steam capacity.

    These news articles make everything sounds great, but when you know the energetics of our power system, it is simply not feasible.

  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  3. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    You seem to be overlooking other forms of solar power generation, such as heat engine or heat pipe collectors, and ignoring storage as a solvable problem.

    You are also failing to compare equivalent costs, by focusing on the initial infrastructure costs only, and ignoring fuel, transport, waste disposal, etc.
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  5. Echo3Romeo One man wolfpack Registered Senior Member

    Yeah, PV sucks. It's grossly inefficient and ridiculously expensive to implement on a large scale.

    The biggest cons to implementing solar on a wide scale is the finity of land where the solar flux is high enough to make collection economical, and the contingent nature of sunlight. I'm sure we'll see more and more of these proverbial drops in the bucket in the coming decades, but they will never supplant the base load generation.
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  7. otheadp Banned Banned

    Dare to Dream, DubStyle. Yes we can.

    Jokes aside, I am no expert, but it feels like your analysis is missing something. I know that in Israel where I lived there are solar plates (whatever they're called) almost on every single building, and it's used every day to heat water. Even here in Canada one of my parents' friends has opened a business to equip houses with solar panels, and his business does find clients who pay something like $40K, and I think, switch almost entirely to solar power energy.

    From your stats it sounds like the above examples are cited would not be possible, yet they are. You aren't telling the entire story, methinks.
  8. CptBork Valued Senior Member

    I remember in one of my electromagnetism classes, we calculated the pressure exerted by sunlight on the surface of the Earth. It is f#!*ing weak. To supply the world's current electricity demands using only solar, it's estimated you would need to cover roughly 1/2 the entire surface of Alberta with solar panels. I think we're going to have to learn to accept other options, even if they have their own drawbacks. Carbon capture might be a short-term option to deal with theoretical climate change, but when the oil eventually runs out anyway, I think it'll be time to go nuclear and find a very, very deep hole to stash the byproducts.
  9. Buffalo Roam Registered Senior Member

    These forms of generation are just as expensive and inefficient as the solar farm, the only reasons that they even exist is because of massive government subsides.
  10. 786 Searching for Truth Valued Senior Member

    Actually solar has reached parity with electrical grids- I'm not telling... because I need to buy their stock first- although you can take this hint and find it yourself

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    Peace be unto you

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

  11. John99 Banned Banned

    i would double it and cover the entire area. doesnt have to be alberta so i am not looking to upset albertans.
  12. John99 Banned Banned

    another thing is to use combinations of technologies. i would burn trash in efficient incinerators to do simple things like heat water. and the resultant ash (new incinerators can be made to operate VERY cleanly) can be used for many things. making some kind of masonry is just one.
  13. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    The storage solution is close

    Storage of solar energy is close:

    In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine.

    Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today's announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

    Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun.
    "This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," said MIT's Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. "Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon."

    Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

    The key component in Nocera and Kanan's new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity -- whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source -- runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

    Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs during photosynthesis.

    The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it's easy to set up, Nocera said. "That's why I know this is going to work. It's so easy to implement," he said ....


    I heard about this on NPR a while ago. Figured it's worth mentioning. There is also talk of new technology—specifically, a paint of some kind—applied to photovoltaic cells that will dramatically increase their yield. Haven't found that reference yet.


    Trafton, Anne. "'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. July 31, 2008. October 26, 2009.
  14. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    Please, some solar panels now have prices approaching or below coal per watt, and solar could replace ~20% of our electricity production without the need for grid storage.


    That still far from commercialization, more so achieving efficiencies that would make it practical.
  15. iceaura Valued Senior Member


    Heat engine solar conversion to electricity is already running 60% in ordinary (operating, out of the lab) setups (not the link, which is testing older and simpler tech), which could power the US using an area of about 10,000 square miles of SW US higher altitude desert - given a solution to the storage and transport problem (DC transmission lines, for example). That's a square one hundred miles on a side - in practice, lots of smaller patches.

    The current price would be, at reasonable guess, 50 - 100% greater than dirty coal generation. With improvements now unknown, especially in mass production and storage etc, it would drop from there.

    With the total cost of coal figured in, it already beats it, of course.

    Heat pipe concentration is more technologically robust, and IIRC cheaper at the moment, but less efficient - larger installations would be required.
  16. Alien Cockroach Banned Banned

    You are not taking into account the fact that this is more of a monument to effort than anything else. For the time being, solar energy is not practical as a primary energy supply, but this is our reason for advancing scientific research on this form of energy. The problem is not the theoretical viability of solar energy. This was never a problem. The problem is that we are still trying to figure out the best ways of harvesting it.

    Think of this as a silly, expensive personality stunt like landing a man on the Moon. It is stupid on the surface, and it's even dumber if you take a more in-depth look at it. In fact, the deeper you go, the less it makes any practical sense. Our species is not entirely rational, though, so these daft stunts actually work.

    It's something that you are only really capable of understanding entirely if you are an atheist. If you are an atheist, you see a world filled with perfectly useful, intelligent people who are nonetheless motivated and influenced, in very deep ways, by some fucking weird shit that doesn't even make any sense.

    In any case, we still haven't accomplished much by walking around on the surface of the giant asteroid that orbits our planet, and it's such a stupid, suicidal, wise-assed maneuver that I don't think it's been done once since 1972. It nonetheless played a role in the technological boom that was soon to follow. Although relatively few of us have had a chance to walk on the Moon, our entire way of life has radically changed as a result of the twelve reefer-smoking lunatics who did.

    As far as your claims about solar only being capable of running at so-and-so% capacity, couldn't we resolve this issue by simply building enough installations to run most of them at a fraction of their full capacity?
  17. raydpratt Registered Senior Member

    There's a company here in Tucson that is producing solar cells, and apparently China won a bid for all the solar panels that can be produced for some time forward, and it has caused some projects here in Tucson to be put on hold. China is building a huge solar farm for power.

    My perception is that China realizes that the cost now is irrelevant and that it is one of the best ways that they can use their paper surplus of our U.S. dollars. Those dollars represent mere numbers of currrency ratios and gains in the past, but the solar farm -- at any cost -- represents a real and renewable value that keeps on giving. It's like buying a goose that lays golden eggs. Would you pay ten times the goose's weight in gold for such a goose? Oh yea!

    That's why I sincerely hope that Obama's promised renewable energy programs come to be, for even if they are paid for with inflation-causing funny money, renewable energy plants will represent a real ongoing value that will pay for itself and keep on giving. The funny money will get paid for.

    Very Respectfully,
    Ray Donald Pratt
  18. pjdude1219 The biscuit has risen Valued Senior Member

    If it requires DC than its a wash. DC bleeds out to quickly. Their is a reason electrcity is tranported in AC.
  19. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Not a requirement, just an improvement in efficiency of some setups. The heat engines produce AC easily, but are hard to synchronize and match in phase without reducing generated power or greatly complicating the setup. Plus, with large array solar the power is usually generated a long way from the use - DC is a better choice for bulk transmission like that.

  20. CptBork Valued Senior Member

    I don't think the entirety of human construction throughout all of history would even cover a small fraction of that surface area. If it did, by all means put the power stations up in Alberta or the far north or whatever, I'd love to tax it and sell it to the rest of the world.
  21. Alien Cockroach Banned Banned

    One thing that still bugs me about solar energy, though, is that the ownership and control of land is still relevant to its distribution, simply because some parts of the world get more sun than others. The thing that I despise about oil is the fact that we have been having wars over it, and the countries that have the most of it are often very poor in spite of their wealth. It is stupid.

    My interest in photovoltaic energy is partially political at this point. I am not sure that I fully understand why, but I keep getting the distinct impression that any form of wealth that is based upon ownership of land is nothing more than trouble waiting to occur. The countries that have the most of it are almost inevitably controlled by the most corrupt and dangerous kinds of government. On the other hand, countries where people are forced to make their own wealth tend to prosper.

    If there is truth to my idea that countries are more prosperous and stable if their wealth is a product of industry, rather than ownership of resources, then nations that exploit it the most will become more wealthy. As a result, they will hold more political credibility worldwide. As a result, their example will be followed. After that, the reason this happens would be purely academic.

    That is, you can fight against it and complain about it all you want, but my prediction is that solar energy is going to happen, whether you like it or not. Whether or not it is more economically viable, the world will eventually follow if the countries that make the most use of it tend to prosper. It is a matter of primate psychology, rather than economics: the gorilla with the shiniest fur will always be imitated, even if he is beating himself in the head with a rock.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2009
  22. hypewaders Save Changes Registered Senior Member

    "Radio has no future." -Lord Kelvin

    Grid Parity (the point at which solar-derived electricity is as cheap to produce as fossil fuels, and then keeps getting cheaper) is generally forecast to occur sometime between 2012 and 2015. It's probably already happened though, because hydrocarbons are still priced far below societal cost. Most people are not accustomed to considering the effort, as well as the environmental and social disruption entailed in accessing and converting hydrocarbons into energy. But awareness is changing, possibly just in time to avert a crash here in the tailings of the hydrocarbon age.

    In Europe, the present politically-supported goal is to achieve 25% solar-derived energy by 2050. The science and engineering (if not political impetus) is emerging that could provide 100% independence from dirty energy resources in as short a period. Right now, the existing solar power distribution system (sunshine) is already more cost-effective in the sense that the solar "grid" has been in place, and performing reliably for a very long time. We just haven't gotten around to connecting with it more directly, and on a large scale... yet.

    In remote sites from desert outposts to spacecraft, solar power is already the most cost-effective solution available. Applications and scalability are increasing as the technologies mature. The solar power industry, and political proponents of solar power are not heralding the solar overshadowing of all other renewable energy sources in the immediate future- but it's highly pessimistic and unimaginative to assume that a solar-direct transition can't happen at least as fast as the Hydrocarbon Age ramped up.

    We could adapt very fast, if we had the will to divert the bulk of our energy investments from hydrocarbons to solar right now. PV and CSP (concentrated solar power) are first being haltingly implemented where sunshine is plentiful and infrastructure is not. In large solar power stations, solar-thermal conversions have become far more competitive than photovoltaics, and those who still associate large-scale solar with PV should consider how solar-thermal energy conversion systems gather a much wider spectrum of solar radiation using more plentiful raw materials than PV: A mirror is considerably simpler than a photovoltaic device (or hydrocarbon mining/processing for that matter). Moving power from deserts to population centers will be a tremendous challenge, but the necessity of new grids is looming anyway.

    We didn't leave the stone age behind because we ran out of stones. We discovered less cumbersome, and more enduring tools. We're beginning to leave hydrocarbon power generation behind for the same reasons. Solar energy won't become our primary energy source overnight, and other renewables will always have applications- but until a cold-fusion kind of miracle arrives, Sol is likely to remain the handiest powerplant around for the next 5 billion years or so.

    A significant part of the challenge of implementing large-scale solar is political, because solar energy can't be possessed and distributed in the same way as fossil fuels are for profit. Political initiative is important in harnessing a what corporate cartels aren't all that enthusiastic about- solar energy can't be monopolized and metered, because the sun delivers open-source, inexhaustible energy worldwide. Alternative and independent energy requires much alternative and independent thinking- and political engagement, because the immense inertia and political influence of the hydrocarbon cartels are increasingly inhibiting vital human adaptation. Our "dependence" on dirty and unsustainable energy is a lie we've got to rise above.

    Here are some promising perspectives on large-scale solar power:

    "It is essential to release humanity from the false fixations of yesterday, which seem now to bind it to a rationale of action leading only to extinction."
    - Buckminster Fuller, Synergetics
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2009
  23. DubStyle I may be wrong, but I doubt it Registered Senior Member

    Does anyone here think that terrestrial PV solar can ever (realistically) replace steam gen?

Share This Page