You just can’t Replace a Coal-Fired Power Plant with a Solar Farm

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 23rd, 2014

Week in Review

What’s unique about Windsor, Ontario?  The city across the river from Detroit?  It’s the only place you can drive south from the United States to get to Canada.  So it’s about as far south you can get in Canada.  But it’s no Florida.  No.  They have cold winters in Windsor.  They also have snow.  And clouds.  So it’s probably not the best place to build a solar farm.  Any rational person would see this.  So guess what the government in southern Ontario is doing?  Building a solar farm (see Airport land leased for Samsung solar farm by Chris Vander Doelen posted 3/19/2014 on The Windsor Star).

A “major” developer of solar power will lease hundreds of acres at Windsor Airport for a green energy farm, city council has agreed after years of negotiations with the company…

He said the company picked Windsor as the site for its investment because “we have more sun days than any other jurisdiction in Ontario.” That clearly suggests a solar farm, but Francis wouldn’t confirm that…

The agreement approved Wednesday – the meeting was closed to the public for legal reasons, Francis said – is believed to be the final, long-delayed piece of a massive deal the Province of Ontario and Samsung announced in January 2010.

That’s when former premier Dalton McGuinty announced that the province had signed a $7-billion agreement to produce renewable power with the Korean industrial giant – a contract that became so controversial parts of it were later renegotiated…

But the deal also became controversial as the costs starting driving up residential and industrial power bills, all of which will be affected by the renewable energy plan.

The controversy eventually led to reductions in some of the feed-in tariffs paid to producers of solar and wind power, which likely added to the delays of the solar farm not announced until this week. It also led to the renegotiation of additional incentives for Samsung, which were reduced to $110 million over 20 years…

Installation of the panels would generate many years of employment for an undetermined number of labourers and IBEW electricians. But once built there wouldn’t be much employment generated by the static field of passive solar collectors.

The solar farms were to be part of something called the Ontario Alternative Energy Cluster, claimed by Samsung to be “the largest of its kind in the world” at 1,369 megawatts of output.

They may have more sun days in Windsor than any place else in Canada.  But Canada is a northern country.  Even Windsor is in a northern clime.  And they just don’t get as much sun as they do in more southern climes (see The Climate and Weather of Windsor, Ontario).  In the sunniest month they have 9.5 average hours of sun per day.  Which means they have 14.5 (24-9.5) average hours of no sun per day.  And during these hours of ‘no sun’ a solar farm will not produce electric power.  Which means on average this solar farm will produce no electric power for half of the day.

And it gets worse.  The average hours of sun per day declines going into winter.  October (5.5 hours of sun and 18.5 hours of no sun).  November (4.1 hours of sun and 19.9 hours of no sun).  December (2.6 hours of sun and 21.4 hours of no sun).  January (3.4 hours of sun and 20.6 hours of no sun).  February (4.4 hours of sun and 19.6 hours of no sun).  March (5.4 hours of sun and 18.6 hours of no sun).  So, on average, there are 5 hours of no sun for every hour of sun for half of the year.  So you can install solar panels that could produce 1,369 megawatts of output.  But they seldom will.  So you will need another power source to provide electric power when the solar panels don’t.  Which means a solar farm can’t replace something like a coal-fired power plant.  For that coal-fired power plant will have to on average provide power 82% of the time.  Which is why building a solar farm is a real bad idea.

And it gets even worse.  December has 10 days of snowfall on average.  January has 12.  And February has 9.  Just under half the days in the winter months will have snow which will have to melt off when the sun comes out from behind the clouds.  If it comes out.  Or someone will have to clear the snow from the solar panels by hand.

Windsor also has some other climate statistics (see National Climate Data and Information Archive).  They have the most thunderstorm days.  So they have more high winds, hail and tornados to damage delicate solar panels pointed skyward than any other part of Canada.  And more black overcast days to block out the sun.  They have the most smoke and haze days to filter out some of the sun from hitting the solar panels.  They have the most humid summer which will coat the solar panels with early morning dew that will run down and drain off in blackened streaks.  Reducing the efficiency of the solar panels.

This is why no one is building solar farms without taxpayer subsidies.  Which raises the cost of electric utility bills to pay for the subsidies.  Eating into household budgets forcing families to get by on less.  And for what?  You can’t shut down a coal-fired power plant during the day and turn it back on at night.  It takes time to make high pressure steam.  That’s why they use these plants for baseload power.  They’re on all the time.  And when demand picks up they add a natural gas-fired turbine ‘peaker plant’ to provide that peak demand.  Or some other source that they can bring on line quickly.  Like another turbine at a hydroelectric dam.  So the good people of Ontario will pay more for their electric power without getting anything in return.  Not even a cleaner environment.  Because you just can’t replace a coal-fired power plant with a solar farm.

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