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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Solar Farm dislocates Desert Tortoises – a Threatened Species

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 15th, 2014

Week in Review

The problem with renewable energy sources is that they take up a lot of real estate.  To save the environment they must take a big footprint in that environment.  And big things cost a lot of money.  Such as solar farms.  Or wind farms.  Even though the ‘fuel’ is free.  Sun.  And wind.  Which is why free solar and wind power is some of the most costly power.  And if that wasn’t bad enough we also have to evict some of the indigenous life from their natural habitat (see Sunflower mirrors power California’s desert farm by Rowan Hooper posted 2/13/2014 on New Scientist).

IT TAKES a couple of seconds to work out what’s going on in this photo. You’re looking at a pair of heliostat mirrors – sunflower-like reflectors that turn to track the sun during the day. These are just two of hundreds of thousands such mirrors arranged in the Mojave Desert in California, all part of the Ivanpah solar power project.

Their job is to concentrate the sun’s rays onto boilers located on three central towers, turning water into steam that drives turbines. The site (below) covers 14 square kilometres and will produce at least 377 megawatts of electricity, not much below the summer output of a typical nuclear power station in the US and enough to power 140,000 homes in California…

The project has been controversial. Native American groups have objected, claiming it will impact burial grounds. The project was also held up while desert tortoises – a threatened species – were relocated away from the Ivanpah site. It highlights the fact that even renewable energy projects can have some adverse environmental impacts.

Hundreds of thousands of mirrors?  That must have cost a pretty penny.  I wonder what happens when the desert winds blow sand onto those mirrors.  Either making them dirty and less reflective.  Or dulling them by the natural sandblasting of the blowing sand that has worn away solid rock in the dessert.  Making them less reflective.  Requiring periodic cleaning of these mirrors.  And their replacement over time.  Thus making a very costly power generation system even more costly.

If we’re not hacking eagles to death with wind turbines we’re kicking another threatened species from its home.  Neither of which happens when we burn coal in a coal-fired power plant.  While there is only a theory that these coal-fired power plants are harming the wildlife on the planet it is a fact that renewable energy is.  So one can only conclude that wildlife like eagles and desert tortoises prefer coal-fired power plants over solar and wind power.  Which isn’t harming them.  As is evidenced by their being around after centuries of burning coal only to suffer harm from solar and wind power.

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Australia to build 20 Megawatt Solar Farm in Canberra that may Provide 3.6 Megawatts of Useful Electric Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 8th, 2012

Week in Review

Australia is working hard to save the planet.  They’re building a new solar farm that will be the biggest in all of Australia.  Allowing the environmentalists to feel good.  But it will do little if anything (see Canberra to get Aust’s biggest solar farm posted 9/5/2012 on 9NEWS).

International solar power company Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) will construct and operate the 20 megawatt facility, the ACT Government announced on Wednesday…

ACT Environment Minister Simon Corbell said the solar farm would be able to power 4400 more Canberra homes with only a $13 annual increase to all householder power bills.

Canberra, Australia, is located at about 35° south latitude.  Which puts it between the Tropic of Cancer and the Antarctic Circle.  So the sun never gets directly overhead.  The Tropic of Capricorn at about 23° south latitude (above Canberra) being the cutoff point for that.  Which means Canberra gets about 6 hours or less of sunshine during the months of May, June and July.  The month of December sees about 9.4 hours of sunshine each day.  On average their mean daily sunshine is approximately 32.1% each year (about 7.7 hours of sunshine out of the 24-hour day).  According to the same website linked to above their mean number of clear days averages to about 27.5% each year.

When you factored these together (as well as blowing dirt, bird droppings, etc.) you can understand why the capacity factor for solar power is only about 18% of the total possible output over a period of time.  So that 20 megawatt rated solar power plant may only provide about 3.6 megawatts of useful electric power.  Which would be the equivalent of power for maybe 300 homes (with a 100 amp service at 240 volts).

Their claim of powering 4400 homes is questionable.  If you divide that 20 megawatts by 4400 homes and then divide that number by 120 volts you get 37.88 amps.  Which is just over two fully loaded 20-amp circuits.  Or just over three fully loaded 15-amp circuits.  Take a look in your electric panel in your house and see what that will get you.  If you have a typical panel you probably have 20 circuits.  Divided up between 15-amp and 20-amp circuits.  With maybe a 2-pole breaker (240V) for an electric stove or central air conditioning.  So that 37.88 amps at 120 volts isn’t going to power a lot in anyone’s house.

This new power plant will add to the electric grid during those few daylight hours.  But it will be all fossil fuel-powered plants powering these homes once the sun sets.  Unless they add a lot of equipment to store excess power when the sun does shine to use when it doesn’t shine.  But if a typical house uses more than 37.88 amps at 120 volts (or 18.94 amps at 240 volts) there probably will be no excess power to store.  Meaning this new solar power plant will have little impact on the electric grid.  It will just cost the electrical consumer more.  While making little if any impact to the carbon footprint of their fossil fuel-powered plants.

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