The Government provides more Solar Power Subsidies to Encourage Bad Investments into Solar Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 14th, 2012

Week in Review

When it comes to electric power the smart money is on coal.  So of course our government chooses solar (see US gov’t sets aside 285,000 acres for solar, wind development posted 10/12/2012 on EDI).

The US government has finalized a plan to encourage new solar-energy projects on federal lands in several western states. The area covered by the new agreement is 285,000 acres, consisting of seventeen “solar energy zones.” considered to be the best locations for solar development…

The Obama administration has authorized the development of 10,000 megawatts of solar, wind and geothermal projects. These would provide enough energy to power more than 3.5 million homes, said Salazar. According to Salazar, solar and wind energy production has doubled since Obama took office.

You know what the federal government doesn’t have to encourage?  The building of coal-fired power plants.  In fact, the demand for the electric power a coal-fired power plant produces is so great that the government has to increase the cost of building and operating them to discourage people from building them.  Why?  To please President Obama’s liberal, environmental base.  Which includes a lot of wealthy donors.  The environmentalists don’t like coal or the cheap and reliable electric power it produces.  So they attack coal.  And encourage government to subsidize solar power.  Because solar power is not cheap or reliable like the electric power produced by coal-fired power plants.  Which is why no one will build a solar power plant without massive government subsidies.

Power plants have capacity factors.  Which we calculate by dividing actual power produced by the maximum possible power a power plant can produce over a period of time.  A typical capacity factor for a coal-fired plant is approximately 90%.  Because all you need is fuel.  Unlike a solar power plant.  Which has a capacity factor of approximately 20%.  The reason why it’s so much lower than a coal-fired power plant is that solar power plants turn off every evening at dusk and turn back on at dawn.  Something you don’t have to do with coal.  Because you can burn coal all day long.  Even at night.  Which is when we use electric power the most.  To light our homes.  To run our air conditioners after work.  To power our televisions we watch after dinner.

So 10,000 megawatts is not likely to power 3.5 million homes.  Especially at night.  Unless they build a very expensive energy storage system to store the electric power they make during the day to use at night.  As long as no one needs any electric power during the day.  As you can see solar power is not what the government thinks it is.  It’s a novelty at best.  That is very, very expensive despite sunlight being free.  Why is it so expensive?  Because that 285,000 acres needs to be covered with solar panels.  And for this power to be useful at night there’s that aforementioned energy storage system.  All of this to provide what a coal-fired power plant can produce with about 30% the installed capacity of the solar power plant.  Which makes the logical and rational choice coal.  Not solar.  Yet our government chooses solar over coal.  Which tells us what?  Our government is neither logical nor rational.


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Australia’s Labor Party getting Sensible in not Closing Down Coal-Fired Power Plants?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 8th, 2012

Week in Review

Australia is moving towards a green energy future.  They’ve implemented a carbon tax.  And they’re moving ahead with closing coal-fired power plants and replacing them with renewable energy power plants.  Such as the International solar power company Fotowatio Renewable Ventures’ new 20 megawatt solar power facility.  Soon to be Australia’s largest solar power plant.  Which, at a capacity factor of 18%, will put up to 3.6 megawatts of useful electric power onto the electric grid.  Something that will only add $13 annually to all householder power bills.  And with new solar power plants coming on line like this they can afford to pay to shut down those dirty coal-fired power plants (see Govt breached faith on power stns: Greens by AAP posted 9/5/2012 on the Herald Sun).

Energy Minister Martin Ferguson on Wednesday announced Labor had abandoned plans to pay some coal-fired power generators to shut down, under its so-called contract for closure program…

“The whole point of addressing global warming through an emissions trading scheme is to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel and to renewable energy,” Senator Milne said.

“Shutting down some of the dirtiest coal-fired power stations was at the heart of what we are trying to do.

Politics aside Australians are lucky Labor abandoned their plans.  Let’s look at just one of those dirty coal-fired power plants.  Say, the Liddell Power Station.  With four (4) 500 MW units that can produce 2,000 megawatts of electric power.  With a capacity factor of about 90% (for a coal-fired power plant) that comes to 1,800 megawatts of useful, reliable power.  So, to shut down the Liddell Power Station you would need 500 of the Fotowatio Renewable Ventures’ new 20 megawatt solar power facilities.  Which is a lot.  And about 499 more than they are planning to build.  Do you see a potential problem with this plan of closing coal-fired power plants?  To help clarify let’s do the math.  If one of these plants adds $13 annually to all householder power bills 500 plants will add $6,500 annually to all householder power bills.

The problem with green energy is that it can’t produce as much power as coal can.  They may feel good about doing their part to save the planet but in the process they may cause recurring power blackouts as they starve their nation of electric power.  To the point that people may start dying as the diminished electric capacity can’t run the waste water treatment plants.  Their hospitals.  Or their food processing industry.  Not to mention people suffering these rolling blackouts in their homes.  Spoiling the food in their refrigerators.  Their sewers backing up raw sewage because there is no electricity to run their sump pumps.  And people unable to run their home medical devices.

Saying you want to save the planet may make you feel good.  It may even impress your friends.  But advanced countries need electric power for the necessities of life.  Beyond relaxing in your air conditioning.  Watching television.  Or charging your battery for your smartphone.  Saying you want to replace coal with renewable energies is one thing.  But doing it is another.  Because we consume a lot of electric power.  Which is why we turned to coal in the first place.  Because coal is a high-density energy source.  A little of it goes a long why.  Which is why one coal-fired power plant can produce 1800 megawatts of electric power while a nation’s largest solar power plant can only produce 3.6 megawatts of useful electric power.  Coal can and will take care of us.  Something solar power simply can’t do.


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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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Ontario to add Solar Power Plant to Electric Grid that will Power up to 180 Homes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 1st, 2012

Week in Review

Ontario is going green.  They’re shutting down parts of one of the largest coal-fired power plants in North America.  Nanticoke Generating Station.  Refitting this plant to burn natural gas and biomass.  But the ‘feeling good’ doesn’t end there.  They are also installing solar power plants.  To feel even better about their part in saving the planet (see Canadian Solar sells solar power plant for $48 million posted 8/27/2012 on EDI).

Canadian Solar Inc. has sold a utility-scale solar power plant to Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners for approximately $48 million. Canadian Solar was the developer, EPC and construction financier for the project. The solar power plant can provide enough renewable energy to power more than 1,200 homes in eastern Ontario near the town of Napanee.

Assuming each house has an electric service of 100 amps at 240 volts that comes to about 28.8 megawatts.  With a capacity factor (actual power output divided by nameplate rating over a period of time) of 15% for solar power that plant will produce only about 4.32 megawatts of useable power.  Which reduces the number of homes it will be able to power from 1,200 to 180.  For no matter how many solar modules you install in a power plant none of them will produce power when the sun doesn’t shine.  Such as during the night.  On cloudy days.  Rainy days.  Snowy days.  Or days with lots of birds pooping on the solar modules.

Now compare that to the Nanticoke Generating Station in Nanticoke, Ontario.  A coal-fired power plant that could produce 3,964 megawatts with all of its units fired.  With a capacity factor of about 90% for coal (they only shut down for periodic maintenance) that comes to 3,324.6 megawatts of useful, dependable power.  Power that will always be there to light your home.  Cook your food.  Run your air conditioner.  And power any of your home medical devices.

The 4.32 megawatts of solar power is but 0.13% of what the Nanticoke Generating Station can provide.  To match the useable output of the Nanticoke Generating Station you would need to build an additional 769 of these solar power plants.  Costing another $36.9 billion.  To equal the output of three Nanticoke Generating Stations would cost over $1 trillion.  Making solar power not an alternative to coal but a deep hole to throw money into.  Which is a strange thing to do just to feel good.


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Clean Renewable Energy leaves India Vulnerable to more Massive Power Blackouts

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 25th, 2012

Week in Review

Hydroelectric power is the king of renewable energy.  The fuel is free.  It doesn’t burn.  It doesn’t pollute.  It’s quiet.  They can produce power when the sun doesn’t shine (unlike solar power).  And they can produce power when the wind doesn’t blow (unlike wind power).  Their reservoirs make scenic lakes and wildlife areas.  And after they’re built they don’t need a complicated infrastructure or masses of workers running around acres of land to keep them running.  They really only have one drawback.  You have no control over that free fuel (see More Power Blackouts Expected In India by Kenneth Rapoza posted 8/20/2012 on Forbes).

Between lackluster rainfall during monsoon season and a nasty political imbroglio in the capital city, India seems to be going back to the past.

And now, the northern states, including Delhi, could face power outages yet again as three small hydroelectric power stations have been shut down.  Combined, they run about 3,000 megawatts of electricity. Electricity generated at those power plants is distributed to 28 per cent of Indian households.

At the end of last month, back to back power outages gave way to power surges that unleashed quite a bit of chaos for over 600 million people affected.  In the last week of July, around 360 million people lost power in northern India due to excessive demand and a shortfall in hydropower. On July 31, power resumed in Delhi only to fail again the next day, with the chaos spreading to Calcutta and other parts of eastern India.

This is why reliable coal-fired power plants typically provide the majority of baseload power requirements.  The minimum amount of power we consistently use throughout the year.  Because a coal-fired power plant can also produce power when the sun doesn’t shine or when the wind doesn’t blow.  And they can even produce power when the monsoons don’t come.  You can call coal Mr. Reliable when it comes to power generation.  Old Faithful.  Mr. Dependable.  The Life Saver and Comfort Giver.  No matter the heat or humidity a coal-fired power plant will say, “Give me coal and I will keep your lights on and your air conditioners running.  In your homes.  In your hospitals.  In your restaurants.  Wherever you go.  Whatever your needs.  To help you back to good health.  Or so you can simply relax at the end of a hot, humid and exhausting day.  Give me coal and I will provide for you.”

But, alas, the government of India is trying to reduce India’s carbon footprint.  And is pursuing wind and solar power.  In fact they have just connected the world’s largest solar power plant to their electric grid.  Gujarat Solar Park.  Covering some 11 sites spread over 3,000 acres.  Putting some 600 megawatts onto the grid.  Replacing about 20% of what those three small hydroelectric dams were putting on the grid.  That is, the world’s largest solar power plant can only produce what three small hydroelectric dams can produce.  And that’s only when the sun shines.  An incredible investment of capital that did not prevent in any way the back to back massive power failures that left 360 million people without power.  Which is more than the entire population of the United States.  Which is about 314 million.  Just to give you an idea of how big this power failure was.

Just think what that massive investment in solar power could have done in the northern states of India.  Instead of tilting at windmills.  The global warming boogeyman.  They could have rebuilt the electric grid.  Added a coal-fired power plant or two.  And paid for who knows how much coal.  Had the Indian government done that the good people of India probably would not have suffered through back to back power outages.  Not with Mr. Reliable on the scene.  Who laughs at large power loads.  Because he can produce power every hour of every day of every season.  The way people like their power.


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Silicon, Semiconductor, LED, Photon, Photovoltaic Effect, Photocell, Solar Panel, Converter, Battery and Solar Power Plant

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 4th, 2012

Technology 101

A Photocell basically works like a Light Emitting Diode (LED) in Reverse

Solar power is based on the same technology that that gave us the electronic world.  Silicon.  That special material in the periodic table that has four electrons in its valence (i.e., outer most) shell.  And four holes that can accept an electron.  Allowing it to form a perfect silicon crystal.  When these silicon atoms come together their four valence electrons form covalent bonds with the holes in neighboring silicon atoms.  These silicon atoms share their valence electrons so that each silicon atom now has a full valence shell of eight electrons (with four of their own electrons and four shared electrons).  Making that perfect crystal structure.  Which is pretty much useless in the world of semiconductors.  Because you need free electrons to conduct electricity.

When we add impurities (called ‘doping’) to silicon is where the magic starts.  If we add a little bit of an element with five electrons in its valence shell we introduce free electrons into the silicon crystal.  Giving it a negative charge.  If we instead add a little bit of an element with 3 electrons in its valence shell we introduce extra holes looking for an electron to fill it.  Giving it a positive charge.  When we bring the positive (P) and the negative (N) materials together they from a P-N junction.  The free electrons cross the junction to fill the nearby holes.  Creating a neutrally charged depletion zone between the P and the N material.  This is a diode.  If we apply a forward biased voltage (positive battery terminal to the P side and the negative battery terminal to the N side) across this junction current will flow.  Like charges repel each other.  The negative charge pushes the free electrons on the N side of the junction towards the junction.  And the positive charge pushes the holes on the P side of the junction towards the junction.  Where they meet.  With free electrons filling available holes causing current to flow.  A reverse bias does the reverse.  Pulls the holes and electrons away from the junction so they can’t combine and cause current to flow.

It takes energy to move an electron out of its ‘hole’.  And when an electron combines with a hole it emits energy.  Typically this energy is not in a visible wavelength so we see nothing.  However, with the proper use of materials we can shift this wave length into the visible spectrum.  So we can see light.  Or photons.  This is the principle behind the light emitting diode.  Or LED.  An electric current through a P-N junction causes electrons to leave their holes and then recombine with holes.  And when they recombine they give off a photon in the visible spectrum of light.  Which is what we see.  A photocell basically works the other way.  Instead of using voltage and current to create photons we use photons from the sun to create voltage and current.

A Solar Array that could Produce 12,000 Watts under Ideal Conditions may only Produce 2,400 Watts in Reality

When we use the sun to bump electrons free from their shells we call this the photovoltaic (PV) effect.  This produces a small direct current (DC) at a low voltage.  A PV cell (or solar cell) then is basically a battery when hit with sunlight.  Electric power is the product of voltage and current.  So a small DC current and a low voltage won’t power much.  So like batteries in a flashlight we have to connect solar cells together to increase the available power.  So we connect solar cells into modules and modules into arrays.  Or what we commonly call solar panels.  Small panels can power small loads.  Like emergency telephones along the highway that are rarely used.  To channel buoys that can charge a battery during the day to power a light at night.  And, of course, the electronics on our spacecraft.  Where PV cells are very useful as there are no utility lines that run into space.

These work well for small loads.  Especially DC loads.  But it gets a little complicated for AC loads.  The kind we have in our homes.  A typical 1,000 square foot home may have a 100 amp electric service at 240 volts.  Let’s assume that at any given time there could be as much as half of that service (50 amps) in use at any one time.  That’s 12,000 watts.  Assuming a solar panel array generates about 10 watts per square foot that means this house would need approximately 1,200 square feet of solar panels (such as a 60 foot by 20 foot array or a 40 foot by 30 foot array).  But it’s not quite that simple.

The sun doesn’t shine all of the time.  The capacity factor (the percentage of actual power produced divided by the total possible it could produce under the ideal conditions) is only about 15-20%.  Meaning that a 1,200 square foot solar array that could produce 12,000 watts under ideal conditions may only produce 2,400 watts (at a 20% capacity factor).  Dividing this by 120 volts gives you 20 amps.  Or approximately the size of a single circuit in your electrical panel.  Which won’t power a lot.  And it sure won’t turn on your air conditioner.  Which means you’re probably not going to be able to disconnect from the electric grid by adding solar panels to your house.  You may reduce the amount of electric power you buy from your utility but it will come at a pretty steep cost.

Solar Power Plants can be Costly to Build and Maintain even if the Fuel is Free 

Everything in your house that uses electricity either plugs into a standard 120V electrical outlet, a special purpose 240V outlet (such as an electric stove) or is hard-wired to a 240V circuit (such as your central air conditioner).  All of these circuits go back to your electrical panel.  Which is wired to a 240V AC electrical service.  A lot of electronic devices actually operate on DC power but even these still plug into an AC outlet.  Inside these devices there is a power supply that converts the AC power into DC power.  So you’ll need to convert all that DC power generated by solar panels into useable AC power with a converter.  Which is costly.  And reduces the efficiency of the solar panels.  Because when you convert energy you always end up with less than you started with.  The electronics in the converters will heat up and dissipate some of that generated electric power as heat.  If you want to use any of this power when the sun isn’t shining you’ll need a battery to store that energy.  Another costly device.  Another place to lose some of that generated electric power.  And something else to fail.

We typically build large scale solar power plants in the middle of nowhere so there is nothing to shade these solar panel arrays.  From sun up to sun down they are in the sunlight.  They even turn and track the sun as it rises overhead, travels across the sky and sets.  To maximize the amount of sunlight hitting these panels.  Of course the larger the installation the larger the maintenance.  And the panels have to be clean.  That means washing these arrays to keep them dirt and bird poop free.  Some of the biggest plants in service today have about 200 MW of installed solar arrays.  One of the largest is in India.  Charanka Solar Park.  When completed it will have 500 MW of PV arrays on approximately 7.7 square miles of land.  With a generous capacity factor of 30% that comes to 150 MW.  Or about 19 MW/square mile.  The coal-fired Robert W. Scherer Electric Generating Plant in Georgia, on the other hand, generates 3,520 MW on approximately 18.75 square miles.  At a capacity factor of about 90% for coal that comes to about 3,168 MW.  Or about 169 MW/square mile.  About 9 times more power generated per square mile of land used.

 So you can see the reason why we use so much coal to generate our electric power.  Because coal is a highly concentrated source of fuel.  The energy it releases creates a lot of reliable electricity.  Day or night.  Summer or winter.  A large coal-fired electric generating facility needs a lot of real estate but the plants themselves don’t.  Unlike a solar plant.  Where the only way to generate more power is to cover more land with PV solar panels.  To generate, convert and store as much electric power as possible.  All with electronic equipment full of semiconductors that don’t operate well in extreme temperatures (which is why our electronics have vents, heat sinks and cooling fans).  So the ideal conditions to produce electricity are not the ideal conditions for the semiconductors making it all work.  Causing performance and maintenance issues.  Which makes these plants very costly.  Even if the fuel is free.


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