Solar Power is so Inefficient that Scientists had to create a Perpetual Heat Machine to make it more Efficient

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2014

Week in Review

There’s a problem with solar power.  Night.  Clouds.  Rain.  Hail.  Snow.  Dust.  Bird poop.  Etc.  Actually that’s a little more than one problem.  There’s at least nine.  But the biggest problem is night.  Because it’s hard for solar panels to produce electricity from sunshine when the sun isn’t shining.  That is, until now (see Scientists Discover How to Generate Solar Power in the Dark by Todd Woody posted 4/15/2014 on The Atlantic).

The next big thing in solar energy could be microscopic.

Scientists at MIT and Harvard University have devised a way to store solar energy in molecules that can then be tapped to heat homes, water or used for cooking.

The best part: The molecules can store the heat forever and be endlessly re-used while emitting absolutely no greenhouse gases.  Scientists remain a way’s off in building this perpetual heat machine but they have succeeded in the laboratory at demonstrating the viability of the phenomenon called photoswitching…

So how would molecular solar storage work if the technology can be commercialized? Timothy Kucharski, the paper’s lead author and a postdoc at MIT and Harvard, told The Atlantic that most likely the storage would take a liquid form, which would be easy to transport.

“It would also enable charging by flowing the material from a storage tank through a window or clear tube exposed to the sun and then to another storage tank, where the material would remain until it’s needed,” Kucharski said in an email.  “That way one could stockpile the charged material for use when the sun’s not shining.”

Of course the takeaway from this is that solar power is so inefficient that Scientists at MIT and Harvard University had to make the impossible possible to make it more efficient.  And create a perpetual heat machine.  A self-sustaining machine.  Requiring no energy input to create energy.  If it works, great.  It would be paradigm changing.  But while we wait we should stop wasting money on solar panels.  Which can only produce energy when the sun shines.  About half of the day.  Unlike a coal-fired power plant.  Which produces power 24/7.  Regardless of night.  Clouds.  Rain.  Hail.  Snow.  Dust.  Or bird poop.

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Spain’s Massive Investment in Solar Power has Greatly increased the Cost of their Electric Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 24th, 2013

Week in Review

People think renewable energy is the answer to all our energy problems.  But that isn’t quite so.  In fact, all it does is increase the cost of our electric power.  For sunshine and wind may be free.  But the equipment to harness the energy in sunshine and wind is not free.  It is very, very expensive.  And you need a lot of it.  You will not see one wind turbine service the power needs of one metropolitan area.  You may see a wind farm providing a small percentage of the electric power needs of a large metropolitan area.  And only when the wind blows.

Wind can blow day or night.  But it can also NOT blow day and night.  While solar panels will not work at all at night.  So you have massive investments to install renewable energy generation capacity.  And there will be times when they will provide no power.  So what do you do?  What do you do when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine?  You turn to old reliable.  The electric grid.

This is why renewable energy is so costly.  It cannot replace our fossil-fuel power plants that can provide reliable power day or night in any type of weather.  It can only supplement what we call our baseload power.  Like our beloved coal-fired power plants.  One of the most cost-efficient ways to produce reliable electric power.  Which the power companies have to still run and maintain day and night.  For those who don’t have a wind turbine or a solar array providing their electric power.  And to light up the night.  So instead of one cost-efficient power generation system we have two systems.  One cost-efficient and one cost-inefficient.  And those who invested heavily into renewable energy are now having to deal with these very real problems (see Out Of Ideas And In Debt, Spain Sets Sights On Taxing The Sun by Kelly Phillips Erb posted 8/19/2013 on Forbes).

With so much sunshine at its disposal, Spain has aggressively pursued the development of solar energy: over the past ten years, the government has made significant advances in pressing solar energy and is one of the top countries in the world with respect to installed photovoltaic (PV) solar energy capacity.

It might, however, be too much of a good thing. Spain is generating so much solar power, according to its government, that production capacity exceeds demand by more than 60%. That imbalance has created a problem for the government which now finds itself in debt to producers. And not by a little bit. The debt is said to have grown to nearly 26 billion euros ($34.73 billion U.S.).

So how do you get out of that kind of debt? You propose incredibly onerous taxes and fines, of course. And you do it on exactly the behavior that you encouraged in the first place: the use of solar energy panels. That’s right. Spain is now attempting to scale back the use of solar panels – the use of which they have encouraged and subsidized over the last decade – by imposing a tax on those who use the panels…

…many residents in Spain generate enough electricity from solar that they get paid to selling the excess energy back to producers. This, it turns out, is a problem. The government is putting a stop to that, too: as part of the reform efforts (read: desperate measures), there will be a prohibition on selling extra energy.

If the power companies are providing all the power at night they have to maintain their power plants.  And their power distribution system.  Which means they even have to trim the trees away from their overhead power lines from people who use solar power during the day.  Nothing changes for the power companies.  Except that they can’t sell as much power as they once did.  So their costs of producing power remain the same.  But their revenue has fallen.  Forcing them to operate at a loss.  Or find other ways to replace their lost revenue.  Which they have to.  Because they must have the same capacity available during the day that they have at night.  Even if they aren’t selling as much power during the day as they are at night.  And the last thing they want to do is buy excess power back from homeowners with solar panels on their house when they’re producing their own power that they can’t sell.

Baseload power plants like coal and nuclear take time to bring on line.  They have to produce the heat that boils water into steam.  Then superheat the steam to remove all water from it.  So the steam can spin the generator turbines without damaging the vanes on the turbine.  And once they start these plants up they run these systems at full capacity where they produce power most cost-efficiently.  During peak demand they may bring on some gas-fired turbines that can start and produce power quickly.  And add them to the grid.  When the peak subsides they can shut down these gas-fired turbines and let the baseload generation carry the remaining load.

The Spanish government invested heavily into solar power for whatever reason.  It’s ‘free’ power.  It’s ‘clean’ power.  Or it was just a good way to create a lot of jobs.  But what Spain has now is a surplus of peak power generation during the day that doesn’t eliminate the need to maintain baseload power generation during the day.  Creating a surplus of electric power during the day no one wants.  While requiring power companies to maintain their baseload power during the day so they can provide power at night.  Incurring great costs on the power companies.  Which must be passed on to the same people who paid for the renewable energies subsidies.  The electric power consumer.

This is a classic example of a Hayekian malinvestment.  Friedrich Hayek of the Austrian school of economics said this is what happens when governments interfere with free markets.  They make investments to produce what they think is best while the market demands something else.  The market demanded low-cost electric power.  Which baseload power plants (coal and nuclear) provided.  But the government intervened and subsidized the more costly solar power.  This bad investment—or malinvestment—has only increased the cost of electric power for the Spanish consumer.  And now the Spanish have a big problem on their hands.  What to do with this surplus of peak power no one wants to pay for?  And how to replace the lost revenue of the power companies so they can cover their costs?  Two problems they didn’t have until the government intervened into the free market.

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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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Even with Subsidies Electricity produced by Free Sunshine still more costly than that produced by Coal and Natural Gas

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 18th, 2012

Week in Review

There is no such thing as free electricity.  Even when the fuel source to generate that electricity is free (see Solar power growth jumps to new record by Matt Daily posted 3/14/2012 on Reuters).

The national solar industry installed a record number of panels in 2011, more than double 2010, and is likely to see strong growth again this year, according to a new report…

The growth in U.S. demand comes as the makers of the panels that turn light into electricity have struggled to earn profits amid a glut of supplies on the global market that eroded margins…

Despite declining prices for solar panels in recent years, the sector still relies on government subsidies to make the power projects competitive with coal and natural gas.

They’re struggling to make a profit despite government subsidies?  Interesting.  You would think that utilities would jump to build electrical generating capacity that used free fuel.  But they don’t.  For though sunshine is free the infrastructure to catch it is not.  Which makes the capital costs to build the necessary solar panel arrays to capture that free sunshine so great that it’s cheaper to build a plant where they will pay for fuel.  Despite those subsidies.  Which is why they are building coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants.  Not solar power plants.  And they will build even fewer once those subsidies go bye-bye.

There is a simple reason for this.  The concentration of energy available in the fuel.  Coal and natural gas have a high concentration of energy so a little of it can produce a lot of electricity.  Sunshine doesn’t.  So it takes a lot of it to produce the same amount of electricity.  Requiring huge numbers of solar panel arrays.  To catch enough of that free sunshine to produce a meaningful amount of electricity.  Thus condemning it to be the high-cost alternative to coal and natural gas.  As well as nuclear power and hydropower.  And being the least dependable of the four.  For when the sun doesn’t shine coal, natural gas, nuclear fuel rods and falling water can still convert energy into electricity.

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