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Author Topic: Future of Solar Power  (Read 7673 times)

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Offline Gary_C

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Future of Solar Power
« on: April 19, 2016, 01:23:46 pm »
How cheap does solar power need to get before it takes over the world?

An interesting story about the downside of commercial solar power. Turns out that since solar power only is generated during the day, it tends to replace very expensive peak power costs and that lowers the overall cost of electricity. So the more solar power that is generated, the less valuable the electricity becomes. That means the solar equipment has to become doubly more efficient to keep growing.

Of course you can change those numbers with batteries but that adds a second cost and efficiency. 
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Offline florida

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2016, 09:00:58 am »
It can never be cost effective measured against fossil fuels or nuclear energy. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that any energy transfer is accompanied by increased disorder so there is always a conversion loss. In solar, aside from its terrible natural inefficiency, that loss of energy or disorder happens where the panels and other components are built.  In physics out of sight is not out of mind.

Solar panels rely on complex chemicals like polysilicon and nitrogen triflouride, both horribly polluting and deadly. The infrastructure, copper, glass, steel, aluminum, controllers, etc. all take large amounts of energy to produce so no matter what you do a solar panel will never produce enough power to pay for itself, much less any excess.

 
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Offline Gary_C

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2016, 09:58:30 am »
The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that any energy transfer is accompanied by increased disorder so there is always a conversion loss.


That is a different way of stating the Second Law so please explain what disorder you are talking about?

The basic premise of the original link was economics was against the future of Solar Power, now you say it's also physics? Please tell us more.
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Offline elk42

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2016, 01:10:09 pm »



Once fast-growing solar company SunEdison files for bankruptcy




Reuters April 21 2016





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Offline ljohnsaw

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2016, 01:18:53 pm »
My comments will be a little scattered as the article covered a lot of ideas.  I worked for a power company and out here, the main electric company's pricing is compounding the problems identified.

While solar offsets the expensive peakers, it does not eliminate them.  When a cloud bank moves in, the peakers need to go, NOW!  What happens is the fixed costs on the peakers remain the same but the run time drops.  The "cost" of the electricity is the sum of the fuel burned + the fixed costs.  If the peaker were to run all month, the monthly fixed cost would be distributed over the month.  If it runs 1 hour, then it gets charged there.  Simplistic example but this is what happens.  So to say that the expensive peakers go away is flat out wrong.  Solar drives up the cost.

Power companies try to offset this with big, efficient "base load" plants.  These monsters typically don't vary much in their output.  They cannot react quickly to power demand changes.  They usually can't due to thermodynamic reasons.  So that is where the peakers come in.  When solar power gets so big that it pushes the base load units to reduce output, then there is more reliance on the peakers.  A vicious circle!

So my electric provider is switching EVERYONE to time of use by 2019.  That is supposed to make people shift their usage to the evenings or early morning, keeping the base load units on line.  But what is happening is people are buying solar so they don't have to change their lifestyles.  It is just making the price for non-solar users go up, up, up!

In the mid-80's, a paper was written about "dark silicon".  It was silicon wafers treated with some nasty gas and changed the physical structure of the wafer.  I left a microscopic surface that looked like millions of steep cones.  The sunlight would be absorbed on all sides of the silicon, effectively making it look black because almost no light reflected.  The conversion to electricity was phenomenal, like 10 or 20 times more efficient that what it was back then, IIRC.  I was hoping it would have been main-stream by now :-\
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Offline florida

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2016, 01:54:14 pm »
Economics and physics are related. If physics proves that you can only get $50.00 of power from a $100.00 photo cell array it's easy to see.

It's true that the costs of photo cells is going down but it doesn't matter because the cost of all the other components are going up. No matter how you slice it a 10K photo voltaic system is going to run between $50,000 and $60,000 installed with no storage. In sunny Arizona it will run at about 19% efficiency which translates to 16,644 kw annually. At the average market rate of $.12 a kw that means it produced $1998.00 worth of retail power. Borrowing the $60,000 cost means a monthly payment of $317.00 for 25 years or $3804.00 a year. That means you paid over $1,800 more for your power than  you did before you had a solar system on your roof.

If you're in Vermont the efficiency of your system drops to 6% and provides about $600.00 worth of power a year versus the annual cost of $3804.00, a $3,200.00 annual loss.

The Federal government loaned the developers of the giant Crescent Dunes Solar plant in Tonopah Nevada $1,500,000,000 of our money. So far it's produced about 1/4 of the power the developers had projected and now they want us to loan them $560,000,000 more to make the payment on the original $1,500,000,000 loan we made them! Guess how this is going to work out for the taxpayers of America?
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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #6 on: April 21, 2016, 06:19:28 pm »
Quote
It can never be cost effective measured against fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

Currently in the US, this is probably true.

But that's not to say that future development in solar panels, or changes in the price (or restriction on the use) of fossil fuels wont change that.
Consider if a company came up with solar panels that didn't cost much more then roofing shingles? They don't have to be super efficient, because you just use them on the roof in place of the tin / shingles / tiles you use now. If that was the case, every new house or re-roof would use them right?

Fossil fuels? Yes Nat Gas is cheap now. But that's not the case everywhere.  We holiday in the Cook Islands, which are some tiny tropical Islands way out in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles from anywhere.The power station is Diesel, and the fuel needs to be imported from NZ, so it's not cheap. Power there is ~70c (NZ) a  unit, or maybe 50c US. Redo your calculations using that number, bearing in mind they do have plenty of sun.  They still need to keep the diesels as backup, but they are hoping to cut fuel use by about 80%

So I agree that it's not cost effective compared to a Nuke or big combined cycle Nat Gas plant. But if you don't have those things?

The maths also changes if you aren't on the grid, or it's going to cost too much to get new supply lines run.

Solar power hasn't really caught on here in NZ. You can buy the similar grid tied systems, and you see some around, but I have to wonder about the cost effectiveness, same as you do. No one has gone with a large commercial installation, which suggests that the numbers don't add up.

Large wind generators are common, and operated by the large power companies. In the right locations they seem to produce well, and complement the hydro power. Hydro has the advantage that it can be run as base load, or peak, and has some ability to STORE energy as water in the holding lake. But again, you need the special situations (geography and climate) that make Hydro practical.

The rain that makes hydro work tends to put a dampener on the solar side.
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Offline Brucer

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #7 on: April 21, 2016, 11:28:16 pm »
There is far more to solar power than photovoltaic cells.

Solar collectors can heat water, with a higher efficiency than PV cells. That water can be stored for use when the sun isn't shining.

There is an experiment going on right now in Alberta where a community was built that uses hot water to provide winter heating. There is a central building that contains individual garages for parking vehicles. Solar collectors on the roof heat water which is pumped underground to heat a large mass of earth. In the winter, water is circulated to recover the heat and heat the houses. It's expected that the system will supply 90% to 95% of the annual heating needs of the community.

It's also possible to concentrate solar energy on a collector using mirrors. This produces enough heat to produce high pressure steam that can drive a generating plant. The exhaust steam from the turbines has to be cooled, but it's also possible to circulate it through an adjacent community to heat houses. The excess heat can also be used in lower temperature manufacturing processes.

There is also a hidden cost to fossil fuels that is going to come out of our pockets. Coal mines, for example, are supposed to be cleaned up after they're shut down. In the US companies were expected to set money aside for future cleanup but in practice they just place a charge on their balance sheets. Cleanup was to be paid for by future earnings. However, when the company goes bankrupt (e.g., Peabody coal), the fictitious charge has no value. The taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Something similar is happening in Canada with abandoned oil wells. The wells are supposed to be capped and the sites cleaned up when the well is deactivated. But many companies left unused wells "active" at least on paper. When the company goes out of business, the well is abandoned, to be cleaned up by the government. Canadian regulators were a bit smug, claiming that the Peabody situation can't happen here, because oil extraction companies are supposed to pay into a fund that will cover the cost of re-mediating abandoned wells. It now appears that there is nowhere enough money to cover the costs.
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Offline Brad_S.

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #8 on: April 21, 2016, 11:28:58 pm »



Once fast-growing solar company SunEdison files for bankruptcy




Reuters April 21 2016
I work for SunEd. The company's failure is not due to the viability of solar and wind power, it is completely due to arrogant, terrible and possibly criminal management.
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Offline Gary_C

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2016, 04:26:53 am »
What the original article is telling us and I believe is confirmed by the comments here is that solar power simply can't compete with any other power source without talking storage solutions. Then when you talk storage solutions, the laws of thermodynamics tell you to expect conversion losses that are going to be difficult to overcome.

In short, higher solar collector efficiency and lower costs are a small part of the needs for improvement for solar to become mainstream. Sure every home may have a solar collector on the roof but what is going to be the cost for a standby power source for when the sun doesn't shine. It's a fatal flaw.
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Online Ianab

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2016, 04:50:27 am »
Quote
There is far more to solar power than photovoltaic cells.

Solar collectors can heat water, with a higher efficiency than PV cells. That water can be stored for use when the sun isn't shining.

Yes, that's another big one in the Islands. Almost every house has a Solar water heater, with an electric boost button if you run out. 99% of the time the solar keeps up as it gathers some heat, even on a cloudy day. If you do get a lot of cloudy days, you can hit the button and the electric gives you hot water again, for a cost.

They also don't need heating or air-con. It never actually gets that hot or cold that you HAVE to have it. Most cooking is with propane.

So you have taken away pretty much all the high drain applications. Heating, hot water, air-con, cooking..... What's left is manageable as you don't need to be able to supply 20kw to the house.

Quote
what is going to be the cost for a standby power source for when the sun doesn't shine. It's a fatal flaw.

I wouldn't call it fatal is such, but it is a problem. Battery technology is still improving, just not quite as fast as we might hope.
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Offline florida

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2016, 07:43:04 am »
Ianab,

I was addressing the future of solar taking over the world which would have to  be grid tied.

What you say about remote locations is correct. Those locations with no or few other options for power are the only places where solar and wind make any sense. When you have no power solar and wind start looking good.

I also agree that if the price of fossil fuels went up, way up, solar would look better but I don't think it will ever be able to compete with grid power.

Here's an article about how the island of Eigg in the Scottish Herbides uses hydro, wind and solar to provide electric to its 87 residents. If you parse down through the date on their electrical generation you'll see that the wind and solar provide a tiny percentage with the majority generated by hydro.

http://www.windandsun.co.uk/case-studies/islands-mini-grids/isle-of-eigg,-inner-hebrides,-scotland.aspx#.VxoMEEdrNxs

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Offline florida

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2016, 07:54:22 am »
Brucer,

Heating water with solar can work in some locations cost effectively but the key word is "cost effective." You can do anything with enough money but even then it won't work for the larger population. I'd like to see more details about that Alberta plan. I can't see anyway that they could economically store enough hot water to heat a significant number of homes all winter. Mother Earth News was trying projects like that 40 years ago but they fell off the map.

I'm in south Florida, hot and long days of sun but virtually no one uses solar hot water because it will never pay for itself. We use solar heaters on our pools but a $4,000 solar pool system will only heat your pool from maybe 75 to 85 for 2 or 3 months a year, hardly enough to heat your house.

As far as the concentrating collectors please read the information I posted by Crescent Dunes project. If the Feds can't  do it with unlimited resources no one else will be able to either.
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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2016, 08:36:15 am »
I  wouldn't discount wind totally.

5% of NZ power generation is now wind.  Not just "capacity", but actual power produced. Capacity is ~7%, but the wind doesn't always blow, so actual power produced is less. OK, small percentage wise, but not insignificant. 2000 Gwh has to count for something. Having about 60% hydro helps, and another 15% geothermal which is a reliable base load.

None of these things is a magic solution. And I agree that solar power is still marginal on the economics for mainstream power generation. But to say that solar or wind or whatever "Can't work" is a bit short sighted. To say that it wont work in the current economic climate is probably true.

But 20 years ago a practical electric car and a rocket that could launch something into orbit and land in one piece was Sci-fi. Now they are on the news as a happening thing.
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Offline John Mc

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2016, 11:03:16 am »
No matter how you slice it a 10K photo voltaic system is going to run between $50,000 and $60,000 installed with no storage.

If you are paying $5 or $6/watt installed for a 10kW system with no storage (i.e. grid tied), you are paying way too much.
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Offline ljohnsaw

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #15 on: April 22, 2016, 11:08:11 am »
Brucer,

...
I'm in south Florida, hot and long days of sun but virtually no one uses solar hot water because it will never pay for itself. We use solar heaters on our pools but a $4,000 solar pool system will only heat your pool from maybe 75 to 85 for 2 or 3 months a year, hardly enough to heat your house.
...

$4K for a solar pool system?  It was installed on my house when I bought it but I doubt it cost anywhere near that.  Just mats of fine tubes.  My pool goes from 70 to 90+ (If I want it to) but I cap it at 88.  There are weeks where it shuts down every afternoon in the late summer.  It extends my comfortable swimming temperature from 3 months to 6 or 7.  I have tremendous loss of heat on a windy night.  I can lose 5 degrees overnight.  Someday I might invest in a solar blanket for the pool.  I can see easily reaching 120+ in a insulated storage unit and I'm talking about 30,000 gallons in my pool.  That is a LOT of thermal storage.
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Offline florida

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #16 on: April 22, 2016, 01:26:43 pm »
How many conventional power plants have been shut down in NZ due to increased wind power?

I'll tell you how many the US. Zero. Same in Germany and Denmark, the 2 most developed green power countries in the world. The biggest problem with wind or solar is that they are both intermittent so don't produce power on a regular schedule which means they have to be backed up with conventional power. The cost of wind and solar is not substituted for grid power, it's a cost on top of grid power and always will be until aliens swoop in and give us some new battery technology.

"2000 Gwh has to count for something." At what costs?  Was any of the wind power projects in NZ built without government subsidies?

 

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Offline florida

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Offline John Mc

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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #18 on: April 22, 2016, 01:34:06 pm »
Was any of the wind power projects in NZ built without government subsidies?

Is ANY energy infrastructure in the US of ANY type built without subsidies?
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Re: Future of Solar Power
« Reply #19 on: April 22, 2016, 07:00:33 pm »
How many conventional power plants have been shut down in NZ due to increased wind power?

I'll tell you how many the US. Zero. Same in Germany and Denmark, the 2 most developed green power countries in the world. The biggest problem with wind or solar is that they are both intermittent so don't produce power on a regular schedule which means they have to be backed up with conventional power. The cost of wind and solar is not substituted for grid power, it's a cost on top of grid power and always will be until aliens swoop in and give us some new battery technology.

"2000 Gwh has to count for something." At what costs?  Was any of the wind power projects in NZ built without government subsidies?

Several older gas / coal stations have been decommissioned. OK they were old and would have needed a major refurb or rebuild. But the companies built wind instead.

When the large hydros where built the power generation was completely run by the Govt. Whether we paid for them via taxes or power prices I'm not sure, probably both.  :D

The Govt power department was restructured in the 80s as a Govt owned corporation, and since then has been split into several different companies and partly privatized. They are now listed on the stock exchange although still part owned by the Govt. But they operate as commercial operations (not Govt subsidized) and actually pay a dividend on their shares back to the owners (inc the Govt)
This is one of the main companies power stations.
https://www.genesisenergy.co.nz/generation-assets

The commercial wind generators have been installed on a commercial basis to make a profit.  Not paid for via Govt subsidies.

But again NZ has a different set of circumstances. The wind becomes more practical when you have an abundance of Hydro and the geography and weather patterns to give pretty consistent wind power. Most of the hydros are fed from large storage lakes so they can hold days of full power generation in reserve. That's the 'battery" you are talking about. Now without that the system would be much less practical.
Weekend warrior, Peterson JP test pilot, Dolmar 7900 and Stihl MS310 saws and  the usual collection of power tools :)