Skip to main content

The world rush into solar energy is well under way.

BP Solar, BP being the company once known as "British Petroleum," but now rebranded as "Beyond Petroleum," is a world leader in solar PV manufacture and production.

The growth rate of solar energy was 45% last year, the highest growth in a decade.

Yup.   It really works.

Let's look at this new capacity and do some calculations.

First let's quote some tidbits from the website:

The trend of rapid growth in PV capacity gained momentum in 2004, the most recent year for which data are available. A growth rate of 45% in 2004 was the highest in more than a decade. The ten-year average annual growth rate was 32%. As with wind, installed PV capacity has increased dramatically over the last decade. The increase was more than 15 fold, albeit from a much lower base than wind capacity. Solar energy is heavily subsidized as well.
Installed capacity in the IEA Photovoltaic Power System Programme (PVPS) member countries increased by 800 MW to reach almost 2,600 MW at the end of 2004. 94% of this growth was in Germany, Japan and in the US. Global installed capacity increased on average by 32% per year over the past decade. Effective average capacity utilization in solar energy for power generation is approximately 20%.


The growth in German installed capacity has been especially dramatic, rising by an average of more than 50% annually over the past decade. Total installed capacity reached 794 MW at the end of 2004. Japanese average annual growth over this period was 43%. With a 44% market share and 1,132 MW of installed PV capacity Japan continues to lead the world in terms of solar power generating capacity.
Not coincidentally, Japan, Germany and the US are the countries that have the largest programmes in terms of government support to the PV industry. In Japan government rebates under an 11-year solar development programme now exceed US$ 1.5 billion and in Germany, producers of solar energy receive a subsidy of over EUR 40/MWh. Even in Southern California with abundant sun resource, at least a US$ 20/MWh subsidy is needed to make sun energy competitive. Not accidentally do the three countries with the largest government support programmes also house the biggest manufacturers.

Thus the Japanese subsidy is $1.5 billion dollars.

OK, let's calculate.

Capacity utilization may be thought of as the amount of time, in percentage terms, that a plant may be thought of as producing its full output.   Thus a 1000 MWe power plant of any type that has 90% capacity utilization is the equivalent of a 900 MWe power plant running flat out 100% of the time.  

Thus a solar plant rated at 1,100 MWe, the entire capacity of Japan more or less, and operating at the (stated) utilization of 20% would produce the amount of energy equivalent to a 200 MWe plant of another type.

In fact, 1100MWe is the equivalent of a fairly typical nuclear plant.   (The Japanese nuclear plants that have come on line in the last few years have been 1600 MWe each, roughly.)    Since a nuclear plant typically operates at 90% capacity loading, each nuclear plant produces more than 5 times much energy as the entire nation of Japan produces from solar PV cells, according to BP.

Thus, given the $1.5 billion (US) subsidy, a solar installation producing as much energy as a single nuclear plant would require a subsidy (subsidy, not cost) of $7.5 billion dollars to match the nuclear plant in raw energy output, if the nuclear plant operates close to nameplate capacity.  (Most nuclear plants in fact do operate close to name plate capacity.)

Solar plants and nuclear plants do different things, so we should be careful with this comparison but...   to produce as much energy as Japan produces by nuclear (with 55 nuclear power plants) we can estimate the cost as being about $420 billion dollars, subsidy only.

Originally posted to NNadir on Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 08:06 PM PDT.


Are these calculations correct?

3%1 votes
3%1 votes
12%4 votes
9%3 votes
3%1 votes
6%2 votes
3%1 votes
0%0 votes
9%3 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
3%1 votes
12%4 votes
22%7 votes
9%3 votes

| 31 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Waste Disposal Cost Needs To Be Added to Nukular (5+ / 0-)

    This is the problem with "nuclear energy".  If the waste disposal problem is UNSOLVED, the cost of waste disposal is - in effect - INFINITE.

    That makes solar look pretty damn attractive.  I  would be happy to pay 2-3 times as much for electricity if I knew it wasn't being generated with any nukular power.

    Ned Lamont for US House of Representatives (CT-04) in 2008

    by bincbom on Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 08:09:26 PM PDT

    •  It already is. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cotterperson, Plan9

      Waste Disposal costs are added to nuclear electricity price. They're low because nuclear waste volume is small, and even with the Feds wasting all the money pissing about at Yucca, there is plenty to pay for storage indefinitely. There is a concept is called Net Present Value, and this means that an indefinite commitment only costs a finite amount - in this case, a relatively small amount.

      By contrast, fossil fuels do not pay anything for their major waste stream.

      •  Nuclear waste disposal (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        means are the ends

        "costs" a bunch more than dollars.
        I liked all that decentralization Al Gore was talking today. Made some sense. A lot more sense that pumping our beleaguered planet full of radioactive crap.

        •  $9 Billion already spent on Yucca Mountain (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Joy Busey, doinaheckuvanutjob

          YM is now over 17 years beyond due date, with billions spent. See this damning letter from 1998:


          What the State’s study found, when compared to what DOE would have the country believe about program costs, is truly astounding. The bottom line is that the total cost of the federal high-level waste program is at least $53.9 billion. Assuming that all currently operating commercial nuclear power reactors operate and generate fee revenues for their full licensed lifetimes - an assumption that is conservative in the extreme given the likelihood that high operating costs and cutbacks due to electric deregulation will cause many reactors (by some estimates more than 40 of the 100 functioning reactors) to be shut down well before their licenses expire - the Nuclear Waste Fund will generate at most $28.1 billion.


          What we are seeing with respect to the spent fuel and high-level waste program being promoted by the commercial nuclear power industry and pursued unquestioningly by DOE is a fiscal and scientific disaster in the making.

          It seems that almost every other week there is some new revelation about technical problems at Yucca Mountain. Just recently, scientists at the California Institute of Technology reported that the risk of earthquakes and volcanic activity at the site is substantially greater than DOE has estimated, calling into question the wisdom of locating a high-level waste facility there.

          billions spent.

      •  Nuclear waste storage has been solved (0+ / 0-)

        We are safely storing spent nuclear fuel right now. It can be securely kept in concrete casks for the next century or longer.  But it is not likely to remain in interim storage.  It is likely to be recycled.

        New reactor designs enable the reactor to consume and rejuvenate spent fuel. The remaining residues would be extremely small and could be encased in glass or even used for other applications.

        Nuclear waste from bomb building is now mostly cleaned up and is being safely stored in a stable deep geologic repository half a mile underground.

        We do know how to store nuclear waste for the long term.  

        All the spent fuel generated for the past 40 years in the US could fit into a single football field.

        The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

        by Plan9 on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 06:39:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Always more happy talk about the wonderful (0+ / 0-)

          nuke industry, Plan9, and all the "great new solutions" coming down the pike; this "recycle" bit is just the latest in a long line of silly ideas that never come true in the nuclear biz, IMHO, and I've been listening to this stuff for over 50 years.

          Given that some high level nuclear waste needs storage for 100,000 years, a 100 year solution is meaningless. Vitrification is a nice idea. However, we currently have wastes scattered all over the country, not consolidated in your "one football field".

          And given your track record with "facts" in the past, I'll go check that out before I believe much of anything you right. Nothing personal, I just like facts.

          I'll wait for the consensus of nuclear phsicists that the nuclear waste problem is solved. You have no links, you have no proof, just Nuclear Biz talking points.

          •  100.000 years? (0+ / 0-)
            Well, radioactive stuff is generally considered significant for 10 half lives.  Let's see... the most dangerous part of reactor waste seems to be Sr-90.  Oh, 30 years half live, gone in three centuries.  Same for Cs-137.  Next comes Tc-99.  Half live of 200.000 years, therefore significant for two million years, if at all dangerous.  Maybe you meant Am-241... oh, 400 years half live, gone in 4.000 years, which is still a far cry from the 100.000 years you claimed.

            Why do you feel the need to invent numbers?  Shouldn't the facts speak for themselves?

      •  Do renewables pay for their waste disposal? (0+ / 0-)

        If it takes 40 square miles of solar panels to equal the output of a single 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant on 2/3 of a square mile, that's a huge amount of toxic waste.

        Who's paying for the disposal of the toxic heavy metals, plastics that will never decay, etc. when after 25 years the solar panels are decommissioned?

        The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

        by Plan9 on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 01:14:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  there are solutions (0+ / 0-)
      though you may not like them.  They are still good to put an upper bound on the cost of waste storage.

      One possibility is to melt reactor waste into a glass block and drop that into the ocean.  The water is an excellent radiation shield and hardly anything of the glass will dissolve.  Through poisoning of sea food some people might die, about 0.6 deaths per GWa of electricity are expected, spread out over millions of years.

      Dropping glass into the sea is very cheap, I don't think we really need to debate the cost of that, especially for the low volumes of waste involved.  Now we could try to put a price on those 0.6 dead people, but I'm not going to do that, because the dangerous fossil fuel waste from creating 1 GWa of electricity by burning coal kills about 75 people, and that is somehow readily accepted.  (If you don't accept that, please consider bemoaning the unsolved problem of coal waste storage instead.)

      Now don't forget, I only use this scenario to put an upper bound on the cost of nuclear waste storage: insignificant money and 120x less human lives than for coal waste storage.  (Since you specifically mentioned solar power, I'd rather compare against that, but I don't have the necessary data.)  We can actually do better than that by recycling reactor waste, which should also be even cheaper in the long run.  But right now, only the upper bound matters.

  •  Sometimes ... (4+ / 0-)

    it seems that you spend more time writing polls than ...

    In any event, it is useful to lay out costs ... and this is interesting.

    But, what about distributed solar and savings off lowered grid infrastructure requirements?  What about full operating costs? And, well, what are the government subsidies to nuclear and how do they account into this calculation?

    From a different angle, solar generally peaks with power use peaks (not 100%, but writ large).  Peak power in Japan is expensive enough that solar competes, I understand, even before the subsidies for many users.

    Blogging regularly at Ecotality Blog for a Sustainable Future.

    by A Siegel on Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 08:10:54 PM PDT

    •  no grid means local storage (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wondering if

      The only way grid costs could be reduced is to have local storage.  Right now this means batteries for small scale applications.  The batteries are comparable in cost to the panels, so double the costs of the above comparison.

      If storage is done on a central basis then there is no savings to the grid.

      Net metering (where the utility buys back power at the same rate it sells it) is a 100% to 200% subsidy.  Not saying it's a bad thing, but it is a subsidy.

      •  Figures about storage costs ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        means are the ends

        are high ... although batteries are not, per se, cheap.

        As well, did not write get rid of grid but lowered grid requirements. With large scale penetration of solar in distributed, then do not need as extensive a grid system.

        As for the "subsidy", not fully true. Most power remains at flat rate. The solar PV is being sold into the grid during peak hours (generally -- especially in summer) while getting reimbursed at a flat rate.  And, the 200% subsidy?  Hmmm ... So, you are suggesting that utility is selling KwH at three times purchase price?  

        Blogging regularly at Ecotality Blog for a Sustainable Future.

        by A Siegel on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 05:22:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  yeah, mine's 3 times purchase price (0+ / 0-)

          Bulk power is real cheap in the Pacific Northwest.  My co-op purchases in the 2 cent range and sells for 6.7

        •  Compare the solarbuzz prices with your electric (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Plan9, A Siegel


          Solar buzz gives the current prices of solar energy, not power, in cents per kw-hr.

          It is useful to compare the outrage in California when Enron manipulated power prices with the solarbuzz prices as well.  

          The solar subsidy is significant.   If solar energy became significant the cost of these subsidies would also become significant.   Now they're very easy to bury, but it may not always be so, especially if the industry succeeds.   There's a kind of catch-22 going on here.   Solar is very, very, very politically popular.   Governor Steroid Boy over in California got himself declared an "environmentalist" with a solar false card.

          Here are retail prices for electricity throughout the nation.

          Here's the "SolarBuzz" website.

          •  Agreed ... and disagreed ... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Plan9, means are the ends

            Solar electricity is listed at 21.38 cents on Solar Buzz.

            Believe that the new CSP has a ten year contract in the 15 cent range, delivered power.

            And, the EIA material is the 'average' rather than period costs. Thus, if living in a place with high peak prices and timed charges, the 21.38 cents kwh(which is an industrial pricing for a sunny climate) can be competitive.

            And, well, there are reasons for solar (PV or otherwise) other than simply the straight KwH cost.

            But, we are in agreement that solar prices for kwh delivered must fall -- along with other developments -- for this to be truly competitive.  And, recent demand increases have outstripped capacity growth (at least for now), so PV costs are rising -- rather than falling.

            Blogging regularly at Ecotality Blog for a Sustainable Future.

            by A Siegel on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 07:28:08 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Oh yes ... (0+ / 0-)

            And, thank you for link-supported comments ... by the way.

            Blogging regularly at Ecotality Blog for a Sustainable Future.

            by A Siegel on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 07:28:26 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I doubt the $420 billion figure (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    means are the ends

    simply because production on that scale would inevitably become cheaper and require less subsidy to make it competitive.

    However I don't like the idea of a electrical production subsidy, simply because the costs are incurred in manufacture not production. Why pay the power producer at the wrong stage of the process? (unless what is really a manufacturing subsidy is paid on power production as guarantee of usage, perhaps)

    •  You would think this, but increased solar demand (5+ / 0-)

      these last years drove prices up.   There were silicon shortages and all sorts of production hold ups.

      Solar prices are given here at Solar Buzz..   Prizes rose with increased production.

      In any case the entire output was trivial.

    •  Health costs of large-scale solar (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Brookhaven National Lab has noted that the toxic gases required for manufacturing solar would present a significant and costly problem to be solved if production ever went to a large scale.  To meet OSHA and EPA regulations would require a large expenditure.

      Also, solar panels are toxic waste.  After 25 years they must be disposed of in a special waste stream, in toxic waste dumps.  Unlike spent nuclear fuel, some of the components never decay.

      The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

      by Plan9 on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 06:43:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  This is absolutely true (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The panels are toxic waste.

        It's also worth remembering that photovoltaic solar uses exactly the same general sorts of processing chemicals and ingredients and the computer industry.

        IBM contaminated the ground water in Essex Junction, VT, and E. Fishkill, NY, (2 areas I worked when with IBM) and Endicott, NY--probably other areas as well.

        Here's the link for the Essex Junction (called Burlington in the article) which says the cleanup will cost millions and last for years)

        Here's the link for ground water pollution in Fishkill, NY:

        Here's the link for ground water pollution in Endicott, NY, by IBM:

        Anyone who thinks the kind of processing that goes with either amorphous silicon or crystalline silicon is environmentally clean, just hasn't thought things through.

        Plus the chemicals involved tend to cause cancers, particularly reproductive cancers.  Johns Hopkins did a study that demonstrated this, and some of the worst chemicals, particularly solvent based photoresists, were eliminated--but it took nearly 20 years before they were eliminated.

        And some of them are teratogenic.  The tanks in one of the areas I worked in had pictures of deformed babies on them, as a warning.

        And all of them last forever.  There is no half life for toxic chemicals, unfortunately.

        Consequently, of the renewable resources, solar is my least favorite.

  •  Lab Research (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, kurt, Roger Fox, alasmoses

    that will blow current solar technology is being conducted right now. I would throw a fraction of your Billions at these breakthroughs, not current solar technologies.

    Much higher solar conversion efficiencies.
    (i.e. 75% vs. 12%)


    •  very interesting... (0+ / 0-)

      but it's still theory - may result in - and hasn't been accomplished even in the lab. Once you get it to work in the lab there's the problem of making it practical and mass producible. I don't know the percentage, but I can tell you there are a lot of patents that never became useful processes or products, and a lot of theory that never proved to be anything that worked at all.

      So this is a 'maybe' for a decade or so from now, not any sort of solution in the near term.

  •  Solar subsidies are necessary (4+ / 0-)

    to make them cost competitive over the long-term. They're even more important given our near-term issue with global warming. I have no problem with it.

    Technological inovations are what will really drive this train. And both government and private money is pouring into it right now. Can't be fast enough in my opinion.

    •  All energy resources are subsidized (0+ / 0-)

      However, energy R&D in both the public and private sector has actually dropped over the last 20 years.

      Nobody has the right to talk about the fanciful "level playing field" that one hears so often in discussions about renewables and nuclear energy.  

      The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

      by Plan9 on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 12:48:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Japanese Electricity Market and PV (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    badger, gmoke, kurt, wondering if, Roger Fox

    Grid electricity in Japan is so expensive (costliest in the world) and PV costs have fallen so much that subsidies have decreased substantially.   For example, the subsidy in 2001 was 25.51 billion Yen.  In 2005 it was 2.60 billion Yen.

  •  The Village people. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LIsoundview, Plan9, gmoke, kurt, Roger Fox

    No not the musical group. "The Village People" is a term I use to the describe the local/town/village municipality "planning" board that has jurisdiction over your home. Right now that seems to be the biggest obstacle people must overcome to install solar or wind in their home. From reading my own village's regulations it seems to be written to discourage you from installing alternative energy to the obvious benefit of the municipal power company.      

    Be carefull what you shoot at, most things in here don't react well to bullets-Sean Connery .... Captain Marko Ramius -Hunt For Red October

    by JML9999 on Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 09:06:09 PM PDT

    •  Sun Rights (3+ / 0-)

      There was some discussion and enacting of sun rights legislation and zoning back in the last solar boom, the 1970s, but expect this issue to come back into focus as solar becomes more widely employed.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 09:41:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Japanese Rebate Program Ended? (0+ / 0-)

    I heard from a couple of sources at the recent NESEA Building Energy conference that Japan has recently suspended the rebate for PV as the current  price of electricity now makes it competitive.

    But I could be wrong.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

    by gmoke on Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 09:37:40 PM PDT

  •  Nope (5+ / 0-)

    For example, Abu Dhabi is building a 500MW PV plant at an estimated cost of $350 million - less than $1/W and cheaper than nukes, which hope to reach $1/watt, but never seem to.  Quite a bit cheaper than what you claim, and 25% less than the most optimistic nuclear estimates.

    California utilities are building 2 plants with a combined capacity of 800 MW using Stirling engine technology. The Abu Dhabi and CA examples alone are 50% of 2600 MW you cite, and they are far from the only examples - in the US alone there are large solar plants under construction in AZ, NV and OH, as well as numerous small facilities in the 100s of KW or low MW range. And that ignores wind or geothermal development.

    In your "utilization" argument, you're ignoring peak demand. A nuclear plant that produces 500 MW can supply 500 MW peak - off-peak, it can still supply 500 MW, but without storage technologies that peak and your "utilization" are irrelevant - nobody wants 500MW at midnight where daytime peak demand is that high. A 500 MW solar facility can also supply 500 MW peak, and peak happens to occur when the sun is shining (summer peaks are caused by A/C loads). Again, without storage technology, some other generating technology needs to make up off-peak night time loads. That could be wind, hydro, geothermal, or even small-scale nuclear. And storage certainly isn't out of the question, whether by pumping water, flow batteries, or some other technology like superconducting storage.

    But there's no fundamental requirement to invest in an all-nuclear solution, and a lot of problems with doing so.

    How many new nuclear plants are under construction in the US? It seems utilities not building fossil-fuel plants plan on meeting their needs with renewable sources rather than nukes. Maybe BP doesn't impress you, but they're far from the only player in the renewable energy field.

    There is no more New Frontier - we have got to make it here - Henley/Frey

    by badger on Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 09:48:21 PM PDT

    •  Cold Storage (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, means are the ends, Roger Fox

      Roland Piquepaille wrote

      According to Nature, a European-funded project has be launched to store gigawatts of electricity created from wind into the refrigerated warehouses normally used to store food. As the production of wind energy is variable every day, it cannot be easily accommodated on the electricity grid. So the "Night Wind" project wants to store wind energy produced at night in refrigerated warehouses and to release this energy during daytime peak hours. The first tests will be done in the Netherlands this year. And as the cold stores exist already, practically no extra cost should be needed to store as much as 50,000 megawatt-hours of energy.

      Here is how Nature describes the -- simple, but brilliant -- idea behind this project.

      The idea seems simple. Say you lowered the temperature of all large coldstores in Europe by just 1°C during the night when electricity demand is low, then let it rise 1°C by switching them off during the day when demand is at peak. The net effect would be that the warehouses would act as batteries -- potentially storing 50,000 megawatt-hours of energy -- and the food wouldn't melt.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 10:05:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  good idea but not "free" (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The cold storage cooling equipment normally would run all day & night.  That's how it's been sized.  To run it only half the time but produce the same cooling means doubling the cooling capacity.  That's not "free".

      •  Solar plants now use heated salts to store (0+ / 0-)

        energy for use at night. For example, see Solar Tres in Spain.

        More about the "Solar Tower" design here:

        EnvironMission's Solar Tower Technology

        24-7 generation possible through the patented solar storage capacity of salts, with selective release of the heat to run the turbines at the base of the tower

        There have been several demonstration trial solar tower projects built here in the US. The technology was shown to be viable, and plants are being built in Spain and Australia, and perhaps other places.  

    •  Tell me where to get the $1 a watt panels (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I want to buy some.

      Raw panels (no wires, no racks, no inverter,  no installation) are $4 a watt.  Just how do they build a $1 a watt plant when the panels alone are $4 a watt?

      NNadir's link: Solarbuzz

      A PRO SOLAR website lists raw panels at $4+ a watt.

      Also remember when comparing numbers:  Real world outputs from solar are in the 10% to 20% range since the sun doesn't shine all the time.  The "output" ratings on panels are for output at noon on a cool clear day.  

      Nukes are 90%+.  That means you need to multiply the $/watt by 4.5 to 9 times to have comparable $/watt numbers to nukes.

      •  The figure quoted (0+ / 0-)

        at the link given was $350M for 500MW - that's $0.70 per watt.  Find me a nuke site under construction that claims anywhere near that.

        It may not be obvious, but building a 500MW plant has different economics than putting a panel on your roof.

        It doesn't make a lot of difference to me what Solarbuzz says, and panels at quantity one may in fact be $4/watt - prices, particularly in the semiconductor industry, vary hugely with volume. 5:1 or 6:1 variation from one panel to 500MW's worth wouldn't be unusual for, say, processors or memory in the same ratio. Additionally, I have no idea if the sites you're referring to are retail or wholesale prices. I doubt Abu Dhabi placed a huge online order at Mr. Solar.

        Once again, the fact that nukes deliver power continuously is an advantage, but not of the magnitude you think it is. Demand varies by 2:1 or more, so a plant sized to deliver 500 MW at 3PM will only be delivering half of that or less at 3AM. You don't get points for being able to generate power nobody wants. And most places the sun is shining at 3PM, but not 3AM.

        To get the advantage you believe nukes have, you need to have some kind of storage for underutilized off-peak capacity. If you posit that for nukes, it's an even bigger advantage for more intermittent generation like solar or wind.

        There is no more New Frontier - we have got to make it here - Henley/Frey

        by badger on Fri Mar 23, 2007 at 10:52:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  hmm (0+ / 0-)

          "prices, particularly in the semiconductor industry, vary hugely with volume. 5:1 or 6:1 variation from one panel to 500MW's worth wouldn't be unusual for, say, processors or memory in the same ratio."

          If this isn't pure speculation I'd like to see a source for this. Processors and memory are very different things than solar panels, and I'm not sure the same rules necessarily apply. There is alot of mythology about semiconductor electronics, to the point where people tend to make assumptions that aren't true.

          And I think people need to let off this idea of baseload being irrelevant. That 500mw nuclear plant will be displacing 500mw of coal at 3am. And if an all nuclear infrastructure leads to an oversupply of power off-peak, so what, fuel costs are very low for nuclear (~5% range) and we are not nuclear fuel limited. If it becomes a drastic problem, the same technologies for wind/solar storage apply and can be used. Even if we had gw's of wasted off-peak power, it could be used for DME-generation, carbon-sequestration, charging a large fleet of electric autos, powering huge supercomputer clusters looking for new antibiotics, etc. I think even if we overbuilt nuclear -- which would be many years away anyway, if it happened at all, with of course the byproduct of massive CO2 reductions -- is really a problem of lack of imagination of ways to put that power to use.

        •  And the capacity utilization of this plant is? (0+ / 0-)

          I'm not sure about your numbers at all.   I don't think solarbuzz is misrepresenting things - after all, they are a solar industry promotion site.

          Your "analysis" of the "$1 per solar 'watt'" plant, even if accurate, (I'm not sure you really know the details here) totally ignores reality by comparing it to a nuclear plant.   The capacity utilization of the best solar plants (in deserts) is somewhere between 20% and 25%.   Thus the use of "peak" watts to describe solar plants is a dodge and a misrepresentation.   Nuclear power plants run flat out all the time, except for refueling every one or two years, and for maintainence.

          For the solar station, at night the power will come from somewhere else.

          A $350M plant that runs 25% of the time (maximum) is the equivalent therefore of a $350/0.25 = 1.4 billion dollar plant.   A 1.4 billion dollar plant that also requires back up is no bargain, since one must pay for the back up infrastructure as well.   $1.4 billion for an (unpredictable) peak loading plant is a lot of money.

          500MW is a very, very, very small plant.   It is telling that if built, this plant would represent 1/6 of the entire world's solar output, according to BP.   Given that the solar business is 50 years old, and it has been the benefactor of lots of press and wishful thinking, that's pretty poor results when you think about it.

          For comparison the US gas capacity - and solar could compete with gas were it not such a weeny industry - is 412,241 MWe - and it's available 24/7.

          Net winter capacity or all forms of energy for electric generators in the US.

    •  I've been hearing about cheap solar my whole (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      adult life.   The solar PV cell was invented in 1954, when I was two years old.

      Solar follows demand and if it replaces gas, no one will be more thrilled than I.   But I'll believe it when I'll see it.   It's a little silly frankly how people keep talking about the wonders of solar energy without ever producing an exajoule in a single year.   Everybody talks about this plant and that plant and "world's largest installation," blah, blah, blah and still no exajoule.

      All this cowboy talk with no hat has made me skeptical.    You probably don't know how happy I was to hear about the Luz solar thermal plants built in Southern California in the 1980's.   Solar energy is still less than 1% of California's renewable energy.

      I certainly am not calling for an "all nuclear solution."   When fossil fuels are banned, I will be happy to discuss the merits of that which have replaced them.  But right now all environmentalist should call for all proved solutions.

  •  Fuck BP. (4+ / 0-)

    November 10th will be the tenth anniversary of the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni tribesmen. They were framed and executed by the Nigerian military government for campaigning against the devastation of their homeland by oil giants Shell-BP (see SchNEWS 49, 282, 453). Behind the scenes, Shell-BP were running the whole grisly show. They orchestrated and financed the campaign of terror, slaughter and human and ecological exploitation that ended Saro-Wiwa's life and thousands of others.

  •  interesting (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LIsoundview, Plan9, NNadir, Matthew B

    I like how solar fans are willing to wager the future of the climate on undeveloped and unproven technologies. I'm as much as a optimistic technocrat as the best of them -- which is why I understand and support nuclear power -- but just sit down and think for a moment. Climate change needs to be addressed today. In a reality-based society, you'd use the best tools that are available today that have the best chance of averting disaster. Only one non-GHG source has a demonstrated record of providing on the scale needed for a large, first-world nation... It's what I don't get about Gore's equivocating stance on nuclear and distributed grid voodoo.

    I'm still not clear why waste storage is an issue. If it's an unsolved problem, why has no one died from nuclear waste storage in the US in 50 years of power generation?

    So here's what really blows my mind. The idea that nuclear waste should be stored underground for millions of years is based on the assumption that Human Civilization will be annihilated in an apocalyptic war, or a dark ages, or whatever, and that we should be concerned that some anthropologist digging up our ruins a million years from now might find the remaining fraction of some once hot waste. That this consideration is serious enough to categorically oppose all nuclear power in principle, regardless of all other facts. I think if Human Society ceases to exist, there are more pressing matters than worrying about someone digging up a bit of radiological waste a million years from now.

    •  It's more worry about leakage (0+ / 0-)

      possibly combined with geological events, thus natural release rather than someone digging it up. Boosted by problems with some proposed storage methods, people are nervous.

      What appears to be difficult to get across to those worried about long term storage is that most of the that waste is actual fuel, waste in the fullest sense of the word in that it should be used to produce more energy rather than buried in the ground. Recycle spent fuel and the amount of long lived waste goes way down.

      •  sure, but if (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Plan9, means are the ends

        Our society and nuclear infrastructure has deteriorated to the point where we cannot monitor and manage a plain, above ground, well-guarded storage site against leakage, it's the same thing as assuming the world has ended, and the potential future victims are the same hypothetical future societies thousands of years in the future. :)

        (and of course, yes, I advocate reprocessing. If only CO2 sequestered from coal plants could be reprocessed to recapture the 95% of fuel still remaining.)

      •  Worry about toxic waste dump leakage (0+ / 0-)

        from decommissioned solar panels, semiconductors, etc.  That very serious waste is not isolated or sequestered deep underground away from the water table and, as LISoundView already pointed out, is contaminating the environment right now.  These toxins are mutagenic, carcinogenic, and do not decay over time into something natural the way radioactive materials do.

        Reycling spent fuel is inevitable as more nuclear plants are built. And they are being built--not only in the US but also abroad.  In particular in Asia.  As the middle class in China and India grows, these nations are going to get serious about a cleaner environment and will start replacing fossil fuel combustion with nuclear power.

        The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

        by Plan9 on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 12:56:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Gore's performance today was disappointing on (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LIsoundview, Plan9

      some level.   He certainly didn't demonize nuclear but several statements he made about it were wrong.   It is absurd to call solar "quick" when a single nuclear power plant built in Japan in 4 years produces more power than all of Japan's solar produced over decades.

      Mentioning Amory Lovins as a "genius" was pretty silly, since Lovins has been right on zero predictions.   Gore had done much better with prediction than "hydrogen car by 2003" Lovins has ever done.   Lovins is more priest than scientist.

      I think Gore actually knows the truth but really, he was very cagey.   I think he's running for President since he is equivocating.

      Several Republicans recognized this is a weak spot and drove right at it.

      •  perhaps (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        LIsoundview, Plan9

        Perhaps he does understand the role and importance of nuclear -- it's hard to imagine any rationally, scientifically minded person not -- but doesn't want to touch the topic for fear of the polarizing politics of nuclear compromising his climate change message.

        •  I explored Mr. Gore's position in the past. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Interpreting Al Gore on Nuclear Energy.

          I don't speak for him and I don't know what he thinks.   I do know that climate change cannot be addressed without nuclear power playing a very large role.

          •  I think Gore understands things (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            LIsoundview, Plan9, NNadir

            quite well on this front and is not an ideologue one way or another on the nuclear front. I think one can rest assured that he would use science, logic and technological state of art to craft policy related to nuclear energy and its role in addressing the climate crisis. The rhetoric isn't the answer. Solutions are.

          •  Nuclear is only the largest mitigator of GHG (0+ / 0-)

            we have. So, yes, let's shut down nuclear power.

            Gore is intelligent.  His father was essential to the dawning of nuclear power in the US.

            Lovins will one day be understood as the charismatic villain he is. His thinking and pie-in-the-sky promises that never come true have mislead countless well-meaning people who want to do something for the environment.  People forget that he is a consultant to the fossil fuel industry and was in bed with Enron.  His solution is to burn more natural gas.

            The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

            by Plan9 on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 10:17:34 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Cite / Link? (0+ / 0-)

              Do you have something to back up your Lovins accusations?  I detest Lovins and something concrete showing the link to the fossil fuel industry would be useful.

              •  Sorry--I am traveling (0+ / 0-)

                I am on a terribly slow dial-up connection today.  But if you go to and click on Lovins's "Research and Consulting" triumphs, the list of the fossil fuel corporations he works with should be there.  Unless he has scrubbed that list recently.

                His website about 4-5 years ago had as its motto:
                "Nuclear power is dead."--Jeffrey Skilling, Enron. But that has sadly disappeared. Lovins was involved with Enron's work in CA.

                Lovins's absurd claims in a Scientific American (I think in 2005) were challenged by people who found his calculations wrong or misleading.  I think Energy Bulletin ran a piece about that.

                In the diary NNadir posted recently about Bulgarian nuclear plants I think that I posted a couple of Lovins's predictions with links.  For example, that families would be driving across the US by 2003 on a single tank of gas (1995 was, I believe, the date he foretold that remarkable feat).

                Lovins used to cite a guy who claimed that if we just drilled down ten miles we would get all the natural gas we could ever want since it was made naturally deep down.  

                Wizard of Oz, move over.

                The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

                by Plan9 on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 03:25:17 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  Agree--Gore is being careful (0+ / 0-)

          That tells me he has not totally given up on the idea of running in 2008.

          He knows very well how essential nuclear power is and how good the safety record is.  He probably has some starry-eyed staffers feeding him this Lovins BS.

          The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

          by Plan9 on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 10:12:18 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Some concrete numbers please... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LIsoundview, Plan9

    Let me start by saying that BP is just diverting  attention from how they really make money. It's cynical and disgusting.

    Anyway, the real issue with solar power is the energy life cycle energy ratio. This is defined as the the total energy that a plant or installation  will produce in its lifetime divided total amount of energy required to build and maintain it. The reason solar power is so inadequate and so expensive is that this ratio is very low; i.e. 10 at most. The number for nuclear power is currently 60, using centrifuge enrichment.

    As for externalities, Externe finds nothing in favor of solar power relative to nuclear power. So just stop it. Solar power is not absolutely clean, and there is no evidence that it is cleaner than nuclear power. PV production generates a mess.

    •  The external cost of solar is low compared to (0+ / 0-)

      natural gas.    There does seem to be a payback - I've seen figures from 3 to 8 years - in climate change gases not released.

      We don't know how long solar cells will last, but I think that it is reasonable to expect several decades.   It's not like there are a lot of moving parts.    True weather events like hurricanes or high winds or ice storms may cause some damage, but mostly I think the capacity will remain intact for some time.

      But it's not significant capacity right now, although it is certainly talismanic in the minds of some people.

      I don't think that solar will ever be a huge source of energy, but I certainly don't call for stopping it.   If the industry becomes significant - and this is a big if - its external costs will need to be regulated, much as nuclear's external costs are regulated.

      I don't really care what BP's purposes for running BP solar are.   Running that business unit is hardly the worst thing they do.

      •  Yes, I see your point... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        BP motives are unimportant. But I still think it's driven by marketing rather than engineering.

        The external costs of solar power are indeed favorable in relation to natural gas, but they are not especially good in relation to nuclear power. Like wind power, solar power offers very little real capacity or availability at the same external costs incurred by nuclear power.

        The numbers in my original comment assume a 25 year lifetime for the PV panel and 40 years for the nuclear plant. PV panels degrade over time, for reasons involving semiconductor physics; this is one reason why it is silly to refer to solar power as "renewable". As such, the numbers are very conservative, as a nuclear plant will likely operate for 60 or 80 years rather 40 years.

        It might be tempting to infer from my original comment that solar could some day be competitive or even superior to nuclear power. This would require two things: a huge (say 60/10 or 6 fold) increase in PV efficiency, and no advances in nuclear power. Neither of these things is conceivable. Advances in fuel and enrichment technology will dramatically increase the lifetime energy ratio for the nuclear fuel cycle, while there are no great breakthroughs to be had in PV technology.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site