...and it's a modest experiment.
In my last diary here a correspondent correctly noticed that I am a rhetorical hypocrite. I derided "percent talk" of the type that solar energy advocates always use. They have been for decades reporting that "production of solar energy has grown by x percent where x is always presented as an impressive number.
The problem with this is that if I tell you I can double your money - increase your wealth by 100% - in three years, I will have a much easier time supporting my claim if you have two dollars, and far more trouble if you are, say, Warren Buffett. Proving the claim in the two dollar case wouldn't even inspire a yawn. Proving the case in latter case would be headline news.
The solar game is full of obfuscation and deliberate distortion. For instance solar energy capacity is always reported in peak watts, and never in average continuous watts, this to convince people that it is a good idea to bet the entire planetary atmosphere on the proposition that solar energy is clean, affordable, sustainable and is about to provide significant energy for the planet.
I contend the opposite. I don't think solar PV energy is very clean, nor do I believe it to be affordable for anyone but the wealthiest people on the planet: It's a rich kid's game. It's low energy/mass density and the thermodynamic and enviornmental problem of energy storage almost certainly suggest it is not sustainable and - and this is pretty much irrefutable - in the 57 years since the invention of the photovoltaic cell in the former Bell Labs, it has never provided a significant portion of the energy of any country.
In making the case of the last statement, I was correctly called out on using "percent talk."
In "percent talk" it can be shown by appeal to data, that solar PV energy produces just one percent of the electricity in Germany, the equivalent in average continuous power of a 670 MW power plant, except that most 670 MW power plants do not require redundant back up or spinning reserve. This is after ten years of massive highly subsidized expensive investment representing tens of billions of Euros of government funds.
Anyway... The paper from the primary scientific literature I will discuss today is short and sweet and comes from the "ASAP" sections of the journal Environmental Science and Technology, a publication of the American Chemical Society, one of the finest scientific organizations in the world. The paper's title is Green Power–A Modest Experiment.
The author's "modest experiment" involves installing solar panels and a home wind turbine on his property - I have often heard anecdotal claims by people here and elsewhere who have done something similar - but the author, Micheal R. Piggott, of the Engineering and Applied Chemistry Department of the University of Toronto applies a twist.
He tells us what his out of pocket expenses for building the system were, and then reports what he got for his money the first year after meticulously recording the energy produced. He then calculates payback time and the lost/saved number.
I have always wanted to do this experiment myself, but I, um, haven't.
Here's Dr. Piggott's introduction:
At the present time, the Ontario government is encouraging people to invest in solar and wind power generation. They do this by subsidizing any excess power produced and fed into the grid at a rate many times the cost of power generated from big conventional plants. The Ontario Power Authority is offering feed-in tariff contracts at between 45 and 80.2 cents to companies building new solar power generating facilities, 13.5 cents on land based wind farms, 19 cents on off-shore wind farms, and between 10.4 and 19.5 cents on biogas projects.13 The experiment described herein is a test of the economics of domestic production from a small and easily affordable system, on the shore of Lake Huron, in the light of these figures. Two solar panels, with a rated capacity of 80 W each, were mounted on the roof of a shed, which was located in an exposed spot. They faced approximately south and were about 23 to the horizontal. Having only 100 foot wide lot, a tall tower was not practical for a wind generator, since it would have to be guyed sufficiently to withstand gale force winds from any direction. So a 900 W wind generator was mounted between two cedar tree trunks, about 35 feet tall, set two feet apart in an approximately eastwest direction, and another cedar trunk, about 20 feet tall,
set at 12 feet north of the westmost 35 foot cedar. They were braced by connecting them to each other, and to the shed. The cedar posts were embedded in reinforced concrete, resting on the bedrock, about two feet beneath...
All well and good, and clear enough.
He offers a little report on the wind power generator's performance:
With the aid of an anemometer, the power output of the generator was plotted as a function of wind velocity, averaged over about 12 h. This showed that a 16km/h wind was required before any power was generated. Thereafter, the power increased approximately linearly to 340 W at 40km/h. By extrapolation of the straight line, it was predicted that a 50km/h wind was required to produce 500 W. But above 30km/h wind velocity, the generator was designed to fold, so it was avoiding the full force of the wind. The manufacturer’s design figure of 900 W at 45km/h thus appears to be very optimistic...
The DC to AC converter is reported to be 90% efficient.
Here's a blurb on the performance of the solar panels:
The power produced by the solar panels working in tandem with the wind generator was logged for 12 months, fromJanuary 1 2010 to January 31 2011, see Figure 1. (April 2010 did not yield reliable results, due to instrument problems.) While here are significant variations, the overall mean useable power produced was 28.3 W. The solar panels only contributed a significant amount of power in the summer. They were covered in snow in December, January, February, and part of March. The monthly averages conceal much day-to-day variation. For instance, in June 2010 the power varied between 2 and 120 W...
Here's the part that you never hear, about the actual out of pocket costs:
The out-of pocket cost of the setup was about 7450 Canadian dollars. The wind generator cost $2933, the solar panels $1333, the batteries $575, the inverter $580, and the concrete and tower hardware about $1150. Heavy cable was needed for the wind generatorcharge controllerbattery connections, and 115/230V cable was needed to connect the system to the house. Hidden costs include the cedar tree trunks, the design and building of the Schmidt trigger from its basic components, and the value of the excavation, etc. work associated with the construction of the wind generator support.
Now he discusses the "payback time," a magical number that one hears as being all over the place in discussions of solar PV systems.
The current (March 2011) cost of domestic electricity in the household concerned with the project was 14.82 cents per kilowatt hour. $7450 would, at that rate buy 50,247 kWh. The solar/wind power assembly, working at an average rate of 30 kW would take about 190 years to produce the same amount of electricity.
The author estimates that feed in tariffs, a government subsidy, would reduce the payback time to 60 years.
Thus wind/solar power is not a good investment. In addition to spending $7430, there was a lot of time spent designing and constructing the system. All for about 30 W.
More than 90 countries have a per capita income that is lower (US) than $7430 dollars, and two of them, India and Pakistan are among the world's most populous nations.
The per capita income of China, is slightly larger than the cost of the "modest" experiment.
May you live at least another 60 years, even as I most assuredly won't.
Have a nice day tomorrow.