October 21, 2013
California State Auditor
621 Capitol Mall, Suite 1200
Sacramento, CA 95814
Atten: Ms. Elaine Howle, Auditor
Subject: Solar Power, a Bottomless Money Pit.
Hello Ms. Howle,
I have enclosed for your information a detailed report concerning the growing billion dollar California solar program wherein vast sums of California Tax Payers money has been and will continue to be spent on politically correct “feel good” environmental programs that have not produced any measurable results and in fact have complicated the very problems they were implemented to solve. My paper discusses these problems in detail and suggests a proven alternative, a less costly and more effective approach that will reduce wasteful spending and benefit California by providing a pro-business energy rich environment encouraging a robust industrial base thus creating many full-time skilled jobs and additional tax revenue.
This report was mailed last week to Governor Brown and to each and every member of the California Legislature. It will not be received with much enthusiasm as it exposes the dark side of solar and the serious on-going problems with State supported grid-tied roof-top pv-solar power and pv-solar farm programs that are increasing the cost of grid electricity and discouraging in-state manufacturing.
California has recently embarked upon another politically conceived million dollar program to “Store Solar and Wind Energy”. Many private high tech companies and universities in Asia, Europe and the United States have been working on this complex problem for the past half century with no end in sight; the technology is not ready for prime time, it is experimental, not the kind of program wherein California Taxpayers money should be invested. What California is proposing, the big picture if you will is that it is acceptable to use vast quantities of fossil fuel and natural resources to create heat and electricity to manufacture more solar panels and windmills which in turn inconsistently generate expensive electricity, usually at inconvenient times, thus creating a temporary surplus that will be stored, at great expense, for later use! Common sense suggests we should use our abundance of already stored energy, namely “clean burning natural gas” to generate electricity as it is needed eliminating the wasteful billion $ solar and wind “middlemen” and the vast amount of energy forever lost in solar/wind electrical conversions and experimental inefficient 100 year old storage technologies.
We are talking about a great deal of money and the future of California, you may be the only person in California government that can turn a spotlight on this growing fiscal problem, in that regard I urge you consider authorizing your staff to research this report, send it out to as many qualified independent solar and environmental consultants and specialists as you can locate, analyze their comments with your professional insight, knowledge and experience, and then provide desperately needed fiscal guidance to the Governor and the Legislature.
Thank you in advanced for reviewing this paper. I would appreciate your comments.
Note: The Auditor’s Office assigned Case File 12013-1994. If any action is undertaken it will be posted:
Greetings Governor Brown and the Honorable California Legislature: October 21, 2013
Enclosed please find a report describing in detail problems of legislative interest concerning on-going subsidized installations of Grid-tied Roof Top Solar Systems and Solar Farms.
The report reviews well known but seldom reported evidence that expensive solar panels are not environmentally friendly, that they carry a large carbon footprint and are not an effective solution for reducing California greenhouse gas emissions. The report discusses those problems and suggests a proven lower cost alternative i.e., upgrade the Grid using California’s own natural gas in a new generation of clean efficient mini-turbines and ultra-efficient combined cycle turbine generators.
I share with you my believe that in the very near future these millions of solar panels will prove a serious financial and management burden to the Grid and to California as solar is now taking funds away from more effective and productive solutions and is increasing the cost of electricity.
When additional legislation and budgeting for solar and natural gas comes before the Legislature I hope the enclosed information will assist you in determining a course of action that will benefit the future well-being of our State. Should you require additional information please contact the author*.
Manfred von Borks, Sc.D. www.vonborks.org
*Author: The author is a native Californian, a retired solar engineer, a concerned on-going taxpayer with a very large California “Junk Bond” portfolio. The author is acting alone having no financial, business or personal affiliation with the solar or gas industry or any other organization. This report has been distributed to Governor Brown and all Members of the California Legislature. The report was/is a general News Release to the Media, the Trade and interested individuals.
This report will be up-dated on-line periodically as additional information and comments becomes available: www.solarproblems.info
Note: As of December 30, 2013 not even one acknowledgement or courtesy reply has been received from the Governor’s office nor from any one of the 120 California Legislatures. Having dealt with these people in the past I was not totally surprised, at the very least I was thinking that a Staffer of maybe one of the few Conservative Legislatures would e-mail the standard form “Thank you” reply as they added my address to their political fund raising list prior to shredding the document.
The Go Solar California Million Solar Roof Initiative is a subsidized on-going program that is installing Photovoltaic Solar Electric Generators on California Grid-tied residential homes, car ports, parking lots, commercial and industrial buildings, schools, government & military facilities and wherever. The purpose of the program is to provide supplemental electricity to the existing power Grid. The 2006 program as implemented in 2007 called for 1940 MW of solar installations thru 2016 budgeted at $2.2 billion. By 2020 California Electrical consumption is expected to exceed 300,000 GW, about 100,000 GW are expected to come from non-polluting sources such as PV roof-tops and large commercial solar farms. The reasoning justifying the solar roof-top program is that it will reduce fossil fuel consumption, the theory behind the reason being that by generating less electricity power plants will burn less fossil fuel thus less greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere moderating global warming. If the underlying theory is proven to be false the program has no justification and the billions of dollars of taxpayer’s money will have been wasted. If the theory proves to be true the total amount of greenhouse gas in earth’s atmosphere reduced by California roof top solar systems would be too small to calculate, would have no impact whatsoever on what good or evil varying man-made carbon dioxide levels may or may not have in influencing global climate. The report also includes for reference and background purposes a review of practical past and present off-the-grid PV solar applications. The report questions the assumption that Photovoltaic solar is inexpensive and pollution free, the report encourages importing additional hydro-electricity from the Pacific Northwest (while those resources are still available), up-grading the Grid infrastructure (much easier said than done) and substantially increasing use of California’s inexpensive clean burning natural gas in the new generation of efficient power plants and microturbines in lieu of expensive inefficient pv solar power.
As of December 2013 there were about 195,000 qualified installations for a total of about 1917 MW of which about a third were residential and the balance were commercial which includes private, public and military facilities (excluding commercial solar farms). Initially the typical home installation was to be 3 KW but in practice the typical home installation is about 7 KW with commercial and government systems many times larger. The energy conversion efficiencies of regular production PV panels vary from about 8% to 20%, depending upon many factors average wattage output can vary from about 10 to 300 peak watts per panel. No statists are maintained as to actual number or type of panels used or the type of installation or actual power generated and system reliability over time, all vital information required for long term evaluation purposes, only the total KW installed is recorded. There appears to be no serious government interest in knowing anything about system efficiency or reliability once they are installed. The actual number of solar panels installed in the State is unknown, by actual observations the number of panels per California individual residential roof-top ranged between 16 and 24 panels. If solar farms, commercial, industrial, schools, governmental and military facilities are included there could be at least 50 million panels currently installed in the State. Based upon input from Importers, Distributers and Installers it is believed that a majority of the panels installed in California over the past several years were made in China, some with minor U.S. added parts & labor and then labeled as a USA product.
Over the past several years the Federal Government, California and other States have offered generous tax credits, incentives and subsidies to homeowners to install Solar Systems. It was promised that a solar power panel system would increase home value, would reduce the electrical bill and the homeowner will make lots of money selling surplus electricity to their electric Utility. Checking it all out on-line you are greeted by more Solar Ads than your screen can handle offering “No Money Down”, “The Government will Pay for your Solar System”, “Free Installation”, “Low Cost Leasing”, Make Money Selling Electricity”, “We will Rent Your Roof Top and give you Free Electricity”, “Own Your Own Electricity Company” and so much more…
The Go Solar California Million Solar Roofs Initiative promotion is working so well in fact that budgeted funds allocated to these programs is being stretched thin and may soon run out. This intense solar promotion brings to mind an old California scam of the 1960s, the infamous “Aluminum Siding Scam” a home improvement business which preyed upon countless homeowners with the slogan “Don’t Paint – Cover Your Home with Beautiful Aluminum Siding” “No Money Down” “Eliminate Termites” “Increase the Value of Your House” “Lower Heating Bills” and so on, and it worked very well for a decade or more. (See “Tin Men” a movie starring Danny DeVito). If it’s “No Money Down” Californians will buy just about anything they believe will improve the value of their house, improved home value means that you can refinance for more money and Californians refinance their homes more often than they visit their Dentists. In July I received two unsolicited telemarking phone solicitations, callers identified themselves as from Southern California Edison, wanted to schedule an appointment to survey the house and quote on “no money down solar installation that would make me money selling electricity”. With those unsolicited “hard sell” calls Solar passed the “Duck Test” for a Home Improvement Scam although not yet affecting those who got in early and are actually living the promised dream while millions of “non-solar” Utility customers have seen electricity rates increase.
From my office up on the hill I see a bumper crop of solar panels glistening in the morning sun like spring flowers and new ones blossoming every day. Entering the San Pedro Post Office I noticed a lounging homeless person charging his cell phone from a small portable solar charger. It seems that everybody in California is into solar power, and why not, with President Obama, Governor Jerry and City Mayors throughout the State touting Solar as the most environmentally friendly, lowest cost, non-polluting source of energy ever invented, like it is unpatriotic if you do not have panels on your roof. As previously mentioned the original plan was to install 3KW systems but in fact most systems are two to three times larger because the small systems did not generate enough surplus electricity to sell back to the Utility. Yes Californians are concerned (well sort of concerned) about the environment but when it gets down to the nitty-gritty the environment takes a back seat to what is really important, it’s all about reducing the high electricity bill and making money selling surplus electricity back to the Utility. As always it is all about money, reducing greenhouse gases and saving the planet is the cover story…
A new roof top solar system is a good excuse to have a weekend afternoon yard party, the feature attraction of course is the solar panels on the roof and for entertainment the guests stare in awe at the backward spinning power meter, much like watching the first little B&W television sets that appeared in homes several decades ago.
The above picture from Go Solar California’s advertising blitz shows what appears to be a perfect solar installation, unfortunately it is far from perfect; there are a few obvious problems: Panel position, the angle and direction in relation to the sun is most important for maximum efficiency. The panels are not facing due South, the optimum direction for maximum solar irradiation. The steep 15 degree angle of the panels and direction means they see very little effective sunlight; typically the angle for a fixed panel in this locale would be about 51/56 degrees. The panels are installed to be architecturally pleasing, flat and close to the roof, meaning very little air circulation under the panels resulting in heat build-up reducing solar efficiency and panel life. Tilting the panels to the proper degree and direction would double the yearly output but clash with the architectural design of the home thus unacceptable to the homeowner. Most home roof-top installations suffer from these limitations further reducing their inherent inefficiency.
Going Solar in California is kind of ironic as California is served by the some of the country’s best and most reliable electric utilities and much of California is not even in a prime solar sun zone, this is especially true near the coast where I live, we are famous for our “June Gloom” weather pattern, a heavy overcast often starting in May and lasting thru September, meaning the sun may be blocked all day for several days in a row and at best the sun may peak thru in the afternoon and even then there remains an “atmospheric haze” that reduces PV output. The coastal areas are where most of the population lives so naturally it is in those areas that most of the home solar systems are promoted and sold. The sun zone thing is important because that means that most of the solar systems sold in residential California will require several more solar panels than installations in the less populated prime sun zones such as the agricultural and desert areas.
California’s electricity is generated using non-polluting clean burning natural gas in modern steam turbine power plants which operate under the strictest environmental regulations in the nation; these power plants incorporate the latest and most effective pollution control devices available and research continues promising even cleaner and more efficient generators. California’s natural gas electricity is supplemented by hydroelectricity, geothermal, wind and other renewals for about 22% of the total. California households use only 62 million Btu of energy per home, 31% less than the U.S. average. Average site electricity consumption in California homes is among the lowest in the nation as the mild climate in much of the state leads to less reliance on electricity for air conditioning and heating. Having said all that California electricity rates are the steepest in the nation. California already has an enviable low carbon footprint; improving upon that already clean energy base is not only foolish but ineffective and very expensive, a classic government directed program in futility. California EPA has identified that carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels for transportation accounts for the largest proportion of emissions thus suggesting that the 2 billion dollars spent on PV solar may have been better spent in promoting natural gas as a clean burning alternative transportation fuel.
If the California powers that be are really serious are about reducing emissions and saving the planet the fastest and most effective way to go would to immediately ration gasoline and diesel fuel, reduce power plant CO² emissions by upgrading what we already have by replacing older Grid generators with clean modern 60 to 80% efficient combined cycle natural gas turbine power plants that can be on-line powering the grid 24/7/365, and while that is going-on import more low-cost hydro-electricity from the Pacific Northwest. Installation of a few new power plants is underway but at a snail’s pace because natural gas is not a priority, California’s priority and long term goal is eliminating proven reliable fossil fuel generators, replacing them with politically correct feel good green energy like solar, wind and other alternative energy systems that have no long term costs, environmental or reliability records. R&D on natural gas turbine systems is on-going, many systems in current operation can be up-graded immediately as advancements are made whereas a PV solar system, like most electronics today, is designed to be trashed not repaired or up-graded.
In the greater Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties useful amounts of PV electricity can only be generated about 300 days a year and then for about 5 hours at midday and the actual power output varies from a June high to a December low. Discounting the minor air-conditioning anomaly in this locale the peak electricity load is in the morning and the evening, exactly when the solar system is napping, for 19 hours a day a PV panel is nothing more than a big expensive passionate purple roof ornament gathering dust, dirt, smog particles and bird droppings, and all that stuff must be washed off regularly to prevent significant wattage reduction. All PV solar systems degrade and gradually generate less electricity over time and a few defected panel and inverters are to be expected, but recently something a bit more serious seems to be happening: Concerns regarding equipment efficiency and reliability are in the news: Are these systems generating the wattage promised? Are they as reliable as promised? And is it really good for the environment to cover vast areas of our land and a million roof tops with PV panels? And PV roof-top panels take up prime roof space preventing the use of inexpensive thermal water heaters, a much more efficient and practical use of solar energy.
PV Solar Systems are stated to have a useful life of 25 years, but it can take a few to several years for problems to surface. Within the past 3 years an unusually large number of system efficiency and maintenance problems have emerged, in the past these problems were hidden from the public and quickly resolved by the Installation Company and their panel Vendors. In Europe the people embraced solar early thus they have a few more years under their belt than U.S. homeowners so we here in California have the opportunity to watch and learn and hopefully profit from Europe’s problems and mistakes, but unfortunately no one seems to care and the rush to more and more solar goes on.
To quote a few of many warnings from the News Media: “We have inspectors in a lot of factories, and it’s not rare to see some big brands being produced in those smaller workshops where they have no control over quality,” said Thibaut Lemoine, general manager of STC Certified, a French-owned testing service. When STS evaluated 215,000 photovoltaic modules at its Shanghai laboratory in 2011 and 2012, it found the defect rate had jumped from 7.8 percent to 13 percent. A review of 30,000 installations in Europe by the German solar monitoring firm Meteocontrol found 80 percent were underperforming. Testing of six manufacturers’ solar panels at two Spanish power plants by Enertis Solar in 2010 found defect rates as high as 34.5 percent.” “We need to face up to the fact that corners are being cut,” said Conrad Burke, general manager for DuPont’s billion-dollar photovoltaic division, which supplies materials to solar manufacturers”. “In the Netherlands, René Moerman, chief strategy officer of Solar Insurance and Finance, said claims had risen 15 percent recently. He said an inspection of a solar plant in Britain in March revealed that 12 percent of the newly installed Chinese-made modules had failed.”
“First Solar, one of the United States’ major Installers has set aside $271.2 million to cover the costs of replacing defective solar panel modules installed four to five years ago.” And why exactly $271.2 million? It would appear that First Solar knows to the panel how many are going to fail, and that is most interesting. Installing solar panels is essentially a “Home Improvement Business, typically a fast “In & Out” cell phone operated business requiring very little upfront cash, a pick-up truck, a tall ladder, a few power tools and a couple of part-time un-documented Mexican labors. If a worker falls off your roof he will sue you so read your purchase contract carefully and check with your home insurance agent to make sure your covered if your solar panels are stolen, a growing crime problem. When Installers suddenly go out of business they leave behind much grief and aggravation and many Installers have already gone out of business and the heavy competition will soon force out others; when that happens who services your warrantee? And be very careful up there when washing your solar panels.
Following those troubling quality control reviews many Governments began looking at the various subsidies offered and started rethinking the entire program, was it too much too soon? June 2013 the National Research Council, the non-partisan academic report sponsored by the U.S. Treasury Department, concluded that current tax policies are a “poor tool” for addressing climate change – and a costly one. It found energy subsidies in 2011 and 2012 cost $48 billion with limited results. “Very little if any greenhouse gas reductions are achieved at substantial cost with these provisions”. It is not expected that the NRC report will have any effect what-so-ever on the many subsidized Federal and California solar programs which are now deeply entrenched; in fact these programs will most assuredly be expanded, the momentum generated by global warming advocates and their academic, political, corporate, show biz and media supporters has caused a flood of government money with an ever growing number of stakeholders now feeding out of a very long public trough with no intention of backing off. If California’s millions and millions of PV panels suffered the same percentage of problems as noted in the European tests it would be a major economic disaster but just another minor short term embarrassment for California politicians who will continue to spend vast sums of tax payers’ money on popular politically correct environmental “feel good” programs all the while ignoring the voices of caution from the financial community, conservative environmental scientists and experienced Industry professionals.
Looking deeper into the program one will discover that solar installations completed during the past few years consisted mostly of PV panels and the other components that make up a solar power system such as DC/AC inverters, deep cycle batteries, heavy copper cables, aluminum frames and the stainless steel supporting structures were for the most part manufactured in China. Mining the raw materials thru to the finished solar panels to be installed on your roof requires a huge amount of energy and irreplaceable natural resources. The energy necessary to undertake those tasks is from fossil fuel.
China has the most coal fired electric generators in the world, it has been estimated that by 2015 China will most likely have more coal burning electric generators on line than the rest of the world combined. It is very difficult and very expensive to control particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions from a coal fired plant, in the U.S. much progress has and is being made but the Chinese are not really into that kind of control, today in China it is all about volume and reducing costs and while the environmental, OSHA and quality control issues are of concern they have been put on hold. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from coal is a long term problem, of immediate concern is mercury found in high levels in deep Pacific Ocean fish such as swordfish and tuna that has a chemical fingerprint, and it implicates coal-burning power plants in Asia & China. A research team from the universities of Hawaii and Michigan looked at mercury in the flesh of nine species common to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, the largest ecosystem on the planet, at 7 million square miles, almost all California deep water fish comes from that area. To produce the millions of solar panels for the growing California and global market many additional coal fired generators will be installed and running on-line 24/7/365 for the next decade further contaminating the atmosphere, the oceans and the nutritional value and safety of deep ocean fish stocks.
If one cares to take an honest look at the alternative energy debate the first thing you must have is a basic understanding of what fossil fuel is and where it comes from? You may be surprised to learn that the three basic forms of natural fossil energy; coal, petroleum and gas are not the remains of old dead rotting dinosaurs as I was taught in Grade School many decades ago but are natural conversions from millions of acres of tall green trees, lush green meadows, giant green ferns, green algae filled lakes and swamps. Fossil Fuels are the real “Green Energy”, Mothers Natures gift from the past to the present; humans just have to learn how to effectively use them. And not to forget that over two billion people today still rely on firewood and dried animal dung for heat and cooking fuel spending many hours a day gathering same. And billions more use firewood and charcoal in BBQ’s and more billions warm body and soul conversing around camp fires roasting wieners and marshmallows. As long as there humans on earth fossil fuel will be an important fuel source.
U.S. fossil fuel reserves, especially natural gas in California, are increasing suggesting a supply lasting a few hundred years or at least until nuclear is rediscovered by some future enlightened generation and then safe fission and clean fusion will take Californians warm and contented thru the next Ice Age. And yes, Virginia, there will be another Ice age, and maybe sooner than expected.
A turbine generates AC electricity; a PV solar system generates DC electricity. DC must be converted to AC for business and home use. When one form of energy is converted to another form of energy there is loss, no conversion system is 100% efficient. Before the roof top solar systems DC electricity can be used in the house or transmitted back to the Utility it must go thru a heavy duty DC/AC Inverter, a very expensive component of the solar system, Inverter efficiency and their life span will vary depending upon the size, loading and quality, on average the typical roof top systems inverters efficiency would, in real world actual use, vary between 70/80% with a one year limited warrantee. A top quality heavy duty Inverter may be 80/90% efficient with a 3 year limited warrantee, and this power loss occurs before the surplus goes back thru the meter, meaning you could be looking at a systems loss up to 30% right up front.
So what all is involved in making a PV solar panel and why does a solar panel carry such a large carbon footprint? There are three main technologies used to manufacture photovoltaic solar cells, modules and panels and several variations therein and then there are a multitude of installation options and variations, but they all have a common base: The first of the many energy consuming activities required to get that solar panel on your roof is mining the metals and minerals which include in part: Aluminum, Arsenic, Bauxite, Boron Minerals, Cadmium, Coke, Copper, Gallium, Indium, Molybdenum, Lead, Phosphorous, Silver, Silicon, Selenium, Silica Tellurium, Tin, Titanium Dioxide, Iron ore for steel, crushed Quartzite gravel, Rare Earths, Zinc and much more. These raw base materials must then be transported to processing, refining and smelter facilities that convert the ore into a product ready for production. In these first steps alone extensive use of fossil fuel is needed for the mining equipment, for transportation and for conversion to electricity. The refining of many of these materials is almost entirely dependent upon electricity. In addition consider the natural resources involved such as water, land disturbance & restoration and the toxic waste material generated in mining, processing and refining. To really appreciate and understand how much energy is consumed you have to be there, hear the roar and feel the earth vibrate under monster earth digging equipment and trucks bigger than a building, walk thru blinding suffocating dust and wet toxic muck, feel the intense heat from the foundries and smelters, smell the hot noxious fumes and try see thru the smoke with red burning eyes, and then you will understand what I mean when I say that a solar panel system has a very big carbon footprint. And then after all that the actual manufacturing and assembly begins at many distant factory locations all of which are almost totally dependent upon electricity. Toxic waste from semiconductor manufacturing, including cadmium, arsenic and toxic solvents require special disposal techniques but all too often they are flushed down the toilet, dumped in a convenient river or a remote landfill; and yes I’ve “ been there, done that”.
A PV solar panel is not “pollution free”, just the opposite, it carries with it a very large carbon footprint and a trio of toxic emissions unique unto itself. A solar panel is a product manufactured by energy rich fossil fuels and lots of them, and that manufacturing process creates additional bad guys unique unto itself. Quote from Ozzie Zehner new book “Green Illusions”: “Not only are solar cells an overpriced tool for reducing CO2 emissions, but their manufacturing process is also one of the largest emitters of hexaﬂuoroethane, nitrogen triﬂuoride, and sulfur hexaﬂuoride, chemicals used for cleaning plasma production equipment, these three gruesome greenhouse gases make CO2 seem harmless. As a greenhouse gas, hexafluoroethane is twelve thousand times more potent than CO2, is 100 percent manufactured by humans, and survives ten thousand years once released into the atmosphere. Nitrogen triﬂuoride is seventeen thousand times more virulent than CO2, and sulfur hexaﬂuoride, the most treacherous greenhouse gas, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is twenty-ﬁve thousand times more threatening. The solar photovoltaic industry is one of the leading and fastest growing emitters of these gases, which are now measurably accumulating within the earth’s atmosphere, recent studies on nitrogen triﬂuoride reports that atmospheric concentrations of the gas have been rising an alarming 11 percent per year."
Photovoltaic Solar is not Cheap: There remains the false dream that efficiency, volume and the economy of production (the more you make the cheaper it gets) will continue forever, not so, the price of the once costly semiconductor materials has bottomed out while the cost of the basic materials necessary to produce panels and install a solar system such as cover glass, aluminum frames, copper wire & cable, stainless steel and concrete for foundations, miscellaneous hardware, transportation, labor and the general administrative and overhead costs of conducting a business are rising and will continue to do so. Each successive solar panel produced, installed and recycled will add additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and will cost more than the preceding panel.
And when Chinese solar panels are finished they are shipped, via bunker fueled vessels, mostly operated by China Shipping (wholly owned by the Chinese Army) to their exclusive port facility in the Port of Los Angeles.
From my office high on the hill in a Tsunami Safe Zone I can see the heavily laden low in the water China Shipping Container Vessels entering port and a few days later the same vessels returning home very high in the water, meaning very little cargo.
Solar Panel Systems Life Expectancy: There may be but I am unaware of any home or commercial PV power panel installation that is, was or has been in continues use for the entire promised 25 year life span that repaid its energy investment or met its promised power objectives without solar panel problems, battery problems, electronics problems, interconnection failures and more. In many instances the solar system was taken out of service simply because it did not prove particularly useful or cost effective, in other instances, such as my own, all of the solar panels were replaced within ten years with newer more efficient panels and electronics. In these typical past instances systems were trashed and buried in landfill, recycling is a recent innovation not universally followed due to the expense and lack of facilities. Today there are growing piles, soon to be mountains of discarded solar panels and electronics waiting to be recycled.
Recycling! It does not mean what you think it means. There is a general misconception that “recycling” means “re-claiming” like salvaging all or most of the materials for re-use, not so, a basic un-framed PV panel would offer few if any materials of value that could economically be salvaged, recycling simply means breaking down the bulk into a form that will permit neutralizing most of the toxic substances allowing the bulk waste materials to be safely disposed of in approved land-fills.
Energy “in” vs. Energy “out”: The amount of energy required to produce a solar panel must be paid back in energy output before that panel can be considered “a free source of electricity and “pollution free”. That calculation is very difficult to pin down, just too many variables involved at every level. A very efficient high wattage sun tracking panel in a prime sun zone will pay back sooner than a low efficiency low wattage panel in a lesser sun zone. Pay-back numbers quoted vary from 1 year to never, never meaning that the natural resources used can never be replaced. When considering off-the-grid systems the pay-back time is unimportant as it is providing electricity were none exists, a grid-tied system is another matter, the pay-back number is extremely important and proponents of grid-tied solar try to avoid that subject and/or come up with misleading impossible to prove numbers.
A Firefighters Dilemma! An increasing number of reports are surfacing indicating serious problems confronting firefighters with roof’s covered with solar panels. Many non-residential structures have their roof’s completely covered with solar panels, large volumes of water directed to the roof to cool down the burning building is quickly diverted by the solar panels and immediately drains off the roof accomplishing nothing. Firefighter cannot walk on solar panels on a burning building, the panels and heavy duty panel supporting structures must be cleared to enable the fireman to cut thru the roof, a time consuming chore that will lead to additional property damage, casualties and increased insurance rates.
Are Your Solar Panels “Bugged”? What better place to hide a micro-superbug than in a sealed solar panel? A solar panel has a direct connection to the Users electrical system. A remotely activated and controlled solar powered superbug can monitor and manipulate all digital activities and communications that are connected to that electrical system. If I were to say that 10% of all Chinese Solar Panels contain a Chinese superbug and 10% of all US manufactured solar panels contain a NSA superbug how will the powers that be prove that statement wrong?
Enter the Electricity Entrepreneur! Clever Do-It-Yourselfers have found ways sell non-solar electricity directly back to the power company. To prevent this easy and very effective scheme the Utilities must become “policemen” and install expensive monitoring equipment further increasing the cost of electricity.
So how did we get into this million home solar panel on every roof mentality? Some say it was Governor Arnold, a rumor going around suggests that while pressing weights one morning a dumb-bell fell and hit his head, at the regular morning staff breakfast the conversation was about electricity price gouging by unscrupulous commodity traders (remember Enron) when Arnold suddenly had a vision and blurted out “What California Needs is A Solar Panel on Every Roof”. A few years later Governor Jerry moved in and adopted the vision, slogan and the program.
An Inconvenient Truth: Albert Gore, former Vice President of the United States and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shared a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for focusing attention on global warming. The Nobel Prize followed Al’s documentary movie “An Inconvenient Truth”. The documentary won 2 Academy Awards and gave Al god like status in Hollywood. The movie showcased Al Gore and his philosophy that Global Warming if left unchecked would soon devastate the planet and that we humans were the root cause of the problem. Al Gore “proved” that human use of fossil fuels created an excess of carbon dioxide, the principal Greenhouse Gas that has overloaded the atmosphere prompting earth warming and climate change causing glacier melt thus rising sea levels that will soon flood all the worlds coastal cities. If all the glaciers, ice packs and sheet ice on earth melted, as Al predicted, the oceans would rise 20 feet or more inundating most of the earth’s islands, the coastal lands and extending miles inland to Sacramento, the Capitol of California; Hmmmm is that bad???
The Politics of Solar: From an uninformed political viewpoint Solar was an attractive alternate energy to replace fossil fuel: Solar was a mature technology and industry with over 60 years of experience with many thousands of off-the-grid Marine, Land, and Space Solar Power Systems in daily use from simple $1 hand held calculators to the billion $ International Space Station. Long before Arnold, Jerry and Obama the solar industry had found its niche producing off-the-grid electrical systems and was doing very well without government support. The Politically Correct Green Politico’s thinking being that if clean PV solar is simply moved “on-the-grid” it could replace dirty fossil fuel? And thusly began the pouring of billions of dollars into solar and other green ventures that were unable to attract venture capital due to poor science, excessive costs and risk. Solar on-the-grid was a political directive, not a peer reviewed environmental, fiscal or engineering recommendation..
Remember Solyndra: It was widely reported and accepted by all that dumping low priced Chinese solar panels in the U.S. killed Solyndra, not so; their module design was hyped as revolutionary; that it would cost less and would equal or outperform the industry standard flat panels on a tracking pedestal. I studied that module design years ago for a venture capital company; I concluded that it was, by comparison to the industry standard tracking flat panels at least 30% less efficient, difficult and more costly to produce and with potential long term reliability and output wattage problems. Solyndra was not considered a competitor by anyone in the solar panel Industry. After Solyndra went belly-up no one showed any serious interest in buying, licensing or copying the module design. Solyndra was a scam from the get-go. Chinese panel dumping came at just the right time for Solyndra, it enabled them and Obama to blame China for its demise thus Solyndra employees were able to obtain Federal cash payouts. Had Solyndra collapsed on its own, as it surly would have, the employees would have received nothing. We can blame China for a lot of things but the failure of Solyndra is not one of them.
So where am I coming from? From the foregoing the reader must think I hate California, solar power and the Chinese, not so, I was born in the old Hollywood Hospital in 1929, raised and educated in California and I love solar power, I spent 30 years traveling Asia as an engineer and a technical marketing consultant, I was the President of a technology based trading company with offices in Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore, I established electronic and chemical factories in Japan and China. The China factory produced solder, solder flux and specialty chemicals for the electronics industry. I admire the Chinese people, had a beautiful Chinese girlfriend and I favor Chinese food from mild Cantonese to spicy Szechwan and a few of their wines are quite acceptable. In California I have a 2500 acre “off-the-grid” hunting ranch with solar panel systems in use since 1979. In 1991 I installed a PV Solar system on my boat, a 36 foot Motorsailor. At Hoffman Electronics circa 1957-1961; the birth place of photovoltaic cell production and the PV solar panel industry I was participating in solar cell research, developing solar cell protective coatings and filters, designing, marketing and overseeing manufacturing of custom PV power modules and panels for JPL/NASA Space Probes, the Naval Research Laboratory and for U.S.A.F. Satellite Recognizance Systems.
In 1958/1959 Hoffman Electronics in El Monte, California was producing 10% PV cells; by 1960 Hoffman was producing 12% cells with laboratory cells reaching 14%. In 1960, at the request of Les Hoffman, CEO of Hoffman Electronics, I was on the lecture circuit making presentations, complete with neat working props, to grade schools and civic group luncheons throughout Southern California telling all that within ten years their roofs would be covered in inexpensive Hoffman Solar Cell Roof Tiles providing low cost electricity for Hoffman’s then very popular TV’s and Hi-Fi’s. Of course at the time we all assumed it was just wishful thinking but it was a lot of fun and the standard Chicken, Peas and Mashed Potatoes luncheons were popular and well attended. In hindsight one could say that I was partially responsible for hooking California on home solar power, and I’m really sorry about that…
The Hoffman solar powered transistor radio is an example of the most efficient and productive use of solar power. The small PV panel converts sunlight into DC providing about 5 volts directly to the transistors. For many years the small radio filled my yard with music all day. The PV module was designed and manufactured to the same specification as were Hoffman’s military and space solar modules. I donated my personal radio (like model above) to the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers History Museum a few years ago and today it is still working as if it were new.
Off-the-Grid – Where Solar Power Really Makes Sense”: The electricity produced using a Solar Power Panel System is a practical and necessary power option if you are “Off-the-Grid. Most remote off-the-grid systems are essentially battery powered with PV solar panels acting as the battery charger enabling 24/7 operation.
Examples of practical off-the-grid solar power panel applications include: Telemetry systems, pipeline control and monitoring, water management, instrumented marine buoys, communications, surveillance systems, lighting systems, navigational aids, hand calculators, emergency roadwork warning lights, boat lighting and electronics, mobile homes and campers, weather, seismic and snow monitors, cell phone repeaters, video and communications microwave systems, off-the-grid homes, water pumps for agriculture, livestock and wild animal habitat management and so much more.
Many such systems installed in California in 1970/1980’s have been regularly up-graded, multiplied many fold and remain in service today. Important remote systems now communicate 24/7 with their “Base” via satellite links, which in turn are exclusively solar, powered.
Space applications is where modern solar cells first found a serious market and it remains an important market today, if not for solar powered satellite’s there would be no internet or reliable international cell phone service as we now take for granted.
|Marine Instrumented Buoy||RF Relay|
|Deer & Livestock Water Pump||Seismatic Monitor|
Off-the-Grid commercial, industrial and space systems specify top-of-the-line solar and electronic components exceeding the standards typically used in price competitive home roof top solar systems.
The Marine Exchange (MX) does for California Coastal Shipping what the LAX Flight Control Center does for Air Traffic. It operates 24/7/365 and must be capable of operating at full capacity in the event of a total long term power grid failure. To meet that objective the facility maintains four power systems: 280 Solar Panels rated at 215 watts each, the Power Grid, four 2000 watt Wind Turbine Generator charging 24 Deep Cycle Batteries, and in the event all else fails a reliable diesel electric generator. The location is on high ground overlooking the San Pedro Channel and Catalina Island, an area designated as “Safe Ground” where San Pedro residents are directed to go in the event of a Tsunami that sooner or later is expected to hit the area. The facilities solar panels on average produce about 11,000 KWH of power a month, or the average electrical use of the facility. In normal day operation the facility is powered direct (via DC/AC Inverters) by the solar panels, when the sun is unavailable it switches over to the Grid. If the Grid fails it switches to the Back-up Battery Bank with 6000 Amp Hours in reserve and then if necessary to the good old reliable diesel generator.
On-the-Grid: A typical Grid-tied home PV solar panel roof system:
PV solar power systems and batteries are very expensive thus batteries are seldom included in grid-tied systems. Let’s take a look at a the basic math: There are 365 days/8760 hours in a year, in California’s prime residential marketing zones we can expect 300 sunny days a year with about 5 hours a day of useful sunlight or 1500 productive solar hours a year with maximum output in June and a much lower output in December. A typical grid tied home solar systems cost vary from about $20,000 to $40,000 (installed/without incentives or subsidies), and that system is only working 17% of the time, at that rate the amount of fossil fuel energy and natural resources required to produce that solar system would not be paid back until about the time the system starts degrading and maintenance and replacements begins. Yes your electricity bill will be lower than before and if you installed a big enough system you may be making a few bucks on the side however it must be obvious that without those generous up-front subsidies and electricity buy-back (net metering) few if any Grid serviced homeowners would consider investing in a solar system, and don’t count on the electricity buy-back to last forever, it most probably will be reduced in the very near future and then eliminated flooding E-Bay with many thousands of solar systems available for pennies on the dollar.
Overhanging California’s multi-billion dollar PV solar venture is the question concerning greenhouse emissions and the human component therein: Are humans the principal cause of greenhouse gases and is rising levels of CO2 a serious immediate threat to the human population? Despite intense government and media hype and NASA’s “the sky is falling” reports there never was a consensus among engineers and scientists involved in this controversy, in the real world of professional science the matter was never “settled”. Over the past few years more accurate qualitive and quatitive data has become available and hundreds of unreliable monitoring stations have been closed, in addition more accredited independent third party professionals who in the past ignored the debate as just another “political science squabble” have now become involved, including retired NASA engineers and scientists who previously were unable to express their opposition viewpoints and IPCC contributors who disagree with the IPCC narrow minded agenda. Following years of peer reviews the traditional theory that natural cyclical events that have been on-going for over 5 billion years remain the principal cause/reason for global climate change: Everything that is happening now has happened many times before “what goes around comes around”. The time between these monumental events, the duration and magnitude of change has always varied caused in part by earth’s molten core de-gassing via volcanic eruptions and thousands of undersea gas vents, continuous global fires, impacts from asteroids and comets, continental drift/tectonic plate movement such as the number and location of continents and oceans that harbor activities such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillations, the Gulf Stream Current and the Atlantic Conveyor Belt, all of which contribute to changing climate conditions. And then we have earth’s orbit relationship to the sun and most important the sun’s activity.
There is no tangible evidence suggesting that earth warming and rising CO2 levels has in the past or will in the future destroy the planet, it is all speculation based upon computer models that can be manipulated to produce any data the programmer may wish to emphasize. I took one of the first Computer Programing classes offered by UCLA in 1969, the second thing the Instructor wrote on the board after his name was: “Garbage In - Garbage Out”, and a lot of time was devoted analyzing that relationship. To my surprise I received an “A” and learned two important things: I would never make a good programmer and I should always suspect computer models…
Number 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 of serious threats to planet earth and the human population would be impacts from one or more of the many known and unknown asteroids in our solar system that are in fact on course to cross earth’s orbit, and the few known and many unknown super volcanos growing such as the “Yellowstone Caldron” and the “Child of Krakatoa”. The destructive power from these very real and will happen sooner or later events far outweigh a potential threat posed by rising CO2 levels…
The amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activities identified primarily as CO2 is thought by many to have an effect on atmosphere loading therefore moderating these man-made emissions seems like a good idea. The problem is how to accomplish that task in a manner that balances sensible environmental goals here and now with the economic well-being of the people. Regardless of human activity or intervention there is no stopping the natural cycle of events as written, produced and directed by Mother Nature, and remember people “You Can’t Beat Mother Nature”.
As of December 2013 about 1917 PV solar Megawatts have been installed under the California Initiative, this number should not be confused with 1917 Megawatt that would be available from a natural gas power plant, electricity from which is reliable, predictable, controllable and available around the clock. Solar power is non-reliable, non-predictable, non-controllable and only available for a few daylight hours thus seriously compromising Grid management. And just how valid is the total megawatt number from all those installations? They are numbers the solar Homeowner and California has accepted in good faith from Utility’s/Installers who in turn accepted them in good faith from their Distributers who passed it on from the Importers who noted it on their invoices from the Manufactures. A solar panel system cannot be tested for maximum output on the roof; panels can only be tested in a laboratory with very special equipment. What the available daylight output of installed roof-top wattage is in California is anyone’s guess. I’m guessing on average it is at least 50% lower than stated with output declining over the years due to poor installations, neglected maintenance and normal aging.
In the “real world” the amount of greenhouse gas saved by California roof-top PV panel generators over natural gas generated Grid electricity appears not to be a distinguishable factor, a number so small, so close to zero that it is impossible to calculate. In fact the greenhouse gases and other toxic elements emitted while producing solar panels may actually exceed the emissions thought to have been saved, remember hexaﬂuoroethane, nitrogen triﬂuoride, and sulfur hexaﬂuoride, very toxic long lingering stuff created during the solar cell manufacturing process.
Utilities were quick to embrace the home solar system concept, Utilities do not really care how much the electricity costs, the Utilities buy and then re-sell at a fixed mark-up, a win-win business. To keep the rates and profits up they are constantly whining and always looking for an excuse to increase rates now claiming that the cost of buying a few watts of electricity from unreliable Mom & Pop home generators at fixed prices that are higher than the negotiated prices from their regular suppliers is impractical, especially when the home generators do not provide electricity during the peak morning and evening load periods. Of course grid tied home generating systems are a burden on the basic Utilities previous business model, but if you are a Utility Investor not to worry, the increased overhead costs serving grid tied home solar systems will be quickly approved and passed on to the Utilities regular customers. The higher the cost of “wholesale” electricity the more profit to the Utility’s resulting in higher electricity bills prompting more homes to install roof top systems, a cycle eventually ending in fiscal chaos.
Charts, graphs, artwork and gigabytes of statistics: If there one thing that Go Solar California and their legions of associated entities have mastered is the fine art of producing very long complex and colorful statistics supporting and glorifying their cause, in fact so much data that if you attempted to follow all the links your fingers would be worn to the bone and your computer would certainly overheat. The statistics are all computer generated and root based upon the assumption that reducing greenhouse gas is essential to saving the planet and photovoltaic solar power is the pollution free answer. The computer models fail to consider the possibility that the consumption of fossil fuels and the pollution generated “up front” in producing millions of new PV systems may now be a contributing factor overloading the atmosphere and the expected long term zero emissions from previously installed systems may be nulled-out by volume production of even more PV solar systems.
The California Environmental Protection Agency/Air Resources Board has projected California Greenhouse gas emissions thru 2020. Their data shows that emissions from electrical generation in 2020 will be almost identical to 1990 emissions. It would appear that EPA/ARS does not find any meaningful emission reduction from the two billion dollar on-the-grid solar programs. It should be noted that emissions from transportation are about 1/3rd of the total suggesting again that emphasis and expenditure on solar is misplaced. If an all-out program was implemented immediately to modernized and up-grade the Grid emphasizing natural gas for electricity and as a transportation fuel the greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 could be reduced to below 1990 levels without the need for solar and more important the cost of electricity would be reduced.
Unless you enjoy the sport of jousting windmills you have to accept the reality that there is no stopping the solar fad, it is the new religion of the 21st Century and PV Solar Panels are its Sacred Cows. At least a few of the millions of panels could have/should have been manufactured in California the birthplace of PV solar panels, or at the very least a “Buy America” allocation should have been included. As it was (and is) the profitable manufacturing jobs went mostly to China, the lower paid installation jobs, the crumbs, were left to California. The big job winner was the California bureaucracy and other public sector workers. The large numbers of people who devote their time to the many (and there are so many) California Solar programs will never be known. The initial funding allocated to the roof-top project was about $2.2 billion (for solar panels alone not including about another hundred million or so in overhead administration expenses) and those funds are running out but never fear additional funds can be expected pushing California ever closer to insolvency.
In Conclusion: A PV solar electrical system is “pollution free” only if you disregard the energy, greenhouse gases and non-replaceable natural resources used and the pollution generated in all stages of its production, installation and in the disposal/recycling process. The methods, procedures and costs of recycling millions of PV panels installed on residential, commercial, government and solar farms and several hundred thousand inverters has not been seriously addressed. So are the billion $ already spent and more to be spent a good environmental and economic investment? Will it end “June Gloom?” I think not! My cumulative research indicates that reducing the cost and increasing the availability and reliability of California’s already clean Grid electricity should be California’s main goal. Electricity is a major overhead cost for business, reducing that cost and extending its availability will encourage growth and additional employment and that is why so many companies were quick to jump on the Go Solar California bandwagon and cover their facilities with PV panels, it’s really all about free electricity right now via generous subsidies and incentives, looking “green” is an extra bonus. Reducing electrical costs and CO2 emissions cannot be accomplished by millions of expensive heavily subsidized small unreliable solar systems and massive (really expensive) solar farms. As those systems degrade and maintenance costs soar and recycling begins the inventible will become obvious and the entire system will collapse. According to the Federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) natural gas-fired electricity generation in the USA is expected to account for 80 percent of all added electricity generation capacity by 2035, and why is California going in the opposite direction?
California Solar Farms – A Bitter Harvest?
As a native Californian, a practical hands-on engineer blessed with good common sense there is something unsettling in viewing a Photovoltaic Solar Farm with acres and acres of purple solar panels stretching to the horizon and knowing how much time, money and natural resources has gone into the design, production and installation of those massive awe inspiring surrealistic politically directed Shrines to PV Solar Energy.
Then the realization that these million dollar solar farms will be on-line generating useful amounts of electricity for only about 5 hours a day, and then for about 300 days/1500 hours a year, meaning that most of the time they will be doing absolutely nothing but aging and being cleaned as even a thin coating of dust can reduce the output by 10%, for optimum output the panels should be on tracking pedestal mounts or adjusted every month but in practice the panels are set in a compromised fixed position reducing their yearly output potential by as much as 40%, to make up for the power loss thousands of additional panels are used meaning additional tons of aluminum frames, stainless steel structural components, concrete for footings, thousands of feet of copper wire & cable, additional electrical and electronic components and labor, an incredible waste of subsidized dollars and natural resources.
Why On-the-Grid Solar? As previously mentioned Off-the-Grid Solar has been providing reliable, dependable and long-lived systems for Marine, Land and Space applications for over 60 years, to a politician a very attractive and available energy technology to exploit. Moving solar On-the-Grid was an expedient and popular make-work political directive which by-passed the normal peer review process by environmental, financial and engineering professionals. What the politicians failed to understand was that most off-the-grid solar systems were actually battery powered systems with the PV solar panels acting as the day time battery chargers, a totally incompatible arrangement for massive Megawatt solar farms. Then followed a very persuasive politically correct on-going propaganda campaign with full media, show biz and government support that has succeeded in seducing the public; solar is the new pop religion of the 21st Century and solar panels are their sacred purple cows.
In viewing these solar farms my initial reaction was how can we replace those millions and millions of in-yours-face purple panels now obscuring the once beautiful open California countryside where my grade school pals and I once hunted rabbits and collected snakes, lizards and horned toads for school nature exhibits with something smaller, less expensive and a lot more practical. Then it hit me, these millions of solar panels are here in place of something that is smaller, cheaper, more practical and available, I’m thinking about a few super clean state-of-the-art combined cycle natural gas power plants and/or microturbines. These new advanced natural gas generators manufactured by GE, Siemens and others are 60 to 80% efficient, for those who are not familiar with energy conversions and efficiencies these are very impressive numbers, remember solar panels are about 8 to 10% efficient and then only when the sun is shining, and California abounds in natural gas reserves. These generators could be located at a variety of convenient sites and most importantly be available on-line around the clock with controlled output to match Grid load requirements; a crucial and necessary function that a solar system cannot provide. The limited solar power availability factor alone should have (and eventually will) precluded solar as a major Grid power source.
Let’s look at the Topaz PV Solar Farm under construction in San Luis Obispo. The developer, First Solar, proudly claims that with only 9,000,000 solar panels they will replace one 550 MW coal fired power plant, however there are no coal fired power plants in California so I guess they really meant to say was the Grid would be supplemented on clear sunny days with an unknown number of watts. As previously stated California electricity is currently generated by clean burning natural gas, hydro, thermal, wind and other sources of low or pollution free energy; electricity from this Grid is already about the cleanest in the USA and those few random solar watts will not make the electricity any cleaner, only more expensive. The 550 MW output number is a peak guesstimate value like maybe available in a solar testing laboratory, it will be years before we may know, if ever, the actual output. And the claims that Topaz will replace 377,000 tons of CO2 and enough power for 160,000 homes and is the equivalent to taking 73,000 cars off the road is a total fabrication. If there is a major Grid failure on Christmas Eve that 9,000,000 panel/550MW solar farm will not provide enough electricity to light even one small Christmas tree…
Check out Nellis Air Force Base. An example of an efficient, productive but very expensive sun tracking solar system that is well suited to the dry clean remote Nevada desert location and the special military circumstances required should the Grid fail.
San Luis Obispo is not in the desert, it is an agriculture county well known for their local strawberries and they produce a few fairly decent wines. Agriculture meaning that there is the potential that thousands of seagulls, crows, turkeys and other night roosting birds will perch and poop on the panels reducing output. To migrating waterfowl a solar farm from the air looks like an inviting lake, waterfowl deaths resulting from landing collisions with solar panels will dramatically increase. And then there are the California Swallows who will build their neat mud bungalow nests behind the solar panels leading to a multitude of problems. And we have plaque prone wire gnawing California ground squirrels and really big rats that in time will populate the entire area. Fences may keep the coyotes, deer, wild boar, bobcats and mountain lions out for a while but not the burrowing badgers, gophers, climbing raccoons, mice, skunks and opossums. Expect eagles and hawks to show up daily for a squirrel lunch and vultures feasting on the dead waterfowl. After a spring rain poisonous mushrooms will sprout in the shade of the panels and fast growing California native grasses and wildflowers will cover the area inviting stray wandering cattle to test the fences. I know and have experienced all of the above, for almost a century in neighboring counties my extended families have owned alpha and vegetable farms, vineyards, run cattle, sheep and horses, and for 40 years have operated a large off-the-grid solar powered working ranch and hunting preserve: www.huntwildboarcalifornia.com
Dear Topaz Investors, not to worry it’s not all doom and gloom, Topaz could become a wildlife sanctuary and if you add a few acres of vineyards and wine tasting, fresh picked local strawberries, tee-shirts, Wi-Fi, free USB and EV charging, elevated platforms for photo ops, a picnic area, nice rest rooms and a big 3 foot diameter analog needle wattmeter showing how much pollution free electricity is being produced at that very moment, add a few J.D.Power awards for something and with all that Topaz will become a popular must see tourist attraction. So build those facilities now and be ready for your 2015 grand opening. I promise to be there to sample the wine, take a few pictures and buy a tee-shirt.
Grid-Tied Solar Power Systems do not replace fossil fuel power plants; they only “supplement” or “add” a small (very small) fraction of the total electrical requirement and at a very high price. Depending upon location and other factors a typical stationery solar system is on-line producing usable electricity only a few hours during mid-day but peak electricity is only generated at high noon on sunny days. An additional limitation is sunlight availability, the intensity of which varies from month to month with June the highest and December the lowest. In the morning, late afternoon, early evenings and all night the Grid’s normal generators are supplying all power requirements. During the few late summer/fall months when air conditioning may be used in this locale the warmest part of the day is the late afternoon/early evening, exactly when solar power output is decreasing or off.
Solar Panels may be the “sacred purple cows” of the new solar religion but like all cows there is a dark side, like maybe a bit of methane and few really big bubbling cow pies…
Neither solar panels nor cows are pollution free; they both carry a large carbon foot print. A solar panel is a condensed witch’s brew containing in part tons of fossil fuels, minerals, metals, chemicals, solvents, rare earths, toxic products, tons of waste and many hours of labor all packaged into a thin shiny purple panel. Increasing world demand means producing millions of solar panels a month thereby generating massive amounts of greenhouse gases including newly created long lived toxins such as hexaﬂuoroethane, nitrogen triﬂuoride, and sulfur hexaﬂuoride gases (HNS) that would not have otherwise been released into the atmosphere. As more and more solar panels are produced each month the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels will not and cannot be off-set by new panels going on-line. Production Solar panels in the real world are inefficient energy converters, a 200 year old spring wound toy car or a clock will produce more energy output per given energy input than a solar panel on its best day. If Government hype and the solar panel manufacturing trend continues it will only increase atmospheric carbon dioxide and other long lived super-toxic gases, and of course the vast quantities of earth’s natural resources consumed never to be replaced.
Energy pay-back calculations are stated in years, a meaningless misrepresentation. An honest estimate of pay-back should be stated in productive on-line operational hours which as previously stated average only a few hours a day, meaning a system that claims to pay-back the energy invested in one year may actually require four to five real world years in service to complete the pay-back not counting the on-going maintenance, expected panel and electronic replacements and the cost in dollars and energy required for end-of-life decommissioning and recycling of millions of toxic panels. Some have argued that the energy cost to maintain, dispose and recycle a solar system would require as much energy as was used in producing and installing that system.
Solar panels are stated to have a useful life of about 25 years. The Topaz Solar Farm will be using small low cost, low output thin film panels, a relatively new unproven (time-in-service) cadmium telluride technology, no one really knows how these systems will be performing years from today, the only thing we know for sure is that there will be deterioration and failures, malfunctioning panels and electronics will have to be replaced and recycled. If you believe that the corporation that produced installed and warranted those panels will be standing-by 20/25 years from today to repair, dispose of and recycle the dead toxic panels you must also believe in the Tooth Fairy.
A 9,000,000 PV solar panel system will contain 18,000,000 exterior electrical connections plus many inter-panel connections. In the Electronics/Aerospace Industry we consider connectors to be a major source of future problems; much design time is spent reducing the number of connectors and much QC time testing connectors.
By 2020 California Electrical consumption will exceed 300,000 GW, the goal is that 100,000 GW should to come from non-polluting sources, mostly solar panels. If 33% of the Grid becomes solar/wind powered managing major emergencies or long-term outages with unreliable power reserves would be very complicated, Grid reliability will suffer resulting in rolling black-outs & brown-outs. We interviewed two retired top management Power EE’s, neither of them would ever consider a 33% solar/wind Powered Grid, they laughed at the idea. California’s 33% alternative energy goal is another problematic, expensive and impractical political decision that will never materialize but billion$ will be wasted trying..
If we use the Topaz Solar Farm as a guide where 550 MW requires 9,000,000 solar panels then 100,000 GW of PV power will require more panels than my little calculator can handle and more than California’s land mass can sensibly accommodate. And more than half of the panels will be made in China from energy generated by unregulated coal-fired power plants. And how many more coal-fired power plants will go on-line to meet California and World demand for more and more solar panels?
On-the-Grid Solar is a California multi-billion dollar political miscalculation that day by day is looking more like a “Bloated Purple Bubble”, I’m betting that bubble will burst before 2020, by that time it will have become apparent that the lofty goals, promises and predictions for solar will not have materialized, the politicians and the public will finally realize what the solar industry and solar professionals have known all along, that on-the-grid pv solar is very expensive, extremely inefficient and often unavailable when it is most needed. A roof-top solar system will never heat your home, cook your food or dry your cloths, it will never power the transportation system and it is a poor choice for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If California’s goal to a save the planet by reducing carbon dioxide is sincere and remains in place draconian conservation measures will be imposed including population control, fuel rationing, electricity rationing, banning BBQ’s and maybe even leaf-blowers, and those homes, businesses, schools, military installations and the millions of other facilities with solar systems who now are making money selling surplus electricity to the Utilities and claim (with a “wink”) that they’re helping save the planet will be looked down upon as gross polluters begging the California government to dispose of their old toxic purple panels.
A politically mandated and subsidized grid-tied solar system is a bad policy and not the best environmental or cost effective solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; it’s about as effective as supplementing gasoline with 33% ethanol. On-the-Grid PV Solar only worsens the overall environmental problems making them even more difficult to resolve. I’m wondering if the current atmospheric rise in CO2 and HNS levels is in-part the by-product of increased solar panel production in China, Germany, Japan and the United States.
In Conclusion: The purpose and promise of a power grid is to provide reliable, convenient and inexpensive electricity to all the people all the time. In the not so distant past that promise was a reality, in the 1950’s thru the 1960’s the power utilities bad mouthed natural gas as “dirty and dangerous” and promoted safe, clean, cheap (soon to be available) nuclear electricity thus many all electric homes, apartments, condos, commercial facilities and pumped-water farms were built in California (I built a few) and the electricity bill was so low no one even thought about it, there was even talk of billing once a year. In the following years California population boomed while the power grid and nuclear lay neglected resulting in several very large abrupt increases in electrical rates. Many large alfalfa, cotton and produce farms that relied on pumped water from deep wells went out of business overnight, many major farm operations, tomatoes and carrots being good examples, relocated in Mexico. Within a year cattle herds were reduced by 2/3rd’s (mine included) and never recovered. Today thousands of acres of prime California crop and grazing lands are now drip irrigated vineyards producing uninspiring red and white bulk wines used mostly for blending and export while the price of grade “A” fancy vegetables, prime beef and lamb has gone off the charts thus encouraging cattle rustling and crop theft that is now reaching epidemic proportions. Solar On-the-Grid can only cause further increases in electricity rates thus guaranteeing continuation of California’s ever shrinking agriculture, energy and industrial base while substantially enlarging low paid part-time service jobs, the California Bureaucracy and Welfare rolls.
September 2013: A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC’s mission is to provide comprehensive scientific assessments of current scientific, technical and socio-economic information worldwide about the risk of climate change caused by human activity. The IPCC is endorsed by the United Nations and considers itself to be the authority, the first and last word on all things relating to mankind’s destructive behavior in using fossil fuels, Al Gore’s film was a Hollywood science fiction horror movie based upon exaggerated IPCC reports. In September 2013 the IPCC released its first of several reports since 2007. Advanced leaked data suggested serious disagreements within IPCC as how to explain new data that casts doubt on their core beliefs thus we expect the final reports will have been “corrected” and “rewritten” many times over many months to satisfy their agenda. The IPCC report states the threat of man-made global warming to be greater than ever but ignores the fact that it so small as to be “embedded within the background variability of the natural climate system” and not dangerous, earth warming has not increased since 1998, IPCC’s current explanation’s is that the earth is in “hiatus” and warming will continue at a later date and/or the planet is actually warming but all that heat is stored in the deep oceans, and that is going to be a very hard sell since everyone was taught in grade school that heat rises and those that did not learn it in school know it from practical experience. Artic ice is increasing, not decreasing and man-made emissions of carbon dioxide is lower than previous estimates, but most important the present levels have caused a beneficial “greening” of the Earth as plants grow faster and need less water when CO2 concentrations are higher meaning more food for a hungry world. It now appears that the oceans will not inundate the planet as Al Gore promised; new estimates suggest ocean levels in certain areas may rise a foot or two by the end of the century. Nonetheless the IPCC reports will be interpreted in California as reason to push for more and more solar power and less and less use of California’s vast reserves of clean natural gas further stifling good paying skilled jobs and tax revenue while increasing California’s massive Welfare rolls.
As science professionals it is our responsibility to challenge scientific dogma. Gathering data for these reports proved to be a more difficult chore than expected, lots of positive over enthusiastic hype and tons of pro solar material readily available but search engines displayed only a few serious scientific papers discussing the dark side of solar and most of my personally directed e-mail’s to government, corporations and individuals seeking specific information and clarification of their pro-solar claims went unanswered. Unfortunately in this global pro-solar climate seeking and commenting on the dark side of solar will guarantee your anonymity, rejection and ridicule, you will be un-appreciated, un-loved, un-published and Google will ignore you. This report remains incomplete and will be periodically updated, to that end constructive comments, suggestions, corrections and critiques are most welcomed.
October 2013: California has recently embarked upon another “politically correct” multi-million dollar program to “Store Solar and Wind Energy”. Many private high tech companies and universities have been working on this complex problem for the past half century with no end in sight; the available technology is not ready for prime time, it remains experimental, problematic and very expensive. This experimental program will only confirm what is already well known about sodium-sulfur batteries: They provide good storage for very special applications where cost is not important, meaning not suitable as a general back-up or supplemental power source for a rate-payer grid where kilowatt cost is very important, not the kind of program wherein California Taxpayers money should be invested. What California is proposing, the big picture if you will is that it is acceptable to use vast quantities of fossil fuel and natural resources to create heat and electricity to manufacture more solar panels and windmills which in turn inconsistently generate expensive electricity, usually at inconvenient times, thus creating a temporary surplus that will be stored at great expense for later use! Common sense suggests we should use our abundance of already stored energy, namely “clean burning natural gas” and where appropriate “Water-Pumped Hydroelectricity” to generate electricity as it is needed eliminating the wasteful politically directed billion $ solar and wind “middlemen” and the vast amount of energy forever lost in solar/wind electrical conversions and inefficient 100 year old storage technologies.
March 2014: Why are California’s new crop of flower children and so many middle-aged gone-to-seed hippies turning on Governor Jerry? Well it is all about Fracking and Fracking is all about getting California’s abundant reserves of natural gas out of the ground, and Jerry supports Fracking! How can Jerry now support a fossil fuel program when the entire world knows that he is probably the world’s most vocal critic of fossil fuels, automobiles, airplanes and the California Freeway System?
Quick answer: Remember Jerry was a Seminary student while his father, then Governor Pat Brown was turning California into a land of freeways, homes, airports, shopping malls, industrial parks (where stuff was actually manufactured from raw materials), commercial fisheries and much much more. And it was all tied together via an automotive transportation wonderland creating jobs and opportunities for millions of ex WWII GI’s then moving to California. In that long forgotten bygone era where emphasis on transportation engineering was what it was all about Caltrans achieved superstar status. And all through those booming prosperous years young Jerry was a grim seething “small is beautiful” Seminary student determined to someday un-do everything his misinformed father accomplished. As Governor in 1975 Jerry promised to “end the love affair Californians had with their cars and get them into public transportation”, Caltrans was emasculated and freeway construction was stopped cold, but that misguided effort totally failed. Undaunted and when again elected Governor in 2008 Jerry proposed an un-needed, un-wanted, very expensive high speed rail system, that dream (or nightmare) was eventually killed, but it will not die, Jerry is keeping that ghost train alive…
Hey! Flower Children and you old hippies cheer-up and take note; Jerry is actually doing this for you: Nothing upsets Jerry more than living on top of what may be one the world’s largest reserves of natural gas, Jerry is obsessed with ridding California’s pristine virgin soil of this devil made pestilence but all the while keeping a keen eye on his pet projects: The California Solar Initiative to install 1,000,000 roof-top solar systems and as many solar farms as the land will accommodate, and of course the High Speed Rail Authority. Jerry and his pocket Legislatures have a plan, they are plotting to suck-up, bottle and export all of California’s natural gas reserves, the billion$ in profits from these sales will be used to subsidies further installations of roof-top solar systems (most of the solar panels to be made in China), and to install the High Speed Rail system (the train and rails will be manufactured in China as California does not welcome Heavy Industry, it’s just too dirty). And what’s not to like about that?
From Jerry’s perspective, a former Seminary student, the looney-tune science makes perfect sense, like why use modern state-of-the-art 80% efficient gas turbines to produce low cost AC electricity 24/7/365 for the Grid when high cost undependable 8 to 15% inefficient solar DC electricity can be generated for conversion to AC, any surplus daytime DC can be stored in expensive battery banks or whatever that further increase’s electricity costs to the consumer, and by 2020 Jerry expects expensive, un-reliable solar and a bit of wind to provide 33% of Grid power. And if your are a SoCal frequent flyer road-warrior business traveler you will really appreciate a big breakfast, morning snooze and long train ride to San Francisco arriving in time for lunch, like who needs those fast high flying fossil fuel guzzlers when you can relax on a train, maybe even in your very own Pullman Car, much cheaper that a private jet, and you can bet Jerry has a “Governor’s Pullman” (paid for by the State) already on order.
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