Image via Wikipedia
If you’ve been reading here, you know that my opinion on Photovoltaic (PV) solar power is quite negative. Here’s why. It’s rather like trying to commercially produce a 1940 Dodge in 1885.
- Energy storage: If you need energy when the sun is not shining, solar is not very useful unless you have a method to store it. If you own a huge plant in the desert maybe, but otherwise you have to store the power. In the industrial, supersized system we are talking about here about the only current solution is to pump water uphill to run a hydro plant. This works but is very inefficient on both ends.
- Power conversion: Solid state devices like PV cells produce Direct Current (DC). This is fine in lots of local applications but difficult to transfer for any distance. We had this argument circa. 1890. On one side was Edison with his DC generator; on the other was Westinghouse with his Alternating current (AC) alternator. Westinghouse won because AC power can easily and efficiently have its voltage raised and lowered. This is why your house (240VAC) and your car starter (12VDC) run on roughly the same sized wires. The transmission line in this country run from about 33,000 volts to 800,000 volts. The higher the voltage, the more power for the same sized wire.
- Dependability: In case you hadn’t noticed the sun only shines in the daytime and sometimes it is cloudy or rainy. (see also number #1) To be practical you must have what is called firming power available for your solar array. In the grid this usually means oil or natural gas. Coal is too slow to start up. This makes this expensive energy also.
- Cost: The cost of PV generated power is at least the wholesale cost of natural gas and lots higher than coal. More later on this.
These are all basically engineering problems and can probably be solved, some day. How much are you willing to invest in this which has a payoff measured in (at least) decades?
Now we move into the realm of crony capitalism, if you read here much, you know my opinion of politicians and lawyers picking winners and losers. Adam Smith was right.
Anyway, Brian Ross of ABC News has obtained some e-mails relating to the White House pressuring the Energy Department to make a decision for political reasons. We’ll let him tell the story.
Newly uncovered emails show the White House closely monitored the Energy Department’s deliberations over a $535 million government loan to Solyndra, the politically connected solar energy firm that recently went bankrupt and is now the subject of a criminal investigation.
The company’s solar panel factory was heralded as a centerpiece of the president’s green energy plan — billed as a way to jump start a promising new industry. And internal emails uncovered by investigators for the House Energy and Commerce Committee that were shared exclusively with ABC News show the Obama administration was keenly monitoring the progress of the loan, even as analysts were voicing serious concerns about the risk involved. “This deal is NOT ready for prime time,” one White House budget analyst wrote in a March 10, 2009 email, nine days before the administration formally announced the loan. Read the rest.
In addition Michael Barone in the Washington Times writes that this mess may well have political causes and effects (what goes around, comes around).
One factor favoring President Obama’s re-election, according to a recent article by political scientist Alan Lichtman, is the absence of scandal in his administration.Lichtman may have spoken too soon.
The reason can be capsulized in a single word: Solyndra.
That’s the name of a company that manufactured solar panels in Fremont, Calif. (which voted 71 percent for Obama in 2008).
We are not done yet, the Energy Department has in the last few weeks handed out a loan guarantee to $150 million to 1366 Technologies
of Lexington, Massachusetts.
1366 Technologies has theoretically developed a thin film method of making PV cells on a commercial scale. If so this could be important. They claim that their system can produce electricity at aroung 19cents/KWH. See chart.
Courtesy of 1366 Technologies
If this works out in the real world, this could be close to a break through. This cost of production is only about 150% of the retail rate here in Nebraska, which is a low cost state. We’ll see. There are still all the problems we wrote about above.
The technical issues are still awaiting solutions however. All the government wishful thinking in the world will not solve them, when it become economically feasible it will happen, until then, it won’t. The business model they seem to be using is to produce a product at $6.00 and sell it for $3.00 and make it up on volume. That’s called a money pit.
There are also 1100 new people unemployed in California because of this.