Misinformation Creates PV support

by Ginosar  

Misinformation- The San Francisco Moscone Conference Center example

There is considerable misleading information, and partial information in the PV field. This is one of the main reasons why supporters believe that PV could be cost-effective and practical in the near future. I selected the following case to illustrate how even a specialist in the PV field can be unaware of the true facts and communicate them widely, but wrongly, to both the professional community and via them to the public.

I communicated by email with a University of California professor, head of a renewable energy department, about the cost of PV systems. Since his articles on PV are numerous, I asked him why the prices he cites in an article he wrote are so much lower than those the CA PUC discussed in some length in their multiyear study (Ref. 1). He responded "We read different papers,"  and pointed me to the Moscone Center in San Francisco as an example of the low cost of PV systems at $4.5/w.

He was misinformed, the PV system there costs 50% higher: $6.72/w (Ref. 2). But this is the less important part of the mistakes and misinformation involved.

After some investigation and despite their reluctance to give me the relevant information, the PV system installers, Powerlight Corporation, referred me to their website (Ref. 3). Since it did not include much about the PV productivity I asked several times, and they finally emailed me: "The PV output is 675 kW or 826,00 kWh generated per year."

Their website states the following (Ref. 3):

"The project is performing well. PV generation and the energy efficiency upgrades are guaranteed to save 4,915,374 kWh/year. Data from the first year of operation, between April 2004 and March 2005, indicate that the Moscone Project is delivering energy savings above guaranteed levels.


Guaranteed PV Production + EE Savings 4,915,374 kWh

Measured PV Production + EE Savings 5,023,811 kWh



Simple calculations show that the PV is a major loss item, the conservation a major gain. But by adding the two they cover up the loss on the PV system. Also, the actual savings is only 22% of the amount they claimed.

1. The PV output is just 16% of the total: 826,000 kWh/yr, at 15c/kWh (their numbers) equals to $123,900 electricity production.
Full cost of PV system: $4.5 million. Assuming a 30 yr loan (to equal their estimated PV system life) at a very low rate of only 6%/yr (SMUD charges 7.5% for its PV loans) the yearly loan payment would be $326,920/yr.

This PV part creates a net loss of $203,020/year.

2. Conservation measures, or energy efficiency upgrades, taken at the Moscone Center are very simple and limited, consisting of  lighting changes  and added electronic controls for the A/C and heating (according to them). The amount saved by the conservation measures alone equals 84% of total energy reduction: 4,197,811 kWh, at 15c equals $630,000.

Conservation cost: $3.6 M total, same loan conditions as above equals: $262,000/yr.

The conservation has a net gain of $368,000/yr.

Therefore, net true saving for both parts: PV, a loss of $203,000/yr + conservation, a gain of $368,000/yr is actually $165,000/yr.,  ONLY 22% OF THE $753,571 CLAIMED BY POWERLIGHT.

In addition, all the saving was by conservation, and reduced by the loss on PV.


A. By combining the figures of the two parts Powerlight misleads observers to believe that PV is a significant contributor to the energy savings, which is not.

If conservation was used alone the net savings would be $368,000/yr, more than double the current saving., And the $4.5 million PV capital costs could have been used for other effective conservation measures elsewhere and save considerably more energy and the cut greenhouse gases generated by it.


This is the standard approach by PV sellers and advocates of showing only the energy savings, without including the capital costs of PV systems, which wipes out the savings several times over. Buyers and the public are unaware of this fact.


1. CPUC Self-Generation Incentive Program Fourth-Year Impact Report, Final Report, April 15, 2005 (California Public Utility Commission)

2. www.fsec.ucf.edu/PVT/Resources/publications/pdf/REDUCINGGCPVSYSTEMCOSTS.PDF

3. www.votesolar.org, click on Moscone.


Written 2006- valid now





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