Dr. Joseph Romm, on his widely popular and educational blog Climate Progress questioned today many of Bill Gates views on energy and global warming. With all due respect to Dr. Romm, I think he is not seeing the full meaning of Bill Gates points. Here are some of the comments I wrote today on his blog:
Listen to Bill Gates!
I have been an environmental scientist for several decades and made significant contributions to the commercialization of wind energy when I was the manager of the solar office and the wind energy program for the California Energy Commission. I tried to look at reality and not mislead myself by wishful thinking. Bill Gates is a wise man and we must listen to him; he has a lot of logical things to say we do not wish to listen to because they are against our dreams. But facts are facts, even if we ignore them.
Many of the points Bill Gates discussed are valid:
First, he did not say efficiency is useless, but that it is limited. I have been advocating energy efficiency and conservation strongly for half a century. Almost no progress was achieved to date. It is not sexy like PV and people do not want to use conservation. Only strict national mandatory laws stronger than California may make a difference. It is not that the efficiency and conservation are not important, they are critically desirable and important, it is the difficulty in spreading them fast and widely to make a difference.
Read: Conservation can cut 30 times more CO2 per dollar, on my blog.
Bill Gates is correct on PV. First he is correct that unless the technology can be widely used in China and India it is essentially useless. PV is too expensive by a significant factor to be use on a large scale in these critical countries. No matter how much we cut GHG these two countries will continue to pass us with GHG by increasing amounts. They are the key to cutting GHG!
The PV global industry is in the order of $20 billion a year! This is a huge industry, not in infancy with starting pain. Why does it need more government support? Only to maintain and increase the profit of the PV industry. The cost of the panels went down a little, but it is not passing on to the consumer. The system price has to drop by ten to one according to Dr. Steven Chu to be significant. Not this expensive PV technology! Panels are less than 35% of system cost!
Without government support PV would have died a long time ago, as it should since it has made less than negligible contribution to reducing GHG. Also, too many supporters are dreaming about a world covered with PV panels and do not do other, more important things such as conservation and efficiency. Current PV technology inherently can't do it. Environmentalists often give Germany as a champion on PV we should emulate. Wrong! Germany spent over $70 B on PV by last year and got less than one half a percent of its electricity from that huge investment. At the same time wind produce 7% of their electricity, but worst of all, Germany has been increasing their dependence on coal power by considerably larger percentage that all the green technologies combined. Let's look at facts as they are, rather as we wish them to be.
Using this money for conservation and efficiency would have reduced GHG by 20 times or more.
The basis fact is that flat panel silicon technology demands very highly refined silicon which demands a lot of electricity to refined which is produced by coal power plants in Germany and China. We have also the several years of energy payback to consider.
It will take too long to demonstrate all the sensible points Bill Gates made. Let's listen to him and review carefully what we are proposing.
BTW, yes, nuclear power is more promising BECAUSE little innovations and improvement were made to date. There are so many new improvements that could be introduced. Without nuclear our green technologies are too erratic and even the promising wind energy may be degraded since future weather patterns would be changing and be less predictable with increasing GW.
Read www.ginosaronglobalwarming.org to understand why PV is not any part of the answer with current technology. R&D is critical to find new more practical solar technologies of converting sun energy to electricity.
Here we go again. The US Solar Industry Association wrote recently how successful they have been in creating jobs and reducing system prices. I wish it was significant and useful to our struggle to reduce global warming, but PV is insignificant contributor. If money was not important, if time was not critical we could continue to play with PV and feel good about the "magical power of sun-to-electricity." But time and money are crucial.
We must focus our attention on what is critical in the urgent fight against global warming--cutting greenhouse gases fast and in large quantities. PV does not do that. It is the least able to do it since it is the costliest and thus produce the least green energy per dollar invested.
The example of Germany goes on deaf ears. They spent $70 B till mid 09 on PV and it supplies only 0.35% of Germany electricity while Germany is increasing its reliance of coal, way beyond 0.35% per year!
Obviously the Solar Industry association will say positive things about PV. But look closely at the reality of PV. First they stretched the price chart in their report to exaggerate the price drop, and the chart does not start at zero, for the same reason. It is easy to fool the general public since when they see government support they believe two things: one is that since it has government support all is legitimate and PV seller's claims have been checked by the government. They have not.
Second, the PV systems seem so cheap because in fact financial support are very large and distort the market place. But our government should not be so naïve as the public. Our officials are so naïve, unfortunately.
Second, no one is mentioning how much CO2 was reduced by PV systems and at what cost PER KWH. If we used the federal state and local financial support for energy efficiency, starting with increasing home insulation and weatherization- we would have cut 20 to 30 times the CO2 per dollar that PV could cut. BTW, energy efficiency would create many times more local jobs, and jobs that could not be transferred overseas. Multitue of studies show PV to be the costliest by far of all low emission energy sources.
We have to grasp that we do not have enough money to fight GW as effectively as needed. We do not have time also, GHG are increasing daily across the globe. The main, but not the only, emphasis should be on cutting greenhouse gases as fast and as much as possible per dollar available.
Energy Efficiency Conference
TECHNICAL DISCUSSIONS - CONTINUE:
Illuminating the Developing world.
Evan Mills, Ph.D.
Staff Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Research Affiliate, Energy & Resources Group, UC Berkeley
There is a substantial global lighting inadequacy. It can easily be seen in the famous satellite picture of the Earth night sky. US, Europe, East side of China, Australia East coast and the like have considerable lights. The poor areas of the world, about one and a half billion people, Africa, much of China, much of interior India, have no electricity. They have been using kerosene lights for a century. And many do not have even that.
The fuel cost of these primitive kerosene lights is around $40 B a year, emitting 190 Million Tones of CO2. Replacing these lights with self generating electricity is equivalent to eliminating CO2 from 30 million cars. And obviously would provide more reliable, steady and non polluting source. The inside air pollution from kerosene is considerable too.
"The most promising modern illumination is by LED because of their high light to energy efficiency, small size, ruggedness, and ability to run on low voltage. It is natural to produce local electricity, away from any power grid, by extremely small PV systems or through temporary connections to grid nodes such as cellphone charging shops. The miniature power supplies may be as low as 3% and thus are a key problem.
The idea is appealing but there are problems and barriers. PV charging has high initial costs, although well-designed systems can pay for themselves in less than a year. Poor-quality manufacturing can result in unnecessarily inferior products that spoil the market. Current LED are up to 60 lpw (lumens per watt.) The best LEDs are approaching 100, but the worst ones tested are around 10 lumens per watt.
Major international initiatives from the World Bank and the U.S. Department of Energy are addressing these issues by instituting better consumer information and quality-assurance testing and rating systems.
Dr. Matania Ginosar wrote:
Evan, thank you very much.
I am puzzled by your statement that PV can be paid back in one year. Here roof locations are, according to our utility $9500/kW installed, and up to 1400 kWh/yr output in good locations.
We are talking about developing country applications for extremely poor people who only have a lantern or two for lighting. We are powering replacement lights with electricity and providing higher levels of energy services, but we aren't electrifying the whole home. The system you described is of course running many lights plus major appliances.
The systems we are working with are less than one watt, because the LED itself is less than one watt.
Households can easily spend $50-$100/year on kerosene lighting, depending on local fuel prices and how they use their lamps.
LED systems are retailing for $20-$50 with small pv panels.
This is really the power of miniaturization (small light, small battery, small solar cell). The systems are of course considerably less expensive without the solar cell (if they can be charged at cell-phone charging shops, at work, etc.)
Dr. Matania Ginosar wrote:
It make sense. I tried last night my 8 LEDs low-cost flashlight. At 4.5V and 0.2 Amps it is close to one watt. But the light in a dark room was very weak, may be equivalent to 10 W incandescent bulb.
We are so accustomed to high intensity light, we probably do not grasp how thankful those without electricity could be even with that small illumination.
Another possibility is that you have a much higher efficiency LEDs than those in my cheap flashlight.
We've seen LED efficacies ranging from 10 to 60 lpw (and that was several years ago). Best ones are approaching 100 lpw now! ~ Evan
Report: U.S. Market Sees 50% Annual Growth
The hodgepodge of federal and state policies are favoring the growth of large-scale solar farms, which will help propel the U.S. closer to the No. 1 spot, says GTM Research.
The report above claims that the US photovoltaic market is rapidly advancing and we soon would surpass Germany in PV installations.
I am all for effective renewable energies, but PV, the way we pay for it, and the way the industry and media report on it is highly misleading, so I wrote my assessment of this report below and commented on it on the original site and others:
The total long article on photovoltaic above did not mention even once, unless I missed it, the energy generated by photovoltaic systems or the price per kWh. Why, because very little energy is generated by PV and the total price to our society is very high. Tax rebates are not free! We all pay for it. But what are we geting for our payments?
Why are energy production and cost are importantt? Because the reality is that we are in the middle of a dangerous global warming , and we must reduce our GHG. Also, the purpose of green energy should be dedicated to replacing as much fossil-generated electricity as possible with GHG-free electrical energy. And this is not happening now with PV on any meaningful scale.
We want to replace Germany's prominent position with PV? What a futility. Germany spent some 70 billion dollars over more than a decade and is now getting a miniscule one third of one percent (1/3 %) of its electricity from PV. In the mean time they are not reducing their dependence on coal power plants. Oppositely, tens of coal power plants are now in the pipeline to go on line in the coming few years. Some new ones are already on line.
So, what did the Germans achieve, more GHG from coal and the erroneous satisfaction that they are going green.
And the USA is falling into the same ignorance and waste as Germany. First we do not have billions to waste on future dreams. We do not have the time to play with GHG. Put the money into wind energy which in many cases can compete now with fossil electricity. We will general several times the electricity per dollar that PV can. Put money into R&D for new technologies including solar. Put money into central tower solar that is so much more economical and generate more green energy that way too. But do not claim that we are going green when what we are doing is giving huge profit to solar companies.
Dr. Steven Chu is not so sold on current solar PV. He said that the price has to drop by ten to one to be useful on a mass scale. And that is what we need- mass replacement of coal generated electricity by conservation, efficiency and green technologies. A utility manager told me recently that despite the drop in solar panels, the price of the PV systems remained the same to the users. The profit, however to the solar company increased. We did not get more electricity per dollar at all.
The many jobs that are generated by subsidies for solar should be given to many more workers performing energy conservation. Most of our existing housing stock is poorly insulated and waste considerable amount of energy. But conservation is not "sexy" and very little is done in this area. Why, there is no national Conservation organization that pushes our legislators, both at the local level in California, and the national level in Congress. So every one "knows" that conservation is important but we do very little conservation.
Do put money into PV but never talk, never mention how much energy is actually generated by PV and how much reduction is occurring in our GHG emission.
Sadly we are so blind to reality, it is amazing how much energy and money we waste on technologies that satisfy our emotions but not reducing our GHG.
Dr. Matania Ginosar
Environmental Scientist & Electrical Engineer
Prev. Mgr. Solar Office, California Energy commission.
In 1978 Paul Maycock, the manager of the photovoltaic (PV) program at the U.S. Department of Energy during the president Carter pro-green administration, funded an evaluation of economic and technical aspects of PV by the Aerospace corporation. That report erroneously claimed that PV prices will go down rapidly with time like computer chips.
As manager of the Solar office at the California Energy commission I knew that that prediction was wrong since we did two careful and independent evaluations that arrived at the opposite conclusion. The first evaluation was done by experienced electrical engineer at CEC, the writer. However, CEC management that did not have relevant technical experience could not shake their belief that PV is a highly promising green technology. After all, NASA was using it successfully for space applications for years, they told me. NASA had no price limitation; the situation was not in the same ballpark. Also, "everybody" was saying PV is the promising green technology.
CEC management, therefore, funded another, fully independent study to verify the conclusions by an outside evaluator, a professor of Electrical Engineering at CSU - Sacramento. Both studies had identical conclusions that distributed PV (small roof systems for example) made of silicon panels, the main PV technology used for the last forty years, and today, would continue to be exceedingly expensive and would not be able to supply much electricity to the grid. In remote locations without connection to the grid, and requiring very small amount of electricity PV could be very useful.
When I read the Aerospace study I flew to Los Angeles, met with the two authors to discuss their report. It was disappointing to see how little they understood the technology and economics of PV or that type of technology, and how little effort they put into understanding the issues. As a long-term, experienced electrical engineer who worked intimately with integrated circuits (silicon chips) I lectured and wrote a corporation manual to encourage their use. I become adviser to several corporations on the potential use of integrated circuits. I knew the chip technology well and consulted to several corporations about their expanded use. Among the many companies I advised were the two inventors of this technology: Texas Instruments and Fairchild. I also had an hour discussion with Dr. Robert Noyce, one of the founders of Intel later on future trends.
My detailed discussion with the Aerospace staff indicated that they knew very little about the silicon chip technology, not even the basics. They had a price/time curve for PV showing just one valid point at the top-left-- then current price of PV. The rest had no reference points. They explained to me it is "just similar to price drop that computer chips had" -.
I believe it was a serious mistake not to use a peer review before releasing this report
Here is the basic fallacy re price comparison of PV and computer chips:
Contrary to the permanent statement that computer chips went down rapidly in price with larger quantity, actually computer chips did not go down in price once out of R&D and into large production. In facts chip prices went usually up! The chips became bigger and more complex with more computing capabilities. What went down is the price- per - computing - function. That is, the number of miniscule transistors they could put on a chip increased dramatically with time.
Each transistor was smaller, and used considerably less energy to function. This miniaturization allowed to increase the number of transistors within a single chip to achieve a higher performance with similar chip size.
This continuous transistor miniaturization and the mandatory energy reduction per function of computer chips have absolutely no relationship to PV POWER operation. PV is a power instrument. It is rated in kilowatts (a thousand watt), while computer chips are miniature devices that must consume very little electricity, in the order of fifty watts, to be useable.
The basic, crucial mistake most people make here is that since they are unaware of the technology, not of computer chips or PV, they jump to conclusions that have nothing to do with the facts. Even most so called "scientists" have no idea what they are talking about if they see similarity between the two. One- for computers, the aim is to make transistors as small as you can- the other, PV: make it as large as you can to capture more sun energy.
In a typical silicon PV system only 18% of sun energy is available to the PV silicon surface. Then just 40% of that 18% is possible to convert to electricity because of the energy distribution of the sun spectrum. The end result is that only about 10% of the sun radiation near the surface of the earth is converted to electricity. That is, for each one kW / sq. m sun input, we can get about 100 watt average output per square meter of silicon PV.
R&D must continue and sponsored by both government and private sector. Increasing silicon PV efficiency is very useful but may be limited, since it also dictates increasing the purity and therefore price.
In addition only 40% of the cost of a finished roof PV system is for PV panels; the rest is labor, other materials, insurance, and profit.
The same mistake of comparing silicon chips with PV was made two weeks ago by V. P. Al Gore on Charlie Rose. They were discussing the new Al Gore book on green technologies. When asked about PV high prices V.P. Gore said that like computer chips the price of PV will fall down in production. Now thirty years later this mistake is still propagated up to the advisers of the good man himself - Gore and spread on public TV.
By the way, the PV industry is not inclined to be truthful. In a major White paper a few years back made for the California Legislature, and pushing the CA Governor's Solar on a Million Roofs initiative, the paper claimed 50 years life for a PV system, double what even the industry claim. Using this false claim they "cut" the electricity cost by one half. A patently, and intentionally, a false claim.
No wonder Germany spent $73B on a mirage and claim they are leaders in PV. We want to be like them- blind to reality. No one ask what Germany achieved - just a third of a percent of their electricity.
At this rate replacing their 50% coal-produced electricity by PV, for example, would cost many Trillions of dollars. An unrealistic, impossibly high cost. Several times larger than Germany total GDP.
Photovoltaic, or Solar, has a lots of appeal. Free electricity from the sun, no moving parts, and it is not too expensive. So many rebates from so many sources: state, federal, local, no wonder many people want them. But does it make sense for the nation? Is it good for the US to spend the limited money we have to encourage solar use?
Evidance and unbiased analysis indicate the opposit. Let's look at some facts remebering that our first priority is to cut as much greenhouse gases as fast as we can since global warming is advancing much faster than scientist expected. Time is of the essense!
The federal government is increasing the subsidies for solar photovoltaic by a large amount. What a waste of our meager resources. Who is happy, the over powerful solar companies which increased its profit enormously with little benefits to our country.
More federal support for PV is against our national self interest. We do not have money to waste in our fight against global warming. Some in the federal government still does not grasp that global warming is a very serious threat to our survival and sink money into wasteful avenues instead of reducing our energy demand by conservation.. Every kWh we cut reduce our energy input and its associated GHG by three kWh since two third of the energy is wasted in the process of creating electricity!
Our first priority is to cut our energy use. Germany put some $70 billons into their much acclaimed PV program with the hope that their PV will cut electricity use. It was only a dream. After more than 12 years of concentrated effort it gets just a third of a percent from solar most of the rest from coal. And some 20 more coal plants are being constructed now.
If people do not understand the advantage of conservation over solar and are oversold by solar marketing, I can understand. But the Federal government supposed to have professionals who should know better and maximize the benefit to the country. It does not seem so.
Federal subsidies should go to attic insulation and weatherization of much larger number of people in low income areas across the nation. We will cut 30 times more GHG pollution by conservation, per each dollar and give employment to a considerably larger number of low to medium income, less trained people. These people needs the money more urgently and will also use it and increase our economy faster. All the money remains in the country and the insulation material is 85% recycle newspaper.
In good locations solar produces only 1300 kWh per year per kW installed. This is a very small amount of electricity. And with time the output goes down by lack of maintenance and aging of panels- according to the manufacturers themselves.
Just note how uneconomical solar truly is: "Arkansas installer Bob Moore said his customers would pay $35,000 for the system that costs $2,625 in New Jersey. At annual savings of $492.47, it would take more than 71 years for the system to pay off."
We should use our money in the most cost-effective way to reduce the maximum amount of GHG as soon as possible TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. The manufacturing of solar systems creates a large amount of GHG. The first five year of the solar output just goes to produce the energy it took to make and install the system. This is not a game with business as usual. It is our most serious fight for saving the global environment.
The rapid advance of Global Warming and emitting 70 million tons of CO2 daily dictate that we should proceed immediately to cut CO2 as rapidly as possible. By using simple conservation we can more rapidly than any other approach cut down CO2 at the fastest possible rate with the least cost. No training, no material or skill shortages. Conservation can be as much as 30 times cheaper than photovoltaic, much faster to achieve, retains all the money in the US, and can employ locally the largest number of people.
This is for illustration only, all numbers are ballpark.
1. Replace 5% of US electricity from coal by PV cost: $ 923 Billion
2. Reducing same CO2 emissions by attic insulation cost: $ 29 B
CONSERVATION can be 30 times more COST EFFECTIVE than PV
Thus we can cut CO2 emissions 30 times more per dollar
1. Federal tax rebate for PV at 30% rate could cost: $ 277 B
Therefore: Sensible Federal approach to reduce CO2 could:
A. Achieve the same CO2 reduction with just 3% of the cost by Conservation
B. Using just the 30% federal tax rebate directly we can achieve TEN TIMES the CO2 reduction as federal support for PV.
To maximize results cost should be an important consideration since we never will have sufficient funds to do all the things we need to do to reduce global warming. The US can not afford the luxury of using high cost, appealing approach when reliable, proven, boring approach can reduce CO2 by 32 times less expensive means.
Dr. Matania Ginosar
Environmental Scientist & Electrical Engineer
Mailed Feb 09
Calculations and Background:
Federal support alone for PV could cost $277 billion
A. INITIAL CAPITAL ONLY: PV has many additional costs that are not calculated here such as maintenance and repair, which are not required with conservation. Conservation quality declines very little with time, PV output decays faster with life.
Life cycle cost has demonstrated even more benefits for Conservation.
US electric consumption 4 billion MWH/yr
Replace 5% of US electricity from coal by PV, half on private home roofs, half commercial. All PV units here are 1 kW.
1. PV Roof installations assume $7000/kW average
PV price has not declined as assumed: In 2005 cost of roof-installed kW was $8,000; today it is about $9500. Now with substantial increase in subsidies and increased demand, system price is likely to go up, not down.
Assume half of PV installations on roofs, and despite that price is not dropping in last 4 years but going up, assume price will drop to an average of $7000/kW over the next few years.
2. Commercial at $5000/kW average (currently $7,000)
PV Output per KW US average,
Roof PV 1200 KWh/yr = 1.2 MWH/yr
Commercial, not in cloudy areas: 1.4 MWh/yr
Combine average output per kW: 1.3 MWh/yr
Cost average: $6000/ kW
5% of US 4 billions MWH/yr = 200 million MWh/yr needed from PV
Divide by PV average output of 1.3 MWh/yr = 154 million PV kW units installed
Total PV cost: 154 M units times average cost of $ 6000 per kW = $ 923 Billion Federal support for PV at 30% = $277 billion.
Conservation could achieves same CO2 reduction: $ 29 B
Potential Global warming impacts of mass PV installations:
Producing, installing 154 Million PV units generates 300 million tons of CO2
To curtail GW our immediate national goal should be to cut the maximum amount of Global Warming gases above all! And to do it as fast as possible.
Note also that crystalline silicon PV takes some 6 years for energy payback; the highest of any alternative energy, this will increase GHG rapidly during PV installation. Previous detailed studies by supporters of PV show energy payback in the range of 8 to 11 years. Here we use just 5 years for energy payback. As long as we use current crystalline silicon technology, it is very difficult to reduce energy payback. Making highly refined silicon wafers that can have high efficiency and reasonable life expectancy requires considerable amount of electricity. In addition manufacturing and installations of additional system parts consume a lot of fossil energy. Note also that for next ten years 50% of US electricity will continue to come from coal, and 20% from natural gas thus electricity production will continue to emit high amounts of CO2.
Reducing the PV energy payback period will have little impact on these cost calculations.
Building insulation, attics and walls, could use just shredded newspaper (which often is buried because market price for recycling is too low, or is shipped to China) coated with fire preventions. It is blown by a very simple machine into the attic; it takes less than one hour per attic. It uses moderate and low skilled local labor.
Cost should be an important consideration since we never will have sufficient funds to do all the things we need to do to reduce global warming. The US can not afford the luxury of using high cost, appealing approach when reliable, proven, boring approach can reduce CO2 by possibly 30 times less expensive means.
Most of the federal financial resources for CO2 reduction should be directed instead, to support and pay for massive conservation and efficiency across the USA.
Federal support for R&D for advanced solar and other technologies that can reduce CO2 at reasonable costs should be substantially increased.
Estimates of Conservation - Attic Insulation example.
In most cases the best alternatives energy systems are energy efficiency, and conservation.
Every kWh saved is one less kWh needed to be produced, controlled and transmitted. Also, utilities need less capacity with conservation since insulated houses would not ever required extra energy. Houses with PV do require additional utility energy at night, when systems fail or weather dictates.
Attic insulation could be 32 times more cost effective than solar - silicon PV.
Other conservation measures may be more expensive.
Conservation cost remains in US:
Total attic insulation costs, labor and material, remain in US. And ¾ of cost is for local, low skill labor, which is abundant in the US. It is effective all the time 24/7
PV capital flows partially overseas:
Silicon panels, 45% of PV systems cost, are often manufactured abroad, thus exporting US capital overseas adding to our national balance of payment problem.
More people employed per dollar investment by conservation - reducing unemployment
Insulation can be used effectively across all areas of the country, independent of sun availability.
Case study: Typical 1970's home in Sacramento with the then-typical limited attic insulation of R13 or less. Calculations of an actual Sacramento home, with technical support from two independent utility personnel, SMUD, and PG&E IN 2002, prices updated to 2008.
Cost per attic insulation upgrade from R13 to R38, $1,500 total cost for 1750 sqft home. Just $600 if done by owner, as the author did.
Insulation useful life = life of house, over 50 years
Conservation direct Energy Savings:
1. Heating season- 120 days; natural gas: 3 Therm /day, yearly saving, = 360 Therm/yr saved
2. during cooling season - 120 days, average use (per PG&E) is 1000 kWh /mo, savings can be half of that: 500 KWh/m x 4 month; verified for a typical area in SMUD Sacramento too.
Energy saved a year: 360 Therm gas plus 2,000 kWh
For life of home: electricity: 50yr X 2,000 kWh =100,000 kWh = 95 tons of CO2
Gas: 360 Therm x 50 year = 18,000 Therm, x 12 pound/T = 108 tons of CO2
Total reduction: 203 tons CO2
(With mass contracts this cost could be noticeably reduced.)
PV energy production 25 years life less five years energy payback, net 20 years times 1.3 MWh/ yr
26,000 kWh x 0.95 KG/ kWh = 25 tons of CO2 for system life
All electrical comparison for CO2 from Coal power plants.
CO2 reduction by attic insulation 203 tons, 8 to 1 better for conservation
Cost PV: $6,000/ kW; Conservation: $1500, 4 to 1 better for conservation
Therefore, attic insulation could be 32 times more cost effective than PV in reducing GHG.
Another way of saying it:
Attic insulation can reduce 32 times more CO2 than PV per dollar.
For many years solar advocates project with "great certainty" that the price of silicon photovoltaic systems will drop substantially as popular demand increase. This is contrary to actual market experience and contrary to basic economics. They use two main arguments for the "coming price drop" which is always just around the corner. One is comparison PV with computer chip price drop; another one is price drop with quantity.
1. Computers are the opposite of PV. Almost all PV systems are made from highly refined silicon slices mounted in large panels. Computers also use similar silicon slices but in the opposite way- make them very very small. Again, the only thing computers and PV system share is that both are made from highly refined silicon slices. All other key factors are opposite. Computer manufacturing concentrate diligently on putting a larger and larger number of transistors, the basic computer element, per silicon area. Their goal is to minimize the unit size thus uses less and less costly silicon per computing function. They do not reduce the price of the refined silicon, they put more capability in each silicon chip.
It is the opposite with PV. PV systems needs very large amount of silicon to be exposed to the sun to capture sufficient amount of energy. A PV roof system is typically 7 meter square per kW, 50,000 times the typical size of a computer chip. Therefore, there is no relationship between price drop per computer function and hoped for price drop of silicon PV.
2. PV price will NOT drop by increase demand and manufacturing. Producing "free" electricity from the sun is a very appealing proposition. Therefore PV systems has appeal beyond their energy production. PV price projection thus can more correctly be compared to the price of the popular Toyota Prius hybrid car. A three kW PV roof system cost about $5,000 more than a full feature Toyota Prius, $25,000. Prius buyers are willing to pay substantial premium in order to reduce their CO2 footprint. A commendable decision. However, this premium price did not drop despite substantial increase in Prius production in the last few years. High demand allows Toyota to retain its high prices.
Similarly, PV command higher prices that do not show any decline. When we add to the emotional attraction of PV the considerable rebates by local and Federal governments, the price of the PV is more likely to rise than to drop. Buyers look ONLY at their own out-of-pocket costs. Seller's emphasis buyer's net price all along the sale cycle.
Demand will be kept up by rebates and PV system price will increase due to the rebates.
The likelihood of substantial price reduction is extremely unlikely. It contradicts evidence, it contradicts basic market experience. The industry is mature, with savy advertisement, and generates billions in yearly profit.
The US can not afford to waste nearly a $ Trillion on old, inefficient PV technology.
..."Severin Bornstein, director of the University of California Energy Institute, said there is no guarantee that cost (of PV) will decline- and that prices could actually increase as demand for silicon goes up.
Borenstein said the money would be better directed towards solar technology and improving the amount of energy generated per panel rather than paying for expensive materials being manufactured today. He also suggested that energy efficiency improvements and wind power would be cheaper.
"This plan is very inefficient way to push forward an industry," Borenstein said. "It's like building a bigger freeway with the hope that somebody will build better cars. We should be subsidizing research and development."
He suggested that solar power is "an intuitive appealing notion" that does not make economic sense.
(Sacramento Bee Dec 18, 05 p A4 Solar: Critics says money better spent on more research)
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
NET REDUCTION OF UTILITY ELECTRICITY 5,023,811 kWh
ANNUAL UTILITY BILL SAVINGS $753,571"
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.
TWO THINGS ARE IMPORTANT TO GRASP HERE:
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.
B. IGNORING CAPITAL COSTS.
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)
3. www.votesolar.org, click on Moscone.
Written 2006- valid now
The Los Angeles Times wrote today that 92% of the public support solar.
Of course solar energy is popular, it is magically appealing, but should we run our national policy by popularity of an unaware public, or by science and economic realities? The federal deficit is about one and a half Trillions now. Global warming is a serious threat to our climate and we need to reduce it fast in practical ways. We do not have all the money we need to reduce global warming on a mass scale. Photovoltaic is a luxury we can not afford! The public is duped to think if we just pour billions into PV we could reduce the eventual cost to make it economical. I wish it was the case. It is not.
Most people love solar because they only see panels on the roof that supply "free" electricity- and know nothing about the complexity and high cost involved. Photovoltaic- generated electricity is very costly, close to one dollar a kWh. But various local, state and federal subsidies cut the cost TO THE OWNER by possibly one half, still a heafty 50 cent a kWh. The buyer does not know the cost, the information he/she gets is so convoluted that few can decifer them.
As a country, since we pay the subsidies from our taxes, we need to consider the total cost to society and what else we can do with this amount of money to reduce GW. Attic insulation can cut 30 times as much global warming gases as PV dollar. Conservation can provide many more local jobs than PV, and unlike most PV, the total cost remains in the US.
Wind is not so popular since there is nothing magical about it. It is a simple but effective technology, and cost-effective today.
There are laws of physics that govern our reality and we should understand them: To grasp the reality you need understand the details.
The reasons why current technology silicon solar photovoltaic is expensive and unlikely to be much lower in cost are: 1. Sun has low energy density, 2. only fraction of it can be used, 3. PV system must cover large areas, and 4. PV requires high technology material to generate electricity.
1. Sun energy is weak: The sun peak energy (in good areas) is just one kW per square meter, but the average 24 hrs output is just a quarter of that.
2. Just a fraction of the sun energy can generate electricity in silicon panels.
A simple explanation of the physics: Only a fraction of the sun energy spectrum can generate electricity because when the energy is below the require threshold it is unable to elevate the electron to the next level to create electrical current. If the wave length is above the correct portion of the spectrum, the energy is wasted as heat reducing the efficiency of the silicon panel.
3. You must have full coverage of a large area to generate sufficient amount of energy.
4. Must use high technology material- silicon panels to cover this large area, a costly investment. These Silicon panels are made from highly refined silicon that requires a considerable amount of electricity to make. Electricity prices would not go down with time, but would increase.
5. PV has the longest by far energy pay back period.
Compare this with the simplicity and effectiveness of wind energy:
1. We install wind systems were nature already concentrated the wind to have high energy per unit area.
2. Only a very small amount of material needed. The blade of the wind turbine sweeps a very large area but it is only 3% of the area swept. The total material needed, including tower and machinery, is small.
3. The material and technology are very simple and well known: blade, gearbox, generator and control.
4. Wind energy has the smallest energy payback period.
Wind energy is already supplying the largest amount of electrical energy of all alternatives and is expanding in the fastest rate globally. Experienced people are less sentimental than the public. They want to make long term profit. Society benefit by reduced GHG.
No government support should be given to any of these technologies. They are mature technologies that generate billions in profits annually. Judicious R&D support to develop new cost-effective ways to generate electricity from the sun, however, are desirable, I believe.