Solar Power

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There centralized (big plant) or distributed (residential) solar power, with goals of targets or residential use. They all have different issues. While I like the idea of residential Solar Power and people not being dependent on government regulated grids, and having the ability to survive in case of natural or man made disasters, and I plan on adding it to my next home, what I don't like is lies (flim-flam), about how much Solar Power costs, or the bullshit about how "green" it is. It is not as green as the proponents pretend, and if it was cheaper, how come places that implement it at scale have higher energy costs and less reliability? Someday, it might be ready (and that may be coming in a few short years or decades), but the point is that means they've been lying for the last 30 that it had already reached cross-over. Here's some of the lies.

Solar has hidden costs


With most power plants you have a pretty simple equation, the simplified version would be: Base energy costs = infrastructure costs + fuel + maintenance

With solar it gets much more ugly and complex. While you eliminate fuel costs (like Hydro, Geothermal, and some other power generation), you add in lots of new hidden costs like much higher maintenance costs and a much shorter lifespan of the plant (meaning the amortized costs of the plant aren't nearly as good as the build costs make it seem), and of course, solar generation stops working at night and cloudy days, Solar is unreliable peak power -- not base power.

This means that a Solar plant isn't just the cost of the plant and free fuel to get reliable base power. So it is completely dishonest to compare 1 MWh of peak production (Solar) to 1 MWh of reliable base power. Which is how the flim-flammers (Solar Power advocates) usually calculate/compare.

To compare Solar Power to Base Power you need to do the following:

  • Use a 2 to 2.5 times multiplier: for Solar to provide reliable FULL TIME power, you'd need to generate about 2.5 the power of a regular power station -- with about 1/2 that power going to providing power, and half going to storage (charging batteries), so that when the Sun goes down (or behind clouds) you can continue to provide reliable power. That's closer to Apple's-to-Apple's comparison, and immediately makes Solar less than half as cost effective (twice as expensive) as the numbers usually presented. And we're just getting started.
    • Why 2.5x? Because the way the Sun is oriented in Winter you don't get 12 hours of effective sunlight, you actually get less than 8 (which would require 3x the power). And in fact, it's less than that where the Sun is high enough in the sky to be completely effective, and that assumes there's never a time during the day when clouds or fog, decrease the output. So the 2.5 multiplier is actually very generous.
  • Notice I said Batteries or storage? You have to add in the cost of batteries, which are huge. (Those are usually omitted). There hasn't been any real industrials level battery storage: they're working on a few experimental ones, but it'll take years or decades to get the full picture of reliability and maintenance costs. But those can dramatically increase the costs of a plant.
  • Backup Power Plant: the problem is that batteries are fine to provide more reliable power for short periods, but that 2.5:1 ratio is just covering one day of storage. You'd need more production (and storage) if you assume you ever have an entire day of clouds. (Enough to charge the batteries not just for the night power, but enough for another day or three). This quickly becomes impractical. So what they do is keep another Power Plant (good oil Oil/Gas/Coal) there, to provide power when the Sun isn't working right. That means the cost of a Solar Power Plant is the cost of a Solar Power Plant, plus the cost of keeping another Power Plant waiting on idle (including it's build and maintenance costs: you're only saving a little on fuel: basically idling a car, instead of driving at highway speeds).
    • The way Power Plants work, is they are efficient if they are running at load, all the time. But startup/shutdown costs are a lot of waste: it takes hours or days to bring them up or shut them down and get them balanced efficiently. If you try to do it quickly, it increases the waste (costs). So what's happening is that Solar Power means that we're running our base power plants at less efficient ways, and their increased costs/pollution belongs not on the cost of those plants (if they were operating as designed, you'd be running them efficiently), but are the costs of operating solar/wind stations with them. Usually, the flim-flammers do the opposite: they show that the efficiency of other plants is going down: they aren't. They are being operated poorly to subsidize Solar/Wind.

Thus to calculate the True Costs of Solar, the formula would more look like: Solar energy costs = Solar Power Plant with x 2.5 the capacity + storage for a day + the entire cost of a backup power plant (with slightly lower fuel costs than normal).

There's no way the math of A+B < B alone. So Solar drives up costs. Which explains why every city/state/country that adds Solar capacity, also drives up their costs of electricity.

(NOTE: Some Solar plants don't work from direct sunlight, they concentrate the light into a salt/metal, and use that to run a steam turbine. This allows them to store heat, or burn natural gas when the sun isn't out, to deal with the unreliability of Solar. But again, the cost of these hybrid Solar plant isn't just a Solar Plant, it's a Solar Plant + Storage + backup for when the Sun isn't out. )

But wait, there's more

There's a few other ways the rates get flimflammed to dupe the gullible rubes. The power grid is a delicately balanced system: the power that goes on it, has to match the load/demand or power surges and things burn out. So, now California (or other states) build a lot of Solar Plants at the request/subsidies of the Obama administration or other "Green New Deals". They under produce on cloudy days, but over produce on sunny ones. What do you do when Solar Power stations are over-producing and creating peak power beyond the norm? You can’t let over-capacity overload the grid, so California and other places have to PAY people to take the peak power, and those other places have to take other plants off line. (Which makes those other plants less efficient).

This is part of why California’s power costs so much more than other states. They say Solar Generated X MWh (Megawatt Hours) and they agreed to pay $x/MWh from the solar plant, but on the other side, they had to pay people to take the excess capacity or take their plants off line during the surge. The true cost of Solar was buried in other line items like buy-back costs and so on. But that was part of the cost of unreliable solar.

Then you get into the fact that since Solar Plants and Wind Farms are regulated, they get penalized when they aren't producing power. The solution: create an oil burning plant inside the Solar Plant or Wind farms. Some turbines have diesel generators in them, and when the wind isn't blowing, they just run them -- because the fuel costs are less than the penalties for not hitting quota. Never mind that small diesel generators are more polluting than large ones so this is a pollution loss. Solar sometimes works the same way: they can burn natural gas when Solar isn't working to avoid penalties, or reduce the problems with peak power. But you almost never hear that truth from green energy advocates. Which tells you what you need to know about their information level or honesty.

Subsidies and Residential Solar

Residential solar is a bit different than industrial solar -- but not because of economics as much as because of politics, subsidies, regulation and policy.

If Solar was cheaper, then it wouldn't need subsidies. Anyone could see that the benefits would outweigh the costs without them, and there would be widespread adoption. In other words, I could look at the costs of a solar system (say $10,000), and figure that with a $200/month energy bill, that means a 50 month (4 year) break-even. Which would be a good enough return. In reality, it's more like $20K to get peak power up enough to eliminate your bill... and another $10K to get the excess capacity required to charge for night, and another $10K for the storage and infrastructure costs. So at $40K you break even is about 17 years (without interest/opportunity costs of capital), on something that has a 20-25 year lifespan? So no one would buy it. Thus you need subsidies. (And that's with inflated California city electric bills, if you go to place that cost 1/2 that, it's even worse for solar).

Remember, it was really cheaper, then they wouldn't have to incentivize it, or demand it as part of building codes (as California is threatening).

Energy Costs

The "it's cheaper" argument falls on its face, on the individual transactions, but more so at scale. (They're losing money with every kilowatt, but trying to make it up in volume).

If Solar is so great, then why did energy costs go up where it's used the most? Why isn't it used more (often it's just 1-2% of total energy)? The countries with the most Solar production (as a percent of power used) are places like Italy (7.5% of consumption), Germany (6.5%), Spain (3.2%), Denmark (2.8%), France (1.6%). and U.S. (1.4%). [1]

If Solar is cheaper then when you look at costs per/KWh, there should be a nice correlation in price to reflect the savings. But the inverse is close to the truth. Italy ($.21), Germany ($.31), Spain ($.23), Denmark ($.31), France ($.17). and U.S. ($.12). [2] Wait, that's the exact opposite of proof that solar drives down costs. Of course some of that is because Solar is such an anemic percent of their electric generation, and some is because of taxes. And the reason why energy taxes are higher, is to subsidize the cost of building all that solar (and other "renewables). So France has cheaper electricity than its neighbors, not just because of less Solar, but because so much more of their electricity is generated by Nuclear or other power. Also, because of their higher population densities, their distribution systems should make their energy much cheaper than ours -- but yet, it is more expensive.

Total renewable energy consumption by country: Italy (17% - mostly hydroelectric ), Germany (34% - mostly wind), Spain (43% - mostly wind), Denmark (57% - virtually all wind), France (20% - mostly hydroelectric). and U.S. (12% - mostly biofuel/biomass)[3]. Are you noticing that Solar isn't the top renewable energy in any country, even ones that are heavily invested in renewables? Are you saying all of them are choosing more expensive (and often less reliable) wind? Of course hydroelectric and bio-forms are both more reliable, which is why the U.S. and others pick them first. But that too belies the whole myth that solar is cheaper.

NOTE: One of the many reasons the Europeans are so ignorant about energy prices is because some of it is hidden from them. Like in Germany (and elsewhere) they are income taxed to death, and some of that tax goes into subsidizing their own consumer electricity costs. So their bills they see have price/rate caps (for some people), to make it look like they're paying less. But as a country, they're paying it, just out of their taxes/paychecks and not on their bills. It's anti-transparency in government, also called Socialism.

Not only that, but this whole correlation between energy costs and solar, correlates not only internationally, but intra-nationally (it varies by state). While the national average is about $.12/KWh nationally, in free America like Louisiana it is $.07-09, Idaho $.08-.10, Texas $.09-.11, it's cheaper. And in places that put in force fake cap-and-trade and/or state solar subsidies like California is $.16-.18, Connecticut $.18-.21, Hawaii $.26-.29 -- basically, doubling the price to subsidize their solar (and renewables). [4]

There's also a secondary flim-flam going on in California (and states like it). Cali loves to cut its domestic production and go renewable (like Solar), so they get to claim they're greener based on how much of their domestic energy is produced by green technologies. But the truth is they then reduced base capacity. When the days are cloudy or not windy, what do they do? They buy electricity from states further away (often running oil or coal). The truth is they replaced local NG or Nuclear, etc., with remote coal/oil (at least part of the time), which doesn't average out to be nearly as green as their voters/rubes think it is. And they have to pay a premium to ship in power from other states when theirs isn't working. All this jacks up the prices to California consumers, and increases the actual total pollution or CO2 per KWh (at least part of the time). But since it exported that pollution (CO2) to other states, and their base is gullible enough that they don't understand that they've been had, it's still a win for the politicians or the green-energy kooks that care about their religion more than the math, logic or economics of what's really happening.

NOTE: There's another gotcha game going on -- renewable energy drives up the costs of regular energy, to make the difference seem smaller than it really is.

Imagine this:

  • you have a Natural gas (NG) power plant, it's reliable and produces 1GW.
  • You add a Solar Plant (SP) that produces 1GW, but it's unreliable.
  • You pass a regulation/law that says people should use the Solar power first.
  • So when the sun is out, the NG plant still has to be there (and usually running because of spool up/down times), so it is producing wasted electricity that no one is buying. But you need it for off peak times, and when the clouds are out -- then it gets to sell it's electricity.

Since creating a peak power plant encroached on the reliable (NG) plants sales cycle, that means the cost of maintenance and operations for the NG plant is higher, and they have to pass that on to consumers. Even if waste electricity is still being produced. Solar raised the price of operations or electricity from the NG plant, by not being reliable. The NG plant is still burning CO2, just the electricity isn't being used (or is being captured in storage, which is less efficient than using it is).

There's a little more nuance, in that you can build a fast spool plant, and bring it up/down quicker (called a Peaking Power Plant) -- but that's still new infrastructure to replace perfectly good infrastructure you already had. And fast spool plants run less efficiently. Whether you use Base load, Peaking or Load Following Power Plants, either way building two plants to replace one (or using one at less than full capacity) is a waste -- and required so that it can backup the Solar plant. Any of which cost you in money, time, CO2, pollution, and you don't really come out ahead (or much less than was promised). But if the politicians and polemics duped the gullible rubes into thinking they did something for the environment, and you get to jack up their prices for the privilege of being green, that's what really counts, isn't it?


Whenever the advocates claim how much cheaper solar is, I ask them to show their work. I can be convinced... show me the math that shows where Solar + Batteries + backup plant (sans subsidies) is cheaper than just the backup plant + fuel costs (per KWh), and I’m all ears. But to date, no one has been willing to do so. To be fair, I've only been trying to find an honest solar power advocate since Jimmy Carter first got enamored with Solar during the oil crisis in the 1970's. I can't even find one that will admit any point against them without changing the topic. But if they can't do that, they prove they're not yet up for a big-boy discussion on the topic.

If Solar was so great, then why don't governments buy into the hype and invest into it more, for all those savings? The biggest countries are at 7%, and that's because Italy has less industry than say Germany (6.5%) or France (1.6%).

So the emotions and dishonesty of the Solar advocates make me want to spoon feed them their medicine until they grow. Face it, if you have to lie for a cause and you can't admit uncomfortable truths, then you just don’t have a good cause. (Or you're not a good person). Advocates are either ignorant of these basic truths (and thus aren't qualified to discuss the topic), or they're dishonest and intentionally lying (hiding) these facts to mislead their Base. Either way, as soon as you find something they're not telling you, then they're not credible. This isn't just omitting something small to make an article fit the format, this is fundamentally misleading someone on the costs. If you did this as a private business, we'd call it fraud. But since it is the Government and leftists Politicians (and their media) doing it, they will dodge, attack the messenger, or make excuses -- they won't own the fraud. And that tells you all you need to know.


📚 References

More Links

Fake News

Here's some articles that exemplifies the kind of dishonest reporting done by either idiots or frauds (and the partisans that regurgitate those links). It looks at the costs of electric generation without all the things above like what it take to overcome renewable energies inherent intermittency. That stuff might be enough to fool the gullible or partisan (of folks named Tim Oey), but now that you know the basics, you should be able to understand the flim-flam. If you want to:

Written 1984.06.15 Edited: 2018.07.01