The truth about the efficacy of Solar Power.

4 10 2014

Anyone following this blog will know I no longer believe renewables will ever run the world as we know it.  In this knowledge, I constantly face barrages from people who claim we in Australia could have 100% renewable energy by 2020, and/or that we will magically switch from fossil fuels to renewables, even without the use of fossil fuels! On social media, items known as ‘memes‘ fuel such nonsense on a level that makes utter BS look like facts.

Whenever I challenge these memes, I usually get hailed down as a negative lover of fossil fuels who doesn’t believe climate change is real, blah blah blah…  when of course, you who is reading this knows damned well this is hardly the case.

Robert Wilson

Today, I have discovered that someone has actually gone to the trouble of analysing data, you know, that stuff that tells the truth, on this website.

The information contained therein is simply fascinating.

As with any myth there are multiple versions. In this case it is either that Germany gets half of its electricity or half its energy from solar panels. The latter version is easily refuted by pointing out that the majority of German energy consumption is not in the form of electricity. BMWs, Mercedes and Volkswagens run on petrol and diesel, not electricity.

That might seem obvious, unless of course you happen to believe that we will also magically switch to renewables powered electric cars, and yes, even without the assistance of fossil fuels!  The power of believing something, anything, that counters stuff you don’t want to know about is overwhelming.  It’s akin to religion, really….

Robert Wilson, the author of the piece at the Energy Collective, debunks this myth with simple reference to Germany’s official statistics for electricity generation. And what they tell us is really really simple……… Germany does not get half of its electricity from PVs at all, rather the figure is around one order of magnitude lower, or only 4.5%, far short of 50%.  Wilson then adds:

And if you want to think that half of Germany’s electricity comes from something green you will be disappointed. 46% of generation comes from coal. And just over half of coal powered electricity in Germany comes from burning lignite, perhaps the most polluting way to generate electricity on the planet.

He then produces some convincing graphs.  I like graphs, they are visual and tell a story of a thousand words in a click of a mouse (known as copy and paste!)

GermanyElectricityMix

Look at that…….  80% of Germany’s energy comes from FFs and nukes!  Who’d a thunk?  Wilson continues with:

Germany’s solar output varies massively during the year, and these variations can be made clear by a simple comparison. Daily output of Germany’s solar panels peaked last year on 21st of July, when panels produced 20.9% of daily electricity demand. In contrast, the worst day of the year was 18th January when solar panels produced just over 0.1% of Germany’s electricity demand. This second statistic has, unsurprisingly, failed to elicit any headlines.

PVhighlow

During most of Germany’s Winter, PVs generate almost no electricity; output from solar panels are fifteen times higher in July than in January 2013. Additionally, Germany’s annual consumption of electricity peaks in Winter evenings, when everyone is snuggling up to their heaters, watching their big screen TVs, and making loads of cups of tea and coffee with their electric kettles.  And of course all the lights are on.  Which is also when solar panels generate zero power…..!  Such simple realities mean that Germany, or any other cloudy and high latitude place (and I have to include Tasmania in this lot!), struggle to generate any amounts of useful electricity from solar panels.  Which is why I am planning to also have a small wind turbine in Tassie to close the gap.  Furthermore, living a really efficient lifestyle that requires very little energy really pays off here.

“I will end”, writes Wilson, “with a simple calculation of how long it will take Germany to reach 50% solar electricity given current build rates.”

The new German government has put in place a long-term target of having between 2.5 and 3.5 gigawatts of solar panels installed each year. If we take the higher figure, and assume that 3.5 gigawatts is installed each year, it will take Germany almost ninety years to reach 50% solar electricity. This however is an underestimate. Solar panels must be replaced every twenty or twenty fives years, and 50% solar energy in Germany would require massive advances in energy storage techniques. Germany, then, is around a century away from getting half of its electricity from solar panels.

Does this look like a revolution?

NEVER believe anything on Facebook without first checking the facts.

 

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7 responses

4 10 2014
Chris Harries

I understand why so many people want to be beamingly positive and eulogise something (anything!!!) in the face of climate change… and Germany’s business success in promoting solar is very laudable… but in recent times they’ve taken several giant steps backward. We need to tell the whole truth.

These beamingly positive stories about Germany’s renewable success need to be balanced against the rise of brown coal there, measured by Greenpeace as the worst coal polluter in Europe. Germany is like our Victoria – very well resourced in dirty brown coal, now being heavily expanded. Meanwhile, Germany’s solar incentives of a few years ago have been significantly withdrawn.

Additional articles on this turn of events:
http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2769
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Germany

More generally, the stupendous gains made in reducing costs of solar panels runs alongside the stupendous gains that have been made in extracting difficult-to-get unconventional fuels using new technologies. Both are feats of human endeavour that can be admired for their sheer ingenuity but it is only what we end up with that is important in the longer run.

The renewables push offers Hope but it also feeds a rather massive delusion about what renewable energy can really do. It’s not easy straddling those two things – being honest whilst not undermining Hope.

4 10 2014
bev

if we achieve that unrealistic pipe dream of 100% renewables by 2020 our economy would have collapsed, only the very wealthy could afford to buy power, fuel and food, let alone build new houses. everything will stop, transport, manufacturing, retail you name it, all crashed due to a climate change myth

5 10 2014
Idiocracy

Just a few corrections there Bev…

if we achieve Smokin’ Joe’s unrealistic pipe dream of a 2% increase in economic growth for G20 nations within the next 5 years our planet will eventually collapse, only the very wealthy could afford to buy power, fuel and food, let alone build new houses. everything will stop, transport, manufacturing, retail you name it, all crashed due to climate change denying governments, businesses, and selfish consumer culture individuals like Bev.

🙂

4 10 2014
Maponios

This is a damn good article!

5 10 2014
aplinthjr

Good post, I like DtM so much more when it actually talks facts.

6 10 2014
Gus

Good post. I think it’s fairly doable to reduce Australia’s energy consumption by 90% (with essentially zero societal changes) and by 99% with minor societal changes (ie. we’d get to keep democracy, social institutions, etc, but dispense with consumption, etc. think more like Australia in the 1950s). If we do this, then renewables are suddently a lot easier (by a factor of 100). Of course, whether we choose to do this is another matter.

7 10 2014
Chris Harries

Good point, Gus.

As much as the majority of society now accepts climate change as a problem, I think there’s an almost universal denial of the gravity of our sustainability predicament. Most citizens really want to believe that with a few quick fixes the ‘Problem’ will be fairly easily resolved. We can still have the good life and a rollicking economy. Protecting our consumer comfort zone locks in that attitude.

So… for now society is generally starry eyed about renewable energy, seeing it in that very limited context. It could be argued that the real depth of our problem will be forced on us anyway in time, so in the meantime why does it matter if we surge ahead with an attempt to try to replace fossil fuels with renewables (as if we really could)? At least we would be doing the renewables bit and can deflect onto a radical reorganisation of society’s behaviours down the track.. i.e. the bit that citizens don’t want to confront.

My thought is that is the track we are on now. Society is first going to futilely attempt to do the impossible, and there’s almost no stopping it. But before we go too far down that pathway (and totally wreck the planet in the process) it’s imperative that society comes to its senses and gets real. The transition through this secondary level of denial is going to take at least as long as overcoming primary denial, so I believe those who are aware of the deeper predicament need to be pressing the buttons now. And that’s hat Mike is doing with this blog.

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