PV ERoEI may be negative…

16 01 2017

Well THIS will stir the hornet’s nest……. Pedro Prieto now thinks many solar panels won’t last 25-30 years, EROI may be negative……


Pedro Prieto

It must be remembered that Pedro, whose work has been published here several times, has vast experience in this, having been involved in large scale PV and wind installations in Spain. I don’t know if this article is how he wrote it in English, or whether it was poorly translated from the Spanish, but it is often difficult to read, even when you have the technical knowledge to know what he’s talking about. I had a go at editing it, see what you think… This piece certainly didn’t make me feel good about my new power station, especially after seeing ads on Tasmanian TV by someone who thinks he sells better equipment showing blown up inverters and burnt out connectors on the front face of panels….. there is a lot of rubbish out there, that’s for sure, I’ve had first hand experience of this myself, but if even best quality gear won’t last 25 years, then we will be going back to the stone age……


Our study concluded that, when what we called “extended boundaries energy inputs” were analysed, about 2/3 of the total energy inputs were other than those of the modules+inverters+metallic infrastructure to tilt and orient the modules.

So even if the cost of solar PV modules (including inverters and metallic infrastructure) were ZERO, our resulting EROI (2.4:1) would increase by maybe 1/3.

Without including the financial energy inputs (you can easily calculate them if most of the credits/leasing contracts at 10 years term with interests of between 2 and 6% were included, even if you consider energy input derived from the financial costs, only the interests (returning the capital, in my opinion, would theoretically only return the previous PREEXISTING financial (and therefore, energy) surplus, minus amortization of the principal, if any (when principal is tied to a physical preexisting good, which is not the case, I understand in most of the circulating money of today, but you know much better than me about this).

We also excluded most of the labor energy inputs, to avoid duplications with factors that were included and could eventually have some labor embedded on it. And that was another big bunch of energy input excluded from our analysis.

As I mentioned before, if we added only these two factors that were intentionally excluded, not to open up old wounds and trying to be conservative, plus the fact that we include only a small, well-known portion of the energy inputs required to stabilize the electric networks, if modern renewables had a much higher or even a 100% penetration,  it is more than probable that the solar PV EROI would have resulted in <1:1.

And I do not believe we can make solar modules with even 25 ~ 30 years lifetime. There are certainly working modules that have lasted 30 years+ and still work. Usually in well cared and maintained facilities in research labs or factories of the developed world. But this far away from expected results when generalized to a wide or global solar PV installed plant. Dreaming of having them 100 or 500 years is absolutely unthinkable.

Modules have, by definition, to be exposed more than anything else, to solar rays (to be more efficient). Just look at stones exposed to sun rays from sunrise to sunset and to wind, rain, moisture, corrosion, dust, animal dung (yes, animal dung, a lot of it from birds or bee or wasp nests on modules) and see how they erode. Now think of sophisticated modules  exposed to hail, with glass getting brittle, with their Tedlar, EVA and/or other synthetic components sealing the joints between glass and metallic frames eroding or degrading with UV rays and breaking the sealed package protecting the cells inside, back panels with connection boxes, subject to vibration with wind forces and disconnecting the joints and finally provoking the burning of the connectors; fans in the inverter housings with their gears or moving parts exhausted or tired, that if not maintained regularly, end failing and perhaps, if in summer, elevating the temperature of the inverter in the housing and provoking the fuse to blown or some other vital components, etc.

I have seen many examples of different manufacturers of all types of modules (single/mono, multi/poli, amorphous, thin film high concentration with lenses, titanium dioxide, etc.) in the test chambers, after warranty claims by the clients to the manufacturers. I have attended test fields of auditing companies contracted by retailers, detecting hot spots in faulty internal solder joints straight from the factory to the customers.

I have seen a whole batch from a promising leading US brand specializing in thin film modules(confidentiality does not permit me to name, as yet) having to return it because it did not comply with specs. Now, as I mentioned, I am in contact with a desperate retailer, seeking replacement modules or reimbursement (the manufacturer is broke and has disappeared) that will last a little loger than those he purchased (not Chinese) about 6 years ago and of which about 2/7 of the total have failed, without a practical replacement being available because present modules in the market have higher nominal output power than those originally contracted for and with different voltage and currents that do not permit unitary replacements in arrays or strings, being forced to a complex and costly manipulation to reconfigure arrays with old modules and creating new arrays with new modules and adapting inverters to the new currents and voltages delivered (Maximum Power Point Tracking or MPPT)

We mentioned many other examples of real life affecting functionality of solar PV systems in our book. The reality, 2 years after the publication of the book, proved us very optimistic. Imagine when you install a solar village in a remote area of Morocco, or Nigeria or Atacama in Northern Chile and the nearest replacement of a single broken power thysristor or IGBT that is stopping a whole inverter from operating, plus the entire plant behind it (not manufactured in the country) and about 2,000 Km -or more- from the factory that needs to pass customs like the one in Santos (Brazil), where tens of thousands of containers are blocked for more than one week (plus the usual 6 to 10 weeks custom procedures) because of a fire in a refinery close to the only motorway leaving the Santos port to Sao Paulo..

100 or 500 years lifetime? ha, ha, ha.




28 responses

16 01 2017
Eclipse Now

Great news! It will start people asking what the REAL energy alternative is! Abundant, reliable power from splitting the atom which is 2 MILLION times more powerful than splitting the chemical bonds in oil and coal and gas.

16 01 2017

No mate, we’re heading for simpler lifestyles…… we need to live more simply so we may simply live.

16 01 2017
Chris Harries

It’s best with all technology to use conservative figures for lifespan and utility. My stainless steel kitchen sink analogy comes in here. Theoretical lifespan = over 1 million years. Statistical lifespan less than 40.

We have to take into account that performance of solar pv degrades over time so that by 30 years their output drops to about 80 percent. Then there is the failure of ancillary equipment. Then there is the problem that sited PV may lose the sun as a result of shadowing (other buildings and vegetation). My pv system was installed about 10 years ago and now is partly shaded by my neighbour’s gum trees. It’s not worth there fuss on my part to beg him to cut them down, so I live with a 15% loss of performance.

Then there are the pv installations that get wrecked in storms and bushfires and house fires. This may be fairly minimal over 30 years but this factor becomes significant over longer periods, especially as climate change ratchets up.

And then there is the problem of obsolescence – as happens with the kitchen sink. Say I have a 3kw solar set that was installed in the year 2000. My roof needs replacing in 2025 or the inverter expires and needs replacing at some cost. Meanwhile solar technology has moved on. The average person’s impulse at that stage is to ditch those old steam train solar panels and invest in new ones, or whatever new technology is on the go.

A similar range of factors apply to all technologies. It’s very rare for theoretical lifespans to be achieved and this is true for virtually all consumer products.

16 01 2017

I had the experience in Cooran where my US64 12V (nominal) modules started producing such low voltages in poor light that they would not even start the 48V inverter….. so I had to reconfigure them from five strings of four (=48V) to four strings of five (=60V). And that was after less than ten years of use……. I actually wondered if the thin film panels Pedro mentions here were Unisolars…..

16 01 2017

The situation is so dire that the only real consideration is to stop your own descent into the stone age for as long as possible. Civilization is done for and cannot be saved.

Mike’s AGA may in time, be the best investment he has ever made. What ever electricity system you choose it will in time fail. Either be prepared or have a tablet or two on hand. Whatever powered machinery you have, will in time become useless.

16 01 2017
Eclipse Now

Hi Rabid,
nukes can provide all our energy, EV’s & boron & some synfuels can supply all our transport, national parks can be expanded into wildlife corridors to provide ecosystems for wildlife, marine parks can provide safe haven for fish, plasma burners can provide endless recycling of ALL our rubbish (converting ALL household waste, even asbestos sheets, into the next HOUSE!), etc etc etc.

How about hanging out at The Breakthrough Institute for a bit?

What We Believe

We believe that technology and modernization are at the foundation of human progress.

We believe that human prosperity and an ecologically vibrant planet are not only possible, but also inseparable.

We believe the market is a potent force for change, but that long-term government investment is required to accelerate technological progress, economic growth, and environmental quality.

We believe that the new ideas and breakthroughs required to address the challenges of the 21st century will take time to develop, change the way people think, and reshape the world.

We believe all knowledge is partial, contingent, and subjective, and thus try to bring a ruthlessly critical eye to underlying assumptions, especially our own.

“The pugnacious pair is often bashed for their rhetoric, but the two are genuine in their hawkishness on the climate and their commitment to global equity.” –– The American Prospect

17 01 2017

Ah…. faith. So scientific.

17 01 2017

Oh… I see, it all makes sense now. Eclipse has found his very own Eco-Christian movement, with their very own Eco-Scripture! No wonder he’s pushing this shit so hard! He’s on a mission you see, from God himself, so confident of conversions he’s even trying to recruit folks with aliases like “rabiddoomsayer”!

Good luck saving soles around here pastor…

17 01 2017

“We believe the market is a potent force for change, but that long-term government investment is required to accelerate technological progress, economic growth, and environmental quality.” – well whoda thunk it… economic growth AND environmental “quality” ARE possible. Good old Christians, if you just believe hard enough, you can have your cake and eat it too.

“We believe all knowledge is partial, contingent, and subjective, and thus try to bring a ruthlessly critical eye to underlying assumptions, especially our own.” – hahahah, yeah a real critical eye! These drongo’s still believe in an old invisible bearded white dude in the clouds who gives a shit about everything we do down here, loves us all dearly, and will promptly condemn us to the firey bowles of hell if we break any of his stupid rules.

What a joke!

16 01 2017

Yep, be it shoddy Chinese manufacturing, built in obsolescence, good old entropy, shit just breaking, or “act’s of god” – all high technology is basically fragile as fuck. Regardless of what it cost.

My neighbours Selectronic SP Pro standalone inverter shit itself a few weeks out of the 3yr warranty – $4500 later it’s back up and running. He’s now got the whole $30,000 system insured for 100 odd $ a month! Father inlaws Xantrex grid-tied inverter shit itself after 6 years. There’s a legendary bloke on Flinders Island who goes by the name Oztules on Anotherpower.com – folks there (similar to the situation described in the last paragraph of this post) were having expensive (i.e. German) gear blow-up/let the smoke out far too frequently, then spent small fortunes getting it fixed, months later (because heavens forbid the customer repairing it themselves)! He now builds his own Inverters/Charge Controllers, dips ’em all in WD40 for corrosion protection, and reliability is way up, costs are way down!

That’s why I go DC wherever possible (KISS ) and following Oz’s lead modded my own Chinese inverters (for peanuts), for all the other appliances that insists on those AC volts! Though I’ve heard that brand of inverter is worse now, they’re apparently skimping on the tranny specs! So I’m glad I bought 2 and plenty of spares when I did.

Though my Jinko solar panels (bout 5 yrs old) don’t put out the amperage I’d expect them too… so to the point of this post, yes considering shit breaking/under performing it doesn’t surprise me that the EROEI doesn’t stack-up!

And Chris I do like your SS Sink analogy – “design trends” are one of Civ’s many fuckin’ tragedies. But rest assured I’m doing my bit for the unloved SS sinks – I’ve picked up many a sink free/dirt cheap on Gumtree, welded up frames and added float valves for cheap as chips water troughs. 🙂

One Bourgeoisie’s trash is another proles treasure! 😛

18 01 2017

Wow, that’s disappointing about the Selectronic…… I always thought they were quality gear. Same with Xantrex…..

22 01 2017

For sure, both make great inverters, but the key point I suppose is they’re not immune from failure, and (per forum discussions) infact fail just as frequently as supposedly inferior units. I think the degree of sophistication in some of these units brings with it a level of heightened fragility too…

E.g. another neighbour has this big ol’ portable (it takes a tractor or four blokes to lift it!) diesel powered Lincoln Electric inverter welder with 2 x 240v GPO’s. This things gotta be 30+ years old, sits out in the weather, gets banged about, is built like a brick you-know-what, and never skips a beat!

Treat today’s electronics the same and you’d be lucky to get 3 months out of them…

22 01 2017
Dr. George W. Oprisko

Missing from all this……………
There is no need for an inverter in rooftop PV………. for powering a house.
The entire system can be run on 40 VDC……. including lights…. appliances….
The only need for an inverter would be if the system is grid tied…

WRT inverters………
Aboard our ship Pegasus we have Two Outback Units in service more than 5 years…………

WRT PV systems in general………. the most expensive part of the installation,
as recently as 5 years ago was the PV……. now the PV is the cheapest part……. with Mounts……… wiring…….. controller/ switchgear………… and inverter(if used) making up the balance…….

The biggest reductions to come in total system cost will be from the new generation of controllers and inverters based upon the technology demonstrated in the recent google competition, which are simpler, smaller, and inherently much cheaper.

Commercial scale PV systems with storage are now less than USD$0.11/kwh



22 01 2017

Missing from all this………..
There are no 40VDC appliances!

So thanks Doc, but I don’t need your advice when it comes to DC. I run 24v DC lights, fridge/freezer, laptops, radio, compressor… even a mig welder.

My inverters have a pretty easy life…

But as long as AC appliances exist (and I think they always will – find me a DC Jackhammer you can attach to 40m of extension cable….), so will the inverter.

23 01 2017
Dr. George W. Oprisko

During our many expeditions to various countries around the world, including New Zealand and Australia, we have had occasion to see first hand, equipment for offshore deep water oil exploration and production. The equipment is massive in size, and represents MJ of embodied energy. I have come to believe that many here, think not about this reality, preferring to scale the industry via their observations of local petrol stations.
Similarly, the equipment for exploration and development of coal, iron ore, gold ore, and other minerals via open pit mining ( the preferred method today) requires equipment massive in size and embodying MJ in sunk costs.

Our analysis of a carbon neutral US economy showed how the US could cut energy consumption from 90 Quads to 20 Quads, while keeping it’s industrial and agricultural sectors operating.

No new technologies were required, to do so.

But what do I find here? DENIAL…………. DENIAL…….. from whom???
AN AUSTRALIAN!! Who lives in a country with great PV, wind, and geothermal potential……. which prostrates itself to the oil god………. dismantling it’s railways………. exporting it’s natural resources……. claiming it can’t produce steel……. and steel products…… because it’s labor costs too much…….. while it’s people throng the unemployment lines!!

23 01 2017

See…… you get it wrong again. We don’t have great PV potential, we have greart SOLAR potential. NOT the same thing. And geothermal potential…? Don’t make me laugh, the only company that had a go went bankrupt. https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/geodynamics-writes-off-cooper-basin-geothermal-assets/

How Australia could be prostrating itself to the oil god when it’s got almost none left is beyond me.

I also don’t think we have dismantled railways for some time now. In any case, our railways have always been a joke, with every state having a different gauge, all narrow ones at that I once traveled from Brisbane to Melbourne by train, and had to change trains three times…. it also took three days.

Our wages are significantly higher than the USA’s… which is why we have a lot less poverty than you! We still produce steel, but our companies have been enslaved by globalisation.

Furthermore, unemployment is a function of Capitalism, and as technology takes over more and more human jobs for Capitalism to maximise profits, it’s only going to get worse.

Have you read the latest articles published here yet? It’s as good as over…… our capacity to make PVs will soon be gone, and we’ll have to live more simply so we may simply live.

16 01 2017
Dr. George W. Oprisko

Here at Public Research Institute we looked into the EROEI of PV in quite thorough fashion.
As everyone is aware, the cost / watt of PV has plummeted to below $0.20/watt FOB plant in the PRC. Not many are aware that the next milestone in increased EROEI is thin film ~20 micron thick solar cells. Once that occurs, we calculate the EROEI of PV > 54. Yes greater than 54 if emplaced, equator tilted, at Purdue University.

17 01 2017

On what planet? Using which economic system…….?

17 01 2017
Dr. George W. Oprisko

The EROEI is based upon the Solar Radiation incident on an equator tilted PV panel at West Lafayette, Indiana.

It is calculated on the Kwh output of the panel assuming a 20 year life, taking degradation into consideration, and using the inputs calculated by Siemens and promulgated during the 2000 PV conference in Madison, WI, modified as necessary to incorporate gains in efficiency, and manufacture since then.

It does not consider down stream losses, to make this calculation comparative to EROEI calculations for coal, gas, and crude oil.


17 01 2017

That last sentence makes your 54:1 ERoEI meaningless…… proper ERoEI figures MUST include everything that is needed to manufacture, right down to the fuel used by the plant operators and the building of the factory itself……

Furthermore, I would not trust any figures coming from a manufacturer with an obvious conflict of interest; of course they’ll want to show the best numbers possible, they want to sell modules!

I’ve had personal experience with triple junction amorphous modules. When I bought them, I truly believed that they would be the way of the future, but they have basically disappeared. Because the cost of mounting modules is now higher than the cost of the modules themselves, they eventually became uneconomical.

You might like to read this…. https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/ageing-photo-voltaics/

17 01 2017
Dr. George W. Oprisko

Your ignorance is showing. Your contempt is aggravating.
I know it’s only 16 years but the Siemens analysis of PV inputs was most thorough. If you are not aware of it, I suggest you go to our website, get off your high horse, and ask kindly for a copy.
While you are at it, you might ask us for a copy of our summary paper on the US carbon neutral economy.

If you don’t know who we are……. it’s about time you did!



17 01 2017

IF “It does not consider down stream losses”, how can it be thorough…….?

17 01 2017
Dr. George W. Oprisko

EROEI for oil, gas, and coal measured at well head, well head, mine mouth…..

Downstream for oil……….. pipelines to refinery……. refinery……. pipelines to bulk plants………. plant storage……… tanker trucks………. service stations

Downstream for gas……. pipelines to de sulfurization units, de watering units…….. liquid separation units……… pipelines to generator…….. transmission lines……… substations………. distribution lines……. customer meter…

Down stream for coal………… trains…….. barges………… trucks………. generator………transmission lines……… substations………. distribution lines……. customer meter…

Downstream for PV……… wiring…….. switchgear……… inverter……. battery….

Numerous studies show the EROEI of nat gas generated electricity at the customers meter is 0.8!! Similar for oil,and coal!!!

Yet you bitch about 54!!

Are you a troll!!!!!!!!!!! On the payroll of an oil company????????

17 01 2017

Hey, it’s MY website, so how can I be a troll?

Your numbers are not credible at all. 0.8 for gas? Seriously? If that were the case, civilisation would have collapsed years ago, because anything under 10 is just not capable of supporting complex civilisation…

Furthermore, as all renewables are made with fossil fuels, if their ERoEI was that low, it would be IMPOSSIBLE for your modules to have such high ERoEI themselves.

I think YOU are the troll. Please go away…….

17 01 2017
Dr. George W. Oprisko

There have been numerous studies concerning the EROEI of fossil fuels at various stages in their extraction and conversion, including the final stage of delivery to the consumer.

Again, a visit to our website should put you in touch with them.

How you can run this website in your current state of ignorance is amazing!

18 01 2017

I’ve been to your website……. let’s just say I won’t be going back.

17 01 2017

Jeez Mike the bible bashers have really got it out for you! 🙂 Some quick googling indicates Dr George is a man of faith too.

Oil Company troll… hahahah! The Eco-Christians are onto you Mike, better let your handlers at Exxon know so they can “handle” the situation! 😛

18 01 2017
Rob Mielcarski

Hello. I just found your blog. It seems we may share a similar worldview. I am fascinated by our collective denial of overshoot and am exploring a revolutionary theory that might explain the evolutionary origin of denial.

Regards, Rob


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