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Discussion > Can solar PV be profitable?

No they would not be broke. They would just have had fewer sources from which to pump up their spending. To me that would be a good thing. Much government spending is misspent or misdirected so the less easy it is to raise money the better. I know that is difficult for socialists to accept, but you should at least think about it.

For real world examples of profitable solar see the examples in the original question.

Jul 6, 2014 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

The class of troll here is not worthy of the Bish and his contributors.

Jul 6, 2014 at 3:04 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

I thought I'd posted this before but it mustn't have got through....

The only place I've seen solar panels where they make sense from all angles is Tenerife. They are almost guaranteed sun, year around and forecasters can predict cloudy periods hours ahead. The deal clincher here is that I believe that
they burn imported oil in their power stations which is expensive, but also fairly easily ramped up and down to compensate for a lack of PV power.

Raff Wrote:
"I agree that subsidy is undesirable in principle but I wanted you to recognise that subsidy is not unique to PV. Oil and gas production and distribution is subsidised, just in different ways."

Yes, the government take less tax off them (ie from the 80% norm) to encourage exploration and cleaning up.

This is like helping to build and clear up a PV panel facory.

The results of the O&G 'investment' stand on their own on the open market, unlike the output of the PV panel factory which require continuous, ridiculously high, subsidy to make them 'competitive' (slanting the whole market).

Also it's likely that PV instalations in the north of the country never recoup the energy used in their manufacture....

Absolute madness.

"Sandy, production of anything creates waste products."

Do you admit you are being at best disengenous, at worst lying to say..
"Stick a panel in the sun and it generates electricity. You could sit and eat your breakfast next to it without noticing it. With any other traditional source of electricity you have to stay well away from the fuel and from the exhaust or waste products. Come on, it is really not difficult to recognize clean when you see it. "

"Oh and ignore the idea that installing PV is somehow bad for the poor. If I use 6KWh daily and decide to economize by halving my use I reduce grid demand by 3KWh. If I instead install PV to provide me with 3KWh and don't economize I also reduce grid demand by half. Show me the difference to "the poor". "

Except the ridiculous amount you're paid to generate that 3KWh (even when you use it yourself) is pushing everyone elses electricity bill up. The poor suffer the most as a result.

" My panels will largely cover my power costs for the next 20+ years. I make no apology for that. "

Only because of the ridiculously large subsidies.

You're confusing what's good for you with what's good for the country.

Jul 7, 2014 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

Sorry about the delay, I've been visiting family and the latest member who arrived 3rd July so have had limited web access.

I don't see the relevance of German coal to the discussion,

The relevance is that using lignite is a cost effective way of producing electricity in Germany. Even when the cost of restoring the open cast mines after extraction.

I think michael hart has answered why the Germans continue to mine lignite.

These are UK capacity factors*** from DECC. You might have to copy this table to Excel/Word to correct the formatting which is giving me some problems.

Plant type 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2007–2012
Nuclear power plants 59.6% 49.4% 65.6% 59.3% 66.4% 70.8% 61.9%
Combined cycle gas turbine stations 64.7% 71.0% 64.2% 61.6% 47.8% 30.4% 56.6%
Coal-fired power plants 46.7% 45.0% 38.5% 40.2% 40.8% 57.1 44.7%
Hydroelectric power stations 38.2% 37.4% 36.7% 24.9% 39.2% 35.8% 33.7%
Wind power plants 27.7% 27.5% 27.1% 23.7% 29.9% 29.0% 27.5%
Photovoltaic power stations 9.9% 9.6% 9.3% 7.3% 5.1% 10.0% 8.6%

*** The net capacity factor of a power plant is the ratio of its actual output over a period of time, to its potential output if it were possible for it to operate at full nameplate capacity indefinitely.

That makes Solar PV useless in my book, to get your 3KWh every day for 12 months how much are you going to have to instal?

To understand the drop in Combined cycle gas turbine I suggest you research, for yourself, the interaction between renewables and other generation systems. You might then understand why many of here are concerned about reliable electricity supplies.

Jul 7, 2014 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Raff, my point was about the general German approach to electricity generation using fossil fuels: They are not turning away from it. Quite the contrary. Pragmatically, they are building new capacity. I don't know how you missed that. (I also think that 'new build' at 17 is not deceptively different from "about 20 or so". I was quite clear about a degree of uncertainty in my mind.)

Whether it is for domestic lignite, or coal imported from the USA, or gas from Mr Putin's Russia is in the fine detail. They are realising that wind and solar has been an expensive experiment which has now probably run its course. It will not be adequate to meet growth or loss from closing nuclear stations, and also destabilises the grid.

Jul 7, 2014 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

It appears Solar PV will become even more profitable after the "cut in subsidies", ahem.....

Jul 7, 2014 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Nial, my nephew died in Iraq fighting Bush's oil war and so did many peoples' sons. So don't give me any sh*t about there being no subsidy. Why does the US maintain a huge base in Qatar? Think it would do that if there wasn't oil and gas around? Apart from that you don't know my circumstances, I don't receive a ridiculous subsidy and what you say about my installation is incorrect. Subsidies are many and varied - try the use of eminent domain for pipelines if you don't like the tax angle.

Sandy, the capacity factors you quoted are rather interesting, aren't they. So low for all conventional plant! Nuclear is offline for a third of the time, coal for over a half and gas for nearly a half. Yes CCGT might be turned down to compensate for solar/wind because it is the only fossil thing that can be controlled and yet it is still higher than coal, which is supposedly cheaper. If I were trying to claim that fossil plant is more reliable I would want some figures in the 90-s. These numbers make it look as if the fossil and nuclear plant is not so good. And I don't care much if my solar is offline at night - so are we. For running AC it is perfect.

Michael, the number was 6 or 7, I think. Where does your 17 come from? As for pragmatism, the new stations were planned in the mid-2000's before solar destroyed the big compamnies' business model. I understood that they have admitted that their investment splurge was a mistake, witness all the abandoned plans. I also imagine your conclusion ("They are realising...") comes from those opposed to renewables, not from those involved.

Jul 8, 2014 at 5:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Coal still a factor of 5 greater than solar PV, and no one is likely to crack making that work at night anytime soon. Twice as good as wind, and 50% better than hydro. Sounds like a good deal to me. That is without considering EU regulations and how they affect the freedom of choice in these matters. Then there is what is known as a market in the electricity supply industry, this is rigged in favour of so called renewables (check for yourself) and no sensible business is going to keep plant running just in case there is an upsurge in demand in what is in fact a failure stable and predictable load..

How about finding ten windfarms with a load factor of 60+% for me, now that would be impressive and might even convince that sums like this aren't as awful as they seem, if you spot an error please post your version.

EDF Nuclear Power stations average output about 1GW
Max output of Vestas V126 3.3 MW
Spacing between turbines for efficient generation 15 blade diameters (only number I could find on internet without using complex formula)
Vestas V126 diameter 126 m

Number of Vestas V126 required to produce 500MW @ 100% = 500/3.3 = 151
Number of turbines per side of square farm = √151 =12.3 = 13
Spacing between Vestas V126 for optimum performance = 15*126 = 1890 m, way too much land so use 750m (40%)
Area of square for said windfarm = (12 * 0.75)^2 km² = 81km² (13 turbines = 12 gaps)

EDF Energy owns and operates 15 nuclear plants

So for wind at 100% to "replace" EDF's nuclear fleet then the area of land required is = 15 * 81km² = 1200km² (rounding down)

Area of Buckinghamshire = 1,565 km²

So assuming the very best for wind and operating 24*7 all year then virtually the whole of Buckinghamshire would have to be turned into a wind park.

If we work at a capacity factor of 35% (20% better than anything yet achieved) then the area would be 4450 km² which would be 90% of Northumberland.

Looking at this another way, as the prevailing wind in the UK comes from the South West then putting the turbines for 35% CF in a single line at 400m spacing then they would stretch about 2600 km, John O'Groats to Lands End = 970km so three straight lines would be required, or two following the shortest road link.which would take 37 hours to drive the road Lands End to John O'Groats and back.

Please check my data and figures

Lands End John O'Groats

Vestas V126

English Counties

Calculating wind turbine spacing

Turbine Spacing
We haven't even started to replace coal in this scenario.

I can tell you haven't researched this in depth so I would suggest you do that, I not prepared to fill in gaps in your knowledge as you seem to be the usual 13 year old troll.

Jul 8, 2014 at 8:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Sorry, I diverted into wind here, but the calculations for solar PV in the UK is worse.

Jul 8, 2014 at 9:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Raff, Germany is probably very pleased to have a working affordable electricity supply tonight as they watched germany beat Brazil 7-1 in the football world cup. Solar power would have meant them sitting in the dark with no TV.

Jul 8, 2014 at 10:59 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Michael, be a good chap and acknowledge that what you said was wrong - the number was 6 or 7. Otherwise explain where your 17 came from? And you coudl also acknowledge that the new stations were planned in the mid-2000's before solar destroyed the big companies' business model. Then you can explain why solar's unavailability at night affects its profitability in sunny places where demand often follows the sun (eg powering aircon).

Sandy, we were not discussing wind. Comparing its energy density with a nuclear plant is odd - nuclear is high density only if you ignore that it must be located miles from anywhere in case it melts down. And it is uninsurable and is unaffordable without subsidy - which you are so against for solar. Solar and wind are indeed low energy density but as I said before 100km^2 of empty desert could power all of the US. And we have lots of desert. I guess Europe could use Spain in place of desert if you can't face reinvading or helping North Africa ...

Jul 9, 2014 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Raff, did you even read my earlier post with a link to the report from Reuters?

The Bish has said blogging will be light while he is on vacation, so that should give you several weeks in which to do so.

Jul 9, 2014 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

> Nial, my nephew died in Iraq fighting Bush's oil war and so did many peoples' sons. So don't give me
> any sh*t about there being no subsidy.

Sorry to hear about your nephew. I still don't accept that there's a direct and comparable subsidy for fossil fuels the way there is for renewables (at least here in the UK).

> Apart from that you don't know my circumstances, I don't receive a ridiculous subsidy and what you
> say about my installation is incorrect.

Then enlighten us.

> I guess Europe could use Spain in place of desert if you can't face reinvading or helping North Africa ...

Spain, where the energy return on investment is 2.4:1?

As before, taking these figures and 'extrapolating' the likely returns for Britain, panels installed in the north of Britain
will never recoup the energy required to manufacture install and maintain them.

It's also completely illogical comparing the capacity factor for conventional power stations and renewables.

Conventional power stations will have planned maintainance schedules where 1 out of X power generating units is out of action. If you need more power you install more units (boilders/generators etc). You can then plan how much power you're generating and when.

With renewables you take what you get, whenever you get it. With solar in the UK this isn't very much, very often.

Jul 9, 2014 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

Michael, the Reuters link is 2 years old. Many palns have been abandoned - see the dishonestly out of date WUWT chart linked by TinyCO2 (Jul 5, 2014 at 6:51 PM) and the updated one I linked to (Jul 6, 2014 at 1:11 AM)

Nial, Iraq cost the US several trillion dollars. Just because it didn't get paid directly to Exxon doesn't diminish it. Ditto all of the other support for the fossil fuel economy. Did you figure out how to build a pipeline across someone's land against their wishes? Some subsidies are not necessarily bad (although in practice many, like wars, are unquestionably so and others like land grabs are probably so).

You may be right that solar in cloudy northern parts could always be uneconomical, I don't know. But that is not really what the questioner asked. And comparing capacity factors was I think Sandy's idea, not mine. I don't have any issues with conventional plant really, we need them. But pretending that they are somehow so superior when they are off half the time (i.e. we need twice as many as it might seem) whether it is because of faults or maintenance or over supply is very odd behavior, wouldn't you say?

Jul 9, 2014 at 4:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

• I did say wind was a diversion but in my defence there is a lot more data on wind.
• When answering a question about profitability capacity factors are part of the equation I have to disagree with Nial on that. *
• You have ignored the point that solar PV is off 80% of the time and wind is off 70% of the time and these are sources which must be used whenever possible by government's legally binding commitment. This is interfering in the market and will distort all CF data as do dictates from the EU, meaning operational plant has to be switched off but available for the times when so called renewables aren’t available.
• Solar PV is only available at peak output for a few hours a day on sunny days, which so far this year have rare.
• The FIT for the largest PV installations are 6.8p per KWh, that is a subsidy not profit.
• In the UK Nuclear Power stations are close to people as are virtually all high output power generating plants. Along with whatever problems come with them. Just like 50 years before you were born coal gas was produced in gasworks in towns all over Britain.

* It’s why sail gave way to steam and why triple expansion gave way to turbines.

With regard to German Lignite here are some up to date articles confirming how much there is and will be. All very recent.

Apr 15, 2014 coal rises vampire like as german utilities seek survival

Posted January 20, 2014 why-germanys-nuclear-phase-out-leading-more-coal-burning

Date: 18/11/13

Jul 10, 2014 at 8:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Sandy, why are you so obsessed by coal in Germany? Are you german or living in Germany? And then wind too... The thread was about solar and I'm not terribly interested in coal or wind. Do you think that if you can somehow show that coal plant is still being built that it somehow proves that solar cannot be profitable? That doesn't seem at all tenable as an argument. I don't understand your attitude.

I think one can get too hung up about solar only being available during the day. That is when I and many others want most power, so it seems an advantage not a problem.

Jul 10, 2014 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

> Sandy, why are you so obsessed by coal in Germany?

Because it demonstrates the U turn the German government are having to take after heavily investing
in renewables/ PV.

There are undoubtably areas of the world where PV makes sense, you seem to live in one of them. PV
might be profitable here.

However most of us here live in Europe. Here are the output figures for a 'Solar Meadow' set up by
my local College for £12 Million.....

You'll see that for ~ 1/3 of the year the output is essentially zero. £12 million would have provided
30 years of electricity at today's prices. As before, it's unlikely this installation will ever recoup the
energy invested in the production, installation and maintenance of the 'meadow'.

It's an unusual form of energy production that gives you less back than you put in.

Jul 10, 2014 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

That is a classic strawman, Germany was held out to be the leading light in Green Energy, google "Energiewende" (German for Energy transition). For Germany to move to coal in such a big way highlights that
a Green energy is not viable
b Angela Merkel is more of a realist than either David Cameron or Ed Milliband.

Finally I see we've moved from no Germany isn't to why are you so bothered about Germany from that I take it we're agreed that yes Germany is?

Finally we went through a whole series discussions with your predecessor Chandra that Solar PV doesn't supply power during periods of high demand, early evening for example, it you provide proof that:
1 It does provide power in the early evening in Northern Europe
2 That it is economic to switch off traditional power stations for the 4 hours a day when Solar PV is potentially at 75% of maximum.

Then I might be impressed, at the moment I'm not prepared to lead get another person who hasn't gone through researching how the world works by the hand to enlightenment.

Why is it I get a strong feeling that you are Chandra's younger brother?

Jul 10, 2014 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Nial, it is tiresome to have to repeat things. Coal power stations take many years from planning to completion. Those coming on line in the last year and next years were planned in the mid-2000s when solar installations under the Energiewende were ramping up. How can they demonstrate a U-turn is these circumstances?

Jul 10, 2014 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

SandyS, ditto.

Jul 10, 2014 at 2:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

> How can they demonstrate a U-turn is these circumstances?

I didn't say anything about coal stations, the U turn I'm talking about it that WRT renewables.

> Nial, it is tiresome to have to repeat things


Jul 10, 2014 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial


Nial, it is tiresome to have to repeat things. Coal power stations take many years from planning to completion. Those coming on line in the last year and next years were planned in the mid-2000s when solar installations under the Energiewende were ramping up. How can they demonstrate a U-turn is these circumstances?

I think that means that Germany saw the light several years ago, Fukushima (2011) gave a convenient push to the switch from renewables and nuclear to cheap reliable locally sourced brown coal, from a German point of view what's not to like when green energy led to high prices and annoyed neighbours?

Of course wind turbines can be approved and built in a couple of months?

Jul 10, 2014 at 3:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Sandy I wasn't really commenting on construction times as you imply. I imagine a lot of the delay involved planning consents. All the same I imagine building a solar farm is a lot quicker that building a coal plant. Wind too, although perhaps less so, I expect, but as I said before I'm not interested in wind.

Raff: "Sandy, why are you so obsessed by coal in Germany?"
Nial: "Because it [coal] demonstrates the U turn the German government are having to take after heavily investing
in renewables/ PV."
Raff: "...How can they [coal stations coming online] demonstrate a U-turn is these circumstances [having been planned in 2006-8]?"
Nial: "I didn't say anything about coal stations, the U turn I'm talking about it that WRT renewables."

Yeah, pull the other one!

Jul 10, 2014 at 11:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Have a look here to see why the Germans are so keen to dump Solar and Wind in favour of brown coal. Hint they know making stuff is the way to make a country prosperous and cheap energy helps to sell stuff.

2nd half 2013 - the latest data for price of electricity.

Top 5 Inc Tax Small consumers

Top 5 inc Tax Medium Consumers

Top 5 inc Tax Large consumers

I'm going to put a bet on Argentina winning the World Cup ;-)

Jul 10, 2014 at 11:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

so we're agreed that Germany is building a lot of brown coal power stations, and the reason is cost and reliability? In the current state of technology Solar PV will never be profitable in a free (equal subsidies for all if you like) market.

So concentrating on Solar PV because wind is so useless you're not interested.

Even assuming 100% efficiency (reality is ~25%) Solar PV will supply only what the Sun delivers: 1,360 watts per square metre. For 15 GW that's about 1100 hectares by my reckoning. 1100 hectares without adding access access for cleaning and maintenance and good for nothing else, at least wind turbines allow other profitable activities like growing biofuels or raising sheep and cattle. So we've commited 11 km^2 for power 6 hours a day in Northern Europe, take away any other potential income then how is that going to become profitable and usuable?

BTW I'm quite happy for you to have solar PV on your roof/in your garden but would require that
a You pay for the total installation yourself
b If you have a surplus you can sell it to the highest bidder without any other financial inputs.
c You pay for disposal at the end of life of the units.
d You pay a levy to help clean up the waste in China or where ever the panels are made.

Jul 10, 2014 at 11:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS