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Wednesday, 12th December 2018

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Five Fatal Flaws of Solar Energy

Viv Forbes

Viv has a degree in Applied Science Geology and is a Fellow of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy


The sun is the most important energy source on Earth. It provides our daily warmth and light and the rotation and orbit of the earth turn its steady output into fluctuating day and night, summer and winter. Solar energy powers the growth of all trees, grasses, herbs, crops and algae; it creates the clouds and powers the storms; it is the source of all hydro, photo-voltaic (PV), solar-thermal, bio-mass and wind energy; and, over geological time, it also creates coal.

PV solar panels can directly harvest solar energy. They are useful in remote locations, for some portable applications and, with enough panels and batteries, stand-alone solar can even power homes.

But solar energy has five fatal flaws for supplying 24/7 grid power.

Firstly, sunshine at any spot is always intermittent and often unreliable. Solar panels can only deliver significant energy from 9am to 3pm – a maximum of 25% of each day. Solar can often help supply the hot afternoon demand for air conditioning, but demand for electricity generally peaks at about 6.30pm, when production from solar is usually zero.

Secondly, to be a stand-alone energy supplier, PV solar needs batteries to cover those times when solar is not producing - about 75% of the time under ideal cloudless skies. To charge the batteries for continuous power, while also supplying usable power, a solar plant can only deliver a theoretical maximum of 25% of its day-time capacity.

The chance of cloudy days will greatly increase the battery storage needed, and the generating capacity absorbed in charging the batteries. Currently, only pumped hydro storage could possibly supply the storage capacity needed and then only at massive cost, in a few suitable locations. 

Thirdly, solar energy is very dilute, so huge areas of land are needed to collect industrial quantities of energy. 

If it were possible to anchor a solar collector one meter square at the top of the atmosphere, aligned continuously to face the sun, and never shadowed by the earth or the moon, it would receive solar energy at the rate of 1,366 Watts per square metre (W/m2) – that would power 13 light bulbs each using 100 watts.

If that panel were located on the surface, at the equator, under clear skies, aligned continuously to face the sun, and never shaded by the earth or the moon, solar energy dissipated by the atmosphere would reduce energy received to 1,000 watts.

In the real rotating world, where sunshine only reaches usable intensity for about 25% of the time, the best located panel would have a capacity factor of about 17% - it would receive 170 watts of energy – not quite 2 light bulbs.

PV solar panels convert solar energy to electrical energy at an efficiency factor of about 15%. Thus our panel, at the equator, year round, should deliver 25.5 watts of electrical energy – one very dim light bulb.

Away from the equator, solar energy hits the Earth’s surface at an angle, thus delivering less energy per panel.

Shift that panel to Melbourne, add clouds, shading, urban air pollution and dirt on the panels, and fix it to a sloping roof often aligned poorly to collect sunshine, and it is time to start the diesel generator in the car port.

It is sensible to use unused space like roofs for solar collectors but such fragmented facilities will never match a compact well-designed solar plant in construction, maintenance and cleaning costs or go close in achieving the correct panel orientation.

Most people underestimate the land needed for significant solar collectors. In a learned paper published in 2013, Graham Palmer has produced a credible calculation that it would need a square with 31 km sides, completely filled with PV panels, to collect energy equivalent to Australia’s annual electricity requirements. 

Also, to charge batteries to maintain steady supply from a stand-alone solar facility would require at least four times this area – imagine 3,844 square kilometres of collectors, even if suitable battery technology was available. 

In addition, PV panels start to degrade in rain, hail and sunshine from the day they are installed, some panels losing significant capacity in as little as three years. And unless washed regularly, dust and bird poop degrades their performance even quicker. All those sparkies checking panel performance and all those cleaning ladies with mops need access roads – this greatly increases the area needed for industrial solar installations.

The fourth fatal flaw of solar energy is the pernicious effect of the dramatic fluctuations in supply on the reliable and essential parts of the grid. When solar electricity floods the network around mid-day, the back-up stations have to throttle back, all the stations needed for stability and backup have their profits reduced, and some may be forced to close, making the network even more fragile and prone to blackouts. Then if a cloud floats across the sky, the backups have to re-start swiftly.

Fifthly, large-scale solar power will create environmental damage over large areas of land. Solar collectors may only manage to convert about 10% of the sun’s energy into electricity, the rest being reflected or converted into local heating. But the whole solar spectrum is blocked, thus robbing 100% of the life-giving sunshine from the ground underneath, creating a man-made solar desert. For solar-thermal, where mirrors focus intense solar heat to generate steam, birds that fly through the heat beams get fried. Why would true environmentalists support industrial-scale solar energy collection?

All consumers should be free to use solar energy in their own way at their own cost. But these five fatal flaws mean that collecting solar energy will never play more than a minor and very expensive role in supplying grid power.

Desertec, the utopian US$560 billion project designed to cover 16,800 square km of the Sahara Desert with solar panels, and then export electricity 1,600 km to Europe, has collapsed.

A similar fate awaits other attempts to extract 24/7 grid power from intermittent, unpredictable and diluted solar power.

The latest “Desertec Idea” is “solar roads” where highways are paved with solar panels. Imagine the construction and maintenance costs, the length of transmission lines, and the problems of shading and abrasion by traffic, the hazards of cleaning and the random non-ideal orientation of the panels.

Not with my money thanks.


You are all missing the obvious. How many "coal fired" power station watts did it take to make all the aluminium frames...... And the brackets....... And the making of the silicon..... And the wiring... And the diesel fuel for ships and trucks to transport them... And the making of the inverters (with a life of only 5 years). How much coal fired energy has gone into all of that production? Then, in the end, they only produce a piddly amount of power ...... what fools thought solar was a good idea? By the way, China supplies 90% of solar panels. We have made them VERY rich indeed, for all of our stupidity..... wake up Australia

Viv, I did the calculations. Our Climate Commissioner Will Steffen, with a PhD in industrial chemistry stated that Victoria receives twice as much solar energy per year as it needs. He is right. If you covered half of the state with solar panels and had zero losses in transmission and could afford the trillions of dollars to set it up and had a way to store the energy, converting half the state to absolute darkness would work. If you lost half in transmission, you could cover the entire state in solar panels and just power Melbourne. Of course he could not see the flaw in that? Where would we live? Or the animals, birds, trees, plants, grass. I suppose we could all move to South Australian and live at Coober Peedy and buy food from Asia. Sensible chap.

Wot stop all the middle class welfare paid for by age pensioners? Wot kind of person are you adenuf?

5Kw system in Melbourne, winters day, heavy cloud, heavy rain = 300watts. Try running your heater on that.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and
The Royal Commission for Political Correctness
announced today that the climate in the UK
should no longer be referred to as
'English Weather'

Rather than offend a sizeable portion of the
UK population, it will now be referred to as:

'Muslim Weather'

( Partly Sunni, but mostly Shi'ite )

We installed a solar hot water system about 6 years ago. Aussie made and owned company. Since then we have maybe had to turn on the electricity for hot water for 10 days maybe. And Viv, a four sided area of even 40kms pales in comparison to the open cut areas of coal mines. And the mines to come on line in Mongolia, well, they are just mind boggling. There are plenty of homes who are in credit with their power suppliers in Brisbane. I see your point in colder climes, but where solar works fine, why knock it? Some of the zealous tripe spewed from the greens annoys me as they will not allow all points of view. Let's keep an open mind eh?

My Solar wrist watch has its twelfth birthday approaching, keeps time to 10 seconds a month, still beach proof and never been serviced.
“We are the people of Aztlan”
from Time Magazine:

My wife and I work off two six volt HD battries fed by two twohundred watt panels, from this we run the fridge, TV, lights, the mobile phone, Laptop, charge the occasional power tool etc, by midday most days the batts are full, on a really bad wet day full by the end of the for us big time!! have not used a battery charger for over a year.....

Thanks Viv. No panels going on my roof. easier to turn a few appliances off. I'm not going to sit at home at midday to turn a light on to get a free burn. I read somewhere that the manufacture of these panels creates more CO2 than they safe in energy production during their lifetime. The marketers say they last for 25 years. They probably do but dont generate power for 25 years. Sounds like a joke. Not my money either Viv.

Invested $10 in a 3kW PVA system Oct 2011. 2 of us at home most days, using power.
COST: Got in early with good feed-in tariffs as early investors. Looks like paying for itself in 5 yrs. 20% pa return. Exports cover power & gas bills in a year. $3k will get same system today.
EFFICIENCY: Export more power than import from Sept to June except in heatwave conditions in Adelaide. Summer surplus offsets winter losses (due to reverse cycle a/c heater). Net export to June '14 over 2 Megawatts.
RESULT: No brainer for us. Worth every cent.

Around the world, the efficiency and effectiveness of solar panels have been enormously exaggerated by those promoting it because of their vested interest in receiving generous subsidies. But now that subsidies are being cut around the world, the solar industry is becoming a white elephant and countries are asking how the hell they fell for this con. The same applies to wind turbines. The only two proven sources of renewable energy are hydro electricity and wood (renewable forests). But both of these are hated by the Greens and fellow eco-bullies.

Further to Flaw Four (I liked typing that!) there is the additional issue that levelised costs, (which the solar/wind mob will slap you across the face with to 'prove' their case) ignore costs associated with intermittency. As the author states, conventional power plants have to remain on standby ready for when solar and wind stop sending power to the grid. There's a cost for this but as far as I know it's not included when the green advocates spruik their costings. On a related issue, Denmark, the big trier in wind, has the priciest domestic electricity in the world.

It is interesting that the next two Solar Cycles will be cool. The world will be cold, very cold - and hungry.

So Desertec, an idea straight out of fantasyland has collapsed. Wow.

Comment from a friend who read your article: "Despite all the theoretical aspects of the relative inefficiency of Solar Panels our experience with 16 Panels generating 3kWh of power we haven't paid an electricity bill in 21/2 years despite a power Hungry A/c system that runs pretty much all the time in summer we are in credit always. But I see the arguments below that it can be inefficient yet, I believe, in France (pioneers in Large scale Solar Power) there are many towns that run on Solar Electricity. How effectively I don't know!" Any comments, Viv?

Germany has been rapidly increasing its green energy production but hasn’t gotten the results it planned.

The Switzerland-based FAA Financial Advisory AG looked at the consequences of Germany’s “Energiewende” and found that the $412 billion effort did “not provide net savings to consumers, but rather a net increase in costs to consumers and other stakeholders.”

“Over the last decade, well-intentioned policymakers in Germany and other European countries have created renewable energy policies that have slowly revealed themselves to be unsustainable, resulting in profound, unintended consequences for all industry stakeholders,” reads FAA’s report which was prepared for the Edison Electric Institute and other European groups.

“Accordingly, the United States and other countries should carefully assess the lessons learned in Germany, with respect to generous subsidy programs and relatively rapid, large-scale deployment and integration of renewable energy into the power system,” FAA warns.

Germany was once touted by President Obama as a shining example of green energy policy. The country aims to get 80 percent of its power from green energy by 2050 in an effort to drastically cut its carbon dioxide emissions, which scientists say cause global warming.

A mix of subsidies and production quotas have allowed the country to rapidly expand its green energy production, growing from 4.3 percent of total energy consumption in 1990 to a whopping 23.5 percent in 2012 (this includes hydroelectric power). But the cost has been astronomical to consumers.

Consumer energy bills have been spiking for years to the point where electricity in the country has been called a “luxury good” by major media outlets. German households have seen electricity prices more than double in the last decade “increasing from €0.14/kilowatt hour (kWh) ($0.18) in 2000 to more than €0.29/kWh ($0.38) in 2013,” according to FAA. This is compared to U.S. household prices, which have been stable at $0.13 per kilowatt hour over the last decade.

FAA also reports that German consumers will pay $31.1 billion for energy subsidies this year alone. Furthermore, in the past five years Germany has suffered $67.6 billion in net export losses from high energy costs — a huge blow to an export-led economy like Germany.

Read more:

The main reason we do not consider re-newables is that unlike other countries Australia has a sh*t load of cheap plentiful coal and associated coal lobbyists.. The solar roadway which would get covered by mud, snow was a internet fake...along with solar panels gradually depleting the suns energy. As solar panels, batteries and inverters improve with technology


Can I add a simple alternative here ..
STUFF THE GREENS ; Build more dams if and where we can ..

A quick search tells me :
Hydropower has become the leading source of renewable energy.
it provides more than 97% of all electricity generated by renewable sources worldwide.

Worldwide, about 20% of all electricity is generated by hydropower." Some regions depend on it more than others. For example, 75% of the electricity produced in New Zealand and over 99% of the electricity produced in Norway come from hydro power.