Quarter of a Century of Packaged Pollution

Thinking PV Solar?

Do you want my electricity price to rise while you save on yours?

Do you want to do a quarter of a century’s pollution by the end of the month?

False Economies

Wait until the Renewable Energy Target (RET) is cancelled/nullified , the RET funds the certificates that are credited to you when you install the system; based on the notion of performance “assumed” by the installers over 15 years of system life. Most people “sell” the certificates to the company installing the solar system in return for a “discount” or “rebate”. Reliable generators of electricity; those who generate electricity whenever there’s a demand; are compelled by law to buy certificates from “renewable sources” if they don’t produce enough of their electricity by “renewable” means.

Durability

I know of several people whose panels have died within 5 years; and their controllers have been unreliable almost from the outset. And those people had an inkling that things weren’t quite right; not the average punter. Simply replacing an older, failed panel with a new one will cause other panels in the same string to fail; especially with the normal, domestic installations.

If installers offer a warranty, make sure that it’s underwritten by a company that’ll be around in 15 years. Otherwise future governments may be asking for payment to compensate them for unfilled obligations for any certificates.

Energy Imbalance

The solar “industry” won’t tell you about many of its dirty secrets. One of them is the lie about the systems being a source of energy. While they do generate electricity while under a bright sun, the energy that was needed to make the cells and the panels is very much more than what the panels can generate in a decade.

Nobody makes solar panels using just the energy from wind and solar power. It’s not feasible. The supply of energy is too unpredictable.

Just about all of the energy that goes into making solar panels comes from burning coal, gas, oil and timber. e.g. Kemerton silicon smelter burns Jarrah woodchips (to make charcoal) as part of the refining process. They also use a lot of electricity and what they produce is only metallic grade silicon; it needs a lot more energy to refine it to make silicon for solar cells.

Further refining takes place overseas where energy is cheap (most of it from burning coal; some from nuclear power plants) and often where dealing with toxic chemicals and pollution is more “relaxed”. (Google for “silane pollution”; tip of the iceberg.) That final refining and conversion to PV cells ready to put on a panel takes about 10 times as much energy again, as did the original conversion from quartz to silicon.

There is, at that stage, so much energy embedded in the PV cells that it takes about 8 years of “ideal weather” to generate the same in electricity. That’s before one allows for the inefficiency in generating electricity to make the materials.

But those are just the bare cells; they need glass on the front, an insulated backing and typically; an aluminium frame to hold it all together to mount the completed panel e.g. on a roof.

Aluminium is sometimes referred to as “solidified electricity” by those who understand how it’s made. And the glass isn’t exactly low in energy demands, especially when one is making glass that allows the PV cells to see as much of the sun as possible. Ordinary window glass filters out much of the light that PV cells could convert to electricity.

Typically, the energy to make “other bits” of the solar panel mean that the PV panel has to work for at least 12 years in (PV-) ideal weather in order to generate electricity equivalent to the amount of energy that went into it.

So the first 12 years of the 15 years “renewable energy generating” certificate just recovers the energy already put into the PV panels. IF the panels actually last that long; and they are “allowed” to produce what they can at optimum conditions.

When the panels aren’t mounted carefully, they will neither generate what they could potentially (and indeed are meant to under the certificate requirements) because they’re mounted at a convenient angle; or because they get too hot.

Long-term Performance

PV cells age. Even at 20⁰C, they will produce near their design output for typically 25 years. After that, their output is below 80% of original capacity. On a hot Aussie roof, with the panels reaching and exceeding 100⁰C in summer; and simultaneously having heavy current drawn from and through them, they age more quickly. They also produce less when hot than when they’re cold.

Panel output is rated at 20⁰C or 25⁰C.

It would be reasonable to assume that the PV cells of the panels are down to 80% or less of initial rating after 15 years unless special care has been taken to ensure that they stay relatively cool.

Decrepid in 15 Years

But it’s usually the mechanical structure of the panel that leads to failure. Electrical connections between PV cells of the panel as well as the integrity of the sealing of the panel are the weak points. When the seals fail, moisture gets in and starts corrosion. Heavy metals (to be considered toxic) embedded in the PV materials can dissolve and leach out when it rains, ending up in your gutters and rain water tank.

Under extreme conditions, damaged PV panels can catch fire. The smoke should be considered toxic. Insurance companies haven’t yet picked up the “signal” of risk in Australia. They have in Germany, where PV solar isn’t just more pervasive, but where many more people live in roof spaces. As more systems grow old, the risk of fires increases, especially as many forget the systems and certainly wouldn’t pay for e.g. annual inspections by electricians.

PV Electricity Not Allowed while the Sun Shines

I also mentioned “allowed”. Under the noon summer sun, when everybody’s PV solar system can potentially produce the most electricity, they can often not do so to their full capacity because the distribution grid voltage rises too high.

The grid cannot store electricity. It has to be used when generated. So the solar controller has no option but to stop generating when the grid is “full”. That means that the notional amount of electricity generation for the PV system over its lifetime won’t be reached; unless you can turn on domestic consumers such as airconditioning to use up what is generated. i.e. waste electricity simply because it’s possible to generate.

The changes required to the distribution grid to allow substantial PV solar generation from millions of independent rooftops is hard to justify. The conditions are only plausible for about a hundred hours of the (8760 hour) year so the plausible gain in PV-generated electricity is small at a very high grid cost. It requires small sub-stations every few blocks in suburbia; not just transformers. All of that adds to the fixed and variable costs of the electricity grid; with no nett benefit to the electricity consumer.

When the reliable suppliers of electricity are required (by law) to pay for grid upgrades to suit the requirements of PV generators, then it’ll appear on everybody’s bills; not just on those of PV generators who’ve created the requirement; for their own benefit.

Packaged Pollution

It makes no rational sense to install domestic PV where there is an easy connection to an electricity grid. In terms of environmental costs, one is simply causing the next 15 to 25 years’ of equivalent pollution to be done “now” when installing such systems. In part, that explains the pollution in e.g. India and China.

The detail of environmental impact is actually worse; as “conventional” electricity production gets cleaner and more efficient every year; it’s 15 to 25 years at today’s (and yesterday’s) capabilities embedded in the PV systems; not the steady improvements in electricity generation that can be tapped into via the grid over the coming years. I hope that this graphic illustrates the point.

Environmental deficitThe red region is the additional consumption and environmental impact as a result of using (e.g.) PV solar instead of getting electricity directly off the grid. Those generating electricity as their primary business will, mainly out of self-interest, keep improving the technologies used to generate and distribute electricity.

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