Solar PV

  1. Solar PV has 300 times more waste than nuclear power!
  2. What about California? 15 times more materials and 5000 times more land!
  3. What about the Tesla Powerwall and going off grid?
  4. Rooftop solar twice the cost of solar farms
  5. Cheaper than grid, or middle-class welfare funded by the poor?
  6. But what about Germany’s solar?

1. 300 times more waste than nuclear power

Environmental progress found:-

  • Solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants.
  • If solar and nuclear produce the same amount of electricity over the next 25 years that nuclear produced in 2016, and the wastes are stacked on football fields, the nuclear waste would reach the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste would reach the height of two Mt. Everests (16 km).
  • In countries like China, India, and Ghana, communities living near e-waste dumps often burn the waste in order to salvage the valuable copper wires for resale. Since this process requires burning off the plastic, the resulting smoke contains toxic fumes that are carcinogenic and teratogenic (birth defect-causing) when inhaled.
Waste Production per TWh.001.jpeg

The study defines as toxic waste the spent fuel assemblies from nuclear plants and the solar panels themselves, which contain similar heavy metals and toxins as other electronics, such as computers and smartphones.

2. What about California? 15 times more materials and 5000 times more land!

California is promoting renewables as the way to replace not only coal, but nuclear as well. How are they tracking?

Fixed_Tilt_Solar_panel_at_Canterbury_Municipal_Building_Canterbury_New_HampshireCalifornia’s new solar roof mandate will make housing more expensive, increase electricity prices, and transfer wealth upwardsWhat it won’t do is significantly reduce carbon emissions. The deployment of solar has been the main driver of high and rising electricity prices in California, which currently produces more solar energy than it can use. “We already have some of the highest electricity rates in the country, and this will only be exacerbated by this mandate,” UC-Berkeley economist Lucas Davis said. “As more and more rooftop solar gets installed, that pushes the cost onto all the non-solar customers.”  

From 2011 to 2017, California’s electricity rates increased five times more than they did in the rest of the U.S.

In recent years, California has had to increasingly dump excess solar electricity on neighboring states and block (“curtail”) the electricity coming from solar farms in order to prevent damage to the electrical grid and/or high economic losses….

….Solar makes electricity expensive for two inherently physical reasons. Sunlight is dilute, requiring 10 to 15 times as much materials and mining, and up to 5,000 times more land, than non-renewables. And sunlight is unreliable, which reduces the value of solar as it becomes a larger part of energy supplies.

Solar’s economic value to the electricity grid declines by half when it reaches just 15 percent penetration, according to research by German economist Leon Hirth.”
Michael Shellenberger, Forbes May 2018

3. What about the Tesla Powerwall and going off grid?

The Tesla Powerwall is not going to change things much according to The Breakthrough, and here’s why:


One Powerwall backs up your house for only 8 hours if the day is sunny. If the previous day was cloudy, it will only have about half that. You can only use 1 appliance at a time. If your dishwasher is running, your fridge motor cannot run. If you are cooking, don’t put the washing machine or dishwasher on. Just a few days bad weather and your Powerwall will be struggling to get you through the night. Really, you’d need to buy 3 or more Powerwalls to cover all weather conditions.

But buying just one Tesla Powerwall stretches the payback period out to 10 years. They may only last 15 years. But if you’re really going to disrupt the grid, you’ll need to go off grid. Given the facts in the chart above, 1 Powerwall will not do the job, but it gets worse. Nor will 1 solar rig.

3 Powerwalls + 3 solar rigs = costs too much

This next bit is more about ratios of power than absolute terms. I’m not that concerned about the actual number of solar panels, as your house might be super-energy efficient (geat!) whereas I run a business from home and use quite a bit more power. So instead of worrying about the exact number of homes, let’s just say that if your house is covered with enough solar PV to run everything during the day, it has ‘1 solar rig’. Your house is rigged up to run when the sun is shining. It will run for about 8 hours at full power, peaking at about noon.

So if 1 solar rig is busy running the house, what’s charging the batteries? You actually need 3 solar rigs: 1 ‘rig’ to run the house, 2 ‘rigs’ to charge the batteries for the two thirds of the day the panels don’t work. Also remember that on cloudy days solar output drops to half, so your 3 rigs drops to 1.5 rigs. You’ll have trouble making it through just two overcast days! The cloudy months we sometimes get in Sydney could require 4 solar rigs and many more Powerwalls.

Economics: if a 1 solar rig takes about 5 years to pay itself back, multiplying that to 3 or 4 solar rigs means it will take longer. Adding a Tesla Powerwall stretches that payback period out to 10 years. They may only last 15 years. A 10kWh Powerwall will only run the average American home about 8 hours, running only 1 large appliance at a time (fridge, dishwasher, drier, oven, take your pick you only get 1 at a time). If the day is cloudy and the Powerwall cannot charge, it will take about 3 Powerwalls to really take you off grid: but they only last 11 years.

This is why (former) Australian of the Year Dick Smith concluded solar and batteries would cost more than 4 times grid electricity over the life of the equipment. (Documentary: “Ten bucks a litre”. Drag the youtube clip to 25 minutes in and this section goes for about 3 minutes.)

4. Rooftop solar twice the cost of solar farms

Titled Comparative Generation Costs of Utility-Scale and Residential-Scale PV in Xcel Energy Colorado’s Service Area, this study is the first to focus on a “solar to solar comparison of equal amounts of residential-scale and utility-scale PV solar deployed on an operating utility system.”

The study found that the cost of generating energy from 300 MW of utility-scale PV solar is roughly one-half the cost per kWh of electricity produced from an equivalent 300 MW of 5kW residential-scale systems when deployed on the Xcel Energy XEL +0% Colorado grid. Utility-scale solar remained more cost effective in all scenarios considered in the study, scenarios having different tax credits, monetizations, and inflation rates.
James Conca in Forbes, July 2015

5. Cheaper than grid, or middle-class welfare funded by the poor?

You’re probably heard that solar PV is cheaper than normal electricity grid prices, which on one autistic economic level of accounting is true. If you stick a Solar PV rig on your roof it will pay for itself in a number of years, and then after that (from your perspective) you’re getting free electricity from the sun for the next few decades. It’s even better if your government locked in some extra rebates as you produce power during the day. Sounds great! What’s the catch?

The problem is that mindset only thinks about our electricity bill. We’re not counting what happens the rest of the time. The government has basically given you permission to rip off the poor! Someone has to pay for the electricity grid you use to get you through the night, the transmission lines, sub-stations, and coal-power that lets you read the internet now. This suspect accounting is greenwashing, disguising the real costs of solar to make the middle class feel good about themselves. George Monbiot analyses the costs in the UK, which are crippling, for extremely poor outcomes for the environment.

So while the electricity you might generate from large wind turbines and hydro plants will earn you 4.5p per kilowatt hour, mini wind turbines get 34p, and solar panels 41p. In other words, the government acknowledges that micro wind and solar PV in the UK are between seven and nine times less cost-effective than the alternatives….  This means it will cost about £430 to save one tonne of CO2.

Last year the consultancy company McKinsey published a table of cost comparisons. It found that you could save a tonne of CO2 for £3 by investing in geothermal energy, or for £8 by building a nuclear power plant. Insulating commercial buildings costs nothing; in fact it saves £60 for every tonne of CO2you reduce; replacing incandescent lightbulbs with LEDs saves £80 per tonne. The government predicts that the tradeable value of the carbon saved by its £8.6bn scheme will be £420m. That’s some return on investment….

But it’s mostly because solar panels accord with the aspirations of the middle classes. The solar panel is the ideal modern status symbol, which signifies both wealth and moral superiority, even if it’s perfectly useless.

If people want to waste their money, let them. But you and I shouldn’t be paying for it. Seldom has there been a bigger public rip-off; seldom has less fuss been made about it. Will we try to stop this scheme, or are we a nation of dupes?

Those customers that are being reimbursed by utility money are wealthy enough to install the solar panels in the first place, and are being paid by either public money or private utility reimbursements, both of which largely come from those too poor to buy their own Solar PV. The rich robbing from the poor in a massive green-wash that actually does not reduce carbon emissions as efficiently as the state buying nuclear power and charging everyone the same, fair price for the electricity they use.

6. But what about Germany’s solar?

George Monbiot crunches the numbers:

An analysis by the Breakthrough Institute finds that the entire German solar sector produces less than half the power that Fukushima Daiichi – a single nuclear complex – generated before it was hit by the tsunami. To build a Fukushima-sized solar industry in Germany would, it estimates, cost $155bn. To build a Fukushima-sized nuclear plant would cost $53.5bn. And the power would be there on winter evenings.

For now I will hand you over to Tom Blees 2009 article on Brave New Climate, but I am looking for a more recent critique. I’ll announce in my blog pages when I update this page. Over to Tom!

So by 2013, Germany will have committed to spending €77 billion (that’s over $113 billion USD) for solar capacity equivalent to less than 2% of their 2006 electrical demand.

Now let’s look at the cost of nuclear power plants. Setting aside the legalistic and political quagmire that characterizes the nuclear power industry in America, we can look at the cost of the Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs) that were built in Japan in the late 90’s at a cost of about $1.4 billion/GW, and the 
Chinese’ recent estimates for the final cost of their first two AP-1000s
($1.76 billion/GW), and come to the reasonable conclusion that Germany could build Gen III+ reactors for $2 billion/GW, especially modular units in the dozens.

At the moment, Germany’s Gen II nuclear plants have strong capacity factors, including probably the best one in the world with about a 94% CF. So let’s assume that Germany’s brand new Gen III plants could average a 90% CF. For $112 billion, they could build 56GW of new nuclear capacity, for an effective capacity at a 90% CF of about 48GW. Those plants would thus produce about 421,000 GWh annually, which is approximately 68% of Germany’s electrical needs in 2006 (I keep using 2006 figures to be consistent here because that’s the latest IEA data I can find for Germany’s energy stats). Compare that with the <2% expected from solar, and of course unlike solar, nuclear runs 24/7. Now figure in the expected lifespan of the systems: Nuclear: about 60 years. Solar PV: 20-30 years. Being generous and saying 30, that means you’ll get twice as much as the already astounding 34 times the energy that nuclear will produce compared to the same solar investment.

So Germany’s ill-considered (and, amazingly, continuing) national experiment with solar power is costing them roughly 70 times (in costs/kWh) what it would have cost them to build top-notch nuclear power plants, disregarding the intermittency problem with solar, which is no small matter. In other words, Germany could have gone France one better and gone 100% nuclear and saved a ton of Euros in the process. Instead, we have the example of environmental ideology run amok, with very real and seriously negative economic and environmental ramifications.

While I suspect that solar advocates might quibble with some of my figures above, perhaps pointing out that Germany might install even more solar panels by 2013 than I project here, but really there’s simply no comparison no matter how you massage the numbers. The statistics are there in plain sight.

So what will happen in Copenhagen come December? If the result of that conference is some cap-and-trade shell game along with solemn (and ultimately ignored) promises to cut down on CO2 emissions based on fantasies of wind and solar power, the end result will be as ineffectual as the previous conferences have been.

The people on this planet will not be satisfied with an energy-starved and desperately thirsty world. Before they settle for that they’ll yank every bit of coal and oil out of the ground and toss it on our unfortunately common (funeral?) pyre, solemn promises to the contrary be damned. Delusions about wind and solar coming to the rescue are ludicrous, especially in the face of the demographic landslide in which we find ourselves until at least mid-century.

There is only one source of energy currently available that can possibly provide an energy-rich yet environmentally benign future, including supplying the massive amounts of energy that will be required to desalinate water for literally billions of people. I fully realize that pro-nuclear people at Copenhagen will probably be about as popular as a porcupine in a condom factory, but unless these harsh realities—and their politically incorrect solution—are brought to the fore, just what effect is Copenhagen going to have? What we should be talking about there is how to ramp up nuclear power while putting in place an international regime to forestall nuclear weapons proliferation in the process.

Why do I have the sinking feeling that isn’t going to happen?