Hillary and Julia’s Big Solar Adventure

Posted on Wed 11/10/2010 by



That may seem a little facetious, but in effect, it is what they are both proposing.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently had a short 4 day visit to Australia.

Everybody in creation was falling over each other to be seen with her, most especially former Prime Minister, and now Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

Clinton appeared at numerous gatherings including a special ‘Town Hall’ event organised by the Australian National broadcaster, ABCTV, shown at this link, and this link also has further links shown under the small image of her at mid screen. This event was broadcast on the Sunday afternoon, and Clinton answered a variety of questions from audience members on many subjects.

One of the special announcements she made was with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and directly concerned renewable power, in this case Solar Power, and I would specifically like to comment on that.

The ABC media article on that piece is at this link, and a further article is at this link.

What this effectively indicates is that neither of these two has any knowledge at all on exactly how solar power produces its power. That’s understandable. They know politics. They are clueless when it comes to this type of thing, and in a way, that’s also understandable. However, surely they must have advisers who could at least give them some idea of what they are talking about, and that way, they would not have to spread the misinformation they do, which is then adoringly lapped up by the media as being the verbatim truth, and then passed onto a public who believe that because these two powerful people said it, then it must be true.

The one phrase that was said by the both of them, and was then repeated at both articles was this:

“We have a common goal of making solar energy competitive with conventional sources by the middle of this decade, 2015,” Clinton added.

Gee! I’d like to see that.

What they may have been alluding to is the overall costs of Solar power. This currently runs at 5 to 7 times (and that’s a conservative estimate) more costly than virtually any other form of producing electrical power.

Now, there is no way known to man that they can ever get the costs down to competitive with other forms of producing power. It will always be vastly more expensive than any other method.

However, the thrust of this article was about photovoltaic panels.

There are two methods of producing power from Solar methods.

They are Concentrating Solar, referred to as Solar Thermal, and Solar Photovoltaic Power, which is Solar PV.

That photovoltaic method uses specially constructed panels. Each panel has hundreds of tiny cells in it, similar to ones you may remember from those small solar powered calculators that were around in the 80’s. Each tiny cell is connected by wiring internally and the panel is made up of hundreds, and in some cases thousands of these tiny cells. Hundreds of these panels are then joined together to generate large amounts of power. Here, by large I mean around 15 to 30 MegaWatts, (MW) and keep in mind a large coal fired power plant can produce 2,000MW from its two generators. Some Solar PV plants are larger, and there are some planned to possibly produce a Nameplate Capacity of over 100MW, but the average is around that 15 to 35MW Nameplate Capacity.

As an example lets look at a large scale Solar PV plant in the U.S. the one at Nellis AFB in Nevada. This plant covers 140 acres and has 70,000 of these panels, with 11 panels attached to one tower, called a heliostat, which tracks the movement of the Sun across the sky.

Let’s not even consider the cost here, because after all, these two fine women both said they want to make the cost competitive with current conventional methods of generating power, code here for meaning coal fired power plants.

Okay then, compare the power they both produce. 14MW and 2,000MW.

Imagine the size of the solar plant if there was to be parity of power generation.

Consider how much the technology will need to advance for each of those tiny cells to produce a greater amount of power, and how many of those cells are in the complex panel. How are they going to get that cost down to even approach parity.

I don’t care. The way technology is advancing, they may actually be able to do that. Well, no, they won’t, but I’m a believer. After all, these two fine women know better than I do about this.

However, the principle is that they can only produce power while ever the Sun is shining on those panels.

Currently, the most efficient Solar PV plants can provide their maximum rated power on average for 3 to 5 hours a day, and forget about it in places above and below certain parallels on Planet Earth for all the non Summer months.

True, they might supply smaller amounts of power during the whole period of daylight, but projected over the full day, that maximum amount is extrapolated out to around three to five hours at the best. Also, as soon as a small cloud flits across the face of the Sun, these panels lose two thirds of their power, and then take a long time to get back up to full power after the cloud passes. The panels must also be cleaned, and here I mean polished pristine every day, because the tiniest film on those panels has the same effect as a cloud. Compare that variability to a conventional coal fired plant that hums along all day producing its maximum power all the time, rain hail or shine.

However, all these things are minor, and I’m sure they will be overcome. Well no, they won’t.

The biggest factor here is that these panels only produce their power…..WHILE THE SUN IS SHINING.

So, unless these two fine politicians can find a way to pass Legislation to make the Sun shine over these plants for the full 24 hours of every day, they will NEVER be competitive with any form of generating electrical power.

A coal fired power plant lumbers on 24/7/365 at 3600RPM (3000RPM in Australia) producing its huge amounts of electrical power for that full 24 hours.

These Solar PV plants may become economically competitive with conventional methods. Well no, they won’t, but until that Legislation to make the Sun shine gets passed by any Government, then these plants will never ever be competitive.

They will be boutique plants providing small amounts of variable electrical power, when grids require exact amounts of power to be there all the time. The power produced by these boutique plants will never be large scale, and will never be relied upon when it comes time to calculate how much power is required by the grid and for how long.

It was great photo op ladies, especially for Julia, but next time, get your people to tell you the real fact about what it is you are saying.