Australian Solar Power Plants – Two More Failed Experiments To Add To The Growing List

Posted on Tue 08/20/2013 by


Artist's Impression Of The Mugga Lane Solar Park In the Australian Capital Territory - Image Credit - Zhenfa Solar

Artist’s Impression Of The Mugga Lane Solar Park In the Australian Capital Territory – Image Credit – Zhenfa Solar

Let me show you how bovine waste can be dressed up to look like award winning fare from a Michelin Hatted restaurant.

On Monday, in Australia, the Government of The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) announced two new Solar Plants would go ahead.

Both plants are of the Solar PV type, meaning that the panels generate their power while the Sun shines on them, similar in nature to those rooftop solar panels, only this on an Industrial sized scale.

The media release for the two projects was announced here at the ABC News site, and in what is typical for proposals like this, the usual misleading information was part of that media release, like the plants will supply X number of homes, will save X million tons of emitted CO2, and will only cost the average household consumer a tiny amount of money, and a little later in this Post, I’ll explain just why these wonderful sounding statements are in fact misleading.

The proposals for these two new plants were performed in a novel way. The sites were auctioned.

You may wonder how they do this.

It was done by having a set amount per MegaWattHour (MWH) that the plant could generate its electricity for, and whoever could do that for the lowest price won the bid, and don’t you just love how supposedly important infrastructure is given to the lowest bidder.

The first plant was sold to the Company that bid the lowest price, the Chinese Company Zhenfa Solar, which bid $178 per MWH, and the second was for the bidder who said they could do it for $186 per MWH, an Australian Company, Elementus. What is worth noting here is that currently operating large scale coal fired power plants can generate their electricity for around $30 per MWH, and still make a good profit from doing that, so straight away, these plants generate their electricity at 6 times the cost of coal fired power.

Also worth noting is the size (the total Nameplate Capacity) of these plants. The Chinese plant is for 13MW, and the second is for 7MW, and compare that to a typical large scale coal fired plant with a Nameplate Capacity of 2000MW+, so these plants are actually not only tiny, but almost insignificant, and I will also show you that a little later as well.

So then, how could a solar plant bid such a low price for the electricity that it generates?

Power plants of this nature have a pretty much set in stone construction cost, and the running costs over the life of the plant are also relatively standard as well. The electricity that they generate is charged at a price per unit, that cost per MWH, and how they achieve this is by working out that the plant can generate X number of MWH per year, multiply that by the life of the plant and then divide that cost by the total power that it generates. So, it stands to reason that if they say they can generate a higher amount of power for consumption, then that effectively lowers the cost per MWH for the power that is generated.

Now, to actually find that total power the plant can generate each year is not an easy thing, and here’s where that first of those misleading things I mentioned above comes into play, so that if questioned, the proposers can always say that they were in fact up front about that, and quoted it in the original proposal.

This trick is the quoted “X number of homes supplied with the power” being generated by the plant. Now, when you really think about it, how can a plant that only generates power while the Sun is actually shining claim that it can supply X number of homes when those homes use their power for 24 hours of every day, and in fact, use most of their daily power after the Sun has set.

That is the trick that is used here.

They know the average consumption for homes in that area, and they just divide the total power the plant generates by that average per home consumption, and this gives them their X number of homes. So now, the plant can say that they indicated the total yearly power generation right at the proposal stage.

So, to make a low bid price for the plant, then they just say that their plant will generate a little more power.

Again, something like this is also pretty much set in stone, but just increasing it a little results in a much larger total over the life of the plant, and because of that, they can bid that lower price.

That total power they can generate is set by the Capacity Factor (CF) of the plant, and that is the total power they generate divided by the total Nameplate Capacity if the plant were to operate at 100%.

Something like this is a theoretical total, and is usually at or around the 17% mark. However, in actual operation, plants of this nature regularly struggle to make even 15% Capacity Factor, and some of them are even much lower than this.

So, keeping in mind that X number of homes trick, locating actual data for power generated is sometimes difficult to obtain, but that data is shown at this link.

The first plant, the Chinese one, will generate 24,956MWH per year, which gives this plant a CF of 21.9%, which is well above the average theoretical total of 17% and way, way over the actual current operation average of 15%

The second plant will deliver 11,900MWH, which gives this plant a CF of 19.4%, also well above both averages.

Both links also quote the misleading figure of the cost per household for this electricity, quoted at 45 cents per household. So, then comparing this with the X number of homes supplied with electricity, and then using the two quoted costs per MWH for generation, then this effectively means both plants will be delivering only 2.5KWH of electricity ….. PER WEEK to those X number of homes. So, from this you then see that the solar plants just deliver their electricity to the surrounding grids and when you take into account that the Residential sector only consumes 20% of all power being generated, then the amount of power actually delivered by both these solar plants is not only tiny, but in fact, totally insignificant.

Now, while Solar PV plants will be generating some electricity while ever the Sun shines on them, that Capacity Factor I mentioned is something that should be noted here. Compare this form of generation, some small amounts of power spread across daylight to the traditional forms of power generation, where the generator delivers its total power while ever it is running. The Chinese plant with its capacity of 21.9% equates to maximum rated power for only 5.25 hours a day, and as this is probably an inflated theoretical total, then the real operational average of 15% equates to barely 3.6 hours a day. The second plant at 19.4% equates to 4.6 hours a day, and also an operational total of 3.6 hours.

Either way, even at the best case theoretical total of just more than 5 hours is not very much power on a time basis.

Could we actually calculate how much power in percentage terms these plants will be delivering? Yes, this is something that can in fact be done, and that calculation is based around that 45 cents per household total.

That comes in at 2.5KWH per week. The average power consumed by a residential household is 22.8KWH per day. (and here I am using the figures quoted for the Chinese plant) So that equates to 160KWH per week. The Residential  Sector consumes 20% of all power being consumed, so a weekly total power consumption comes in at 800KWH per week, so 2.5KWH compared to 800KWH means that these two Solar Plants will be generating 0.31% of the power consumed in the ACT, and that is using their inflated figures, because at the current operational average that figure now comes in at 0.22% of the total power being consumed in the ACT, not even a quarter of 1%.

To further emphasise just how insignificant this power is, add the two yearly totals for power actually being generated by these 2 plants, and that figure comes in at 39.58GWH for a whole YEAR.

The large coal fired power plant at Bayswater also supplies power into the same grid supplying the ACT.

Bayswater, with all its 4 units in operation delivers this same amount of power to all consumers in the ACT in ….. 15 HOURS.

Using that same misleading information that these plants can supply X number of homes, the first plant, the Chinese one, says that they can supply 3000 homes in the ACT. If we were to apply that same statement to the large scale coal fired plant at Bayswater, then that plant can supply more than 2 Million homes with electricity.

Now, here’s where that other piece of misleading information comes into play, on how much in the way of CO2 emissions these plants save. They base this around the power being generated per year, and equate this to that while these solar plants are now generating this power, then that means that because of this, then power from those coal fired plants is now not needed. The thinking here is that these coal fired plants then do not need to operate to deliver the power that the solar plants are now delivering.

The thinking that a large scale coal fired plant would turn off its operation for 15 hours only is laughable. These plants are designed to operate at their maximum efficiency and that is achieved with them running flat out. It takes many hours to run the plant up from cold to a stage where it is ready to deliver its power, and the same applies when running down as well, so to just say that the plant will not be operational for 15 hours is a misleading statement at best.

Here we have a media release that makes these new solar plants out to be something that is actually a good thing, and yet, once the whole truth is seen, it becomes obvious that this is an expensive experiment at best that in fact achieves very little, if anything at all.

There’s more that could be said about how cleverly worded these two media articles are, but just these points I have mentioned here are enough to show conclusively that this form of power generation is something that will NEVER replace traditional methods of power generation. I could point to the huge cost of these 2 plants, considering the tiny amount of power that is being generated, the fact that they have such a short lifespan, and that power delivery drops substantially after 7 to 10 years, but that would probably double the length of this Post, and by far the most important points are the tiny amounts of power that will be delivered, and the way that the truth is disguised so the average reader will not get the true picture.

The only way they can sell these boutique plants is to try and hide the real truth about them in cleverly worded statements like these both are.

Solar Power just like Wind Power, is an expensive failure that can never be made to deliver power on the scale required to do what it claims, to become a replacement for coal fired power.