Thursday, March 15, 2012

Germany's Solar Failure is a Big Lesson for Hawaii

Bjørn Lomborg recently exposed Germany’s Sunshine Daydream. It's the same daydream that Governor Abercrombie, PUC Chair Mina Morita and the local pseudo-greens have put in motion for Hawaii.

Like Germany, our results will be pathetic and the costs will be very high. Here are some highlights of Germany's failed solar initiative:
  • Despite the massive investment of $130 Billion, solar power accounts for only about 0.3% of Germany’s total energy.
  • Germany is paying about $1,000 per ton of CO2 reduced. The current CO2 price in Europe is $8.
  • Defenders of Germany’s solar subsidies also claim that they have helped to create “green jobs”. In China where the panels are made.
  • German citizens now pay the second-highest price for electricity in the developed world.
  • Denmark citizens now pay the highest price for electricity because they are the “world wind-energy champion.”
Hawaii's energy plan is focused on solar and wind, so we clearly know what the energy supply and cost future will be for Hawaii.

Hawaii citizens pay the same rate as Germany now, three (3) times the US average and if the current plan continues, Hawaii's price for electricity will be five (5) times higher that mainland US.

However, this may be the least of Hawaii's problem. Since wind and solar are intermittent, we will need to maintain archaic, oil burning generators for ever. In contrast, Denmark import electricity from the hydroelectric plants of Scandinavia when wind dies down and Germany imports electricity from France's nuclear power plants. Hawaii has no such options so the outcome will be brown outs and explosive KWh cost. A true lose-lose plan is now in the works.

If you doubt me, just read this: Keahole Solar Power, HECO sign power-purchase agreement and compare it with this (same company): Solar Power Plant on Oahu Does not Pass Muster.

If you thought that Hawaii has perfectly sunny conditions for solar, you'd be wrong. It has good conditions but far from perfect due to frequent cloudiness. Compare the Nevada desert clean solar pattern with Keahole Point on Oahu cloudy profile.

Let's not forget that at best we get 8 to 10 hours of solar power per day, so with solar we need oil 60% to 70% of the time on a clear sunny day. For this reason, solar energy has a capacity factor of 25%. This means that a 100 MW solar photovoltaic plant is equivalent to a 25 MW oil or hydroelectric plant. A similar "capacity factor" applies to wind.

Solar thermal like the Keahole Solar Power that HECO agreed to buy energy from (and PUC is likely to rubber stamp) is defunct technology abandoned in Spain and by Google. (There is also a HECO-Sopogy link: HECO's past CEO is now a Sopogy board member.)

Google cans solar energy project

Even when you have all the money of Google, you should spend it wisely. The search giant, which invests heavily in renewable energy initiatives, backed off of at least one of them yesterday.

Google said it is dropping development of “solar thermal” electricity because solar thermal cannot keep pace with the rapid price decline of another solar technology – photovoltaics.

On November 29, 2011, I sent the article about Google's decision to PUC chair Mina Morita, Governor and State Legislature. Apparently, unlike Google, they did not care to spend money wisely.

HECO is in a position of technological and cost-effectiveness indifference caused by mandates. It agreed to a power purchase at 33.5 cents per KWh from hyper-expensive and under-performing Sopogy technology. Note that's 33.5 cents at the production site. It will reach residences at over 50 cents per KWh, or five times US mainland average. So the exorbitant pricing future I was talking about before... is here already!

PUC chair Mina Morita, Governor and State Legislature received this article on March 16, 2012.
March 19 Addendum. Hawaii's current renewables plan relies heavily on wind power, which I oppose when applied in large numbers as expensive, unreliable and intrusive. The following passage's from Washington Post's United Technologies to sell wind businesses article are relevant:
  • Chief Financial Officer Greg Hayes that selling Clipper was not a difficult decision because the alternative energy business has stalled. “We’ve gone into this business with the thought that there was going be a renewable energy mandate in this country and there has not been one.”
  • Alternative energy has stagnated with booming natural gas exploration. The nation’s supplies are bulging and natural gas is cheap. By comparison wind power is less economical than many thought it would be two years ago, he said.