More Nations Warming To Solar Power

Posted: October 12, 2012 at 2:55 a.m.

Is solar power ready? Kevin Canfield (Sept. 2) says no — but solar photovoltaic electricity is already an important part of the energy mix in countries such as Germany, where it now supplies 5.3 percent of electric consumption. Photovotaics’ global capacity totals more than 69 gigawatts.

This story is only available from our archives.

Opinion, Pages 5 on 10/12/2012


Great article on solar power. I lived in Germany for a long time and have seen how widespread solar and wind energy is there. The tough part is the money thing. It has been and will continue to be a fight in Congress and we all know it. We need to get the right people investing in this area with so much potential for the environment.



Posted by: Tankersley101

October 12, 2012 at 7:52 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Thanks, Tank.
I think the big issue right now is for Congress to get the windpower credit extended.

Posted by: Coralie

October 12, 2012 at 2:14 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

It's a vicious circle with the carbon fuel people. They rake in billions per month and spend a fraction to buy up enough Congress to keep their subsidies flowing.

Eventually, we'll use solar and other alternatives out of sheer necessity. But would like to think the human race could rise above these manipulations by carbon fuel people.

Posted by: cdawg

October 12, 2012 at 2:27 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Another advantage of wind and solar generation is that it makes our electrical power grid less dependent on a limited number of power sources (each a major piece of infrastructure), reduces long-distance transmission, and diffuses distribution into a larger part of the grid. All of these make the electrical grid less subject to blackout through mishap or attack; in other words, wind and solar energy have strategic benefits.

As electrical generation at the residential scale becomes more practical, generation can replace demand on the grid at peak times with power provided at the point of demand. This will further reduce the need for "peakers" and add useful life to existing electrical infrastructure. Further impetus for residential-scale generation will result as more states adopt laws that require power companies to pay users for excess power put into the grid. Arkansas is not yet among them.

Posted by: AlphaCat

October 12, 2012 at 3:37 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

The government is not a business, but a policical waste of taxpayer dollars. For solar or wind to become practical for private investment of dollars and research it must be killowatts per dollar, otherwise it is going to be political subsidies to finance unprofitable ventures. I perfer nuclear power generation.

Posted by: JailBird

October 12, 2012 at 6:09 p.m. ( | suggest removal )


Some big money folks like Golman Sachs seem to see room for profits in clean energy like solar power.

"At Goldman Sachs, we believe that capital markets can and should play an important role in creating opportunities to address today’s environmental challenges. The firm has set a $40 billion target for financing and investing in clean technology companies over the next decade."

I'm not oppossed to nuclear either, as long as we guard it and properly maintain it. However, the good thing about solar power is people can easily create their own.

Posted by: Tankersley101

October 13, 2012 at 7:10 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Germany is in the midst of building 19 coal-fired power plants. I guess the Germans don't really believe that wind and solar are the holy grail that some of you think they are.

Posted by: realism101

October 14, 2012 at 6:36 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Alphacat, the current placement of solar cells is in deserts, where they are most efficient. I guess that shoots your "long-distance transmission" statement. Local solar generation (i.e. solar arrays on every house) will only work in certain locales, and will not work until the little problem of storage is worked out. Solar has that problem that it needs sun to work.

Posted by: realism101

October 14, 2012 at 6:45 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Considering the fact that I lived in Germany for 7 1/2 years, I respectfully disagree with you, realism101. The Germans have more solar panels on private homes and businesses than anywhere else in the world and one can't drive hardly anywhere without seeing windmills. Of coarse, I know this from real world experience, not Wikipedia or Google.


Posted by: Tankersley101

October 14, 2012 at 6:46 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Tank, you disagree with what? That they are in the midst of building 19 coal-fired power plants? You do realize that Google leads you to actual newspaper articles and that those articles indicate that Germany is building a bunch of coal-fired power plants? So, if wind and solar were the answer, why would they be building so much coal into the system?

By the way, according to your logic, people should just stop reading? Because only real-world experience has value? Wow.

Posted by: realism101

October 14, 2012 at 7:49 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

By the way, Tank, Goldman investing $4 billion per year in anything is akin to taking a leak in the ocean. It is peanuts when you consider how large Goldman is. Some economists call this $4 billion a "charm offensive", instead of a new initiative. In case you hadn't noticed, Wall Street's reputation has taken a hit over the last couple of years. This is one of Goldman's ways of trying to improve it, not a serious investment plan.

Posted by: realism101

October 14, 2012 at 8:27 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

OK I looked it up. Germany is building 23 new coal fired plants. Peter Altmaier, the energy minister, said this was necessary because wind and solar has turned out to be unaffordably expensive and unreliable. German figures were released on actual producitivity of green energy 16.3%. Problem is green production doesn't care about peak demand times.

Posted by: JailBird

October 14, 2012 at 12:26 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Moneymyst says " Problem is green production doesn't care about peak demand times.."
But my article mentioned "peakers" which are already being replaced by PV in some cases.

Posted by: Coralie

October 14, 2012 at 2:29 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Do you have a source for the Altmaier quote?
Here's what I'm finding:
"Although Altmaier promised to stick to the target of getting 80 percent of Germany's energy from renewable sources by 2050, opposition politicians and some states have accused the minister of putting a “brake” on the government’s ambitious plan."
"Peter Altmaier also raised Germany's green targets, saying he wanted renewables to account for 40 percent of total power production in Germany by 2020, up from 25 percent now and an original target of 35 percent."

Posted by: Coralie

October 14, 2012 at 2:41 p.m. ( | suggest removal )


RE "the current placement of solar cells is in deserts, where they are most efficient."
First, note that my post refers to both solar and wind generation. However: as photovoltaics become more efficient, they are useful over a far greater area of the country than they once were, particularly at the residential and commercial scales. (It is certainly arguable that less of the country's area is suitable for industrial- and municipal-scale photovoltaic plants-- but more of it than you think is suitable.) Here's a page with links to yearly and monthly average efficiency maps:

RE " I guess that shoots your 'long-distance transmission' statement."
Not at all. Again, note that I referred to solar and wind generation. I didn't say that wind and solar would eliminate long-distance transmission. Any generation at the point of use reduces transmission. And as photovoltaics are less dangerous and obnoxious than coal-fired or nuclear plants, it is possible to place them in desert areas closer to population centers, reducing long-distance transmission. It also is possible to put wind generation centers in locations where coal-fired plants are not suitable or acceptable. Here's a page with links to average yearly wind speed maps:

Note that, between the most efficient wind area and the most efficient solar area, about half of the area of the continental U.S. is most efficient for wind and solar generation.

RE "Local solar generation (i.e. solar arrays on every house) will only work in certain locales"
So nothing should be done to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for generating electricity? However: residential-scale photovoltaics are viable throughout most of the country, and are most effective at times of peak electrical demand (hot summer afternoons)-- doing away with the need for facilities for peak generation.

RE "and will not work until the little problem of storage is worked out."
Storage would be nice, but it isn't necessary. Nobody is suggesting that the electrical grid be replaced by wind and solar generation; all can work together. Once all utilities are required to reimburse (or credit) consumers for excess power sent back into the grid, the incentive to produce and overproduce electricity will speed the adoption of solar and wind generation.

RE "Solar has that problem that it needs sun to work."
Again, note that I referred to solar and wind generation. Also note that modern solar panels are able to generate useful power on cloudy days. Photovoltaics convert any light-- not just direct sunlight-- into electricity. Some of the loss of efficiency from decreased light input is made up for by higher generating efficiency at lower temperatures.

Posted by: AlphaCat

October 14, 2012 at 3:18 p.m. ( | suggest removal ) and in the search bar type in Germany.

Posted by: JailBird

October 14, 2012 at 5:04 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

The models you link to are interesting, but according to one source, the solar energy required to make PV a reasonable solution is 6 kWh/sq.meter. As you look through the monthly models, you find that for much of the year, much of the country doesn't even get to 5 kWh/sq.meters.

You also talk about "as efficiency of PV increases" as though it is a technology in its infancy. The first solid state PV cell was created in the 1880's, so in 130 years, we have gotten all the way to 22-25% efficiency.

Wind has its own set of problems. First of all is efficiency. The turbines don't work when there is no wind, and they also are shut down when there is too much wind. Each turbine has a peak efficiency at a given wind velocity for that turbine. Anything above or below that, and the efficiency drops.

A large study done on a large set of turbines in Scotland found that operating efficiency is actually about 22%. That means that for a desired about of electricity, you need to install 5 times the number of turbines to make up for the inefficiency.

Finally, you're assuming that it's easy and efficient to just start up, shut down and vary the output of current fossil fuel plants. It's not. Not only does it make the plants less efficient, but it also makes them less safe because it damages the boiler tubes.

So, for all of those periods of time the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, but I still need my refrigerator, air conditioner and computer to run, I'll take good old steady, stable coal and natural gas.

Posted by: realism101

October 14, 2012 at 5:37 p.m. ( | suggest removal )


RE "You also talk about 'as efficiency of PV increases' as though it is a technology in its infancy."
Actually I'm talking about fiscal efficiency rather than energy-conversion efficiency. The cost of PV keeps dropping as the scale of manufacture and integration increases. (Solar water heating is a lot more efficient than it used to be, by the way.)

RE "So, for all of those periods of time the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow"
Interestingly, the times that the sun doesn't shine are, for the most part, times of reduced usage.

RE "Finally, you're assuming that it's easy and efficient to just start up, shut down and vary the output of current fossil fuel plants."
Not necessarily. Power plants currently vary their output. Once available alternative sources are factored in, varying power output is no more inefficient or damaging than it is now.

RE "I'll take good old steady, stable coal and natural gas."
As I said, nobody is suggesting that wind and solar completely replace other types of generation.

Posted by: AlphaCat

October 14, 2012 at 7:20 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Great article, Coralie..!!! I think green energy sources win hands down..!!!
I keep hearing the argument that the wind and sun are not a continuous in their supply of energy... So, what happens when we RUN OUT OF coal and oil..??? AND we have not developed these environmentally friendly sources... WHAT then..???

Posted by: aimee

October 15, 2012 at 12:18 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

From my reading, the average coal powered plant has an efficiency of about 31% BUT this does not include the energy trajectory--the energy cost of mining the coal, preparing it, or transportng it to the factory to make electricity.
ALSO there are the extra costs:
"coal seemed cheap, until environmentalists, state utility regulators, and some economists began to argue that the market price of coal does not reflect a wide range of "external" costs that society, or some segment of society, will eventually pay....
The cost of preparation and shipment will more than double the internalized cost of the coal, to about $46, by the time it reaches its customers....
Coal causes about half the nation's acid rain....
Robin Walther, a senior economist at Southern California Edison, calculates that if the state utilities commission's highest external-cost estimates were added in, coal would cost seventeen or eighteen cents per kilowatt-hour rather than around 1.8 cents."

Posted by: Coralie

October 15, 2012 at 3:54 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

You and I will not be alive to live through that, Aimee. Drill and mine with new vigor and build Nukes to power the world!!! I'm excited and I just said I wouldn't be here. Gotta leave, they are coming with my pills.

Posted by: JailBird

October 15, 2012 at 4:27 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

My buddy's hunting cabin here in NWA is solar powered. It was much more cost effective ($1000 investment) than running electrical or gas lines. It is a small scale system so it doesn't have AC or refrigeration, but it's got lights, a radio, and a phone.

Posted by: TheHunter

October 16, 2012 at 8:16 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Oil is already peaking or peaked. That is why producers are moving to expensive, dangerous and polluting ways of recovering it such as deep-sea drilling and fracturing limestone shale.
You saw what BP did to the Gulf.
The dirty oil coming from Canada for export to Asia through the Keystone pipeline uses up or pollutes tremendous quantities of clean water and destroys many square miles of pristine wilderness.
Moneymyst, you're living in a dream world.

Posted by: Coralie

October 16, 2012 at 3:42 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Some people feel pretty strongly about Keystone, including people in Texas.
Your mainstream media probably isn't covering this:

Posted by: Coralie

October 16, 2012 at 4:10 p.m. ( | suggest removal )