High Penetration Solar Deployment

We’ve had a lot of discussion here of the difficulties of integrating solar PV (and wind) into an electricity network. Even leaving aside some obstinate reiteration of the baseload demand fallacy, I think it’s fair to say that most of us are arguing on the basis of very little information

Here’s a link to a US government agency studying High Penetration Solar Deployment. No results as yet that I can see, but this should prove interesting.

99 thoughts on “High Penetration Solar Deployment

  1. So, BilB – you propose to implement the “not putting all of your eggs in one basket” by having everything go solar – oops and maybe a little wind.

  2. @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    No, I do not deliberately or actually distort your point. I’ll spell out why. Your proposition is an example of economic rationalism from an individual’s point of view because you assume that an individual, like a corporation, is interested only in mimimising monetary costs. By contrast, in economics concerned with non-dictatorial resource allocation, it is assumed that individuals make decisions according to their preferences, subject to a monetary budget constraint. The outcomes are not identical, even if we would have complete markets, which we don’t.

    “People fly on airplanes and drive in cars in spite of the risks.” But they don’t have to take on the risk. Moreover, the word risk is an ambrella term, which may be sufficient for compartive transport studies. But what about genetic mutation due to environmental pollution? It is also a risk but not really the same as that from transportation.

    “Given the choice of a nuclear power station down the road from my place, and cheap electricity, or a solar powered grid and the corresponding expensive electricity, I would personally opt for the former. ”

    This is one of these treaded talking point sentences. What is ‘cheap’ and what is ‘expensive’? If I would be the only person in a sufficiently large country and close to 90 years and my monetary budget would be close to zero then I would act just like you say (except that nobody would build a nuclear power station for me and I wouldn’t be able to do it).

    As it stands, I am benefitting from lower electricity consumption due to solar hot water and, if I grow to 90 then I expect to keep on benefitting from the technological developments in the renewable energy sector. See study referenced by Fran Barlow.

  3. Terje, I am not sure you are interested in this technicality, but I mention it, just in case: The dual of profit maximisation (cost minimisation) is easier to establish theoretically then the dual for utility maximisation (expenditure minimisation) because in the latter one needs to make a very strong assumption about preferences. Furthermore, it doesn’t work when markets are incomplete. Its not your fault, people seem to have given you very old texts.

  4. @BilB

    There are several issues bundled up here that need unpacking.

    Do we nobble our energy future by tethering it to a complex infrastructure and fuel cycle, or do we set it free by using the one eternal energy source that is delivered to every part of our planet as well as our near space.

    Our “energy future” (like all the other things urban society does, is going to be “a complex infrastructure” whatever choices we make. Having a system that load balances the output of millions of rooftops, waste biomass, solar thermal plants, gas plants, coal, hydro, geothermal, tidal, wave by resorting to thermal salt batteries, V2G, demand management and more is not non-complex in system terms.

    or do we set it free by using the one eternal energy source that is delivered to every part of our planet as well as our near space.

    Its alive! Ah … metaphor. I love it. You can have an energy system like a poor tethered animal or one that is set free to wander the plains and realise the dream and enjoy the sunshine. This is not analysis but poetry.

    As has been repeatedly pointed out, the fact that sunshine is delivered free doesn’t make it free to collect or store, and as Trieb notes in that paper I sent you a link to, adequate insolation is not even universal.

    do we leave our energy production in the hands of a profit taking monolithic corporation, or do we take charge of our own energy destiny.

    Poetry morphs into cultural rhetoric. If solar thermal, geothermal, tidal, wave or wind and the systems needed to store and deliver their output turn out to be technically, economically and operationally feasible at industrial scale, the capital involved will utterly dwarf that required for nuclear. At best, lots of monolithic corporations seeking profit will have to run them, or the state will. If you have power from millions of rooftops, then some monolithic corporation or the state will have to buy and reconcile all that output. It’s astonishing you don’t see that.

    Nuclear means a bunch of highly trained technicians controlling an ultracritical physical process to manufacture electricity, leaving us chained to the corporate structure for everything that aids our existence.

    So the energy system is “tethered” and we are “chained”? Again, putting aside the populist rhetoric, this is really an appeal against large scale society in favour of something like the autonomy that comes with being a subsistence dweller. You are a lot more like Terje thhan you know. What bonds us humans is the benefit we get from collaborating. We live better precisely because our existence is aided by a “corporate” structure (i.e one that makes a heterogeneous set of humans and their interests and talents into a single body —a corpus — from which the word corporation derives. Unless we can trade in the things we are good at or which we need or give us pleasure, each of us is constrained by what we personally can acquire or learn. Complex society allows us to benefit from each other.

    Solar means independently collect and convert energy when and where we need it …

    This could be Thatcher talking. A nation of shopkeepers. Again you and Terje are a lot closer than you allow.

    And this is not what Franz Trieb’s CSP entails. He favours massive systems with massive capital, which is what makes his system at least plausible. He wants economies of scale in which growth in investment lowers the cost. It sounds astonishingly optimistic, but whether it is or isn’t, it’s not small scale and if it were a public company (or several or a state business), we would very much be tied into a corporate structure.

    The corporate world sees the opportunity to lock up the worlds supply of traditional electricity as well as a substantial amount of transport energy with supply from a process that requires an investment level that limits the number of players to a comfortably sized club.

    Ah … so now we have something called “the corporate world” existing in some room someplace with a plan based on “locking up” (possibly part of “tethering”, “chaining” — I assume they have shares in ropes, chains and key manufacturerers?) “traditional and a substantial amount of energy” so they can form a club. Gosh, if all they want is a club it sounds like a lot of effort. Ans why only “a substantial amount of transport energy?” Don’t they already have almostt all of it? Who but large corporations or states own oil harvest and refining?

    However if solar energy takes hold the club will become broken and command control of the worlds energy will be lost.

    Really, it’s like Astro Boy or Zorro isn’t it? It’s David and Goliath all over again. Little solar energy battling for you and me with a big sunny face. What a lovely warm inner glow! What a pity it is a fantasy. I was enjoying that.

    The cost of the energy is not the primary driver here, industry dominance is.

    So let me get this straight. They aren’t mainly interested in profit. They mainly want “dominance”. They are cliquey control freaks who want to tell us what to do and how toi live. That is worrying. I imagine them all sitting in a m obscure rooom under the Vatican or the Whitehouse exchanging whiskey and working out how to keep little solar from foiling their plans to decide what energy we will use today.

    Dominance or Autonomy, that is your choice

    We aren’t really talking about energy here are we? Come on BilB. This is a cultural claim. This is the subtext of The Tea Party without the loopy hatred of Obama and foreigners. Big corporations: bad. Little local people: good. Mass production: inauthentic, evil. Local production: authentic, virtuous.

    And here I was thinking this was about which suite of options would work best.

  5. Fran,

    Some of us can remember legislation that prevented the individual from generating their own electricity. That was a market dominance that concreted our dependence on coal. Had Howard been successful in forcing through an introduction for Nuclear power, government would have been integrally entwined with ensuring its success. From enabling legislation, financing, insuring, through to educational support, port facilities, fuel transport facilities, fuel processing, and waste management. The government would have been unavoidably involved. And there would have been a very great risk of the introduction of such anti-diversification legislation again. And of course the justification would simply be that it was about “saving the planet”. That is how industry dominance comes about, and works.

    Apart from wind energy infrastructure, a very small amount of solar photo voltaic, and some biomass generation capacity there is very little other energy change commitment underway in Australia today. Very little has changed under Rudd and the withdrawal of the ETS, especially the manner in which it came about, signals a “back to square one”status for energy change within Australia. Anything can happen from this point.

    “And here I was thinking this was about which suite of options would work best”…….please.

    Fran, your entire rhetoric is about the wonderfulness of “clean”, “safe”, “cheap”, “eternal”, “the only choice…everything else is an unnecessary distraction”, “I used to believe in renewables but now see how they just cannot work”, Nuclear energy. If people are thinking of your approach as being that of a nuclear industry toady, then you have well and truly earnt that mantle. Go back and read your own writings here and elsewhere for the last year or two.

  6. @BilB

    So let me get this straight. You offer no defence to the critique above? The best you can manage is that I am a “nuclear industry toady” and that some non-specified restraints oin generating one’s own energy “concreted our dependence on coal”.

    Really, this is laughable, but what I suspected all along. You are not really interested in energy systems for their utility but for their cultural significance.

  7. Recent progress in Solar PV is awesome. We now have Triple Junction Thin Film achieving 14.8% efficiency.

    Triple Junction Thin Film out performs silicon based cells.

    And some more news on US $1 per watt.

    This is all happening without a worldwide carbon price. Not looking good for coal or Nuclear.

  8. @Fran Barlow
    You keep giving the stock technocratic responses Fran Barlow – in this case energy (any problem) can be considered in isolation from its societal implications. or at best societal/cultural issues are secondary – next you’ll be coming up with accusations of NIMBY-ism and ‘other people don’t count all for the greater good’ sorts of rubbish.

    As with nuclear the technocratic model of govt (the machinery of state needs just a few more levers added for better control ie economy/society is adequately modeled as linear relations) has been superseded. Made sense at the time, nice try and all that, but time’s up, better ideas take over.

  9. BilB – you’re ignoring capacity factor. And I’m not claiming expert status.

    EG – my point wasn’t about corporate profit. Nor was it a pure monetary calculation. So I still feel that you are distorting my point.

    People accept the risk of gene mutation or they would not go out in the sun or watch TV. The question is not whether people accept risk but how much they accept and what will they forgo to avoid risk. Living with a nuclear power plant is an extremely low risk compared to the other risks in life that we contend with on a daily basis.

  10. Not forgetting capacity factor at all, Terje. The solar paces document covers that with with the SM1-4 configurations, SM4 being capacity output 8000 to 9000 hours per year (8760 being 100%). I suggest that you are entirely ignoring demand factors and capacity factor pairing.

    Sure people accept natural risks. We are talking about Unatural Risk with Nuclear contamination. Natural risk is bad enough but compounding that unnecessarily is a serious matter.

    You did attempt to claim the technological high ground in a comment, now you have to withdraw that or carry the ongoing responsibility.

  11. @gregh

    “NIMBY-ism” has already been tried by the hijackers of threads. I don’t remember the web-name though. The last time it was applied big-time was at the time when the public in Sydney went on the streets in protest against aircraft noise in the mid-1990s.

    My suggestion on another thread to tax this type of public relations activity was not entirely tongue-in-cheek. It is a total waste of resources.

  12. BilB – I’m not claiming high ground. Just keen to point out that I’m not a technological slacker.

    Driving a car entails unnatural risks. Flying in an aeroplane entails unnatural risks. Crossing a bridge entails unnatural risks. People accept unnatural risks all the time. The notion that nuclear is somehow of a different class of unnatural doesn’t hold up. There is a risk that a nuclear power station will melt down or leak and kill you or anybody else living within a given distance. It is extremely small but it is real. However banning buses makes more sense. The risk of being killed by a bus is much higher. It is less likely that we will all get hit by buses on the same day but that isn’t really relevant. The risk that each of us faces due to buses is still vastly higher than the risk each of us would face from a nuclear power plant in the neighbourhood.

  13. @TerjeP (say Taya)

    And look at those kids from Newington the other day. They were getting stuff from their lockers when the walkway on which they were standing collapsed. That was the chance they took, on the advice of adults.

    As it goes, nobody was killed but that was mere happenstance. Should they avoid walkways from now on? Should they demand all walkways have been accredited to a higher standard and seek documentation before putting weight on them or walking underneath them?

    Not feasible really. We take risks and hope others have done their jobs professionally. In this case, it seems they had not. When someone suffers as a result of negligence we sue. That’s how it works.

  14. @TerjeP (say Taya)

    “EG – my point wasn’t about corporate profit. Nor was it a pure monetary calculation. So I still feel that you are distorting my point. ”

    Maybe Fran Barlow has a point after all that you have a problem with the choice of words. More seriously, I can’t do anything about your feelings about my motivation. If you wish to resolve this, then I ask you to provide me with an economic reference which you have in mind and which contradicts what I said.

    “People accept the risk of gene mutation or they would not go out in the sun or watch TV. The question is not whether people accept risk but how much they accept and what will they forgo to avoid risk. Living with a nuclear power plant is an extremely low risk compared to the other risks in life that we contend with on a daily basis.”

    1. See BilB @36,p.2

    2. Instead of further clarification or refinement of the term ‘risk’ in context, you revert back to the ambrella term. Not helpful.

    3. Your preferences are your prerogative. Promoting them as if they were self-evident facts about everybody else is neither truthful nor helpful. I take as given the current legislation as reflecting the preferences of the public.

    4. I’d like to note the inconsistency of your policy regarding taxation. You object to taxation of cigarettes while being prepared to argue for contingent tax liability the size of which cannot be estimated with any degree of accuracy.

    To return to the topic of this thread. The 2008 paper by Trieb, linked by Fran Barlows, contains information on the relative suitability of various regions in the world for CSP. Not surprisingly for people with basic knowledge of geography, Australia is heavily endowed with suitable areas.

    I’d like to note that the first and only relevant reference the nuclear power hijackers of this thread have provided supports BilB’s posts, which refute the nuclear support hijacker’s position.

    No irony alert required here. This is the outcome. No need to rubb it in.

  15. Terje#38,

    Fair enough on the technology item.

    On risk


    Radioactive tritium, half life 12.3 years, leaking from 27 of 65 nuclear sites into ground water. This is the kind of outcome that we just do not need in Australia. And the denials by the plant owners are the type of bare faced dishonesty that makes claims of “safe industry” totally unbelieveable. Australia is the most solar rich continent on this planet, to ignore that resource and pore money into a technology that carries these sorts of dangerous probabilities would be a travesty of lntelligence.

    If solar panels where exuding radioactive chemicals then there would be a balanced risk. But they are not.

  16. I hesitate to go off topic here and bring solar into the discussion but has anyone here looked into the overhead of the grid? It seems to me that a big part of the appeal of roof top PV’s in the imaginations of many people is the idea of getting off the grid. Whilst this is only economical in areas without existing grid access at the moment I have encountered quite a few people who believe it’s both desirable and feasible to do so in the future. It seems to me to be a little ridiculous in the cities, but the electricity retailers in Victoria haven’t exactly endeared themselves to the public. We get door-knocked at least once a month by a representative of one or other retailer trying to get us to switch and I know plenty of people who have had long running disputes over billing. The other issue is the wastage of converting so much electricity in houses from AC to DC. This presents a technical challenge but if one imagines LED lights and smart switches to manage domestic power you could probably reduce household electricity by at least 50%.

  17. There is a lot coming along, Michael. It is better to wait for a while. Europe is getting under way with smart appliances. There is a lot going on with lighting. Inverters will be in the 95 to 98 percent efficient soon so running on 240 volt from batteries will not carry losses. Second hand electric car battery packs should start to become available in maybe six or eight years. The real boost will come with much higher yield PV systems. I think that it is a case of dabble a little, look and learn, at this stage.

  18. Earlier on Fran Barlow made a comment about using electricity to replace all energy, ie convert transport energy consumed to joules and then to kilowatts, to see how much energy is required for a total transition to electricity. The figure is quite huge. But there is a falacy in the argument and I asked Fran if she could see what it was. I bring this up because a lot of other people have fallen into the same trap.

    The fallacy is in the fact that internal combustion engines are not efficient in the conversion of energy. In fact for a petrol engine only 25% of the energy in the fuel is used to drive the vehicle forward. Electric motors are up to 95% efficient (brushless DC) on the other hand so a direct energy conversion is overstating the energy to travel the same distance petrol to electric by a factor of at least 3.

    That is why this vehicle


    will travel 300 kilometres on a just 45 Kwhrs of energy. And that energy charge (tank fill) at today’s prices will cost just $8.55 instead of $30.00 for petrol. Add that cost efficiency to the greatly reduced serving costs for running an electic vehicle ie no oil changes or tuneup or timing belt changes etc required.

    Just to tantalise, at 2 tank fills per week, to run a small 4 door, petrol will cost $3120 per year against $860 per year for electricity. Over 10 years that is petrol $31,000 against $8,600 for electric. A family cashflow difference of $22,000. In this comparison it is safe to say that the cost of running batteries is balanced against the cost of servicing a petrol engine, though it is probably cheaper to run batteries including several replacements.

    Now if most or all of that electricity comes from roof top solar PV you can see that the real cost of family energy hardware and running costs is not a simple picture.

  19. I was thinking about the VW Milano formula in the shower, and with its 300 klm range and 120 kph top speed it fits very well with my vehicle useage envelope. It also fits very well with my distant city student daughters needs. It even works well with the intercity 900 klm commute with its 1 hour to 80% battery fill rate. For that trip it means taking two 80 minute stops along the way ie two very good rests which would almost be the minimum adviseable for a long haul trip, and not that much more than would be taken any way with normal tank fill and coffee stops. Speed wise the whole Sydney Melbourne route has a 110 kph speed limit which on my recent trips I found I did not exceed using the cruise control and it was fast enough.

    That brings up the costing flaw in my above argument. The argument is correct for today’s situation, but the costing does not consider road useage charges as electricity does not contain an excise component. Food for thought.

  20. @BilB
    Brisbane to Lennox Head (northern NSW) is about 200km, so the Milano would do that easily.

    Presumably the vehicle uses almost no power while “idling” or stopped – as in slow or jammed traffic. If so, that’s even better!

  21. I suspect, David, that the vehicle has regenerative braking which means that it recovers kinetic in the braking and downhill situations putting charge back into the battery. The only caution is that open road may use more energy than city so full speed travel may reduce the range. But in principle a 300klm range is very serviceable. I am imagining that it would be possible to have a “stow in the boot” range extender pack for extra safety on long haul trips. And, yes, while stopped electric vehicles use minimal power. I do like the idea of the telephone box charging points. The power is ther, the phone is there for credit card charging. Smart thinking. It is a good way for causing a broad charge point system happening quickly.

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