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. Good link JQ.

    The Yanks are finally doing work that Germany began under Schroder prompted by the need to demonstrate how nuclear energy could be abandoned (refer the publications of Dr Franz Trieb). Some of the publications that I have come across from the DOE on CSP are very promising. Belief and confidence in the technology is growing repidly. For PV there is an interesting vector in this, and that is that the US owns the primary ultra high efficiency PV technology, and if they do not deploy it on mass the US will lose out commercially in a massive way. The system that my group is assessing is similar to this and our evaluation points to an explosive implementation capability. It is very exciting. As I have alluded to here a number of times, if you work the numbers on how advanced generation PV can be utilised, the outcome is nothing like what has been previously imagined, and the social, economic and environment impacts will be very significant.

  2. When I last heard figures from energex, nameplate PV installed in their distribution area (in MW) was around 0.25% of maximum load. PG&E (large northern california electricity utility) was about to hit their regulatory “cap” of 2.5% and needed to get it increased. Some German towns/cities are up around 25% without any major issues. We have a long way to go!

  3. Alas I’m not excited by renewable energy even though I use several forms of it. It has cost me tens of thousands of dollars on top of which I have have to make very spartan use of it to avoid fuel, heating and electricity bills. That is I pay more, put up with a lot of inconvenience and get less. It would be a relief if I didn’t have to bother.

    So where in the world is baseload fallacious?

  4. I thought the ABC science show person talking about using cars as storage was very interesting – in fact the whole distributed systems approach seems consistent with a lot of green tech / values

  5. For a given amount of energy usage moving away from a baseload model means a need for greater transmission capacity and an acceptance of greater transmission losses. Even if we don’t need a flat supply curve we still gain a lot from a relatively predictable supply curve. It the sun was guaranteed to shine every day then the supply curve for solar might be quite tolerable. However as it stands wind and solar are just silly distractions from nuclear.

  6. Serje, I suggest that you read the DOE linked information and try to understand why they have taken that approach. Some one such as yourself who was brilliant at solar issues when at university and whose wife is even smarter again should be able to figure out that there is an entirely new energy reality dawning. The nuclear window has closed.

    But even if you choose not to accept the changing order of all things energy, try playing the what if game. Experiment with the numbers to see what is possible.

  7. @TerjeP (say Taya)
    you are assuming centralised generation which is not supported by the evidence nor by a significant research trajectory into distributed generation. Considering solar as just PV is similarly narrow and will also probably lead to other misunderstandings.

  8. Economically speaking, pricing is the key to a transition to a renewable energy economy. Physically speaking, resource depletion and global warming are the imperatives. The real barrier to timely action inheres in our political economy. This barrier is an amalgam of ideology, vested corporate interests, physical economy momentum and consumer inertia.

    Technically, we know how to transition to a renewable energy economy. That is to say, we have the scientific, technological and economic expertise to get there. This capability would be unleashed if the political economy problems were solved or at least adequately ameliorated. Physical economy momentum is properly speaking another set of technical problems. This leaves us with the three essential socio-political problems preventing a timely transition to the renewable energy economy; ideology, vested corporate interests, and consumer inertia.

    In terms of popular ideology and general understanding of the issues (that is popular opinion) the battle is won at least in theory. A majority agree that global warming is a danger and that we should, in theory, move to renewables. In practice, consumer inertia means people will not change their habits unless pressured by prices or scarcity. Popular support for action exists and price signals could induce the changes.

    This leaves corporate ideology and corporate interests as the essential stumbling blocks. In times of widespread war popular opinion supports strong government action to create unified national action in order to survive. The currents threats (resource depletion and global warming) present a danger to national survival, civilizational survival and even survival as a species.

    What is required is the political will to take on corporate capital power in a selective manner. The power of the corporates and the capital that supports them is the only significant political-economic power in favour of business as usual. Amongst the energy generators, only big oil and big coal are significant players in this camp. All other industries which are energy users are potentially neutral about the source of their energy provided switching is price-neutral. Remember that price-neutral can be meant in an absolute sense or in a relative sense ie. relative to competitors.

    Essentially, this means a wedge can be driven between fossil energy companies and all other companies which comprise energy conumers and renewable energy generators. A law to ban political donations by fossil fuel companies would break the lobby nexus with government. In the build up to passing this law, political parties could canvass renewables and all other companies to fill the donation gap.

    Once the fossils lobby nexus is broken, fossil fuel subsidies can be done away with, carbon properly priced and the other technical problems tackled.

    I know I have glossed over some hurdles but they could all be cleared with the right political will.

  9. BilB – I already read the link and it didn’t provide any new information.

    Gregh – I was assuming PV but I was not assuming a centralised system. A distributed system is a little less prone to cloud cover but the problem doesn’t go away. In terms of solar thermal I think there are some interesting designs but they are still a distraction from going nuclear.

  10. @TerjeP (say Taya)

    You ought to note that nuclear energy is not renewable. The bottom line is that fossil fuels and nuclear fission fuels will all run out. Even if climate change was not an issue we would still have to transition to renewables within a century or less.

    As climate change (including a real possibility of civilization-ending runaway climate change) is an issue, the need to switch away from fossil fuels is imperative. Nuclear power may prove to be a transition solution. The serious caveats I would place on that is that nuclear power should receive no subsidies nor any government provided indemnities and should meet stringent anti-proliferation measures re weaponisation. If those issues could be meet (which personally I doubt) then nuclear power could be part of a transition protocol.

  11. @Ikonoclast

    You ought to note that nuclear energy is not renewable.

    The question is moot. It’s not going to run out in any time frame meaningful to us. Uranium is abundant, not only in the earth but in the ocean as well, the supply of which is topped up from deposition from irvers. Thorium is even more abundant and indeed, there may well be 400 times as much thorium as uranium available. In the short term of course we should pyroprocess existing hazmat from LWRs and use materiel from decommissioned weapons. That will get us through the first 200-300 years.

    The serious caveats I would place on that is that nuclear power should receive no subsidies

    I agree with this. No energy source should receive any subsidy, directly or in the form of an externality imposed upon the commons. Every energy source should be required to fully internalise all of its costs. There should be no “mandatory targets” for any energy source. If there are to be targets they should be outcome-based — e.g. a timeline with targets for emissions levels. I’d favour a footprint target. Not only would we aim over time to reduce GHGs and other emissions to the biosphere (and impose a cost for the emissions that were technologically unavoidable). We’d impose a target on land and water usage, usage of steel, glass and concrete per KWe rated.

    The first step would be to reach for a footprint 50% that of coal.

    nor any government provided indemnities

    We could do that, but this would not amount to a level playing field. The airline industry is far more likely to kill people than most energy plants and yet, they are indemnified, for the simple reason that if their insurance falls over, someone has to pay. If they could not get insurance then that cost would fall onto individuals because the company could decalre bankrutpcy — indeed, they’d be forced to in the case of catastrophic damage.

    The Price Anderson indemnity for nuclear has never been approached and as new systems with passive shutdown are rolled out, there is simply no possibility of this limit being tested. Short of some genuinely unforeseeable event, the indemnity will never be called

    and should meet stringent anti-proliferation measures re weaponisation.

    They already do. So far no nation in the nuclear club has moved from nuclear power to nuclear weapons. It has been the other way around for the simple reason that quite specialised equipment is needed to weaponise uranium to the standard needed. It’s very unlikely Australia would want to build nuclear weapons, if we developed nuclear power. And if we did, it would be an entirely separate matter.

    The hard reality is that renewables simply can’t support 9 billion or even 5 billion people in the way we expect to live. The last time the world lived on renewables, life expectancy was in what was the UK was in the 50s, per capita energy consumption was about 1/6th of that at present, and arable land per person was three or four times as great. Todays renewables are a lot more efficient, thanks in large measure to new materials and fossil energy and the capacity to do really brilliant engineering and mass production. Even so, we would struggle in most countries to get half way there even if we accepted intermittency and significantly less energy-intensive lives. How is Japan going to live on renewables? Chi

    They are no kind of solution. They may make us feel good but the heavy lifting will have to be done by nuclear power.

  12. I also meant to ask, Ikonoclast, how are China, South Asia and Indonesia, Pakistan and Mexico, Brazil and Africa and Russia and Eastern Europe going to use renewables to live in dignity? Do you think that when fossil fuels become unviable they are going to just accept it or do you think they will use nuclear?

  13. The world is getting ready for an all electric future and the pace of development is finally up to that which we imagined back in the 50’s and 60’s and this offering from VW is the first vehicle that fully fits my expectations. Albeit a taxi, the performance profile is perfect for medium range family use.


    Terge, I’m amazed. That article is signalling the end for nuclear in the US. It is warning utility operators that the electricity generation system will be dramatically altered with the rapid expansion of a distributed generation system and their turnover will significantly reduce. This change will require a very different mix of generation infrastructure, and the DOE is subsidising their efforts to adapt to the new understanding.

    It is clearly going to be intensely difficult for some to let go of the Nuclear fantasy. I can understand why, as the notion of a low emission facility that uses very little physical fuel stock is very appealing. I was a great fan myself up to the seventies when the plans for the fast breeder reactors started to become public. It was pretty obvious what the shortcomings were, and that has not changed much at all. Robert Merkel pointed to the use of lead coolant in place of sodium, that was a vast improvement. But the reality is that all machines fail, even the most sophisticated machines will have a percentage of failing of the type that puts the insides on the outside, and where plutonium is involved that is the ultimate disaster. It is going to be interesting to see how well the Indian reactors operate. The politicians are already medling in a manner that can only compromise the long term safety of the installations.

    But the US, I perceive, have weighed up the nuclear liability against the benefits in the presence of the rapid improvements in the alternatives and decided that nuclear is just not a safe and viable solution, especially post 9/11 and the subsequent relative ineffectiveness of their security machinery when facing a fanatical agressor.

  14. Fran @14,

    Your enthusiasm is impressive, but you operate from such a small knowledge base and shallow focus that you would actually be dangerous in a position of power. Asia is far more more resourceful in their way than we are. An example, that we should follow


    On the personal solar front I started today to think out a solar umbrella using the very latest technology. This will be little more than a metre square, portable, stowable, supply 400 watts, have no transmission costs or losses, have the ability to consequtively desalinate a small amount of water each day, and be third world affordable. Such a device will provide 4 Kwhrs of electricity per day per person, a vast improvement on what most Indians and Chinese currently consume. That is what is possible today. What will we be able to achieve with tomorrow’s science?

    You are trying to shape the future with what you understand from the past.

  15. @TerjeP (say Taya)
    TerjeP – I should have made it clearer that I was chiefly addressing my comment to your claims of increased transmission capacity and losses. I would imagine a reasonably designed distributed system should provide shorter cable lengths between generator and user, hence lower transmission losses.

  16. @BilB

    Blockquote>Such a device will provide 4 Kwhrs of electricity per day per person, a vast improvement on what most Indians and Chinese currently consume.

    European consumption? 125 KwH p..,p.d so … about 1/30th of what is needed?

  17. JQ, why are there posts promoting nuclear on a thread which deals with, quote: “High Penetration Solar Deployment”, supported by links worthwhile reading. The promotional material of nuclear is like a verbal crowding out of anything of interest. From a G.E. perspective, the price of fish in Fiji is also related for the price of solar energy. Where is the limit?

  18. Gregh – yes okay that is a fair point. A distributed supply system where the power source is closer to the demand will entail less transmission. Of course the same would be pretty much true for nuclear power plants that don’t need to be built remote from our cities in the way that coal fired power stations are.

  19. gregh :@TerjeP (say Taya) TerjeP – I should have made it clearer that I was chiefly addressing my comment to your claims of increased transmission capacity and losses. I would imagine a reasonably designed distributed system should provide shorter cable lengths between generator and user, hence lower transmission losses.

    Good point. For once there is a technological development which starts off with catering for people, taking as given where people live and not imposing any new negative externalities on them or the risk of loss of life or health.

  20. For all the nuclear power advocates! There is a completely free, near perfect, self-regulating giant fusion reactor in the sky and it has a projected operational life of another 5 billion years. It’s called the sun. Let’s use it.

  21. “completely free”

    It is? Well, gawsh, why aren’t we using it? Oh, wait – TANSTAAFL. Turns out we do have to pay for it – to harvest, convert and distribute its beneficence.

    Since it is NOT FREE, that means we have to divert resources from other areas to pay for it. I’ve got a long list of things we don’t really need that can be ditched from the Budget, what about you?

    Then there’s the complicating factor – some other sources of energy are cheaper, either in the short or the long term, meaning less sacrifice in other areas if we go with those instead.

    I guess it’s not as simple as you’d like to think it is.

  22. Ikonoclast :For all the nuclear power advocates! There is a completely free, near perfect, self-regulating giant fusion reactor in the sky and it has a projected operational life of another 5 billion years. It’s called the sun. Let’s use it.

    Spot on. It complies with the only economic principle I have come to accept as generally applicable, namely: Waste not want not. Everything else is detail.

  23. Terje,

    The whole trans mission argument is a falsehood. Our current system requires long distance connection for its stability. The Snowey is the system “battery” allowing for peak over demand performance, and the spread of the system smooths demand serving to reduce electricity generation costs. Distance transmission is only relevent to wind power where siting is primarily geographically controlled. But the last time I looked the cost of transmission for wind was built into its installation price. So not relevent.

    As for your “nested nuclear” concept, well. This is the worst risk case possible.

  24. Yes, “nested nuclear”. So the idea here is in order to save some money on cabling, snuggling nuclear time bombs in with our cities makes good sense to nuclear frenetics. And not just any nuclear bomb, Plutonium bombs. They have to be Plutonium because this is the only medium that makes, cutely named Gen IV, Fast Breeder Reactors work, and it is the fast breeders upon which the nuclear fantasy depends for its beyond 50 year life usefulness. With Australia’s geography making a narrow mountain range bounded coastal band the premium population zone and hence the most valuable, the idea that Ziggy’s minions are prepared to put this ribbon of life at risk simply because they “like” the idea of nuclear as an energy source to the exclusion of all else, is beyond belief. So here comes the endless “Chernobyl could never happen again” diatribe, to which I have to remind that despite the mamoth amount of technology applied to preventing aviation accidents big planes still crash due to mechanical failures, environmental effects, and human error. It does not happen very often so aviation is deemed “safe”. The difference between an aviation disaster and a Plutonium nuclear accident is that the nuclear scar will not heal. Nuclear energy provides an unnecessary risk that that this continent will do without.

  25. Sydney already has a nuclear reactor. We ought to build a more serious one.

  26. Chernobyl could happen several times a century in a nuclear powered world and the risk would still be acceptable. Having said that I don’t think the risk is that high.

  27. TerjeP (say Taya) :Chernobyl could happen several times a century in a nuclear powered world and the risk would still be acceptable. Having said that I don’t think the risk is that high.

    This is the most disgusting proposition I’ve read for a long time. It shows a total disrespect for individuals. I am now convinced that your many talks about ‘freedom’ is at best empty.

  28. @TerjeP (say Taya)

    Terje … this is a stupid observation. Chernobyl was only possible because of the decrepit state of infrastructure in the USSR, the poor culture at the plant, the willingness to operate outside of design parameters, the poor training of staff and the want of a containment shell for the resultant fire. There will be no more Chernobyls or anything remotely like it as the design will not be repeated, and all will have a containment shell, so your speculation simply invites more disinformation.

  29. While I disagree with Terje that about the risks of Chernobyl he is right in a way. The pollution and deaths from the coal industry and coal fired plants every year are more than many estimates of the results of Chernobyl. The difference is that they are dispersed and as a result not highly visible.

  30. Fran you want to see Nuclear with rose coloured glasses. To say that Chernobyls cannot happen again because “now we know better” is to replace human nature with a god like aura of excellence. That just is not reality. Your every argument proclaims that the nuclear industry will achieve NASA performance on Woolworths budgets with CIA security while handling Plutonium within the worlds most corrupt economies.

    Not credible.

    Fortunately mature world leaders know better and are seeking a nuclear free world.


    The most important criteria here is to not replace one poison with a far worse one. Changing Coal for Plutonium is not an improvement.

  31. @BilB

    BilB …. that there been an airtight fireproof containment structure around the core the fire would have abated the fire. No matter would have escaped. No first responders would have died. No land or person would have been adversely affected. Human nature has nothing to do with it. This is a simple technological question.

  32. No, Terje, don’t take any note of the spin doctors. To make a statement that is perceived as disgusting is not as ‘bad’ in my books as spin. These spin merchants are so delusional that they seem to believe that any reasonable person with access to a nuclear scientist in their circle of friends would ignore their friend’s opinion in favour of eloquent weasel words. If they only would know how many people giggle every night when watching TV and see a nodding head behind a speaker; some observers have noticed that the number of nodds have decreased – the suspicion is that someone must have told the dummies that nodding too much makes them look stupid.

    What your statement says is that if one were to accept nuclear power then one would accept a risk akin to what you have described. The trouble is that ‘one’ is a weasel word in this context.

    Note, the ‘disgusting’ is only my opinion. Its quite hillarious to observe how quickly the PR perceptions fire brigade came out.

    Who knows, maybe people are prepared to accept the risk you described. But this PR lot don’t want open debate, they want “receptive skills”; ie dummies.

  33. @Andrew Reynolds

    The pollution and deaths from the coal industry and coal fired plants every year are more than many estimates of the results of Chernobyl.

    I’ve made the substance of this argument repeatedly myself Andrew. It was really Terje’s form of words that was offensive — that several Chernobyls each century would be acceptable as the price for a nuclear world. No rational society would permit such a thing. It shouldn’t permit the loss of quality life years from coal usage either. This shows me that society is not rationally organised rather than that several Chernobyls per century was a fair overhead to pay, especially when we need not pay it.

    Human lives are not articles of trade — or at least they shouldn’t be. While rational people accept that all life is risky and that even with the best will in the world, there are going to be casualties, it’s no comfort to a victim to tell him he’s an anomaly just before he draws his last breath. Unless everything reasonable that might have been done to make his premature death or his suffering utterly improbable has been done, he’s entitled to be aggrieved.

    In the case of Chernobyl, that clearly wasn’t the case whereas the reactors I’d support clearly would meet the test above.

  34. @BilB

    Fortunately mature world leaders know better and are seeking a nuclear free world.

    Who would they be BilB? Noted: Your use of the term “nuclear” to dogwhistle “WMD”

    The most important criteria here is to not replace one poison with a far worse one. Changing Coal for Plutonium is not an improvement.

    Justify your claim that enriched uranium for fast spectrum reactors or LWRs, when handled in the conventional way is “far worse” than coal handled in the conventional way.

    Life years lost per unit of output might be one measure, if you’re not merely handwaving.

  35. Terje, I should get credit for correctly picking that it was your “form of words” (not the truth content) that was offensive. I am not offended by the truth (or something close to it).

  36. The following question remains unanswered from the Thread on “Straws in the Wind”:

    Ronald Brak :Barry, I mean Fran, who uses nuclear power to meet peak demand?

    It is a straightforward question which is amenable to a straight answer. Could we have it please.

  37. echoing ernestine it is a shame that this thread has been hijacked by nuclear energy spruikers.
    funniest comment – Fran Barlow’s implying that poor training of staff will not happen in the future, this at a time of ‘the batts scandal’ lol

    note also the segue into coal kills too – a common strategy from the nuclear lobby even though utterly irrelevent in the context of a discussion about coal replacement. But of course nuclear is also irrelevent in such a discussion.

  38. @Ernestine Gross

    France operates many of its nuclear plants in load-following mode. One consequence of all the resultant cheap power has been to push gas out of residential space heating, which is a benefit all on its own in GHG terms. The French also supply cheap power to the EU as well, reducing the amount of coal being burned.

  39. @gregh

    this at a time of ‘the batts scandal’ lol

    Laughing out loud indeed … the scandal was with the ethics of small business.

    note also the segue into coal kills too – a common strategy from the nuclear lobby even though utterly irrelevent in the context of a discussion about coal replacement. But of course nuclear is also irrelevent in such a discussion.

    Or it would be if there were something other than nuclear with which we could ubiquitously replace coal.

  40. JQ, gregh, BilB, I thank you for the information on technological developments in the solar area. Last year I replaced my electric hot heater with solar hot water (tubes). I planned to have PV next year. Lets see whether I can improve on the timing by watching new developments a bit more carefully. Incidentally, my electricity consumption (quantity) in the quater for which I have data is 25% less than during the corresponding period in the previous year. Its not all due to the solar hot water. I also switch off standby functions on all electric equipment.

  41. @Ernestine Gross
    I’m interested in getting a solar hot water heater. Did you find any useful objective information source when choosing a system? Did you do any cost analysis comparing the systems with instant gas heating? I have also looked at solar air heaters, but it’s difficult to know how effective they are going to be when most of the information available on their performance is provided by people selling the systems.

  42. This is such an interesting blog.

    As someone who has always been a bit on the left and totally into renewables, it’s surprising to see someone who is also a lefty favouring nuclear. I always thought that was only for righties and people who were against doing stuff on global warming!

    Until recently, I had no idea coal was that bad (apart from the global warming problem) but if it is I suppose that’s one reason why maybe I should reconsider nuclear. I mean sure nobody likes radiation, but then unless you get exposed to it, it’s not a problem. If lots of people are dying from coal and it is trashing the whole planet then maybe nuclear isn’t so bad.

    I’d rather we used renewables as much as possible but if it’s a choice between coal and nuclear, nuclear might actually be better. I read that coal mines actually put out nuclear waste and nuclear plants put out none! How weird is that?

    Anyway … thanks to all the bloggers for all the interesting text and links …

  43. @Michael

    I’ll reply to your questions on the Monday message board because it goes a bit outside the topic of this thread.

  44. Fran – my form of words seems fine to me. However to be precise I am not claiming we should accept a high risk when at little cost we can have a low risk. Nor am I suggesting that nuclear power is high risk, history proves it isn’t. My point was pretty plain. Even if a nuclear world hypothetically did entail the risk of several Chernobyl style accidents per century it would still represent a very low risk option. We drive cars because it is useful to drive cars and we accept that hundreds of people every year, just in one state alone, will die because of this. To be sure we are so scared of people dieing that we are working on lowering the speed limit to zero, but until then we accept the utility of a non zero speed limit traded off against the risk of death. To suggest that it is somehow wrong to discuss or to accept such trade offs is the emotive garbage of the left that I find so annoying. I’m surprised that you adopt such a posture because normally your brain is somewhat engaged.

  45. p.s. Obviously we could avoid some small number of nuclear deaths by building a future based on pure solar. However I can’t see the cost incurred to save these lives as being worth it. No rational individual would spend so much extra to reduce the risk of personal death by so little. When people give up driving or flying on mass I’ll entertain the possibility that people put such a premium on avoiding the risk of death versus utility that it is worth reconsidering solar. However most people, via revealed preferences, demonstrate that they are not so stupid.

  46. Good to see your awakening there IanW. So what is it like to be in a coma, I’ve always wondered. While you were asleep, you’ve missed all kinds of interesting Nuclear news. Europe in recent years has been heavily polluted with radiation. There was the Chernobyl accident which contaminated 16,000 square kilometres. Then there was the balkans war where the US flung depleted uranium anti tank ammunition around with gay abandon declaring that it was safe. Now we know differently, alerted by the many service persons who developed all manner of illnesses. And that material is still all there in the soil, fine dust just waiting for the global warming dry winds to pick it up and make available for every one to breathe in. Where you awake for Sydney’s red dust day? That could just as easily have blown in from the desert nuclear testing site. Then there are the nuclear plants leaking in a number of places in Europe and the US. Here is a small selection


    and here is a nuclear risk map of central Europe


    The really good thing about nuclear radiation is that you don’t know that it is killing you. Your doctor is almost certain to misdiagnose the symptoms and you can die prematurely blissfully ignorant of the real cause. That has got to be a comfort. It certainly would be for the operator of the nuclear whatever who secretly, but accidentally, shared his wastes with you.

    The alternative of course is that you can live equally well using solar energy. But then you would miss out on that “living on the edge of danger” excitement, or being a man of mystery with that deep dirty dark secret, nuclear contamination. If nuclear really gets your heart a pumpin then take a walk with Fran over to BraveNewClimate and let her show you around there.

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