Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Solar Energy Racket

If solar energy were not propped up by various government policies and subsidies, no utility would buy it.  Not only does solar not work at night, but it does not work if it is cloudy or if a cloud passes in front of the sun.

Utility-scale solar requires a large solar farm consisting of photovoltaic panels.  For $100 million, one can buy a solar farm capable of generating about 80 megawatts of electric power when the sun is squarely shining on the panels.  Depending on the geographical location and the climate, the average power generated will be about 18 megawatts, more during the day and nothing at night.  More in summer and less in winter.  If the power can be sold for $50 a megawatt-hour, about the cost of wholesale electricity generated by natural gas, the annual revenue earned by the plant would be $7.8 million.  But why would anyone want to pay $50 per megawatt-hour for electricity that does not work at night or when the weather is bad?  Better to buy it from a natural gas plant that one can count on.

How much would a utility really be willing to pay for erratic electricity from a solar farm?  The answer is $20 per megawatt-hour or less.  The reason is as follows.  No utility would ever incorporate a solar plant to reliably provide electricity.  Solar electricity is unreliable.  But solar electricity, if it is cheap enough, could be used as a supplement to save fuel in a utility's main natural gas plants.  When the solar was working, some of the utility's gas plants could be throttled back to save fuel.  The fuel to generate a megawatt-hour of electricity in a modern natural gas plant costs about $20.

How much does the electricity from a $100-million solar plant cost?  The biggest cost is the $100 million spread over the 25-year life of the plant.  If you take out a 25-year, $100-million mortgage, the annual payment will be between about $7 million and $9 million depending on the interest rate of between 5 percent and 8 percent.  A 5% interest rate is what a corporation with excellent credit might get.  With fair credit, a corporation might get 8%.  If a corporation has a poor credit rating, nobody is likely to loan it $100 million.  The plant will produce about 157,680 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, 18 megawatts per hour average times 8,760 hours per year.  The cost of the electricity, counting only the contribution from the construction cost of the plant, will be between $45 and $60 per megawatt-hour.  If you sold this electricity to a utility for $20 per megawatt-hour, you would lose millions every year.  If all costs are taken into account, the real cost of utility-scale solar power, where there is excellent sunshine, is about $70 per megawatt-hour.

Solar electric plants are being built because there are two subsidies and one mandate.  The mandate is provided by laws in about 30 states, requiring electric utilities to source some percentage of their power from "renewable" sources.  These laws are called "renewable portfolio standards."  By forcing utilities to develop sources of renewable power, mostly solar or wind, a ready market for solar power is created with creditworthy utilities willing to sign long-term contracts and pay whatever it takes to get solar power.  These laws are special-interest legislation tailored to provide shelter for wind and solar developers.  The "whatever it takes" cost is passed on to electricity customers.

The first of the two direct subsidies is the solar investment tax credit or the solar ITC.  This is a federal subsidy for the construction of solar facilities, currently at 30% of the cost and set by current law to gradually decline to 10%.  The second subsidy is less transparent.  It consists of modifications to tax laws that make possible a scheme called tax equity finance.  Tax equity finance uses a highly taxed corporate partner that can reduce its federal income tax by utilizing special accelerated depreciation available for solar energy facilities. The bottom line from the complicated shenanigans is that money that would have gone to the federal treasury as income tax payments instead goes to the developer of solar power and to the tax partner.  The tax-writers in Congress knew they were doing a favor for solar and wind developers when they created this scheme.  The net result of the mandate and subsidies is that about 70% of the cost of utility-scale solar plants is subsidized by electricity consumers and the federal government.

What is the justification for these laws bilking the public and subsidizing solar energy?  It is claimed that solar energy will prevent global warming by reducing CO2 emissions.  The problem is that building solar energy plants to reduce CO2 emissions ends up costing the government and electricity-consumers about $140 for each metric ton of CO2 emissions avoided.  But you can buy a "carbon offset" that does the same thing in the carbon offset market for $10.  The most prominent believers in global warming catastrophe — for example, James Hansen — advocate using nuclear energy to reduce CO2 emissions, not solar.  It is useful to remember that 86% of CO2 emissions come from outside the United States, where they are increasing.  But U.S. emissions have been decreasing due to substitution of natural gas for coal and due to energy conservation.

The other justification for solar is that we will run out of fossil fuels.  The sun won't run out of sunshine for around 10 billion years.  There is no prospect for running out of fossil fuels anytime soon.  Fracking has just unleashed a 100-year supply of natural gas and oil.  The U.S. has coal for 500 years.  The supply of nuclear fuel is, for practical purposes, unlimited.

What we have is an alliance among hysterical environmental groups, profit-making solar developers, and politicians eager to make important friends.  The environmental groups need a stream of impending catastrophes for which they propose impracticable or crackpot solutions.  That's how they excite interest and stay in business.  The Sierra Club and other groups are against all energy sources except wind and solar and some niche energy sources.  The media, probably out of ignorance, go along with the propaganda in favor of solar energy.  Rational, fact-based analysis appears to be politically incorrect.


Climate Change Triggers Hysteria As Irish parliament Declares A ‘Climate Emergency’

Irish logic does not have a good reputation.  We seem to be seeing why below.  I wonder what set them off.  The fairies?

Ireland has declared a climate emergency, with Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton calling climate change the greatest challenge mankind is facing.

ITV quoted the minister as saying, “We’re reaching a tipping point in respect of climate deterioration. Things will deteriorate very rapidly unless we move very swiftly and the window of opportunity to do that is fast closing.”

The move, which followed cross-party support to amendments to a climate action report drafted by the country’s parliament, made Ireland the second country in the world to declare a climate emergency after the UK. In the latter, the declaration followed crippling environmentalist protests in London that paralyzed parts of the city.

In its wake, an independent, government-appointed Committee on Climate Change recommended to the government such measures as reducing the consumption of meat and dairy products, changing the way farms do business, and making electric cars the only cars that people can buy starting in 2035. By 2050, according to the panel, the country should be greenhouse gas emission-free.


But not everyone in Ireland is onside

52 communities are fighting against wind in Ireland
Major concerns have been raised this week about natural habitats and the environment, as wind farm developers continue to seek planning permission for wind farms from local authorities around the country.

Residents in an area of south Co. Kerry that is home to the freshwater pearl mussel have said the species “will be destroyed” if a wind farm planned for their area goes ahead.

Furthermore, disquiet over flooding in the midlands has also emerged as residents in Lanesboro await a decision in respect of a wind farm development planning application by Bord na Mona at Derryadd.

In Co. Donegal residents in the south east of the county have highlighted their worries over the hen harrier population after an application was made to An Bord Pleanala for the development of Meenbog Wind Farm, comprising 19 turbines.

And, in Co. Kildare, a local area representative has said that, as far as he is concerned, wind farms are “not the solution” to the country’s carbon problem and the environment is becoming more and more damaged because Ireland “is so far behind” on its emissions.

Co. Kerry

Fred O’Sullivan is chairman of the Sliabh Luachra Wind Awareness Group. It was established after Kerry Co. Council granted planning permission for a wind farm comprising 14 turbines – 150m in length – in a rural area along the Cork/Kerry border that is home to the freshwater pearl mussel.

O’Sullivan says the pearl mussel is unique to the area and can be found in the River Blackwater. He also pointed to the dangers posed by the wind farm to the mussel. One flood of silt into the river and the freshwater pearl mussel is destroyed; that’s it, it will be gone forever.

O’Sullivan went on to say that he “cannot understand” how policymakers in Ireland think that wind energy offers a solution to protecting the environment, or indeed reducing the country’s carbon emissions.

“We have bog land in our area that we know is carbon absorbent and they are being ripped up to facilitate these wind farms,” he said.

“Even the landowners have gotten caught out with these wind farms because they are locked into a contract that they can’t get out of for 30 years; neither can they build on the land for 30 years.

“There are 52 communities in Ireland fighting against wind – that is very significant,” he said.

Co. Longford

Further up the country in Lanesboro in south Co. Longford residents are concerned on a number of fronts, not least about their environment, after Bord na Mona applied to An Bord Pleanala for the development of a wind farm that comprises 24 turbines.

Chairman of the No to Derryadd Wind Farm Group Niall Dennigan said residents in the area are “infuriated” by the move.

He also pointed to the numerous implications for the locality including health and environmental. Dennigan says the area in which the wind farm is proposed is also prone to flooding.

There are flooding issues already taking place downstream in Lanesboro and putting in that number of turbines will just add to this problem.

He continued: “A lot of the health issues we have are the same as every other person in the country facing a wind farm development in their area; we are also concerned about noise, shadow-flicker and epilepsy.”

Dennigan went on to claim that there are some studies which indicate that some people have suffered health problems as “a direct result” of wind turbines.

Co. Kildare

Local area representative in the Maynooth Municipal District, councillor Padraig McEvoy told AgriLand that there was a “perception” out there that wind farms were the solution to the carbon problem – yet, as far he is concerned “the environment is getting more and more damaged because Ireland is way behind in its carbon emissions”.

He was speaking in the aftermath of a new planning application made by North Kildare Windfarm Limited at the end of 2018 for the development of Maighne Wind Farm comprising 12 turbines.

Co. Donegal

Speaking to AgriLand, Finn Valley Wind Action spokesperson Marie Scanlon said that at the time the developer, Micheal Murnane of Planree Limited, applied for planning permission to develop Meenbog Wind Farm, comprising 19 turbines, the area earmarked in south-east Donegal for the project was classed as being “environmentally sensitive” in the county development plan.

Scanlon also pointed to the fact that the wind farm is earmarked for an area of south Donegal that supports up to 7% of the national breeding population of hen harrier in the Republic of Ireland.

She says people in the area are completely opposed to the development. “They also remain hopeful that the county development plan – which is currently under review – will continue to support the area in question,” she said. The plan was challenged last year by the wind farm developer.

“We will continue to strongly oppose any further plans and will continue to protect our area; we want our area not to be zoned and not open to consideration for these types of developments,” she said.

Wind Aware Ireland

Wind Aware Ireland, meanwhile, is opposed to wind energy in this country. Its spokesperson Paula Byrne claimed that there is “mounting evidence” to suggest that wind energy “does not reduce” the use of fossil fuels or the levels of emissions.

She referenced Elsevier – a Dutch information and analytics company and one of the world’s major providers of scientific, technical, and medical information – when speaking about wind energy effects in Ireland.

There are two other fundamental problems with wind energy, she added, including the fact that the wind doesn’t always blow and there is no storage available at grid level.
“We know that with regards to wind farms, when the wind is not blowing, electricity is not being generated and therefore people will return to more conventional sources,” Byrne said.

She continued: “We also know that hydro and solar both reduce the use of fossil fuels, while wind energy increases it. Wind energy is a fake solution to reducing Ireland’s carbon emissions.”


Austerity forever

Britain's Net Zero climate policy would negatively impact on so much of our lives


Last week, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) released its Net Zero report, calling for the UK to cut its CO2 emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050. Going further than its February report advising that no newly built home should be connected to the gas supply, it recommends political interventions that intrude on all areas of private and productive life, from diet to transport. Among other things, it calls on the government to reduce the consumption of meat, to find ways to ‘reduce demand’ for travel, especially flight, and to limit the amount of energy consumed in homes and businesses.

While the report is big on headlines, it is woefully short on detail. Rather than an explanation of how its CO2 target can be delivered, it is more like a manifesto for radical transformation of our lives, lifestyles and economy – although there is no intention to test this manifesto at the ballot box.

If the current and future governments go ahead with the CCC’s recommendations – which seems likely – no area of our lives will be left unaltered. The report reflects the extent to which politics and the relationship between people and the government has completely shifted over the past few decades. Millions of people will have to bear the burden of the proposals, but the notion that they can have any choice in this proposed reorganisation of society is completely absent. The democratic contest between competing ideological perspectives on how productive society should be organised (if at all) has been abolished and replaced with spreadsheets that will determine what you may eat, how far you may travel and by what means, and how warm your home may be.

The dearth of technical detail in the manifesto tells us that its political ambition is put before its feasibility, while the public’s needs barely get a look-in. Take, for instance, the CCC’s ambition of eliminating the entire fleet of Britain’s 38million fossil-fuel powered vehicles and replacing them with electric cars. Britain’s annual sale of 2.3million new and eight million second-hand cars will magically achieve that goal within just 15 years, according to the logic of the report (typically, it gives neither of these figures). But radically new battery technologies are needed both to substantially lower the price of running an electric car, and to extend the life of electric cars so as to create a second-hand market for them. Unless this technology materialises, this projection is a fantasy.

But as far as environmentalists are concerned, every one of those 38million cars on the road was bought and is used in callous disregard for the planet. In reality, of course, motoring is an economic necessity for millions of people, the majority of whom will be priced off the roads and on to public transport, which is increasingly costly and whose coverage is poor in most parts of the country, if the CCC’s pipe dream does not materialise.

Driving may be off the cards but don’t imagine that staying at home will be cost-free under these plans. The CCC has declared that an ‘energy-efficiency retrofit’ of every single one of the 29million homes across the country ‘should now be a national infrastructure priority’. This will cause severe disruption to at least one million homes per year, every year, until the CCC’s target is reached. Each home will have to be emptied of its occupants and contents, have its walls and roofs stripped, insulated and re-covered, and have its boilers and heaters removed. According to the Energy Technologies Institute (IET), retrofitting on this scale could cost in excess of £2 trillion – a cost equivalent to demolishing and rebuilding every home from scratch.

Nevertheless, the CCC claims that these radical changes, and the many others it proposes, are ‘achievable with known technologies’. It expects the cost to be between one and two per cent of GDP, or around £20 to £40 billion per year, every year. But the IET’s figures put that claim into perspective. The two-trillion-pound programme of retrofitting every home over the next 30 years would cost £66.6 billion a year. Buried deep into the report, the CCC is more candid: ‘The precise investment needs of getting to net zero by the middle of the century are unknowable.’

The track record of technocrats’ financial foresight and their profligacy with public money should never be forgotten. Even far less ambitious and technically simple grands projets like HS2 begin by making claims which quickly depart from reality. HS2 was initially estimated to cost £32.7 billion. But in 2015, the government admitted that the cost is likely to be £55.7 billion. Now even this figure seems to have been underestimated by several billion.

Given the cost and the scale of the CCC’s promised ‘extensive changes across the economy’, it is fair to ask what benefit ordinary people will see. The average person will see absolutely no net benefit. Most people will likely be left in significant debt from the cost of retrofitting their homes. It will leave people far less mobile, without the freedom to enjoy overseas holidays, and with options for domestic travel severely restricted. It will have repercussions throughout the economy, depressing demand for ordinary goods and services outside the green sector. The CCC euphemistically describes these costs as ‘investments’ and ‘opportunities’. But opportunities for whom?

The political class is the big winner in this. Climate-change policy is one of the few areas that can command a cross-party consensus in the British establishment. The CCC was established by the Climate Change Act in 2008, to offer ‘independent advice’ to parliament on what the UK’s ‘carbon budget’ should be until the UK reaches its initial target of an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. This effectively took far-reaching decisions about the economy out of democratic control, into the hands of unelected technocrats.

Similarly, the net-zero target was established for political rather than environmental reasons. The entire political establishment – political parties, the civil service, quangos, NGOs, big businesses and the media – has been humiliated by recent political developments, which have exposed their disarray and their aloof, self-serving disregard for ordinary people. The desire for such a far-reaching, top-down reorganisation of the economy is the political class’s most recent attempt to secure its interests, to reassert control over the public, and to save face on the international stage.

If all that sounds far-fetched, consider that the CCC’s report gives far more detail on how the UK’s global reputation will be secured by a commitment to net-zero emissions than it gives on the role for nuclear energy in the ‘zero-carbon economy’. Nuclear energy, being ‘zero carbon’, has the potential to obviate the need for expensive energy-efficiency retrofitting, and could even be the backbone for the electrification of heating and transport, for a fraction of the cost that the CCC intends to spend. Instead, the CCC report flatters politicians, telling them that they can show ‘leadership by example’, to ‘shape political conditions in other countries’, by targeting financial support and taking a lead role in negotiating global agreements.

All in all, the CCC’s Net Zero report is a manifesto for permanent green austerity: the perpetual transfer of wealth upwards, for the benefit of the political establishment. As politicians and their parties recognise their estrangement from ordinary people, and as technocrats, ‘civil-society’ organisations and corporations struggle to justify their positions and privilege, the net-zero economy has emerged as a perfect fig leaf.


Nissan Leaf electric car: too little, too late?

Nissan Leaf, $49,990 in Australia

It’s annoying waiting at the Caltex counter while someone fumbles about for their credit card, and it’s even more frustrating to be behind umpteen cars in a pump line. Patience is a virtue unknown to motorists and our inner alarm clocks are calibrated in milliseconds. Fail at a tight parking space, or react slower than a drag racer to a green, and other drivers will lean on their horns impatiently.

So it’s a mystery why anyone thinks motorists will have the stomach for EV recharging times. Best-case estimates, for an EV with the fastest wiring hooked up to the most powerful DC supercharger, suggest 10-minute refills will be possible. Ten minutes? To most drivers that’s an eternity.

Of course, actual times will stretch much longer – 20, 30, 40 minutes or more. So you’ll park, plug in and seek a distraction. Well, good luck. There’s nothing about the average petrol station that says, “Hey, come and relax in our comfy coffee lounge” because there isn’t one. You get a paper cup and run.

Perhaps the recharging network – when we have one – will be different. Maybe it will spawn its own ecosystem of small businesses catering to heel-kicking EV drivers. Smoothie and a massage while you charge? Or a fitness circuit? Yeah, and maybe we’ll all become Buddhist monks.

This was front of mind while I was recharging this week’s electric buggy, the Nissan Leaf, at the NRMA unit in Sydney’s Olympic Park, the only convenient supercharger within cooee of where I was heading. Admittedly, it was a sleepy public holiday weekend and little was open. But even on a good day, the discount chemist would have been one of the highlights and once I’d restocked the bathroom there was little to do but wait.

It charged at the rate of almost 3km a minute – not bad, considering – but EVs don’t fill up like regular cars. They’re more like your smartphone: once the batteries hit 80 per cent capacity, recharging slows to a crawl. This is essential to avoid damaging or degrading the batteries. In fact, the NRMA unit stopped once it hit that figure and if there’s a way of over-riding it, I didn’t have the patience to find out.

Now you’ll need some endurance, because I’m going to rattle on about range.

If you own an EV, you’ll routinely recharge overnight at home and (possibly) fill the car completely by morning. The new Leaf, a tad optimistically, claims 270km fully amped – a huge leap over the first generation’s 175km. In reality, the Leaf’s range depletes quicker than the miles you cover and it’s line-ball with its sole rival at this level, the Hyundai Ioniq, which claims 230km. However, since on-the-move refills deliver only four-fifths of the stated range, I had 200km to play with.

It gets worse, because you’d be mad to run your EV down to zero – it’s impractical and doesn’t help battery longevity. So the 80 per cent ceiling has a corresponding floor figure of about 20 per cent; go below that and you’ll understand the true meaning of range anxiety. In the Leaf, you wouldn’t want to be stuck in traffic 40km from a plug.

Factor all that in, and without another refill I could afford to go about 80km in the Leaf before turning around and heading home.

In many markets, the first Leaf was the sole mainstream EV and with more than 400,000 sold, it’s the planet’s battery best-seller. The second generation has been available overseas for some time, and ahead of its local launch here in August, the test car was UK spec.

It’s affordable by EV standards but, of course, still not cheap. When the Hyundai Ioniq arrived a few months ago it reset the starting price at $45k. The Leaf comes in $5k higher and compensates with features such as intelligent cruise control and mild autonomy. It’s slightly longer than before, has a larger boot and, as well as increased range thanks to more battery capacity, also has more power (110kW, up from 80kW) and torque (320Nm, up from 280Nm). It can recharge using a home wall-box in 7.5 hours.

The Leaf is a pleasant enough car for shuffling around town, with the same virtues evident in any EV. It’s quiet, responsive and driveable thanks to maximum torque arriving from the off. With its low centre of gravity, it irons out most road bumps – although its suspension struggled once or twice with Sydney’s city tarmac.

But a few high-tech features aside, it’s been built down to a price. The cabin feels low-rent, despite heated seats and other comforts. There’s only one USB port in the cabin, when most new cars these days are bristling with them. The control screen can be invisible in bright light and the dash-top throws reflections into the driver’s line of sight. The driving position seems unnaturally raised yet the corners of the car are difficult to gauge – not helped by its over-large turning circle.

It steps off the line smartly, but without the surprising shove-in-the-back some EVs deliver. An e-pedal delivers lift-off braking a bit too aggressively, while the steering and brake itself are vague. And there’s one giveaway: the park brake is foot-operated, an antiquated device more at home on a cart than an EV with ambition. Most cars now use electric push-buttons instead.

The Leaf has carried the banner for “affordable” battery cars for some time and this second-generation model could have moved the game along. But the Ioniq is more appealing, and most new EVs are targeting a range of 400-500km.

So this feels like a missed opportunity and perhaps Nissan already knows it. Available in Japan is a Leaf e+ with about 40 per cent more range. It reaches Europe later this year but if this Leaf is any guide (it’s been delayed several times), Australia will be waiting a while. And who has the patience for that?



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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