"Can you have too much solar energy?"

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"Can you have too much solar energy?"

#1  Postby Loren Michael » Apr 01, 2013 7:35 am

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_an ... ingle.html

It’s been a long, dark winter in Germany. In fact, there hasn’t been this little sun since people started tracking such things back in the early 1950s. Easter is around the corner, and the streets of Berlin are still covered in ice and snow. But spring will come, and when the snow finally melts, it will reveal the glossy black sheen of photovoltaic solar panels glinting from the North Sea to the Bavarian Alps.

Solar panels line Germany’s residential rooftops and top its low-slung barns. They sprout in orderly rows along train tracks and cover hills of coal mine tailings in what used to be East Germany. Old Soviet military bases, too polluted to use for anything else, have been turned into solar installations.

Twenty-two percent of Germany’s power is generated with renewables. Solar provides close to a quarter of that. The southern German state of Bavaria, population 12.5 million, has three photovoltaic panels per resident, which adds up to more installed solar capacity than in the entire United States.


[...]

...subsidies come at the expense of city dwellers without solar-ready roofs, low-income electricity consumers, and investments in other forms of renewable energy. Even environmentalists have begun to grumble about the solar boom, which sucks up half of Germany’s funding for renewables but provides just 20 percent of green power.

The proliferation of privately owned solar has large power companies in Germany worried. For two decades, they’ve been forced to facilitate and finance their competition, helping turn customers into producers. Soon, rooftop solar and other small-scale, locally owned renewables could upset the market for coal and nuclear power.

Here’s why that’s a problem: Renewable energy sources like wind and solar generate power intermittently, dependent on the sun or fickle breezes. Until researchers can find a way to store energy at a large scale, coal and nuclear plants—which can’t simply be switched on and off at will—must be kept running to guarantee a steady stream of electricity when the sun isn’t shining.


~~~~~

I think this is maybe less-than-optimal for the reasons outlined in the second bit above, but it's way better than the status quo. Better to overshoot the target and have some energy instability that needs to be rolled back than to (relatively) nothing, as in, say, America.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#2  Postby Xaihe » Apr 01, 2013 7:57 am

Seems like small issues to me, and I hope that they'll be resolved within a few decades.

Soon, rooftop solar and other small-scale, locally owned renewables could upset the market for coal and nuclear power.

But why should this be a downside? If it's been going on now for 2 decades, then the large power companies knew they should decrease investments into coal and nuclear power. Other than that, wasn't that the entire goal of investing in renewable energy?
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#3  Postby Thommo » Apr 01, 2013 8:02 am

Even environmentalists have begun to grumble about the solar boom, which sucks up half of Germany’s funding for renewables but provides just 20 percent of green power.


This is an interesting point. I wonder if this is simply because of the high capital cost of solar equipment? If it were really as much false economy as this simple statement sounds one would have to wonder why the government would fund it to that level.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#4  Postby Loren Michael » Apr 01, 2013 8:03 am

Xaihe wrote:
Soon, rooftop solar and other small-scale, locally owned renewables could upset the market for coal and nuclear power.

But why should this be a downside? If it's been going on now for 2 decades, then the large power companies knew they should decrease investments into coal and nuclear power. Other than that, wasn't that the entire goal of investing in renewable energy?


The paragraph immediately following:

Here’s why that’s a problem: Renewable energy sources like wind and solar generate power intermittently, dependent on the sun or fickle breezes. Until researchers can find a way to store energy at a large scale, coal and nuclear plants—which can’t simply be switched on and off at will—must be kept running to guarantee a steady stream of electricity when the sun isn’t shining.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#5  Postby Loren Michael » Apr 01, 2013 8:07 am

Thommo wrote:
Even environmentalists have begun to grumble about the solar boom, which sucks up half of Germany’s funding for renewables but provides just 20 percent of green power.


This is an interesting point. I wonder if this is simply because of the high capital cost of solar equipment? If it were really as much false economy as this simple statement sounds one would have to wonder why the government would fund it to that level.


That's part of one of the arguments against government intervention in economies; the government picks winners and as such it picks losers. The who's in/who's out outcome may or may not be optimal. Interest groups distort markets and bend economies to their own ends, and they bend the ears of policymakers to achieve those ends.

A decent amount of time politicians get their expert advice from the people who have invested the most money in a venture. Oil companies tend to hire the people who know a lot about oil and drilling for example, energy companies are likely to hire up the people who know about energy economics and such.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#6  Postby hoopy frood » Apr 01, 2013 8:47 am

Only in a capitalist system where it might fuck up the profiteering on energy.


seven tenths of the planet consists of a dense fluid perpetually on the move thanks to tidal forces. The simple expedient of drilling a few KMs into the crust would provide you with a long-term heat source four times hotter than the surface of the Sun, which as it happens is rather cool in terms of area. And 91/4 million miles away.

Plenty energy sources around. The difficulty is not in developing sources of energy, it is in trying to find ways in which capitalists can develop them. Not an easy task given capitalists want to make money, not invest it, and they want short-term results, not long-term.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#7  Postby Loren Michael » Apr 01, 2013 8:54 am

hoopy frood wrote:Only in a capitalist system where it might fuck up the profiteering on energy.


See above for the problems the article talks about.

Countries with extremely high levels of government intervention in the economy have historically been some of the dirtiest and poorly managed. See: China, Russia, Cold War-era Eastern Europe.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#8  Postby Loren Michael » Apr 01, 2013 8:57 am

Ha ha, also from Slate and related to energy storage solutions: The Steampunk Energy-Storage Solution: First You Roll a Train Uphill

Next month, on a ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains owned by one of the founders of the wind energy industry, Kelly’s company, Advanced Rail Energy Storage, will begin testing a variation on pumped hydro. Except instead of dams, channels, and water, Kelly’s new system has rail yards, train tracks, and electric locomotives hauling boxcars full of gravel.

These heavy-haul trains, borrowed from mining applications, use the same software as computerized trains at many airports. A motor hooked up to an electric third rail draws electricity from the grid to push the trains up a 7 to 8 percent slope; at the top, the energy is stored as potential energy. When the grid needs the watts back, the software allows the trains to run downhill at about 35 miles per hour, “releasing energy all the way,” Kelly explains. The locomotive’s motor becomes an electric generator, pushing the electricity back into the electrified rail and from there, to the grid. A large-scale storage facility that could handle 500 megawatts or more would take about 8 miles of track. The heavy boxcars are connected and disconnected according to how much power is being stored or sent back. The trains can store the power for an hour, a week, or a month with no loss over time—gravity doesn’t decay. And Kelly says they can achieve up to 90 percent efficiency. DWP’s Howard said that Kelly’s idea sounds “intriguing” and thinks it could work.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#9  Postby Xaihe » Apr 01, 2013 9:06 am

Loren Michael wrote:
Xaihe wrote:
Soon, rooftop solar and other small-scale, locally owned renewables could upset the market for coal and nuclear power.

But why should this be a downside? If it's been going on now for 2 decades, then the large power companies knew they should decrease investments into coal and nuclear power. Other than that, wasn't that the entire goal of investing in renewable energy?


The paragraph immediately following:

Here’s why that’s a problem: Renewable energy sources like wind and solar generate power intermittently, dependent on the sun or fickle breezes. Until researchers can find a way to store energy at a large scale, coal and nuclear plants—which can’t simply be switched on and off at will—must be kept running to guarantee a steady stream of electricity when the sun isn’t shining.

Right, but that has nothing to do with upsetting the market for coal and nuclear power.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#10  Postby Ihavenofingerprints » Apr 01, 2013 9:13 am

Loren Michael wrote:
Better to overshoot the target and have some energy instability that needs to be rolled back than to (relatively) nothing, as in, say, America.


Yeah, it shouldn't be too hard for scientists to work out the optimal level of solar power within any of our current systems. I think the answer to the OP title is a given. Also, I think our government has stopped a lot of their solar power reimbursement schemes because we must be hitting that sort of level (this is purely an anecdote I'll have to do more research).

And the long term goal should be to figure out how to store this solar energy over long periods of time. (to remove some of the variability)
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#11  Postby The_Metatron » Apr 01, 2013 10:05 am

This is describing an engineering problem, not an economic problem. It has to do with balancing production with demand on the power grid. This balancing problem appears everywhere stochastic sources of power are used such as wind and solar power. Nuclear and coal plants don't have a volume control. That is, their power output is not particularly modulatable.

This means, they can't easily adjust to match demand on a grid that contains a bunch of uncontrolled stochastic generators, such has home solar and wind stations.

There are solutions, and the steampunk train idea is not far off. It just doesn't have a lot of capacity. What does the trick is pumped hydroelectric plants. It turns out there are more of these than I realized, a couple of them right here in Belgium.

When demand is low, use the excess nuclear power to fill up a big dam reservoir. When power demand is high, drain that reservoir back through the same equipment that pumped it up, using the power so produced to balance the grid.

Denmark does something similar with their wind turbines' power. They send excess over a DC link to Norway, which then simply dials down the demand on their own hydroelectric plants. When Denmark needs some power back, Norway simply opens up the valves a little farther on their hydroelectric plants. Hydroelectric is very modulatable, from nearly full shutdown to maximum capacity, and it can be done quickly.

Another approach is smart grid technology, which allows control of the stochastic solar and wind generators. While such a situation can't command power from a solar plant in the shade, it can shut down output from solar stations when it is causing a power imbalance on the grid.

I think the pumped hydroelectric is a better solution, but it's a hell of an infrastructure component to build.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#12  Postby hoopy frood » Apr 01, 2013 10:07 am

Loren Michael wrote:
hoopy frood wrote:Only in a capitalist system where it might fuck up the profiteering on energy.


See above for the problems the article talks about.

Countries with extremely high levels of government intervention in the economy have historically been some of the dirtiest and poorly managed. See: China, Russia, Cold War-era Eastern Europe.



I did:

subsidies come at the expense of city dwellers without solar-ready roofs, low-income electricity consumers, and investments in other forms of renewable energy. Even environmentalists have begun to grumble about the solar boom, which sucks up half of Germany’s funding for renewables but provides just 20 percent of green power.

The proliferation of privately owned solar has large power companies in Germany worried. For two decades, they’ve been forced to facilitate and finance their competition, helping turn customers into producers. Soon, rooftop solar and other small-scale, locally owned renewables could upset the market for coal and nuclear power.
I don’t think we’re for anything, we’re just products of evolution. You can say “Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose,” but I’m anticipating a good lunch.

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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#13  Postby hoopy frood » Apr 01, 2013 10:21 am

Venture capitalism is hardly likely to bring about radical long-term results, and it is the most daring form of capitalism imaginable.

Whish is of course, not very daring at all.

Socialist state schemes which might also have failed isn't going to change that fact.

Do you expect capitalism to have better results?
I don’t think we’re for anything, we’re just products of evolution. You can say “Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose,” but I’m anticipating a good lunch.

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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#14  Postby hoopy frood » Apr 01, 2013 10:32 am

having too much of anything is only possible if you are looking to make a marketable resource of it.
I don’t think we’re for anything, we’re just products of evolution. You can say “Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose,” but I’m anticipating a good lunch.

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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#16  Postby JoeB » Apr 01, 2013 10:49 am

hoopy frood wrote:The simple expedient of drilling a few KMs into the crust would provide you with a long-term heat source four times hotter than the surface of the Sun, which as it happens is rather cool in terms of area. And 91/4 million miles away.

Exactly where do you find heat sources in excess of 20000 degrees C a few KM into the crust?

As for energy storage and oversupply, this really isn't a big issue. For example one could use the IJsselmeer in the Netherlands as energy storage by periodically pumping it up a meter and then draining it a meter again.. Stuff like that. Disparity in supply and demand is as old as electricity production itself. :coffee:
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#17  Postby Loren Michael » Apr 01, 2013 12:41 pm

The_Metatron wrote:This is describing an engineering problem, not an economic problem.


I'm not sure what kind of meaningful distinction you're making there.

It has to do with balancing production with demand on the power grid. This balancing problem appears everywhere stochastic sources of power are used such as wind and solar power. Nuclear and coal plants don't have a volume control. That is, their power output is not particularly modulatable.

This means, they can't easily adjust to match demand on a grid that contains a bunch of uncontrolled stochastic generators, such has home solar and wind stations.

There are solutions, and the steampunk train idea is not far off. It just doesn't have a lot of capacity. What does the trick is pumped hydroelectric plants. It turns out there are more of these than I realized, a couple of them right here in Belgium.

When demand is low, use the excess nuclear power to fill up a big dam reservoir. When power demand is high, drain that reservoir back through the same equipment that pumped it up, using the power so produced to balance the grid.

Denmark does something similar with their wind turbines' power. They send excess over a DC link to Norway, which then simply dials down the demand on their own hydroelectric plants. When Denmark needs some power back, Norway simply opens up the valves a little farther on their hydroelectric plants. Hydroelectric is very modulatable, from nearly full shutdown to maximum capacity, and it can be done quickly.

Another approach is smart grid technology, which allows control of the stochastic solar and wind generators. While such a situation can't command power from a solar plant in the shade, it can shut down output from solar stations when it is causing a power imbalance on the grid.

I think the pumped hydroelectric is a better solution, but it's a hell of an infrastructure component to build.


That's all extremely interesting to me, thank you for the links. I'm under-informed when it comes to energy economics, but it's more intriguing the more I learn.

EDIT: And thanks NineBerry for the links, too. I wonder about the costs that go into these things. It's not enough to just say that there is a solution out there, if the solution is impractical or too expensive or whatever.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#18  Postby Loren Michael » Apr 01, 2013 12:48 pm

hoopy frood wrote:
Loren Michael wrote:
hoopy frood wrote:Only in a capitalist system where it might fuck up the profiteering on energy.


See above for the problems the article talks about.


I did:

subsidies come at the expense of city dwellers without solar-ready roofs, low-income electricity consumers, and investments in other forms of renewable energy. Even environmentalists have begun to grumble about the solar boom, which sucks up half of Germany’s funding for renewables but provides just 20 percent of green power.


I'm not sure how you're getting "only in a capitalist system where it might fuck up profiteering" from there. It's not like overinvestment in something or one thing coming at the expense of another thing is a capitalist-only thing.

Something that takes 50% of funding but only makes up 20% of the solution seems like a potential waste (and as such a potential problem) in any economic system, capitalist or not.
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#19  Postby Macdoc » Apr 01, 2013 12:53 pm

I wonder if this is simply because of the high capital cost of solar equipment?


THIS is nonsense.....solar has plummeted to the point where the business models and the subsidies no longer are appropriate but some places have locked in subsidies.
But solar now is the lowest cost for some nations unsubsidized

Solar Report Stunner: Unsubsidized 'Grid Parity ... - Think Progress
thinkprogress.org/.../2013/.../solar-report-stunner-unsubsidized-grid-...Mar 3, 2013 – Deutsche Bank just released new analyses concluding that global solar market will become sustainable on its own terms by the end of 2014, ..


Solar and wind suffer from erratic supply and if you try and add storage currently it then becomes uncompetitive.
Coal is flat out not worth digging it out of the ground given the damage to health and environment.

The True Cost of Coal -
http://www.groundtruthtrekking.org/Issu ... st.htmlMar 10, 2013 – True Cost of Coal: Not all costs of coal are reflected in the price of ... Coal has many externalized costs, therefore its market price doesn't reflect ...


Gas and nuclear can provide baseline power with renewables another 30% for an industrial society.

Until grids are redesigned it's hard to move wind and solar around a continent and the Supergrid will cost big time.

Where next for the renewable energy European Supergrid?
http://www.culturechange.org › Home › Energy and SurvivalMar 13, 2013 – The Supergrid is a massive project to connect renewable power and ... evidence to the UK's parliament in 2011 that it would cost 200 billion ...

http://www.culturechange.org/cms/content/view/876/66/

Divided down into segments tho....solar can supply communities and homes very cost effectively now and may avoid rural areas of the third and second world having to have national power grids at all. No bad thing given the threat of solar storms.

But it's tough for industry. There is some good progress on molten salt storage

http://us.areva.com/EN/home-1977/areva- ... orage.html

With Spain leading the way
http://monessasmontage.wordpress.com/20 ... t-storage/

This is a very good solution for a number of nations with desert conditions.

Really tho - until fossil fuel downstream damage is built into the costs....it will be tough to shift the fossil industry tho coal is no longer viable for new plants and old plants in the US and many are being closed as the EPA regs toughen up.

As with all major transitions there are fits and starts and only national govs have the clout to counter the huge influence of the fossil fuel industry to move towards a lower carbon based energy plan in industrial nations.
So govs have to ste regulations, provide subsidies and ding fossil companies for the cost of their product to health and environment so low carbon solutions can emerge.

Solar is just about there world wide ... :coffee:
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Re: "Can you have too much solar energy?"

#20  Postby hoopy frood » Apr 01, 2013 1:05 pm

JoeB wrote:
hoopy frood wrote:The simple expedient of drilling a few KMs into the crust would provide you with a long-term heat source four times hotter than the surface of the Sun, which as it happens is rather cool in terms of area. And 91/4 million miles away.

Exactly where do you find heat sources in excess of 20000 degrees C a few KM into the crust?


A few kilometres is all you have to drill in order to harness that heat source.

which is all I said.
I don’t think we’re for anything, we’re just products of evolution. You can say “Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose,” but I’m anticipating a good lunch.

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