Another subsidized solar power company going bust?

Your tax dollars at work! The U.S.’s largest solar power company, heavily subsidized by the federal government, now faces bankruptcy.

An SEC filing from TerraForm Global, a unit of SunEdison, claims “due to SunEdison’s liquidity difficulties, there is a substantial risk that SunEdison will soon seek bankruptcy protection.” Both SunEdison and TerraForm are delaying the filing of their annual financial report to the SEC.

News of SunEdison’s impending bankruptcy filing comes after the company’s shares fell 95 percent in the past 12 months, with shares now trading for less than $1 for the first time since the green energy company went public in 1995. SunEdison’s market value fell from $10 billion in July 2015 to around $400 million today.

The news also comes after the SEC announced it was launching an investigation into SunEdison’s disclosures to shareholders regarding the company’s liquidity. SEC enforcement officials “are looking into whether SunEdison overstated its liquidity last fall when it told investors it had more than $1 billion in cash,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

…The pro-labor union group Good Jobs First reported last year that SunEdison and its subsidiaries got nearly $650 million in subsidies and tax credits from the federal government since 2000. It was the 13th most heavily-subsidized company in America. This includes nearly $4.6 million in subsidies from the Department of Energy and Department of Treasury. reported in October 2015 that SunEdison had gotten nearly $4.6 million from the Obama administration, including funding to build semi-conductors. A SunEdison bankruptcy could leave taxpayers on the hook for more than $2 billion.

But hey, what’s a few billion here or there, if the cause is worthwhile?

Solar panels more climate damaging than coal

Surprise, surprise! A comparison of the entire production process for both solar and coal power has found that solar power is more damaging to the environment and the climate.

Not only does the production, transport, and use of solar panels dump more total CO2 into the atmosphere than coal power plants, the manufacture of the solar panels adds many more toxic chemicals to the environment than coal.

According to Ferroni, the other huge drawback presented by PV systems are the nasty chemicals and industrial gases used for their manufacture. The production of solar panels in China entails nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which are extremely potent heat-trapping gases that leak out during the process. NF3 has a greenhouse gas potency that is 16,600 times greater than CO2; SF6 is 23,900 times more potent. Reports show that these gases emitted annually into the atmosphere from the manufacture of solar panels is equivalent to over 70 million tonnes of CO2 in terms of greenhouse effect. In 2010 over 17.5 GW of rated capacity of solar cells were installed. Thus the emissions per square meter of solar panels comes out to be 513 kg CO2 – a huge amount!

The manufacture of solar cells also uses other chemicals like (HCl), silizium carbide, and silver among others. The total alleged warming potential of these chemicals comes out to be an estimated 30 kg CO2 per square meter of PV module. Oddly (likely to avoid embarrassment) the solar industry has yet to release any detailed data on the warming potential and impacts of the chemicals used in their manufacture.

But President Obama tells us solar power is good! It must be true!

Japan successfully tests new solar power technology

The competition heats up: In a test of technology necessary to make space-to-Earth solar power generation possible, Japanese engineers were successfully able to precisely control the transmission of microwaves over a distance of 55 meters.

The main obstacle to generating electricity in space for use on Earth has been getting that power down to Earth. Microwaves can do it, but beaming microwaves through the atmosphere is no good as it will cook everything in the beam’s path. Being able to beam that transmission very precisely for long distances, something not yet possible, will reduce this problem.

The solar-powered experimental airplane Solar Impulse 2 made its maiden flight on Monday.

The solar-powered experimental airplane Solar Impulse 2 made its maiden flight on Monday.

The solar-powered aircraft took off at 5:36 AM CET, when the weather around the aerodrome was at its calmest, with pilot Markus Scherdel at the controls. The aircraft flew for two hours and 17 minutes, reaching an altitude of 1,670 m (5,500 ft) and a ground speed of 55.6 km/h (30 kt). According to Solar Impulse, the in-flight data indicates that the aircraft slated to make the first all-solar global circumnavigation flight performed to expectations.

The goal is to use this plane to fly around the world in 2015. Videos of the take off and landing below the fold. The plane gets off the ground very quickly, does not move very fast, and is balanced precariously on a single set of wheels in the center. If you look closely before takeoff, there are two guys literally holding the wings up at each end to balance it. They have to run with the plane for the first few seconds until it gets enough lift to balance on its own. The landing video shows both bicyclists and men racing to meet up with the wings to hold them up once the plane stops.
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Solar Impulse has completed the second leg of its journey to fly across the United States powered only by the sun.

Solar Impulse has completed the second leg of its journey to fly across the United States powered only by the sun.

The Solar Impulse has broken its own record for the longest distance flight of a solar-powered aircraft following the second leg of its journey across the USA. Solar Impulse touched down in Texas at 1:08 a.m. local time after a flight of 18 hours 21 minutes having covered at least 868 miles (1,397 km). Two different distances have been reported for the flight. The Solar Impulse website says the flight “amounted” to 868 miles (1,397 km). However, according to a report, Solar Impulse covered a distance of 1,541 km (which it rounds to 950 miles, though this is not the precise conversion).

It is thought the two distances exist because the plane actually lost ground during part of its flight due to headwinds.

One of the major backers has pulled out of a solar energy power plant plan for Africa and the Middle East.

One of the major backers has pulled out of a solar energy power plant plan for Africa and the Middle East.

“We see our part in Dii as done,” says spokesman Torsten Wolf of Siemens, one of 13 founding partners of the consortium, which is also based in Munich. Siemens also said that it will pull out of the solar-energy business altogether. Its decision was made in response to falling government subsidies for solar energy and a collapse in the price of solar equipment. But to DESERTEC’S critics, Siemens’ exit also adds to doubts about the plan, which is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. “DESERTEC is an ambitious attempt to do every­thing at once,” says Jenny Chase, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Zurich, Switzerland. “I think it’s something that will be achieved organically, bit by bit, which will probably be cheaper, easier and achieve the same results.” [emphasis mine]

The cited reasons suggest some fundamental problems with this particular project. That Siemens is abandoning the solar energy entirely, citing the lose of government subsidies as one reason, also suggests there is something fundamental wrong with the industry itself.

Then again, it could be just like the new commercial space industry. Some companies are willing to take the risks to make the money even without subsidies, while others are not.

A skeptic takes an educated look at alternative energy.

A skeptic takes an educated look at alternative energy.

The matter of affordable costs is the hardest promise to assess, given the many assorted subsidies and the creative accounting techniques that have for years propped up alternative and renewable generation technologies. Both the European Wind Energy Association and the American Wind Energy Association claim that wind turbines already produce cheaper electricity than coal-fired power plants do, while the solar enthusiasts love to take the history of impressively declining prices for photovoltaic cells and project them forward to imply that we’ll soon see installed costs that are amazingly low.

But other analyses refute the claims of cheap wind electricity, and still others take into account the fact that photo­voltaic installations require not just cells but also frames, inverters, batteries, and labor. These associated expenses are not plummeting at all, and that is why the cost of electricity generated by residential solar systems in the United States has not changed dramatically since 2000. At that time the national mean was close to 40 U.S. cents per kilowatt­-hour, while the latest Solarbuzz data for 2012 show 28.91 cents per kilowatt-hour in sunny climates and 63.60 cents per kilowatt-­hour in cloudy ones. That’s still far more expensive than using fossil fuels, which in the United States cost between 11 and 12 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2011. The age of mass-scale, decentralized photovoltaic generation is not here yet.

Then consider the question of scale. Wind power is more advanced commercially than solar power, but with about 47 gigawatts in the United States at the end of 2011 it still accounted for less than 4 percent of the net installed summer generating capacity in that country. And because the capacity factors of U.S. wind turbines are so low, wind supplied less than 3 percent of all the electricity generated there in 2011.

Read the whole article. It is detailed, thoughtful, and blunt.

The world’s largest solar power project, recipient of the second largest ever Department of Energy loan guarantee, has filed for bankruptcy.

Another wise investment of the Obama administration: The world’s largest solar power project, recipient of the second largest ever Department of Energy loan guarantee, has filed for bankruptcy.

Update and correction: It turns out that the company was offered the DOE loan guarantee, but turned it down. Read this second article. The facts it describe make the decisions of the Obama administration seem beyond foolish.

After spending $130 billion on solar power subsidizes, Germany has found the effort to be a monumental waste of money.

After spending $130 billion on solar power subsidies, Germany has found the effort to be a monumental waste of money.

Despite the massive investment, solar power accounts for only about 0.3% of Germany’s total energy. This is one of the key reasons why Germans now pay the second-highest price for electricity in the developed world (exceeded only by Denmark, which aims to be the “world wind-energy champion”). Germans pay three times more than their American counterparts.

Moreover, this sizeable investment does remarkably little to counter global warming. Even with unrealistically generous assumptions, the unimpressive net effect is that solar power reduces Germany’s CO2 emissions by roughly eight million metric tons – or about 1% – for the next 20 years. When the effects are calculated in a standard climate model, the result is a reduction in average temperature of 0.00005oC (one twenty-thousandth of a degree Celsius, or one ten-thousandth of a degree Fahrenheit). To put it another way: by the end of the century, Germany’s $130 billion solar panel subsidies will have postponed temperature increases by 23 hours.

Using solar, Germany is paying about $1,000 per ton of CO2 reduced. The current CO2 price in Europe is $8. Germany could have cut 131 times as much CO2 for the same price. Instead, the Germans are wasting more than 99 cents of every euro that they plow into solar panels.

Rather than invest in the pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams of politicians, wouldn’t it be smarter to let the market figure out the most efficient form of energy? At first glance that efficiency might not appear “green-friendly”, but if it is more efficient I suspect it is almost certainly going to have the least overall effect on the environment.

The problems of making both wind and solar power practical sources of electrical power on the grid.

The difficulties making both wind and solar power practical sources of electrical power on the grid.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, when intermittent sources such as solar or wind reach about 20 percent of a region’s total energy production, balancing supply and demand becomes extremely challenging: rolling blackouts can sometimes become inevitable. The same problem exists elsewhere, notably in Germany, where a vast photovoltaic capacity has sprung up thanks to generous subsidies.

The article proposes several reasonable solutions for storing power for use when there are lulls in wind or sunlight. All, however, appear costly, and all appear to end up making fossil fuels themselves more cost effective. For example,

A pumped-hydro facility consists of two reservoirs with a substantial drop in height between them. When there is excess electricity to go around, electric pumps move water from the lower reservoir into the upper one, thereby storing energy in the form of gravitational potential energy. When wind and solar wane or simply cannot keep up with demand, operators let water flow down and through turbines, generating electricity. In compressed-air facilities, excess electricity pumps air into underground caverns, and it is later released at high pressure to turn turbines.

Pumped hydro has been used for decades to balance the load on large U.S. grids. About 2.5 percent of the electricity used by U.S. consumers has cycled through one of these plants. In Europe the amount is 4 percent and in Japan 10 percent.

Reading this, I immediately asked, why not use this technology now to help reduce the amount of fossil fuels you need to burn? Japan seems to have figured this out. Why not us?

Germany’s $130B Solar Experiment Delays Global Warming by 23 hours!

Success! Germany’s $130 billion solar power subsidies has delayed global warming by 23 hours!

It gets worse: Because Germany is part of the European Union Emissions Trading System, the actual effect of extra solar panels in Germany leads to no CO2 reductions, because total emissions are already capped. Instead, the Germans simply allow other parts of the EU to emit more CO2. Germany’s solar panels have only made it cheaper for Portugal or Greece to use coal.

Obama Administration Pushing for Solar Projects on Public Lands

Coming to a state near you (until the project goes bankrupt and leaves behind a financial and environmental ruin): The Obama administration this week identified seventeen sites in six Western states, all on public land, as prime locations for solar energy projects.

To me, the best indication that something is not quite right with this proposal is that the solar industry itself has doubts.

Environmental groups hailed the announcement, but the solar industry was guarded in its response. Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said he had “some significant areas of concern” about the solar energy zones@ Flexibility in project siting and access to transmission were crucial to financing and development of utility-scale solar power plants, Resch said, adding that he was optimistic a balanced approach could be found.

You would think the solar industry would be thrilled to get this support from the government. That they have reservations is a serious red flag.

Eco-friendly festival closes down due to lack of attendence

Eco-friendly festival closes down due to lack of attendance.

Reminds me of a local news piece here in Maryland last week, where a team from the University of Maryland in College Park won a Department of Energy competition for the best built solar powered house. The problem is that the house cost $330,000 to build, is only 920 square feet in size, and the best price they hope to get for it is $250,000, if that.

In other words, it appears that these ecological projects have little to do with the real world, where creating something that customers will want to buy is the only way to succeed. All else is fantasy.