Over at Bishop Hill, there’s a story about an inquisition into the Spanish solar power industry, which was so heavily subsidized and the price being paid for solar power feed-in so much more than conventional power, that some unscrupulous opportunists decided to run solar power systems at night, with the help of a diesel generator:
After press reports, it was established during inspections that several solar power plants were generating current and feeding it into the net at night. To simulate a larger installation capacity, the operators connected diesel generators.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said one industry expert to the newspaper “El Mundo”, which brought the scandal to light. If solar systems apparently produce current in the dark, will be noticed sooner or later. However, if electricity generators were connected during daytime, the swindle would hardly be noticed.
Now, the results of the inquisition are published, and it’s just what you’d expect:
The chapter analysing the history of the industry in Spain is laugh-a-minute stuff, a tale of incompetent politicians and civil servants bumbling from one disaster to another and fraudulent investors cheating their way to a slice of public funds. We learn how the Spanish government decreed a feed-in-tariff system that guaranteed six times market rates to PV businesses, before a belated realisation that this was going to lead to astonishing surges of investment. They then put in place a series of only partially successful measures in an attempt to stop the expansion, as the whole farrago quickly became unaffordable and ultimately disastrous. We hear about the diesel generators generating “solar power” at night and that at one point the authorities estimated that half of new solar PV connections to the grid were fraudulent.
Bishop Hill has more here, including a comparison of the dismal EROI number.
The preview for the book suggests the authors did a detailed job on the inquisition, which has been out for over a year:
The Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI or EROEI) is the amount of energy acquired from a particular energy source divided by the energy expended, or invested, in obtaining that energy. EROI is an essential and seemingly simple measure of the usable energy or “energy profit” from the exploitation of an energy source, but it is not so easy to determine all of the energy expenditures that should be included in the calculation. Because EROI values are generally low for renewable energy sources, differences in these estimates can lead to sharply divergent conclusions about the viability of these energy technologies. This book presents the first complete energy analysis of a large-scale, real-world deployment of photovoltaic (PV) collection systems representing 3.5 GW of installed, grid-connected solar plants in Spain. The analysis includes all of the factors that limit and adjust the real electricity output through one full-year cycle, and all of the fossil fuel inputs required to achieve these results. The authors’ comprehensive analysis of energy inputs, which assigns energy cost estimates to all financial expenditures, yields EROI values that are less than half of those claimed by other investigators and by the solar industry. Sensitivity analysis is used to test various assumptions in deriving these EROI estimates. The results imply that the EROI of current, large-scale PV systems may be too low to seamlessly support an energy and economic transition away from fossil fuels. Given the pervasiveness of fossil fuel subsidies in the modern economy, a key conclusion is that all components of the system that brings solar power to the consumer, from manufacturing to product maintenance and life cycle, must be improved in terms of energy efficiency. The materials science of solar conversion efficiency is only one such component.
Sunny Spain represented an ideal case study as the country had the highest penetration of solar PV energy at 2.3 percent of total national demand as well as state-of-the-art expertise in solar power including grid management of intermittent, modern renewable systems. This book, written by a uniquely qualified author team consisting of the chief engineer for several major photovoltaic projects in Spain and the world’s leading expert on the concept and application of EROI, provides a comprehensive understanding of the net energy available to society from energy sources in general and from functioning PV installations under real-world conditions in particular. The authors provide critical insight into the capacity of renewable energy sources to fill the foreseeable gap between world energy demand and depletion rates for fossil fuels.
· Presents the first comprehensive study of the EROI of large-scale solar PV systems in a developed country
· Uses real-world operational data rather than laboratory approximations and extrapolations
· Describes the dependence of one alternative energy source on the goods and services of a fossil-fueled economy
· Has global implications for the potential of renewable energy sources to replace dwindling reserves of fossil fuels
· Written with the first-hand knowledge of the chief, on-site engineer for many solar installations in Spain together with the leader in the development and application of the concept of EROI
And finally, for those that don’t get the joke in the headline, see this.