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The insanity of greenery

This from a correspondent:

A German aristocrat of my acquaintance has figured out that the price he will be paid for the output of a solar panel is so high compared with the price he will pay for his input of normal electricity, that he is thinking of rigging up powerful arc lamps to shine on solar panels on his extensive roof.


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Reader Comments (76)

"Is this supposed to be impressive? It is either (a) an urban myth (b) fraud.

It is like telling an anecdote about a shoplifter and claiming this means the defenders of property rights are stupid."

In a word; No.
It is an acceptance of how human nature works regardless of the "good intentions" of policy makers.

If large ammounts of money are made available, and it is poorly guarded, then, unfortunately some individuals of a less than honest nature will find their own ways of harvesting that money.

You don't have to go far to find examples;
Politician's expenses in both Britain and Ireland?
virtually any spending by FAS, the Irish state training agency?
I could also add such gems as European Union subsidies on anything at all, but let's just say bridges over none existent motorways in Sicily?

oh yes, and Climate change research?

What the guys are having a chuckle about is pointing out the likely unintended consequences of subsidizing small scale generation.

Ridiculous ammounts of money being offered, and virtually impossible to police

or does the nature of our less honest citizens suddenly change when we are talking about climate change / saving the world / doing it for the children / cute fluffy whoore/cause de jour?

Mar 9, 2010 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterKeith


I thought it was interesting. Judging from the comments, so do others. You are right it could be an urban myth, but I don't think it could be fraud.

Mar 9, 2010 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterBishop Hill

The only carbon footprints I produce are if I unwittingly walk through the pile of soot I've just swept from the chimney....

Mar 9, 2010 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterKhazi

"Is that the behaviour of a hypocrite or an addict?"

If even the evangelical can't act on their faith, why should agnostics have to do it?

Would you go get your daughter mutilated because the holymen of some sect of some faith you don't even believe in, say you should to save the world?

Mar 9, 2010 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterKeith

On the subject of the 'Bloom Box' mentioned earlier.....Do I understand that, this 'consumes' Oxygen? Without replacing it with Carbon Dioxide. Is this wise, if so?

Mar 9, 2010 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered Commenterfenbeagle


You are right it could be an urban myth, but I don't think it could be fraud.

If the guy is selling non-renewable energy as renewable energy, does that sound legal or ethical to you? On the other hand, in the unlikely event that he is buying renewable energy to power these lamps and somehow able to sell it back to the grid at a profit, that would simply be arbitrage. Either way it no more points to 'the insanity of greenery' than the fact of similar fraud, breach of contract, and arbitrage in other markets should precipitate a post on 'those nutty capitalists'.

And of course missing from all of this is the libertarian answer to the problem of moving from a CO2 based infrastructure to renewables, given that CO2 emissions are a problem. One could be forgiven for thinking they don't have an answer, or that if they do then it looks much like 'the insanity of greenery'.

[BH adds: OK, I see where you are coming from. I think it depends on the wording of the contract - if it says "from photovoltaics" it's not fraud IMHO, but it is certainly madness. Assuming for the sake of argument that the story is true, it's only the presence of subsidy that permits the madness to take place, and of course us fringe libertarian extremists oppose subsidy. Now were you to propose a carbon tax then it would be easier to justify to us (if we accept your premise that CO2 is a problem, again for the sake of argument.)]

Mar 9, 2010 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

"given that CO2 emissions are a problem."

Are they?

Mar 9, 2010 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterKeith


And of course missing from all of this is the libertarian answer to the problem of moving from a CO2 based infrastructure to renewables, given that CO2 emissions are a problem. One could be forgiven for thinking they don't have an answer, or that if they do then it looks much like 'the insanity of greenery'

CO2 emissions may be a problem, but the problem does not appear to have been fully quantified. Some of the proposed solutions are more easily quantifiable on cost/benefit terms. Part of those costs will be managing fraud given fraudsters have already shown a liking for green schemes like carbon trading. Once we get the smart meters that are being imposed on us, we'll have fewer or no meter readers who can look for fraudulent installations. So this will cost householders and jobs.

Fraudulent sales will create problems for householders if panels are mis-sold or profits are exagerated. This will help keep Trading Standards busy and may create a few more jobs. The CO2 footprint has perhaps been exagerated. Who will maintain the panels? Will this increase the number of visits by vans with ladders or scaffolding towers to clean panels? Complying with HSE regs for safe working at heights may make that expensive in cash and CO2 terms. Non-compliance may just increase the number of deaths or injuries from people falling off roofs trying to clean their panels.

Then there's the 'renewable' problem. If solar panels are CdTe, what quantity of Te is available, and at what cost? What will happen with disposal of old, faulty or degraded panels and the Cd contained in them?

So there's a few issues with 'renewables'. Many people favour nuclear instead, which is a very low CO2 option but not considered 'green' because the greens have spent years convincing people nuclear is bad and disposing of radioactive waste safely is impossible. Strange how much radioactive waste is produced by hospitals, where previoulsy it may have been fed or injected into patients.

Mar 9, 2010 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

Frank: You asked, "Is that the behaviour of a hypocrite or an addict?"

Addict, and we all share an addiction to energy.

Good news: there's a guy in Australia called Bernard J who has reduced his energy consumption at severe cost to his prosperity, and reports that his quality of life is better than it has ever been. Such a guy deserves respect for having the courage of his convictions.

Mar 9, 2010 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

Whilst solar photovoltaic (PV) cells offer possibly the most elegant form of energy production currently known, without noise, moving parts or direct pollution, this is only true if we conveniently ignore their production.

It's my understanding that to date, there isn't a single commercial solar PV technology that is capable of producing more power in its entire mean expected lifespan than it consumes in its production.

As far as I know, no solar PV fabrication plants are currently powered by windmills or solar rooftops, nor are their raw materials suppliers. Therefore any solar PV system has a likely net positive CO2 contribution, and is not "carbon neutral", even before adding all the transport and balance of system resources and requirements.

Production of traditional glass-based silicon solar PV, which accounts for the majority of new and existing installed global solar PV capacity is hugely capital intensive, with very low production yields, hence its expense.

It is produced largely as a by-product and off the back of the silicon wafer fabrication industry driven by demand for computer chips. As a result, shortages and generally tight supply are common. Commissioning new solar fab plants has long, multi-year lead times, and also requires the building of extra silicon wafer capacity over and above that demanded by the chip market.

Energy production efficiency of solar PV is on average very low, typically much less than 10% and then only under perfect conditions. Efficiency falls rapidly in ambient operating temperatures that are either a few degrees too hot or too cold of ideal, and when the exposed surfaces are not perfectly clean.

Ultra expensive 2nd generation solar pv cells, based on amorphous silicon still only typically produce 12-14% theoretical efficiencies, and their production plants are even more capital intense and with even lower yields.

Neither 1st nor 2nd generation solar is ever likely to cost less to produce as demand rises because of these simple physical constraints on supply.

Interestingly, at least as of a couple of year's ago, 2 of the world's biggest 4 manufacturers of solar PV was Big Oil, in the shape of Shell and BP.

Third and Fourth generation lightweight printable cells based on photoactive organic polymers are still not widely commercially available, and are typically even more energy inefficient. But these may offer ultimately much lower cost/watt, and other advantages that make them more practical to use such as panel flexibility and light weight. However their robustness and expected useful lifespan is still unknown.

All in all, as much as I personally like the elegance of converting cost-free photons into useful power, the basic sums simply do not add up.

Mar 9, 2010 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrew

"All in all, as much as I personally like the elegance of converting cost-free photons into useful power, the basic sums simply do not add up."

Just Let plants do it for us:

And if we count in diatoms and cyanobacteria: oil

I'm not sure what the economics of using a baler to bale up the brash during timber harvesting would be like, but I'd guess several tonnes of brash per hectare go to waste at present.

Mar 9, 2010 at 1:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith

It's like those bugs in the PC verson of Frontier (sequel to 'Elite') which allowed the player to accrue unlimited funds by exploiting holes in the trading system.

Mar 9, 2010 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterdaft person


"given that CO2 emissions are a problem."

Are they?

You're missing the point.

Assuming they are, libertarians' solution is _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _?

Mar 9, 2010 at 9:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

Greenzism proves we are not fully evolved human beings; let alone part of a great mature society. En mass, we have reverted back thousands of years by making man the measure of all things. En mass we have psychologically projected ourselves to the status of immortal beings capable of destroying entire planets in this solar system. Yes, we have elevated ourselves to Gods in a denial of death psychosis. No, we are not immortal gods no matter how powerful we think we may be. Our effect on this 5 billion year old planet that we evolved from through timeless chaos is like passing gas in a tornado. We are living longer now than at any time in human history despite the illusion of a toxic planet killing us and access to quality healthcare. Now all we can do is cry SAVE THE PLANET (THE END IS NEAR) like cave men sacrificing goats.
This environ MENTAL ism is a direct cause of the Internet, that untreated cesspool / sewer of untreated information that is a more advanced form of communication than we are capable or evolved enough to utilize constructively. This prevents us from seeing the balanced view of reality and that is that we have defeated the smoggy 70’ s and we now have a boatload of laws, standards, regulations, protections and rules to protect the environment yet we don’t see it. We don’t see that it’s courage we need to face the future of energy and population, not Gore’s Greenzi goose-stepping Green Shirts spewing fear of the unknown. God help us.

Mar 9, 2010 at 10:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterMeme Mine


When you do a complete life cycle cost benefit analysis of the typical residential solar panel set up, even with offsets and feed in tariffs its a very marginal investment. As what people often forget is things like the Inverter are only warranted for a few years (compared to 25 years for panels typically) - inverters cost anywhere north of $1000 each to replace!

People need to think first about what they can do to reduce their energy consumption first, then think about solar.

Myself I will be only looking at solar if the current price per watt drops by about 25%; then things _start_ to get interesting.

BTW see my weblink for an online tool to help you do a simple cost benefit analysis.

Mar 10, 2010 at 2:51 AM | Unregistered Commenterkeith

Keith, I was broadly of your opinion until these new feed in tariffs were announced in the UK, but the rates being offered are so good that it is starting to look worthwhile from a purely economic point of view. As far as I understand it the income from feed in tariffs is tax free, which makes this really quite attractive for a higher rate tax payer: a 6% return tax free is equivalent to a 10% return taxed.

Mar 10, 2010 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Hi Frank,
Speaking for myself, and I'm actually quite averse to sending money to the dysfunctional places which produce most of the oil and gas...

Pricing needs to be a market rate, subsidies, grants and protectionism always have and always will distort and pervert.

Subsidy takes money; which equals human effort and natural resources, away from areas where they are beneficial (eg in taxes) and directs them to those which are less beneficial. It really is a loose:loose.

The Pennine valleys that I grew up in, and the Barrow Valley where I am now have excellent systems of leats built to power mines and mills. I know people who have had a quick look at the possibility of rennovating the leats and putting small turbines or water wheels in, only to abandon the idea when they found that the nationalized (and now "privatized" but still with monopoly powers) water companies had the right to bill them for the water passing through.

Regulations on dam inspection introduced in the 1980s led to the network of old dams in the Allendales in Northumberland being breached. They are not easily repairable. With suitable turbines, they would have made excellent quickly reacting reserve capacity to use during forecast demand peaks (eg advert breaks in soap operas and big sports matches - when everyone puts the 3KW kettle on).

Big wind turbines, in the right location, do actually stand a chance of having a positive NPV with market prices for electricity. Several friends of mine live and own land (which they've worked bloody hard to buy out of taxed income - for any green coming here who wants to bleet about "property is theft" ) in the windiest bloody place I've ever been to, both in strength and continuity of wind.

Following a ministerial order in around 2000, the area now has national park level planning restrictions; apparently a council which builds some of the ugliest stalinist monstrosities - knows better than the people who over generations have actually created a decent environment to live in - how best to keep that environment beautiful...

Incidentally, "National Park" is neither national, ie bought by the state, nor is it a "Park".

The wind turbines would only be part of the story, the area is hilly, with several good sites for pumped storage, including a couple of sites with old tunnels which could be enlarged, stabilized and refurbished to provide cheap connections to the deeper valleys. But for the bullshit and un-democratically imposed planning restrictions (ministerial order, not act of parliament), I would be there now doing the feasibility studies and the EIA & EIS. I am certain the project would attract investment, and pay those investors a good return by selling power at market rates at times of peak demand.

There is a dairy farm down the road from me now, which has built its own anaerobic digesters, and uses the methane for house and farm heating.

I did some work at a city sewerage works in England, which had anearobic digesters installed, but they had not been operational for several years. No one there seemed to know why, or to care. I don't know what the accountancy basis for operating the digesters is, but producing saleable gas and reducing the volume of sludge to transport would appear to be easily measureable benefits.

Those are some small areas that I can think of. The beauty of the free market is that the whole population has the chance to use its ideas, whereas "State" planning relies on often stale and incestuous "brains trusts" who are too often more interested in keeping outsiders off their lawn, than they are in generating good ideas.

We've all heard of the "experts" who Xerox's bankers consulted, who said there was no need for this new fangled photocopier thingy, as everyone they'd asked was perfectly happy using carbon paper...

OK, that's my little contribution to the generation, Now onto public buildings where the occupants open the windows because the heating is set too high...

Mar 10, 2010 at 12:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith in Ireland

Frank, The term is 'arbitrage'.

Richard North provides a useful lesson therein -

Mar 10, 2010 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterChuckles

B4 I forget;
There is a bloody great hole in the middle of the Northern Pennine AONB designation, for the cement works that was built following subsidies from Durham County Cooncil.

Now that the cement works has closed (it never actually made sense having it there, so remote from major population centres), the last i heard, the cooncil wanted to put wind turbines on the cement works quarry site, while the same council enforces a ban on wind turbines on the other side of the fence in the AONB.

They also investigated geothermal potential, there is saline water 1km down at 40 degrees C, which would make a lovely hot spa pool to sit in (once the radon is vented off it), but the cost of drilling and maintaining the 1km deep well?

and if i'd applied to discharge saline water into the river...

Mar 10, 2010 at 1:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith in Ireland

Just posted in unthreaded, questioning why several large water supply dams are spilling water over their overflow, rather than installing turbines and selling power from it, and why the Tyne to Tees white elephant water transfer scheme isn't being modified for use as pumped storage, as most of the infrastructure, such as pumping station, rock tunnels and header reservoir, is already there.

Are the utilities companies missing a trick, or, have they found that the relatively slight modifications would be un-economic?

If the latter, WTF are the British Government squandering tax payers money on micro schemes that will never show a positive NPV?

Frank, the ball is in your court.

Mar 11, 2010 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith in Ireland

In the '70s USA "energy crisis" one of the responses was that California required the monopoly utilities to purchase electricity generated from any in-state independent source at rates pegged to the utility's "avoided long-run marginal cost". After assuming future resource scarcity, the utilities commission pegged the feed-in-tariff "appropriately".
And while it is fashionable (and not entirely off base) to blame Enron arbitrage for the state's more recent power crisis, the fact that the state mandated both the purchase and sale price of the electricity, and that the sum of their income from sales was less than the costs of the energy purchased might have had something to do with it.

Mar 11, 2010 at 3:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterDOuglas

"he is thinking of rigging up powerful arc lamps to shine on solar panels on his extensive roof."

It would be easier, and more efficient, to remove the solar panels from the system and feed the mains back through the feed-in. Truly, money for nothing!

My reading of the scheme is that, as HMG (or your energy company) has no way to monitor energy being fed in, you get paid for simply registering your PV array as installed and of class X and wait for the money to arrive. Any monitoring is likely to be of the statistical kind, designed to spot anomalous claims. Then again the documentation is so messy that I could be wrong.

Mar 12, 2010 at 8:08 AM | Unregistered Commenter3x2

Spam alert...Sathya (above) is not advancing the discussion.

Jul 8, 2010 at 8:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

I read this post And what to say nothing but a great work central heating installation

Sep 4, 2010 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterneo

wind generator
Wind turbines are used to generate electricity from the kinetic power of the wind. Historical they were more frequently used as a mechanical device to turn machinery.

Sep 14, 2010 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterwind generator

I say do what ever it takes to save some money. besides if he ends up with a surplus of energy the energy will go back to the power grid and the power company will end up paying him if he creates extra energy.

Sep 28, 2010 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Hunter

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