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« Slap it on all over | Main | Courier feature »
Tuesday
Apr132010

It's true!

Regular readers may recall a short piece I posted a few weeks back in which a correspondent alerted me to the potential for fraud in the solar power industry. The prices paid for green energy were so high that it appeared to be profitable to generate that energy by shining conventionally fuelled arclights on the solar panels.

Although the exact details are slightly different there is now an intriguing report of the scam in practice. The text is based on a machine translation of the original German text:

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.

As I said last time around, this is the insanity of greenery.

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Reader Comments (26)

Nah, nah. It was a full moon Guv. Honest!

Apr 13, 2010 at 7:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Somebody help me. The Google translation isn't perfect. When they say "feeding it into the net" do they mean in to the grid?

Apr 13, 2010 at 8:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Here's a cleaner report.

Apr 13, 2010 at 8:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Kevin, yes, fed into the grid.
The 'renewable energy' laws in most parts usually specify that the Utility/Power company have to take and pay for any 'renewable' power generated at hugely inflated prices. Incentives matter...

So Spain, as detailed in the article is a dead giveaway for what will be happening here. That elusive 'nightime solar' does wonders for the overall efficiency.

Apr 13, 2010 at 8:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterChuckles

Chuckles,

Cool...thanks.

Apr 13, 2010 at 9:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Bishop, we should strive for more accuracy in our choice of words. If this is true, the generation of electricity from the photonic output of astronomical bodies at night is not insanity, but lunacy!

Apr 13, 2010 at 9:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

Not only will indigent electricity consumers be subsidising their more affluent neighbours, they will also unwittingly be providing untold millions for the criminal abusers of the system, I'll be willing to bet that some unscrupulous thieves cannot wait for the 'roll out' of the feed in tariff system.

Apr 13, 2010 at 9:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan

I know it's farcical, but it's also straight theft on a huge scale, and it's clear from other reports that this is happening throughout the various schemes to 'channel' funding. I always used to dismiss conspiracy theories, but this sort of thing does make you think. The next politician that comes to my door is going to get a right earful, irrespective of party, unless they can convince me they are going to do something about the larceny practised in the name of climate change.

Apr 13, 2010 at 9:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

Expect to see cables between houses as it becomes more and more common. This makes people driving round with red diesel look like honest rogues.

Apr 13, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Is It illegal?

Apr 13, 2010 at 10:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterTony Hansen

Nothing new here. When crude was regulated 30 years ago we had a shortage. "New crude" had a higher price. So they sold old crude as new crude and made more money. I do like the lights on the panels trick so they produce juice at night.
We are using more petrol btu's to make ethanol than the same gallons of ethanol deliver in BTU's.

Apr 13, 2010 at 11:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterHenry chance

I'm not sure if I'm reading it right, but in Kevin's link it refers to: "some solar stations may have run diesel-burning generators and sold the output as solar power." If you take that literally, they weren't shining lights on solar panels, they were just lying about the source of the power. Which is even easier than what has been suggested they were doing. Thoughts?

Apr 14, 2010 at 12:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterHerbie

I got a call from EDF Nouvelles Energies the other day. Apparently I can sell solar elec to them at 61 cents per kWh, guaranteed for five years if I put some panels on my roof. Meanwhile I pay about 8 cents (retail) and the wholesale price is about 2 cents for the old-fashioned elec.
That's the scale of subsidy we're talking about, so no surprises if it attracts fraud. Indeed, since any realistic investor must know that this can't last (though EDFne told me they guaranteed the panels for 25 years output!) the incentive to maximise short-term amortisation of the capital cost - even with the 50% capital subsidy - is irresistible.
As it happens, the local council has seen fit to install an annoying and useless street light right by my children's bedroom window... which shines onto my roof all night.
So I'm sorely tempted.

Apr 14, 2010 at 12:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterblokeinfrance

Can anyone actually provide a worked example of how the cost/benefit case for a swindle stacks up on the UK system?

I think the ratio of Pout to Pin using lights is worse than for the relative costs of the electricity. For a generator of capacity approx the same as a typical PV installation I think it is just about breakeven on the fuel only. The cables from one house to another could work I guess but I think minimal automated checking of consumption/generation rates should identify this - especially if it were at a level that made the benefits worthwhile. Or an "interlock" on the invertor/charging meter could be implemented so that only DC at PV voltage gets credited.

Also does anyone have any better info. on the Spanish story? The quoted 4500MWh from midnight to 7am comes out at about 650MW continuous - a reasonable size power station! Surely this wasn't all coming from diesel generator sets? Maybe this has got scrambled in translation - you'd need 600 of these fellas:

http://www.gopower.com/prod/generators_1250kw281250kvaat50hz29cumminspoweredgeneratorsetpowermodule_1992_.html

Another story here but on a slightly different tack:

http://www.barcelonareporter.com/index.php?/news/comments/spanish_solar_firms_accused_of_fraud/

Apr 14, 2010 at 12:19 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

As I stated in the earlier forum on this scam....batteries.

Governments tend to subsidize installation of the PV or wind generators. Batteries would cost about 10,000 CAD$, but you would get 25% to 50% of that back.

Assume it costs 7500 after rebate. Ontario's new feed in tariff is 0.80 khw for small PV.

Using a timer, buy power from the grid, at night, for about 6 cents/kwh. Sell it back to the grid at 80 cents. It would take selling the utilities own power back, for 10135 kwh to pay for the batteries.

The average US home uses about 1000 kwh per month.

Doubling your power usage would pay back the cost of the batteries, in about 1 year. You would also have back up power for the times when your neighbours can't get enough daylight or wind to keep the grid running. This doesn't include any actual power generated by the system.

That is a good return on investment...100% in a year. One could, if one was felonious, make an extra 750-1000 per month, with out attracting too much attention.

The downside is that the police look for increased power consumption, which is usually a pot plant operation, so one would not want to get too greedy. But a monthly income of 2000/month is not out of the question.

heck, I would buy a portable welder for a few hundred, so I could tell the police that I took up welding as hobby, thus the increased power usage.

Really, though, I would feel sorry for the consumers who would be paying me. No, really, I would.

Apr 14, 2010 at 1:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterLes Johnson

I can see an arms race developing as the electricity companies try to crack down on fraud.

First, the inverter will detect whether it is being fed from the PV with the expected DC voltage.

So the rogues will rectify AC to feed the inverter. However the rectified DC will have a strong AC component because thats the way a full-wave rectifier works.

So the inverter will look for the AC component and shut down if it finds any.

Next, the rogues will make the DC smoother using a large capacitor. Or maybe they will use a step-up regulator using standard power electronics components. For details, check out the working of a modern switched-mode power supply.

So next the authorities will ban the supply of power electronics components except to licensed professionals. Now the stage is set for a black market to develop.

A crackdown on electronic components won't work. The next stage is for a Solar Power Inspection Police to make random inspections of your PV installation.

Apr 14, 2010 at 1:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterSnowflake

Nothing new here. People in many countries have been making money from wind turbines in the exact same way. If you install a wind turbine - you make all your money back in 10 years even if it doesn't move one bit.

http://www.wind-watch.org/documents/wp-content/uploads/downtoearth.html

Apr 14, 2010 at 1:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub Niggurath

Bishop,
Your story is now on WUWT

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/04/13/the-insanity-of-greenery/

Do you get a feed-in tariff on this ?
:-)

Apr 14, 2010 at 8:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndy Scrase

@Herbie,

'they weren't shining lights on solar panels, they were just lying about the source of the power'

That's the way I read it, not the well known diesel powered solar cell, but straight feed from the generator I'm sure someone kept a VERY straight face and said that the diesel was the backup system for when the sun wasn't shining.

Sun doesn't shine at night - QED, fire up the generator. If you automate it, you could always claim that it was an unintended design flaw that it was working at night....

Apr 14, 2010 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterChuckles

Maybe we should all install solar panels on our roofs. Everyone would end up a winner! We save the world from impending AGW disaster, we get to feel smug about it, we make lots of money in the process and pensioners and poor people pay for it all. I'm surprised no one has exploited this scam before. We can't lose! I'm off to cost a new PV roof for my house.

Apr 14, 2010 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterEdBhoy

Come to Italy and see it in action, solar panels contract to ENL (Gov. energy dept. )
at 0.45 euro cents a kw. A 3,000 m2 site was for 27 months producing Euros 62,000 a month for the owners, how ? a bypass from a high tension transformer into there output 24 hours a day, when the inspector was asked in court why he did not discover the scam before, he replied he was under the impression that the panels worked at night, some 16 other operators in his area have also been shut down.

Apr 14, 2010 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterNotobrite

Being reported now on English speaking MSN (well almost)

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-04-12/spanish-solar-panel-trade-group-calls-for-fraud-investigation.html

Apr 14, 2010 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterKilliePieMan

Snowflake,

I'm an electronic engineer, and I have to buy switching power supplies anyway. So if you need any, leave a message on this thread. My markup will be very reasonable.....

Apr 14, 2010 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterMonty

Why would you shine a light onto the pannel. If your generating electricity to run a light, you may would make more money plugging the deisel engine directly intot the grid. Your going to loose 70% of the energy you just generated by converting to light in the first place.

Apr 14, 2010 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreg Cavanagh

After KIpling

If you wake at midnight, and hear a diesel’s beat,
Don't go roaming round the yard, or looking in the street.
Them that ask no questions won’t receive a writ.
Watch the wall, my darling, while your Daddy claims the FIT!

Five and twenty kilowatts,
Flowing through the dark -
Power for the Parson,
Current for the Clerk;
Money for your father (damned fools pay for it),
And watch the wall, my darling, while your Daddy claims the FIT!

Apr 16, 2010 at 11:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Advert spambots visited this Big Green visited this site
..as you can see months after publication .. posts by @Bowking" @wind_powers appeared linking to renewable sales sites
- is that how theses bots have been set up ? To scan webforums for discussions about renewables and plant adverts ?
- what a Shady business solar is.

Aug 5, 2013 at 5:33 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

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