Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sober Solar Statistics

February 17th:
"I think it's very exciting that the president emphasized green energy so much," said U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, one of seven of Colorado's congressional delegates who came to the bill-signing. "Colorado is going to be ground zero for ending our reliance on foreign oil."

The president used the state as a stage to talk about job creation and civic investment. He said the stimulus bill could create 60,000 jobs here and 400,000 jobs nationwide.

Before the 30-minute ceremony, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden strolled the wind-whipped rooftop of the Denver museum with Blake Jones, chief executive of Namaste Solar, whose company installed 18 rows of panels. [NOfP note: photo here.] The sun generates enough energy on the museum rooftop to power about 30 homes.
The Independence Institute asked the Denver Museum of Science and Nature to provide certain statistical information regarding the now-famous solar array. Specifically, the Institute asked for:

1 ) Two years worth of electric bills prior to the installation of the solar array,
2 ) All electric bills following the completion of the installation.

The Museum denied those requests.

The solar array is not owned by the Museum, however. It is owned by Hybrid Energy Group, LLC. HEG owns the solar array, sells the electricity to the Museum, and receives tax incentives from the state and federal governments, while also receiving "rebates" from Xcel Energy. The rebates are funded by a surcharge collected on the monthly bill of every Colorado Xcel customer.

A 2008 article in the Denver Business Journal sheds further light on the subject. The article notes the total price of the solar array was $720,000. And Dave Noel, VP of operations and chief technology officer for the Museum, was quoted as saying, "We looked at first installing [the solar array] ourselves, and without any of the incentive programs, it was a 110-year payout." Noel went on to say that the Museum did not purchase the solar array because it did not "make sense financially."
Analysis by Paul Chesser at
Given the circumstances it is absurd to believe the claims made about the amount of power generated by the panels. But note the statement: "The sun generates enough energy on the museum rooftop to power about 30 homes." Any detail beyond that hopeful generality is lost on the uncurious, lazy reporter. Note that the statement isn’t talking about the energy generated from the panels; just how much solar energy is hitting the top of the roof. And enough energy on the rooftop to power 30 homes for how long? Or how long does the sun have to hit the roof to power the homes (and for how long)? How big are the homes? Etc., etc.
Conclusion: Remain skeptical that solar power is the answer (or even a major part of an answer). The performance claims tend toward the vague (see note 1 here). Like wind energy, it's most efficiently collected where least needed and output varies over the course of a day (setting a ceiling on the percentage of electricity generation that can derive from solar). And even multi-acre solar collectors remain less cost effective than coal or nuclear.

(via Planet Gore)


Assistant Village Idiot said...

"The sun generates enough energy on the museum rooftop..." Forget the lazy reporters, who should have asked more questions. The person making that statement was dishonest. While the statement may be technically accurate, anyone using the statistic would no what impression was given, and no effort was made to correct that.

OBloodyHell said...


> And even multi-acre solar collectors remain less cost effective than coal or nuclear.

And, as I've indicated before, will continue to do so, for all of eternity.

The reason for this, which flies in the face of the defective "common sense" we've been taught, as to do with the nature of solar energy (and wind energy, for that matter) as too diffuse -- it's too spread out -- to utilize effectively.

To use a hydropower analogy, in order to actually generate much hydropower, you can't just slap your generators across a river. You generally have to produce a dam with a lake behind it. This collects the power of the running water and builds it up so that you can tap the energy from it. As it is, just running through the river, the energy is too diffuse.

And here I digress (more on the above next comment):

There's a money analogy there, too. The reason why substantial collections of wealth happen is that these collections act as a sort of dam to drive the thing that the wealth is going to be used to create. If you don't have the money collected (the water behind the dam) the forces which generate wealth (electricity) don't have enough "pressure" to drive the turbines of wealth (electric) creation. That's an analogy, and not a hard one, but there is something to an understanding of it and it also helps grasp why capitalism works and socialism does not.

Socialism, if it were actually working, keeps the money diffuse and thus unable to actually promote real wealth creation. So inevitably, the forces that HAVE to operate one way or another to create wealth co-opt the system and distort it to produce "wealth lakes" which can be used, if far less effectively than the capitalist systems, to create the wealth demanded.

The advantage of capitalism is clear -- if one "lake" isn't doing a good job of generating wealth, it can easily and quickly flow into another "lake". Other systems almost inherently fail this task. Central-control systems can succeed on an occasional level, but there's just too many lakes and "wealth-generating dams" out there for any group of people to see and react to quickly enough to shift the flow into the various lakes quickly enough. Capitalism vastly expands the number of minds set to notice which lakes are producing best. And that makes capitalism's success inevitable -- while it is more of a "group mind" and much less blatantly directable, it also is capable of much greater responsiveness over the entire system and over time.

Capitalism is essentially a sort of idiot-savant neural network, not unlike a medical expert system. It's finely tuned to the task of directing money-flows to their most effective uses.

And herein lies where the distortions of governments step in -- by directing flow explicitly, they almost always fail to grasp why it is that the flow wasn't headed where some people (whoever directed the government) wanted it to go.

By using individual humans to direct vast swaths of flow, they reveal the inherent biases of that individual rather than the collective experience of the market.

And, by being directed by individuals subject to varying degrees of corruption, they produce an obvious opportunity for certain individuals or groups operating some of those "lakes" and "dams" to direct flow towards their lake/dam which would otherwise never flow towards it.

And lastly, because, for some insane reason, the government does not operate by GAAP (and isn't expected to!?!? WHY?), they also can often (as with the CRA and the GSEs) distort the view of what works and what doesn't. There is little valid argument that the foundation of the current crisis lies in the distorted image that the GSEs produced regarding the financial effectiveness of questionable loans, which fooled those in charge of directing money to put far too much money into those "lakes" than they had any business possessing.

Frankly, I think one of the best damned things that could be done would be to pass a Constitutional amendment which required all government entities at all levels to operate using GAAP.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


OBloodyHell said...


LOL, "Spam". Polite spam, but almost certainly spam.