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With solar against coal!

by DoDo Fri Jul 23rd, 2010 at 06:17:06 AM EST

Firing low-grade coal mined from open-cast mines is one of the dirtiest forms of electricity generation. However, due to the large size of the plants and the long periods of return of investment, such baseload plants are also ideal for environment-ignoring state monopolies thinking ahead for decades or energy majors wanting to secure market dominance over similar timescales. Thus, this generation mode continues on even in European countries priding themselves of high environmental standards, and villagers are up against powerful interests if they want to fight relocation ahead of a new open-cast mine prospect.

In former East Germany, for lack of better resources, the mining of Braunkohle (lit. "brown coal", often mis-translated lignite but corresponding to high-grade sub-bituminous or low-grade bituminous coal in English terminology) was very large-scale, and whole counties were turned into lunar landscapes. A lot of mines were closed and efficiency in the remainder was increased after Reunification, but, despite promises, the industry wasn't phased out. The new private owners pursued new mines. Although villagers with their new democratic rights could put up significant resistance, lawsuits only slowed down the demise of further villages (and raised compensation funds).

Kerkwitz, near the Polish border, is in the way of the latest claim by Vattenfall. With only 500 inhabitants, resistance is difficult. Now taz reports a new move to raise the stakes: a solar power plant.

The village intends to build a photovoltaic installation atop the firefighters' building, and get it financed by selling shares. For Vattenfall, this not only means an increase of potential compensation costs (for the prematurely dismantled solar plant), but the addition of outsiders as admissible co-claimants of class-action lawsuits.


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Sadly, it was under successive SPD-led governments that Brandenburg state failed to stop Vattenfall's coal plans. This at the same time Brandenburg became the state of Germany leading in annual new installations (0.4 GW in 2009) and second in total installations (4.2 GW) in wind power.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 18th, 2010 at 07:31:59 AM EST
Related news: Süddeutsche reports that behind closed doors, ministers are ramping up resistance against their own government's budget cut plans -- with the lead of the FDP-led economy ministry. How come?

When Schröder's SPD-Greens government implemented an "ecological tax" on energy at the Greens' behest, it contained a foul compromise: "energy-intensive industries" were exempted (but f.e. the state-owned German Railways wasn't). Now the austerity package would cut back these tax exemptions -- and the FDP minister remained as the last champion of Big Industry...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 07:48:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good luck to the villagers of Kerkwitz.

Vattenfall's behaviour get scolded from time to time in Swedish press, but the government (of either colour) always gets away with promising to look into it.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jul 18th, 2010 at 06:00:30 PM EST
Vattenfall should get the hell out of coal and Germany.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Jul 21st, 2010 at 04:53:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the wind potential is there a timely investment could complicate matters. Or a similar investment for more solar, but, given the latitude....

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jul 18th, 2010 at 07:59:02 PM EST
Although due to latitude, no yields comparable to those in Spain can be expected, the plains around and East of Berlin are actually one of the more sunny regions in Germany.



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 01:38:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo:
due to latitude, no yields comparable to those in Spain can be expected
Madrid's latitude is 40N, Berlin's 52N. On average (over the course of the year) cos(52º) / cos(40º) = 80%

However, around the Summer Solstice you have to subtract 23 degrees to both latitides and you get cos(19º)/cos(7º) = 95%

The latitude effect is a bit more complicated than this, but still, it may not be as dramatic as the conventional wisdom would have it...

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 05:36:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Panels are installed in an inclined state, so the main latitude-related factors are air column density and length of day. But it does appear from this (Wikipedia) map that the weather influence is much stronger:



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 09:58:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would imagine the effect of the number of hours of sunlight would be much larger than the 20% difference due only to the angle of incidence as I calculated above.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 10:06:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Yearly sum of global irradiation incident on optimally-inclined south-oriented photovoltaic modules."

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 10:12:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Right. Thanks.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 10:16:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For those interested, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insolation contains that map...

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 10:09:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Original source

Including graphical calculate output at your own location thingy

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 11:46:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This map is effectively an inverted "annual rainfall" map. Which is a very important reason not to build any ground based solar in Germany - when you do, you are invariably paving over prime agricultural land - Land which has often been the subject of hundreds of years of intense labor to make it what it is - and this ought not to be undone without very good reasons indeed.
 As that map demonstrates, the only reasonable way to do solar is to stick it in the north african desert and run electricity lines north. Note that I think that unwise as well, currently, as Ive yet to see a solar project with anything like a reasonable return on the money spent, even compared to other renewables, but placing it in Germany is just compounding idiocy.
by Thomas on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 09:32:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Re: coal. To stop coal mining, we would need to stop the demand for coal. Solar will not do this on any scale that could be realistically built at current prices.

glares bitterly at german nuclear phaseout policy

.. I was going to post something about the relative merits of various renewable energies on a economic level, but then I started to contemplate the fact that germany is currently still planning to shut down nuclear power plants nowhere near the end of their lifespans while building coal plants to replace them in the name of the enviorment and I got really bloody depressed. That one fact makes German energy policy offensively stupid.

by Thomas on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 09:39:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To stop coal mining, we would need to stop the demand for coal.

And one way to do that is to make coal mining sufficiently expensive that the price rises to the level where demand destruction occurs. Which, given that wind is already cheaper than coal when you remove the coal subsidies, should not be a hard thing to do.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 10:12:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I diaried in the past, those new coal plans are the energy giants' attempt to secure their market share, and much of it is a mirage unlikely to turn reality. Meanwhile, the spread of renewables will push out classic baseload (and already is -- see negative energy prices), whether coal or nuclear. (And repetition ad nauseam is offensively stupid, too.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 11:57:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why not put the solar panels on the Lunar landscapes created by the coal mining?
by asdf on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 09:47:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
not to build any ground based solar in Germany

I am negative on greenfield solar, too, however, there is non-arable land in Germany, too: highway sound barriers, rubbish dumps, former military airstrips and bases -- and also some landscapes destroyed by coal mining in the past...

the only reasonable way to do solar is to stick it in the north african desert

Half the yield of that in North Africa is still a lot. By the same rationale, there should be no wind power plants in areas with half the yield of New Zealand plants...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 11:53:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
2 points:
  1. This would be true if we could run cables to new zeeland, which we, eh, cant. It is, however, relatively straightforward engineering to link north africa to the european grid.
  2. 1/2 of "a lot"? Say what? Go forth and find the three most recent solar projects built in optimal locations like.. deserts. and compare their output to their costs. Now divide that output by 2. - The result is in no way pleasant reading. The economics of solar are quite bad enough without picking deliberate fights with the weather. I realize this may come across as nimbyism but the facts are that when you are harvesting photons you ought to do it in a place which gets a lot of them.
by Thomas on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 03:12:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the best hope solar has for economic viability is as a natural load follower, because gearing to supply daytime peak pits it against natural gas instead of coal/nukes - but being able to command that premium market means it needs to be reliable, and that means you need to build them where weather only very rarely disrupts production (and where the peak "sunfall" matches up with peak demand). For the european market, that means north africa.
by Thomas on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 03:17:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Reliability is greatly improved by spreading the projects over a larger geographic area... and by linking the grid so we exploit the fact that Europe has three or four time zones in order to manage the daily peaks.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 05:29:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But if you are running thousands of kilometers of HVDC lines in any case, there is absolutely no point in not running said lines south. Solar simply is not an appropriate technology to physically build in northern europe. Its as logical as building iglos on the french rivera. Ie: It could be done if you were stubborn enough, but..
Fortunately, this is no hindrance to powering northern europe with solar.
by Thomas on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 07:51:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This, btw, is wholly independant of the actual cost of the underlying technology that transforms photons to electrons. If, tommorow morning, some bright lass in lesser obscuria east germany - forgotten by the world since 1824 - perfects a chemical process that produces highly efficient solar cell crystals cleanly and in bulk at slightly higher than the cost of sand, it would still not make sense to use solar power locally produced in, oh, say, oslo.
by Thomas on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 07:57:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Except that power lines actually exist at the moment to connect local German solar to the German grid. Building solar plants in Germany produces kWh today, which displaces coal power today. Building them in North Africa produces kWh at some unspecified point in the future when the North African grid has been connected to the European grid.

The building of thousand of km of east-west power lines - which will need to be done anyway, in order to integrate the European grid, regardless of what happens with North Africa - will work to raise the penetration threshold for intermittent power sources. But we are far from that threshold at present.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 08:23:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
However, (1) the diurnal demand curve is not symmetric, it has a bump or even secondary peak in the afternoon/evening (incidentally, just like wind), (2) the weather- and season-related intermittency of wind and solar are negatively correlated, giving rise to natural balancing between the two...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 21st, 2010 at 12:26:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Re 1, okay no New Zealand, let's stay in Europe: Burradare wind farm on the Shetland islands has a capacity factor of 52%. Most European wind farms in operation today have capacity factors less than half of that.

Re 2, no one disputes that photovoltaic today is more expensive than conventional alternatives. That's a strawman. Like every FIT-supported renewable, it is a developing technology that is getting cheaper, not just due to increased efficience but the maturing of production methods and the realisation of economies of scale. The price per kWh in Germany should get down to the level of the retail price (which, at least for the own consumption part, is more relevant for rooftop installations than wholesale...) in 2-3 years. And photovoltaic EROEI (which for long was better than painted by some detractors) improves, too. The latest number quoted for bringing back the energy invested, not just in the solar cell but the whole module with auxiliary electronics, is 3.5 years, again in Germany.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 21st, 2010 at 12:22:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
, It doesnt matter how cheap solar in germany gets. Solar in the algerian desert is always going to be half the cost or less because the land is cheaper and solar exposure is twice as high, and thus it will never, ever, make economic sense to build them in germany. This is a result of how economic HVDC lines are.
by Thomas on Wed Jul 21st, 2010 at 01:13:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is no doubt that a MW in Algeria will produce more than in Germany.

But you ought to get out of the "harvesting photons" perspective (quoting you above). That's not all that RES policy hopes to achieve. In fact, by sticking to that question, you run into the peak demand/supply questions that are largely expensive to solve. The objective is to commoditize PV panels, put them everywhere, and reduce the share of household consumption coming from the grid. Energy savings are the next step to that end, but unfortunately creating a high return industry out of chimney renovation and insulation is more complicated than out of ground mounted PV.

Putting panels in North Africa is trying to replace nuclear power with solar panels. Laudable but I doubt, as you do, that is it is going to be easy.

Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine

by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Wed Jul 21st, 2010 at 04:04:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which is daft. There is no such thing as being independant of wider society - not for power, not for water, not for food, not for anything. and even if this were possible, the social consequenses of achieving it  would be quite extremely undesirable. The world doesnt need more faux libertarians going "what has society done for me lately".  The point of an electricity supply system is to keep the lights on with the minimal cost (both economic and ecological) and maximum reliability. dispersing solar generation in the way you describe would vastly increase both the economic and the ecological costs of said generation, with the upside being.. eh, I am not really seeing any upside here?
 Not having to pay taxes on your electricity? That just gets the tax burden moved someplace else.
by Thomas on Wed Jul 21st, 2010 at 05:23:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. I do not know why you link the decentralization of electricity production and spoiled kid libertarianism. The 2 most important facts about PV, government intervention in the form of mandatory take off and the localization of production (China) do not point in the direction of independence from wider society.

  2. Your description of the point of an electricity system is empty. To be more precise, the entire argument is about what goes into you sum up as "minimum cost". I also disagree with the weak substitutability assumption inherent to making the entire debate a question of cost.


Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine
by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Thu Jul 22nd, 2010 at 06:46:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
eh what? The entire point of keeping the focus relentlessly on cost is that various forms of energy are eminently substitutable with one another, and it is an absolute priority to get people to substitute clean electricity for dirty fuels in all applications where that is possible. The ultimate goal is to reach a point where it is cheaper to melt iron ore into steel using an electric arc furnace running off clean electricity than it is to buy steel made in a coal fired blast furnace in China.
by Thomas on Thu Jul 22nd, 2010 at 09:23:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Re one: Because I do not comprehend why people list "Greater independance from the grid" as a virtue of decentralized generation, full stop. There are lots of places where people generate their own electricity, and all of them are hellholes. As long as we maintain a functional society, maintaining the grid will not be a problem so when I see people advocate scattering generation all over I just go "and what the heck is the point of that?" It cannot, ever, be more economical, because the grid is very cheap, and decentralization in this manner inevitably increases costs dramatically due to the utter lack of economics of scale.
by Thomas on Thu Jul 22nd, 2010 at 09:29:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe you could also check what are the in line loss in the grid.

I believe losses are low for HVDC lines, but the transforming stations are complicated and costly.

For HVAC as exists today in France, the losses are becoming quickly important when distance grows.

by Xavier in Paris on Thu Jul 22nd, 2010 at 07:35:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Solar in the algerian desert is always going to be half the cost or less because the land is cheaper and solar exposure is twice as high,

Not to put too fine a point upon it, but that matters fuck all if you don't have the copper to get it to Germany.

and thus it will never, ever, make economic sense to build them in germany.

Except that this does not follow from your premise.

Energy policy is a little bit more complicated than just creating a potential difference between the phase and ground wires on your power plant...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jul 21st, 2010 at 05:04:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
While the latitude effect doesn't count directly in yield per solar panel area, it does in yield per land area (for a multi-row solar farm on flat surface). Albeit the more relevant ratio is probably that of Winter Solstice, considering shadows cast.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 10:17:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you have a link and/or explanations on how to participate, what's the price, and so on?

I don't speak german, so an english or (let's dream) a french version would be a plus

by Xavier in Paris on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 04:36:29 AM EST
taz writes the price per share is €250. There is no link, but the association is identified, so I found its website: SoGeLa. Unfortunately for you, their statutes (II.$3/1.) say that only residents of Germany can apply. (Probably has to do with the legal status of the association.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 10:09:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo:
Unfortunately for you, their statutes (II.$3/1.) say that only residents of Germany can apply. (Probably has to do with the legal status of the association.)
It might be worth contacting them directly and asking about why excluding other EU citizens is consistent with EU law... If they don't want Xavier's money, it's their loss...

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 10:12:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The exclusion is not citizenship- but residency-based. AFAIK a lot of forms of associations are specific to single EU member countries...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 10:20:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Chechinkg; they are an eG (eingetragene Gesellaschaft), a form of cooperative. Since 2006, there is legal provision for conversion into an EU-wide version, the SCE, based on EC 1435/2003. However, I find that the conditions for an SCE include that among the five founders, there are people from at least two member states.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 10:27:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Other possibilities: a foreign representation active for at least two years, or the merger of two associations. Other conditions: €30,000 own capital (eG: no such requirement).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 10:40:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Having checked the law on eGs, the only geographic reference is that these coops can limit membership to a specific county. So I wrote them an email to inquiry about the limitation and requesting its revocation.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 11:06:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Reply was prompt! They say that being a village on the Polish border, they didn't want a national limitation, but got legal advice that in case of legal disputes, there would be big problems due to the differences between co-op rules across member states. They suggest to get shares via an acquaintance in Germany.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 12:56:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can the shares legally be resold?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 02:11:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would guess if membership in the cooperative is restricted youcan only sell the shares among the class of people eligible to be members.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 02:16:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So would I.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 02:24:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is there such a thing as personal indirect stock ownership? You give money to someone with the express purpose to buy a stock, this deputy will attend stock owner meetings and take up legal responsibility, but you get (most of) the gains -- much like a bank with investment portfolio, but with a single person?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 20th, 2010 at 02:30:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Seems to me that this is an area where a comparatively small group of well-organised people with a relatively minor start-up capital could bring a disproportionate amount of hurt to the coal industry with a really simple strategy:

  1. Set up a cheap corporate shell company in the member state with the most plaintiff-favourable tort laws on the books (sort of like how everybody and their mother set up shell games with the UK libel laws when they want to start a SLAPP).

  2. Buy relatively small but strategically located parcels of land, located on top of proven or expected coal reserves. Preferably in cooperation with local initiatives like this one.

  3. Sue anybody who tries to dig out the coal.

Of course, not being a lawyer myself, I don't know whether it could actually work. But maybe the local Greenpeace chapter will know...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 01:16:07 PM EST
nice thinking, Jake! great diary too.

why don't the greens make a big noise about this? or are they? it has great media appeal, underdog etc.

so rooting for these guys...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jul 19th, 2010 at 01:46:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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