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Ugo Bardi ‏: Photovoltaics? Who in the world would want to spend money on such a silly idea?

Alternative Energy
The “Solar Roadways” plant in Idaho in an image from the “EmphaseEnergy” site. The performance of this expensive plant is abysmally low and, with the best of good will, I can’t see it as anything but a propaganda stunt to denigrate renewable energy. Not the only example of this strategy.
I have to confess to you one of my darkest sins: I read the unnameable blog by Anthony Whatever “What’s down with this” and, occasionally, I even enjoy it. Probably, this sin of mine is condemning me to Hell, where I will be punished by having to spend eternity trying to teach thermodynamics to an audience of neoclassical economists.

Sometimes, however, the unnameable blog is worth reading. For instance, in a recent post, Will Eschenbach engages in an all-out attack against the “solar roads” plant in Idaho. The post is appropriately titled, “The Road to Hell is Paved with Solar Panels” and, in it, Mr. Eschenbach criticizes the plant mainly in terms of the cost of the energy produced. He says that it produced 246 kWh in one year. Comparing with the total cost of the plant, said to be more than 4 million dollars, then, clearly, it is a bad deal.

Eschenbach has a point here, although, for fairness, we must note that the plant was never conceived as a commercial plant, it is a prototype or a demonstrator which involved a cost in terms of the development of special panels for a specific task. It is unfair to pretend from a prototype to generate a profit. The point is, the performance of the prototype good enough to be worth reproducing at a commercial scale?

Clearly, the people of solar roadways have grand plans. In their site, they speak of paving all the roads in the 48 contiguous states and produce something like 15,847 Billion Kilowatt-hours per year, which is three times the total consumed today. There is a little problem, though: how efficiently could that be done? In their site, nowhere you can find the rated power and the actual performance of the prototype system. But, with some work, we can estimate these parameters.

First if all, they say that they installed 30 panels of 44 W each, The number is confirmed by counting the panels on the pictures of the plant (see on the right, from Google maps). So, that makes a total rated power of 1.3 kW. Then, the data at tell us that a zero-tilt, 1.3 kW fixed solar plant in Idaho is expected to produce about 1600 kWh/year.

Comparing this result with the 246 kWh reported by Eschenbach, we see that the plant has big problems: it produces less than 20% of what it should produce. There are various reasons that may explain the poor performance of a PV plant. In this case, it seems reasonable to me that a plant located in the middle of a parking lot – with people walking on it – produces much less than a standard plant would do.

So, Eschenbach is correct in noting the poor performance of the plant – nobody would ever want to use these devices for anything more than an expensive toy in a parking lot. But, in the end, that’s not so much the point. The point is that the idea of “solar roadways” just makes no sense. Do you really want trucks to run over solar cells? I mean, think about that for two seconds and you can realize how silly the idea is.

This is not the only case I know of badly overpriced and poorly conceived solar plants. In the picture, here, you can see the “solar diamond,” another high-cost PV installation built by ENEL in 2009 in Italy. (BTW, it stands close to where I live!)

Maybe you could find this object aesthetically pleasing, but the shape is wrong for a PV plant and its performance is abysmally low. You may also be interested to know that the cost of the whole plant, which includes a fancy hydrogen storage system, was about a million Euros for a total rated power of 13 kW. A better ratio of cost to power than the “solar road” in Idaho and, at least, this one is not supposed to have trucks running on it. But a big waste of money anyway.

So, how come that people engage in these silly ideas? Are they idiots? Or evil? Or both? Whatever the case, I think these plants are expressly conceived in order to pass the message that PV is expensive and useless. As usual, propaganda rules the world.

28 Comments on "Ugo Bardi ‏: Photovoltaics? Who in the world would want to spend money on such a silly idea?"

  1. Cloggie on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 4:14 pm 

    Evaluation: it makes from a cost perspective more sense to build a solar roof over the road. Has been done in Korea, bikelane:

  2. Anonymouse1 on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 4:34 pm 

    Like I said before cloggen-zimmer, there are few, if any, ideas too stupid or impractical for you not to give it your equally stupid , and pointless,seal-of-approval. Since solar roads are such a wonderful idea, Im sure the Israeli gov’t will be announcing your appointment to oversee the project any day now, right?

  3. Cloggie on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 4:46 pm 

    “Like I said before cloggen-zimmer, there are few, if any, ideas too stupid or impractical for you not to give it your equally stupid , and pointless,seal-of-approval”

    My “seal of approval” is an attitude of “let’s try it out”. Experiments can succeed or fail, but you have to try it out first. You are just looking for an excuse to remain seated on your lazy ass. Innovation is not your cup of tea.

    “Im sure the Israeli gov’t will be announcing your appointment to oversee the project any day now, right?”

    For the umptieth time, I’m from Holland, not Israel.

  4. Anonymouse1 on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 5:00 pm 

    “So, how come that people engage in these silly ideas? Are they idiots? Or evil? Or both?

    Yes you are, to both, right cloggraham?

    Just who are you trying to convince cloggen-fraud? Go to your fellow schmiels, in ‘holland’, or wherever you’re actually from, to get them to put you in charge. No one on this forum is going to green-light anything like the above, retard. Go convince someone with some actual authority to pave your kibbutz with with solar panels. Take a pen and paper, go sit in your corner, and draft a proposal. Don’t forget to append your proposal with web-links. Even if they don’t support your muddled conclusions.

    Should keep you busy for a while.

  5. Davy on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 5:27 pm 

    shut up weasel. Neder is from holland and a jew baiter like you. give it a rest.

  6. Antius on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 5:51 pm 

    It’s a bad idea for a number of reasons. PV materials are fragile and road surfaces are subjected to repeated mechanical stresses as heavy trucks go over them day in, day out for decades. To get decent economic payback, the cells need to last at least 20 years with minimal deterioration.

    A solar panel roof over a carpark makes more sense. Generally, we want these things angled to capture as much light as possible over a year. Also, economy of scale is important. So the best way of doing solar PV for minimum cost would be to install panels on flat farmland. Even in Holland, 20% efficient panels distributed over 10km2 will generate 1.2TWh per year. To meet a large fraction of electricity needs would require relatively little land compared to other agriculture.

  7. Antius on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 6:11 pm 

    A solar-thermal road is a better option. Since roads are black and get hot when they absorb summer sunlight, lots of hot water could be harvested by embedding hose pipes a few inches under the surface. This is cheap to do and plastic hose pipes are not vulnerable to damage in the way that PV materials are.

    Heat could be stored in bulk within an interseasonal thermal store. This is basically a huge tank of water, with about a metre thickness of insulation around it. Local heating networks could be installed to supply houses and flats immediately around the thermal store. It would work even better if it could be built to supply a single large structure without the need for such a network. Ideally, we would construct the building around the thermal store.

  8. MASTERMIND on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 6:45 pm 

    Capitalism’s Betrayal Of The Working Class Could Be Its Undoing

  9. makati1 on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 7:33 pm 

    Must be frustrating to not have a life and need to spend 24/7 proving your inadequacies and insanity on this forum Davy and Mm. Having to argue with everyone who has a different view of the world and trying to put them down with immature invectives*.

    *Invective definition, vehement or violent denunciation, censure, or reproach.

    Difficult to have a decent debate when you have to put up with narrow minded 3rd graders with serious mental problems, obvious to everyone here.

  10. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 7:45 pm 

    what about hamsters on hamster wheels.
    We put them on teh side of the road,
    in the guardrails.

    One hamster wheel every 3 feet of guardrail.
    Multiply by the total number of guardrails in the United States minus the cost of the hamster food, and there is enough to power
    every household in the United States AND Hawaii.

    Author asks, “how come people engage in these silly ideas?”

    ANSWER: Government funding. The stupid idea
    gets funded, and the ‘researchers’ get paid
    nice big 6-figure salaries, until they come
    up for ‘Phase II renewal’.

    Been there, done that.
    It’s not all bad, without corporate welfare
    to steal something back from the rich
    billionaire assholes, the middle class wouldnt
    have any money at all.

    Hence my hamster wheel proposal.

  11. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 7:54 pm 

    And then there is the guy who killed
    himself with a Honda minivan seat.

    Really its the dispatcher didn’t give a crap.
    So the dispatcher killed him. Didn’t even respond to his 2nd call.

    Or its Apple iPhone killed him. Cause he relied on “Siri” to call 911. Then he tried to persuade the dispatcher.

    What he shoulda done was a really big hefty push-up, and free himself, rather than rely on a smart phone and stupid fat lazy 911 personnel.

    Or its America that killed him. Everybody
    so fat and stupid and lazy and dumb, they
    were too fat lazy stupid and dumb to save
    him, when he told them he was stuck.

    At this rate, just how do we make america great again? put everybody on a diet?

  12. Davy on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 7:58 pm 

    “Difficult to have a decent debate”

    Show some respect and decency and the debate will improve. Continue your poor behavior and you will be neutered.

  13. makati1 on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 7:59 pm 

    “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.” — Ray Bradbury

  14. makati1 on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 8:01 pm 

    Oops! That quote is from: George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

  15. Anonymouse1 on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 8:01 pm 

    You don’t have to grease clogg-berg so hard exceptionalist. He’ll do you you know. While I’m sure he appreciates your white knighting for him all the time, you don’t have to be so obvious about it.

  16. GregT on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 9:52 pm 

    “Show some respect and decency and the debate will improve. Continue your poor behavior and you will be neutered.”

    Constant name calling, childish rhetoric, and delusional accusations, are both indecent and disrespectful Davy, and have no place in a considerate, reasonable and/or intelligent debate.

    And Davy, you haven’t neutered anybody. Your five year long immature emotional tirades have not made one iota of difference, and do not add anything of value to the conversation.

  17. makati1 on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 10:03 pm 

    Insecurity, Gerg. He and MM keep trying to prove that they are exceptional, while actually proving the opposite. Both are nonentities.

    For their education: Nonentity – a person or thing with no special or interesting qualities; an unimportant person or thing. Oxford Dictionary

  18. kanon on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 10:28 pm 

    It is not so much that money was spent on a silly idea, it is the media publicity. The U.S. just spent a $billion on missiles and, for that matter, annually wastes hundreds of billions on the MIC budget. The fossil fuel portion of the ruling class is fighting to preserve its position and prevent upcoming competition. Election fraud, propaganda. war, regulation, subsidies — whatever works. The tar sands and fracking industries are a massive economic waste and environmental tragedy, but are maintained because they are important to the ruling class. Whatever renewable energy capacity is created will be the measure of future prosperity (ignoring climate change losses).

  19. MASTERMIND on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 10:36 pm 


    you are quoting game of thrones now? A TV show? And you call other people brainwashed…LOL Typical white trash construction worker. I get my knowledge from the teevee! duh..duh..fart fart…Typical uneducated idiot boomer.

  20. GregT on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 10:51 pm 

    A Clash of Kings was written in 1998 MM.

    The first episode of Game of Thrones debuted in 2011.

    You aren’t exactly making yourself look brilliant MM. Just saying.

  21. makati1 on Sat, 21st Apr 2018 11:08 pm 

    MM just keeps proving my assertion. Uneducated, unintelligent, inexperienced, immature pretender.

  22. anon on Sun, 22nd Apr 2018 3:45 am 

    I think it’s quite simple- as long as somebody else is paying, all manner of stupid ideas are possible. The moment the loop is closed, is when the bullshit gets separated from the realistic.
    The entire industrial civilization, too, has been in a sense playing the same game – the ‘someone else’ who has been paying for 200 years is the enormous wealth of fossil fuels. During the industrial age humans could singly and in groups do just about any stupid thing imaginable and still not feel the consequences, because there was so much wealth almost free for the taking. That’s ending now and almost everybody has forgotten what a realistic way to live on this planet might be.

  23. Cloggie on Mon, 23rd Apr 2018 7:49 am 

    30 years ago: the Flying Greek:

    A Greek professional cyclist managed to fly over water from Crete to Santorini, 115 km, by pedal power alone, exactly 30 years ago. The vehicle was designed at MIT. Spanwidth 33 m. Physical effort like running two marathons. A few meters before the finish line he crashed into the water, due to an unexpected gust of wind, fortunately no harm was done.

    The video, including the crash:

  24. Antius on Mon, 23rd Apr 2018 8:22 am 

    “30 years ago: the Flying Greek”

    Totally cool! Human powered flight. I think we should petition the Olympic committee to make this an official sport.

  25. dave thompson on Mon, 23rd Apr 2018 11:50 am 

    The Gossemer story is a great example of human ingenuity and doing the impractical anyway. Along the lines of solar and wind power ever running industrial civ.

  26. Antius on Fri, 27th Apr 2018 5:03 pm 

    “Capitalism’s Betrayal Of The Working Class Could Be Its Undoing”

    Translates as: Can we manipulate the Goyim into another revolution?

  27. Boat on Fri, 27th Apr 2018 6:18 pm 


    What system to you recommend. Capitalism may suck but then look at the rest of them.

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