30 ways to sabotage the introduction of solar power [SPOILER – we've tried them all!]

by George Jones

If for some reason someone wished to delay the introduction of solar panels into New Zealand, here are some ideas on how to do it.

1. Insist that the electrical industry eliminate any incentives that might inadvertently have been imposed in the past.  Make sure that the Electricity Authority stamps out these incentives where it can, by saying that the supply authorities are doing so within the rules.

2. Add a shaming promotion that makes sure that it is known that anybody leaving the grid will have the stigma of being seen to be anti-social, as all other users on the grid, especially the poor, will have to shoulder the costs, to guarantee the profitability of the industry.

3. Insist that the profitability of the electrical industry is dependent on an increasing electricity usage, and that this is wrapped up in the law, so that big business always trumps the interests of the consumer.

4. If a city council works out that their street lighting would use half the electricity if the lights were changed to LEDs, then insist that if they did that then the price would double, to maintain the electric supplier’s guaranteed profit margin.

5. Never use the word e-democracy, meaning energy- or in this case electricity-democracy, as that would give far too much power to the people.  Make sure they never hear that ‘government for the people’ is followed by ‘by the people’.

6. Make sure that the Electrical Authority overseeing the industry is stacked with pro-industry professionals.  In this way the rules of the game will be stacked in the industry’s favour.  Make only a token gesture that the people have some say, by calling for submissions, so that they can then take no notice of them, but still be able to say that they consulted with the public.  Make sure that the illusion is there by including ‘for the longterm benefit of consumers’ in the Authority’s reason for existing.

7. Make sure that the background papers for such submissions are filled with highly technical words, and are always based on the most pessimistic forecasts that the consultants can find.

8. Advise the industry to look carefully at ways to bill electricity to try to keep the impact of this disruptive technology to manageable proportions, like a maximum of 5 percent market penetration.

9. Insist that only professionals install solar panels, as the arithmetic required would be too complex for ordinary people, and the installation too hazardous.

10. Make the approvals sufficiently complex and onerous that the ordinary citizen cannot understand them, so have to call in professionals.  Never mention that any handiman with number 8 wire experience is capable of installing panels and laying the cables ready for the electrician to connect.

11. Make sure that the installation rules include special protection for solar electrical wiring to clearly differentiate very lethal from merely lethal mains wiring.  Insist on laying the cables in plastic piping clearly labeled as ‘solar’ every metre or two so that anybody in the roof space is more likely to be killed by the loosely bundled mains wiring without such protection.

12. Have a list of approved electrical hardware, and keep it as close a secret as possible.  Make sure that only locally sourced steel is used, and that the aluminium industry is subsidised so that only locally sourced aluminium is used.

13. Accident Compensation Commission must insist that only professionals install solar, so that in the event of an accident the compensation comes from the bin of money paid from employer/employee levies and not from general taxation that would cover ordinary people.

14. Insist that the safety requirements are tightened so that very few are allowed on a roof, the most dangerous place in the country.

15. Insist that DC is much more dangerous than AC, in spite of the close connection of the two in music.  Therefore insist that Thomas Edison was not as bright as Nikola Tesla.

16. Insist that batteries are far too expensive to use as storage, and only last three years anyway.  Use as an example the fact that cellphone batteries last only this long.  Do not tell the public that that is because they are almost always overcharged. Never mention that with proper charging, batteries will last for at least two decades.  Never admit that the price of batteries will be less next year, falling very rapidly over the next few years.

17. Quietly welcome the introduction of electric vehicles as this will mean usually overnight charging, so with minimum impact on the electrical system, but more industry sales income.  Never mention that electrical vehicles’ batteries can fill in the evening peak of electricity usage, further relieving the pressure on the system.  That would diminish the need for building more infrastructure, with its guaranteed return on investment.  Make sure that the public never considers using a vehicle’s battery for over-night consumption as they might then decide to go off-grid.

18. Make it known that the life of an essential component of the installation will last only a few years and will need replacing often.  Never say that the electronic technology will likely outlast the panels, and that the panels are likely to last three or four decades.  Quote highly inflated figures on the degradation of the panel output, and do not mention that the addition of an extra panel a decade will compensate.

19. Never mention that the price of solar is coming down in leaps and bounds each year, mainly from the reduced price of the panels, inverters and improved mounting technology.  Keep the permitting costs as high as possible.

20. Never mention that the price of solar is already lower than the price of every other form of electricity generation in especially sunny countries.  And that dozens more countries will be added to this list in the next year or two.

21. Hide the fact that new solar installations world-wide are doubling about every two years, amounting to 320 GWp this year 2016, over thirty times New Zealand’s installed capacity.  This is the equivalent of about eleven times the amount of electricity New Zealand uses, measured in kWh units.  Next year expect a 40 % increase, the year after another 40 % and so on.

22. Never consider that the electrical industry as we know it is a sunset industry, with all assets correctly valued at the scrap price, less the cost of retrieval.

23. Make sure that neighbour-to-neighbour electricity sales are illegal, so that the monopoly local grid is the only option for sales.  Keep the price of export to the local electricity supplier as low as possible, preferably free, to discourage investment in solar.

24. In this way the profitability of the local grid is maintained, especially as the cost of transmission from the other end of the country can also be billed, even though not used.

25. Change the name of net-metering to own-use, as the former implies that the subtraction occurs at the meter, whereas it really is net-billing.  Steven Strong’s concept in 1979 is no longer acceptable: it implies export at the same price as import.

26. Keep implying that our electricity is mostly renewable, so we do not get any advantage from solar when considering global warming.

27. Spread misinformation about embedded energy in solar panels.  Tell people that there is more energy in its production that you get from the solar panel over its lifetime.

28. Keep emphasising the front-up cost of solar, and never mention that the economics are very good indeed if considered in the longer-than-election-cycle time frame.

29. Instill into the banking industry the certain knowledge that financing solar is a very risky business and requires a specially high risk-based interest rate.

30. Promote that the added value to the house will likely increase its value, increasing the city rates demand.  At the same time, promote the fact that the resale value of the house will fall because nobody wants solar.

We’ve tried them all to some degree!

Our electrical industry in collaboration with the government has tried most of the above, in parallel with what is happening in some other countries.

So maybe it is time to try something else.  It would be an ugly demise if the industry is allowed to collapse in a series of death spirals.  Shades of Solid Energy, eh?  Maybe the government would then buy back what it does not already own of the industry for a dollar, with its accumulated debt, like the railways.  But can or should the taxpayer afford it?

Learn from history, otherwise the same mistakes are likely to recur.  Learn about the sailing ship effect, when sailing ships first had competition from steamships.  Instead of taking four or five months to travel between England and New Zealand, the clipper was developed, so the journey then took only six weeks.  The same thing happened in New Zealand when ninety years ago science was applied to farming.  Understand “The significance of Mr. Richard Buckley’s exploding trousers: Reflections on an aspect of technological change in New Zealand dairy farming between the world wars” that earned its Massey author an Ig-nobel prize.  Note the effect on Air NZ when competition with Australian airlines first appeared – air bridges were promptly built.  Look up the history of the development of wool as a fibre when synthetics were first introduced.

In a 1918 US trade union address by Nicholas Klein, after relating a story about the first demonstration of a locomotive by George Stephenson: “And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.”

Ignore the fact that solar engineer Steven Strong was named by Time magazine environmental “Hero of the Planet” in 1999, the closest thing we have now to monuments.

The lesson to be learnt is that the introduction of solar as a disruptive technology can be delayed only by being such a good industry that the people love the companies so much that they will be very loyal to the brand.  Think “it’s the putting right that counts”.  In spite of the significant economic advantage of solar the people will not abandon their loved electricity supplier.

Another way

To do this the first thing is to abandon the attitude that it is a God-given and government-given right for the companies to receive a guaranteed return on investment.

So, recognising the true value of the infrastructure, parts of which will have negative value, lower the electricity price perhaps to a half or a quarter of its current value.  Recognise that the whole system really is a computer, add considerable control software to easily integrate distributed and sporadic generation, thus abandoning the concept of base load.

Become a lean and friendly industry, and there will be no need for call centres, except to accept accolades and congratulations from the people.

There is another way.  Proudly accept the future is renewable energy, especially solar.  Develop the required software to integrate all renewable energy and storage systems, including ocean, run-of-river, wind, solar, battery, vehicle, pumped storage.  Collaborate and incentivise the public to help build a secure reliable electrical system that has minimum cost.  Perhaps close to zero for energy.

Only then will we be able to hold our head up in the international community and say “We are a small country in the Southwest Pacific that has done it right yet again, and we are now in a position to help you”.

George Jones is a Companion of the Royal Society of New Zealand, retired scientist and adventurer. He lives in a small village in the southern island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, where he is building a solar array to supply renewable energy.  

21 Comments

  1. Chris Morris

    Martin, the post is about PV penetration and your comment “This conclusion, that solar PV would increase emissions, is also at odds with what is being seen in countries, like Norway, Costa Rica, Brazil, Austria, etc, that already have a similar or larger fraction of renewable electricity production than NZ.” was to which I responded. You seem to be using PV, renewables and hydro as the same terms. They are not. In NZ, the unreliable wind is matched by increased thermal generation. That is what the Commissioner found and the grid data shows. Or do you know better? Austria is just a smaller part of a supergrid where imports and exports mask generation type. Brazil and Costa Rica have incomplete grids. They have no compunction of switching suburbs off if the supply doesn’t match demand (like they are starting to do in South Australia).
    I use the BP Energy review for my numbers as it is generally recognized as the most credible and quotable source.

  2. George Jones

    I agree with your last sentence Ashton. The economics is certainly better if community or utility sized solar is added – economy of scale. This is the way that it is happening in my new country with many projects in the hundreds of MW. The very high cost of permitting is one aspect of this. Another in the Philippines is the strength of house roof structures and the corrosion state of the roofing iron, neither of which are a worry in NZ. But the cost of land is very much higher in NZ, especially close to cities, so houses are an intelligent choice, with dual use of the land. I have learned a new term – brownfields, being waste areas not useful because of contamination etc. Anyone keen to put up a panel array at the old freezing works at Patea?

    It is now several years since Dr. Lawrence E. Jones (no relation to me) talked with them at conferences in Wellington. He is a world expert on the intelligent grid as it will evolve. I think the industry really are worried about their future, and are clinging on to the old ideas, hoping the problems will go away.

  3. Martin Manning

    If you were looking at the whole of life analysis as is done in review papers like Nugent & Sovacool, 2014 (“Assessing the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from solar PV and wind energy: A critical meta-survey”, Energy Policy, 65, 229-244) then you would see that, yes, in general electricity from hydro power is currently better than solar PV. But that is not covering the transmission of electricity on the scale that is being done in NZ. E.g I was involved in finding the leak in one of the cables across the Cook Strait, so where is the carbon footprint of bringing in a ship to re-lay the cable included? Or all the other risks, costs and GHG emissions of maintaining the present distribution system that are typically 40% of your electricity bills. When the case was being made for moving to nuclear power in NZ, the main argument for it was to have the plant north of Auckland in order to have a much lower maintenance and earthquake safe distribution system.
    Also detailed analyses for the US show that even though much of their electricity comes from fossil fuel sources it is already better to move to electric cars in most states (see Onat et al, 2015, Conventional, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles? State-based comparative carbon and energy footprint analysis in the United States, Applied Energy, 150, 36-49).
    But even more importantly, these current comparisons are a bit like comparing the Model A Ford with a racehorse and concluding that we should just stick with horses for our transport. Even though the present carbon footprint of solar PV on a cradle to grave basis may not be as good as Hydro, the technology is improving steadily and it is already way better than the Huntly power station that our power companies want to keep going. Why? That’s the real problem, and its called structural inertia.

  4. Ashton Dempsey

    Hi Martin. Again, you conveniently sidestep the whole of life issue. Regardless of any nett carbon effect in New Zealand, PV significantly increases carbon release worldwide. As do electric vehicles since the manufacture of them is carried out in heavily carbon-dependent economies.

    Both are greenwashing of the first order.

    I don’t doubt that, over time, distributed generation will become the norm in NZ – it makes a lot of sense (if the network is designed and operated to carry it) to have generation as close as possible to consumption. However, it requires a lot of work on certainty of continuing useful supply and we need to be VERY careful that we don’t jump at a seemingly “green” methodology that hides its dirty bits in geographical, political or temporal locations that are easy to overlook. I’m also not convinced that “distrbuted”=”consumer level” as a given.

  5. Chris Morris

    Martin – Please take your meds.
    How much generation, either in GWh or % terms does PV contribute to the electricity grid in Austria and Norway? The most recent data I can find (2015) lists Austria as 2.4% and Norway as even less. In both those countries, even coal produces more energy.

  6. Martin Manning

    The front of this report shows that it was written for organisations that are predominantly the current electric power companies and so it is not surprising that it makes a case against solar PV unless the total demand increases due to an uptake of electric vehicles. This conclusion, that solar PV would increase emissions, is also at odds with what is being seen in countries, like Norway, Costa Rica, Brazil, Austria, etc, that already have a similar or larger fraction of renewable electricity production than NZ.

  7. Ashton Dempsey

    You lie by implication. Although you don’t say it explicitly, the implication is that PV is capable of providing free and endless electricity.

    This is demonstrably untrue.

    The capital cost alone if we were only talking about residential supply would be in the region of $10k per installation. While you seem able to write off cost of capital as an extreme right wing agenda, the fact is that no one supplies money for free, so we can assume an interest rate will apply as will a cost of alternative investment. Conservatively estimating households and so dwellings in NZ at 1.4 million Based on the last census data and allowing a little Hokitika windage), you are proposing an investment in the billions to replace electricity that is currently in surplus.

    This leaves aside the small matter that the PV units are around 25 time more polluting in whole of life terms that hydro – our main source of electricity. In fact, PV is around 4 times dirtier than nuclear, and only half as clean as coal.

    Talk about an own goal.

    IT. JUST. MAKES. NO. SENSE. At present.

  8. Grant Teesdale

    Really? How are you qualified to lead a team to solve these undefined/non-existent problems? Your blog post certainly doesn’t provide any evidence as such, with its ill-informed hyperbole or outright untruths.

    About the only sane or accurate point you raise is:

    Which is already starting to happen in NZ – see Transpower’s demand response initiative. For the rest of what you point out, it would be best if we went back to a government owned non-profit entity, but that may be very hard to achieve in the short to mid term.

  9. George Jones

    I am not sure where you think I have been lying in the list above on how to delay the introduction of solar.

    I understand the physics, the security of supply and also know a whole lot about control algorithms. If you wish I could come back to NZ to head a team to solve the problems. But I strongly suspect the government and the industry would not allow it. Look at Martin Manning’s reply below. Cruel profit really is the problem, not technology.

  10. George Jones

    Grant, good that you have tried to find me. You obviously do not live anywhere where Wellington, as I am widely known there. At least you will now know that I am not a now-deceased American country singer. I did send Greenpeace an email on Monday 6 pm your time pointing to the blog. Other than that they did not know of my existence. So no, I have not been paid for the blog by anyone – how much are you offering?

  11. Ashton Dempsey

    Its time may well come George, but lying about the current ecological and economic costs and benefits of the use of solar PV in NZ’s urban environment is morally bankrupt.

    If I were to build in a remote location in NZ, I would seriously consider solar as the cost (both ecological and economic) of bringing a line supply to the location may well exceed that of PV.

    Outside of that, we need to consider all the costs of grid distributed consumer generation and they currently are not necessarily pretty. This has less to do with a cruel profit motive and more to do with physics and security of supply.

  12. Martin Manning

    Geoff Bertram has shown that high electricity pricing in NZ is partly because the capital values and depreciation rates for generation plants keep getting inflated all the time. Combine that with SOE profits being one of the guaranteed forms of income for the government and no wonder we pay more than people in most of the USA or Canada. So the Electricity Authority is getting worried about people now making their own.

  13. George Jones

    Ashton – I like your way of thinking and your sense of humour. Thank you. Suggest the you offer yourself as an advisor to the Minister.

    Climate Change Issues Minister Paula Bennett today says:
    “It is clear that we need to be better prepared to adapt to these [climate] changes, so I am establishing a group of technical experts to look at things like the effects on infrastructure and economic growth.”

  14. Ashton Dempsey

    If for some reason someone wished to promote the introduction of solar panels into New Zealand, here are some ideas on how to do it.
    1. Insist that the electricity generation industry provide incentives that ipso facto reduce their own income or add to the costs of other, non-alternative consumers. Make sure that Greenpeace promote incentives where it can, by calling any attempt at true cost allocation a tax.
    2. Add a shaming promotion that makes sure that it is known that any supplier wanting to fairly allocate the cost of a connection for alternative energy users will have the stigma of being seen to be anti-ecology, even though all other users on the grid, especially the poor, will have to shoulder the costs, to guarantee the provision of supply to the alternative energy user.
    3. Insist that the profitability of the solar industry is dependent on subsidised connections to existing grid supply, and that this is wrapped up in the law, so that big solar business always trumps the interests of the non-solar consumer.
    4. Conveniently forget or ignore the fact that NZ is not the USA or China and that the vast majority of NZ electricity already comes from renewables.
    5. Make sure that the promotional material and sumofus campaign propaganda is full of feel good and short on fact, because that is the nature of treehugger, and the facts inconveniently make solar look like the wasteful dirty option it currently is.
    6. Insist that any dumbass can install solar panels that generate in excess of 3kw and provide energy at more than line voltage since – meh – science is all a lie and you can do this. While you are at it, deny any issues with phase control and synchronisation because these are “technical terms” (see point 5), and are not important.
    7. Deny that clear separation of low and high voltage systems is a thing.
    8. Conveniently and stupidly confuse Accident Compensation Commission funding because its Big Govt and so a dangerous thing like Big Pharma, Big Agri and Big Macs.
    9. I wasn’t joking about the Big Mac. The others are figments of fevered persecution complexes
    10. Imply that falls are not the biggest cause of both home and industrial accidents because, well, pesky fact thing again.
    11. Imply that batteries are cheap and ecologically sound when in fact they have a huge environmental cost that as yet has not been resolved. Conveniently disregard the fact that the NPV of a usefully sized battery means you would never recoup its cost in its MANUFACTURER advised lifespan.
    12. Above all, lie and misinform as much as possible. Base all your claims on costs and ecological advantage on different economies using very different generation techniques. Hide the dirty bits like the manufacturing of solar panels in China where the ecological cost of their manufacturing is obscured. Do this while screaming that solar is free and green. Keep your links to businesses that specify, make, install and maintain solar systems quiet – REALLY quiet. Because that way, you can claim a moral superiority even when your entire business model is predicated on maintaining a false clean green image.

  15. Sav

    I have grid-tied solar, I pay less than $80 a month for my power, I’ll pay off the investment in five years not six and when I get an EV next year I’ll save another $2000+ in fuel… buy the panels, join the movement – like the tide, it’s unstoppable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s