Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. – Hanlon’s Razor
Boy, but sometimes it is hard. There was a recent article in the local paper about a solar manufacturing plant going up on Minnesota’s Iron range. And you can bet that any article about alternative energy will bring out the interesting comments in droves. (Maybe this is true about any article about anything?) Warning: If you don’t want a boring rehash of anti-solar comments and my attempts to bring a few factual nuggets to the conversation, you should stop reading this post now. You have been warned…
There were all sorts of reasonable and creative ways to find fault with the situation the article was describing. It really was an obscene amount of money to bring in a plant which has “hired 12 of the 15 initial employees” and the Made in Minnesota rebate for these panels is insanely high, more akin to a giveaway than a rebate. And of course any whiff of gov’t subsidy is quickly spotted by commenters. But we were also treated to gems like these:
Check with your local zoning authorities before installing.
Well, ok, fair enough. Sounds a bit scary though doesn’t it! As if you’d just plunk them on your roof yourself, anyway.
Once again you just can’t fix Stupid….people that claim solar energy is free are so far in la la land that its a waste of time to talk to them….its all about feeeeeeelings which of course are IRRATIONAL…………………. I guarantee that the Solar company will pull out of the iron range as soon as the tax credits that WE all pay for runs out…..SOLAR power is in NO WAY cheap or competitive………..anyone that claims it is is either getting paid to claim that or are just plain stupid………and probably voted for Obama…..
Hum, well, ok. Moving on, at least this guy is trying to make some sense of it:
The only problem with solar power is the cost, we’re decades away from solar power being cost effective enough for home installation. It just honestly does not make sense. It costs between $50-$60k to install solar panels on your roof, and you’ll only get use of them for about 8 months of the year up here, since when they’re covered with snow and ice, they do not conduct electricity. For them to pay for themselves after 15 years, at $50k for installation, your monthly electric bills would need to be over $400/month. My bill averages about $175, it would take me over 35 years to break even.
Well, saying what it costs without specifying a size isn’t very helpful, unless you are just trying to scare people away from it. $60k (pre-rebate) would probably buy you a roughly 10kW system, which is pretty darned big. 8 months of the year? Well, my experience says otherwise. And since in MN we are paid retail for excess generation, “your monthly electric bill” doesn’t really factor into the equation. Every kWh generated generates about $0.10 of either avoided cost, or payment. But this guy may have been an honest broker, just a bit unclear on some things. Not so much this one:
Solar panels are cute, feel-good items because of their high visibility, but anyone with basic knowledge knows that solar panels are THE single most inefficient way to generate electricity. That solar array above the gentleman’s patio only generates enough energy to MAYBE run his fridge.
“The gentleman” was in a photo attached to the story; he is actually a solar installer, and I happen to know that the 12-panel array in the photo was 2.3kW, which would generate enough energy in a year to power 6 very large refrigerators. I say this in a reply, citing PVWatts estimates of roughly 3MWh/year for an optimally situated array in MN. Again, commenters are unimpressed:
You can rattle of (sic) the “optimal performance” all you want but what counts is the real output. With the short days and almost continuous cloud cover we experience during winter, there’s not a lot of power being generated for half the year, definitely not “optimally situated”. I also know first hand that ACTUAL output here in MN is about 40% of what they list as their “optimal performance”.
He knows firsthand! I point out that PVWatts factors in location, i.e. average cloud cover, sun angles, short days, etc. Commenter remains unimpressed. Ok, so I try a new tack. Having already stated my annual energy output from my 2.53kW array, I add a link to the data logging site for it so people can see for themselves. Nope,that doesn’t work either:
Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Wait, it must be right, its on the internet! Please do real research instead of just reading something that someone wrote on an unreliable site…
Yeah, ok, it wasn’t a Wikipedia link. At this point I am thinking there is an Amazon Mechanical Turk with tasks for this stuff, and the default reply to any link providing data is to disparage it as a Wikipedia link? Who knows. And then there is more “firsthand experience” -
I have installed a few large solar systems, mostly in the southern states. I have to say they are expensive and I have yet to see one that performs as advertised. There are so many variables, cloudy days, winter sun angle, even how humid the atmosphere is affect output. <snip> The old industry norm was that solar cost was about 80 times that of electricity produced by standard methods. This cost has come down some over the last couple of years due to innovations in equipment so it is likely about 60 times the price.
60 times! That’d be $6/kWh. If the array I put on my home blew off the roof after one year of production, the electricity generated over its short life would have been $6/kWh. I expect it will last a tad longer.
At this point I’m wondering. A 12-panel array can’t run a fridge. $60k, 35-year payback. $400 monthly bills necessary. At best 40% of advertised performance. $6/kWh. Dark 4 months of the year.
Is this an organized disinformation campaign, or was the first commenter right, “just can’t fix Stupid?” I guess I’ll go back to Hanlon’s razor for now:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
But sometimes it’s hard.
Edit: to clarify, “malice” and “stupidity” here are maybe a little bit of hyperbole. What led to this post was wondering if there is a coordinated attempt to sway online discussion (malice) or if it’s a genuine lack of knowledge (loosely, stupidity). I surely don’t mean to imply that people who are not well-versed in solar production in MN are stupid.