Friday, 23 October 2015

It's all about power

Someone just drew my attention to a ridiculous blog post, suggesting  that cutting support for solar power may be in some way rational. Then I realised that I'd written the blog post. Evidently too hastily.

My correspondent had been inundated with phone calls from companies selling solar panels. I can believe this since during the short week while I was in the UK visiting friends and family, even I got phone calls from companies selling solar panels. 

My correspondent "finally relented and let the most sensible-sounding of the bunch come and do a free survey. He took measurements, fed figures into his laptop and shook his head sadly - 'it wouldn't be worth it', he said, apologised for taking my time, and left. His visit turned out to be worth it though, as it meant I could tell subsequent cold callers that I'd had a survey and it wouldn't be worth it."

I could have told him it wouldn't be worth it: he lives in a terrace running north-south, so the roofs are pointing East or West. You would think they could work this out before the cold-calls and sending out the surveyor. The fact that they can't suggests to me that they are assuming that every house is suitable for more panels and the least sensible of the bunch may have told him some. Or that cold-calling is incredibly cheap and being outsourced to sweat shops of low-paid workers, so thirty phone call are cheaper than one look at a map with a compass.  

Onto the more important question of why, oh why, the Tories are cutting money to solar.

I look at the numbers and see that right now a nuclear power station will produce more Watts to the pound than a solar panel will. It's certainly changing and there will a point when electricity from the solar panel will be cheaper. At some point it may even be worth putting them on roofs of terraces facing East and West, high up in the northern hemisphere. We will only get to this point if panels continue to be produced, economies of scale are realised, and techniques are made more efficient, both in production and installation. So we do need to support solar if we want a low-carbon, non nuclear future. 

This may be a very different way to how the government is looking at it. They have a choice between continuing on the solar road, or promising to pay a few billion pounds to one or two large companies, linked to the government of what will probably be the largest and most powerful economy over the next hundred years. Also a military force that The solar road will also end up with a lot of money going to China, but to several smaller companies, which are not always lucrative long term, (see bankruptcy of Suntech). 

As far as global warming is concerned, nuclear and solar are both low carbon. Nuclear is arguably lower. 

As far as cost is concerned nuclear and solar both have high initial cost and relatively low running costs. Arguably nuclear is cheaper. 

As for who pays, in both cases these costs are going to go on electricity bills. 

Who profits? Locally a nuclear power plant will create relatively fewer jobs for a relatively small number of companies, some of these jobs will be highly skilled. Solar power will create relatively more jobs for a much larger number of companies, many self employed and probably fewer highly skilled. 

In terms of big business, profits for solar will go to a larger number of companies, many in China. Profits for the nuclear plant will go to China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN), China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), and Electricite de France (EDF).

As far as supporting nuclear technology, which also keeps us in that elite club of countries with weapons of mass destruction, solar panels are completely rubbish. 

Historical aside

On 6th August, 1945, the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hitoshima by the US and Britain. 
On 8th August, 1945, the London Charter (AKA Nuremburg charter) was signed, setting out how war-crimes would be punished. 
On 9th August, 1945, the very next day, another nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Doesn't history love irony!

Death squads, chemical weapons, biological weapons: all war crimes. Nuclear weapons? No comment.

Maybe this has got nothing to do with electricity generation. Maybe nuclear power has nothing to do with nuclear weapons. They certainly seemed to be connected when it was North Korea and Iran. 

Isn't this a pretty power station! Would you like to live underneath it? I'm much happier living underneath a solar power station. 

It's in Somerset. Quite a long way from London. People used to think Battersea was a long way from London.

More biased information from Greenpeace available here.

More biased information from the Times available here.