Solar Power V: Where does that leave us?

Solar Power Part Five: The Wrap-up


From the German experience, the expansion of photovoltaic solar power past 1-2% of total electricity demand has led to less nuclear, and more coal. The amount of damage this does completely overwhelms the environmental benefit from the solar panels themselves.

To encourage the expansion of green power production, the government guaranteed prices for electricity fed into the grid from renewable sources, such as wind turbines or solar panels. The price guarantees, which vary depending on when the system was installed and its generating capacity, are binding for 20 years.

The government passes the subsidy cost on to consumers in a surcharge. While the flood of new energy sources has lowered market prices for electricity, consumer prices have actually increased as the surcharge has risen to make up the difference between the market and government-guaranteed prices. 

The renewable energy surcharge levied on German households and businesses has nearly tripled since 2010 and now accounts for about 18% of a German household’s electric bill.

Many companies, economists and even Germany’s neighbors worry that the enormous cost to replace a currently working system will undermine the country’s industrial base and weigh on the entire European economy. 

Average electricity prices for companies have jumped 60% over the past five years because of costs passed along as part of government subsidies of renewable energy producers. Prices are now more than double those in the U.S.

Populist politicians, ever in search of ways to ingratiate themselves with the voting public, seek out mechanisms that make their pet schemes look good.

Looking at solar system subsidies, both Germany and California have put similar subsidy programmes in place, based on net metering and allowing home-owners with solar systems to offset, on a one-for-one basis, the energy they receive from the electric grid with the solar power they generate on their roof.

Using the California example, an average resident with solar generally pays about 17 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity from the grid. When their solar systems are operating, however, net metering requires the utility to pay that solar customer the same 17 cents per kWh. But the solar customer still needs the grid to back up his solar panels at night and on cloudy days, and the utility could have purchased that same solar power from a utility-scale solar power plant for about five cents per kWh.

What about B.C.?

B.C.’s power situation is not materially different from those of Germany or California. Hydro power does not lend itself to rapid changes in operating rates. Like nuclear, the hydro plants are built to ramp up and spin down relatively slowly; certainly slower than solar.

And, solar suffers almost the same inefficiencies here as it does in Germany. We enjoy better weather than most of the rest of Canada but nowhere near as many hours of sun per annum as the Southwestern US, Australia or North Africa.

The numbers tell the story:

Average Annual Sunshine Hours
Las Vegas3825
San Francisco2950

(Courtesy of:

Solar intensity around the world.

In the above map, the red zones get markedly less sun than the yellow zones. Also note that the yellow zones are closer to the equator, the sun is more direct than at the higher latitudes, which has a considerable impact on solar power output.

Carlyle concludes, quite aptly:

“…even if we ignore cost, there is still a maximum practical limit to solar power based on the realities of grid management. 

“You can’t build more PV solar than the rest of the grid can ramp up/down to accept. The necessary grid storage for large-scale solar power is a “maybe someday” technology, not something viable today. Calls for 50% of power to come from solar in our lifetimes are a fantasy, and we need to be realistic about that.

“You can’t force utilities to buy unneeded power just because it’s renewable. The energy and materials to build the excess capacity just goes to waste. That is the opposite of green.”

The primary reason these small solar systems are cost-effective is that they’re heavily subsidized. 

Well-meaning but ill-conceived (senior government) and local tax incentives for rooftop solar give back between 30% and 40% of the installation costs to the owner as a tax credit.

Most people buy rooftop solar panels because they think they will save money or it will make them green. The truth is, solar is anything but green and, without government support, not cost-effective.

Installing a solar system on one’s roof is something of a luxury; a luxury some of us may want to take on to feel more green and in the hope of saving a bit on the cost of power.

By all means, if you feel strongly about setting up solar on your house, that is your prerogative. But, please, don’t expect your fellow taxpayer to subsidize your enterprise.


“Types of Solar Panels” –

“Solar Cell Comparison Chart – Mono-, Polycrystalline and Thin Film” –

“Types of Solar Panel – Which Type of Solar Panel is Best for You?” –

“Alternative Energy – Common Types of Solar Cells” –

“Crystalline silicon” – Wikipedia –

“Europe’s Green Energy Industry Faces Collapse As Subsidies Are Cut” – Michael Bastasch –

“Reality Check: Germany Does Not Get Half of its Energy from Solar Panels” – Robert Wilson –

“Should other nations follow Germany’s lead on promoting solar power?” – Ryan Carlyle –

“Germany’s Expensive Gamble on Renewable Energy” – The Wall Street Journal – Matthew Karnitschnig –

“Germany’s Solar Failure” – Doug Hoffman –

“European utilities – How to lose half a trillion euros” – The Economist –

“Meet the battery-powered home” – The Economist –

“The darker side of solar power” – The Globe and Mail – Konrad YakabuskiI –

“The Dirty Side of a “Green” Industry” – Yingling Liu –

“The Hole in the Rooftop Solar-Panel Craze” – The Wall Street Journal – Brian H. Potts –

The uncomfortable choice with solar power and raw material sourcing – Chris Berry –

Crystal clear? – Perovskites may give silicon solar cells a run for their money –

“Reforming the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) – Market solutions for market failures” – Craig Morris –

“What are mono silicon, poly silicon and thin film solar panels?” –


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