Solar in Spain, Then and Now

“The sun in Spain shines brightly on the plain”

Here’s Barack Obama, speaking in January 2009:

Think of what’s happening in countries like Spain … where they’re making real investments in renewable energy. They’re surging ahead of us, poised to take the lead in these new industries.

…and here’s a report on what’s happening in Spain currently:

Only two years ago, Spanish solar energy companies feasting on generous government subsidies expanded at a feverish pace, investing €18 billion (then worth roughly $28 billion) to blanket rooftops and fields with photovoltaic panels. They briefly turned the country into the top solar market in the world.

Spain’s subsidies for solar were four to six times higher than those for wind. Prices charged for solar power were 12 times higher than those for fossil fuel electricity. Germany and Spain received about 75 percent of the world’s photovoltaic panel installations that year.

Suddenly facing a deep recession, a collapsing housing market and a ballooning budget deficit, the Spanish government cut the rate paid for photovoltaic power by about 29 percent last year and put a limit on new solar installations at 500 megawatts per year. It is now considering additional tariff cuts that may reach as high as 40 percent and may even be applied retroactively, according to local newspaper reports.

(link via Glenn)

American politicians and journalists have been deeply dishonest about the realistic economics of “alternative” energy. Many companies, too, have enthusiastically gone along with the hype in the hope of attaching feel-good greenness to their brands and also in some cases of selling a lot of equipment.

Changing the mix of electricity to include a substantial amount that costs 10X or 5X or even 3X the cost of conventional sources would have a devastating effect on American’s manufacturing base, as well as its direct impact on individuals and families. And this is true regardless of how much of the cost is paid directly and how much via government subsidies.

Anyone want to add a few lines to the “poem” I started at the top of the post?

7 thoughts on “Solar in Spain, Then and Now”

  1. The sun in Spain shines brightly on the plain
    but to harness the sun requires toil and pain
    whether breaking ground and planting crops to be burned
    or covering the rooftops in glass with money unearned.
    Whose labor will finance the dreams of the men
    who drive us intently to follow their ken
    despite never fixing a single thing broken?


  2. A local supermarket in Madison, Wisconsin, once part of a larger “chain” but now part of a smaller set of family-owned stores, I guess a “chain within a chain”, a store that plays really good classical music on their background music loudspeakers but will otherwise go unnamed, brags about how they use “100% renewable power” — I guess in the electricity to run the lights, the refrigerated cases and the freezer units.

    I suppose they are competing with “Greener than Thou” Whole Foods just up the street.

    On the other hand, unless they turn off their freezer cases when the wind stops blowing (it is possible, perhaps to do that, to have enough thermal energy storage that they could adjust their load to match an intermittent but renewable source, but I doubt they have taken this step), the claim of 100% wind power is misleading on the part of a commercial enterprise.

    Just as you can’t use organophosphate pesticides and claim to have an “organic” food product (hey, pesticides are organic compounds!), can they, the nameless foodstore on the corner of Midvale and University Avenue, advertise that they are “100% green power?”

  3. All kinds of silliness proliferates in flush times when we’ve got money to burn. In some cases this is good because it drives experimentation. In other cases its bad because it allows politicians to smooth over political disagreements by throwing money at this and that group to make them shut up.

    It’s just as with individuals or households. When you’ve got money rolling in you might buy all kinds of crap but if you loose your job you suddenly learn that all you really need are the basics and your loved ones.

    Now everyone who fastened on the government teat during flush times are beginning to squeal as they’re yanked off. Alternative power is going to squeal very loud when they get yanked. The entire industry is based on subsidy farming. Once people stop paying for fads they will be hurt badly.

  4. Paul – I know the store of which you speak, my wife shops there all the time and I have to admit it is a pretty nice place.

    As far as the power goes, if their utility is M G and E (and it is) there is no possible way that 100% of their power is renewable (unless perhaps they mean that renewable means that they can get more). M G and E does a good job with their marketing and is a fantastic utility as far as utilities go.

    BUT employees and those who know what is really going on will freely admit that the M G and E plan where you can opt to pay more for wind generated power is a farce as there is no physical way that they can determine which type of power is actually being delivered to your house. It is just a feel good thing.

    And last time I checked I haven’t seen any windmills or solar panels on top of that store but I will look once more next time I am in there. In the end, is is just marketing, plain and simple.

  5. Dan From Madison:

    Actually you can determine what kind of power is being delivered to your house — it is called “retail wheeling.” So if a certain number of watts are being generated in a wind farm in Iowa, some other watts are generated by a coal-burning plant in Portage, and some other watts are generated by the splitting of uranium atoms somewhere in Illinois, these watts could all be allocated to different customers, and the customers could even pay different rates depending on the fuel costs, capital costs, transmission cost, and environmental remediation costs of the different sources. No, you can’t segregate “where the electrons are coming from”, but you could easily make allocations of fees to different customers, trading off their preference for low electric bills against their preference regarding the “environment.” The MG&E plan of paying extra for wind power does just that.

    The part that is a pebble in my shoe is not only doing this with wind, but for a large commercial customer with a very steady demand for power (ahem, cough, Tim Metcalf, cough), not only a steady demand but a demand that cannot be interrupted unless you want a whole bunch of spoiled food, to claim they are getting “100 percent” of their power from the most fickle of electricity sources, wind.

    People are talking about plug-in hybrid cars as a game changer, that with the storage batteries in all of those cars, you could indeed power that fleet of cars, or at least some large fraction of their driving miles, with wind power. But Metcalf Sentry Hilldale not only isn’t providing any form of energy storage, although I suppose they could in theory use some kind of ice-making/melting cycle to tolerate electric supply fluctuations, but as far as I can tell they don’t. They are in fact an electric customer who is highly intolerant of load fluctuations.

    Were their tag line, “Metcalf’s Atomic Sentry Food Stores” claiming 100% power from “the mighty atom”, I could buy that. The food store is a rather constant and highly uninterruptable commercial load, nuclear power plants famously want to be run full out 24/7 without variation in output (although nuclear is such a large fraction of power in France that they are working on how to do “load following” with nukes, something not attempted here). “Come shop Metcalf’s, 100% CO2-free atom power!” No, that tag line would not work here in Madison, Wisconsin for some reason that escapes me.

    Another example was that recent PBS Nova documentary about how California is going its independent way on “global warming” or “climate change.” The program opened with a graphic of a high speed railroad train wending its way through a countryside dotted with windmill towers. Yeah, right, as if the high speed train is going to park on a siding someplace when the wind stops blowing. “Ticket to San Francisco? Things are becalmed this week, see us next week when we may have a train departure.”

    Organic food may be “bogus” to some people and “essential” to others, but there are clear-cut regulatory standards regarding calling something organic. Tim Metcalf gets to call his store “100% renewable powered” adhering to standards that he and MG&E just made up. I don’t like it because this misleading understanding of renewable energy is going to cost me coin as a retail power consumer down the line.

  6. Spain’s solar producers were using generators to boost their profits. They were only caught because they were producing solar power–at night.

    Big Government turns night to day! Is there anything Big Government can’t do?

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