June 30th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY NSW electricity grid now at 'crisis point'

EDITORIAL China's pivotal role in Trump-Kim summit

CANBERRA OBSERVED Throwing our 8ยข in the ring over sale of ABC

OPINION Why populism has become popular among the populace

MEDIA Ramsay Centre gets all that' left from ABC's Drum

ENERGY Solar panels leave hidden carbon footprint

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson conviction conundrum

ENERGY Don't let our waste go to waste: energise it

OPINION We've moved from low standards to no standards

LITERATURE AND CULTURE Christian humour through the ages: Dante, Chaucer and Cervantes

ECONOMICS Trump, China, the WTO and world trade

WHY BREXIT? A tight little island


MUSIC Contrary emotions: Following and leading the beat

CINEMA Incredibles 2: Just the average family of superheroes

BOOK REVIEW The main driver of our foreign policy

BOOK REVIEW Commitment at risk of obliteration



EDITORIAL By-elections a trial run for next federal election

Books promotion page

Solar panels leave hidden carbon footprint

by Chris McCormack

News Weekly, June 30, 2018

While the renewable-energy spruikers and the climate alarmists trumpet the “necessity” of solar and wind to curb “dangerous” carbon-dioxide emissions, some studies claim that the carbon dioxide produced in the manufacure of  each square metre of solar panel exceeds that from burning coal.

Swiss engineer Ferrucio Ferroni analysed the “greenhouse gas” emissions resulting from the manufacture, transport and operation of solar panels. He found that as more than 60 per cent of the globes’ solar panels are produced in China, which predominantly burns coal (62 per cent of energy consumption) to generate the electricity necessary for the manufacture of solar panels (only 2.82 per cent of China’s energy consumption comes from wind, geothermal, solar, biomass and waste), the net effect is an increase in carbon-dioxide emissions per unit of useful energy.

The carbon-dioxide emissions take into account the manufacture of the panels, the refining of solar silicon using large amounts of chemicals and raw materials, the associated hardware produced to link solar to the power grid, transport of the panels and (in the case he studied) the modest power output from the sun in Germany.

Ferroni calculated that modern sup­ercritical coal-fired power stations emit 846 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt/hour when run on hard coal. He points out that the production of ultra-pure silicone used in solar panels is “extremely energy intensive” and, according to Professor Jian Shuisheng of Beijing Jiaotong University, more than 300 kilograms of coal is required per square metre of solar panel produced in China, emitting 1,100 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Taking into account the energy required for batteries, inverters, copper cables, switches, instruments, supports and concrete adds 13 per cent, pushing the total of carbon-dioxide emissions per square metre of solar panel to 1,243 kilograms.

Ferroni also points out that other gases such as sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) are released in the production of solar panels and (if we accept the hypothesis that trace gases can affect the climate) they have 16,600 and 23,900 times respectively the warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Additionally, Ferroni writes of the 20 different chemicals and substances used in solar panels not present in nature and that are hugely energy intensive to produce. He calculates that when it comes to transporting new solar panels and their disposal at the end of their 25-year lifespan, 23 kilograms more of carbon dioxide is generated per square metre of solar panel produced, than in transporting coal from South Africa to European power plants.

So, how much power does one square metre of solar panel produce over its lifetime?

Ferroni determined that the average power efficiency of a solar panel is around 80 kWh per square metre a year, or a total power production of 1,850 kWh per square metre over 25 years, accounting for conversion losses associated with storage of renewable energy. Coal-fired power plants do not incur such losses as there is no need to store power as they respond immediately to electricity demand, and they last at least 50 years.

In conclusion, Ferroni computed that a square metre of solar panel produces 1,809 kg of carbon dioxide over its lifetime which, when divided by its net electricity production of 1,850 kWh over 25 years, produces 978 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt/hour. This compares with the 846 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt/hour produced from a modern coal plant. Thus, a modern coal-fired power plant emits 13 per cent less carbon dioxide than solar.

Even the pro-solar website Low-Tech Magazine admits that several studies of the dynamic life cycle analysis of renewable energy technologies between 1998–2008 show that “the aggregate of solar panels actually increased GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and energy use” and that during those 10 years, 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide was produced from the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry.

The website also makes the point that “between 2009 and 2014, solar PV grew four times too fast to be sustainable”, growing on average 59 per cent per year between 2008 and 2014. This was the result of huge taxpayer-funded subsidies to the solar industry the world over.

In Australia it is estimated that we will funnel over $1.3 billion this year into subsidising rooftop solar panels.

Worldwide, solar panel production nearly doubled in its carbon intensity between 2008 and 2013, from 500 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt/hour equivalent to 950 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt/hour equivalent. Eighty-seven per cent of panels are produced in Asia.

With this in mind, Low-Tech Magazine writes: “If we would consider all solar panels in the world as one large energy generating plant, it would not have generated any net energy or CO2-savings.”

To reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from solar panel production the website suggests dedicating low-emission “nuclear plants exclusively to the manufacture of solar cells”. However, the difficulty in realising this is “we would have needed 24 nuclear plants – or one in 20 atomic plants worldwide – working full time to produce the solar panels manufactured in 2013”.

Surely, building this number of nuclear plants to produce electricity (not solar panels) would be a better way of solving energy shortfalls around the world, while reducing emissions.

Of course, the argument over carbon-dioxide emissions is academic if one accepts that carbon dioxide is a harmless gas essential for all life on Earth.

However, with governments worldwide misusing taxpayers’ money to prop up an economically unviable industry in the mistaken belief that we are saving the planet by doing so, the studies pointing towards the inability of solar to reduce emissions must be highlighted.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm