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The profitable nature of solar power in Spain has given rise to strange installation locations, such as this plant which towers over a cemetary.  (Source: AP)
Spain has found a controversial way to boost solar adoption

When it comes to solar power, the real dilemmas are efficiency and cost.  On the one hand, efficiency has steadily improved over the last couple decades to the point where it’s approaching the utility prices of other power generation methods.  Exotic technologies promise even greater gains.  However, the price of solar-generated power still remains at least five times as expensive as coal-power, the chief source of power in the U.S. (compared to the leading candidate, nuclear, which is approximately 1.5 to 2 times as expensive).

While solar adoption from a cost standpoint is unattractive, there's much debate over whether commercial adoption is needed to spur further research to propel solar into the realm of cost competitiveness.  While many nations like the U.S. and China have modestly taken this position, adopting solar at a moderate rate, one nation has fallen head over heels for solar -- Spain.

Spain is allowing solar and wind power plants to charge as much as 10 times the rates of coal power plants, making it possible for solar power installations to earn utilities big money.  On average, recent rate increases have raised solar charges to over 7 times the rates of coal or natural gas rates.   The costs are added onto consumers' power bills.

The results are mixed; while Spanish power bills are at record highs, the number of deployments is soaring.  Spain has 14 GW of solar power, or the equivalent capacity of nine average nuclear reactors, under construction -- the most of any nation.  Florida’s FPL Group Inc. and French Electricite de France SA are among the many jumping to build in Spain.

Gabriel Calzada, an economist and professor at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, states, "Who wouldn’t want to enter a business that’s paid many times more than the market rate, and where the customer is guaranteed for life?"

By 2009, 42 percent of Spaniards energy bills -- approximately 95 euros ($127) on average -- will be provided by alternative energy.  Spanish law requires power distributors to buy all clean energy produced in the first 25 years of the plants' lives.  The government also recently raised the rate of Spain believes this sacrifice will pay off as fossil fuel resources become depleted and emissions standards tighten.

Karsten von Blumenthal, an industrial analyst at Hamburg-based SES Research GmbH states, "The guarantee is more attractive than what other countries offer.  Actually the U.S. has better space for solar, in the deserts of California and Nevada."

The U.S. meanwhile is also advancing thanks in part to President Obama's solar initiatives passed earlier this year as part of the federal stimulus legislation.  Over 6 GW of capacity is planned for the U.S.

Fred Morse, an official at the Washington- based Solar Energy Industries Association trade group and author of the first report to the White House on solar power (1969), says that the U.S. needs to adopt more incentives if it hopes to catch Spain.  He states, "The incentives, if implemented promptly and effectively, should greatly facilitate the financing of these plants."

One promising benefit of the Spanish solar boom is that it is increasing the number of plants utilizing new, potentially more efficient technologies like solar thermal or sterling engines.  Spain is limiting the number of photovoltaic plants (solar panel-based designs), but is giving out unlimited licenses for solar thermal and other alternative plants.

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RE: Smart but not so...
By Golgatha on 5/13/2009 9:09:59 AM , Rating: 2
Now if I could install enough solar on my roof and sell the excess capacity back to my power company at 7x their rate, you better believe I'd adopt solar power in a hurry.

RE: Smart but not so...
By Belard on 5/13/2009 9:34:46 AM , Rating: 1
Heres the thing...

1 - Solar Tech is improving very quickly. In another 3~5 years, it SHOULD be just as cheap as coal.

2 - If its cheap, unlike a power plant (coar / nuke) Anyone can buy it and install it on their roof or their yard. Remember on DT - they're's tech that'll allow your windows to be solar collectors.

3 - it creates NO (or little) pollution, other than manufactering the solar collectors.

4 - If many people buy their own, it reduces the drain on the electrical system

5 - if everyone has one, it can help re-charge their electric cars. Because AS OF NOW, eletric cars STILL require power from Coal / Nuke plants which generate pollution / waste.

6 - we WILL run out of coal or have to dig even deeper and we WILL run out of gas. The Sun and Win, those aren't going anywhere soon. And we need OIL for grease/lube for electric motors and airplanes / space craft engines.

RE: Smart but not so...
By FITCamaro on 5/13/2009 10:50:53 AM , Rating: 2
By the time we have to worry about running out of coal, we will almost certainly have perfected fusion.

And if you want to buy solar cells for personal use fine. But YOU pay for it. If I buy a home in an area where solar cells would be practical, I'd consider putting them up myself so I wouldn't have to pay a power bill and to add value to my home.

RE: Smart but not so...
By Keeir on 5/13/2009 3:04:01 PM , Rating: 2
Here's the Thing

1 - Solar Tech is improving very quickly. In another 3~5 years, it SHOULD be just as cheap as coal.

This has been said for more than 25 years. In reality, it appears that Solar is at least 5 times as expensive as coal. Which the US doesn't even really build all the often because its (coal) is considered more business expensive than natural gas. There is no rational, logical, or scientific reason to believe that Solar, a technology that has existed for well over 50 years will suddeny drop in price 50% a year for the next few years.

4 - If many people buy their own, it reduces the drain on the electrical system

Only when combined with an adquate electrical system. I see it quite differently. Increased home usage of Solar/Wind will lead to additional inconsistencies and uncertainities in the level of power required at any one particular hour. While not "overcomable", planning for Sun and Wind patterns will make grid control more expensive and result most likely in additional margin being built in the amount of power being generated... adding expense as wasted power goes up. Its not really a "slam dunk" in terms of lower the stress on the electrical system.

RE: Smart but not so...
By Solandri on 5/13/2009 4:00:08 PM , Rating: 2
1 - Solar Tech is improving very quickly. In another 3~5 years, it SHOULD be just as cheap as coal.

Current mass-market solar panels are about 15%-20% efficient. Solar has been able to piggyback on the enormous advances in semiconductor manufacturing by the computer industry, so I doubt you'll see much reduction in their manufacturing costs due to high adoption of solar. So you're left with efficiency as the only means of improving price.

If solar currently costs about 5x as much as coal, then making it just as cheap as coal would require panels which are 75%-100% efficient. The chances of us reaching that point in 3-5 years is virtually nil. I'd reckon we're several billion times more likely to be hit by a planet-killing asteroid in the next 3-5 years than for solar to reach the cost of coal.

2 - If its cheap, unlike a power plant (coar / nuke) Anyone can buy it and install it on their roof or their yard. Remember on DT - they're's tech that'll allow your windows to be solar collectors.

Without ginormous batteries to store that solar energy during the day (when you're at work) so you can use it at night (when there's no sun), the house will still need to be hooked up to the grid and we will still need coal/nuke power plants.

And windows that are solar collectors mean no (or less) light gets into your house. Kinda pointless to turn your windows into solar collectors if it forces you to turn the lights on inside the house during the day.

5 - if everyone has one, it can help re-charge their electric cars. Because AS OF NOW, eletric cars STILL require power from Coal / Nuke plants which generate pollution / waste.

I dunno about you, but I drive my car to work during the day. Installing a solar powered car recharging system at home isn't going to do me any good because my car isn't there most of the time the sun is up.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for alternate energy. But a lot of the proponents of solar are advocating it simply for the sake of it being alternate energy. They're putting very little thought into how practical it is. Of the alternate energy technologies I've seen, I would rank them from most practical to least as: hydro, geothermal, biofuels (use plants as solar collectors!), maybe fusion, and way down the list wind, and dead last solar.

RE: Smart but not so...
By greylica on 5/13/2009 7:06:40 PM , Rating: 2
Some Facts:

A 65cm X 100cm solar panel will only generate (in very sunny days) 85W X 12V~14V in 5~6 hours a day.
We have to use static sealed batteries to store that energy.
In My Apartment, I have 6 windows available to install those solar panels.
Then I could have in a sunny day, (assuming 85W x 5 H X 6 Panels) 510W/H X 12V~14V.
This will give me 2550W X 12V~14V per day at maximum.

Cost to implement (here, but converted to U$):
4950 U$.

Then, what can I do with this little amount of energy ?
Using 12V Led Lamp, equivalent to a 100W incandescent lamp
will consume 6W per lamp directly in 12Volts. I use 8 here, and will assume 2 Hours for each.
Then 96 W (I will assume 100). Using an inverter, will lost between 15~20% of the energy,
2550w-100w (Lamps) = 2450w -20% (inverter)= 1960W available in 127Volts
PC + Monitor (idle) 120W
PC + Monitor (Gaming, or rendering 3D anims (My work)) 300W
6~7 hours a day work

Now, the worst part...

Assuming 0,45 cents per KW Here,using 2550W (brute energy)
as directly generate by the panels each day
Will give me 1,1475 U$ per day in full usage
(all lamps, my PC )

30 days = U$ 34,425 each month

4950 U$ to implement divided to 34,425=143 month

WOW - Error, it´s not 4 years, it´s 12 years !

OK, but they raise the cost of energy every 2 years...

Using the last downgrade in my pocket they
did here in Brazil (20,19 %) will cut the
time to recover the cost near 7~8 years.

Those panels last 20 years, the rest of recoverable costs
will be used to battery maintenance when needed.
(every 5 years)

This way, I will have at least 8 Years
to recover my pocket, using those
speculative calculations.

But the pleasure to not give the money
to them... doesn´t have a price...

RE: Smart but not so...
By Keeir on 5/14/2009 4:28:20 PM , Rating: 2
Assuming 0,45 cents per KW Here,

Note, if thats 45 Euro Cents, thats pretty damn painful. I currently pay 7 Euro Cents per kWh. Since I doubt power production/distr. is really that much more costly where you are, remember that alot of that 0,45 cents will have to be recovered by the government/collecting agency in other ways.

Even assuming that huge replacement energy costs (I consider prices ranging upto 5x the US average to be very high indeed), you still have to have 8 straight years of very sunny days every single day. I also notice you don't factor in battery losses, nor the lost efficieny as time goes on, nor the oppurtunity cost/borrowing cost for the inital investment, nor any potential maintaince costs.

Even Solar Panel Companies show that for most locations, personal solar panel installations cost around 0.4 USdollars per kWh over 25/50 years with no opportunity cost nor maintaincence nor efficieny losses. (Note, this is not true everywhere. Some area of the US with High Sun, High Government Incentives, and High Electricity costs begin to have payback periods in the 15-20 year range)

But the pleasure to not give the money
to them... doesn´t have a price...

Your right, its a pleasure not to give them money. But it does have a price... a pretty steap one

RE: Smart but not so...
By highlandsun on 5/14/2009 12:07:58 AM , Rating: 2
You don't necessarily have to have batteries on-site, though that might make some other things easier. You can sell your excess electricity back to the utility companies during the day, and then buy it back at night. That's the ultimate in perfect investments - buy low, sell high - demand and prices are higher by day, lower by night...

By the way, thin film silicon solar panels are transparent. The notion that putting panels over all your windows is going to keep your house dark is pretty silly. In regions where there's a lot of sun exposure, where it's worthwhile to mount these panels, you're going to be doing yourself a favor because it will reduce the light from intense levels to moderate levels, and it will reduce heat buildup as well, thus lowering your cooling costs at the same time.

As for solar and recharging electric cars - I guess that's questionable. I think one of the ideal targets for solar installation is to cover over parking lots. That would help reduce the occurrence of urban heat islands as well. If your workplace is progressive, this may work out for you. And even if not, you still have the advantage of being able to sell any excess electricity back to the utility companies.

Maybe you think you've thought about this more than other people, but I don't think you've thought it through enough yet.

RE: Smart but not so...
By cornelius785 on 5/13/2009 11:59:19 PM , Rating: 2
1->sounds familiar as other have said

2-> you obviously don't know what goes into build a solar power generation system just for your house. since you can't make assumptions on future technology, you'll need a lot of panels ($$$), lots of batteries ($$$$), need to a large power controller to be able to: charge batteries and power the house from 3 sources ($$), and others. As far as cheap goes, I'd start at $5000 which rockets up to $20,000 fast. So unless rebates are involved or total system coast suddenly gets cheapers, most people will be detered by that price tag, plus you are now responsible for maintaining your electricity supply, for better or for worse.

3->you can't forget the impact of the rest of a solar/wind power generation systems, being: maintence (minor or non-existant for personal systems) and most importantly energy storage (batteries, flywheels, pumping water up high, super heated water/other hot substance, etc.). not all of these are that 'clean' over their life span.

4->in my opinion, it isn't safe to make assumption on personal power generations. it'll only complicated what the expected load is for residential power supply

5->what's wrong with nuclear? sure there is radioactive waste that can be disposed of properly or reused. nuclear plants offer the reliability and predictability + controllability (also power/land) of output power that fossil fuels have to offer with the low pollution of solar and wind. also, who says electric cars are the future? unless batteries improve drastically (power density and charge times), it won't work for many. it'll be hard to charge your car if you park on the street regularly, in parking garage (your landlord may not like the idea of installing lots of metered power outlets), and don't forget trips. in my opinion, gas refueling has set the bar to match of MANY stations and fast refueling (~4 minutes and your full, how long does it take to charge a battery? hours?)

6->i think importance of oil can be better summed as 'oil is too important to be just burned', not $/gallon but the usages of oil beside burning it.

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