The saviors versus the realists

Continuing on the short, but misleading article about solar energy doing better than nuclear on August 13, in the comments there was an interesting conversation of some solar panel owners who complained that they have to pay extra for their use of the grid. It started like this (translated from Dutch):

incredible that we, owners of solar panels once more have to cough up a hefty amount extra because we use the grid. Long live Belgium.

Alluding to the fee to be paid by all those who produce electricity and put it on the grid. Initially, individual home owners with solar panels were exempt to promote the installation of solar panels, but later it was ruled that also home owner had to pay the fee. Another comment followed up on that: (translated from Dutch):

Today I have consumed nothing and produced a lot. I now must pay for that …. Meanwhile, my energy is sold. I call that theft

Another commenter seems better informed and turned the tables (translated from Dutch):

Energy from solar panels is expensive and over-subsidized. It is because of them that we now pay about 80 euro more per year. Yet some believe that they should receive more compensation, that is barking mad. If the meter turns backwards, you are selling your energy at the price that you’d otherwise have to pay and then there are the certificates. Theft.

Later someone with the handle “Dumb blonde 1” jumped in, repeating the “solar energy saved the day (notwithstanding this argument being tackled before) and living up to the chosen handle (translated from Dutch, some interpunctuation added for clarity):

should all solar panel owners disconnect their system now, then all those jealous people would be without power like in Poland not long ago. Actually, now is the time to pull together against the unjust transport costs and to those jealous people, the person who puts the energy on the net that he didn’t consume gets no euro cent for that, those are sold by the company and is pure profit for them. The solar panel owner only gets the certificate

Well, I don’t think that this is what reality shows. Luckily sanity prevailed when another commenter dropped by (translated from Dutch):

If all solar panel owners switch their systems off, then no one would fall without power. This happens every night and every time there is insufficient or no sun. The fossil backup then kicks in and all the lights will stay on. A solar panel has a efficiency of 15%. This has nothing to do with jealousy but with pure natural laws, which are the same for everyone, rich or poor, solar panel owner or not.

That is hitting the nail on the head.

Solar energy is only available when the sun shines and there is no guarantee that there is a lot of solar energy when the demand is high or that there is less solar energy available when the demand is low. The defenders seem to ignore this part of the equation.

In this example, the panel owner had panels that produced a lot of electricity and the owner didn’t need it initially. That electricity was put on the grid. Later when he needs electricity he draws it from the grid, even at times that his panels don’t produce anymore. This means that the electricity grid is used as a kind of a battery where he puts electricity if there is a lot of sunlight, yet expects to get electricity from it later.

From the perspective of the panel owner this doesn’t really matter, but the same can not be said from the perspective of the grid manager. The time of production is not necessarily the time electricity was needed and this production has to be balanced with the demand.

The situation would be very different when the property of that panel owner was disconnected from the grid and he uses the electricity that his own panels produced. In that case the electricity he needs would not be taken into account by the net manager. If many panel owners would do the same, this would definitely save conventional resources. That is of course not the case now. The net manager has to take into account the electricity needed for the consumption of the panel owners when their panels are not producing or produce too little.

So I think the panel owners have more advantages that they want to admit:

  • When panels of the home owner are producing electricity the meter will go backwards and they don’t need to pay for the energy produced. Whether this energy was produced at a time that there was a need for it or not doesn’t matter
  • When the panel owner needs energy, that will be available to him, even when his panels produce anything or not enough. He doesn’t need to make any investments to balance his production against his demand
  • Those who had their panels installed before 2014 (the most of them), will get a green certificate for each 1,000 kWh produced, whether that 1,000 kWh was produced at a time it was needed or not.

But that is not how they paint themselves. They trying to paint themselves as the saviors who need to pay for putting their produced energy on the net and in the meanwhile someone else is collecting the profit.

Poor sods 😉


4 thoughts on “The saviors versus the realists

  1. poitsplace

    Once again, the lie was told long before the conversation was even started. What exactly are we actually discussing? Let’s compare apples to apples.

    Rooftop solar energy is raw elecricity. They use electronics to convert it into a form that is reasonably (but not entirely) compatible with the grid. For this, (in belgum) they’re generally paid home user retail prices (the highest price there is) of about $.25/kwh. Side note, industry pays about $.16/kwh. Power plants produce massive amounts of energy. They are well oiled machines and produce power in the precise way the grid needs. The power plant and raw materials used to produce power work out to something like 3 cents per kwh.

    Wait a minute here…where the hell is that HUGE amount of money going? And wait yet another minute…how could power companies be expected to make a profit if one of the biggest users of energy pays only 60% of the cost they pay the producers? Oh right, the end user doesn’t pay for THE GRID, which also happens to be one of the biggest costs. They also haven’t paid for line losses…which brings up “the other” problem.

    The grid is still pretty efficient right now because it’s a one-way system. As line losses drop the voltage, transformers along the way step the voltage back up. So in an exaggerated case, 100KV goes in, 90 comes out the other end and gets stepped back up. Another leg goes in at 10kv and comes out 9…then gets stepped back up. Another leg goes in at 1kv and comes out at 900v before it gets stepped back up.

    For now this isn’t a problem since production is low enough that it gets consumed near the place it’s produced. But once more is produced it goes up the grid backward, suffering the same line losses but with transformers COMPOUNDING the voltage drop. It goes in at 1kv, comes in at 900kv, then gets stepped down to 810. Upstream in the grid this translates to 8.1kv going into a 10k leg and coming out at 729. Upstream at the high voltage leg this works out to 72kv into a 100kv grid and coming out at 65kv. To use the grid we’ll have to replace most of the transformers or add a whole new subsystem.

    ANNNNND it gets worse, as you well know. When renewables produce, the wholesale price of energy crashes, sometimes even going negative. They are literally forcing them to pay premium prices for energy that is at times worth LESS than nothing.

    Sorry for the length..I do run on sometimes.

    1. trustyetverify Post author

      There are definitely many more consequences to be expected when adding intermittent energy sources to a continuous working grid. In the post I tried to focus on the perspective of the grid user.
      Indeed, those home owners with solar panels get their production at retail price, plus the green certificates where applicable (no green certificates are given to those who install solar panels later than february 2014 and some home owners in the past subscribed to a scheme in which the company that installed the solar panels delivered them for free and were happy to only take the green certificates, they were that lucrative).

      I agree that the actual cost of energy production is only a rather small part of the electricity price for consumers, but I am not really sure that the end user doesn’t pay for the grid. At least in Belgium the distribution- and transporcost is the largest part of the electricity price (around 50%). The rest are all kind of taxes and finally the production cost.

      1. poitsplace

        I’m just pointing out that…if they were paid the wholesale, spot price of the power (the ACTUAL value of the power) we simply would not be having this conversation. Nobody would. The solar producers would be paying a base rate of about 1/2 of their normal electric bill (the cost of the service). They would get very little money when they were producing…and sometimes they’d have to face the choice (I assume it would be automatic) of either PAYING to sell their low grade power or not putting it on the grid at all.

        Glancing at some real-world figures, they produce power as if they were being hit by full sun about 4 hours a day. You’d need to pay $20000+ for your solar setup. Your “savings” when you’re producing for yourself is about 10cents per kwh instead of 20. Your excess power reduces your costs by a small amount, but because everyone’s solar will crash the cost of power when the sun is out, they’ll almost never get more than $.03.

        So the real bottom line is that your original power bill WAS $100/month and now you’d be paying $66/month for the solar setup plus $50/month for the grid connection PLUS a non-trivial amount for whatever power you had to take off the grid…and then minus a trivial amount for power you produced.

        …And the BEST case scenario would be something like…a barn with NO energy usage covered in solar panels, costing $66/month for the solar setup, $50/month for the grid connection…and selling 100% of its energy at about $.03 (usually lower) per KWH resulting in a savings of $20-30/month. HOW F*CKED UP IS THAT? Its a barn using no energy and it costs as much for the privilege of putting solar energy on the grid as it would to just buy the power straight from the electric company!


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