When I read the Bloomberg news article about solar capacity growing 50%, I was pretty disturbed. I was even more disturbed when I read its source: the IEA news article Solar PV grew faster than any other fuel in 2016, opening a new era for solar power.
I could understand that the Bloomberg journalist might have no clue what he was copying and pasting, but I expected much more from an organization like IEA.
The first sentence of the IEA news article sounds familiar for those who read previous two posts:
New solar PV capacity grew by 50% last year, with China accounting for almost half of the global expansion, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest renewables market analysis and forecast.
This was the subject of the last two posts, in which it is shown that the growth of installed capacity of photovoltaic is a meaningless metric for the growth of solar energy consumption. That 50% growth (which is in fact a 33% growth) translates to a 0.13 percentage point growth in solar energy consumption when compared to the total energy consumption worldwide.
This focus on the growth of installed capacity allowed the IEA to overstate the impact of solar energy. They even went a step further in the next paragraph(s) (my emphasis):
Yet another puzzling Facebook post from the owner of the Tesla powerwall (translated from Dutch, my bold emphasis):
Thanks to the backwards running meter, we did NOT receive an electricity invoice in the first 7 years (there are no fixed cost at Ecopower). However, this is not fair, since we have still put 70% (see #selfconsumption below) of our solar power on the grid to get it back later from the grid (at night and in the winter).
Says the guy who only one hour ago in his Facebook timeline said he produced as much as he consumes.
That is a rather puzzling claim. He acknowledged that he puts energy on the grid when it is sunny, to get it back later. Since his meter was running backwards and his electricity provider only charges for his consumption (that is correct, Ecopower is the only Belgian provider that does so), this means a zero invoice for his electricity use.
Initially, I was puzzled why he considers this “unfair”. To get this clear we will have to read further (translated from Dutch):
The more I look into the story of the family that owned a Tesla powerwall (see previous four posts), the more I get the impression that there is more to the story than what meets the eye. In the article (and also the video that was linked to), it was the man of the family who did the talking. He was portrayed as a family man from Kermt (a tiny village with a population of 4.122) who installed a powerwall and this allowed him and his family to reduce their dependence on the power grid.
Yet, I was not really convinced. He looked indeed as an ordinary family man, but he sounded knowledgeable, the video was well made and only the advantages were highlighted, avoiding the disadvantages altogether. It seemed more like a slick sales pitch than an objective news item.
Later I learned that he signed in for the new model of the Tesla (the car). It is a hyped status symbol, not something that an ordinary family man would go for and he probably would have a higher than average salary.
There was also the puzzling tagline on his Facebook account:
Here you find all details on the home battery of Tom Nijsen and his strive for an inter-dependent energy landscape.
His strive for an inter-dependent energy landscape?
These are not the words that I would expect from a simple family man.
This is already the third post on the Tesla powerwall series and especially how it is (mis)presented in the mainstream media. This misinformation is not only limited to the mainstream media, it is also strong in social media. The subject of this post is a facebook post by the owners of the Tesla home battery mentioned in previous two posts.
It starts informative with a description of their powerwall (translated from Dutch):
Our home battery is a lithium ion battery with a usable capacity of 6.4 kWh (slightly less than our average daily consumption). We decided NOT to go for the #offgrid option, so when the grid voltage is lost, our battery will also not be able to power us. The battery can deliver 2 kW continuous power, with a peak power of 3.3 kW.
The capacity of their powerwall is indeed somewhat lower than their average consumption. I understood from a previous post that their annual consumption is around 3,200 kWh, meaning around 8.77 kW per day. On average of course, their consumption will be lower in summer (when production is high) and in higher in winter (when production is low).
Not sure whether all this 6.4 kWh is really usable and how long it stays that way (this battery is currently brand new, but lithium ion batteries degrade after a while). But that aside.
It becomes a bit trickier in the next sentence when it comes to the limitations of the powerwall (translated from Dutch):
With a load of 2 kW, the battery is depleted after 3 hours.
Followed by the justification that this is not much of a restriction for them (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):
The half-news show continues. The subject of previous post was the hurrah story from Belgian newspapers about a family that installed a Tesla powerwall. My impression was that things that didn’t fit the narrative were excluded, therefor coming to an overly positive success story. I wasn’t really sure whether this was caused by a wrong interpretation by the journalist or whether it originated from the interviewee.
I found out that the owner of this powerwall had a twitter account and recently started a facebook account in which he writes about his installation and (only) its advantages. Going through the posts, it seems likely that the one-sided positive narrative came from the owner and the journalist probably reported it uncritically.
Reading his tweets on the powerwall, I found a very small glimpse that it is not as positive as it was painted in the newspaper articles and the social media:
From the only-half-of-the-news-will-do department, this newspaper article titled Family from Limburg uses a home battery for one year already: “our house runs on its own power for weeks”. Not only this newspaper, all the other newspapers jumped on the story.
Screenshot article Het Nieuwsblad
Basically, a family from Kermt (a small village in the Belgian province Limburg) has solar panels on their roof and got themselves a Tesla powerwall (translated from Dutch):
For 42 days since the beginning of September, a family from Limburg has already been using the energy they generate themselves via the home battery. By storing the energy from the solar panels, it can be used when the owners see fit. “So our house runs on its own power,” says Tom Nijsen (39).
At first glance, it sounds really nice. A Tesla powerwall was installed, storing the energy produced by their solar panels and therefor making it possible to use that solar energy, even when the sun doesn’t shine. Reducing their dependence on the grid and for some periods even being self sufficient. What is not to like?
The reason why initially my attention was drawn to this article was because three statements in the title and summary were demonstrably false. You just had to read the article carefully to notice it.
From the half-news department comes the article titled Capacity of wind energy has overtaken coal in De Morgen (the Flemish Guardian).
This is how it is explained (translated from Dutch):
Last year, the installed capacity of wind power in Europe surpassed that of coal. This according to figures from the industry association WindEurope.
In terms of capacity, only gas-fired power plants preceded wind energy.
The source was an article with the same title from Belga (a news agency) and it was copied verbatim by a huge flock of news sites in Flanders.
The article in De Morgen jumped out as a sore thumb: it appeared in the section “Science”. Probably copied by a “science” journalist who had no clue that comparing installed capacity of wind with coal is meaningless and a direct comparison of the two is misleading.