Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Contra Gavin Lee (李佳達)

No time for wallowing in my own errors: get on with making the arguments that need to be made...


Gavin Lee (李佳達), in an editorial published on Tuesday, claimed that "For solar energy to take the place of nuclear power in Taiwan is not only possible, but could be done straight away." As I have written previously, to replace nuclear power in Taiwan (>40 TW hours per year) solar photvoltaic arrays would need to be built on an enormous scale.

Taiwan receives an estimated average of 1644 hours of direct sunlight per year, with the best of it falling here in the South. The concentration of that sunlight will never be more than 1 KW per m2, and is most likely substantially less than this most of the time. Solar cell companies in Taiwan currently produce PV arrays that can convert <20% of that 1 KW per m2 into electricity. With those numbers, we can calculate that, over 1 Km2, such an array, assuming 20% conversion efficiency, would produce 328 GW hours of electricity per year. In order to match the output of Taiwan's three nuclear plants at 40 TW hours per year, the scale of this installation would need to be increased to cover an area of 121 Km2. At a conversion efficiency of 15%, that surface area would need to be increased to 162 Km2, which is bigger than Kaohsiung City.

The capital and land costs of such a project would be enormous, and there would be further costs associated with load management problems. The high costs of solar cells are what prevent ordinary people from installing them on their houses and factories - any attempt to solve this problem on a large scale through subsidies or surplus purchasing schemes (such as in Germany and elsewhere) would likely raise the cost of electricity to everyone else, effectively transferring money away from the poor to the rich. That is not "capitalism", that is cannibalism.

Under free market conditions, the premium that consumers would need to pay for solar-cell electricity might well be enough to ensure that the cheaper and more convenient technologies of gas and nuclear remain dominant. Get the State out of the business of subsidizing energy and allow producers and consumers to discover the most effective solutions for themselves.

Yours freely,
Michael Fagan

(Sent: Wednesday 11th May 2011. Unpublished by the Taipei Times)


  1. Why didn't you quote the sentence right after?

    "Take the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, which is still under construction, for example — when one takes into account the land occupied and the cost of construction, as well as future operating costs and external costs, solar energy is not more expensive and would not take up more space."

  2. Why? Because I wanted to put right what I'd got wrong earlier with the math, but I agree that the following sentence is even more provocative.

    Sometimes I make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes are boneheaded. I'm glad people comment to put me right when this happens.


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