Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Mea Culpa...

I have to own up to my mistakes, however much of an idiot I may look.

I owe an apology to everyone who reads this blog: it is of course possible to replace nuclear power in Taiwan with solar power, contrary to what I mistakenly claimed below. What galls me about that mistake was two things: first, it was such a stupid, sub-schoolboy error of failing to do squares properly and second, I had even answered the very same question correctly in a previous letter that was even published in the Taipei Times. I am f*cking appalled at myself.

Reason is not automatic. What now? Gin and a listen to the Kinks...


  1. Ok. So we've established that it is possible to replace nuclear with solar but as far as I'm aware solar technology is still not efficient enough to warrant a wholesale immediate conversion. Also, we would need much more developed indigenous industries to develop the cells, the production of which is as yet very energy intensive. And then there's the issue of power storage and use during night time (disclaimer: I'm not that well read on this subject so i'm likely behind the curve on the latest solar technology) . That said, I'm pleased to see that the maths make solar feasible in theory. I think it would require quite significant and consistent policy incentives though to encourage Taipower or private energy firms to take up the challenge.

  2. Replacing nuclear power with solar power is silly Ben, let me count the ways for you:

    1) Capital costs: solar on this scale is at least as expensive as nuclear - just to get the things built. However, the land requirments are orders of magnitude greater...

    2) Low efficiency can be compensated for to some extent by scaling up (hence the high costs) but that still leaves the problem of the lack of control over when electricity is produced.

    3) Because solar is not yet economically competitive (and perhaps never will be) with other ways of producing electricity (e.g. combined cycle gas turbines), comparatively few people* in a free market would be willing to invest in it as anything more than a vanity project. However, we don't live in a free market, so solar cell manufacturers and investors call for government subsidies or other interventions (e.g. surplus purchase arrangements) to facilitate their market position, which, as it grows, will lead to greater distortions (rises) in the price of electricity unless the interventions are scaled back and/or removed. Yet the chances of them being removed are offset by the creation of new vested interests in maintaining them. The price distortions will hurt the poorest the most.

    *The people who can and do make practical purchases of solar cells now are people with plenty of cash to spare (and we're talking in the tens of millions NT) and who own large buildings designed with lifespans of twenty years or more. For those people, solar cell installations can be a very good decision, especially if they buy the top of the line stuff. I may be wrong, but I believe that TSMC, via Motech, produce their best cells with an efficiency of just over 15% (when Chi Mei dropped their cell business a year ago, their cells were just below this level). By contrast, Sunpower in the U.S. makes cells with a 22% efficiency. In the most advanced research in Germany, multijunction cells are now approaching efficiencies of 40%, which you will think is fantastic until you see the costs to produce them. It will be a long time before those things become a true game changer, if at all.


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