Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The World's Catch 22 with Alternative Energy Schemes

While there is no doubt the world needs safer alternatives to the conventional energy technologies they've been using, the present rush to schemes they've been pursuing have their own disadvantages as well. Just my personal feelings and opinion of course.


Image: BHE Renewables

Topaz Solar Farms construction site, Carrisa Plains, CA

Take a moment, 2.40 minutes to be exact and watch the video of the Topaz Solar Farms construction site which is located on the Carrisa Plains of Central California. Almost close to four years of ongoing construction, plus three years of planning and permitting, the $2.4 billion, 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm is the first of this size in operation. Then when it is finally finished it will be primed to sell power to California utility PG&E. The project is owned and operated by MidAmerican Energy, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. It's a huge ocean of over 9 million solar panels on a massive amount of once agricultural land.


There is no doubt or argument that mankind has got to pursue some  kind of healthier energy alternatives to the present failed not so ecological system they have used from the beginning of energy generating systems from the industrial revolution onward. As always, many things humans pursue comes at an ecological price and while Wind and Solar are being touted as the answer to everything wonderful with Eco-Green, there are high costs here as well from an ecological standpoint. Problem is, it is popular today for many who are involved in such money making eco-schemes to demonize anyone who may criticize such projects where unforeseen ecological consequences were never well thought out. The potential for profit and unbridled pursuit of wealth tends to put race horse blinders on such individuals where instead of responsible peripheral vision, we get planners and investors with tunnel vision. Point such concerns out to these industrialists and their proponents and all manner of insults, derogatory name calling and labeling people with legitimate concerns as nothing more than Anti-Science. This is of course the usual cowards way out when no viable answers are forthcoming. This is also a popular tactic in other areas of industrial science where big business interests must be defended at any cost. I'll list a number of my own personal concerns, many of which I have read about and some of which very little attention has been addressed. The NASA pictures below illustrate not only how the landscape has changed, but also the decline of vegetation with regards the present severe drought.

NASA Photos of Change where Topaz Solar Farm is located
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Water Issues: unwashed Solar Panels don't generate as efficiently as clean ones
Sandia National Laboratory

Mr Twister mirror washing machine is the most cost-effective

 method of cleaning mirrors at Kramer Junction solar plant
 in the Mojave Desert, USA.

Image: iClean Endinburgh
This is a huge issue and far bigger than when it was first brought up by many environmental organizations over a decade ago. Presently the region of western United States and in particular, California, are in the middle of one of the worst droughts in the history of the state. Water is becoming more and more scarce and getting more and more expensive. The question that keeps coming up is where will they get water from in the future ? It has become important for another Industrial Science backed business model, Agriculture, to sink deeper wells and tap into already vastly depleted underground aquifers. Latest News Headlines are "San Joaquin Valley is Sinking." And yet out in the Mojave Desert far removed from Aqueduct infrastructure for irrigation needs, they have tapped into deep previously untapped aquifers for their Solar Panel washing maintenance needs. Not cleaning is not an option for success. These solar farms have also been constructed in a way that has completely destroyed the biological soil crusts which actually help keep the desert's dust down. Now those dust storms have increased and dirty panels DO NOT function well. 

Solar-panels-cleaning-©World-Bank-2010

So industrial equipment is needed for industrial cleaning of Solar Farms. This requires massive amounts of water from unsustainable sources. I say unsustainable because there is no way to replace what has been pumped deep from within the earth. The other dangers are the lowering of water tables which can also dry up the very few precious artesian springs that remain throughout the Mojave, Colorado and Sonoran Desert environments. Countless wildlife [animals, birds, reptiles, etc] are terribly dependent on such natural watering holes. Even desert plants with the deep root systems which redirect water distribution through hydraulic lift for other surrounding plants may also be in trouble. See, there is this thing called domino effect and lack of foresight to envision any dire consequences in the future. 


Pressure Washing Phoenix - Power Washing Phoenix AZ 

The worst target areas are of course the obvious ones, Deserts in the southwest. One also has to consider that these same scenarios are going to play out across the globe in like semi-arid and arid habitats. Europe has big plans for creating Industrial Solar complexes in the Sahara Desert in North Africa that will be the size of some of their own small to medium countries within the E.U. Google the Net and you will see all types of businesses have sprung up around this industry in the form of various maintenance services like the one above in and around the Phoenix area of Arizona. So where do they get their water ? Ideally that water needs to be as clean and purified as possible. Human drinking quality if possible. Then there are those automated cleaning systems within city infrastructures and services from companies offering self-service hands off gadgets which only require one minute washing and one minute rinse from sprinkler heads. Having been in the landscape irrigation maintenance system business, I can assure you the heads will always require some type of tedious regular maintenance of keeping mineral deposits and other debris out of those jets. Water waste is almost always assured.

Image: Solar Power World
Solar Power World: "Fighting Dirty: Manual Washing vs. Automatic Cleaning of Solar Modules" 
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WEEDS: Grassland Fires and Herbicides


Image: KSBY News
Remember the story at the top of this post on the Topaz Solar Farm complex which was so vast across the Carrisa Plain and growing ? In that video at the minute mark 1:35, I noticed another issue with the potential for problems and that was the dried foxtail grasses underneath the Solar Panels. Well, well, well, lo and behold on July 2nd, 2015 just this past month there was a grass fire on that site which the cause is still under investigation. The suspect electrical problems and sparks under one of the panels. The potential for wildland fires and weeds was a given, but just how will these giant industrial solar farms deal with these weeds ? Well, there is not a whole lot of info out there on that question. Other than a couple of photos on the internet and honorable  mention in some literature, there's just not a lot of information out there. But the grass fire is still under investigation with speculation it was something electrical under the panels. Of course no mention of possible employee cigarette being discarded, but then what self-respecting employee would jeopardize his own job anyway by doing something stupid like coming forward ?
Fire Breaks out at Topaz Solar Farm
This also happened a couple years earlier at Intel's Solar Farm site near Folsom, California where dry dead grass caught fire when landscapers were trying to clean the areas underneath the panels. Here is a link to that event with video. Now in the video, the firefighters and news people were calling the plant material brush, but trust me, it started in the dead grass. Brush may have been on the outlying borders of the solar panels, but the fire started in dry dead grass under panels.
http://www.news10.net/news/article/250619/2/Landscapers-spark-Folsom-grass-fire
Grassland fire has the incredible potential for wildfire destruction, even more so than chaparral as it can accomplish the damage in a faster shorter amount of time before help arrives. Take a look at the photos of Morgan County Colorado's "Last Chance Fire" and what happen to the electrical infrastructure:
Flickr: "Morgan County Colorado: "Last Chance Fire"

photo by Knut Loschke


This a photo of a Solar Farm near Markranst√§dt, 

Germany in 2011. It's a weed-ridden solar installation.

Both these photos above and below are examples of overgrown weed infestation in regions where far more rainfall is recorded. Namely Germany and Canada. So how do they deal with such weed management ? Conventionally speaking, the scary scenario is the usual industrial science-based chemical herbicide control through spraying. What scares me is we aren't really necessarily talking about Roundup by Monsanto here. We're talking something far more dangerous if the Solar Farm industries really want to cut corners and save lots of money so that their bottom line looks much better to investors. How does that happen ?? Scroll down, look at the Oil Field and I'll let you in on a secret and personal story.


Thin-film, fixed-tilt power plant in Ontario, Canada 

Take a close look at any oil field anywhere in Southern California and notice there are little to NO WEEDS anywhere. Why ??? The companies cannot afford any type of vegetation fire [especially grass fires] any where near their dangerous volatile oil wells. An oil well fire is both dangerous and expensive to put out. With that in mind, in 1989-90 when I worked for Coors-Biotech, it was my job to work closely with our distributors of our natural solvent, most of whom were chemical distributors. One of our distributors lived in Santa Barbara California and his customer base was mainly the Oil Industry. He told me back then that his Oil Company clients demanded a type of chemical herbicide which had a seven years minimum guarantee of not only killing the weeds but would also sterilize the soil so as to not allow anything to grow on that land for at the very least seven years. I remember how that spooked me. The idea that Chemical companies such as Dow, DuPont or Monsanto had the ability to invent such a creation that would completely destroy all biological life in the soil for such an incredible long duration. Shouldn't have been surprised. Remember Agent Orange ???  In Vietnam there are literally still chemical effects of the junk the US Military sprayed there, especially around former US Air Force bases. Vegetation was considered an aid to the enemy. See the photograph below and the bluish tint around oil wells ? This is a dye they put into the herbicide to identify areas already sprayed with the chemicals. Seriously, take an opportunity, drive up to Bakersfield and surrounding Oil towns and communities and see for yourself what the Oil & Gas Industry has done to the landscape. Once again, I just don't trust what may be used in the future on Solar Farm sites which can ill afford multi-billion dollar equipment destroyed in a grass fire. BTW, wildfire was always a known issue for Topaz Solar Farm as you can see in the link below. Herbicides are mentioned along with grazing, but they make no mention of just what would be used.
Wildfire Management Plan: Topaz Solar Farm, San Luis Obispo County, California

Image: Percy Feinstein/Corbis

Overlooking Chevron's Kern River oil field with the Sierra Nevada in the background, March 30, 2015  
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Unintended Consequences of Solar Farms on Wildlife
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System Image via http://www.energy.ca.gov

Image - PLOS ONE
 There are recently other more serious unintended consequences which have come to light, even in a literal sense. Birds, Bats and millions of flying insects are being almost disintegrate when flying over or near some of these Solar Farms. While the Solar Farm operators have always known about the deaths, they have played down the numbers in the past. But recently researchers have found that video surveillance is the most effective method for detecting animals flying around solar power towers, according to a study of various techniques by the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System facility in southeastern California. As you see here in the photo on the right, something was instaneously zapped from the sky.

National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory
Below are some important links. First from PHYS-ORG which is the easier read, then from PLOS-ONE has much more deeper research with more than a dozen videos of birds, bats and insects getting burnt to a crisp instantly. One timelapse shows insects by the 1000s being zapped, it looked like fireworks.
PHYS-ORG: Videos reveal birds, bats and bugs near Ivanpah solar project power towers
PLOS-ONE: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Wildlife Detection and Observation Technologies at a Solar Power Tower Facility
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Where should Solar Farms be located & whose backyard ???
Photo courtesy Laura Cunningham, Basin and Range Watch

As of 2010 Energy Developers had presented the federal Bureau of Land Management with 75 applications to build solar facilities within the Mojave desert.

"A solar panel 100 miles by 100 miles in the Mojave Desert (USA) could replace all the coal burned to generate electricity in the entire U.S."
Louis A. Del Monta, Physicist, Author and CEO 

image: Solarindia
The picture at top is of the Mojave desert expanse which is considered a goldmine operation for the Solar and Wind power industry. Why ? Because as the quote above alludes to, this land is almost always considered a waste, worthless and good for nothing else. However, had the land been something like the photo at right from Solar India where huge tracts of some type of beautiful green forests were cut down and massive Solar Farms replacing it, there would be outrage and protests from all sorts of activists. Deserts somehow don't draw that much attention with the exception of a few people who have been watchdog on the Solar and Wind Industry's often unchecked activities. So deserts generally have gotten a pass when it comes to taking seriously their real worth. I have no problem with pursuing such ideas about Wind and Solar power, but the obsession with the rush for free land and potential for profiteering, which has gotten this world in trouble in the first place is the wrong motive if the justification is to ease climate change. For the most part I have a strong dislike of the industrial business model for anything. Just my opinion of course. The large scale operations that exist presently are totally unnecessary if you take into account the numerous ugly human infrastructure that already exists and could be utilized as space for alternative power generation. Take a look at examples I have always looked at below and how they should have been implemented in the Southwest's alternative energy schemes. 

Image: thehindubusinessline.com

Back in 2013, India inaugurated the first of a series of interconnected Solar Projects over irrigation canals which would not only generate power, but also slow evaporation of water from the irrigation canals. The entire network when completed will be over 85,000 kilometers or 52,816 miles long. This also implies that 11,000 acres of land can be potentially conserved along with about 5,000+ gallons of water saved per year. Now here is my question, How can a country like India which is poorer and if you believe the propaganda, more inferior technologically speaking as compared to the United States, how can they come up with such innovative clever ideas ? For one thing, they do not have the land area to waste  on massive land gulping Solar Projects as the USA does. They need every bit of arable farmland they can save to feed their population which is huge as compared to the USA. This is more of a corporate business as usual model. There is no reason the concrete lined All American Canal and Coachella Canal could not have such Solar infrastructure built over it. The advantages would be plenty of available water to filter, clean and purify for washing the solar panels and excess water draining back into the canal.

Image: Comaco Concrete Lining Technology

All American Canal, Imperial County

Every single canal aside from All American and Coachella should have a solar infrastructure built over the top not only to save land area, but also water. Also smaller, but large infrastructure network of their canal system like Westside Main Canal and Eastside Main and all smaller canals in between. Still, what is incredible, is that India has to come up with these simple brilliant ideas. One wonders what has been getting in the way of such planning over in the United States. There is no doubt that we need cleaner alternatives, but we need happier more aesthetically pleasing ways of accomplishing this. Then everyone can be happy.

Narmada Canal solar power project in India saves agricultural fields for farming

With the Imperial Irrigation Water District making deals to sell off water rights to San Diego just to the west along California's coast and less water for the conventional farming, many farmers in Imperial Valley are taking up farming solar as a business. Such projects on former farmland are the Signal Mountain Solar Project. Still, such areas will be weed prone and we wonder what methods will be used for such control. Traditionally, Imperial Valley has always relied on chemicals. Count on the status quo continuing here.

Signal Mountain Solar Project west of Calexico and almost a stones throw from Mexico 
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Below are some more human infrastructure example which need no explanation.
South Korea Bikelane

South Korea running 20 miles between the cities of Daejeon and Sejong, they can be running down the median of a six-lane highway

Sonnenschiff solar city in Freiburg, Germany

Dragon-Shaped Solar Stadium in Taiwan is 100% Powered by the Sun  Read more: Dragon-Shaped Solar Stadium in Taiwan is 100% Powered by the Sun 

Photo: Clean Technica

Solar carports have a double benefit: generating renewable
 energy and reducing the island heat effect
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And finally, Wildfire Danger Component variables most News Reports don't touch



Solar Panel fires are more common than I first thought when I wanted to address debris under solar panels on roofs and maintenance. Almost nothing out there on leaves, pine needles and other debris collecting under non maintained solar panels on home roofs and creating a wildfire hazard. Seriously, nothing! However there were numerous reports and pictures on electrical issues, fires and dangers for firefighters trying to put out fires on solar rooftops. Apparently there are numerous companies who jumped on board the climate change band wagon of solar craze, who took advantage of government grants and/or loans in the USA & around the world and have since gone bankrupt leaving customers with junk panels which are grossly inefficient and dangerous reputation for starting fires, even after supposed fixes and corrections are made. As I stated, I was originally only interested in the maintenance issues for homeowners and wildfire, but clearly there is far more dirt behind the scenes than mere leaves. Below is a commentary of one such dangerous issue with Solar Panels.
"When a panel fails, fire is a real danger." 
 "We have had roofs burn. On the composition it has burned and the actual panel catches on fire," said Owens.
"In fact, it could have very well been an open flame underneath here with vegetation," said Kauffman.   
At a dual solar generating and panel testing station in sunny Davis, BP panels fail regularly. "One day, the worst happened when flaming debris hit the grass below." 
 "Caught the grass on fire and there was a breeze blowing and that grass actually turned into a grass fire that burned and burned about 25, 30 acres of crops," said Bill Brooks of Brooks Solar Engineering.
(Source)
Also see article from Metropolitan Engineering Consulting and Forensics: INSTALLATION, FIRE, PROPERTY DAMAGE, ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE AND OTHER LIABILITY RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH SOLAR PANEL SYSTEMS

Below here is what I was more concerned with as far as maintenance issues because I used to work with and maintain client rooftops and rain gutter drainage problems in the landscape on some of the commercial properties we maintained. The worst problem I ever encountered are the rain gutter designs of aluminum awnings associated with Mobile Homes. They are almost impossible to clean without a hose with intense pressure jet nozzle and even then it's time consuming, messy and wastes tonnes of water. If you don't clean them then the rainwater will never drain down the spouts and the buildup always allowed for weeds to grow and die with the onset of summer. Big time fire hazard and there are literally millions of these Mobile Home Awnings with these problems everywhere throughout Southern California. 


Image: manufactured Home Pros

I seriously find this subject hard to believe that nobody has lost a house due to leaves, needles and other debris collecting in the spaces between the solar panels and the house rooftops before. The photo at top is what I dealt with every single fall in preparation for winter rains. Even in open air spaces with no trees nearby, tree leaves and other debris blew high up on the wind currents from great distances and collected under awning tight spots. That's just the nature of the world we live in. Maintenance and cleanliness is a must. But the other danger I found is electrical shock to firefighters because every single little photovoltaic cell continues to produce electricity as long as there is sunlight hitting them. Hence this is a very real danger to firefighters on rooftops and they are aware of this. Spraying water on such electrical panels is a risk as well.

There are clearly without question great uses for solar power in many applications, especially areas of remote road signs and equipment like earthquake monitoring devices, etc. But there are also drawbacks. I haven't even touched on the issues with dangers to wildlife from both the  Industrial Solar projects and Industrial Wind Turbine projects, but they are very real. You can google that and other info as well. But caution needs to be taken when you are searching for the right manufacturer and system design. There have been clearly many bad experiences by large seemingly reputable solar companies who have shafted homeowners, investors as well as the Governments. The dire circumstances regarding climate change and need for alternative energy from what mankind has been pursuing and ruining the earth is very real, but you should also be well aware that the public relations behind the alternative energy movement is also taking advantage of this dire need for marketing their business for profit purposes as well. Short cuts are taken for maximizing profits. Should be no surprise here since it is that way when it comes to  merchandising anything across the globe. That's the reality of the world we are forced presently to live in. The pursuit of eco-green innovation and solutions however never seems to require humans to alter their own personal resource wasting lifestyles and I can tell you with extremes in climate change, both extreme in temperatures with both heat and cold, the demands for energy will skyrocket at more costs. Pursue a greener lifestyle, but also take a grain of salt to all the sales pitches on alternative energy ideas, especially when someone is trying to sell you something they manufacture. Historically everything humans have done comes with a price and unforeseen consequences, no matter how good the sales pitch and pretty the picture they paint on it. It's called do your own Homework people!



2 comments:

  1. An excellent post Kevin, and much more complete than my more or less spontaneous rant about Ivanpah (the bird death's there just upset me so much).

    Just for the sake of accuracy, the Topaz plant is near Carrizo Plain National Monument, located along Carrisa Highway (a rather confusing mixture of two different spellings that probably mean the same thing - the reddish Carrizo grass).

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Alex. Yes the unforeseen consequences are huge and the illogical approach they have taken in the implementation of such projects is mond boggling. Clearly existing infrastructure could be used to prevent ecological damage of pristine raw land such as many desert or similar environments where the attititude of the average business person is that the land is worthless and waste anyway. It also has not helped when government is playing the free land giveaway card to corporate land grab entites. Clealry tunnel vision reared it's ugly head here. It's fascinating how poorer countries can come up with responsible placement concepts and the Industrial Mighty World Superpower is left in last place on this. More puzzling is the many eco-organizations which have looked the other way for no other reason than this is about Solar and Wind, therefore they'll over look the irresponsible behaviour. Of course corporate donations to these Eco-Groups also come with Roase Coloured glasses

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