Friday, 25 September 2009

Reflecting on Sunlight

There are some beautiful pictures, here, of the solar power plant in Sanlucar la Mayor, Spain. Reading the captions, I found myself wondering whether the amount of electricity to control the plant and move the mirrors so that they tracked the sun was less than the amount the power plant produced. I figured that nobody would be stupid enough to design and build a power plant that consumed more energy than it produced. When I arrived at the tenth and final image, the caption informed me that "Andalusia is one of the sunniest, driest spots in Europe, with an average of 1,500 hours of sunshine a year". 1,500 hours is an awful lot isn't it? The problem is, do you know how many hours there are in a year? It is 8,760. That means, assuming that this plant is capable of working all the time the sun shines, that the electricity is produced for just 17.1% of the time. Assuming the electricity is only needed during daylight hours, it still only produces electricity for 34.2% of the time. What bloomin' use is that? Can you imagine anyone in the Dragon's Den having a good reception when they revealed that the device they are attempting to market only works during daylight hours and then for only the one third of those hours when the sun chose to shine? When they say that it will provide the electricity for 180,000 homes, equivalent to the needs of the city of Seville, they don't say that they only do it for an average of four hours of every day. I wouldn't want my freezer to be relying on their electricity.

Not surprisingly, the plant was built with the help of 5 million Euro from the EU's 5th Framework Programme (no, I hadn't heard of it either). The EU seems keen on projects like this as illustrated by the EU Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs', comment that "These new technologies give Europe a new option to combat climate change and increase energy security while strengthening the competitiveness of the European industrial sector and creating jobs and growth,". Creating jobs and growth with four hours of electricity a day? I despair.

No comments: