Friday, December 7

How to become a bad salesman - write an article for The News

Bought The Portsmouth News this week and had a casual browse until I reached 'The Peoples Champion' page, written by a Richard Thomson. Across the page were the words 'Be wary of the boasts of solar panel salesman...'.
Ah, sounds interesting I thought, there are some cowboys out there that deliberately paint a distorted picture of solar panels. Looks like this is going to be an in depth article giving good advice.

The question asked by the home owner writing to the newspaper was whether a pushy salesman is correct in stating that the home owner could save over a £1,000 a year.

Instead of answering the question, the reporter then made his own 'bad salesman' pitch with statements that in total were just as distorted as the one the home owner was worried about.

Points made (in bold) were:

They produce clean energy
Something correct. Well almost. They don't actually produce energy, they convert one form of energy (photons/electromagnetic radiation) to another (electrons moving in a cable). A coal fired power station does produce energy, the coal has unrealised potential energy that was stored by plants from sunlight millions of years ago and it is released as heat energy by the power station (inefficiently as it turns out).

They are superficially attractive
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many things are often superficially attractive. An Aunt Sally I think.

They are remarkably inefficient
By what standard?
A coal fired power station is approximately 30% efficient. Solar PV panels range from 15% to 30%.
The big difference, apart from having hugely different carbon footprints, is that with the application of science solar panels have the potential to be much more efficient, but you can't squeeze more electricity out of a coal fired power station, science says that most of the embedded energy in coal never gets realised.

The electricity can't be stored
Yes it can. Electric cars have batteries that store energy, we have large pumped energy storage systems in the UK that store energy from the grid and a local company in Hampshire is developing a very promising energy storage system, specifically designed to work cheaply with renewable energy.

What you can sell back is largely dependent on the weather.
 It isn't relevant to the overall system performance. The home owner only has to be concerned about the performance over a number of years and the return they get both in energy and finances. It is up to the grid operators and energy companies to worry about variability and how to deal with it, whether that is via storage, better grid tech etc.

They work best in direct sunlight, don't work at night etc.
Yes indeed, but does stating the obvious actually help here?
Variability isn't the issue, the issues are cutting CO2 emissions, reducing energy bills and pay back.

You'll probably be at work in the summer when you make savings
 Does this matter?
The energy produced is sold to the energy company, in fact the company the person is working at would probably be using some of it. The home owner benefits, so this is another Aunt Sally. The result is nothing.

Feed in tariffs have changed
This is about as close the reporter gets to answering the question!
But fails to do any supporting analysis. The reality is that photovoltaic panel prices have tumbled and are predicted to continue to fall.

The capital costs take over 15 years to recover
But you don't pay for the electricity generated by the panels!
It's always a silly argument that puts emphasis on initial costs rather then ongoing costs.
So 'capital' costs of solar PV are currently high but rapidly reducing, but for a fuel like gas you have to pay every day for as long as gas is available and gas prices will likely fluctuate as we are victim of overseas disturbances and politics. Pay a known fixed price today, or gamble on the future?
Really the issue is CO2 emissions, gas emissions are about 500gCO2 per kwh whilst solar panels are about 50gCO2 per kwh.

What have we learnt here?
Well Mr Thomson didn't appear to answer the question he was asked but instead appears to have ranted a personal opinion in a newspaper. The whole point of renewable energy is to cut carbon emissions and to actually get people used to the fact that the only secure energy we have is from the Sun and Moon (tidal energy) which are variable (obviously).

Another point of course is that much of the time the solar panels are effectively reducing the load a house has on the main grid. eg. when the Sun is out, the grid will 'see' the home with a the panels as using less electricity. It's no different to someone switching on the kettle or turning on the a heater, it changes the load on the grid. but with solar panels it's like turning things off rather than on. In both cases, the grid has to cope.

The article was only available in the print version of the newspaper.

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