Oil Company Fails to Uphold Warranties After Brief Foray Into 3rd World Solar Biz

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Let this serve as a caveat emptor for anyone considering buying solar from an oil company. The World Bank is being stiffed by Shell Oil for a measly few hundred thousand dollars to repair its shoddy solar panels left dangling in the developing world with no aftermarket servicing.

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Shell had briefly entered the solar business in a small green-washing effort, but exited with no plans for honoring its after-sales service and warranty replacements, which thus  damaged the same small local solar installation, maintenance and repair businesses it had earlier helped to create.

What is worse:, these are the first solar arrays owned by the poorest of the poor in the Third World, and financed by the World Bank.

“They could only afford a system because they could get a loan from microfinance institutions or other banks. But now there are reports of thousands of Shell’s branded solar panels failing in the field and Shell seemingly is not replacing them.”

The World Bank is asking nicely:”I would like Shell to honour these commitments. We are not talking about millions of dollars here but hundreds of thousands.”

The first commenter at the Guardian story nails the real issue:

This is only a shock to people who are foolish enough to believe that Shell had the core competencies to run a solar company.

Hey, my British car just broke down. Where are those bastards from Burberry to fix it?

Image: Burberry at the Paris Shows

Source: The Guardian

More from Susan Kraemer: Journalists on Twitter


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14 thoughts on “Oil Company Fails to Uphold Warranties After Brief Foray Into 3rd World Solar Biz

  • Shell is not the only oil company that has a branded solar business. I just took a trip out to the Shenandoah Valley and traveled along Interstate 70 through Fredrick, Maryland. In a prominent location right next to the highway there is a BP Solar plant with a large and recognizable green and yellow sun logo. The facility is undergoing a significant expansion that looks like it will be multiplying capacity by a factor of 2-3.

    I am not sure, but I think that BP spends more money telling us all about its investments in alternative energy than it does in actually developing the systems. When you compare its capital budget for oil and gas exploration to its alternative energy investments and put the numbers on a graph, the oil and gas investment is as tall as the page while the alternative investment is barely visible above the x axis. You can see such a graph for 2004 at the below link:

    http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2005/10/bp-marketing-efforts-update.html

    Rod Adams

    Publisher, Atomic Insights

  • Shell is not the only oil company that has a branded solar business. I just took a trip out to the Shenandoah Valley and traveled along Interstate 70 through Fredrick, Maryland. In a prominent location right next to the highway there is a BP Solar plant with a large and recognizable green and yellow sun logo. The facility is undergoing a significant expansion that looks like it will be multiplying capacity by a factor of 2-3.

    I am not sure, but I think that BP spends more money telling us all about its investments in alternative energy than it does in actually developing the systems. When you compare its capital budget for oil and gas exploration to its alternative energy investments and put the numbers on a graph, the oil and gas investment is as tall as the page while the alternative investment is barely visible above the x axis. You can see such a graph for 2004 at the below link:

    http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2005/10/bp-marketing-efforts-update.html

    Rod Adams

    Publisher, Atomic Insights

  • A local solar PV business like an auto or bicycle shop should be able to take care of these problems, import their own cells and build or service these systems.

    Have to agree with Rod here, its all about appearances while deluding us with the endless supplies of fossil fuels.

    We see the oil companies put out some interesting feel good scientific sponsor adverts on every PBS science show to show just how green they are while at the same time funding the GW denial groups, that is just cynical.

    I am realizing that on the huge scale biofuels, solar PV and wind just can’t work, they are too diffused, a lot of resources for each and every Joule. I suspect the oil industry knows this too, they invest in these things because they are under pressure to do so, but they have enough science knowledge to see that really they are all dead ends compared to fossils, until of course..

    The fossil fuels represent millions of years of biofuel cooked up for us that we are dispatching in just about 200 years. When those are gone we will need many more earth surfaces to give us the same kind of hydrocarbon economy for the entire population we have now using these extremely diffused renewables, or maybe we will have to deal with alot less energy per person or alot less people or just learn to go nuclear head on.

  • A local solar PV business like an auto or bicycle shop should be able to take care of these problems, import their own cells and build or service these systems.

    Have to agree with Rod here, its all about appearances while deluding us with the endless supplies of fossil fuels.

    We see the oil companies put out some interesting feel good scientific sponsor adverts on every PBS science show to show just how green they are while at the same time funding the GW denial groups, that is just cynical.

    I am realizing that on the huge scale biofuels, solar PV and wind just can’t work, they are too diffused, a lot of resources for each and every Joule. I suspect the oil industry knows this too, they invest in these things because they are under pressure to do so, but they have enough science knowledge to see that really they are all dead ends compared to fossils, until of course..

    The fossil fuels represent millions of years of biofuel cooked up for us that we are dispatching in just about 200 years. When those are gone we will need many more earth surfaces to give us the same kind of hydrocarbon economy for the entire population we have now using these extremely diffused renewables, or maybe we will have to deal with alot less energy per person or alot less people or just learn to go nuclear head on.

  • If renewables are dead ends that can’t work how is your own neighbor Maine getting 55% of its energy from them?

    http://cleantechnica.com/2009/08/17/which-states-are-greenest-and-how-they-made-it-happen/

    and two islands off Maine are 100% wind powered:

    http://cleantechnica.com/2009/11/17/100-percent-wind-powered-island-wind-plant-goes-online/

    I think it’s more likely Shell went into the third world solar program in bad faith, never intending to follow up.

  • JJ – Regarding your comment that:

    “I am realizing that on the huge scale biofuels, solar PV and wind just can’t work, they are too diffused…”

    I’d like to point out that diffused (or distributed) energy sources have the enormous benefit that they don’t require massive investment in transmission and distribution systems! These savings in avoided infrastructure costs, along with increased energy independence and reduced emissions are part of what makes renewables a better option than the top-down fossil based system we’ve grown accustomed to.

  • JJ – Regarding your comment that:

    “I am realizing that on the huge scale biofuels, solar PV and wind just can’t work, they are too diffused…”

    I’d like to point out that diffused (or distributed) energy sources have the enormous benefit that they don’t require massive investment in transmission and distribution systems! These savings in avoided infrastructure costs, along with increased energy independence and reduced emissions are part of what makes renewables a better option than the top-down fossil based system we’ve grown accustomed to.

  • If renewables are dead ends that can’t work how is your own neighbor Maine getting 55% of its energy from them?

    http://cleantechnica.com/2009/08/17/which-states-are-greenest-and-how-they-made-it-happen/

    and two islands off Maine are 100% wind powered:

    http://cleantechnica.com/2009/11/17/100-percent-wind-powered-island-wind-plant-goes-online/

    I think it’s more likely Shell went into the third world solar program in bad faith, never intending to follow up.

  • I lived in Maine before the Yankee shutdown. Maine had no choice but to replace it with Wind given the anti nuclear green politics at the time, so I have no problem with that given when it happened.

    Back in 96 who on earth really knew anything about GW or peak fossil fuel, I certainly didn’t. If Yankee had lasted till today and the decision was up again, I would now choose new Nuclear plants knowing today what I didn’t know then, so timing is everything. Of course the greens would still go for wind. Maine’s total energy needs though are still largely met by fossil fuels for the thermal, and wind for only half of the much smaller electric part. So no, Maine is still fossil dependent like everywhere else.

    I’ll have to take a drive up there and see the turbines though.

    By dead end I look to energy density for the clue

    Renewables are mostly based on incredibly diffuse solar flux for solar PV, wind, wave, biofuel, and have high cost to extract each and every Watt. It gets much worse for biofuels which are really solar organics, these will produce almost no power at all after transport and processing and the land is just not available for the quantities of thermal energy needed after the fossil peak.

    Fossil fuels have many orders of magnitude better energy density but running out in a few decades. This gives us most all of our thermal and most electric power, it has hidden the true cost of civilization. We get to find out that cost when it is gone.

    Nuclear fuel is 3 million times energy denser than coal, yet is the great demon. Spent fuel is fuel waiting to be reprocessed, so far it has only been used 1%, it has many more cycles of reuse. After that the oceans are full of uranium at 3ppb giving milenia of supplies. Thorium is even better, no weapons proliferation, very short term waste, it fully burns in the reactor and there is 4x as much in mines as Ur giving more millenia of fuel.

    A 3GW peak wind turbine standing over a 1GW nuclear plant would look very impressive and green, but the nuclear plant creates a 1000 times as much constant electricity and twice as much heat energy again. I can’t for the life of me understand why the antinukes took the option away which forces us to use fossil fuels which emit vastly more radiation and other poisons.

    As an engineer I look for the most effective solution and renewables are just not that compelling unless you have greens taking away the best scientific option. When we try to do biofuel on the scale needed to replace fossil fuels the world will finally figure the greens were badly wrong.

    Italy has realized they made a mistake in shutting down their reactors, the Germans will too. The Yankee plant was actually built in 4 years, there really is no reason why they can’t be built that quickly again if the greens would get on board.

    The free pdf book “Sustainable Energy — without the hot air” by David Mackay, examines all the energy sources and costs, very interesting.

  • I lived in Maine before the Yankee shutdown. Maine had no choice but to replace it with Wind given the anti nuclear green politics at the time, so I have no problem with that given when it happened.

    Back in 96 who on earth really knew anything about GW or peak fossil fuel, I certainly didn’t. If Yankee had lasted till today and the decision was up again, I would now choose new Nuclear plants knowing today what I didn’t know then, so timing is everything. Of course the greens would still go for wind. Maine’s total energy needs though are still largely met by fossil fuels for the thermal, and wind for only half of the much smaller electric part. So no, Maine is still fossil dependent like everywhere else.

    I’ll have to take a drive up there and see the turbines though.

    By dead end I look to energy density for the clue

    Renewables are mostly based on incredibly diffuse solar flux for solar PV, wind, wave, biofuel, and have high cost to extract each and every Watt. It gets much worse for biofuels which are really solar organics, these will produce almost no power at all after transport and processing and the land is just not available for the quantities of thermal energy needed after the fossil peak.

    Fossil fuels have many orders of magnitude better energy density but running out in a few decades. This gives us most all of our thermal and most electric power, it has hidden the true cost of civilization. We get to find out that cost when it is gone.

    Nuclear fuel is 3 million times energy denser than coal, yet is the great demon. Spent fuel is fuel waiting to be reprocessed, so far it has only been used 1%, it has many more cycles of reuse. After that the oceans are full of uranium at 3ppb giving milenia of supplies. Thorium is even better, no weapons proliferation, very short term waste, it fully burns in the reactor and there is 4x as much in mines as Ur giving more millenia of fuel.

    A 3GW peak wind turbine standing over a 1GW nuclear plant would look very impressive and green, but the nuclear plant creates a 1000 times as much constant electricity and twice as much heat energy again. I can’t for the life of me understand why the antinukes took the option away which forces us to use fossil fuels which emit vastly more radiation and other poisons.

    As an engineer I look for the most effective solution and renewables are just not that compelling unless you have greens taking away the best scientific option. When we try to do biofuel on the scale needed to replace fossil fuels the world will finally figure the greens were badly wrong.

    Italy has realized they made a mistake in shutting down their reactors, the Germans will too. The Yankee plant was actually built in 4 years, there really is no reason why they can’t be built that quickly again if the greens would get on board.

    The free pdf book “Sustainable Energy — without the hot air” by David Mackay, examines all the energy sources and costs, very interesting.

  • Neal

    When I wrote diffused, I meant the solar insolation is so very diffused requiring a great deal of hardware, steel and concrete for really very little power per unit, typically amounts to 6W/m sq no matter which type. Most of the devices are really not that efficient. Those construction materials will emit great amounts of CO2 in production and these plants likely have to be replaced every 20 some years. No matter if its solar PV, solar thermal electric, wind or wave. However most of these can be somewhat distributed but the bigger more cost effective plants will need long transmission lines, probably superconducting DC cables which are now about ready.

    Biofuel though is the big problem. US energy consumption is mostly thermal based on fossil fuels rather than electricity which we are too focused on. The harvested biostock is not very energy dense at all, not even half that of coal, yet half of all the US trains are used to feed coal stock into coal plants. If biostocks were processed at coal plant like refinerys, we would need to double up the trains or distribute the refining into the farmlands.

    When we actually do start to run out of fossil fuels, we are going to find out we have no easy substitute for thermal energy unless we multiple up the electric generation and use that to make heat.

    Now nuclear can be put anywhere there are millions of people with almost no land used at all and it produces GW electricity and even larger amounts of heat in the same space a single wind turbine might produce 1MW of constant power.

    Ofcourse anything will be better than the top down fossil based system when its all gone.

  • Neal

    When I wrote diffused, I meant the solar insolation is so very diffused requiring a great deal of hardware, steel and concrete for really very little power per unit, typically amounts to 6W/m sq no matter which type. Most of the devices are really not that efficient. Those construction materials will emit great amounts of CO2 in production and these plants likely have to be replaced every 20 some years. No matter if its solar PV, solar thermal electric, wind or wave. However most of these can be somewhat distributed but the bigger more cost effective plants will need long transmission lines, probably superconducting DC cables which are now about ready.

    Biofuel though is the big problem. US energy consumption is mostly thermal based on fossil fuels rather than electricity which we are too focused on. The harvested biostock is not very energy dense at all, not even half that of coal, yet half of all the US trains are used to feed coal stock into coal plants. If biostocks were processed at coal plant like refinerys, we would need to double up the trains or distribute the refining into the farmlands.

    When we actually do start to run out of fossil fuels, we are going to find out we have no easy substitute for thermal energy unless we multiple up the electric generation and use that to make heat.

    Now nuclear can be put anywhere there are millions of people with almost no land used at all and it produces GW electricity and even larger amounts of heat in the same space a single wind turbine might produce 1MW of constant power.

    Ofcourse anything will be better than the top down fossil based system when its all gone.

  • JJ ,

    ” very little power per unit, typically amounts to 6W/m sq no matter which type. ”

    You are talking about land efficiency . The answer for that is to build where the land is cheap but the energy is intense .

    Eg. for solar build in the desert .

    Also not all the solar devices are that inefficient .

    Here is one technology that is far more efficient and is ready to be deployed this year :

    http://cleantechnica.com/2009/08/25/worlds-most-efficient-solar-technology-coming-early-2010/

    I have read about DC transmission cables but was not aware that the superconducting version was near completion .

    Could you supply more details about that research ?

  • JJ ,

    ” very little power per unit, typically amounts to 6W/m sq no matter which type. ”

    You are talking about land efficiency . The answer for that is to build where the land is cheap but the energy is intense .

    Eg. for solar build in the desert .

    Also not all the solar devices are that inefficient .

    Here is one technology that is far more efficient and is ready to be deployed this year :

    http://cleantechnica.com/2009/08/25/worlds-most-efficient-solar-technology-coming-early-2010/

    I have read about DC transmission cables but was not aware that the superconducting version was near completion .

    Could you supply more details about that research ?

Comments are closed.