Clean Power

Published on June 4th, 2013 | by Susanna Schick


Sustainable Brands 2013 Day One | San Onofre Goes Solar!

June 4th, 2013 by  

Well, alright, it hasn’t happened yet. But listening to various panelists talk about consumer research they’ve conducted, it’s clear the public wants solar power much, much more than nuclear. Sustainable Brands 2013 launched with a day of workshops on a wide range of topics, with all sorts of interesting news. The panels I sat in ranged from one on Life Cycle Assessment to one on Systems Thinking. Driving past San Onofre on the way down from LA, it looked as ominously dormant as it did when it was active. They’re threatening to re-open it, but with solar getting so cheap, is it really worth the risk?

Artist's rendition of San Onofre retrofitted for sustainable energy production.

Artist’s rendition of San Onofre retrofitted for sustainable energy production.

Label Network’s SVP Kathleen Gasperini presented on the findings of their Sustainability and State of Youth Culture study. She pointed out that many brands don’t understand the youth market. Hence the need for a study. 75% of this demographic, comprising 56 million Americans aged 13-25, is at least somewhat interested in sustainability, according to the sample they interviewed. Of them, 30% are very interested. One interesting point included that teens have significantly less trust of brands’ “green” messaging. In another panel, I learned that the FTC has guidelines for green messaging, which can help rebuild that lost trust. The younger generation are also much more likely to prefer clean energy such as solar, and choose thrift shopping for a multitude of reasons, including environmental and social impact, according to their research.

Other interesting trends I picked up on today include: businesses aiming to have a net positive impact, either in energy use (easy, if you’re selling it back to the grid from your roof), but also in water? That’s no small task. Collaborative consumption is still a growing trend, and one that businesses are keen on finding ways to engage in profitably. Another panelist spoke of consumer research from a perspective that enabled a deeper understanding of what the customers actually wanted. She spoke of listening for the conflicts and aspirations in order to find the underlying issues around how they transport themselves around town — control, safety, and agency. Stay tuned for more as the conference continues.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.

  • Matthew

    Grid connected Solar power home owners are failing their duty of care all across Australia, power companies have warn that these grid solar powered houses are dangerous and the owners are not doing maintenance on their grid tied solar system, they recommend a visual daily inspection to once a quarter servicing on all equipment, given the recent events of a large number of fires across Australia on solar main grid rooftop homes.

    In all cases the fire started within the high voltage DC string array and the new procedures of safety isolation switch which has caused fires. The first trial system of low voltage in 1996 of 24-48vdc system first trial procedures in the world in AU.

    Between the isolation switch and the high voltage solar array, it’s always going to be a problem, and something that won’t go away, as many experts around the world have tried to solve this problem. However, in all events, it only leads to more problems. Many have suggested the go back to the low voltage applications. However, the industry does not like this as it cost more to install the rooftop system which requires lots larger cables size to supply grid inverter. AGL and origin customers have stated on the contracts that customers are not allowed to wash their panels with water, as the risk was too great from the high voltage, electrocution to death through high voltage direct current DC.

  • albertbones

    Even when opening the d.c. isolator on the roof or at the inverter lethal voltages are being generated and potentially capable of electrocution. On a damaged array anyone can create an unpredictable alternative current path which may cause electrocution. True that if you open the dc isolator on the roof no lethal voltage goes to the inverter to the grid but safety devices are not used when the circuit is operating correctly. Consider a short circuit on the solar panel side of the d.c isolator. Creating an open circuit at the inverter will do nothing. The device Mark speaks off would definately be able to stop this current flow, provide an increased safety advantage and should be made mandatory. I have installed them and highly recommend. Take a look at the video they provide

    • Bob_Wallace

      No. An open circuit is not generating power.

      A properly installed solar array has a circuit breaker. If you’re worried about someone chewing through the conduit and cable insulation (both the positive and negative) put the circuit breaker next to the panels.

      At $400 this is a ripoff. Snake oil.

      • albertbones

        A circuit breaker is an overcurrent device. On a single string solar array the current remains the same “series circuit” and the maximum solar string current “usually up to 10 amps” it is not capable to trip a 16 or 20 amp d.c circuit breaker being used as a d.c isolator. They are only used as a disconnect device.Your idea of the circuit breaker near the panels tripping when someone chews through the cable (positive and negative) is WRONG, there is insufficient short circuit current. Remember on an a.c grid fed supply there is fault current available to trip a circuit breaker, This is the reason we have graded protection. However with a solar array there is only a maximum generated d.c. current which does not increase under short circuit and therefore not capable of tripping a d.c circuit breaker. Have you seen some of the issues and safety alerts surrounding solar and these discussed issues of isolation? Why do you think clean energy council, Fair trading etc issued warnings during the floods about solar panels. the reason is when damaged they cannot be turned of and therefore be lethal!! A damp roof can provide sufficient tracking at these voltages to be lethal.

      • George Stevens

        Bob, Alberbones is absolutely correct about this issue and potential solutions are addressed by solarabc’s group on their website.

        I would say solar PV is still a very safe way of producing energy when compared to coal.

      • Alfred

        @ bob do you think Snake oil would make a better remote solar isolator then the one selling?, I don’t understand how a $0.35 cent plastic relay can perform miracles and prevent lethal dc voltage solar panel fires.

        Someone is pulling our nose on this. Watching too many science fiction movies Star Trek, by combining the force fields in suspension animation around the grid tied solar panels in a biometric state of suspension, coupled to a plastic relay made in China will prevent lethal voltages & fires occurring.

        • Mark

          An absolute no value comment.

    • Bobby

      Wrong. Even with the isolator switch is disconnected, high voltage still remains present within the grid inverters stored capacity up to a week at the peak float voltage, that could be in excess of 600 Vdc.

      In Australia the safety switch has been known to cause house fires and has been removed, then reinstall, then remove, they can’t make up their bloody minds. Two way current flow is causing an effect on the solar panel’s wiring. This snake oil solar-isolation switch the only adds more bloody problems to go wrong with the connection of the this switch, the problem still remains a bloody hazard.

      In those bloody Australians with the isolation switch on the end of the solar array which caused the fire in the first place bloody backwards people down under, that’s what happens when you copy the Australian wiring diagram a bloody new school rooftop solar system caught fire in the US the other day.

      Rule of thumb, the higher the voltage, the quicker the fire starts on the rooftop.

      • albertbones

        The point being made is not based on voltages at grid inverters. This can easily be contained by disconnecting both the a.c and d.c isolators. The problem is “even when the standard solar shutdown procedure is followed lethal voltages are still being generated throughout the solar panels”. If there is damage between the solar panels (e.g. a fallen tree) there is currently no way to disconnect and stop the current flow, therefore leaving lethal unpredictable current paths circulating on the roof and placing anyone accessing the said roof in danger of electrocution. The Remote Solar Isolator addresses this known problem by stopping the solar panels combining and can be operated just by disconnecting the incoming grid mains. This ensures that no one is at risk of electrocution on any solar installation using the Remote Solar Isolator. Take a look at their website you might learn something!

        • Bob_Wallace

          ” If there is damage between the solar panels (e.g. a fallen tree) ”

          You’re really reaching there, Al.

          • Jamie

            I was sold the grid inverter that claim had Island protection, over-voltage protection, fire sensing, heat protection, reverse polarity, alarms bells and whistles safe automatic cut-out safety, artificial intelligence from a solar installer.

            So much for artificial intelligence of the dam thing when up in fire, no bells and whistles, no cut-out safety, no artificial intelligence, lucky it was installed on masonry wall, otherwise the whole barnyard would a went up in fire.

            Snake oil salesmanship, stay away from solar installers that claim all these features.

          • Mark
          • Mark

            Here’s an article of a fallen tree on solar panels…

          • albertbones

            Look at a fallen tree on solar panels and metal roof

          • Bob_Wallace

            Do you understand the meaning of “one in several million”, Al?

          • albertbones

            Your history with mathematics here is appalling. why not invest in a new calculator. where do you get your statistics from?

          • Bob_Wallace

            How many million rooftop solar arrays do you think there are in the world, Al?

            I’ll get you started. I think Australia just passed one million.

            And you found one that was hit by a tree.

          • albertbones

            well can you finish your calculation and tell me the current installations around the world?

          • Mark

            You said albertbones was reaching when he used a tree as an example and he posted link to back up his argument and you still critise. You said no houses fires in Aust due to solar. Stay tuned I’ll provide a link. I use Google to actually search. Something you should.

          • Benny

            solar power fire on grid connected rooftop fires in Australia which caused massive damage to the homes, links, there to many to post here, helping you out mark.



          • Bob_Wallace

            How many million rooftop solar arrays do you think there are in the world, Al?

            I’ll get you started. I think Australia just passed one million.

            And you found one that was hit by a tree.

        • Tony

          You’re talking nonsense, the remote solar isolator will not prevent a fire, you’re talking about if the main grid supply goes down the isolator will disconnect, the solar array still generating lethal electricity to the grid inverter why the main grid connected to supply. That’s when the fires happen in Australia, you failed to understand how the fires occurred, this remote solar isolator is not addressed this fire hazard. High voltage string array always the cause fire arcing occurs within the solar panel itself; it’s always been known that since the introduction of high voltage string array. And the this solar isolator itself is prone to high voltage damage itself, no different than the isolation CB switch which are installed which are known to cause the fire in Australia.

          Your wrong, the grid inverter contains high voltage charged circuit which has the capacity to cause a fire, that’s why manufactures recommended the device be serviced as part of its life cycle, the components life are shortened high voltage and heat breakdown.

          • albertbones

            Surely you understand the d.c. Isolator used on Solar arrays which is required by Australian standards is NOT capable to switch d.c under full load. This is why the shutdown procedure requires isolation of the a.c first.

            Fires can occur in the d.c isolator and are usually related to water ingress or switching under full load

            The Remote Solar Isolator is different in that it is rated to switch off under FULL LOAD. Water ingress is not an issue because of its special mounting system.

            If a fire occurs on a house roof the temperature usually reaches 1500-2000 deg

            The Remote Solar Isolator has an inbuilt thermal detection unit which will stop solar panels combining when this predetermined temperature has been reached.

            The benefit of The Remote Solar Isolator being controlled by the grid is that in areas affected by flood the entire installed solar installations can be disconnected just by disconnecting the grid mains.

            In ALL floods, fires, cyclones etc this would be of major advantage.

          • Tony

            It was the Australian standard which caused the problem in the first place CB isolator, according to the recorded statistics research arcing burns at 3000 to 7000°C and will melt glass and metal instantaneously prior to any remote isolator switch cutting off the power.

            Standard certification voltages on 600 to 1 kV DC have a serious potential for fire. I’ve done extensive research in this area, regardless of what isolator is put in place the fire still occurs and does not resolve the problem of the high voltage breaking down the isolation barriers of the solar array, the remote isolator will do nothing to resolve this problem. The main grid is still connected to the isolator still coupled in a high voltage configuration on the roof, once that arc occurs in grid solar array the remote isolator is totally useless at this point, because the solar panels that already on fire are feeding the fire arcing burns at 3000 to 7000°C and continues to feed the fire. And is still relying on the visual aspect of someone calling the Fire Brigade to risk there life to prevent the fire spreading to other homes.

            This is what happens when installers take shortcut by using high voltage DC, to save money on installation in result is a fire or someone dying. And that’s the Australian standard which you refer to.

          • albertbones

            I dont get your point. My statement was if a house is on fire the roof will reach temperatures of between 1500 and 2000 deg. (this would result in the Remote Solar Isolator switching off) and not allowing any lethal d.c. voltage to be generated.

            As far as a series arc tracking through the system the Remote Solar Isolator would sense the increased heat of the arc (3000 to 7000 deg as you state) and then stop the lethal voltage being generated, stopping the arc.

            You say you have conducted extensive research on d.c switching, maybe you should test the Remote Solar Isolator and make comment after you know the facts!!!

          • Tony

            RSI are nothing but a relay contact connection, if you think it so good than use it yourself, opening and closing the contacts at high voltage causes Arcing, And that’s why new procedures are in place, warning not to touch the isolation switch regardless of the situation, while in operation as an arc will occur lead to a fire instantaneously at the break point, and also the risk of residue moisture of electric shock causing death.

            You have not considered that the remote solar isolated RSI itself can catch fire melting the contacts then combining the high voltage backup on the roof again,
            Just by the main supply been interrupted then fuse plasma welds the contacts together of the RSI.
            Don’t try to justify for high voltage dc applications their dangerous the average person is not capable dealing with the grid solar situation of high voltage under the current set up arrangements.

          • albertbones

            Obviously you dont know what you are talking about. The contacts in a Remote Solar Isolator have been tested and approved to switch under full load to UL508 and VDE0435. This test ensures that the contacts can switch full load for more than 10,000 cycles. You want to open your eyes and see the developments and achievements of the modern world. Yes i have installed a Remote Solar Isolator and I fully recommend everyone does to improve safety for anyone accessing a roof for whatever reason. As i said before please go and collect the facts!!!!

          • Tony

            Obviously I know what I’m talking about clearly explained to you that a relay is not isolation solution and if you like throwing large amounts money plus installation to the wind, that’s fine with me, but won’t, rectify the situation problem.

            Solar Breakers have been tested up to 20000 cycles, however, as reported in Australia on the first cycle it caught fire, not one residence but large number CB smouldered, on fire, didn’t even provide an isolation breaking point. So what is your argument? A miniature PVC plastic relay is not going save the solar panels from catching on fire.

            The miniature PVC plastic relay which is being used was not designed to handle high voltage DC, these relays are designed for low voltage AC applications, the same relays can be found in a fax machine.

            And besides that point I make this clear the back EMF from the relay can destroy your grid inverter without protection procedures in place which can cause the grid inverter to catch on fire from the interruption.

          • albertbones

            You are clutching at straws. There are a number of issues here. The first being your comparison of the relays. The relays in the Remote Solar Isolator are specifically designed to switch off the lethal d.c voltages contained within a solar installation. They are not a.c or contained within fax machines.

            There is no back EMF on an inverter as the Remote Solar Isolators control wiring comes directly from the grid not the inverter, therefore no inverters will be catching fire from back EMF

            .You did make one valid point of which i do agree. Circuit breakers do not address the issue of pv isolation. as they are positioned after the combining of solar panels has taken place. Please take a look at Remote Solar Isolators webpage and understand that they stop lethal voltages by not allowing panels to combine. I strongly recommend this system and as a means of safe isolation will potentially save lives. the other advantage with this system is that the operator is not required to be placed at risk of electrocution on a damaged array to isolate the system. In fact the operator only needs to turn off the a.c grid supply to ensure no lethal d.c volts are being generated. This is Smart and Safe

  • Mark

    Re: solar panels and fires.
    Yes there have been solar panel fires where the installer did a dodgy job, but there have been other fires where they were installed correctly.
    Once installed solar panels keep generating electricity when the sun is shining. Also being outdoors they are exposed to the elements. Many things can go wrong over time.
    Simply just shutting of at the inverter will stop the electricity flowing to the main board but the panels are still generating electricity, combing to generate lethal voltages.
    At best you can install a Remote Solar Isolator that can isolate to extra low voltage simply by flicking a switch at the meter board.

    The Remote Solar Isolator has won industries most innovative product 2012.
    And make solar safe.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “Simply just shutting of at the inverter will stop the electricity flowing to the main board but the panels are still generating electricity, combing to generate lethal voltages. ”

      Oh, bull. When you shut off the inverter you open the circuit and the panels are not generating electricity.

      You’re selling snake oil.

      • Mark

        Don’t think so Bob.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Describe the circuit in which power is flowing, Mark.

          • Mark

            Will do but using mobile at the moment. Will get on the pc tonight.

          • Barry

            Question why wire the solar system in high voltage DC in the first place?

            Looking at the link the remote isolator could cause a fire too, too many grid connected house fires in Australia been recorded, many houses burnt to the ground. In all cases, the high voltage solar array starts the arc fire then all hell breaks out.

            The remote isolator just a switch prone to fires too, the grid inverter still will go up in flames, the remote isolator will not prevent that high voltage break down over time of the electrical components.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Higher voltage means one can use a smaller gauge wire and save money on copper.

            Now, please document the “many houses burnt to the ground”. I believe this to be an ‘urban myth’ or perhaps an intentional lie spread by the friends of fossil fuels. Give us some verifiable numbers and prove my suspicions wrong.

            There are a few cases where some Australian numnut screwed up the installation. There probably is a need for more inspections to protect homeowners against the stupid.

            And, remember, Australia now has about 1 million houses with solar on the roofs.

          • Igor

            Not an Urban Myth, grid solar installer don’t like to talk about it as its bad for business. Germany recorded the first world events loss of life with rooftop array incinerate the firemen after electrocution. Germany established after that an insurance policy based upon the risk that means they will not tackle a grid connected solar power house or factory fire with water.

            Their insurance policy only permits them to make safety perimeter to protect other houses or factories. It’s well documented in Germany that fireman will stand back if they come upon a house with grid connected solar power.

          • Lee
          • Bob_Wallace

            What’s the number?

            Either you people need to back up your assertions or go away.

            No one is arguing that there is no potential danger from electricity. Obviously there is, regardless of how it is generated. Each year there are about 60 deaths in the US from electrocution. None from solar.

            When I’ve looked for data it seems that in one area in Australia about 2,000 solar arrays were incorrectly wired. Stupid/poorly trained installer and lack of adequate inspections.

            As for the number of Australian houses which have burned down here’s what I find –

            ” 11% of Australian homes have solar, and not one has burnt down due to a faulty solar panel.”


          • George Stevens

            Bob, If the world is going to deploy billions of solar panles to meet
            energy needs then faulty installations and defective products are going
            to cause some fatalaties (along with people falling off roofs) at a some
            very low rate. It is just an inevitability because of the amount of manual human labor that will be involved.

            Ironically the rate of deaths attributable to solar PV surpasses the deaths attributable to nuclear energy (which everyone is so deathly afraid of) on a fatality/kWh produced basis.

            there’s one idea in today’s energy discussion that’s
            head-in-the-sand, reactionary, morally obtuse and anti-science, it’s the
            anti-nuclear position.

            Please watch “Pandora’s Promise”. It is a factual documentary, just please watch.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yes, there are going to be some accidents and incidents. I’ve never argued otherwise.

            What we have happening is a number of people (actually probably the same person using different names) posting that several Australian houses have burned to the ground. I can find nothing to that effect on the web.

            Nuclear has a lower reported death rate than does either solar or wind. All three are so low compared to fossil fuels that the difference is insignificant.

            Whatever the danger from nuclear reactors to those living near them is people who are pro-nuclear need to understand that the fear, justified or not, is real and makes it very hard to site a new reactor or even continue operating an old reactor.

            And those of us who have bothered to look at the incident rates of “close misses” and major screwups in the nuclear industry come away with the realization that there is no reason to bring this additional danger to our lives.

            We have cheaper, quicker to install, and safer ways to generate electricity. And none of them leave large amounts of dangerous waste for those who follow us.

            Actually, I would suggest that it is the pro-nuclear crowd who are anti-scientific. They are not looking at the facts.

          • George Stevens

            No idea about the Aus fires so I don’t care to chime in on that one, but I agree that PV, Wind, and Nuclear are all vastly safer and cleaner than other choices.

            “We have cheaper, quicker to install, and safer ways to generate electricity”

            Wind may be cheaper in the US, without consideration for variability, but nuclear is cheaper in other developing parts of the globe. Only best case examples of PV are cheaper than nuclear. Wind and solar are variable forms of energy, so while they can and should continue to see rapid build-out, their contribution to grid power is limitied and external costs for managing variability exist and should be accounted for in any worthwhile comparison. When one has a comprehensive viewpoint it is realized that to produce a majority of our energy cost effectively and with low emissions, nuclear will be needed, and natural gas or another form of stored energy will inevitably be needed to follow demand and balance variable generation sources such as wind and solar.

          • Bob_Wallace

            False, George.

            Use new nuclear prices and not the cost of electricity coming from older paid off reactors.

            Initially natural gas will be our fill-in source when we don’t have enough hydro and existing storage. If you look at what is happening in the storage world you will see that it is quite likely we have affordable storage coming soon.

          • George Stevens

            What exactly is false now?

            I’m follwing the storage world. I know all about Eos and Aquion. In addition to the costs of the batteries, electronics are required for charge control and communication with the variable plant/grid, and some type of housing (likely climate controlled) is also required.

            So perhaps these flow batteries will meet projected life-cycle and cost attributes while remaining environmentally benign and scalable. But the comprehensive cost of the storage is in addition to the cost of wind or solar.

            Even if these storage technologies meet projections I still see nuclear holding a sizable share of the energy market going forward because of land requirements, costs, and lack of demonstrated reliability for wind and solar. China is constructing AP1000 reactors at 5c/kWh with prices only projected to decline with the onset of modularity. I think there will be a lot of wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, hydro, nuclear, and natural gas in the future.

          • Bob_Wallace

            5 cents per kWh is the overnight cost. You know that George.

            It does not include transmission, waste disposal or liability coverage.

            You attempt to use overnight costs or prices from paid off reactors to make your argument again and I’ll simply take your comment down. You’ve pulled this crap enough times already.

          • George Stevens

            Actually this isn’t an “overnight” cost, and that is not a concise term to use. This is a new reactor and the 5c/kWh includes insurance, and storage, and transmission. The Chinese government is just much more supportive and the regulatory and labor factors are drastically different than the US. The waste will be stored on site and will be utilized in the future by fast reactors which run on spent fuel. Nuclear waste is actually more of a resource than a cost, but one needs to be educated about fast reactors to understand this.

          • Hi Bob,

            George mentioned on another website that you’ve banned him from posting on here.

            I think it’s very unsporting of you to ban people on your discussion forum who are trying to have an open and honest debate about the merits of different technologies.

            I find your anti-nuclear stance is troubling and confusing. Climate change is the single biggest threat facing humanity today. CO2 threatens millions of people with death or relocation. Entire species of animal will be wiped off the planet. The greenland ice sheet is almost all gone. Glaciers that provide clean drinking water are almost completely gone. The oceans are acidifying at an alarming rate – coral reafs are dying off.

            We need solutions to CO2. ALL solutions. Wind, Solar, AND Nuclear, both existing fission, and future developments in fision and fusion.

            CO2 free energy sources should be allies, not enemies. Fossil fuels are the enemy – Coal, Gas and Fracking are the enemy.

            Once the CO2 problem is fixed then we can de-nuclearise. But right now we need it. That is my scientific opinion.

            You may not share my opinion, but rather than attack nuclear, why not promote Solar and Wind on their merits. Be constructive. I don’t have a blog but if I did, I wouldn’t post anti-renewable content. I don’t go around posting anti-renewable comments on forums. I go around promoting Nuclear because I see it as a solution. I think that’s fair and reasonable.

          • Bob_Wallace

            George has a long history on this site and has been banned before. He was allowed back on a trial basis.

            George posts things which are demonstratively untrue. No problem with that at a basic level. We all probably have some bad info floating around in our heads.

            In George’s case, however, when it is demonstrated to George that his is incorrect he will return over and over posting the same discredited informati

            That leaves the people running the site a choice, either spend time correcting his misinformation or leaving it up to confuse others.

            To tell you the truth, they don’t pay me enough to spend hours playing whack-a-mole with George. In fact, they don’t pay me anything so….

          • Bob_Wallace

            “I find your anti-nuclear stance is troubling and confusing. Climate change is the single biggest threat facing humanity today.”

            I am not exactly anti-nuclear.

            If we had no cheaper, safer faster way to lower our CO2 level than nuclear then I would advocate for more nuclear reactors. Clearly suffering some localized meltdowns would be less problematic than destroying the entire planet’s livable climate.

            And those who follow us would probably rather be left with hundreds of millions of tons of radioactive waste than with a planet heated beyond use.

            But we have alternatives. Cheaper, safer, faster to bring on line.

            I see zero sense in spending our money and time on a flawed solution when we have better options.

            Try combining your scientific opinion with some financial realities. And some practical considerations.

            Just try to find acceptable sites with adequate cooling water for 100 reactors in the US. Calculate the number of decades it would take to build more than a handful of new reactors.

          • Johnny in AU

            I suggest you take your head out of the sand. There are lots of houses which have burnt down in Australia and in the USA, Obviously you lack the understanding what’s been happening, you haven’t even looked in your own backyard where it has been recorded. If you look deep enough you’ll find the records.

            It’s not easy to convince unbelievers that grid connected solar power homes cause fires.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Link to the records, Johnny in AU.

            Back up your claim with facts. Link to a few reports of actual house fires caused by solar systems.

            I’m not sure what “lots” means to you. Give us a least a dozen incidents.

  • Ronald Brak

    Let’s see, the San Onofre reactors are about 30 years old, and located by the sea in an earthquake prone state in a heavily populated region. We know from experience in Japan that the cost of a severe nuclear accident can be extraordinarily high and we know from experience in Australia and other countries that California is poised to experience declining demand for grid electricity thanks to rooftop solar. (This may already be occurring.) So the economics of restarting San Onofre look awful. Even if the plant itself doesn’t have to pay for the full cost of insurance, that doesn’t mean the cost isn’t there, it just gets pushed onto the public. If I was in charge I would certainly take it into account. Restarting the plant would displace a quanity of carbon emissions, but given how high insurance costs would have to be to fully cover accidents I imagine it could be considerably cheaper to invest in efficiency and other low emission generating capacity instead. But if you want to crunch some numbers and that and see how it works out I’d be interested in what you get, Green Engineer.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It’s going to be interesting to watch how the SoCal grids perform this summer. The San O reactors will not be back on line, at the earliest they will get a test startup in the fall.

      If we get through the summer without meaningful strains it’s going to be quite hard to make a case for bringing those reactors back on line.

      • Ronald Brak

        I guess it all depends on how much solar power is installed. A few moths ago in between a combination of catching on fire and being flooded, over all Australia was the hottest its ever been in recorded history and in possession of a record number of air conditioners and record population, but despite this peak demand for grid electricity was the lowest it’s been in years.

        • Peter Pander

          @ Ronald Brak, As grid solar panel catching on fire in Australia? I’ve seen some live media tv footage on that dated 2013.

          That what happen when wash your panels they catch on fire, never wait for the flood to do that.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Peter, that’s just stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

            Why did you fall for that “wash your panels they catch on fire” BS?

            Use some common sense, guy. Were that the case solar panels would be erupting into flames all over the world every day.

            (Yes, there do seem to have been a very small number of solar systems in Australia which were incorrectly installed and had problems. That’s not a problem with solar, it’s a problem of letting improperly trained and/or supervised people do stuff.)

          • Amy

            Solar panel have been reported of catching on fire, you must be stupid not to look.

          • Lindal

            Firefighters in the U.S. also have a policy of letting the solar panel-related fire burn out, rather than fighting it. Reporting on a 2013 meeting of New Jersey fire chiefs, a Florence Township chief wrote: “The final question which was asked really put things in perspective—someone asked that since California is number one when it comes to Solar Panel System installations, ‘What do their firefighters do when a structure fire involves these systems?’ Answer was ‘they let it burn’!”

            Fireman insurance policy cover them, just like in Germany

          • Georgina

            They no longer use the word “let it burn” grid connected solar homes but “safety management” programs which will be decided on the spot in the event of such fire, so the firemen are legally covered when putting these safety management in practice. Under union and insurance ruling, according to the code, not legally covered if they use water in a negligent fashion on a rooftop grid solar house fire as direct current electrocution will occur. Safety first grid solar power homes last.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Each fire department is permitted to establish its own procedures and some might actually take a non-professional stand such as you report.

            Responsible fire departments train their members to deal with fires in buildings with solar panels just like they teach them to deal with fires in buildings with propane tanks, cars parked in the garage and other hazards.

          • Ronald Brak

            Yes, it’s very important to make sure your panels aren’t made of sodium to stop them bursting into flame or exploding when they come into contact with water. I suggest licking them with your tongue to check.

          • Billy

            Ronald, Just stupid of you mate look here


    • George Stevens

      It boils down to economics, as you’ve said. But given that we have learned from Fukushima and are prepared for a similar situation, then the likelihood of an accident that is as costly would seem to be very low.

      Now I can’t say this is true first hand because I am not there performing the risk analysis, but I am certain that the financiers, actuaries, engineers, and scientists are and will make the most economic decision whether it means shutting the out-of-date-plant down or keeping it running.

      After the Fukushima meltdown, where the amount of radiation released
      into the air was about one-fifth that of Chernobyl, George Monbiot,
      another environmental writer with a huge following, pointed out in The
      Guardian: “A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt-down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.”

      “Atomic energy,” Monbiot continues, “has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.”

      • Bob_Wallace

        When Monbiot wrote that I wrote him off as a useless idiot.

        The people who approved and built the Fukushima reactors knew they were building in an active earthquake zone and that at least one tsunami had occurred in the area and had created waves higher than their protective wall.

        They also did not provide adequate backup generation in the event grid power was taken down.

        The very large Joplin, MO tornado passed not that far from one of our US reactors a year or so back. After it passed someone realized that the backup generator system was in a simple metal building and had the tornado path included the reactor site both grid power and emergency backup power would have been destroyed.

        Human stupidity and mistakes are not eliminated when one builds a nuclear reactor or any other project.

        There’s no reason to accept the danger brought by nuclear energy when we have cheaper ways to make electricity.

        BTW, you keeping up with the leak/containment problems they’re having at the Fuku site? That catastrophe is not yet contained.

        • George Stevens

          Monbiot is pretty well stated here if you understand the differences between modern reactors and that involved in Fukushima. At Fukushima the Japanese erected a nuclear plant with massive oversight, and it saw basically the worst environmental conditions possible via the tsunami and earthquake, yet no one individual died as a result of radiation, and future deaths are projected to be undetectable by the World Health Organization.

          Human stupidity and mistakes are eliminated when one builds a well reviewed reactor that doesn’t involve external power or human intervention to cool itself. This is a key component to all new reactor designs.

          There’s no reason to further delay our response to the threat of global warming when the answers; nuclear, pv, and wind, are staring us in the face.

          “Pandora’s Promise” takes a very factual look at Nuclear energy fears and developments. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in energy generation.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “Human stupidity and mistakes are eliminated when one builds a well reviewed reactor that doesn’t involve external power or human intervention to cool itself. ”

            When you locate those error-free extraterrestrials to build reactors let us know, George.

            Until then our only option is to use humans. And humans screw up. They should not be allowed to use dangerous stuff unless there is no alternative.

            And since we have cheaper, faster to install, and safer alternatives….

          • George Stevens

            error free extraterrestrials?

            Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000, being built in GA, SC, and China. No human intervention or external power source required for cooling in emergency scenarios. Doesn’t require extraterrestrials either.


          • Bob_Wallace

            George, it’s just a matter of the next “Oops, we didn’t imagine that problem” that lays between us and the next nuclear disaster.

  • Green Engineer

    You would need 50 square miles of Photovoltaic panels or 200 square miles of wind farms to replace San Onofre’s power output (2.2 gigawatts). Either option is an environmental catastrophe.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Go to Google Maps. Take a look at Southern California on the satellite view.

      Take in all the rooftops in sunny SoCal. Imagine solar panels on those roofs. And look at parking lots. Imagine solar panels over those parking places.

      We can install 50 square miles of PV panels with zero environmental harm and avoid the potential environmental catastrophe of San O melting down at the same time.

      Your claim that wind farms use that much land makes me question your engineering background. We could generate 100% of all the electricity used in the entire US with 3 MW turbines and the land use would be only 140 square miles.

      (Someone should crank through your claim of 50 square miles of panels. Perhaps I’ll take that on later.)

      • Marion Meads

        In San Onofre, a flat surface area on an annualized average, receives 5.5-6.0 kWH/m2/day of solar radiation.

        Assume that the 2.2 GW nuclear plant is operated 24 x 7 x 365 days/year. It produces 52,800,000 kWH/day.

        Let us assume that we install the panels horizontal, with an average efficiency of 17% (Sunpower’s can be as high as 19%), further that the inverter efficiency is 90%, and that we have to allocate 10% of the solar farm to access and maintenance road.

        A square meter of land with solar PV installed with the above specs, will net out on the average, 0.75735 kWh/m2/day.

        To produce the same output as the 2.2GW nuclear power plant, we would therefore need 69,716,776 m2 of land, and that converts to 26.9 square miles of solar PV farm. A 50 square mile requirement would mean using a much lower solar PV efficiency, something like in the neighborhood of 9.15% solar radiation energy to electricity.

        Tilting the solar panels southward to 23 deg above the horizon, would save you only the solar PV material, but the area required would remain more or less the same, because you would need to prevent shading of panels by other panels from the tilt.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Crank your number down by the 90% average output capacity for US nuclear plants.

          10% of the solar farm used for roads seems high to me, but it is an adjustment I didn’t use. I’m assuming most SoCal solar is going to end up on rooftops.

          Seems like somewhere between 20 and 26 square miles is where back of envelop math gets us.

          • Marion Meads

            Agreed with you. I was just being conservative in favor of the first poster to remove bias for the solar. It turns out, he is still off by a lot, unless the assumptions become unrealistic like using dramatically less efficient solar panels.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I got that. I was just narrowing our range a bit.

        • George Stevens

          Yes but you neglected to account for soiling, mismatch, degradation, and wire losses for the PV system. These combined will nudge the land requirement up a bit.

      • Andy

        I had a look at that polluting the planet with solar panels it’s not natural to the environment.

      • George Stevens

        Unfortunately many industrial rooftops have marginal structural capability beyond meeting live loads (rain, seismic etc).

        Thats not to say that there isn’t a ton of rooftop space out there that can be utilized by solar, but a lot of it is disqualified structurally especially when it comes to the rapidly installed ballasted systems that are common today.

        The other huge difference between the San Onofre plant and an equivalent amount of PV produced energy is that one type of energy is completely predictable while the other is completely variable. This is a key consideration.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The electricity coming from a solar installation is more valuable to the grid than electricity coming from a nuclear plant. Solar panels produce electricity during times of highest demand.

          Electricity from a nuclear plant during low demand/off-peak hours has little, and sometime no value.

          (That’s why nuclear reactors are going bankrupt, George.)

          • George Stevens

            Electricity produced at peak demand is the most valuable. Nuclear plants also produce electricity at peak demand, and they have the advantage of not requiring the redundant back-up infrastructure that PV requires.

            Old nuclear plants are going bankrupt because they use fuel inefficiently and are competing directly with natural gas.

            because of the PTC, renewable portfolio standards, net-metering, and domestic/foreign manufacturing subsidy Solar and wind are not at all competing with natural gas. If they were they wouldn’t be seeing the rapid deployment that they are.

            Old nuclear plants going bankrupt are the direct result of the drastic decline in price of natural gas.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Old nuclear plants are going bankrupt. We agree.

            Nuclear plants need back-up. On average they are offline 10% of the time. Something has to fill in for that down time. And then some like SONGS, Crystal River, Rancho Seco, Humboldt Bay, and bunches of others go down permanently.

            The cost of electricity from natural gas is creeping up while the cost of wind is moving down.

            Solar is considerably less expensive than gas peakers. Germany is saving billions of dollar per year.

            Wind and natural gas are eating away at the bottom of the price range. Wind really hurts nuclear during off-peak hours. Solar is, or soon will be, bringing down peak hour profits. That destroys nuclear’s opportunity to recover nighttime losses.

          • George Stevens

            Solar and wind aren’t saving anyone money YET. Systems that meet lifetime expectations and produce surplus energy will be saving people money. Or systems that survive to see and hedge for highly elevated nat gas prices will save people money but fracking reserves in the US, China, and Russia are so expansive that it might be a while before that happens. Right now solar and wind simply cost ratepayers money (which can be seen in an place such as CA where a heavy amount of solar or wind are used) because redundant generation infrastructure must be dispatchable at all times to compensate for the variable generation. At least they produce clean energy though. Nuclear plants go down in mostly planned circumstances and any energy deficit can ussually be compensated for by neighboring power producers with advanced notice. The down times of nuclear vs wind and solar don’t at all equate.

            Germany produces very costly and dirty electricity, and purchases quite a bit from Frances nuclear plants. Germany may be ‘saving’ on peak energy but they paid much more for the variable installation than they are ‘saving’.

            How many pre-2000 solar PV or wind plants are even still operational. Condemning nuclear because of pioneering efforts is just as futile as doing the same to wind or solar (even though nuclear plants have produced cost effective energy for decades). The highly prohibitive regulatory nature surrounding nuclear has held the technology in its infancy with little innovation since 1950s reactor designs, but the threat of global warming is starting to change all of that and the DOE is funding and embracing nuclear innovation. And they better before China and Russia beat them to the punch.

          • Bob_Wallace

            George, are you ignorant or simply lying?

            F->G G->F Net Export

            2010 9571 16081 +68%
            2011 10834 8445* -22%
            2012 5200 13985 +63%

            * Germany to France drop happened before nuclear shutdown


            There is so much misinformation in your post that you must be getting help rounding it all up.

          • George Stevens

            I didn’t say who imported/exported more, just simply that Germany does rely on a lot of nuclear power from France.

            How about this curious question: which country has lower emissions?

    • Bob_Wallace

      RE: solar. You’ve overstated the case by 2.5x

      I’ll show my math…

      16.2 Watts per square foot (17.4% efficient panels)
      5.5 Average solar hours per day in SoCal
      89.1 Wh/day per square foot
      0.0891 kWh/day per square foot

      San Onofre output (90% capacity, two reactors)
      50,760 MWh/day
      50,760,000 kWh/day

      0.0891 kWh per square foot
      569,696,970 square feet of panels needed to replace reactors

      43,560 Square feet in acre
      13,078 Acres of 17.4% efficient panels

      640 Acres in Square Mile
      20 Square Miles of 17.4% efficient panels required to produce the amount of electricity produced by the two San Onofre reactors.

      • ken

        What would you know, you cut wood with your chainsaw, live off the grid, not on the grid like the rests of the world.

        go on the grid with solar then talk.

      • susannaschick

        Bob, you ROCK! Thanks so much for the detailed analysis. Green Engineer, we’re adding solar out in the nearby deserts faster than an LA teen can jump on a trend bandwagon. Sure, it loses some in the transmission, but I’d rather have a desert full of solar panels than risk a Nuclear disaster.

        • George Stevens

          Bob’s Math wasn’t complete, he didn’t consider the angle of incidence, spacing between panels, inverter, wire, degradation, soiling, or mismatch losses.

          Solar PV is great, but are you sure you understand the risks of nuclear disaster?

          Do you know how many people died from the radiation leak at Fukushima? The answer is actually zero with the World Health Organization

          “any increase in human disease after the partial meltdown triggered by
          the March 2011 tsunami is “likely to remain below detectable levels,”
          the WHO said in its report.

          Modern nuclear reactors have safety mechanisms much enhanced from the old one involved in the Fukushima accident (it was based on a design developed in the 1950s)

          You should really watch the documentary “Pandora’s Promise”. The issue of what clean energy sources the world can utilize to meet future needs is more complicated than you might realize.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Bob’s math is pretty danged close. It’s close enough to show that the original post was highly flawed.

          • George Stevens

            yes the estimate of 50 square miles is flawed, but I think you’re estimate of 20 miles is also quite flawed. If we are going to take the time to do such an analysis then use the available software tools to do it right such as PVsyst or SAM. I would do it for you but I’m not on my home PC right now.

          • Bob_Wallace

            George has been pimping “Pandora’s Promise”. I’d never heard of the film, but I ran across this comment elsewhere a little while ago…

            “The inclusion of the pro nuclear power film Pandora’s Promise into this year’s Mountainfilm Festival gave me serious pause. I know that there is plenty of effort put toward choosing films for this, my favorite festival. However, this film employed the tactics oil companies have used for years to fight climate science. The use of half truths and outright misrepresentations to plant doubt in the viewers’ minds, did the attendees a disservice.

            This film uses people who were supposedly anti-nuclear environmentalists who now support nuclear. When, in fact, they were never anti-nuclear activists nor outspoken critics. The two prominently used people in the film Mark Lynas and Gwyneth Cravens work with the Breakthrough Institute who are known for their anti-climate action and anti-environmental agenda. They have partnered with the American Enterprise Institute known for pushing rightwing energy myths and attacks on efficiency programs. This film shows them now supporting climate change activism merely to push their nuclear agenda.”


            Source Watch has some interesting information about AEI including…

            “In February 2007, The Guardian (UK) reported that AEI was offering scientists and economists $10,000 each, “to undermine a major climate change report” from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC). AEI asked for “articles that emphasise the shortcomings” of the IPCC report, which “is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science.”

            AEI visiting scholar Kenneth Green made the $10,000 offer “to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere,” in a letter describing the IPCC as “resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent.” [7]

            The Guardian reported further that AEI “has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil, and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI’s board of trustees,” added The Guardian. [8]”


            Looks like we learn a bit more about someone….”

      • George Stevens

        Bob, you didnt account for row spacing (to avoid shading) or inverter, wire, or mismatch losses.

        Even elementary PV production calculations require one to consider the angle of incidence and the row spacing. It would be easier, much more practical, and much more accurate for you to size such a system using NREL’s System Advisor Model.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Minor complaints.

          Panels installed on sloped roofs are not spaced apart.

          When panels are mounted on a slope in fields the area they cover is actually decreased. That largely offsets the row spacing.

          Soiling is not an issue.

          Proper wire sizing should mean no more than 2% loss. Inverter loss about 3%.

          You want to call it a bit more than 20 square miles? I’m fine with that. It’s less than half of the initial claim.

          • George Stevens

            Yes it is less than the initial claim of 50 miles, but all of the losses I suggested are not negligible. Who told you soiling is not an issue? Degradation is a considerable factor as well as is module mismatch. The kWh/ft figure you stated reflects a latitude tilt, and as such spacing needs to be considered along with seasonal variations in solar incidence. I’m not sure if the footprint would be greater with horizontal or latitude tilt. If I were home I would boot up SAM and let you know.

            If you love renewables you should download System Advisor Model (SAM) from NREL, Its a renewable energy system output engine and actually a pretty fun program to use. Its free and straightforward and can give you a an accurate and comprehensive estimate on a topic like this.

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