By Julian Wong Mar.7.2009
In: policy, solar, uncategorized
7 comments

Solarizing for Security

It’s been a while since we had a post dedicated to renewables, so let’s me divert you to two articles on solar. The first, the cover feature “Here Comes the Sun” of The Beijinger its green issue this March, speaks to the general state of China’s solar industry and concludes that despite the tough times (see previous post), a vast market and progressive national renewable energy policies make China the key to a solar future.  Yours truly is quoted several times in this piece.

The Beijinger article provides a good background to the second article, “Getting Out of the Shade: Solar Energy as a National Security Strategy,” which I penned for China Security journal.   In this piece, I lament the fact that China’s solar photovoltaics (PV) industry has been export oriented, but argue that there is no time better than now to develop its domestic solar market because of a combination of increased solar module and polysilicon supply and decreased overseas demand  is driving costs down to record lows.  I don’t want to give too much away, but I will summarize here some of the main arguments for solarizing China now:

  • The national security argument is compelling–think energy security (distributed PV is far less vulnerable to failure than centralized fossil power), economic security (green jobs), social security (distributed PV is ideal for rural electrification), and of course environmental security.
  • A narrow focus on waiting for “grid parity” of solar misses out on the true value of distributed PV.  A holistic comparative analysis of centralized coal power versus distributed solar PV will give consideration to the negative externalities of coal use (some 1.7 trillion yuan per year as we described in a previous post) and the positive externalities of distributed PV such as:
    * the national security value described above
    * the peak demand shaving capabilities of solar
    *  solar does not require expensive transmission and distribution infrastructure
    *  PV panels can serve dual functions such as providing roof shade or even as construction materials
    *  the modularity of solar PV means that it can be installed quicker than large coal power plants and better meet power demand

In the paper’s final section, I present a list of policy recommendations which are similar to those I outlined last June, including:

  • Electricity price reform
  • Enacting an feed-in-tariff for solar and introducing net metering
  • Government procurement of PV panels
  • Introducing innovative financing mechanism to reduce upfront financial burden to potential solar users
  • Enhancing technical capacity, education of skilled workforce and grid interconnectability of solar

I encourage readers to take a closer read of my paper and to tell me what you think in the comments section below.

Comments (7)

  1. Christine Mar.11.2009@1:22 pm Reply

    Great stuff in the China Security article. Well researched & communicated, which is no surprise.

    One point relating to your article. As a rural researcher, I would point out the risk with using solar panels for the rural electrification projects in China. At present, China has relatively low operations & maintenance technical capacity for this type of advanced technology, therefore the panels will break down and become obsolete rather rapidly. You mention the lack of technical expertise for installation of the panels, but I also would worry about the proliferation of a complex technology to communities with no capacity to fix or operate the panels over a long time period. Rural parts of the developing world are littered with broken down water filter systems, bio-gas feeders, electric pumps, etc. Without training and education programs at regional and local levels, the availability of replacement parts, and local repair people, solar panels will end up in the rural stuff graveyard. What do you think?

  2. Julian Mar.11.2009@10:30 pm Reply

    @石弥迦: Thanks for pointing that out. Good to see that electricity price reform is a policy priority this year. Let’s hope the govt lives up to its promise.

    @Christine: You are absolutely right. In fact, I understand that a lot of those solar street lighting stop working after 2, 3 years. The reason? The solar panels are fine (they have life spans of 25 years or more). Its the batteries, which are important because they store electricity in the day for eventual dispatch at night, that wear out after a few years, but do not get replaced simply because the ongoing operation and maintenance of these off-grid solar systems are not planned for at the design stage of these rural electrification programs. Long term, life-cycle planning, especially with respect to capacity building, is key.

  3. Uncle B Apr.7.2009@10:52 pm Reply

    Education in the rural areas is as important as getting the technologies, Solar in particular out to these regions and in use. An unfettered communist system might have an advantage here. America relies on massive investor driven profiteering ventures to develop Solar power in the South Western states, but falls back on nuclear as the last resort to a failing economy because it is cheaper, faster and more certain and reliable (than sunshine – American logic?). Smaller, powerful, totally repairable Solar units with good supply of replacement parts such as batteries appear to be in order. The Model T Ford was completely rebuildable with only a few modest tools, and was designed to be that way – this was its best selling point! The internet has a gas-Solar fridge with no moving or repairable parts, a sealed unit! This is another way to spread Solar power. Battery technologies are in their infancy right now, but huge advances have been made. Expect, that without the vicious capitalists planned obsolescence marketing tool designed in to victimize purchasers and assure future market for product, a good life-time battery can be made available in China and to the world, but not the capitalist controlled U.S,A. Perhaps the states-side has this to learn from China in the dying days of our Evil Empire.

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