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Just a musing about scrap metal

Solar panels. Clearly, going to be a big business in recycling them. Or perhaps is disposing of them. Which is where the musing comes in.

So, think of standard silicon (so, not the Cd/Te ones). Might be a bit of gallium/germanium in there for really top end ones. Aluminium frames. Don’t know what connectors are made of – gold perhaps? Plated obvs.

So there’s some metals value in there. But clearly the bulk is silicon. And that, I think, has no value. Or single digit $ per tonne levels perhaps.

Because the raw material is pretty valueless. Sand, effectively. OK, that’s then made up into silicon metal at a high purity – 99,9999%, say. At which point it costs maybe $20 a kg. But it’s the process of making the Si atoms up into the ingots of high purity metal that adds that value. A process that you’ve got to go through with the Si atoms you’ve just recovered from the solar panels.

Unless there’s a lot of gold and copper in there I can;t see such scrap panels as having a positive metals value once you subtract any cost of processing. That is, I can’t see a free market in solar panel recycling emerging unsubsidised.

Now this really is only a musing, I’ve not checked any of the numbers. But if it’s true then that just adds again to the cost of solar, doesn’t it? We’ve real, positive, disposal costs at the end.

36 thoughts on “Just a musing about scrap metal”

  1. EPA has some info on it but nothing quantified afaik. Wouldn’t there possibly be more value just used as a less efficient panel somewhere else ? As I understand efficiency drops slowly something like 0.5% a year after the initial drop but probably flattens over time. Installs are beginning to extend beyond the predicted 25-30 and some predictions now around 50 years. Surface erosion to the glass can probably be polished out. Doesn’t really happen at the moment in the west as not enough time and all the various schemes and subsidies would not apply plus no regs for it so no professional install I’d guess. Sure its just pushing the issue down the road but you’d need to add batteries for some markets but that’s getting cheaper and again a market in older less efficient batteries is already around.

  2. Strip out the copper wiring. Recycle the electronic control units, perhaps cut off the aluminum brackets and the rest is landfill. It would seem to be very good landfill material too as it’s very inert with nothing going to leach out so really just a hole in the ground rather than a landfill constructed to stop decay and keep things out of the water table. The trick perhaps is to get a special designation for landfill solely for solar panels that will later be “safe” building land. Alternatively if the materials are sufficiently inert perhaps the raw panels could even go into a concrete crusher and be used as road base. No value, but very low disposal costs.

  3. Glad to see I wasn’t far out then: “It has been corrected to note that additional processing would be required to purify the recovered silicon to PV-grade”

    I hadn’t known about the silver which does change things. $30 an ounce or whatever it is.

  4. Bloke in Pictland

    People with clay soils should use crushed old panels to improve drainage. But would sacks of agricultural sand be cheaper?

  5. “Solar panel waste can include heavy metals such as … lead, arsenic and cadmium”
    Not so great if ground up and dumped.
    They may leach out slowly. I guess we will find out in 20 years or so if it’s enough to poison rivers and so on.
    Everyone should the great green gravy train! Choo choo!

  6. Um, isn’t the top, transparent conductor made of Indium Tin Oxide?

    Indium is quite valuable, though how you’d reclaim it from acres of solar panels…

  7. As Tim says as long as you avoid the Cadmium Telluride thin film cells there’s not too much to worry about.

    https://solartechadvisor.com/metals-used-solar-panels/

    The economics of getting the polysilicon out are dubious as the value has a history of fluctuating by 2 to 1 when supply goes from shortage to a glut. It looks probable that manufacturing if from scratch is cheaper than recycling so whilst there is money to be made in times of shortage it looks like a good way of going bust.

    Another problem is that solar cell technology is constantly evolving. They have silver in them now, but if demand pushes up the price of silver we should expect the silver to be replaced with something cheaper.

  8. Same problem for all energy sources, surely? It costs money to decommission an oil platform, and nuclear power has its own awkward decommissioning costs (partly imposed by heavy regulation, of course).

    The question is the relative numbers. I’d wager that one oil rig produces a lot more energy over its lifetime than the equivalent weight in solar panels; but someone else will have to crunch the numbers.

  9. My local scrapyard (it’s an industrial-size operation with its own car shredder) won’t accept solar panels for scrap – the trivial amounts of copper and aluminum aren’t worth the separation. Small devices with solar panels automatically go in the shred-electronics bin, along with hard drives and motherboards, to be shredded and shipped to China for the gold and precious metals to be chemically extracted. As for the cadmium and the lead . . . tra-la-la.

    llater,

    llamas

  10. On a vaguely related point, clearing out my late father-in-law’s house, we found a few dozen x-rays (he was a doctor). They look like big (A2ish) versions of old camera negatives. Does anyone know what’s in them? Can I just put them in the tip, or is there anything nasty in them?

    Or indeed anything valuable? I had a vague feeling they have silver in them, but perhaps not enough to be worth anyone extracting.

  11. Arguing about recycling of these accursed things is missing the point.

    That point being that the resources should not have been wasted in the first place making the damned things!

    Just send them back to Fu Manchu and dump them in the strip mined holes they came out of. Doubt if said holes could be made any worse!

  12. @Orphan-on-law : Google reckons “If it is old fashioned, silver emulsion, polyester film, a typical weight of silver for exposed, developed , 8×10″ films might be about 0.1 troy oz per pound of film. Fresh undeveloped film would have more, but would weigh more per sheet. New, modern film has very little silver.”
    If you don’t think that the x-ray plates are valuable antiques, examples of an historic process (i.e. non-digital) that you might keep, you could try burning them over a tray to collect the silver – outdoors, don’t breath the fumes !

  13. @Orphan-on-law
    X-ray emulsion’s silver. But it would depend on how much you had of it. Selo (Ilford Films as was) used to make x-ray film by the mile, 4 foot wide. The was a certain amount scrap came out of the coating/slitting/chopping process used to find its way in the boots of workers cars (& the odd can of emulsion). So there must of been a market for it. But the emulsion coat’s about equivalent to a coat of paint put on a polymer substrate. Plus, of course, it’ll only be the image (the black) will be silver. I think the unexposed gets washed off by the developer.
    The emulsion was water based (gelatin), so you could probably lift it off with the right chemical (HCl?) & burn off the organic element. So it depends how much you’ve got. A few filing cabinets full might be worth mining. Other than that…

  14. I seem to remember Germany “melting down” masses of xray transparencies for the silver, losing a lot of valuable documentation, but that was during war-time emergencies.

  15. To correct the above. I suspect the emulsion was PVA (by the smell). So comes off with alcohol not HCl. Methyl or the drinking stuff, to taste.

  16. I never understood why we can’t just dump nuclear stuff in the ocean.
    There isn’t that much of it in the grand scheme of things and there are vast tracts of the ocean floor that are nothing but desert.
    Dump on the ocean floor a few miles down means that its
    1. Kept cold by the water so won’t go kaboom
    2. Exceedingly difficult to get at work avoids the problem of anyone accidentally getting it, or any angry Muslim/right wing/trans/eco/Irish/MK terrorist (plenty others available if none of those take your fancy) using it to make a dirty bomb unnoticed.

  17. Nowt bad in there. Silver, yes, but you want a consistent flow of hundreds of KG to run a small furnace operation at the bottom of the garden. Then it’s a v nice sideline.

  18. Sounds sensible to me too Chernyy.

    I understand the UK reprocesses spent fuel so it can burn the long half life radioactives as part of mixed oxide fuel.

    So the waste dumped in the ocean would only be deemed dangerous for a couple of hundred years.

  19. And how long has the slag dumped outside coal mines and power stations been “deemed” dangerous?

  20. As long as the HIV test takes to come back negative – so in current NHS timescales about 4 years.

  21. @Mark

    There is nothing wrong with PV solar panels. They are the cheapest source of electricity ……. provided they are used in the right location, as in low latitudes like Adu Dhabi where they get about 10 hours of powerful sun everyday. The folly is expecting them to be equally useful in the UK especially in winter when the days are short and the sun is feeble.

  22. “The question is the relative numbers. I’d wager that one oil rig produces a lot more energy over its lifetime than the equivalent weight in solar panels; but someone else will have to crunch the numbers.”

    The general concept is EROEI (energy return on energy invested, analogous to ROI). In the early days of oil, it was ~99:1, cos you just needed a small hole (in the right spot) and “up from the ground come a-bubbling crude”. Today with off shore or fracking, it can be more like 9:1. Nuclear could be in the hundreds to one range (if we weren’t so cretinous about disposal and building regs).

    But PV at temperature latitudes struggles to get above 1:1, it takes almost as much energy to manufacturer a solar panel as it can produce over a working lifetime.

  23. @Andy F

    As a means of generating electricity (yes, even in a desert) like all “renewables”, solar is just too diffuse and intermittent. The threshold of usefulness for a solar panel installation (like a windmill) is one of scale. More so if the DC that a solar panel generates cannot be used directly and an inverter is needed.

    Some small, low power, stand alone installation where a supplementary battery can be trickle charged at the same time to maintain power in the dark or other conditions of low output – or if the intermittent output is not in itself a hindrance – then fine. A solar panel or a small windmill is easier, cheaper and more practical than a connection to the grid for which the costs would never be recovered. You can see things like this all over the place.

    But to imagine that these things can be the basis of the power grid for any sort of advanced economy is deliberate sabotage intended to reduce countries to penury (how can it be anything else?)

    Look around. All these thousands of windmills and fields covered with solar panels are essentially useless given the real world need for an equivalent backup running pretty well 24/7, and represent a massive clean up bill – not to mention a horrendous practical problem of disposal – for taxpayers.

    And let’s not forget all those fools who have had the installed on their rooves. Yes, yes, I know there are bungs that make it look worthwhile (“economic”), but are these bungs going to last for ever?

    And when you do have to finally get rid of them, don’t be surprised if there will be an eye watering bill for proper disposal! (Ho hum, another mis-selling scandal)

  24. @Mark

    You’ve got the economics of it wrong. There needs to be a backup, yes, and that’s a cost, yes, but the real world need for an equivalent backup running pretty well 24/7 is wrong. The cost of the backup is that you need to build more capacity, and part of that capacity (either the renewable part of the fossil fuel part) spends a chunk of time sitting idle. The benefit of renewables is that they have a very low marginal cost, once they’re built. The flaw is that nobody can guarantee they can produce the power you want on demand. But a fossil fuel plant is relatively cheap to build and has a high marginal cost, coal higher than gas, because you have to pay for the stuff you’re burning. If it’s sitting idle, it’s a waste of capacity, but it’s nowhere near as expensive as when it’s running. As a result, it’s perfectly possible to make your energy mix cheaper by including renewables – over the course of a year, you’ll burn substantially less of that costly fuel, and the savings for that can more than make up for the cost of having built the renewables and paying to keep spare capacity on standby.

    Even countries which have no particular interest in going green are using renewables for that purpose – the economics make sense. Up to a point. As you get closer to 100% renewable generation, you start needing an awful lot of spare capacity, currently very expensive storage solutions, and/or what is politely termed “demand management” or “virtual power plants” (things like vehicle-2-grid). The expectation is that tech to enable some of those things is getting cheaper (certainly for storage, also ways of getting demand to be more price-responsive) and the cost of renewables themselves is coming down, so the sensible amount of renewables to have in the grid is going to trend upwards over time. The problem is the potential mismatch between the timeline if it were dictated purely by economics, and the timeline if left to politicians’ flights of fancy. This is why Tim, among others, favours just whacking on a carbon tax and letting the economics of it play out. But be in no doubt, even without politicians interfering, and even without a carbon tax, there’d be an increasing role for renewables in the grid.

  25. @Anon

    As Fred Hoyle put it many years ago: energy is more important than money but we think otherwise because we use money to buy energy.

    The diffuse and intermittent nature of wind and solar is intrinsic and nothing can really be done about that. A “renewable” installation of any decent rating becomes huge and dispersed, which introduces new problems not found with a proper (I use that word deliberately) power grid.

    I’ll exclude hydro, because that works and doesn’t need backup. Why? – because nature does all the concentrating necessary.

    A grid using nuclear, coal, gas can provide all the reliable, on demand power needed without a milliwatt of wind or solar (er, like what we had for decades).

    A grid with ANY wind and solar requires 100% backup for these for night and when the wind don’t blow (which even in this country can be weeks at a time).

    Storage? Batteries or pumped water, what else?

    Of course, some startling new technology might come along to make a 100% wind/solar grid work, but as to what that startling new technology might be we haven’t currently the first clue.

    And even if this startling technology existed, while that might remove the intermittency (and give this startling new technology the benefit of the doubt by assuming it would be compact, cheap and easy to build) it would do nothing for the diffuse nature. Think of how much land would still be needed.

    The basic science and practical engineering is what is important. Diffuse and intermittent has to become concentrated and reliably on demand. Engineering does that, not “economics”.

    There clearly is far too much wind/solar (personally, I’d shut it all down), and dogmatically building more is just bringing the grid closer to collapse. It’s a massive burden, not proper capacity.

  26. I do tend to agree with you, Mark.

    The push for renewables goes on and on in Oz. And the cheap, plentiful and reliable energy that we used to use to process our minerals gets more and more expensive. Meanwhile we are naturally encouraging more and more immigration.

    Oddly enough, our mineral processing seems to be emigrating to the coal burning countries who are happy to supply our immigrants. And Albo’s promise of a $250 drop in electricity costs has turned into a rise.

    Surprise, surprise!!!

  27. @Mark

    A grid using nuclear, coal, gas can provide all the reliable, on demand power needed without a milliwatt of wind or solar (er, like what we had for decades).

    Decades ago the relative prices of wind, solar, and fossil fuels were different. The relative prices have changed – renewables have got much cheaper – so the optimal mix has changed too. I don’t think there’s any fossil-fuel-heavy grid on the planet where it makes cost sense to exclude renewables at current prices. On a windy or sunny day, having those hours where you’re not burning through gas or (more rarely these days) coal is big saving, while having generating capacity on standby is cheap. Gas plants are cheap to build, cheap to keep on standby, and the main cost is the gas you burn. Every GWh of wind or solar energy you make per year – even if those sources are diffuse!! – is a GWh you don’t need to make by burning expensive fuel. Yes, diffuseness makes renewables more expensive to plug into the grid, but even accounting for this, they’re generally still cheaper than fossil fuels at current prices. Intermittency is a pain, but the ability to switch from a high to low marginal cost method of generating electricity, when it’s available, is a cost-cutter. Which is why grids all over the planet, including in some of the most “ungreen” countries imaginable, are doing it.

    Grids heavily reliant on nuclear are a different case – nuclear is generally harder to ramp up or down compared to a modern gas plant, which is excellent at it, and like renewables has a low marginal cost. There’s not much point switching generation from one low marginal cost method to another just because the wind is blowing or sun is shining. Whereas being able to reduce your gas or coal consumption for the duration is a saving, and over the course of decades those savings can more than make up for the cost of installing some renewables in your system, which is the expensive part.

    A grid with ANY wind and solar requires 100% backup for these for night and when the wind don’t blow (which even in this country can be weeks at a time).

    It is far, far cheaper to have a gas plant on standby than a gas plant burning gas. The economics of this is no problem at all.

    Storage? Batteries or pumped water, what else?

    Of course, some startling new technology might come along to make a 100% wind/solar grid work, but as to what that startling new technology might be we haven’t currently the first clue.

    Right, this is the problem, and I made it clear in my previous post I agree with you. If you’ve got a politician or green activist (increasingly indistinguishable) who is not prepared to accept having a gas plant on standby – because, gasp-shock-horror, when you need it, it will actually burn that evil gas – then you need alternatives. And we lack commercially viable ones. The problem is politicians’ ideal energy mix can be far from the economically optimal mix, even if you go in for Stern-style carbon pricing. Trying to get all or almost all of our energy from renewables isn’t going to make economic sense any time soon, no matter what warm fuzzy feelings it gives our political class.

    personally, I’d shut it all down

    This is almost as economically illiterate as the people who want us to run full-time on nothing but renewables. “Proper” capacity by having some gas plants sitting idle is dirt cheap. It’s the marginal cost of burning the gas which is expensive. Renewables don’t add to dispatchable capacity but that’s not the point of them, and if you support the continued existence of gas plants (as you clearly do) then the dispatchable capacity issue is solved. The cost of renewables is expensive to set up, low marginal costs – which works brilliantly in combination with plants where the costs are the other way around. You get a certain GWh per year of energy generated (average wind or solar output over the course of a decade is pretty reliable, even if the output can vary massively over the course of weeks or months) which saves you burning a hefty quantity of expensive fuel. At current prices, and across most of the world, this is a trade-off which makes sense – up to a point. That point is the total reliance on renewables that greenies want to see, but it isn’t zero either.

  28. @Chris Miller

    The general concept is EROEI (energy return on energy invested, analogous to ROI). In the early days of oil, it was ~99:1, cos you just needed a small hole (in the right spot) and “up from the ground come a-bubbling crude”. Today with off shore or fracking, it can be more like 9:1. Nuclear could be in the hundreds to one range (if we weren’t so cretinous about disposal and building regs).

    But PV at temperature latitudes struggles to get above 1:1, it takes almost as much energy to manufacturer a solar panel as it can produce over a working lifetime.

    I wonder whether those EROEI figures are out of date, whether you’ve misremembered, or whether there’s just a huge discrepancy between sources? Have a look at pages 34-37 of this:

    https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/ise/de/documents/publications/studies/Photovoltaics-Report.pdf

    At North European latitudes, this Fraunhofer Institute report (2023) claims the energy payback time (EPBT) of a modern PV installation is just over one year, versus just under a year in South Europe. That’s going to give an EROEI well over 10 even allowing for performance degradation over time etc, and makes me wonder if you’ve mixed up the EPBT and EROEI. But the same report says that in the late nineties, the payback time was about a decade – which might make you figure more reasonable, albeit outdated.

    Given the controversy on how energy inputs are measured it wouldn’t surprise me if there are some totally different figures floating around.

  29. The Fraunhofer Institute has an awful lot of skin in the game.

    It is far, far cheaper to have a gas plant on standby than a gas plant burning gas. The economics of this is no problem at all.

    Ah yes, a gas plant on standby not earning any money is good economics, especially when you don’t count the capital and maintenance cost and the environmental degradation of the “renewable” installation. Tell me you are not a shill.

  30. @Anon

    “Renewables have got much cheaper – so the optimal mix has changed too”

    They’re mandated by nut zero and foisted on us by idealogues. Like milk floats, when the bungs stop, they shrivel like testicles in an icy, early morning dip!

    “Exclude renewables at current prices”

    See above

    “It is far, far cheaper to have a gas plant on standby than a gas plant burning gas. The economics of this is no problem at all.”

    According to voodoo “economics”. As Asiaseen points out, a stand by gas plant is doing nothing for much of the time and simply is a sink for costs in this state. Only unreliables need them. A proper grid has spare capacity of course, but it is there to cover unexpected demand and maintenance. The spare capacity would be spending more of its time earning revenue that consuming it.

    If it is particularly windy, subsidy farmers are paid to NOT supply to the grid. I would imagine these gas plants are required then. Unusables is putting it mildly! And why do you assume it’s all gas that covers the not inconsiderable down time? Don’t forget the diesel gensets, 1-2GWs worth in this country I believe.

    “Of course, some startling new technology might come along to make a 100% wind/solar grid work, but as to what that startling new technology might be we haven’t currently the first clue”.

    “Right, this is the problem”

    So why are you trying to polish the turd that is unusables when you clearly can see what the fundamental problem is?

    “if you support the continued existence of gas plants (as you clearly do)”

    Of course I do, to generate reliable power 24/7, not to maintain the fantasy that unusables are actually usable!

    “The cost of renewables is expensive to set up, low marginal costs – which works brilliantly in combination with plants where the costs are the other way around.”

    Then why is the price of electricity so damned high?

    You forgot expensive to run, with huge marginal costs (of which subsidies are only a part). And the costs of actually disposing of them when sanity returns (as it will)? I’m sure our children will be cursing us.

  31. @Chris Miller

    Cheers for the link. Two nearly retired engineers, with no history of publishing in an area, put out a paper which claims everyone else’s estimate is wrong by an order of magnitude, and now years later all the experts in the area are still sticking to their guns? I’m not saying it makes them wrong, but it does set off the “potential crank” alarm bells. At the very least I’d be wary of citing them as a statement of fact rather than a minority opinion. There are a lot of refutations (or “refutations”) online, including https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421516307066

    I understand if you’re a cynic you could very fairly say the refutations are all from the “usual suspects”. Again, doesn’t mean that they’re wrong either. Personally I would be surprised if Ferroni and Hopkirk were right on a purely economic reasoning – seen too many people find it a positive NPV proposition to install rooftop PV, even sans subsidies, at latitudes with similar insolation. If EROEI really is below one, then that’s confusing as energy costs alone would seem to rule it out. (Energy is cheaper in China, but it’s not that much cheaper.)

    @Mark

    They’re mandated by nut zero and foisted on us by idealogues. Like milk floats, when the bungs stop, they shrivel like testicles in an icy, early morning dip!

    Name me a grid anywhere that’s not expanding wind/solar? Do you honestly think Texans, Chinese and Saudis are obsessed with the green agenda? I’m not saying everyone’s using the optimal amount of renewables, as I said there’s a limit (which varies from place to place) on how useful they are which greenies everywhere like to ignore, but as they become more cost-competitive you’re gonna see more of them.

    You forgot expensive to run, with huge marginal costs

    Where are you getting this stuff from? Go and read any introductory guide to energy economics. Heck, economics full stop. Marginal costs are the cost associated with each additional unit of production. It’s not the cost per unit time, nor is it the total cost amortized over the lifespan of the project. Renewables have a negligible marginal cost because you’re not burning any additional fuel to get the additional output. Probably easier to see in reverse: if, over the course of a particular hour tomorrow, some renewables installations can generate an average power output of 10X MW, and you told them you only need 9X MW, then the producer can do that for you but has pretty much no savings to be made by doing so. You’re just passing up the opportunity of X MWh of energy. Tell the same thing to some gas installations, and they can make a large saving: they don’t need to burn through enough fuel to generate that X MWh of energy. That’s a marginal cost, and for gas/coal it’s a big deal. Indeed marginal costs are the most important costs for gas/coal operators. For wind/solar, you’re not burning any fuel, so the marginal cost is tiny. There are plenty of other costs elsewhere, but they’re not marginal in the sense of being associated with a particular unit of production. One reason gas and wind/solar work well in combination is you have a synergy between a source with low marginal cost you can use when available and a source with high marginal cost you can use when needed.

    According to voodoo “economics”. As Asiaseen points out, a stand by gas plant is doing nothing for much of the time and simply is a sink for costs in this state. Only unreliables need them. A proper grid has spare capacity of course, but it is there to cover unexpected demand and maintenance. The spare capacity would be spending more of its time earning revenue that consuming it.

    But modern gas plants are absolutely brilliant at sitting there doing nothing until needed! Weird flex maybe, but it’s true – their flexibility is one of their most attractive features. Coal plants are much worse at it because it’s time-consuming and costly to fire them up again when you want them. It’s also historically been an Achilles’ heel for nuclear – it’s generally been better for “baseload” generation, not so good for responding to demand. You write as if it’s unconscionably expensive to have a gas plant sitting idle – if it’s there, you might as well be burning something in it. That’s nonsense. The main cost of gas plants is the marginal cost of burning the fuel. Sitting doing nothing until you need it is cheap – not free, but cheaper than it was with coal. And this is another key reason gas and renewables work well together – spare capacity from gas is cheap (the main cost is burning the fuel rather than the plant itself) and the gas plants are flexible enough to make up for the intermittency of renewables, provided you have enough of them (which is the bit that ticks off greenies who’d prefer to be rid of fossil fuels altogether) for the amount of wind/solar you installed in your network.

    Demand varies so much over the course of a day, and even over a year, that we’ve always had plants standing idle for large parts of the day, even back when the grid was all coal. Plants ran in “merit order” of marginal cost, with the most efficient (generally newer) plants generating as much as possible, and least efficient (generally older) plants only running when called upon. This minimised the marginal cost of the electricity generated by minimising the fuel that had to be burned to produce the desired output. When nuclear entered the market, its low marginal cost put it ahead of coal and gas plants. And now renewables, which also have a low marginal cost, get used preferentially before fossil fuels.

    Imagine that rather than the merit order system, you run a monopoly of gas power plants and have been contracted by the grid to generate electricity to a particular schedule over the course of each day. You won’t run all your plants all the time. You would run the more efficient ones for more of the time and use your less efficient ones only when the schedule requires more output to be generated. So basically replicating the merit order – the system itself is quite logical. Now imagine I have some magic boxes that let your plants generate electricity without burning gas for some of the day. Since your main cost is all the gas you burn, you would snap my hand off for them if I told you the magic boxes were free, even if the amount you saved each day was unfortunately rather variable. If I told you the cost of buying and installing a certain number of boxes was $X dollars… then you’d have to think about the figures more carefully. Much would depend on the performance characteristics of the boxes, but also on how many of them you install – beyond a certain point, which depends on factors including the correlation between the outputs of different boxes, further boxes become rapidly less attractive (something the greenies struggle to understand…). But for a given number of boxes, there is a sufficiently low value of $X at which it makes sense to take the deal. And if my price offer gets cheaper, the optimal number of boxes to install tends to rise. There’s no economic reason to abhor intermittent sources of generation altogether, even if their optimal role in the energy mix is not as high as greenies want it to be – provided the price is right, the logic of installing some intermittent sources is solid. (The point of this thought experiment is that’s not just an artefact of how the market or merit order is rigged, but would apply just as strongly to a rational electrical monopoly.)

    Incidentally, if you’re so insistent that a “proper” grid shouldn’t contain any intermittent sources, would you also be opposed to energy interconnectors with neighbouring countries’ grids? These have often proven to be a positive NPV proposition.

    Then why is the price of electricity so damned high?

    One thing that didn’t help in recent years was a strong dependence on gas – as the marginal source of electricity, it set the marginal price of electricity – at a time when the price of natural gas shot through the roof. At least the average cost of electricity generated would have been much lower if we had been using less gas in the mix…

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