Gina Gets It Wrong On Solar (Again)

Gina Rinehart - solar energy

Mining magnate and cattle queen Gina Rinehart has taken another swipe at solar power, and again appears to be working with curious figures.

In a speech posted Sunday for National Agriculture and Related Industries Day1, Ms Rinehart had the following to say:

“Well I know the miles of solar panels will need wiping to be effective, and the millions of dead bats and birds, lives claimed by wind power infrastructure, will need collecting and burying, and industry created to deal somehow with the old solar panels, maybe burying, if economical ways can’t be found without government handouts to deal with the millions of solar panels, panels which will need changing every 8 to 10 years, to maintain effectiveness.”

Whew, there’s a bit to unpack there. I’ll leave the “millions of dead bats and birds” for the wind industry to address, but on the solar energy related bits in that breathless statement:

Solar Panel Performance Over Time

If solar panels need to be changed every 8 to 10 years maintain effectiveness, then they are crap panels.

Solar panels are covered by two types of warranties – one on the product (workmanship) and one for performance. Performance warranties guarantee a panel’s performance won’t deteriorate beyond a certain point. Even at the cheap end of good quality solar panels, performance warranties promise more than 80% of a panel’s original rated output after *25 years*.

Here are several examples taken from the SolarQuotes solar panel comparison table:

  • JinkoSolar (Cheetah Plus) – 0.6% loss per year (years 2 – 25), output warranted at year 25: 83.1%
  • Canadian Solar (Hiku Mono) – 0.55% loss per year (years 2 – 25), output warranted at year 25: 84.80%
  • Longi (4M) – 0.55% loss per year (years 2 – 25), output warranted at year 25: 84.80%

At year 8, these panels would still retain around 96% of their original rated output. That’s hardly cause to be sending them to landfill.

And on that note …

Solar Panel Waste

If Ms. Rinehart thinks solar panels need to be replaced after 8 – 10 years, that would no doubt contribute to her “concerns” about waste. But the truth is some panels do wind up in landfill within that timeframe or even before –  poor quality modules, through accidental damage or those left over from system upgrades.

It’s not that solar panel waste isn’t a problem. But in the scheme of things it’s not a huge problem and is a challenge already being addressed; with various recycling/repurposing efforts under way and related activity increasing.

In June this year Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley told Australia’s solar industry it requires an industry-led nationwide scheme design for properly dealing with solar panel waste finalised by June next year. No handout was mentioned – the cost will likely ultimately be carried by the end consumer.

Future recycling aside, as for how much space a bunch of solar panels stripped of their valuable aluminium frames would take up in landfills – it’s probably not as much as you might think.

Solar Panel Cleaning

A build-up of dust and grime on a module can hamper its performance, but for the most part nature takes care of solar panel cleaning through rain.

In the drier and dustier parts of Australia, this cleaning process mightn’t occur as often – but it hasn’t stopped companies building huge solar farms in such areas. If cleaning was such an issue it heavily impacted profitability, they wouldn’t be there.

Solar Power Costs

Ms. Rinehart has also previously claimed a hybrid solar power station at her Fossil Downs station in Western Australia’s Kimberley had proved uneconomic (paywall) without subsidies. The $500,000 system consists of 136 solar panels, 45 lithium-ion batteries (145kWh) and a diesel generator.

SolarQuotes founder Finn Peacock estimates its solar capacity at around 60kW and averages savings of ~100 litres of diesel per day. The cost of unsubsidised diesel (not including delivery to outback) is around $1.50 per litre, so savings would be around $55,000 per year.

Finn assumes if Ms. Rinehart installed a similar system on every property, the capital cost of the systems could be reduced by at least 10% through economy of scale. And finance is currently very cheap.

Ms. Rinehart said she wasn’t indicating industry should be asking for more government subsidies for switching to renewables, but was concerned “rushing to reduce emissions will cost the taxpayers billions in subsidies”. But that’s already happening with diesel and petrol – billions in subsidies each year.

The Fossil Downs installation is a complex system with energy storage – solar-only costs far less and battery storage will get cheaper in the years ahead. For example, a 70kW solar system costs around $70,000 on average across Australia at the moment  – but expect to pay more in rural locations.

As for other enterprises, commercial solar for farmers can be a very wise and accessible investment, slashing emissions and farm electricity costs.

Footnotes

  1. Gina Rinehart was the founder and is patron of National Agriculture and Related Industries Day
About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. From 2 Aug 2021, eligible Australian businesses can claim a fuel tax credit of up to $0.433 per litre of diesel or petrol for a range of proscribed activities.
    https://www.ato.gov.au/Business/Fuel-schemes/Fuel-tax-credits—business/Rates—business/From-1-July-2021/

    If Ms Rinehart is so concerned about the cost to taxpayers of subsidies, will she forgo fuel tax credits that can be claimed for her businesses? 😉

    • George Kaplan says

      Not sure this’ll get past the mods but …

      Geoff, you’re conflating subsidies and rebates. Businesses can claim a rebate where the fuel purchased is not used for travelling public roads.

      Note too that EVs do not pay the fuel tax that pays for the upkeep of roads.

      • Geoff Miell says

        George Kaplan,
        …you’re conflating subsidies and rebates.

        Semantics, George.

        Subsidy [noun]: money given by a government or an organization to reduce the cost of producing food, a product, etc. and to help to keep prices low.

        https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/subsidy

        A subsidy or government incentive is a form of financial aid or support extended to an economic sector (business, or individual) generally with the aim of promoting economic and social policy.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subsidy

        The fuel tax credit looks like the very definition of a subsidy to me, even if the Productivity Commission says otherwise.

        …fuel tax that pays for the upkeep of roads.

        Apparently not entirely:

        By the most generous measure, motorists only contribute two-thirds of the cost of the road system. More specifically, of what the Federal government collects in fuel tax, around two-thirds is either rebated or handed back to motorists in tax concessions for car use.

        https://www.ptua.org.au/myths/petroltax/

        • George Kaplan says

          Geoff, not semantics, it’s a critical difference.

          Rebate: an amount of money that is paid back to you because you have paid too much.

          Subsidy: money that is paid by a government or an organization to reduce the costs of services or of producing goods so that their prices can be kept low.

          Solar gets a subsidy, the fuel tax rebate is for those who ought not be paying the tax for road usage. They’re completely different things. I’m not sure how this isn’t clear.

          As for tax concessions for car use, you’re conflating FBT claims limited to a privileged few, and actual work vehicles.

      • “Note too that EVs do not pay the fuel tax that pays for the upkeep of roads.”

        ICE vehicles don’t pay for the cost of their damage to the environment and health. If you like you can view the fuel tax as a pollution tax, in which case neither is paying for the upkeep of roads.

        Except me – I’m paying for it in Victoria whenever I drive my EV – predominately charged by solar panels. Also note that when I do buy power from the grid I’m paying GST on that as well.

      • Merilyn Paxton says

        The fuel tax is SUPPOSED to pay for roads but in fact is funnelled straight in to general revenue.. hence we have some of the worst roads in the world.

  2. Talk about naivety, or just absence of practical sense, who really believes the most optimistic of solar manufacturers, or believes such solar panel effectiveness can be achieved without cleaning the panels, and without repairing damaged ones. Or believes there aren’t at least some trying for government handouts for ways to rid Australians of increasing millions of old solar panels. One thing is for sure, the government rarely chooses the right inventor to back! It’s not their money they are spending, so they don’t have to be careful, just say, they’ve spent. Look out taxpayers! Sorry I’d take the advice of the head of the most successful private company in Australia and what I hear from my mates in our rural regions. They’re authentic, know hard graft, like Rinehart have my respect.

    • I mean, peer reviewed testing standards and actual performance data don’t need to make us “really believe,” it’s just fact. But yes, believe your “mates” and one of the most corrupt private companies in existence if it makes you feel better.

    • Gina does not live in the real world, and only ever fuels her own agenda. She needs a new accountant if she seriously believes her solar solution is uneconomic (so why is she planning to build a 30mw solar installation at Roy Hill to reduce emissions?). Clearly she is looking for government handouts, rather than spend her own private money. As one of the primary polluters in Australia, her problem becomes ours because she says climate change is all propaganda. Smoke and mirrors…..

  3. Not that Gina would, but in case she does read this,
    my 3kW 7 year old rooftop solar system still puts out around the same power as new.
    Its a pity I can’t post a picture, but peak output just after install (7+ years ago)
    was 3305 watts. last week it peaked at 3303 watts.

    So in 25 years, my crude maths says it will have “lost” 8 watts (peak output).
    8 watts off 3305 is 2997 watts. Not bad for a 3kW system after that long.

  4. Sure, you can upgrade your system. I did so just recently. Changed my 11 year old and still working 4.9kWp for a much, much larger system. However – and this is important, you repurpose – reuse the decommissioned system elsewhere. Unless all the panels are broken, no need to throw them out.

    The company that installed my new system found a user for my old system. Panels were fine, inverter was fine. Just because of an upgrade, it doesn’t automatically mean the old system is sent to landfill. It can be recycled (sure, there’s a small cost) or best case, repurposed.

    If you’re upgrading your system, find an environmentally responsible installation company that will ensure your old working system can be reused elsewhere.

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