Sunny pipe dream in the storm

Vienna

Regarding the April 5 front-page Kyodo article “Softbank plans huge Hokkaido solar plant“: This project sounds wonderful in theory. In reality, the promised minimum output won’t be under Softbank’s control; it will depend 100 percent on weather conditions. And Hokkaido really isn’t suitable for the project.

Softbank is building a huge money sink. First, the energy production of solar plants is unreliable, thanks to the weather, which is a nonlinear, chaotic system. Second, solar panels absolutely are not energy efficient, nor are they cost efficient. A study from the University of Leicester showed that solar panels can survive for roughly 20 years with proper maintenance. But the same study shows that the same panels don’t become cost-effective until after roughly 25 years. To this must be added the amount of energy required to produce the panels.

An output capacity of at least 200,000 kilowatts at the Hokkaido solar plant is not possible, at least not constantly. All it takes is bad weather and nothing happens. The United Kingdom experienced this in the extremely cold winter of 2010-2011. The massive wind parks in Scotland produced almost no electricity, and the U.K. ended up importing massive amounts of power from France — power produced at nuclear plants. A nuclear power station, or even a conventional one, can maintain an output of 200,000 kW. A solar or a wind park cannot.

Moreover, a reliance on solar and wind power will require a complete overhaul of the power grid as well as a secondary power grid and secondary production facilities such as coal or nuclear plants. That’s because the sun, the No. 1 driver of our planet’s climate and weather, does whatever it wants.

If we are now reaching the end of the current solar maximum — we already have a 0.1 variation in the solar TSI (total solar irradiance) — and the sun is entering a rest phase, switching over to solar power will be like putting more sails on a ship caught in the doldrums. So, I wonder why Softbank isn’t getting involved in the research of geothermal power production, for which Japan, with all its volcanic activity, would be perfect. Geothermal sources and thorium reactors are the near future for power production, until nuclear fusion works properly. In the European Union, the only way to sell electricity produced at solar and wind plants is with massive government aid, thus putting even more strain on the already broken finances of EU countries.

The heads of our larger companies need a proper reality check, but that won’t happen until the entire system collapses. Today it’s all about exploiting emotions and irrational fear. The antinuclear hysteria by some Japanese citizens and the nuclear-phobia manifest in Germany each day prove this without a doubt.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

andreas kolb