Firemen at risk from solar panels: recycled news

In Dutch, the dull or 'silly' season is called 'komkommertijd' which would translate literally to 'cucumber time'

It’s clearly the dull or ‘silly’ season in the media, and that means that the news there is is recycled furiously. Unfortunately that’s not the sort of recycling one would like to see… today there’s been a lot ‘news’  (including here (), here () and here ()) that solar panels are ‘dangerous’ to firemen.

Exactly the same story has been in the news just over a year ago, which I wrote () about back then. This time, too, the media don’t seem to be able to differentiate between ‘a certain risk’ and ‘dangerous’. It’s unfortunate that solar power is being written about tendentiously, again. I’m sure the story is in no way as black-and-white as it’s presented now, it’s just unfortunate that in that day and age of internet news only black-and-white stories are considered real news. What makes is it even worse is that most sites just copy any ‘news’ without checking the real source first.

I am going to send an e-mail to the NIFV () to ask for the report. I have no idea if they’re prepared to give it to me, but I’d like to see for myself if the report is worth all the fuss in the media. There’s a good chance the report is much more subtle.

-update-

Things are as I expected: I called the NIFV and asked them just what was going on. There is no actual ‘report’ as mentioned in all the copied online news stories, only some teaching materials for firemen have been created so that they know how to deal with things like solar panels and solar hot water heaters. The spokesperson I talked to on the phone said he was very surprised about all the fuss. He agreed with me that it was very unfortunate that many news websites copied the news item without verifying it at the source. By not doing so they brought solar energy in the news in an unnecessarily negative way. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf has removed their article () but in a few months time people will still remember the article but no the fact that it has been removed.

-update 2-

Here () some factual information about what risk solar panels can present to firemen.

Subsidies on (renewable) energy

Subsidies on fossil energy...

There’s been a lot of complaints lately, especially from within liberal circles, about subsidies on renewable energy. The term ‘leftist hobbies’ was coined in the Netherlands, and it seems to have fallen into popular use. That’s unfortunate because not everything can be expressed in money. How much is a clean environment worth? Or a low CO2-level in the atmosphere? Or an icecap? What’s independence from unreliable or even unfriendly countries worth?

It’s doubly unfortunate that, in fact, the worldwide subsidies for the renewable sector are dwarfed () by the subsidies for the fossil sector. Research reveals that the fossil sector gets about twelve times as much money as the renewable sector.

What to do? Increase the subsidies on renewable energy by twelve times? Better not. I am liberal enough to see the many disadvantages of keeping an army of civil servants unnecessarily at work. I hope we’re sensible enough to (quickly) reduce the fossil subsidies to zero to that both energy sources can compete on even terms. Unfortunately the fossil sector has many old vested interests who will not let go of these sources of funding easily.

Only time will tell if we’re able to make sensible decisions about this. Unfortunately the (probable) coming Dutch right-wing cabinet doesn’t give much hope in this area…

Measuring solar power with Plugwise

Full disclosure: the Plugwise set with which I monitor our solar panels and which is the subject of this review was given to me for free. Plugwise has imposed no limitation of any kind about what I could or couldn’t write about their products and services. I am not connected to Plugwise in any way, except for being a customer. I have tried not to let the fact that the set was free influence my objectivity – and  I think I managed that quite well. I will let what I did speak for itself: a short while ago I bought another Home Basic set out of my own pocket, that’s how pleased I am with this product. If the Plugwise set hadn’t worked well the second time, I would have just shipped it back of course and certainly not have bought more plugs.

To measure is to know

Many people with solar panels don’t monitor the output, which is a shame. The big advantages of solar panels (no moving parts, quiet, no emissions) make it impossible to see at a glance if the installation is working right. Especially in the ‘dark ages’, when the reliability of solar inverters left much to be desired, many people unknowingly had a non-function solar system on their roofs. But even now, in 2010, it’s possible that a plug gets disconnected, corrosion causes a contact to deteriorate or an inverter simply breaks down. All these causes will lead to decreased output, which is obviously something to be avoided.

With this in mind it’s hard to understand why output monitoring is as neglected as it is by both inverter manufacturers, resellers and installers of solar power installations. A monitoring device of some description is seldom a standard option, it has to be requested separately by the customer and is often quite expensive. There are even inverters, usually the smaller ones, which don’t have the option to monitor the output at all. Other inverters offer the possibility to connect to a computer, but require a computer to be running 24/7 for real output monitoring, which is of course undesirable from an energy consumption point of view. Even an energy-efficient laptop computer which consumes 20W would use nearly 200kWh per year, which is equal to the production of one large solar panel.

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