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back to article Foxconn mulls solar panels, sticking Apple where sun doesn't shine

Apple iStuff maker Foxconn could start churning out solar panels at its Chinese factories, a spokesman for the manufacturing goliath revealed. Perhaps worried that the sun could set on its long-running relationship with the iPad giant, the Taiwanese multinational will decide by the end of the year whether to move into the solar …

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Boffin

If...

This were to bring down the price of the darn things then more of us would be tempted into putting them on our houses.

somehow I doubt it.(the price coming down that is)

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Facepalm

Re: If...

even if at current efficiencies they are actually in total (inc production, materials, transport to destination etc) more environmentally damaging than a nice coal power plant. Still it makes the ecofreakies sleep easier at night like their "more harmful than a gas guzzling range rover" priuses...

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Re: If...

The price has come down but not astronomically. What has changed is lifespan, or rather we are starting to find out that the earlier panels are lasting longer than estimated making those panels pay more in the long run. Now the big question is are these new cheap and cheerful chinese panels going to last 20-30 years or about 30 seconds after the warranty expires?

It would be awesome if a roof full of panels didn't cost the same as a car, and the payback depends on a hell of a lot of factors, not least stable feed in tariff. There are probably geographic areas where they don't make sense, but there are plenty where they do and barriers to installation should be minimal (i.e. no HOA rules against them, or washing lines for that matter).

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Re: If...

true, any real environmentalist would be lobby'ing for more nuclear production...stats don't lie, nuclear is best for the environment by an ENOURMOUS margin (esp. GENIV like GE PRISM reactors)

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Re: If...

it would also be awesome if the REAL cost of this nonsense, meaning the adaptation of the power network and the installation of buffer/replacement capacity from when sun/wind is absent would not mainly be payed by those who can't even afford PV panels.....this PV/wind scam is just a reverse robin hood situation, give to the rich, steal from the poor, destroy the environment and our longterm future in the process

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JDX
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Re: If...

It's easy to just make these statements. The sad fact that is if you say it in an authoritative manner, some people will take what you say as established fact.

That goes for pro/anti arguments against green energy I should add, just as for pro/anti arguments about any emotive argument ("the bible actually says ..." being another prime example where people just say things demonstrably not true.

The people arguing a Range Rover is less harmful to the environment never seem to be people who actually care about the environment, and it's surely a bit of an anomaly how many of them own Range Rovers and could perhaps be motivated by self interest.

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Re: Panel lifespan

I have a little Kyocera solar panel made in 1983, rated at 30 watts it can still output an actual measured 24 watts in full summer sunlight.

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Mushroom

Re: If...

@Spaniel.

"depends on a hell of a lot of factors, not least stable feed in tariff."

Right, the feed in tariff should be the same a the cost of electricity. It shouldn't need a subsidy.

@dwieske

Yep, PRISM integral fast reactors are the way to go. The UK has enough plutonium and other nuclear waste lying around to power the country for about 500 years. If you count extracting uranium from seawater, then this type of reactor can power the planet until the sun explodes. By any definition of the word, that's 'renewable'.

http://sustainablenuclear.org/PADs/pad11983cohen.pdf

http://nucleargreen.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/uranium-is-renewable-resource.html

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Re: If...

Do you have a reference for the resource utilisation of solar panels vs coal power?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Panel lifespan

"in full summer sunlight"

Do that's perhaps a few hours a day for a few weeks in a year in the UK?

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Re: If...

I agree (mostly).

I think any sane future needs to involve diverse, safe, sustainable power generation at economically sane prices. A mix of solar (solar here in Hawaii makes a lot of sense, solar water heaters especially so) and nuclear (fission and hopefully fusion eventually) would be a sensible aim.

The problem is 'cost'. It's not just cost per kwh. It's factoring in all the subsidies each method seems to attract and hidden cleanup costs then consider sustainability and impact. What we will actually do is use coal and gas whilst throwing a disproportionate amount of money at pet projects like offshore windfarms which cost more than the Kardashians and make about as much sense.

Nuclear has people worried. I grant you there will always be people who freak about it. For me personally it isn't the concept of nuclear but the implementation. Companies are all about profit and will cut corners, governments in general can't manage anything effectively let alone nuclear power plants and regulators are at the whim of governments. One mad Bush term where god tells him (via a lobbyist cheque) to bandish regulators and all of a suddent more corners get cut and things get nasty. Nuclear I trust, the people running it? Not a chance. Genuine question, how would you setup a nuclear power industry so it is actually done safely?

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Re: If...

Same way you setup any industry so it's done safely.

From my office I can see a chlorine plant - we actually have evacuation alarms in case a minor leak turns this whole business park into a WWI gas attack. On the horizon are a couple of LNG tanks that contain more energy than a Hiroshima bomb and are much more likely to go bang than a AGR.

Bhopal killed a lot more people than Chernobyl, but they were poor and brown and a long way away so we don't really care.

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Re: If...

Then why don't we?

There are plants (say a cracker) that will have hydrogen compressors and everything runs without an incident. Yet you get oil wells leaking due to corners being cut, you get refinery fires (texas city, directly related to cost cutting) etc seemingly in industries big enough to donate enough to get lax regulation. Nuclear has had its incidents, we got lucky with Fukushima but the reality is it shouldn't have happened in the first place. In some respects its a good example of how nuclear isn't quite as dangerous as it could be \ people make out, but it is also a stark reminder that beancounters should be drowned at graduation and not allowed to influence the height of seawalls protecting a nuclear power plant in a tsunami prone region.

The problem is power is big money and big money can afford big donations. Just like the banks, when it all goes west, we end up bailing them out and nobody responsible gets flogged. Seriously, you can actually destroy evidence about a disaster and get away with a fine that would barely buy you a Bentley. Thats pretty much the root of my concern over nuclear :-) The scientists I trust, the beancounters \ boardrooms \ politicians I do not.

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Re: Panel lifespan

"Do that's perhaps a few hours a day for a few weeks in a year in the UK?"

Yes, isn't the UK wonderful :D

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Headmaster

This is simply good strategic business sense on their part.

"Perhaps worried that the sun could set on its long-running relationship with the iPad giant, the Taiwanese multinational will decide by the end of the year whether to move into the solar energy market."

Indeed it is a very old conundrum. At one stage in the sixties the then Hungarian government had a very thriviving trade with West Germany amounting to (if memory serves) about 35% or so of their import/export trade. They chose quite deliberately to diversify for exactly the same reasons as Foxcon may be diversifying now. It makes sense - your best buddy now may "go off with somebody else" leaving you high and dry. I do not for one moment believe that Foxcon are going to bail on Apple any time soon but they would be fools not to reduce their exposure to one company whoever that company might be.

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Nuclear -> Solar?

Solar (and other renewables) still account for a tiny proportion of electricity (let alone energy) in Japan. Japan may be a good market for solar panels but it takes a lot of PV panels to replace one nuclear reactor. Fukishama alone had 6.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Electricity_Production_in_Japan.svg

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Re: Nuclear -> Solar?

solar/wind guarantee a lockin with fossil plants as they are the cheapest form of backup capacity.

anyone lobbying for solar/wind is in fact lobbying for more coal/gas/oil plants

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Re: Nuclear -> Solar?

"solar/wind guarantee a lockin with fossil plants as they are the cheapest form of backup capacity."

Wind yes, solar a lot less so. Keep in mind there are many other regions in the world than UK where sunshine is fairly constant and cloud cover a lot less. Of course for baseload nuclear is anyway needed. So it's not at all a question of Nuclear > Solar, it should be nuclear + solar.

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implementing solar is NOT a move away from coal/gas etc. but a lock-in as those provide the necessary backup capacity for the hidiously unreliable and inefficient solar panels....this massive trend towards solar is one of the biggest environmental disasters of the recent years. The main issue with solar/wind is it's intermittency, studies have been done and implementing the needed energystorage en smartgrid/storage would consume WAY too much resources and drive up energyprices factor 10 or 20.

so called environmental organisations are actively campaigning the destruction of our environment with their ideas of implementing these techs in industrialised countries.

There is only ONE place where solar/wind makes sense: developping countries without an electricity grid.....place em there and you increase the living condictions astronomically....place em here and you are actively helping to destroy the environment while turning electricity into a luxury commodity

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Solar makes sense in developed countries with too much Air Conditioning.

Produce a DC AC for Texas, New Mexico, California, wire directly to solar panel.

When it's hot you get most power and use most AC. No need for feed in tarrifs, extra grid capacity, balancing loads, peaking generators.

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JDX
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Cupertino idiot-tax operation

Maybe El Reg should commission a report into the phone choices of Fortune 500 CEOs, or entrepreneurs who have started up successful profitable companies, etc.

An average Joe spending £500 on a mobile phone is idiotic, regardless of brand.

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Stop

Re: Cupertino idiot-tax operation

The premium end of the Android market costs about this or more. Most users buy on contract so they don't see the full cost of the handset, but in the scheme of things it's not an expensive purchase compared to many others they make.

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Anonymous Coward

Anyone know of the Fire Brigade issue ?

Fire Brigades have expressed some concern that houses with PV panels could be risky in the event of a (daytime) fire, since the panels keep generating, and could cause the houses wiring to be live even if they cut the fusebox.

Current procedures are to await an expert assessment before entering a building, dependant on circumstances.

Insurance companies are watching with interest. It may be PV panels will add a chunk to your buildings insurance.

Mysteriously, this is little reported.

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Re: Anyone know of the Fire Brigade issue ?

there's also the increased risk of fire, and due to the insulating effect the size of the fire increases much more rapidly in a house with PV cells...Those things kill

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Re: Anyone know of the Fire Brigade issue ?

A properly-installed PV system feeds its power into the house via the domestic fusebox. The master trip switch is then ganged so that both the utility network feed and internal PV feed are isolated from the domestic wiring spurs* if either one trips. (that from an electrician I asked about installing PV in our home - mistakes from my memory)

A lot of DIYers do plug their panels into a convenient socket rather than properly wire them, but that improper installation doesn't make PV systems dangerous in themselves, and at least a PV is visible from outside, unlike a generator in an outbuilding.

A fire crew would NEVER assume that domestic wiring is cold when entering a burning building - even after cutting the master switch. There are too many old houses with split meters and dual circuits and generally mad wiring out there to assume that just switching one thing off will make everything safe. Also, unless there are people trapped inside, firemen do not generally enter burning homes at all.

The lack of reporting on the "issue" isn't mysterious at all if you consider how few houses actually have installed PV systems, and of those systems, how many were built in to the house at construction time and are thus correctly and safely wired.

The majority of PV panels on domestic buildings are small DC panels used in conjunction with solar hot water collectors - the PV drives the pumps for the collector, but doesn't supply power anywhere else.

* or rings, if you're in the UK.

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Re: Anyone know of the Fire Brigade issue ?

Fire brigades are stupid. All approved domestic grid-tied solar installations have "anti-islanding" circuitry which isolates them from the house wiring in the case of a mains failure. They will instantly disconnect themselves the moment the mains fails. And the system is tested every day when the sun comes up and goes down.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Anyone know of the Fire Brigade issue ?

> Fire brigades are stupid.

You tell them next time your house is on fire or you / significant other is incarcerated in a car after a crash.

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Happy

Re: Anyone know of the Fire Brigade issue ?

Beautfully taken out of context!

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Re: Anyone know of the Fire Brigade issue ?

All approved domestic grid-tied solar installations have "anti-islanding" circuitry which isolates them from the house wiring in the case of a mains failure.

All? Just what would be the point of setting up your own generation capacity if it falls over as soon as the grid goes down?

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Unhappy

Re: Anyone know of the Fire Brigade issue ?

that is a pain in the butt as i would always want to have a backup power source and you are telling me that i can never have a backup because the PV will turn off if i have a power cut.

<shakes head> another idea down the drain.

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Anonymous Coward

You can always spot an impartial article by words like:

"Cupertino idiot-tax operation"

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Anonymous Coward

It's always smart to have a system that generates power during the day when most people are 'out' and in a country where we are not exactly well known for our abundance of sunshine. I can imagine solar makes sense in much sunnier places but WITHOUT subsidies it would be a dead duck in the UK. With subsidies it means everyone 'else' pays for your inefficient solar array - i.e. all those that cannot get solar (cannot afford it, do not have a suitable roof etc.).

The irony is rich(er) people and companies can afford solar so it's being paid for by generally less well off people.

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Power demand is higher during the day than at night. It's why tarrifs like economy 7 were launched in attempt to smooth out demand. Besides, most installations will be connected into the grid so the power won't be wasted.

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"The irony is rich(er) people and companies can afford solar so it's being paid for by generally less well off people."

That's just life I'm afraid AC - the rich are always subsidised by the poor. Just look at tax-avoidance schemes, for example.

The bile spouted by so many on here at the mention of renewable energy is really quite something.

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Agree subsidies for panels should go, especially since according to the original FT article, prices for panels have gone low eneough that they make economic sense without subsidies. This will be more the case since I can't really see power prices going down, only up, and that will make solar panels even more economically viable.

However even without subsidies it's still the case that richer peopla would afford teh upfront cost that they can recoup off energy bills over 20 years, while poorer people wouldn't have the startup cash in the first place. So rather than subsidies for part of the cost of panels + subsidised feed-in tariffs, have a system of loans for the full cost of the panels, to be repaid over the lifetime of the panel from the savings made.

It might generate a messy beaureaucracy but it's hardly going to be as bad as the current rats' nest of rules.

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Why you should install them

With a payback of less than 7 years currently (where you live, which panels etc will change this) and profit all the way from there it's a decent investment to put them on your roof. If you work out the yield it's even worth extending the mortgage by the necessary few thousand (4kW install around £8k or less)

And it is starting to make a proper difference, RWE are proposing to shut down three power plants because the solar installations over there are now providing so much power - one day in June for an hour they were producing 60% of Germany's energy requirements.

Once the energy required to produce them is produced by solar energy they are closer to being carbon neutral, yes I know there is the raw material/transport etc carbon to take into account - but to be honest I'm more interested int he £30k I'll make over their lifetime (20 years when they'll still be producing electricity but this is the guaranteed lifetime)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why you should install them

Hold on a sec. What about maintenance - or does the installer give you a 15-20 year guarantee on everything? All those solar panels - is it likely not even 1-2 would fail over 20 years and how much for the scaffolding and replacement? When I looked at it - the main electronic parts were guaranteed for perhaps 5 years and could be £1000-1500 (just for the part). I'd like to know TCO - perhaps some insurance company would offer 20 year warranties and then we could factor in all the risks.

Also what about if they reduce the value of your home - they hardly 'look good' and could put off some people.

Also heard some mortgage companies will not give mortgages on properties with solar panels on - if so and it reduces your choice it could result in a more expensive mortgage?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why you should install them

You are just greedy. That profit you speak of is paid for by subsidies paid for by poorer / other folk who can't get solar or can't afford the installation.

I'd like to see some facts about the TRUE value (not subsidised) of the electricity they produce per year - bet it's in the few hundreds of pounds worth. Let's be generous and say £300-400 - that probably does not even cover the interest you are losing on a £8-10k installation - let alone ongoing maintenance and other costs?

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Re: Why you should install them

you clearly are ignoring the 20+ fossil plants the krauts are building as backup for their pv/wind bullshit, of which at least 7 coal plants btw....you can not in any way or form just "close" plants due to PV/wind UNLESS you have installed the necesarry buffer capacity, which incidently costs multiples of the production capacity.

on a society which needs power 24/7 making the (very dubious and most likely falsified) claim that for 1 hour on 1 single day 'it did well" is completely irrelevant. people buying into crap like that are a huge part of the problem and are the ones guaranteeing stuff that actually kills, like coal plants for a looooong time.....hood thing you got 30k, better thing your lack of conscience doesn't cost you any sleep in the knowledge that that money come from poor have-nots...

the road to hell is paved with good intentions is the PERFECT motto for this nonsense....steal from the poor, give to the richt, destroy the environment in the process.....and claim you're doing good

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why you should install them

Also the grid is obliged to take solar power but they often have to keep paying the conventional generators anyway = more cost. Also if there is too much solar on the grid they have to PAY places like Dinorwig to take it off the grid to keep it stable. Then when the clouds go in they have to PAY fast gas and other generators (again like Dinorwig) to deliver more power quickly.

Solar creates instability and pushes up costs. We need lower cost, low CO2 and reliable generation - solar is unreliable and expensive. it's a green policy that is short term - the longer term option is going to be nuclear.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why you should install them

For that 1 hour on 1 day when it generated 60% I bet they were still paying the conventional generators anyway. These generation companies are not going to sit there and think oh we don't have to generate now as solar can handle it - you can just turn a nuclear or coal power station on an off as the clouds go over and for days when it's thick cloud all day. Gas and hydro can often come on quicker but anything 'on demand' will be at a very significant premium.

So let's see Solar is subsidies to get people to install it - generating perhaps a few hundred pounds a year of electricity for a £8-10k investment. Then it causes grid instability as it's so variable in output - which again costs more to fix. Then you are typically paying for the solar subsidy while also paying for conventional generation anyway. No wonder leccy costs are going up.

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Re: Why you should install them

So the guarantee/warranty is for all parts for 20 years - you have to shop around to get this but it is available, and the panels are guaranteed to lose less than 0.25% efficiency over their 20 years.

And the money I used to buy them was being made redundant from RWE - so partly a way to pay less into their coffers and be paid by them for what I export (not the subsidy)

Not saying solar/wind is the answer just saying what has happened.

Yes homes use less energy during the day but industry uses more - shops, offices etc and they use much more than homes so generating in the day makes sense, the problem with wind is that there is more wind at night when there is lower demand.

Nuclear - may or may not be the answer the costs still don't stack up, they get huge subsidies to build the plants and the decommissioning, reprocessing costs are also high.

I'm not particularly pro or anti any of the technologies I just want cheap energy, after a personal investment that's what I have, if the subsidies weren't in force I would still have that, if I could have a small nuclear reactor for a similar cost great! However, burning up fuel from the ground in hundreds of years that takes millions to produce doesn't seem like a long term solution to anything

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why you should install them

The subsidy you receive that makes this all profitable for you is paid for by others who cannot afford solar or do not have a suitable roof etc. to install. These are generally poorer people. Just because you paid for the installation with redundancy pay does not change that.

So if / when a panel breaks - who gives you this 20 year guarantee - the manufacturer (and based on the financial performance of many of these - will they be around in 20 years) and do they pay the full replacement cost - i.e. scaffolding and for the installer to change it over. The panel itself may be a very small part of the cost.

You are just being selfish / greedy - YOU want cheap power - OTHER people are paying for it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why you should install them

How much is this 20 year warranty? I'd be surprised if it were much less than 3-5%+ of system cost per year?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why you should install them

"if the subsidies weren't in force I would still have"

Oh really. So you would have spent £8-10k installing a system that generates perhaps £200-400 worth of electricity a year (and that assumes you use it all) - especially after you previous make such a point in telling us how it will pay for itself in 7 years and then all the profit you would make.

I sense some back pedalling - retreat, retreat...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why you should install them

At least when other forms of power generation get a subsidy everyone benefits from the electricity they generate - with solar subsidies only richer folk who can afford the £8-10k install and companies benefit and (unfairly) people who have no chance of getting solar (people who can't afford it or people without a suitable roof, people renting etc.) have to pay for it.

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FAIL

Re: Why you should install them

" one day in June for an hour they were producing 60% of Germany's energy requirements"

HA HA HA HA!

I call bullshit on that factoid!

PV home installations are nothing more than an ecoscam funded by electricity consumers higher bills and taxbreaks for those who have the means to install them.

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Facepalm

Re: Why you should install them

@dwieske : -1 for the gratuitous racial slur, and another -1 for bunching solar and wind together. Solar is far less intermittent than wind and far more reliable, so are you including wind just to bash solar?

Solar is generating during the day, which is when the most power requirements are. Also, solar continues to produce some energy even when clouded over, so even during the day is producing some minimum, unliek wind that can be totally becalmed.

The Germans aren't building fossil fuel plants to cover for solar power, they're building fossil fuel plants to cover their insanely stupid knee-jerk decision to close their nuclear plants.

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"The country hopes to ship enough panels worldwide to produce 22 to 23GW of solar energy this year"

I can just about accept it from most publications (although it still makes me shudder), but this is a techie site, so please could you stop mixing units!

Watts (and therefore GW etc.) are a unit of power, not energy!

(Yes, I know I've gone a bit Yahoo! there, but it really irks me!!)

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Anonymous Coward

Funny boom, given the current over capacity in the solar manufacturing market, most of the big players getting out of R&D, and capital investment in production solar manufacturing equipment has been dropping...

AC/DC cos sat next to my colleague who looks after such equipment sales for our firm...

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