ABC Solar party spin
Another analysis of Spurious Media Facts. I must be nuts when I see a spurious fact in the Sun newspaper I just tut and turn the page. When I hear spurious facts in an ABC prog I spend 2 hours checking.

ABC Rearvision looks back at the - Solar energy in Australia
- Their intro- After WWII Australia led the world in solar research and solar hot water systems. Today we are miles behind nations like Germany, Japan and China. What has happened to our research and development in solar power?


QUITE A POOR PROGRAM and I say that as a Greenie who believes in doing what's best for nature.
- Shame on you ABC In the way they chose to edit the program. They gave it a spin turned and it into a political advert for the Oh my God We Need Solar Party. Please give us facts, give us numbers give us science, give us balance, but not spin.

Spin 1. They finish the program on an unsubstantiated alarmist rant by Gary Baverstock, who makes money from solar.
- If you notice they buried away the crucial statement of the other scientist in the intro .... "solar hot water was never really economically viable".

Can you see the different impression the listener would have walked away with ?

Or emphatically someone could have asked "is your government right to continue focussing on research which after 40 years hasn't paid of and focus on other things which seem more viable ?"

If you dissect Gary Baverstock ending rant you see he's talking about "clean energy", not just solar, so it's kind of meaningless for the topic of this programme. Indeed unless solar energy, becomes cheaper than windpower and cheaper than conventional clean fuels it might not form much part of the future at all.

I can only presume that there is no promising innovation around the corner to make solar economic, cos that would have been an appropriate ending for the programme.

Indeed notice the comment of Robin Batterham: "Oh, I have no doubt that down the track, we will see alternative energies in large amounts being used in this country", he then lists a whole series of renewables, but doesn't include solar. My ending would be are we going to see solar panels on the roof of every BP Petrol Station and every other business ? Only if there is a breakthrough to make solar power more economic than conventional power.. and so far that breakthrough is not in sight.

Most of the weight of the prog came from this guy with his dramatic statements There was no one on who pointed out problems with solar.

comparison : Why have the pioneers of Concorde Britain and France lost their lead in the field supersonic passenger flight ? Cos they couldn't get it to work economically.

Spin 2. They spun a conspiracy theory about Coal industry influencing the latest research budget, but you could spin it the other way to say there were "secret memos etc" and a conspiracy against the coal industry cos in the last 30 years before that the coal industry got nothing.

A solar scientist complained "They could have been doing this in Australia 20 years ago if they had enough support. " .. This prog seemed to focus on blaming the Howard government, but labor were in 20 years ago.

3. Failed to differentiate between solar heating and solar electricity, specifically that solar water is much more economically viable. - Indeed at times it seemed to be talking about renewables in general, and Gary Baverstock sneaked in his alarmist summary the phrase "clean energy", which is of course a much wider category.

- Hot water -
- 1. Solar is not a standalone solution. It's an extra investment that might make money back in the long term. Solar is not enough on it's own, you need another method aswell.

- 2 Gas systems got more efficient, so the return on a solar investment got lower.
e.g. You put in your gas system and then you say if I borrow $3000 for the solar, will I save $5000 over 5 years to be able pay the loan and interest back ? Probably not so I won't borrow the money. (surely if it had very good savings the banks would have come up with financing plans. Now the Green Party could have come up with it's own finance club) - indeed buried away in a quick statement "solar hot water was never really economically viable."

2. They are not explicit with the facts about solar the listener has to read between the lines - which I guess are :
- Australia used to be a world leader in Solar development
- Australia used to subsidize development
- Things have changed
- i. now other countries subsidize more, so that's why Australian business has gone there instead of foreign businesses coming to Australia for funding.
- ii. Other sources of energy have come up which seem to be a better investment like other renewables and clean coal, but now the research pot has to be split.
- iii. Australia is now relatively much smaller economically . Other countries have progressed, China has a right to have pass Australia in many technological fields.
- iv. The previous research funds hadn't paid off it still hadn't come up with ecomnomically viable solutions . If it had the Australian companies would have conquered the world. (If the Aussie research was looking like it was going to come up trumps, Howard's big business mates would have seen the dollar signs and he would have probably stuck with the funding.)

- Things that are economic hit the mainstream like dams. Other renewables are not usually economic so haven't hit the mainstream.
- It would be great if solar electricity was economic - it's not at the moment for most applications, though the prog doesn't examine why. If it was economic every BP Petrol Station and every other business would have solar panels on the roof.

- The prog failed to compare solar against other renewables, is it not the case that wind power is usually cheaper than solar ? (but still more expensive than conventional power) ?
- The last government was sympathetic to the coal industry - this is different from other countries

Distorted optomism about Germany - Martin Green spoke with a lot of hyperbole he comes up with unbelievably optomistic performance results for Germany. He talked of Bavaria, but it's a bit twisted as the area is the concentration of Germany's solar panel manufacturing industry, so it's not a typical. (figures were difficult to comeby I found this - , "Since the majority of PV systems in Germany are installed in Bavaria, solar electricity production equaled 1 percent of total electricity demand in this state, the firm concluded". trade magazine
- Whereas someone else could have pointed out Denmark has had to increase nuclear, cos their renewable targets were over optimistic . Yet he builds on his own hyperbole talking about ongoing year on year doubling. (Germany does have a massive solar research program, but it's focus is to make money by selling devices to sunny countries rather than generate large amounts of solar electricity itself)

Gary Baverstock's Alarmist Talk is rhetoric . He makes super-dramatic statements which can dissected to show they are just meaningless rhetoric "No party has a long term strategy, but China has, don't be complacent Australia just cos you've got coal." " if nobody's using coal, what are we going to do with all that coal?" stupid statement : He gives no evidence at all that the market for coal will fall never mind will dry up completely. (indeed it's very stupid : since China opens a new coal fired power station every 2 weeks they need coal) Markets might stop growing, they might drop back, but that's still a long way from falling to zero. Indeed his statement would justify the governments action of investing in clean coal research to keep the market from shrinking.

- Australia was a world leader in solar despite spending millions on research for most applications solar electricity is still too expensive for most practical applications. And surely if the revolution was just around the corner business and governments would step up research funding. If Australian scientists had succeeded already in making solar cheaper than it's alternatives, then solar use would be widespread and Australia would be a world leader. As it is it will take more time. As time has passed other bigger richer countries have come into the field in a bigger way, so of course Australia is now a smaller part of the picture. Australian investors have chosen to invest their money in things they perceive as more profitable. Government money goes up and down with politics and fashion and now has be squared with other newcomers including clean coal, though it has not dried up completely. We don't know the numbers cos the programme gave us none, Solar hot water has it's own logistical problems. And both suffer from improving technology in mainstream fuels they compete with.