In an ironic twist a coal mining museum has opted to install solar panels as a green energy alternative. The Big Pit National Coal Mining Museum located in Wales has installed 200 solar panels on its roof. The reason the famous coal museum chose this action was because it wanted to save some money on its electricity bill.
According to Renewable Energy World the solar panels are projected to save the coal mining museum a maximum of $650,000 over the next 25 years. According to the manager of the Big Pit National Coal Mining Museum installing the solar panels will cost $115,000 up-front and they consider this a good return on their investment:
“Coal is such an important part of Wales’ heritage, and yet green energy will play a major part in its future. A solar powered coal-mining museum is a fantastic way to celebrate this national journey.”
According to the Big Pit National Coal Mining Museum website Big Pit shut down in 1980 and reopened three years later as “a living, breathing reminder of the coal industry in Wales and the people and society it created.”
Unfortunately, solar panels are not as 100 percent green as people like to think, although they are better in some aspects. According to Low-Tech Magazine, in the best case scenario “one square meter of solar cells carries a burden of 75 kilograms of CO2.” This roughly equates to 20 flights between Brussels and Lissabon on Boeing 747. The good news is that producing the same amount of electricity by fossil fuel generates at least 10 times as much greenhouse gasses.
The estimate for saving $650,000 is likely a best case scenario. Solar panel manufacturers like to say their panels last 30 years, but more realistic scenarios have them lasting 15 to 20 years at most. This does not factor in the slow degradation of the solar cells and the resulting loss of energy efficiency. The cost of maintenance and solar panel replacement will also eat into that projection for saving $650k.
Low-Tech Magazine’s conclusion may have many greenies cringing:
“If we take a life expectancy of 3 years (already quite optimistic for most gadgets) and a solar insolation of 900 kWh/m² (quite optimistic too, since these things are not lying on a roof), the result is 1,038 gram CO2 per
kWh in the worst case scenario (high-efficient mono-crystalline cells produced in the US). That means that it is better for the environment to power a gadget with electricity generated by coal, rather than by a solar panel.”
Over the long term Low-Tech Magazine concludes that advancements in solar energy tech may reach the dream that is currently trumpeted in solar energy marketing materials. In the short term, what do you think about a former coal plant using using green alternative energy?