Martha Symko-Davies – Disruptive Technologies

Easter Island 7700

Disruptive Technologies… hmmm, I’ll bet there’s more than one definition.

Imagine the increased value of a TED talk if the Speaker was prepared to take a half dozen real questions from real people in the audience.  Watch the video, consider writing down a few questions that come to your mind as you listen to her talk, and then consider challenging mine.      

Material Sciences? Hey.. they don’t give away PHDs in this stuff! No doubt Martha has the Degree(s), and to get it, she has to have passion for the Nuts and bolts, so we might ask.. just how much control does She have over what the NREL promotes?  Keep this one question in mind.. “Why is it that no one at the DOE seems to be interested in the results of the Amonix investment?”  The logical conclusion one must draw is that the invesment was made with no expectations of a favorable result….     

Notice Martha’s mention of the 30MW Alamosa Colorado Amonix 7700 Power Plant.  The 5MW Hatch New Mexico power plant is ON line! This project was deployed prior to the larger Alamosa power plant.

It is now 5/22/2012, with that in mind, let’s look at the NREL’s promotion of Amonix by visiting this page.

Considering that the NREL calls itself a LAB, we’d expect Technicians there to be all giddy about the deployment of the NREL’s touted Multi Junction Cells that Martha promotes, and a little follow-up of that technology right? I mean.. could you give birth to a new and highly efficient Multi Junction Cell, and then not at least ask… “so how’s it working?”

Here’s my short list of questions:

What’s  different between the 5MWs of Amonix CPV trackers at Hatch, and the 30MWs of trackers in Alamosa Colorado? It appears that the trackers in Hatch have only been in the field for a year, is that long enough to prove a thing? Did we really need to help fund another 30MWs of trackers at Alamosa, and couldn’t we have waited a bit to see how the Hatch power plant works out?

We know that EPE is buying the 5MW  expected to be produced by the Amonix Trackers installed at Hatch, but it appears that the actual amount is a rather ‘disruptive’ 30% short of 5MW, and this is the peak solar production period of the year right?  It’s slightly cooler, very close to the summer solstice, and the proven technologies like thin film, mono crystalline, etc. ARE running at full rated capacity in a few checks I have made.

Show me the math

Show me the math

 Zach says: “Show me the math.”   

Were did that 30% go? Will it come back, and if not will Hatch lose another 30% in the next rolling year?

Isn’t the Alamosa power plant installed? Does the NREL have any interest in what’s going on there, or are they running around in circles looking to bring on more ‘disruptive’ technology?

I’m looking forward to a page at the NREL called “Ask Martha”, a place where we can go to get the answers we’d expect since we’re being forced to fund part of the bill. .. and of course.. if we find out we’re all wet and far too critical of the NREL, a place where we can go to make an apology….

But… here’s another video clip to watch

How many prototypes must we build to test them? Do we need to fund 35MWs worth of 7700s in order to test them? And if your answer is… the 7700s were well tested, then I ask by whom? and just where did that missing capacity go?  Ahh, you think I’m being too critical of Martha? That’s why the comment section is here.

If the technology is proven, and there’s a proven return on investment to be had, why do we need the DOE to fund it, and furthermore isn’t that beyond the scope of the NREL?  I think Martha shares the mission rather clearly… and funding technology ready for production doesn’t appear to be the goal…. does it?

5/26/12 added note: 

When trackers are stowed, there's little chance energy will be harvested.

When trackers are stowed, there's little chance energy will be harvested.













If you look at the above Chart copied from EPE’s power production recorder for Hatch,   you can see that the wind is blowing in Hatch, and it looks as if the trackers were stowed in the 1300 hour of production, and near all of the 1400 hour of production, and we can see at near the end of the 1500 hour of production, very little was made.  I could have waited to see how the after noon shaped up, but there is little time to watch today, so I posted what I did see. Looking at the weather underground, I saw that some predicted winds of 20mph in Hatch, and others predicted 25MPH for today. I am told the 7700 trackers in Hatch ‘stow’ at 28mph, so it’s possible this location sees winds just a little higher than what/where the weather people sample/read the wind speeds. 



 Here’s the following day and we see that the power plant once again triggered on a wind event that caused the trackers to stow, we note that this is a peak production hour, and we see that it is highly likely that other wind events followed and really cut the heart out of the production day.

As I re-read the claims of high efficiency for the Amonix 7700, I recalled a post I saw made by another guy who had at least a question or two for the folks that hype this system. We do know that the lenses are round, and that there are 30 each per plate.. it’s easy enough to figure the square area of the box, and compare that to the total area of the 30 circles within that box which allows us to calculate the surface area that really doesn’tdo any work for us as per the conversion of Solar radiation into electrical energy. I do wonder how manyof these little things the NREL took into consideration before they decided to ‘promote’ this concentrator design, and it’s deployment in a place like Hatch?

Yes, I’m only curious, I’m not a professional designer by any means.. but i am startig to wonder how many professional were involved in tailoring the PV power plant to the Hatch Environment.

What efforts were made to use average wind speeds and predict these hours where the trackers are stowed at this location and remove them  from the expected total annual KWHs of production?  What wind data can we find to show the number of events with wind gusts high enough to stow the panels, and the number of events that might reset the counter to zero that would force the trackers to remain in  ‘stow’?  

These are all things that would make for a great conversation with the NREL Lab Rats..    Most of us assume that CPV is far more complex than making a good piece of silicon, I’m sure Martha knows that, and wouldn’t it be exciting to get her account of how Hatch is really performing in comparision to the expectations of the NREL?   

All the Best,

George B.



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53 Responses to Martha Symko-Davies – Disruptive Technologies

  1. Brian says:

    She’s a “Madam” of solar energy, if you know what i mean.
    Now I have a lot less respect for TED talks, thanks a lot George.

    • George B. says:

      Brian, my respect for TED talks has deminished, they can restore my faith by inviting back some of these same speakers, and asking them to share the results of their work or predictions.. AND allow them to take live questions 🙂

  2. mike says:

    Shes a reptile and she’s drunk, and the sad part is i’m probably not joking.
    I give you alot of credit George. Watching this lady talk gives me a headache. It sounds rather scripted, i would bet a pinky that shes getting the whole talk, word for word, softly spoken to her in that microphone in her ear.
    Not to flounder in charactar flaws, but shes about as awkward as chunk from the goonies except she makes less sense. One of many: “i was driving home my son and his kids from lacrosse practice”…. Uhmm what? My question would be why is she so damn nervous?

    You should write suspense novels. What are you getting at? Is this a money laundering tactic? Where is this charade going and what is the intent?

    Btw, got my pulley and cd and both quite wonderful. Thank you for the help, time and willingness to wrap that forty pound slug.

    • George B. says:

      I’ve been watching the NREL hype Amonix for some time now.. It looks a lot like a marriage between first Cousins, and as wrong as it looks to me, I seem to be the only one annoyed by the relationship. I think more will be annyoyed if they study what’s going on.

      As for Martha, she did come off a lot nervous at TED, we need look at the other video clip I provide to know that this isn’t her normal showing. It’s my thought Martha’s work is pretty well laid out for her, maybe that is where the stress came from? Can you imagine being invested in the Multi Junction Cell she pitches and NOT following up on how things are going at Hatch and Alamosa? No friggen Mechanic could keep from following the story .. yet alone a Lab Rat doing research….

      What I’m saying is I think the Amonix 7700s were assembeled in a hurry, and with a shitload of problems.. Look at all the hype.. the story ends right where Real Tech Stories usually begin, Why is that?

  3. This is not only the worst TED talk I’ve ever seen, it is one of the worst sales pitches I’ve ever seen. Nervous, and spoon-fed drivel or not, one expects a logical story, backed up by facts and results, not a lot of hype-driven flag waving about “disruptive technology” without even an explanation of why it’s disruptive. It’s clear that Martha hasn’t a clue what a disruptive innovation is, and you could equally substitute alternative mis-used buzzphrases like “paradigm-shift”, “hi-tech”, “space age” and not gain or lose any meaning.

    btw, there is only one definition of a disruptive innovation, per Clayton Christensen who coined the term, and this isn’t it.

    My question is what are we to make of this presentation, or the reason for it? Is it a desperate attempt to justify something, an “idea worth sharing” (what TED is supposed to be), or just poorly done filler by someone who holds a position and is therefore supposed to be authoritative and informative?

    • George B. says:

      Paul, there’s little chance I’d engage you in a debate on ‘distruptive technology’. MY comment about more than one definition was ‘tonque in cheek’, and more to do with the severly disruptive nature of some of the investments that the DOE has forced Americans to make.

      Martha’s blatant promotion of Amonix screams to be investigated. I think the Las Vegas Sun is all too typical, a great story right under their nose, and look where the story ends! Maybe somone called them and told them to ‘leave it alone’?
      Just how much juice does a 7700 really make after soaking in an environemt that looks more like a slice of hell to me than the advertised perfect environment for CPV?? No one seems to care.. least not Martha.

      Wouldn’t you love to see her Job description, and the shared expectations her Boss has of her? I bet it’s as close to a job in Hell for a real Technician who is interested in following up on the technology.

      Your Statement on ‘one of the worst sales pitches’… I agree.. but do check out the Amonix WEBsite.. I think it’ll force you to increase the fiber in your diet for a week or more..

      I greatly appreciate your visit, your comments, and I do hope you share this story.. thanks Paul.. please drop in again!

      • Hi George:

        I didn’t bother commenting on Amonix or the politics involved because
        a) I don’t know enough about the particulars
        b) you and others already did

        I do know a charlatan when I see one though, and I know a bad presentation. Even when I disagree with the POV expressed in TED presentations, I still have to concede that they are engaging, enjoyable to watch, and often leave me knowing and wanting to know more. This person either doesn’t know what she’s talking about, is hiding something, or is mouthing someone else’s words that she doesn’t believe.

        I did comment on the disruption thing because it is unfortunately widely misused today, and is getting a bad rap because of people like Martha who clearly has no idea what it means. I recognize that you intended a double entendre, and that you weren’t really referring to disruptive innovation. Unfortunately, because the term is not common enough (and is widely misused), many wouldn’t get that. I agree that one of the issues with alternative energy is that it is approached more like a religion than like science and economics, and the disruption to our pocket books that results is not very friendly.

        Thanks for surfacing the story. Had I not come across this blog, I certainly wouldn’t have known about it because I’d never had watched this bad a presentation from beginning to end.

  4. bob g says:

    i looked forward to viewing my first TED talk on the TV, by the time i got around to it the talk was on our favorite topic… Global Warming!

    had to endure a talk from mr microsoft himself bill gates…

    now don’t get me wrong, had mr. gates given a talk on computer technology, i might well have appreciated his expertise.

    sadly this was not the case, the last thing i want to hear about is more drivel about man made global warming from someone like mr. gates.

    don’t think i will waste anymore time viewing more TED talks, one was one more than i needed.

    bob g

  5. George B. says:

    The Amonix 7700 tracker is far more interesting than the Bill Gates AGW opinion for sure.. . but you need do an hour of investigating to see how shallow all the research appears. Or.. perhaps it’s all secret?

    With all the testaments to the Amonix 7700 design, (IMHO.. most of them look like paid for marketing adds written by the same group of people). It’s very difficult to find much in the way of hard data regarding the anticipated labor hours to keep this plant on line. How quickly can you pull a plate of 30 Multi Junction cells and replace one or more, or is it even economical to do so when we consider labor hours, equipment and the repair parts? This is a critical part of the equation, and it’s no wonder that thoughtful power companies leave the business of owning and maintaining the CPV power plants to other entities until they are convinced of the economics.

    The power I see coming out of the Hatch Plant via the Monitoring software that El Paso Electric provided it’s caring and curious customers shows about 4200kw on it’s best days, best hours, and on many days it appears a good portion of the better production hours are lost likely due to wind speeds about 28MPH and trackers needing to remain ‘stowed’ to protect the trackers from wind gusts. To give you an idea of what could be… 5 trackers totally out of service, would be 300kw lost, if we had a degrade of about 540KW in the rest of the trackers due to lens alighment problems, burned out Multi Junction Cells, etc, we’d expect about what we see out of Hatch right now ‘according to the meter’. But the fact the winds can run quite high here, and the fact we can go to the Weather Underground and see this wind data causes me to look for the discussion on the wind data, and even wonder about the calculations used to assure the trackers can handle the gusts seen here on a regular basis. We need keep in mind the marketing types who said this IS the ideal home for the 7700s. But let us not forget Alamosa, and the visit of one Solar blogger. It was his mission to visit the site, and get some pictures. He found all the trackers in the stowed position making no energy at all, and making for some pretty poor pictures, he ran out fo time waiting for the wind to back off. What’s the odds he visited on a really rare day? wouldn’t you like to see the Engineer’s
    calculations that predicted the annual stowed hours during the prime daylight hours?

    As I say, if these plants ARE now commercial grade, if this is no longer a research project, if we tax payers are paying for subsidies, loans, or more, then the performance data need be made public, and our government need treat us at least as well as EPE treats it’s customers and investors.

    We see how Nervous Martha appears in this talk, one can imagine her getting a call right before she goes on stage…. It’s from the field where these monoliths are installed… the Engineer is hanging on to the security fence with one hand, and screaming into their cell phone, “It’s a living hell out here, We can hardly breathe in all this dust and dirt, and the trackers are all doing the Hula!

    • bob g says:

      well i have to tell ya, listening to bill gates about man made global warming for all of maybe 5 minutes was about 6 minutes more than i would have liked! At least the microsoft story might have had something useful to learn from?

      bob g

  6. Greg says:

    My problem with these TED talks is that about 5% are really good well presented scientific schpiels.

  7. @Greg + George.

    Politics should be irrelevant to information well-presented. The fact that Greg in particular is so close-minded makes his opinion about almost anything suspect. Good ideas can come from anywhere. You can filter for point of view and come to your own conclusions, but it’s still important to listen.

    The attitude expressed in such a strong pejorative statement is exactly what ails this country on both sides of the political spectrum and why we can’t get anything done. It’s also why we can get dismal presentations like the one above, and have anyone treat it credibly.

    • George B. says:

      Paul, your comments are thoughtful and valuable..

      I have thought about this for a long time. It seems about half the population believes in free energy machines like the HOJO, and they’d vote for the person who’d promise to give them a set of plans. This is where it becomes political. It may also be why the DOE appears so ineffective, how many Americans demand that they produce magic?
      We need stay on task, the task as I see it is to access these huge investments according to the actual results, and use it as feedback to make far better investments. To know if there will be a return on investment to the stakeholders, both those who invested freely, and those who were forced to do so.
      I see there is at least one State that has mandated that a full 15% of their electrical energy will be produced by AE. It’s my thought that this sets up the table for the GAME to be played, and the people in that State should either reap the benefits or pay the price of their decision WITHOUT a rescue from the FED (we taxpayers).
      There are no better tools for assessments than reality itself, and right now I can’t find much interest inside the Alternative Energy Industry in the actual results. All the conversation about the touted leader in CPV stop as if ordered to do so! Show me even one >conversation< outside where people are saying… “this is great, now we have real data to look at… you may find a single comment that encourages it, but not a single place I can find will even state we have access to the power production data! I do believe this gives us a VERY significant opportunity, and we can watch all of humanity continue to talk about the advertised energy production, and never display any interest in the facts, why is that? It is my prediction that the Amonix 7700 will be a disaster as per the return on investment to the stake holders. It is my belief that this huge infusion of money, including the support from the DOE created a perceived need to hurry through some VERY important engineering processes, and to more fully focus on the cost cutting goals. I can hear the voices around the table, the money men, the investors, the engineers. Who has the larger voice, and who will make money no matter what the result? In my mind’s eye, (my imagination) I see the senior engineer sitting at the table with one of his people, their frustration grows, they warn of the short cuts taken in QC, and the fact that the 7700 going to production is now so different that it is the same as untested. The lead engineer now suspects he was hired more as a promotional prop than anything else; as it seems his input to the process carries no weight at all. Other voices at the table remind the decision makers that it is important to keep the project on time, and how much will be lost if production is delayed. Those contracts are signed, and the money flows according to conditions, we must move forward! In my mind’s eye, I can see the installers bolting it all together. They recall the promotional material, the fact that all was pre fabbed, and how easy it would be to swap out parts, and make repairs in the field allowing the plant to operate for 50 years or so. And they ask.. just who represented us in the design meetings? And.. the customer who bought the power plant.. since others were going to do the repair and maintenance, did he have any interest in lifting the hood, and looking inside? Did he send one of his engineers to school to learn where the dipstick was and how to change the oil? The Amonix 7700 sitting in the fields of Hatch and Alamosa are the same as piles of Gold for the American people. Paul.. when I look at your first two posts, I note there’s an overlap in how you and Greg feel about so called commercial grade AE. The fact is.. a lot of the support comes from a religious like belief, and for some of us, we believe these same people also believe we need to transform America in a way where everyone can enjoy the freedom of living for free . It is my opinion that you are right in how we represent ourselves here, and we do need to stick to the technical merit.

  8. George B. says:

    Here’s an example of a WEBsite tuned for those who believe they are being ripped off by really mean and evil corporations.. or the Government.

    If you are going to order the plans.. do consider ordering a half dozen.

    I have the same contempt for most so called AE sites as this one.. the actual results never seem to become a topic..

  9. @George:

    Completely agree. Argue on numbers, which includes cost to build, ROI, lifespan, risk assessment (which necessarily includes cost of not diversifying), pollution costs, political costs (e.g. access to rare earths, resource control by hostile countries), failure costs (e.g. catastrophic failure, such as earthquakes under nuclear plants), maintenance costs, cost of raw materials, cost to produce kWh, etc. It also includes probability assessments of future costs. We need to do continuing research (this is a valid role for government + universities) on alternatives until they become cost effective, but even when some alternatives cost more, we should be investing in them for diversity’s sake — nothing is more costly than being dependent on vulnerable sources of energy with no backup. The key to this is balancing investment for the lowest overall total cost.

    At the same time, to be effective, you need to speak fairly of opponents and explain their argument and what’s wrong with it, and then contrast it with an alternative. Simply dismissing them as commies or idiots makes you look no better and turns off many of the people who a looking for credible sources to get information from. (But exposing videos like this speaks volumes — let the other side shoot themselves in the head).

    We also need to imagine what a tipping point looks like — how could solar or something else suddenly become a disruptive energy source? What would the grid need to look like? What factors might make that happen sooner rather than later? Which of the many alternatives is most likely to gain critical market momentum in the future, and when? What are appropriate segments for alternatives to take root in (where there isn’t a cost effective substitute)?

    It is precisely the religiously fanatical argument of those who propose and push alternative energy no matter the cost, and to the exclusion of all other sources that makes them appear like wingnuts. The prudent thing to do for those who disagree with them is to be rational, and not stoop to the same level of belief-based decision making. Religious wars have a way of lasting for millenia.

    • George B. says:


      I really can’t find a thing to criticize in what you said….

      In my mind, the road forward is assuring that the public have access to daily power production figures from ANY power plant considered commercial in nature in which they were forced to invest! Whether it be subsidies, loan guarantees, or other. The stake holders need a vote, and perhaps their only vote will be at the ballot box.

      This seems to be where we must address the political aspect of these investments.

      How can we help assure the facts are used in the discussions, and have I decieved myself, or is the NREL just another entity that appears less than interested in what’s happening in the field?

      As per solar investment, I think my state is an excellent example, there are areas where we have excellent solar potential, and other areas where only a totally uninformed person, or one who is motivated to be green at any cost would invest. I oppose any investments forced on the public that will not pay real dividends. Our nation is a business, we must make a return on investment to survive.

      • Yes.

        The politics comes later. After it’s clear that whoever is spending our money for non-economic (i.e. wasteful) or non-defense-related initiatives has made errors deliberately, based on conviction and not numbers, then they get voted out. Right now, we should simply be establishing that a bad decision was deliberately (or repeatedly) made, and why — is it corruption, agenda promotion, appealing to political backers, etc.?

        I think that we do have to allow for genuine mistakes that are non-catastrophic in government, just as we do in businesses (especially in startups). If we aren’t taking a few risks that can be later judged to have been mistakes, we’re living too conservatively to move forward and do it quickly. But corruption, and doing things for the wrong reasons should always be punished. And, just like in business, those who can’t do anything right, or don’t learn from mistakes need dismissal.

        I think we can all agree that if lies are being told about production capacity, or if the DOE needs to subsidize power generation to make it economically viable (is that an oxymoron?), then there’s something very wrong with how decisions are being made. It’s pretty clear that the country needs to start paying off its bills, and not incurring unnecessary new ones, or it won’t matter what we want/need — the money isn’t going to be there to afford it. That’s how we become Greece.

  10. I am curious how certain comments are able to be changed after the fact. I certainly can’t edit mine. My previous response referred to comments about “commies” speaking narcissistic clap trap, and other political rhetoric. Those remarks seem to have disappeared. That’s fair enough — what’s left is much more level-headed. But it makes what follows appear out of the blue.

    • George B. says:

      I’ll give you every access here Paul.. very poor of me to edit anything without notice to all.. I won’t do it again.. as for you.. I need to see how people are given edit privledges..

  11. Greg says:

    If not believing in witchcraft, voodoo and over unity and being compelled by pure science and free market Austrian economic principles is closed minded then color me closed minded.

    Living off-grid with solar and producing ones own power with a listeroid (SVO/RUG) gives one a perspective that few theoreticians appreciate.

    I love me some PV but the answer is not government intervention but freedom to develop it naturally without the onerous meddling. It is the very nature of subsidies that impede development and production.

    Good ideas that actually work will be well rewarded by their own merit.
    A good idea needs no subsidy.

    Solyndra and several other government back enterprises as of late are proof that other people’s money is oft poorly managed.

    • @Greg. It is precisely this sort of rhetoric which damages the rest of what you have to say. I certainly agree with a free market approach, but I don’t have to paint those who disagree with me as “commies” or advocating “witchcraft” to make my point. When you do, it puts you in a box, not them. Name calling makes you appear just as irrational as those who don’t care about the numbers. It says you’ve made up you mind before you listen.

    • George B. says:

      Few will research how poor some of these investments were. It is as if the Government sent an English Major to access the merit!

      Thin film may be an example, just what was the merit, and why did it fail? What efforts were made to learn from the failure, and why wan’t it a success? I’m sure a lot of folks will pin it all onto the Chinese not playing fair, maybe the DOE has already done so? But a good portion of the failure might be attributed to the fact the standard thin film panels were too big to ship UPS or FEDEX, and the extra cost of truck shipping them took away any preceived advantage over the mono crystaline panels regardless of who made them and where. This fact was agravated by the fact that the thin film requires more sqaure area to install the same watt hour of capacity, and will cause some Designers/Engineers to select the other product due to the added cost of racking, or the fact that the area available to mount the solar PV is limited.

      This was a HUGE oversite, and just about any Solar Dealer in the country might have alerted the Principals of this project to the facts, At least produce panels that were cost effective to ship!

      The public needs to understand just how inept the DOE was in their decision to invest in some of these things, and of course, we will have those who believe you just toss billions into the air and see what sticks.. the fact is, we are borrowing the money from our children, and we need show them a little more respect if nothing else.

      Go ahead.. show me where we took advanage of learning from Solyndra, and then show me where we will leanr a thing from the Deployment fo the Amonix 7700.

      When we find examples of the worst made things, we normally find that those who will use it, those who will install it, and those who will repair it had not say at all. I have a mark certain posts with tags “things I hate” among them is the worst ink jet printer I have ever owned. It was most likely designed by a couple of younger engineers who never considered that the printer needed to have a preceived value to sell. I bought the printed bundled with a computer for only $10 extra.. the worst $10 investment of my life….

  12. Greg says:

    Sorry brother, I don’t think it is rhetoric that dissuades invention.

    However, it is trying to get people to BELIEVE in things based on false premises that does indeed impede real science.

    But what do I know, I’m just a redneck dummy with no experience at all.

    I will have to defer to your omniscience, I gotta go feed my chickens.

    • George B. says:

      Greg… fact is.. you are ‘hands on’… no chance people here will know how much thinking you put into what you build, and how you formed you opinions..

    • Redneck or not, it doesn’t matter to your credibility to someone who’s never met you. Calling the other side names is not going to get them to listen or understand. And, it undermines your ability to persuade people who haven’t made up their minds. It has nothing to do with right or wrong, invention or junk science, and everything to do with sticking to the facts.

      fyi, when I’m frustrated or angry, I often write inflammatory statements, just as you’ve done. But, I try to ask myself whether calling someone a “commie” advances my cause, and usually edit what I say back to something more level-headed. It doesn’t add value, but it does subtract, especially if you have something valuable to say.

      I’m just sayin’…

      p.s. not omniscient, but trying to give you a fair listen, and help you help others to pay attention.

      @George. English majors who pursue journalism is often exactly who you’re talking to. They’re taxpayers too. When you want to sell an idea, you can’t assume that everyone has a degree in engineering, or the practical knowledge to understand what you’re talking about. That’s why we talk about how many times a stack of Big Macs will stretch to the moon and back when describing how much something cost — makes it tangible and more interesting to everyone. I love that you brought this down to the level of the panels being too big to ship — it’s a perfect illustration of poor planning, bad engineering, and costly mistakes that absolutely anyone can understand. (Would be even better with a picture of someone trying to stuff one in a Fedex truck that was half the size it needed to be.) Same with the wind gust problem — only I might try to make it a bit more obvious what the problem is, because that one forces me to think a little bit. Give me a few more examples of that kind of stupidity, and I’m 100% sold, and so is the English major.

      • George B. says:

        I don’t think there’s a comment here that’s not valuable, and we do know that once we offend people, they are less likely to listen to our side of the conversation. Still, there are limits to our patience, and you really can’t fix stupid. If you’ve ever wasted 25 minutes explaining that the value of a fuel has a lot more to do with the BTU value than fairy dust, you will know there’s a limit to patience, and that’s why this site is dedicated to the ‘hands on’ crowd.
        One point you attempt to make above.. and I say attempt, because how much success you have is all up to the receiver.. that be that a good portion of those who blog about AE have far more education outside of engineering principles than I’d have ever believed. This may be one of the reasons no one follows up on important stories, they have no clue where to start, and no basis of understanding to know if they’re talking to marketing or the Seasoned Engineer who has seen near every game . So few will ever see comments this far down in a thread… whether they have technical backgrounds or not.
        I am not so sure that this is by design, there is one company I have been watching for a few years that is getting national attention, they were even recognized by the D.O.E. The CEO is a Harvard Business Grad, and I watched him purposely hire a totally inept person to head up a research effort. I am most confident he passed up the talent to keep a lid on the fact that their so called advancements have very little if any value as per a return on investment. Meanwhile the outstanding talent he has recruited on the marketing side is making significant progress, and he’ll likely be able to part green energy investors from their hard earned money, and continue living well on the backs of those who would never dare to deny a thing..

        Back on Task !! What’s going on in Hatch New Mexico, and will NextEra be conducting field trips during the worlds most important meet… the chili competition?

        Yes, I do attempt to pass along a few ideas to folks that are among the best DIYers, and that be farmers and ranchers that must learn to do for themselves, as there is often no one to call for help. you there might rent a bus or two and conduct tours up to see the Hatch Amonix 7700 power plant! This could be really good PR for both NextEra and EPE. I have no clue how NextEra works, but I know that EPE takes a strong interest in community activities. I’d love to be there for the Chile, and do let me know if anyone there organizes a tour, I’ll advertise here and ask that others do so as well…

        Back on Task.. Hatch and the 7700s, how are they really doing? Even the Village of Hatch has the Amonix 7700 pictured!

  13. Well, the great thing about the world wide web is that it’s world wide, and you never know who the next person to find your blog will be. You’ve got some great points to make, and it would be a shame if we missed the opportunity to persuade someone in a position of influence, or a reporter looking to cover a good story that there was something here. I’m not that person, but I know just enough to be dangerous and sort of understand what you’re talking about. Imagine if a Wall Street Journal reporter was doing research on a story about incompetence or fraud in the DOE and happened by your articles. They get the high level “panels too big to fit a delivery truck” and “panels not able to open due to wind gusts at the site”, and decide it’s worth working a bit harder to understand the other facts and then call you for an interview. Just being a bit user friendly has suddenly got you an audience on the most important stage for business.

    Not saying it will happen, but blogs are where an awful lot of story ideas get hatched these days, especially when the source is credible. Something similar to that did happen to me a couple of years ago, so it’s definitely possible.

    Nothing more to say about it, except keep on telling your stories.

    btw, totally get the BTU/fairy dust reference. Disruptive innovation is a term that is widely used (thanks to media interest), but extremely poorly understood. Unfortunately the more it’s talked about, the less you can count on the people doing the talking having a clue what it really is. As the video above illustrates amply.

  14. Bill knighton says:

    This is a pretty neat thread. How refreshing to read Austrian school economics mentioned. I lot a these mal-lnvestments would have been avoided if the economics being used considered morality of actions first. This is when statists role their eyes and say “what? Is this about principal or something? You have to break eggs to make omlets.”

    • George B. says:

      “This is a pretty neat thread”
      Bill, what’s neat about it is our ability to learn a lot from it. As you read this following account, think about the overall project, and how immense it is.

      For those of us with project experience, we might see a game to be played. Just what might happen if we cut our costs to the bone, take some risks here and there, and go for the Brass Ring. Who will be the winners and losers?
      Just how much latitude will any contract give us, and how many assumptions will our customers make? Since the DOE isn’t paying with their own money, they’ll likely give us far more

      latitude than a company focused on that nasty business of making a profit.

      I did find a thread with some google tools about those trackers, and a mention that there might have been a rather serious discrepancy between the cost, and what one customer paid for the trackers.. Yes, it could have been purse BS, but when we saw Amonix slam shut the doors on that Las Vegas plant and then let their so called permanent work force go, most of us thought there was a major cash problem or something serious going on. The story of a temp shut down to retool for the next great thing? Only the Las Vegas Sun would believe that. The rumor is consistent with a possible surprise in price increases, or not getting a pot of money in time because you failed to meet some terms of a contract.

      I believe fully that the DOE is responsible for creating a game where there can be winners even if no viable products are created. It’s quite possible that the majority of the people that worked for Amonix were pawns in this game.. As for the trackers themselves.. someone knows what they cost to build, and someone knows what the customer paid. Knowing those two figures could tell us a bunch about the game. When tax dollars are used in any way, the game needs to be played on top of the table, and the public needs to be invited to watch.

      • Bill Knighton says:

        I agree, I don’t think we have the cost. Each of those trackers looks like it would cost a lot compared to the price of what it holds.

        • George B. says:

          I noted the hatch power plant made zero power today according to the metering software, checking the weather underground, Hatch had a dust storm, but who knows exactly what happened.
          It may be smart to look at the total KWH production for the year, and see how that figure increments from day to day..

  15. bob g says:

    boy this topic sure became fun, now didn’t it?

    here is my take on listening to the messenger, without concerning oneself with what the motives (politics) might be…

    years ago i was asked “why don’t you read the national enquirer” (or some other tabloid).

    my answer was simple

    “because i read so much, and i generally remember quite well the content, the last thing i want to do is draw on information 10 years down the road that might have come from a suspect source”

    if i don’t let it in, i don’t have to worry about looking like a fool at some point in the future when i start spouting off about something that turns out is the equivalent to elvis is still alive in wisconsin.

    one shouldn’t let somethings into his head! once there one must thoroughly process it, research it, and if found suspect must then work like hell to get it back out of the old noggin.

    propagandists know this fact quite well and exploit it well, they know that if they tell the lie long enough, big enough, folks will accept it as fact. why do we have those on the tube using talking points?

    TED has a long ways to go before i invest any more time with it.

    bob g

  16. Bill knighton says:

    This part of your ammonix link seems troubling:

    “Headroom to improve
    PV systems are typically rated in terms of their installation cost, in terms of $/W. Indeed, the DOE’s target under its SunShot initiative is to reduce that cost from the $3/W level that is typical today to around $1/W by 2020.

    But this metric does not suit CPV – even though up-front capital costs are lower than for conventional PV. A much fairer comparison for CPV is instead the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), a simple-sounding calculation of the total energy produced by a system over a given time (usually 25 years) and its total cost over that time. On this metric, CPV usually looks a lot more competitive.”

    So cpv looks bad when using tradition solar cost evaluations even though cpv costs less up front????? So it looks bad compared to Pv even though it looks good compared to pv. But to make it look better let’s change how we look at it. Success is failure, freedom is slavery.

    • George B. says:

      Let’s be realistic about CPV, only a Green Pea, a Marketeer, or a Harvard Business Grad would claim that Amonix has built and tested eight generations of 7700 power plants. We’d need 25 years to test the first generation alone, and it needs to be placed in a real outside environment and very careful records for all repairs, maintenance hours and more need be made. Where can we find that info?

      We realist know how long somethign can fester in the field and produce a complete failure before there is any chance of a return on investment. Testing a sinlge generation long enough to assure a return on investment takes years! We older people have seen very simple changes in design cost millions to fix in the field. An example might be a crimp style connector used in outside telecom that slowly created a bad connection, by the time the problem was understood, there were thousands of them in the field.

  17. Bill knighton says:

    Maybe upfront capital costs leave out the doe
    Check and that’s why it looks good. Possibly it’s like one of those bubble mortgages where you sign up and get more house than you can afford for smaller payments, for a while.
    Are the doe checks only for experimental solar? It seems that way to me. Pvs can be had for a dollar a watt or less at retail. But these power plants are costing multiples of that. For these things to compete against convention pvs would mean that mounting conventional pvs would cost several times the price of the panels and from personal experience that is not the case.
    Is this about deliberate failure? Is this hydrogen economy project version 2.?

    • George B. says:

      I have taken the liberty to share some of the rumors I’ve heard, some come from conversations overhead in eating establishments. The actual cost of the Tracker alone would likley boggle the mind of a Techie. The loads placed on a single post, and that gear head! And back to my question of testing.. imagine the load on the tracker gear head, just what is the tooth load during a wind gust, and how frustrated does a mechanical engineer become when his primary goal might be more about initial cost than the survival of the tracking mechanics? Is NextEra seeing these problems already? Does Amonix have the purse to fix a problem? Maybe the DOE will write a check on our account to fix it? EPE will prove to be the smart investor here, they are protected from loss with contract language. As I’ve said elsewhere.. power companies are forced to be realists, every once in a while we see one go off the deep end like Montana Power did, but that’s rare I think, their biggest challenge in likely making investments that the DOE or EPA won’t make worthless if they have their way. An example might be a power company that invested in a big natural gas power plant and signed contracts for the next 30 years for natural gas VS a company that invested in a new clean coal plant, and coal contracts. Power companies would profit by having a crystal ball to know what our government will do next, many of these power companies were forced to make decisions a dozen years ago, and just recently did they know if they made the right decision or not.

      Added note: as of 05/29/12 12:13pm Hatch time, I see 5322 KWHs have been ‘banked’ by the power meter today… Since the power plant is rated at 5040 KWH, we see a little over one hour of advertised power production from 0700 hrs through to the noon hour. The skys are clear in Hatch according to the weather data. We need the experts to explain what’s going on…come on greentechmedia, we need your help…

  18. Greg says:

    I think what would help a whole lot would be to first calculate all the BTUs of coal, diesel, hydro et al that it requires to make a good PV array and supporting accoutrements [Fr] and then estimate in realistic numbers what the usable output is beyond that number.

    The reason for this is that I got to thinking the other day that if added up all of the energy required to build my little system, I don’t think it will ever produce enough energy within it’s limited life to even build the components to replace it.

    Converting bauxite into aluminum for the extrusions and body of the mppt
    Making glass and PV cells from silica
    mining and production of Sn and Pb for solder
    Cracking the crude to make the plastic for the batteries
    Mining and producing the Pb in batteries
    Mining the coal and iron ore the smelt the iron/steel for the 6/1, frame, etc.
    The mining the Cu for cabling, circuitry and windings
    The drawing of the wire and extruding the profax and polyurethane
    75 pounds of components for the inverter/charger
    add in all the fuel used in the transportation of these commodities
    etc. etc. ad nausium.
    Now, I do realize my economy of scale is out off whack but how much better are these large systems?

    I’m just leaning toward the crazy idea that it is cheap and abundant fossil fuels that made my system possible in the first place.

    • George B. says:

      It’s far worse than you mention me thinks.. due to the inability of Americans to realize we are actually in competition with other countries for prosperity, we support armies of IRS agents, Attorneys, Government officials, and more that help us fill out all the bull shit that our competition has no worries about.. Imagine.. if we just were smart enough to go to a flat tax, what the result could be over time. We need to look at the armies of support behind those solar PV makers.

      But as I say, there are people like Jon Ralston in Las Vegas who doesn’t dare touch the Amonix story that lays right under his nose! We spent millions on those power plants, they are in the field now, and no one dares ask.. “what did we get in return for our money?” This week Jon Ralston scolded Narciccist Donald Trump for not caring who he hurts. Maybe that’s a bit of a window into Jon’s thinking.. “He’s careful not to Report on big stories if he might hurt someone’s feelings? Good God, we need reporters who will give us the facts and allow us to decide… There is NO place in the AE community I can find where anyone cares about the facts… how sad, we don’t need enemies, we have the media and the FED to help destroy us from the inside.

  19. Bill knighton says:

    Greg, I think your system will by energetically profitable if it’s large enough for you to live off grid on. By comparing the price of my off grid system to its performance based on the value of the electricity it produced I was able to determine that the latter was greater. They could not have sold it for less than the price of the electricity they spent on it. Of course they might get their electricity for less than I used to. But the electricity will only be one of their costs. I doubt it’s even the largest.

  20. Greg says:

    I think many AE schemes are much like a Vegas magic act. People don’t see the slight of hand or the man behind the curtain that makes the trick “appear” to work.

    I have a friend that thinks he can produce fuel alcohol (cost efficiently).
    He does have a very efficient re-flux still and uses a real expensive turbo yeast.
    What is the invisible magic that he does not consider? The amount of propane used to crack of a batch.

    It escapes the dullard that uses the hydrogen fuel cell that his alternator draws horse power and any perceived gain in MPG is due to moisture injection.

    Folks that think algae is the answer forget that they are limited to the amount of sunlight that their algae reactor gets exposed to. All they can seem to focus on is the minuscule drop of oil in that little algae cell. They seem to forget the energy required to desiccate and extract said oil via solvent, heat or pressure.

    The real truth about living off grid or what makes it feasible, is that we who do, are very cognizant of usage and the management of our juice.

    On our place we generate about 60 – 90 kW h /month but, back in Texas on the grid we used 2000-3000 kW h/m. If your electricity costs 13 cents/ kW h and use 80 Kw h/ month it would cost about 10 bucks per month plus fees and hook up costs.
    We rent batteries for about $25 dollars per month. 🙂

    It may be that your DIYer is really the practical scientist as opposed to the theoretician, being that the difference between practice and theory is that in theory they are the same.

    In the world of AE it is your tax payer that is the horns-waggled investor because your typical politician is neither Physicist nor Economist but when he consults one he goes straight to a Steven Chu or Paul Krugman.

  21. Greg says:

    I imagine that the boys in India that made my listeroid received some heavily subsidized rates on the energy it took to build it as did the Copper operation in So.America.

    I might also take a guess that all of the logistical hauling via truck and ship did not use solar power either.
    The deal is this: we can have these neat toys because of cheap and abundant fuels like coal and petroleum.

    If your panels, wiring, batteries and generator etc. where produced using only solar power and hippy farts, they would be out the price range for most of us.

    Well, actually they probably wouldn’t exist at all.

  22. bob g says:

    hippy farts?

    the day comes we have to resort to using that for fuel (which is probably close to reality as it is) is the day i start living in the dark, and eating raw food!

    bob g

    hey that’s the ticket! if i eat lots or raw veggie’s i can produce my own fuel! wow… maybe i should hurry and apply for a research grant?

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  26. Andy says:

    Wow… Its nice to see that we have people standing up for whats right.. I am a Missionary kid that grew up in South America and learned how to live the simple life.. But I Live in Tx now. It is amazing to me that people depend on the system that is offered to them and exempt them… I am trying to do my part. I am almost off the grid:) I have been working on it for about a yr now…

    My thoughts on solar: I strongly believe that if government funds this kind of thing, it’s a waist of money.. Independent efforts work best. I’m new to all this comment thing but I just had to introduce myself.. I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments.
    I’ve had the pressure of meeting Georg B by email.. He has helped me a lot on my Lister project. I will try to keep up with this.

    • George B. says:

      El Paso Electric is the Power Company to watch. Allowing their customers to see the power produced by the different Alternative Energy power producers is just good old fashioned common sense. It builds confidence in the Company, and if other Power Companies are smart, they’ll follow suit. El Paso Electric is a better place to study solar PV than the majority of so called green sites. They share reality, and it’s likely because the effort there is lead by a ‘hands on’ type, a Professional Engineer with a Business Degree. If Richard Turner ever gives a TED talk, tune in!

      Andy, you are a product of your environment, so many have never left Kansas, but they’ll still attempt to bring us up to speed, as per what South Americans need to do. Missionary Kids see it first hand, and maybe even at a level an adult could never fully comprehend. Just a few years ago, young (Kansas raised) people were attemping to educate me as to why Europe was far smarter that we were. Even as they watch that Union fall apart, they’ll continue to preach how ‘utopian like’ it is. Reality can not penetrate the dream state they are in.

      Bottom line, we must live within our means, the money the DOE tosses in the air is borrowed, and it effectively is drawn from the same fund as your Social Security payment is to be paid out of. The Kiddies who support the effort will understand later… when they realize they were watching others squander their futures. We need only look at the ratio of winners and losers they pick.. Some will say.. they only need one good winner.. My reply? That’s exactly what the Casinos in Las Vegas tell us.. why not gamble with them?

      Looking forward to sharing your Fab Work on that new Lister Gen Project.

  27. Andy says:

    I read over what I posted yesterday… I did not mean pressure of meeting you by email, I was driving and texting … I meant to say, I have the pleasure of meeting you via email… lol

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