Thursday, April 23, 2015


In my posts and blogs, I have constantly spoken about the global industrial infrastructure that underwrites most manufactured things in our environment.  Several passages in a novel brought an epiphany of how pervasive, how insinuated, how utterly complex these installations are.  I have added those passages at the end of this essay.

Solar energy collecting devices have been challenged from several points of view.  The Energy Return on Energy Invested has been noted in extensive research as being low.  The dependence on fossil fuel has been noted.  Solar enthusiasts act as if the industry stands apart from the fossil fuel supply system.  It is not separate from the present undulating supply plateau nor the scraping of the bottom of the fossil fuel barrel.  We will never truly run out of fossil fuels, but the monetary cost and the environmental assaults defined by geology, geography as well as politics will certainly constrain our energy future. 

My position has been that the underwriting by the global industrial infrastructure is a necessary consideration. All the things in our world have an industrial history.  Behind the computer, the T-shirt, the vacuum cleaner is an industrial infrastructure fired by energy (fossil fuels mainly).  Each component of our car or refrigerator has an industrial history.  Mainly unseen and out of mind, this global industrial infrastructure touches every aspect of our lives.   It pervades our daily living from the articles it produces, to its effect on the economy and employment, as well as its effects on the environment.

Solar energy collecting devices also have an industrial history.  It is important to understand the industrial infrastructure and the environmental results for the components of the solar energy collecting devices so we don’t designate them with false labels such as green, renewable or sustainable. 

This is an essay challenging ‘business as usual’.  If we teach people that these solar devices are the future of energy without teaching the whole system, we mislead, misinform and create false hopes and beliefs.

I have provided both charts and videos 
for each of the components considered.
Please note each piece of machinery you see 
in each of the videos has its own 
industrial interconnection and history.

To look at all the video takes approximately 40 minutes.



When you look at the solar video, a beautiful, 
sophisticated, highly technical dance emerges.

Suntech Power: How Suntech Photovoltaic Cells
and Modules are Made (English Version)
5.41 minutes



An essay with diagrams and a wonderful video has already been posted.  I refer the reader to that blog entry.

Solar energy collecting devices use low iron plate glass for a covering.  All modern plate glass has a global face.  Glass is a wonderful product.  Float glass for windows improves homes and other buildings enormously.  Think about what your home would be without glass. 

Solar energy collecting devices whether they are for heating hot air, hot water or making electricity are part of a huge global system.  The blog entry noted above shows the process in making glass from the mining to the heating the sand to 2800° F to rolling it out, cutting and transporting.  It also shows a huge factory and the global economies of scale required to make it affordable.

Float Glass Manufacturing Process .flv  4 minutes  clear,best


The frame for the solar energy collecting devices is made from aluminum.
The aluminum can come from raw ore or it can be recycled.  
The frame is then extruded into the shape needed.




Aluminum is lauded for its recyclability. Recycled aluminum saves some 95% of the energy over mined bauxite.  In the background it still has a huge industrial infrastructure that collects, transports, crushes, compacts, transports, heats, makes ingots and then refabricates. 

Focus on the machinery in this short video:

The story of Aluminium Recycling

2.05 Minutes

Aluminum Extrusion

When I was 14 years old, I worked in an aluminum extrusion plant in south Florida.  We would roll the carts that were on a rail that were filled with extrusions into a large heating room.  The heating room went to 375° F (if I remember correctly- almost 50 years ago) and would age the aluminum.  We would then go in and roll the cart out, wrap the extrusions and load them in trucks.  Because it was summer, we all were wet with perspiration when we went into the room to get the cart.  Our T-shirts would dry immediately.  When we went home after work, our T-shirts were caked with our own salt.



An inverter is a piece of equipment that changes the incoming Direct Current electricity from the panels to the Alternating Current used in our homes.  Our vacuum cleaners, TVs, water pumps, etc. use AC supplied by the power company.  

As an aside, when I first used solar and wind energy collecting devices in the early 1980s, I wired my house with heavy gauge wire and used DC with lights, pump, refrigerator and TV.  I had a small inverter to run my vacuum cleaner and computer.

When the fan went out on our inverter (which it has done twice) we had to pull the heavy inverter off the wall and replace the small fan.  The local solar people wanted to charge $400 to change it.

Conergy Inverter manufacture process

5.11 minutes



Deep Cycle Battery Manufacturing - by U.S. Battery

5.54 minutes



Copper Mining and Refining (Redox)

4.43 minutes

The Mining Process at Copper Mountain Mine

7.32 minutes


We have looked at charts and videos of making solar energy collecting devices, at the glass process and at the various aluminum processes.  We viewed the manufacturing of an inverter that changes the DC energy to AC and the batteries for storing the electricity. And lastly, we viewed two videos on copper; one on production and the other on one of the many tools for which we use electricity.

Solar energy collecting devices have an industrial history.  It arises part and parcel out of the global industrial infrastructure, the complexes that brings the many products of our age to our use. 


Here are the pages from Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears [Spiegel & Grau ; Reprint edition (June 1, 2010)]. I looked for an email or address for him but was unable to find one.  I wanted to thank him.  Not only were these several pages eye openers, but the book was a joy to read and enjoyable.

This for me was a powerful statement about nature –
the environment – global industrial complexes. 
A ‘YES’.

“Many hundreds of men, machines ranging from
the huge cranes to the smallest screwdrivers,
all working together, all apparently knowing what
they were to do and when they were to do it.”

A screwdriver, yes, a screwdriver of course it has an industrial history.
These paragraphs hit me with a resounding
‘YES’ and ‘OF COURSE”.  It was wonderful.

This paragraph seem to sum in addition the dilemma
we face as the nature of some of the “beasts”.


  1. Thank you for your work and demonstration. I've heard we humans have a chance of surviving somewhat if we would make bio char instead of biofuel and put it in the soil to sequester carbon. Otherwise we are toast because of Arctic methane releases ongoing.

  2. Good job accumulating all the graphics, background info on the unnoticed industrial supply chains that solar depends on.
    Check out this article, which aligns with the points you raise here.

    1. Thanks Steve - I am on their mailing list. They do great work.

  3. Hi John,

    This is a great resource for understanding the entire process. It's a pity we don't have an encyclopedia of energy costs for each sub-process. In any case, this is what I wrote in ER.

    We need to know how much photovoltaic solar energy (PV) is required for each of the following steps:

    1. Manufacture of (a) the PV installation (b) the Tesla batteries needed for that installation

    2. Maintenance of a and b and replacement in due time

    3. Maintaining our stores of all materials

    4. Preventing the dispersion of materials into the environment in a harmful way or any other events that might render the materials unavailable for further inclusion in the product

    5. Preventing environmental pollution or undesirable material losses in the main or ancillary processes, for example, mining

    6. Energy costs associated with using the energy

    7. The energy budgets of all stakeholders in the project

    Can the installation produce enough energy to meet all of these requirements for sustainability?

    By “energy” I mean “Helmholtz or Gibbs availability” U - T°S or H - T°S. Each component must include the complete sequence of indirect energy costs that should be charged to the operation, for example, the pro rata portion of the transportation costs of the doctor who attends the man who repairs the vehicle of the man who does a miners taxes. In the gedanken experiment of which I am so proud, the entire energy consumption of the Autonomous Alternate Energy District (AAED) is the energy invested term while the alternative energy produced, which is the sole mission of the AAED, is the energy returned. The AAED is devoted entirely to producing energy.

    [end of post to ER]

    I don't expect that today's solar can cover these costs - particularly in a capitalist economy; however, we should continue to support sincere research, which takes place mostly outside the corporate-controlled universities, because the possibility remains that someday it might be good enough.

    By the way, is my list complete or have I forgotten something? I think PV has the best possibilities for harvesting sunlight in real time. Use of stored sunlight, i. e., fossil fuels, should cease.


  4. Please read "miner's taxes" instead of "miners taxes".

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  28. Wow John, great article! I once tried to show how complex making computer chips was at and sites like howstuffworks often have pictures of the process. But solar isn't much simpler! How can the EROI or carbon emissions possibly be good when you look at all the other components and their EROI/carbon footprint? Like computer chips, anything this complicated will not outlast any dark age or serious dislocation of more than 20 years, the technology and infrastructure to get back to the level of today's technology would be hard to impossible

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