On Earth Day Michael Moore released a film entitled “Planet of the Humans.” It has been widely viewed and created much discussion.
As others have pointed out there are many errors in the film. We would like to specifically address some of the statements about solar energy and how they relate to our work in the BC context.
Early in the film, there are shots of a solar energy array that is producing power at 8% efficiency. The solar panels shown are amorphous or thin film. Others have pointed out that this scene was filmed several years ago. However, even at that point in time, very few solar installations were using this type of panel. Most used crystalline panels which were about twice as efficient. All of the installations we do use crystalline panels which are now at 18-20% efficiency.
During that same scene, the claim is made that more efficient panels are much more expensive. In reality, the reason why so few thin film panels were installed is that the more efficient crystalline panels became much less expensive than the thin film panels.
In another scene, someone comments that solar panels last “10 years.” This is also false. The first photovoltaic module ever produced is now over 60 years old and still produces electricity. Almost all panels now come with a 25 year warranty. Panels on commercial sites in Germany have been producing power for over 30 years and are still at over 90% of their original production. The first installation our parent company VREC did in Vancouver is now 15 years old and still producing over 90% of the original rated power.
Another claim from the film is that the electrical grid requires fossil fuel generation to operate. This is just dishonest. Hydroelectricity and geothermal can be used as base generation. Iceland uses 100% renewable energy on its electrical grid. Several other jurisdictions are at, or close to, 100% as well.
The most significant misleading claim the film makes is in the life-cycle analysis of renewables such as solar. A claim is made that more greenhouse gases (GHG) are used to make the products than will ever be offset by their use. Numerous studies (and meta-studies) have, in fact, shown that over the lifetime of a solar energy system, it will have GHG emissions that are 90% less than that of fossil fuel generation. This is after accounting for the raw material extraction, equipment production, transportation and installation.
Even here in BC, which has a relatively clean grid electricity, solar energy can still result in a GHG reduction of about 50% based on life cycle analysis. For a more detailed analysis of this see:
Even Richard Heinberg, one of the “experts” interviewed in the film says the film makes “silly mistakes” specifically about renewable energy. He also points out the film is inaccurate in its portrayal of some environmental organizations and their leaders.
It is a shame that the film gets so many facts wrong, because it does have a few good messages. It is true that we need to reduce consumption and not rely just on technology. Also there are valid criticisms of bio-fuels.
Others have written more details about what is wrong with this film. Here are few if you want to explore the issued raised by the film further: