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Much Talked About Myths about Renewable Energy

Conor MacGuire's picture
Green Energy Scotland Limited
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  • Jun 21, 2014
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renewables myths debunked

In the ever growing transitional world, we find ourselves hovering between two ages: a time dependent on fossil fuels and a future subjugated by renewable energy sources. Yet not everyone is sold on the same vision. Opinions vary not only on how dependable some of these renewable energy sources are but also how they’ll be able to sustain life post-fossil fuel era. 

The entire world has been debating over the topic of renewable energy sources for decades – how much should renewable energy be supported, how big is its impact and much more. Of these theories, majority of them are debating points based on obsolete assumptions and facts, which don’t really hold up anymore.

Out of all this a number of myths and misconceptions have risen to the surface. So, here’s presenting 8 of the bigger renewable energy myths currently making the rounds:

#1 Renewables Are an Insignificant Source of Power

This is by far one of the most common criticisms that renewable energy accounts for only a portion of U.S. electricity system. When we talk about the ‘newer’ renewable energy systems, such as solar and wind power – the statement largely stands true. This is because, these renewables provide 5% of generation capacity and as little as 4% of electricity production in US i.e. one tenth of the total energy provided by coal.

This criticism however ignores one very important aspect – conventional hydroelectric power, including the Hoover Dam is also an important source of renewable energy. Taken together, the hydroelectric sources with other renewables such as – biomass, solar, wind, and geothermal sources – together accounted to supply around 12% US electricity production last year and approximately 14% so far this year. 

#2 Renewables Can Replace All Fossil Fuels

Few proponents claim a future 100% dependant on affordable and reliable renewables. Maintaining their focus on electricity, researchers at National Renewable Energy Laboratory handled this question. According to their study, approximately 80% of the electricity in US would be generated from renewable energy sources by the end of 2050.

However, getting there would be long and challenging slog. Precisely, the study found no reason why renewable energy cannot provide 80% power in US, but there are a host of challenges which would have to be met first. 

#3 Renewables Are Too Expensive

At present, renewable energy is already cheaper than nuclear and coal power at every step.

A unit of electricity from Eskom’s new coal plant will cost around 97c, while the same energy from renewable sources would cost only 89c. Also, solar and wind energy do not require any input costs. For instance, certain amount has to be spent to purchase coal for a coal fired plant, however, solar and wind do not involve such input costs, as sunlight and wind are absolutely free.

#4 Renewable Energy Is Science Fiction

Renewable technology is all set to go and is in fact working reliably in many countries around the world.

The biggest economy of Europe – Germany already gets its 25% of electricity from renewable energy sources. The country is aiming to attain 80% energy from its renewable sources by 2050. Scotland, especially, has been doing exceptionally well in this area. With extremely helpful schemes such as those related to green deals assessments and energy grants, Scotland is on its way to set an example for rest of the world to follow.

#5 Renewable Energy Cannot Supply Electricity 24/7

The key to get continuous supply of renewable energy is to attain it from mixed sources of wind and solar power, anaerobic digestion plants and natural gas. Having a mixed of all sources, vastly spread over a wide area will definitely ensure a continuous supply of energy.

#6 Renewable Energy Is Bad For The Environment

A widespread argument against wind farms is their probability to kill bats and birds. However, if migratory patterns are studied and environmental impact assessments are conducted before construction, such hazardous impacts can greatly be reduced.

The land used for renewable energy projects, such as the wind farms can still be used for cattle grazing and farming. International experiences have revealed that livestock is completely unaffected with the presence of wind farms. 

#7 Solar Power is Non-Viable During Winters

This is largely a false belief that solar power is non-viable in the absence of solar light. As the days in winter are comparatively shorter than summer months, so the expected yield may be lower during the winter days. But as long as there is sunlight, solar power can always be utilized to generate energy. 

#8 Conventional Wind Turbines Are Noisy

Conventional wind turbines are far from producing any noise. In fact, you can even have a normal conversation while standing right next to one. All the wind farm proposals are supposed to comply with stern noise pollution standards outlined by the EPA, where FoE is completely supportive of it.  

Renewable energy has a bright future and each country of the world should be optimum in it for a secure, healthy environment and for a brilliant future. 

Photo Credit: Renewables Myths/shutterstock

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Conor MacGuire's picture
Conor MacGuire on Jun 27, 2014

Joris your feedback is appreciated. I have only tried to emphasize on the most vital renewable energy myths, of which I guess viability of solar power during winter months was an essential one to mention. There are many people out there who still believe that solar panels stand no use during colder months devoid of sunshine and it’s mainly for them to understand the many benefits of solar power. 

Conor MacGuire's picture
Conor MacGuire on Jun 27, 2014

Willem thanks for your valuable feedback. Though the statement, ‘Germany rushed out the door to fight global warming, without being fully equipped for the battle‘is true. However, some solar advocates believe that as the current market will adjust and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems will become more and more popular. This is one of the main reasons why research institute Fraunhofer ISE recommended that Germany should definitely not halt its solar power boom just to wait for storage technology to catch up.

http://www.ibtimes.com/solar-power-growing-pains-how-will-hawaii-germany-cope-boom-alternative-energy-1518702

Conor MacGuire's picture
Conor MacGuire on Jun 27, 2014

Thanks for the in-depth information. I completely agree with youthat ‘super grid would aggregate great plains wind in areas that have 50% CF and higher.’ After all, development of increasing number regional and international of super grids and increased use of HVDC technologies is a definite way to unlock 100% renewable energy in future. And while renewable energy sources like solar and wind are intermittent, we can certainly not deny that globally, somewhere the sun will be shining and somewhere the wind will also be blowing. 

Conor MacGuire's picture
Conor MacGuire on Jun 27, 2014

As stated by you alternatives such as nuclear power reduce same amount of CO2 at much cheaper prices than wind and solar energy – it is to be noted that these sources bear certain serious drawbacks unlike other renewables.One of the intrinsicproblems with nuclear energy is the issue of disposing the nuclear wastes. The highly radioactive byproducts of nuclear fission act as a source of notable health and security hazards. And, as there is no single convenient solution to handle nuclear waste at the moment, our inclination towards other sources is the only way out. 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jun 27, 2014

Gabriel; the vice-chanellor
Listen to the end of the short video in your first link regarding his statement (notrickszone.com).
Then you hear the representative of the solar association explain that Gabriel wants to impose a tax of 3.1cnt/KWh on self produced and consumed electricity.*)

As the solar association has political influence, he needed them to not actively oppose this tax.
So he scetched a crisis… Which only exist for him!
Because he needs money to increase the share of expensive offshore wind.

The Energiewende state 20%/80% off-/onshore wind, but reality is more ~2%/98%. In the coalition negotiations, last autumn, he agreed to raise the share of offshore in new installations towards ~10%. 
The northen states oppose that strongly, stating that they can accomodate enough wind turbines to deliver all electricity Germany needs.
Some weeks ago Bundestag rejected his tax proposal, so the share of off-shore wind will stay marginal.

I do not grasp quite, how he could think that the Bundestag would accept such a tax for a not needed luxury (=offshore wind).

Another motive may be the necessity to have something to slow down the implementation of new solar  when decreasing the FiT’s (~1%/month now) do not work anymore (in 2016?), because even without FiT solar is so beneficial everybody puts those panels on their house.

Such uncontrolled fast solar expansion (in 2009-2012) did cost his predecessor his job…
The Energiewende rate is ~1.5% more renewable each year (from 5% to 80% in 50years), so utilities can plan. Much faster solar expansion creates grid problems and unexpected under-utilization of utilities power plants (so those may want compensation).

 

Decreased spending on renewable
As the price of renewable decreases (solar with >10%/a since 2007), spending can be decreased too. Without affecting the speed of the Energiewende (~1.5%/a). What is the issue here?

Challenge for Vermont
The Energiewende surcharge is 6cnt/KWh because the Energiewende fund still has to compenstate for expensive solar (and wind) installations of the 2000-2008 period.
In that period the guaranteed solar FiT was ~50cnt/KWh during 20years for new installations.
So the average payment in the Energiewende surcharge for solar is now ~30cnt/KWh while the max. FiT guarantee is now 13cnt/KWh for new installations. This implies that the surcharge will go down after ~2023 (read par. 3.2 and look at the diagram in page 10 of this interesting Q&A document).

Vermont can ride on the pioneering role of Germany and start with much lower FiT’s (e.g. $20cnt/Kwh for rooftop). Especially if US installers learn to install efficiently (the Germans are 2 times more efficient).
So Vermonts costs for similar Energiewende scenario will be a factor 3 lower be at least. Especially since they are far better situated (more sun due to lower lattitude, more nearby hydro).

green energy laws a dismal failure?
Of course the incumbent utilities fight back; send their lobbyist and use their scientists.
Those scientists produce studies such as the Vattenfall study by Hirth, with ridiculous conclusions. Such as that the system / integration costs of PVsolar would be €6.5cnt/Kwh.**) While the general whole sale prices are <€4cnt/KWh. While those studies are ignored in Germany, they ilicit a lot of publicity in English literature.


*) Similar as imposing a tax if you paint your house yourself (as you avoid using an house-painter who is unemployed and get social benefits)…
Not in line with the general standards here (NL, Germany).

**) German studies concluded those are <1cnt/KWh until a renewable share of ~80% (hence the Energiewende target of 80% renewable in 2050). 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jun 27, 2014

You sketch a static picture of electricity generation, blockading progress.
That is what killed the east-block communist countries.

We need innovation complete with trial & error in order to make real progress, so our children have a better future.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 27, 2014

N N

I cannot imagine you would cherry pick your data, so presumably you have researched and established to your satisfaction that MoCA was typical pricing for PV at the time.  You have repeatedly  stated that the grant is $700,000.  Since you are clearly quite familiar with the project one, trusting your expertise and objectivity, would not expect you to use that figure if a significant amount of the funds were used for things other than that array as that would be misleading.  So using the published array size and trusting that you are acting in good faith, we should be able to use $700,000 for the system cost.  Using that, the cost per Watt for that system was:

$700,000 / 51,000 = $13.73 / Watt in 2006. 

So lets look at where we are now.  Lawrence Berkley labs, not having your expertise and cache, gathered a large data set of PV prices in order to establish pricing in the US.  They found that in 2012, the most costly type of PV, small systems such as residential, was coming in at $5.30 / Watt.  Much of this is in soft costs due to the dispersed US market.  Germany offers insights into how things might look in high penetration scenarios.  In their case, small scale PV such as residential is under $2.00 / Watt.  And they have higher labor rates.  So in 8 years we see that the price of PV has dropped by a factor of 7.  At utility scale PV has reached LCOE parity with nuclear and coal in the US for new generation.

I am hoping you might post a graph showing the rate of decrease in cost of nuclear energy.  That would be very helpful in comparing the two technologies.  And also, what is the cost of commercially available molten salt reactors?   

I agree with you on one point, we should be developing closed cycle nuclear, it appears very promising.  However I think to do so to the exclusion of renewables would be folly. 

 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 28, 2014

Good point. All water cooled reactors need to be protected from power outages as they cannot passively cool on their own. I find it totally abhorrent that necessary backup generators are not placed on high ground! Too bad the powers that been didn’t listen to Alvin Weinberg!

 

Wayne Lusvardi's picture
Wayne Lusvardi on Jun 28, 2014

I would like to add to Willem Post’s succinct dissection of RE that the state he lives in – Vermont – has already has achieved 100 percent renewables from nuclear power, hydropower and other non-fossil fuel sources.  

But Vermont also has some of the highest lung cancer rates in the U.S. (see here: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/statistics/state.htm). 

Vermont also has high asthma rates.  

Pres. Obama legitimized his recent new Power Plant Rules on the basis of public health: “In America, we do not have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children” he said.

EPA head Gina McCarthy claimed that the new changes would result in $90 billion in climate change health care savings. 

Nonetheless, McCarthy says: “The science is clear.  The risks are clear. And the high costs of climate change keep piling up.”

But the science about health benefits from renewable energy is not clear even in those states that already have the highest proportion of renewable energy.  Shouldn’t we look to those states that already have high renewable energy portfolios to see whether the health benefits of RE are real or rhetoric? 

If we’re going to have a society where energy policy is based on science — not religion, tradition, political ideology, or crony capitalism — then it is not clear that RE will provide the health benefits it claims.  Moreover, coal and natural gas fired power plants are typically retired after about 25 years. As the U.S retired older energy plants and replaces them with newer, cleaner technologies such as combined cyble natural gas and coal power plants, pollution from ozone, NoX, SoX, and particulates will be substantially reduced without RE at all by Pres. Obama’s target date of 2029.  

 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jun 28, 2014

Robert,

#2 Modern wind turbines are very simple machines, still in their infancy. They only migrated recently to direct drive, etc. NPP’s are endless more complex, and even those can be made to last 60years.

So when the industry becomes more mature, they will produce turbines of 20MW that run more than a century. Just as the Dutch wind mills that were made of wood!

#3 German simulation studies show that with wind and solar up to ~30-35% each, the extra costs due intermittancy is <€1/MWh.
Wind+solar production is well predictable (weather!). And far more reliable as no chance of sudden significant failures due to the production by many small units dispersed over a wide area (a 1GW plant can and does fail sometimes in a second).

#4 “Germany … only get about 25% from RE sources”
Germany is on the road towards 80% renewable in 2050. Adding ~1.5% renewable each year since 2001. They are now at 27% (started with 5%) and will reach their next intermediate target; 35% renewable in 2020.

Energy math
2% of the German roof surface generate 5% of German electricity, while covered with on average low efficiency solar panels. So covering 50% with up-to-date panels generate 200% of what is needed…

John Oneill's picture
John Oneill on Jun 28, 2014

   ‘ One of the benefits of finding a way to “not do” Nuclear is that unstable countries such as Iran could no longer claim peaceful need in developing nuclear programs.  ‘

   For ‘unstable countries’ read  ‘countries with governments unfriendly to the USA ‘ . Iran has had the same governing party for a generation ( i.e. not unstable ) and has excellent historical reasons for distrusting the US. The country was taken over by force during WW2, and a democraticly elected government was ousted with British and American aid in the fifties. After the Islamic revolution, the US helped arm Saddam Hussein for his devastating war of attrition against Iran, shot down a civilian airliner, and has openly threatened to attack at the behest of Israel. After watching the bloodbath during and after Western intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, you could hardly blame the Teheran regime for wanting an equaliser, and in my view the sooner they get it, the better. China under Mao was likewise treated as a pariah state, and Mao in turn had a much more bellicose attitude than his Russian allies, at the bullseye of Mutually Assured Destruction. India and Pakistan fought three wars, but after both detonated nuclear weapons they hastily consulted with Britain on how to set up a Delhi-Islamabad hot line. The hypocrisy of Washington and Tel Aviv browbeating Iran, and threatening force, over its supposed weapons programme, but making no moves to get rid of their own ‘weapons of mass destruction ‘, beggars belief. There have been dozens of murderous wars in the last century, but the most destructive have been between industrialised nations. Since 1945 those have only happened rarely where one side was nuclear armed, and never where both were. If that’s the only way governments can bring themselves to talk instead of fighting, it’s a good thing.

  In any case, the genie is out of the bottle. Even a backwater like North Korea is capable producing a bomb, and with laser enrichment of uranium, the cost of doing so will fall. It’s much better to cooperate with less developed countries to advance urgently needed emission-free energy, while ensuring non-state groups are monitored, than to try to be the dog in the nuclear manger forever.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 28, 2014

Thanks for the optimism. Hopefully, carbon nanotube type material will be used to make the larger tubines. We could compete with China from cornering the neodymium market by allowing, or even subsidizing strategic REE mining (and jobs “here at home”).

Like the last sentence concerning the electrical needs of Germany and future, lower cost solar. However, to totally displace FF’s, we need to develop and standardnize the production, deployment, maintainence, wastes reprocessing and isolation, and decommissioning of whatever safest fission process to ensure adequate energy for the future (until fusion is developed at the commercial level). Because 10 billion electric cars, supporting industry, new infrastructure, etc will need vast amounts of CO2 free energy.

We will also need to desalinate water at an incomprehensible rate, once the world’s glaceir melt runs dry (and for the sequester of half a trillion tons of excess CO2).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 28, 2014

We simply need to develop the most abundant non CO2 sources ASAP. It is the FF pollution that is causing the wide majority of deaths, and soon, the death of an entire planet. Political BS is just causing confusion and wasting valuable time.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 28, 2014

Please correct me if I am wrong.  Iran has stated its intent to vaporize Israel.  As far as I am concerned you do not yell fire in a movie theater and you do not threaten to first strike other countries with nuclear weapons. 

 

 

Wayne Lusvardi's picture
Wayne Lusvardi on Jun 28, 2014

Nadir

I am on your side of the argument when it comes to nuclear power, espeically mini-nuke plants. Allow me to challenge some of the so-called epidemiological studies funded by EPA on coal power. 

Pres. Obama legitimized his new power plant rules on the basis of public health: “In America, we do not have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children” he said.

EPA head Gina McCarthy claimed that the new changes would result in $90 billion in climate change health care savings.

Lung cancer rates are generally higher in coal power states. However, this proves nothing from a scientific point of view. 

Non-coal power states such as Maine and Vermont also have some of the highest lung cancer rates. Vermont already has achieved 100 percent renewables from nuclear power, hydropower and other non-fossil fuel sources.  Maine depends on a miniscule amount of coal power and already has over 60 percent renewable power from hydro and other renewables. States already with a high proportion of renewable energy such as Vermont, Maine, Washington and Oregon also have high asthma rates.

Nonetheless, McCarthy says: “The science is clear.  The risks are clear. And the high costs of climate change keep piling up.”

But the science about health benefits is not clear even in those states that already have the highest proportion of renewable energy. Shouldn’t we look at those states that already have high proportions of renewable energy to indicate the future promised health improvements from Obama’s CO2 reductions? And when we look they are questionable. 

If climate change causes global warming parts of the U.S. could get as warm as the Tropic zone is today.

But according to Public Radio International lung cancer is mainly a disease of those latitudes north of the Tropics. The Tropic Zone has conspicuously lower lung cancer rates. If it was higher temperature alone that causes higher incidence of lung cancer then why isn’t it more prevalent already in the Tropic Zone?

And asthma fatality rates are the highest in Mexico, Russia, China, South Africa, Uzbekistan, and Columbiaand not in Eastern Europe, Papua New Guinea, and Chile, which have the highest smoking rates.

Moreover, Mexico, Columbia, New Guinea and Chile are all in the Tropic Zone while Russia, China, Uzbekistan and South Africa out outside the zone.

As you well know correlation studies can prove anything.  But comparison-control studies would have more external validity and internal reliability than correlation studies.  In the simple comparisons I have offered above from online maps of the incidence rates of lung cancer and asthma, it is not clear that the reasons for lung cancer and asthma is pollution from coal power plants or from increased temperatures.   Such medical diseases and conditions are more complicated and also involve the human immune system. 

We need to think a second time about the purported health benefits of renewable energy.  

If we are going to have a technological society that bases its policies on science — not religion, not tradition, not some patrimonial leader, or political ideology — then that science should not be junk science that merely serves the large self-serving government bureaucracies that have the resources to fund such studies.  

California has 9 cities on the list of worst 25 cities in the U.S. for air pollution, and all those 9 cities are at the top of the list (worst).  California imports coal power electricity from Utah, Nevada and Arizona to meet EPA air quality mandates on California cities.  Texas imports coal to power its electricity plants in Dallas and elsewhere.  But Texas’ large cities don’t have high levels of air pollution.  Why? 

Because California’s topography has air basins that form smog traps. California is a Basin State and Texas a Plains State.  The solution to pollution is dilution.  The main principle of epidemiology is “the dosage makes the poison” (Paraselsus).  So what causes pollution is the environment not merely the substance (whether that substance be ozone, NOx, SOx, particulates or C02, or asbestos and bacteria in an energy tight building with no windows that open thus causing Legionnaire’s disease).  The “environment” has been conveniently left out of environmental studies because you can’t sue or tax the environment.  It is plausible that lung cancer and asthma rates are higher due to poorer indoor air quality combined with, say, modern diets that don’t support the human immune system??  

There is a factor of uncertainty in energy, pollution and public health policies that is not acknowledged.  Peter Balint calls these “wicked environmental problems” (see his book Wicked Environmental Problems: Managing Uncertainty and Conflict). At the base of many conflicts over uncertain environmental issues are cultural values, not science.  And cultural values are based on world views.  So if you have a post modern world view and live in California your values may be that even imported electricity from far, far away coal power plants is “wicked.”  We may be dealing on the sociological level with such issues, not science or technology.  

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 28, 2014

If we are to prevent the destruction of the entire biosphere, the noteable health concerns of fission products needs to be dealth with in a safe and standardnized process around the globe (such as reprocess spent fuel and standardnize geologic isolation of fission products in vitrified glass).  I’m sure we can do that, right? There are, obviously, notable health concerns (and millions of people dieing) from coal, smog and chemical processes in all of the industrialized areas. Certainly, we should not stop doing all of the industrial proccesses, right? Instead, we minimize health hazards by applying the scientific process. The same needs to be done with nuclear waste, if we are to survive past fossil fueled depletion. All nuclear processes, since they are about a million times less in volume and waste than fossil fuels, could and should be completely isolated from the biosphere. No big deal (and it must be done)!

We also need to continue development of lowering the costs of wind, solar, and especially, their storage, because I see no reason not to include them as energy inputs (for those who want to exclude themselves from whatever safe nuclear that must be deployed to actually power 10 billion people and their electric cars, indirect energy needs, excess CO2 clean up, etc).

Do we really have the luxery to delete (whatever safest form of) nuclear in our quest to prevent excess CO2 on the VAST scale that is required to prevent gigadeath? I don’t think so!

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jun 29, 2014

No optimism. Educated estimation!*)
Let us hope that stronger materials will allow to make larger blades, so we can produce 30MW wind turbines.**)

Bigger wind turbines have the benefit that a wind turbine park will produce much more per km², as it taps the energy from a larger and higher vertical layer of air. 

“..compete with China from cornering the neodymium market…”
That won’t be needed as bigger wind turbines will use high temperature***) super-conductive coils that create magnets much stronger than neodium, etc.
It makes the nacelle much lighter.

“…totally displace FF’s…”
That is planned by several countries using renewable only.
E.g. Denmark at 2040-2050. Now Denmark allows only energy neutral new houses, etc.
Germany follows on a slower pace (in 2050 60% of all energy renewable).

Fission has a longer history for general electricity generation (investments started in the fifties) than wind & solar (investments started ~20years later and those were much less).
Yet, fission progress since ~1970 is small****), while the costs rose.

Wind and solar had opposite developments; major progress and much lower costs.
Primairily because of technology developments: ~100times bigger wind turbines, 10times more efficient solar panels. More important, experts predict much more progress for solar, batteries and wind.

There is no credible fission scenario (technology, mass production) that would change these major trends. So the difference in cost price between fission and renewable will rise further because the costs of wind/solar/batteries continue to go down fast.

Fusion offers a possibility to produce cheaper electricity than future wind/solar/storage. Especially if the expensive, old fashioned steam-turbine/generator combination can be avoided. Installing new types of PV-panels in the walls of the fusion chamber (PV-panels that convert the fusion radiation into electricity directly) may bring real cheap electricity.

—–
*) Educated guess based on:
 – History shows great capacity increases. In 1980;~70KW. At 1990:~300KW. At 2000:~1MW. At 2010:~3MW. Now: 8MW (Vestas V164).
 – Design studies such as the EU study that found 20MW wind turbines feasible with present technology. 

**) Blade size is the main restriction regarding bigger wind turbines. Transport a smaller issue as blades can be transported in 2 or more pieces and assembled at the spot (is already done). 

***) High temperature is relative. With present materials max. temperatures are -250 degrees Celsius. Stil, that is a lot easier than -270 degrees Celsius.

****) Even the Chinese pebble bed reactor, about which Rod published recently, was already tried in the sixties (same as SMR, etc).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jun 29, 2014

“…wind has a seasonal demand mis-match problem…”

Of course, so the Germans try to install solar & wind such that solar will deliver ~45% and wind ~55% and each of those can deliver nearly all what is needed.

During substantial periods, the total of the two will produce more electricity than needed. So whole sale prices will then be extremely low (~$2/MW; assume no subsidy). Hence power-to-gas, etc will then be economic.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 29, 2014

“There is no such thing as safe or clean coal, anymore than there are safe cigarettes.”

Now there’s a quotable quote we can both agree on. 

 

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jun 29, 2014

Yes, I noted that a week ago (in a comment now pushed to the next page).

In practice, natural gas would be the primary energy supply.  You have to wonder if these talking points are written by the natural gas industry (which now includes Exxon-Mobil).

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 29, 2014

At utility scale PV has reached LCOE parity with nuclear and coal

The cost comparison by Lazard which you cited does not include the cost of energy storage (which is much more expensive, see the solar thermal bargraph).  

Hence, it represents a way to lock-in fossil fuel for the majority of electrcity demand (particularly in non-desert locations, which will have many dozens of days per year when no significant solar energy is produced, hence hypothetical 5-15 hour energy storage will not help).


Wayne Lusvardi's picture
Wayne Lusvardi on Jun 29, 2014

Nadir

Thanks for a rational discussion.  I never wrote that coal is safe nor am I any shill spokesperson for Big Coal or a lobbyist for nuclear power.  I worked in a government water agency for most of my career. 

What I wrote was that lung cancer and asthma rates *are* correlated with coal power states. All I wanted to add is that it is more complicated than that because high rates of both those diseaes and conditions are also found in high renewable energy states such as Vermont and Maine as well as in countries with low smoking rates.  

The deaths reported in the studies on the effects of coal on public health are statistical deaths. A certain percentage of lung cancer occurs in people who never smoked or were exposed to so-called second hand smoke or ethereal “acid rain” from far away.  I only have probative questions asking why there are such obvious anomalies with such health studies.  Health and energy policies have to live with a certain degree of uncertainty (or degrees of freedom or error as statisticians might call it).  

Also, the newer coal energy combined cycle technologies may be able to be significantly cleaner. Thus, as old polluting coal and natural gas power plants are normally retired each 25 years, the newer technology is likely to reduce more pollution and C02 than renewable energy ever could because of their higher capacity factors.  

Having worked in various levels of government for years I listened intently when well trained engineers would tell me over lunch that any number produced by the agency they worked for was rarely credible and certainly was not the number that those engineers gave their managers. Bureaucracies are not good institutions to rely on for truth or even good data, with some exceptions such as the Energy Information Agency as Willem Post points out.  

 

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 30, 2014

Nathan,

With the exception of CA, high penetrations of solar are not likely to become a significant issue for some time to come.  Therefore there is a good bit of time to see how things shake out in the storage world.  You present FF lock-in as fact rather than opinion.  I do not agree.  I see a very clear path to ample storage in a 2 – 3 decade timeframe through batteries.  Flow batteries are looking promising but I am rapidly becoming convinced that Li-Ion will win due to the economies of production.  Though I don’t think the experience curve has been figured out yet for Li-Ion as it is appearing to be dropping in price faster than the analysts had predicted. 

Nissan has announced that they will exchange battery packs for $6500 which is roughly $270 / kwhr a price point that was not anticipated until late in the decade.  Making reasonable assumptions about Li-Ion battey technology a strong case can be made for $50 / kwhr by 2035.  At that price distributed storage using V2G gets pretty interesting.  Certainly it can iron out spikes and address the famous California Duck curve.

So while I agree that ff lock in is of concern think your presenting it as if it were a settled fact seems off to me. 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 30, 2014

Any way you look at it, coal is more dangerous than anything except for biofuels. It’s prettyt obvious. Speaking of science, let’s focus squarely on the least expensive, most abundant CO2 free source (the chemistry of ocean acidification and the physics of global warming, due to the effects of excess CO2, doesn’t lie).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 30, 2014

I can’t imagine how V2G could ever work, unless by coincidence, the lightest weight car battery of the future is made of the same material (and for cheaper) than a grid battery (which doesn’t have to be light weight).

I would think that molten salt would be best for thermal and pumped hydro for electrical.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 30, 2014

I meant optimism by the extrapolation of renewable energy growth and development. I agree, why base the future of RE on its expensive and inefficient past?

Advanced nuclear has been shunned by political processes.

We know that it is not a technical impossibility to: 1) mass produce whatever safest 100 MW (or so) nuclear reactors in factories like jet airplanes, 2) standardize hardened deployment and worker safety/maintainence, 3) standardize the reprocessing (or make sure that such is already an inherent part of the process) and 4) standardnize safe isolation of remaing fission products (and whatever minute amounts of much longer term actinides). Some of the wastes can be used by various different industries, such as medical and other nuclear processes make 238 Pu for space probes (such as Mars rovers).

The shunning by political processes were likely the result of widespread voter fear caused by Hollywood movies and other, non scientific fear mongering such as so called enviro activism. Therefore, unlike solar and wind, advanced nuclear never made it to the level of development needed (commercial) for investers to even consider.  There are just too many uncertainties for would be investors. All this developmental blundering does NOT prove in any way that advanced nuclear is an inadequate option, or that it has only limited potential, and it certainly does not offer a valid argument against nuclear.

Wayne Lusvardi's picture
Wayne Lusvardi on Jun 30, 2014

Cliches are not very productive on a website where analysis and reason are paramount. 

If we took this cliche to its logical conclusion, then in the State of Vermont where lung cancer and asthma rates are as high as in coal power states, but where there is 100% renewable energy, then we would logically have to complete the syllogism that “There is no such thing as safe or clean renewable energy, anymore than there are safe clean electricity which can kill.”  Not logical. 

As for cigarettes I would advise people not to smoke. However, in Colonial America people smoked tobacco to stop from getting the killer plague and tobacco farmers slept on stacks of tobacco leaves to avoid the plague.  In a society with modern medicine and vaccinations and antibiotics this is no longer necessary and long term tobacco use is a health hazard.  

But if you’re an advocate for renewable energy then diverting attention away from the harm it does by killing millions of birds, decimating insect populations that birds, reptiles and wildlife feed on including pollinating moths, is helpful to your cause.  

For truth in advertising it would help if you disclosed that you manage your own renewable energy business.  My my full disclosure, I worked for a government water agency and have no conflict of interest in advocating for the coal industry.   

John Oneill's picture
John Oneill on Jun 30, 2014

   Bas, flooding of a Dutch reactor after a dike burst would be quite different from the Fukushima tsunami scenario. At Fukushima, the seawater destroyed the reactors’ cooling systems and then retreated, leaving them to gradually cook themselves as decay heat of the fission products built up. With a reactor 6 metres below sea level, a catastrophic flood would see the water come in and stay there. Even if all the backup generators and steam-driven systems failed, the outside of the reactor pressure vessel would be under water ( or could easily be flooded ); this would be enough to keep temperatures below safety limits just by conduction through the RPV wall. The intact reactors in a number of sunken submarines, American and Russian, demonstrate the principle. 

John Oneill's picture
John Oneill on Jun 30, 2014

  ‘ Please correct me if I am wrong.  Iran has stated its intent to vaporize Israel. ‘  Citation? 

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 30, 2014

You are a conspicuous promotor of anti-climate science-, anti-nuclear-, and pro-coal propaganda, Bas. That makes you a threat to our childrens future, if anything.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 30, 2014

No secrets here Wayne, I posted my bio in my profile the day I registered on TEC.  Maybe you could do the same? 

I left cushy defense R&D for renewables back when it was all but left for dead so tread carefully before you smugly play the conflict of interest card.  

 

 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 30, 2014

it is certainly possible that future breakthroughs will change the situation, but with today’s technology and costs, large-scale use of variable renewable does lead to fossil fuel lock-in.  Storage costs are still too high (to compete with fossil fuel) by over an order of magnitude!

I remain skeptical of Vehicle-to-Grid energy storage, because of the needed infrastructure, and lack of obvious incentive for its implementation.  

Under the conventional “baseload EV” model, the car owner buys the EV and the home charger.  This system benefits from policy that encourages the car owner to make the very minor compromise of night-time charging (a small discount for time-of-use electrical metering is likely adquate to encourage this).  Additional charging infracture (beyond the home) is helpful for range anxiety and contengency use, but most chargers will be at home.

Under the very ambitious “V2G” model, the car owner buys the EV.  His workplace must provide a chargers (under some yet to be defined incentive), for compatibility with daytime solar energy (this will be a lot of charging infrastructure to support expected large EV penetration).  Plus the homeowners, apartment complexes, and restaurants must provide V2G connection devices (with charger/drain functionality) so the vehicle fleet can provide grid power during the evening demand peak, plus the EV’s battery must be over-sized to allow this use (all requiring more incentives and compensation schemes).  

Additionally, with V2G, the EV owners must plug-in two or three times per day, versus only once per day in the “baseload EV” mode, and the result of the plug-in is non-deterministic (sometimes the battery gets charged, sometimes it will discharge, hence the need for larger batteries to avoid additional range anxiety).

With a strong enough incentive policy, pigs can fly.  But I’m skeptical that strong incentive policies are really sustainable for the long term.

I still believe that dispatchable fuel synthesis is the most powerful tool we have for matching supply and demand, as well as moving to a non-fossil-fuel transportation system (while avoiding the problem of toxic waste from the battery industry).  Like rooftop solar, EVs with V2G are popular with greens and can help in theory, but I don’t expect either to be a dominant solution in our future low-CO2-emitting energy system.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 30, 2014

You seem pretty certain that Lithium Ion batteries will not decline in costs like other manufactured products?  What is it about this technology that leads you to think that Li-ion costa will not decrease according to an experience curve?  Can you offer some examples of other product analogs or references that support your position?

 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 1, 2014

Clayton, Li-Ion batteries are predicted to drop in price by 50% by 2020.

During a typical day and at 2014 prices, California burns through $1.5 billion worth of storage every hour. By 2020, theoretically California will be able to lower that price to $750 million/hour.

Even with the generous assumption that California will be able to generate 8x as much renewable energy as it does now, one week of storage will cost $128 billion – about as much as California’s entire annual budget. Is it ok to ask everyone to do without electricity, should we happen upon two weeks of rain/calm? Given that the same amount of money could build enough nuclear plants to power the whole state, reliably and 100% carbon-free, why would anyone entertain the crazy idea we should try to do it with solar panels and windmills?

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jul 1, 2014

“Under the conventional “baseload EV” model,”

Ok, I see why you are uncomfortable with V2G.  Somehow we seem to have a very different understanding of it.  I had not heard much about external regulations and incentives to force people to put in chargers, plug into the chargers etc.  Most behavior changes would be through market incentives that evolve naturally just by allowing for the market to exist.  I think it could be done with little more than the requirement that utilities incorporated Time of Use metering and return price signaling.  But that creates a less encumbered market which does a better job of monetizing the transactions taking place in the electricity market.  People who favor free market see this as an opportunity for cost savings and added flexibility for load and generation.  Here are some comments that address your concerns.

– Cost to employers and other convenient sites to put in charging stations – There is none.  Charging networks are already putting in chargers because they can derive revenue.  Just like vending machines, the ‘charger vendors’ can have agreements with the site.  I imagine that in some cases it offers a small revenue stream for the site.  In other cases the site may purchase the charger and create a larger revenue stream.

– Multiple plug-ins per day – Nobody is required to do this.  It is a function of their desire to have a fully charged vehicle and to fully benefit from automated arbitrage.  It raises the possibility of netting out to free electricity. 

– New rules and regulations – I am not clear what new rules would be required other than Time of Use metering.  Some states and utilities might want advanced features, in their TOU metering, to further encourage the monetization of various value streams.  For example, load scheduling is interesting.  People could do day ahead purchase agreements and be provided with discounts for shifting loads to off peak.  I can imagine a vibrant new ecosystem of innovation to take advantage of this.  Dishwashers that sign up for after midnight starts, cars that promise consumption at certain times in return for guaranteed pricing, etc. 

– Selling back to the grid.  Early on, EV battery prices are pretty high so a car owner would only benefit by significant price spikes such as are seen at times of critical peak loads.  They would only sell back during critical peak loads.  However as battery prices move down the experience curve and become less expensive their use could profitably be expanded to more nuanced electricity arbitrage.

– Larger battery sizes – I would expect that car companies will do what Tesla is already doing, offer different battery capacities.  As battery prices drop and storage arbitrage becomes more profitable, more people would opt for it.  But nobody would be required to do it or be penalized for getting the smaller battery and not engaging in ‘playing the market’.

 

 

 

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jul 1, 2014

 

In the 1980’s solar thermal plants, such as those out near Kramer Junction CA were the low cost leaders.  It was unimaginable to most that PV would every be a lower cost approach.  However volume production drove it down the experience curve and now solar troughs are thought to be unlikely to be competitive despite their attractive ability to be engineered to be dispatchable. 

Likewise, the EV industry is driving massive volume to Li-ion batteries.  This technology is being driven down the experience curve at a breathtaking pace.  I think the volume driven by the auto industry will make Li-ion viable for utility scale storage much more rapidly then most suspect. 

 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 1, 2014

Of course I believe li-ion batteries will drop in cost.  But I don’t believe they will fall to zero, but rather fall to the cost of lead-acid batteries times a correction factor.  I don’t believe that you can make a good estimate of this correction factor by looking at cost vs time curves as you’ve done.  The correction factor must be roughtly the (material cost ratio)*(processing cost ratio)*(depth of discharge ratio)/(service life ratio).  

Assuming the material and processing costs are similar and that li-ion lasts twice as long, can be discharged 80%/50% as deeply, then the cost should be around 1/3 that of lead-acid.

From this article , current lead-acid batteries cost about  34¢/kWh, so li-ion may someday get as low as 10.6¢/kWh.  Hence my belief that EVs will be attractive, but that solar+batteries will not be an attractive source of nighttime electricity. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 1, 2014

It is easier to talk about EV charging if we put some numbers to it:  

Tesla has said the Roadsters uses 110 Wh of electricity for each km travelled.  For a year’s worth of driving, say 10,000 miles, that comes to 1760 kWh.  At 10 ¢/kWh, this comes to $176 per year for electricity.

So for solar powered charging to work, I have to be able to charge my EV at work for cheaper than the 10 ¢/kWh I pay at home (likely ¢/kWh w/ TOU metering).  Plus, the owner of the charger has to make enough revenue to pay for the charger and the electricity plus a profit, all from that same $176/year.  Making matters worse, the charger is outdoors which will make it expensive and shorten its life.

For V2G to work, I have to make enough profit selling electricity that I can upgrade my charger, and it must be worth my while to pour through a bunch of esoteric billing plans that my utility will offer me.  Again, I may want a larger battery in the car also.

I don’t see how this can possibly pay for itself.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 1, 2014

Clayton, I agree that the EV market is approaching the tipping point you describe. But from the perspective of someone who owns one and drives it every day: there is no way the general public will consent to their vehicles being drained at unpredictable moments for the general welfare of the community, any more than you would permit people who need gasoline to suddenly show up in your garage siphon in hand.

How is waiting 35 years to phase out carbon a sensible approach, when powering all of California with nuclear would require only 10 more plants like Diablo Canyon or San Onofre coming online? Though it won’t happen by 2020 (I offer no defense for the non-prediction I never made), with some leadership it could happen by 2025. We’d have a state of 30 million people with zero-carbon electricity generated on a footprint of 15 square miles. It would be electricity that was available night or day, rain or shine, with none of the complicated juggling of smart grids and transmission and V2Gs and Scotch tape holding the ungainly, teetering renewables assemblage together.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jul 1, 2014

The LiFePO4 with 4x longer cycling life than li-ion (but closely related), and with no thermal issues, designed by a teem in Texas, led by a guy named John Goodenough, and now, just given to China, is a battery that is good enough.

I see no problem with it except for minor balancing issues and current costs.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jul 1, 2014

If that’s possible, then the LiFePO4 has a potential for even lower costs, since there are no thermal issues and last 3 or 4x longer than the li-ion. I believe the cathode material, being iron would also make materials costs cheaper, as well.

I have imagined solar panels lined with this material when making solar lights.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jul 1, 2014

Still, even when batteries become super cheap and as good as the (already invented) LiFePO4, why would anyone want to practice V2G? Economy of scale would favor the utility, as would longevity.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jul 1, 2014

Additionally, with V2G, the EV owners must plug-in two or three times per day, versus only once per day in the “baseload EV” mode, and the result of the plug-in is non-deterministic (sometimes the battery gets charged, sometimes it will discharge, hence the need for larger batteries to avoid additional range anxiety).

If you assume that the AC Propulsion V2G demonstration project is the template for V2G in the field, this is not an issue.  The driver would plug in because the driver only gets credits when the car is plugged in.  The major use of the car’s battery would be for regulation, with power cycles on the order of minutes.  So long as the general charging trend was upward, short periods of discharge to meet temporary load spikes over the average would not be noticed by the driver.

If the value of the regulation services was greater than the cost of the power supplied, the driver could even get paid to charge the car.  Who wouldn’t plug in for that?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jul 1, 2014

“Dishwashers that sign up for after midnight starts,…”
Here in NL double tariff metering is rather common. An expensive rate during the day and evening, and a cheaper rate in the night (after ~01.00hr).

While the difference in the rate is rather small (~22cnt vs 20cnt; most of it is tax), we always set the dishwasher to start at ~02.00hr, so we are sure to have the cheaper rate. Our friends do the same.

We do it while we save hardly any money, only 5cent or so.
So the system really works, especially when:
– the rates are indicated well for the user; and
– are known well in advance. E.g. each day the same changes at the same time (except weekend).

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jul 1, 2014

LiFePO4 is lithium-ion.  It’s just not LiCoO.  Different electrode formula, same active ion.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jul 1, 2014

” (I offer no defense for the non-prediction I never made)”

You brought up 2020 in your assessment of Li-ion batteries.  Lets stay on the same timeline Bob.  If we are comparing one approach to another then it needs to be apples to apples.   So when do you think you can have your nuclear power plants built?  Will they be old technology or newer such as molten salt thorium?

 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jul 2, 2014

I believe it has fully four times the cycle life and no thermal issues, therefore, a completely different battery (even though it has lithium in it).

And thanks for explaining why there could be a benefit to V2G, above.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 2, 2014

 the system really works, especially when…rates … are known well in advance. E.g. each day the same changes at the same time “

So this system would work well with baseload energy production. On the other hand, with variable renewables dominating the grid, the weather would dictate the electricity price, with little regard for time of day.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 2, 2014

Ok sure, there are lots of potential solutions for grid power regulation on a timescale of minutes (including faster throttling coal plants, as Germany has been installing).

The important question is whether V2G will play a major role in allowing variable renewables to exist on a non-fossil electric grid (and it will take much more than regulation to accomplish that).  So far it looks like the answer is no.  I’m betting on fuel synthesis, which can provide supply-demand matching from a timescale ranging from sub-seconds to months.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jul 2, 2014

All these things should be set to “solar time”, as the night is usualy “fossil fuels time”… They could be set to “anytime” once countries are powered by advanced nuclear with molten salt heat storage. Or, advanced RE storage (and the RE itself) if it becomes much cheaper within the 20 years it could take to completely power the growing planetary economy by advanced nuclear. But it will take lots of machine automation to recycle and re-install the parts every twenty years or so, to power all the necessary things outside of the home, too.

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