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Renewable Energy Grid Parity Reality Check

Grid parity has grown to become quite the buzzword in the renewable energy community. Indeed, as shown below, the latest estimates from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows that onshore wind is already at grid parity with fossil fuel electricity and that solar might be at grid parity in certain select regions by the year 2020.

This is sure to warm the hearts of many renewable energy activists. After all, when renewable energy reaches grid parity, we will finally see this “disruptive change” we have heard so much about.

Or will we?

Let’s take a look…

Grid parity today

The curious thing is that even onshore wind still requires substantial subsidies in order to be deployed. From the IEA data below, it is clear that onshore wind still received $21 billion in subsidies in 2011. Given that wind generated 437.4 TWh in 2011 (BP data), this amounts to an average of $0.048 per kWh – about 50% of current OECD fossil fuel electricity prices. If all electricity received this amount of support, it would cost more than a trillion dollars per year.

Following the same methodology, solar PV received an average of $0.47 per kWh in subsidies in 2011 – a whopping 500% of current OECD fossil fuel electricity costs. Yes, it is true that solar PV prices have dropped substantially in recent years, but, as shown below, very little of this drop has been due to technological advancements. The bulk of the price drop has been due to margin erosion where companies have been kept afloat through various forms of government support and desperate cost cutting across the board. Given this very unhealthy business environment, the recent reports of a large increase in defective PV panels should come as no surprise.

Even though it is conceivable that solar PV could eventually achieve grid parity with fossil fuel electricity through third generation technologies like organic PV, the chances of first generation panels (for which an enormous overcapacity has been subsidized into existence) ever achieving this milestone are slim to none. When the dust finally settles, this enormous first generation PV overcapacity will probably go down in climate change history as a deeply regrettable malinvestment.

 

But even if solar PV eventually achieves grid parity with fossil fuel electricity, onshore wind has proven that nothing (certainly nothing disruptive) will happen without the continuation of generous government support. There are many good reasons for this (discussed previously), but the intermittency issue is probably the most important of these.

Pricing in intermittency

Our modern society demands two things from its energy resources:

  • Energy must be made available in a highly refined form (e.g. electricity or gasoline)
  • Energy must be available on demand (whenever we flip a switch or pull up at a gas station)

Wind and solar power automatically cover the first point because they generate electricity directly. This is a very good thing and certainly counts very much in the favour of these technologies. When it comes to the second point, however, wind and solar become much less attractive.

Fossil fuels are different in that they cover the second point very well (built-in chemical energy storage), but fail to meet the first point. It therefore becomes clear that, while fossil fuels require expensive and exergy-leaking additional infrastructure to deliver highly refined energy to society, renewables require expensive and exergy-leaking additional infrastructure to deliver on-demand energy to society.

As a simple example, imagine that you could choose between $5000 of solar PV (about 2 kWp) and $5000 of coal (about 50 tons containing roughly five times the energy the PV will generate in 30 years). Under the constraint that you could not get energy from any other source, which one would you choose? If you choose the PV, you would be able to do a myriad of useful things for a few hours during the day, but be powerless at night. In addition, your energy would be very limited during long cloudy periods and, if you live a good distance from the equator, the winter months are likely to be very uncomfortable. If you choose the coal, on the other hand, you would not be able to charge your iPhone, but you would be able to cook your food and heat your home/water whenever you want. Which is the better choice? Tough one, isn’t it?

This is actually a pretty good analogy for our modern society. Fossil fuels are of limited use without the additional infrastructure required to convert them to highly refined forms. For example, 60% of coal and 40% of gas is currently used for electricity generation (with the rest mostly used for direct heating or other industrial applications). The situation is similar for renewables. We can probably get about 10% of our total electricity from wind and solar before we need to seriously start investing in additional infrastructure to accommodate the intermittency. Both these energy sources are therefore of limited use to us without costly additional infrastructure.

A more realistic benchmark for grid parity

For this reason, it is much more realistic to define grid parity not as the renewable energy price necessary to compete with fossil fuel electricity, but as the price necessary to compete directly with unrefined fossil fuels. The primary assumption underpinning this way of thinking is that the capital costs and exergy losses involved in fossil fuel power stations are similar to the capital costs and exergy losses involved in renewable energy storage mechanisms. Despite the uncertainties involved, this should be a reasonable assumption. For example, the latest EIA estimates give the capital costs of pumped hydro (currently easily the cheapest energy storage option) as roughly double that of a coal power plant.

In addition, the fact that wind and solar power only release energy over a period of decades while fossil fuels can be used whenever desired demands that future renewable energy generation be discounted. Back to the simple example given above, a discount rate is necessary because someone who chose the big pile of coal would be able to make large up-front energy investments in various profitable enterprises while the gradual energy release from solar panels would afford no such luxury. Discount rates of 5 or 10% are commonly used.

OK, so let’s calculate the price of solar PV that would be required to compete with coal at a price of $100/ton.

  • One ton of coal contains about 24 GJ of energy.
  • At a 5% discount rate, 24 GJ today is worth 1.53 GJ of solar power per year for 30 years.
  • At an average capacity factor of 15%, one would require 323 Wp of solar PV in order to produce 1.53 GJ of energy per year.
  • Buying 323 Wp of solar PV for the same $100 paid for a ton of coal would require a price of $0.31/Wp installed.

This implies that, under these assumptions, installed PV prices would have to fall to $0.31 per Watt in order to reach grid parity with coal.

Conclusion

According to this way of thinking (comparing intermittent renewables directly to unrefined fossil fuels), energy from solar PV is currently about one order of magnitude more expensive than energy from coal. Naturally, this is just a rough estimate which will vary substantially depending on many factors, six of which will be further explored in part 2 of this post.

However, the central point is quite clear: Objectively speaking, intermittent renewables are still very far from challenging fossil fuels as the preferred energy source of our industrialized civilization. Some tremendous technological breakthroughs will be necessary to change this outlook and such amazing advances, if they are even possible, are likely to require many more decades of basic R&D. 

Schalk Cloete's picture

Thank Schalk for the Post!

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jan Freed's picture
jan Freed on Jul 30, 2013

What the study is intended to show is the externalities of coal based energy.  It does not purport or intend to review other forms.

From http://solar.gwu.edu/index_files/Resources_files/epstein_full%20cost%20o...

Table 3:
 

The average estimates of hidden costs using coal are

Coal impacts on climate change alone $62 B/yr.  New plants, without CCS, would continue emissions at that level.

The EPA regulations are showing current declines in emissions of SOx and NOx.  The EPA has a goal of major reductions, though old plants may not be affordably retrofitted.
 
However, assuming a reasonable overall reduction:   if air pollution from coal were reduced by 50% (down to $90B) hidden costs would still total  $250 B or about $.09/kwh.

 If air pollution were completely eliminated hidden costs are still, from other sources, $160 B/yr or .06/kwh.

And of course the land, streams and ecosystems destroyed by coal mining are pretty much gone for good. Millions of acres have been sacrificed that can no longer be used for much.

This also does not take into account the national security costs of keeping the Middle East supplies of oil. Perhaps the Iraq war would not have seemed so “necessary” otherwise.

Wind/solar has no ongoing pollution costs, as far as I know.  Whereas coal continues to gnaw away millions of acres over the next few decades, wind/solar would not.

And what of future costs?  Most importantly we are at 1.5 deg F.  Continued CO2 emissions are cumulative and expected at BAU to achieve 7 -11 deg F, six times greater.  Every year’s delay is $600 billion and 150,000 lives.

  Current damage was $60B from AGW due to coal (by the Harvard estimate).  Six times greater damage is 6 x $ 60 B or $360 B dollars/year.  This assumes no tipping points and runaway CC.  We dare not risk this, so dither we must not do.  “Does this life vest make me look fat?”, said the lady on the Titanic.

It should be pedal to the metal.   A pathway to renewables must be paved, at almost any cost (and fortunately, it may be far less than many fear).  A carbon fee and dividend (fees returned as lower taxes) is the most promising, but I would support, in addition to EPA regs and a  carbon fee, a declaration of a national security emergency by the President .

He should order the DOD to establish a renewable wind/solar energy system, similar to the Apollo Project (or Marshall Plan, or WWII level mobilization).  As in war we don’t hope the ‘free market’  will bubble up the best destroyer or battleship or fighter plane.  In WWII we picked winners, and we won.

So we should look at the externalities-these are often not taken
into account in decision making and when they are
not accounted for, they can distort the decision-
making process and reduce the welfare of society.

Lewis Perelman's picture
Lewis Perelman on Jul 30, 2013

Jan: “Wind/solar has no ongoing pollution costs, as far as I know.” For starters, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_wind_power

http://offshorewind.net/Other_Pages/Links%20Library/The%20Environmental%20Implications%20of%20Offshore%20Wind%20Generation.pdf

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233952943_Negative_environmental_impacts_of_Solar_Energy

http://solareis.anl.gov/guide/environment/

Jan: “This also does not take into account the national security costs of keeping the Middle East supplies of oil. Perhaps the Iraq war would not have seemed so ‘necessary’ otherwise.”

Hard to see what that has to do with coal. However, fracking and horizontal drilling, etc. have greatly expanded domestic supplies of oil and natural gas, reducing need for imports and enhancing national security. Presumably you are therefore in favor of increasing the latter, not only for that but also to replace coal in power generation.

Any relation between the invasion of Iraq and “keeping the Middle East supplies of oil” was if anything, negative.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jul 31, 2013

I also agree that the renewables are many times more expensive than FF’s, but am glad to see that you broke it down such that solar would have to come down to about 31 cents a watt.. installed.

Any clue as to how much cheaper it would have to be in order to pay for all the extra needed, to store… and for its storage? I have always believed in the promise of advanced machine automation, but find it hard to believe that it will do the hundred or so thousand square miles of solar AND its efficient storage, in order to compete… even with rising FF prices!

But I hope you’re not advocating FF’s, because they are literally going to fry the biosphere (via the chemical and physical nature of excess CO2).

Therefore, do you believe that we should find the BEST (non pressurized fission) reactor and mass produce it?

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Jul 31, 2013

The grid parity target of solar PV vs coal depends on many factors and the $0.31/W installed given here is just a rough estimate which includes the effect of storage. The primary complexity with regard to renewables and storage is that the price effect of storage will initially be almost nothing, but, as the penetration of intermittent renewables into our power grids increases, more and more storage will become necessary, thereby increasing the cost. 

I wrote an article about this and submitted it to the Energy Collective, but it was unfortunately not published (I don’t know why – TEC does not give reasons for rejecting articles). Anyway, you can read the article here if you are interested. 

About the selection of the appropriate low carbon energy technology, I believe that we should let the free market decide. Government choosing winners and losers through mechanisms like feed-in tariffs  aimed only at specific technologies is a recipe for disaster guaranteed to result in large misallocations of capital and resources. What we need to do is to scrap all energy subsidies, put a moderate (and slowly rising) price on carbon and just let the free market sort it out.This is the way in which we will combat climate change in the most cost effective way. It is also the best way to get people to stop wasting tons of energy fighting over which technology should get government favours and which should not.

Unfortunately, we currently live in a time of excessive (and still increasing) govenment intervention into almost all sectors of our economy. I don’t see how this trend will reverse before economic conditions deteriorate to the point where the electorate realizes that the centrally planned welfare state simply does not work. Let’s hope I’m wrong. 

Lewis Perelman's picture
Lewis Perelman on Jul 31, 2013

Schalk: First, I can’t understand why TEC would not publish your article on storage costs. That is a crucial factor that is too often overlooked. I suggest you try again; maybe there was just a technical glitch.

I sympathize with your complaints about central planning and “picking winners.” I recently posted a news item in the TEC LinkedIn group about how the US paper industry harvested some $2 billion in federal tax credits for burning “black liquor.” The latter is a waste product of paper manufacturing. The refundable tax credit was supposed to be an incentive for the adoption of advanced (e.g., cellulosic) biofuels. The paper manufacturers mixed the black liquor with a bit of diesel fuel and claimed the credit, which they received. Congress, seeing this was an unintended loophole, passed legislation to deny further claims for black liquor. Normally, tax credits are considered taxable income. But paper manufacturers decided that the credit payments they received were not taxable, saving them further millions on their taxes. The IRS chose not to challenge them.

This is the sort of rent-seeking, “gaming” of government interventions that is commonplace and evidently unavoidable.

While setting a price on carbon seems like a good idea in theory, in practice it will be subject to the same sort of gaming manipulations by actors seeking a special advantage.

The problem of carbon pricing is similar to the problem of taxi medallions. Both are interventions intended to make something that is freely available more scarce. The result, in the case of taxi medallions, seems inevitably to lead to corruption:

http://blog.priceonomics.com/post/47636506327/the-tyranny-of-the-taxi-medallions

Carbon pricing also is similar to imposing high taxes on cigarettes to discourage smoking. The result is an incentive for criminal activity:

http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/cigarette-taxes-black-markets-crime-lessons-new-yorks-50year-losing-battle

Such social costs of government attempts to artificially inflate prices might be justified by the intended benefits. But in the case of tobacco taxes, it’s not clear how effective they are in discouraging smoking:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3228562/

Attempts to date at carbon pricing via cap-and-trade or other means have been afflicted with similar forms of corruption. Lord Acton’s observation applies: Increasing the scope of government power to intervene is likely to increase the scale of corruption. The question again becomes whether the intended benefits can justify such social costs.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Aug 1, 2013

Yes, it is definitely true that even a revenue-neutral carbon tax will have significant negative spin-offs, some of which will probably be unknowable before experience has been gained with such a system. However, if the climate scientists are anywhere near right, I would much rather face the unforeseen consequences of a carbon tax than the unforeseen consequences of a 750 ppm atmospheric CO2 concentration. 

Thanks for the stories you linked to. They are important reminders that there will always be repercussions from interventionist policies that impact large numbers of people. More intervention = larger government = more legislative power for hire = more interventionist policy suiting special interest groups. This is a vicious cycle if I ever saw one.  

About the article on storage costs, I have actually submitted it twice with no luck. It’s quite frustrating actually. I was looking forward to some interesting discussions on the topic.

Have you looked at the article? I’m starting to wonder if it contains some obvious logical flaws or clear subjective bias. Anyway, I’ll try to slightly repackage it again over the weekend and then resubmit. Perhaps it’ll be third time lucky…

Lewis Perelman's picture
Lewis Perelman on Aug 2, 2013

I really don’t see anything wrong with the article on storage costs. As I recall, TEC allows cross posting of content, so I don’t think that’s an issue — although a TEC ‘exclusive’ may get higher priority.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 2, 2013

Cool… but I don’t think the free market will ever figure out a way to pay more for clean when it will almost always be less to stick with FF’s. A price on carbon is also government meddling… but we need to do what ever it takes to address excess CO2.

Therefore, if we take out the meddling involved with the licencing of various different nuclear reactors, only then could the free market compete with FF’s. Hopefully I’m wrong (thinking that nuclear is the only way out) and the advanced machine automation will kick in and make renewables and their storage much cheaper than today, but I have to be negative again… because yet more meddling will prevent the very mining operations necessary to even do that.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Aug 12, 2013

I am new to The Energy Collective so I hope I don’t go over too much old ground.  Let me start by saying that I like the degree to which you provide references in your posts and comments.  I look forward to digging through the ones I had not seen.  Having said that, by going through this thread and some of the back posts I think that there are some deficits.  So since you backreferenced, this comment actually goes beyond this post and also addresses some of the material you used to support yourpostion in this post.

Externalities:

One poster quoted the price assigned by the Harvard study and you suggested after some back and forth that it is one of many studies, many reputable and so it cannot be relied upon.  I believe you then suggested that $0.04 was probably a better number, but I don’t think you cited a refrence?  Here is a link to a summary graphic of a metastudy on externality studies.  Perhaps it will offer a range to work with.  http://handlemanpost.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/externalities/

Staying to my personal bias I think that there are a wide range of externalities that we just don’t know how to value / price in but that appear to be extraordinarily undervalued.  So since we haven’t figured out how to assign value to these do the folks who profit by permanent destruction of a finite resource just get it for free in your book. 

Consider mountain top removal:  The replacement value is pretty much infininite, there is pretty much no way to restore that land to its prior use or restore the decimated watersheds.  See www.ilovemountains.org – While one could argue this site is biased, they have real information so folks here should have the intellectual horsepower to drill down, get past the bias to the facts.  I don’t think anyone is disputing that 400 mountains have been irreversibly destroyed with additional damage to wider ranging acquifers rendering vast tracts of land no longer able to support human habitation using on-site water.  This is being done on the scale of one generation and will not be repaired naturally on the timescale of human civilization.  So since we haven’t figured out how to monetize it it appears your position is that we shouldn’t even try.  By that logic then we shouldn’t allow mountain top removeal until we have figured out how to monetize it.

Regarding Solar:

While there are some who see it as the all encompassing solution, I think that the mainstream renewables community sees it as a part of the solution, a part of a portfolio of sources.  So that dramatically weakens your arguements about the importance of storage.  This is particularly true since solar tends to be peak coincident so spinning reserve is not required.  One can readily see this from the strip charts for the NREL 2050 study http://rpm.nrel.gov/refhighre/dispatch/dispatch.html.  Solar peaks up when power peaks up so it is reducing required peaking capacity and not forcing significant curtailment of baseload. 

Your discussions seem to suggest that you think people are advocating a solar-only future.  I don’t think that is mainstream thinking.  And I would agree it is unrealistic.  But looking at 10% to 15% solar including CSP towers with molten salt storage and CSP parabolic troughs, salt and gas assist and integrated into a national grid with other dispatchable reserves is very reasonable and I don’t think your economics apply very well to that more realistic and more likely scenario.

Regarding intermittency

So lets look at what else gets rolled into a national vision for a renewable future.  You have developed economics that suggest that intermittency makes renewables pretty much a non-starter.  However I think you are premature in drawing that conclusion.  If we take advantage of HVDC we can connect intermittent sources across the country.  In the case of wind as the geograpic areas get larger, it decorrelates and increasingly larger proportions of it can be counted as baseload.  In this study, for example, in an area that still is proximate to a predominant weather pattern, substantial baseload equivalence was found http://handlemanpost.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/wind-aggregation-southw... As we consider an intracontinental grid the wind regions become less correlated and we will see higher proportions of countable baseload.  I have not been able to find studies that quantify this for the continental US so I am not sure if they have not been done yet or whether I have missed them.  However in the EWITT study they found that 30% wind penetration was managable with grid upgrades only, no major storage.  That utilized Great Plains and Atlantic wind resources but left out the substantial West Costal off shore wind.   

So simply doing a little handwaiving based upon well researched studies readily available, we are to 30% penetration from wind. 

It is worth pointing out that between current generation turbines and exploitation of off shore and Great Plains wind resources capacity factors have moved up from the old rule of thumb numbers of about 30% to about 40%.  And in a 10 to 20 year build-out which would be back end loaded in terms of rate, I hope we can agree that 45% is a pretty likely number for the majority of the depolyed wind.  This improves the numbers above because they used pretty conservative assumptions.  In the 2050 study by NREL they used then current technology, i.e. 2009 and we have already seen substantial improvements. 

Cost of PV

You based your assumptions on very recent numbers without lookinig at the longer trends which match learnnig curve theory extraordinarily well.  While you point out the margin pressures that exist now, but there was a period less than a decade ago where there were excessive margins due to supply shortages.  The experience curve for PV like nearly all manufactured products has been very reliable for predicting over timescales of abot a decade.  Even the most optimistic, reputable studies are looking at timelines in excess of 10 years so these learning curves are much better planning tools than your snap shot analysis.  The production cost drops by 17% for every doubling of cumulative production.  This chart makes it look pretty choppy because it is based upon wholesale prices.  However one need only apply knowledges of widely known historical periods (Japanese and German programs that accelerated demand, constrained Silicon Capacity, and the most recent overbuild) to see that it straightens out nicely when you screen for anomolous market fluctuations.  http://cleantechnica.com/2013/05/06/solar-pv-module-prices-have-fallen-8...

Where silicon PV prices will go is readily predictable using these curves. 

Storage

If we have the national will to develop an Intra-National super grid, the need for storage is dramatially reduced.  How much remains to be seen but substantial.  But I think it is pretty hard to imagine a scenario where some storage won’t be required.

EV batteries are coming down in price exceedingly quickly.  Already EV price wars, ignited by dropping EV battery prices, are emerging bringing them into financial grasp of more and more people.  See http://handlemanpost.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/ev-battery-pricing-no-wond... EVs are not going away, they have crossed the threshold and are a permanent part of transportation. 

The tipping point comes when EVs are affordable and have higher range.  I believe that the tipping point range is about 200 miles as people have the convenience of charging at home and the inconvenient task of going to the filling station is eliminated.  For all but long trips, pretty unusual to do more than 200 miles in a day.  But its OK, you can argue that has to be the same as gasoline and exend it to 300 miles so maybe it is 3 – 5 years longer, but the tipping point is coming on the timescale of the RE buildout that we are talking about.  Why is that significant?  Vehicle to Grid V2G. 

EVs with 200 – 300 mile range will have battery storage of over 100kwhr.  And if you do the math and assume 10 million vehicles you start to look at distributed storage that is of the scale needed to ride through the much lower intermittency that will exist on a Supergrid that agregates decorellated renewables along with hydro.  And yes there will be some build out of pumped storage but I am betting that less than is suggested in the NREL study of 80% renewables by 2050 http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/re_futures/ (they opted not to include V2G in their analysis) 
 

While it may be premature to bet the farm on V2G, to discount it for a build-out that will occur over the next 20 – 40 years is probbaly not so wise either.  As we approach the tipping point money for development will pour in from investors and governments.  Cost / kwhr will continue to plummet and endurance is projected to inrease substantially – and that is where the V2G economics really begin to shine.  (Sorry, didn’t have time to track down the reference for increased cycles over lifetime of batteries, saw it several months ago and it is substantial)

So the purists will fight in congress to not subsidize that development, if they win, we will reap the same reward as we have in the solar industry, China will yank another entire, strategically and economically important, industry out of our grasp.  If the folks in congress can learn to compromise then we may succeed in keeping a horse in the race.

To summarize my position:

There are those who say that markets should decide, and forget about those squirrely, inconvenient  externalities unless and until they can be proven or quantified definatively.  I think that I would agree if those externalities did not include IRREVERSABLE changes to FINITE, NON_REPLENISHABLE resourses which happen to be where I live!  They also forget that China is not playing by our rules and they are playing for keeps.  So maybe we can’t do this whole thing on our own terms.

Imperfect as government is , at least its job description is to serve the people.  The companies that destroy mountains, destroy vast tracts of Canada, spill oil in the Gulf of Mexico, they are accountable to the bottom line on a quarterly basis.  To the degree that they have a long term view, it is only to maximize profit and support ongoing quarterly earnings.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a capitalist and support private industry.  I just don’t have an orthodox religious view that it is magically a self regulating system, it is not.  Government intervention has a place.  The US government has always involved itself in infrastructure industries for the betterment of the nation.  China has watched and learned.  They are using the very tools that were developed here for building world class and dominant industries and they are getting results.  I wonder why anyone thinks that now is the time for the US to abandon them!

 

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Feb 22, 2014

I am confused here Schalk,

It sounds like you think that Germany should be used as the benchmark for renewable energy.  They have a terrible solar and wind resource.  In the US we have the extraordinary solar resource in the Southwest with very little cloud cover = far more energy and far less intermittency than Germany.  Seriously, I keep wanting to believe that you are about having an objective conversation.

In CA the wind resource correlates beautifully with load and solar offering an extraordinary opportunity.

Wind in the Great Plains states is so much higher capacity factor than in Germany it is almost not worth talking about.  The current average is 37% CF but it will go up substantially if we build transmission to the best sites.  That number is based upon turbines with 80m hub heights.  50% CF is more representative if we move to 100m+ turbines.  That starts to blur the lines of intermittency particularly if you consider the decorrelation based upon geographical dispersion.  And on an energy basis, there is enough wind power in developable sites in the great plains to power the entire US.

Using your cost of carbon of $.04 / kwhr and greater than 50% CF, Great Plains wind can power high penetration into the East Coast without subsidy and that includes paying for the HVDC to get it from source to load.  If we did this we would see two cumulative doublings of wind power dropping wind costs down the experience curve pretty substantially.  Hub heights will continue their increase, as they have historically, raising the CF even more in the great plains as well as in lower CF sites throughout the world.  This will further improve the value and reduce the intermittency of wind worldwide.

Now that you are naming a value to use for cost of carbon we can begin to have a realistic discussion.  I have requested this from you on numerous occasions. Until that framework exists, I find your criticisms of renewables empty.  I really don’t care what number you pick, just that you pick one that is reasonable and supportable.  Until then there is really no discussion to be had, it is all handwaiving.  I think you would find little disagreement that without considering the unmonetized externalities, fossil fuel is going to beat the economics of renewables for years to come.  

 

 

 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 22, 2014

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we don’t FIRE all the people getting rich quick of off the permitting, regulating and nimbyism, etc from ANY new source. Sure, the intrinsic costs of closed cycle nuclear (for example) should be lower than big wind and solar but even they suffer the blatent conversion of fear into profits at the expense of depletion into an over heated biosphere. Therefore, these people which promote higher renewable energy prices (and which try to prevent closed cycle nuclear) need to be removed from office. 

At $2 Billion for just a quarter GW, obviously, the costs of anti clean energy sentiment has crept up to prevent such awesome installations from ever happening again.   http://www.nrel.gov/csp/solarpaces/project_detail.cfm/projectID=23

Worst yet is the blatent disregard for other country’s rights! http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/10/us-usa-trade-india-idUSBREA161W220140210 Using the excuse of a trade agreement should inflame us all to FIRE these idiots! (If it was such a big deal, why don’t they “launch new trade actions” against these countries over making cheap TV’s?).

Such high prices are obviously the result of pro-fossil fuels sentiment. If we don’t remove these guys from office, and cut like 90% of the regulation (I mean, get rich quick of off other people’s money) jobs, we will surely go even further down the road to oblivion.

jan Freed's picture
jan Freed on Feb 22, 2014

Of course, dirty energy brought great wealth.  We need energy. But, just as stone tools were useful at one time, they are no longer essential.

 

We can have energy without the heavy negative hits of coal ($400 billion/year hidden costs) using renewables.

 

  Some countries have 100% clean energy as a goal.  Such a goal is worth aiming at here in the U.S…  from a Stanford U. study, we can see a pathway.

http://thesolutionsproject.org/infographic/#ca

 

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Feb 22, 2014

Not sure if you are in favor of or opposed to Solana. 

It is an interesting project on a number of levels.  The economics are not as bad as appear at first glance since it can reliably shift the energy to peak hours due to its molten salt storage.  APS has contracted with them to purchase power for 30 years and they charge substantially more for power at peak rates.  In other words this plant is providing power at high value times when electricity costs are at a premium.

It was funded through a loan not a grant so the government gets the money back.  Given that they have a 30 year contract with APS it appears to be a pretty safe bet for the government.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 23, 2014

I like solar and hope that CSP kicks in on a large scale, precisely for the molten salt storage. The problem is that there are too many enviro groups against “big anything”. People opposed wind for so long, it must be more expensive. People oppose big solar because they use fear as an excuse such as this heart felt video.

Solar can’t really wipe out the deserts can it?

The regulating spirit will love this one… F E A R.  Forever Eliminate Advanced Reactors (they also use molten salts).

jan Freed's picture
jan Freed on Feb 23, 2014

Hundreds of thousands of square miles for solar?  Citation please.

 

The recent Stanford analysis shows wind/solar etc. far cheaper than fossil fuels…

See The Solutions Project:  thesolutionsproject.org 

All 50 states were looked at for 100% rebewables by top researchers.  Look at it and pick your own state.  More jobs, less costs, better health!

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jan Freed's picture
jan Freed on Feb 23, 2014

<<<hard to believe that it will do the hundred or so thousand square miles of solar>>>

Hundred thousand square miles of solar???  Wild exagerration!

If even half of our total US electricity were produced by large scale solar, the area required is about 6,250 sq. mi. or about 80 miles on the side of a square power plant(s).

I used Ivanpah as a basis for this calculation.

5 square miles, produces 400 MW.

U.S. total production  of 1000 GW.

PLUS: salaries paid = $812 B over 30 years

.5 Billion Tons CO2 saved / year. 

Our Carbon budget has been projected to be 300-500 Billion tons to keep under 2 degrees C, which itself may be a “prescription for catastrophe”.  We will blow past that in a few decades, because as smart as we think we are….we really are dumb bunnies.

Why?  We count our pennies, while the fate of the  Earth is in the balance, like a society matron on the Titanic whining, “Does this life vest make me look fat?”

 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 23, 2014

Without closed cycle nuclear and without fossil fuels, wind and solar would have to cover a VERY large amount of land (especially if we are aiming for a completely developed 10 billion person world). A good CSP field requires about 8 sq miles per gigawatt about 20% capacity, which should be equal to about 40 sq mi per GW at 100%. We need to make lots of batteries for electric cars and literally make clean liquid fuels from high process heat, cheaply. The world consumes about 500 quads btu… but remeber, almost two thirds of that is wasted into the conversion into useful energy such as steam generation and gasoline car engines. Still that’s A LOT of solar coverage.

You do the math. A kWh is = to about 3414 btu. A quad is 1,000,000,000,000,000. For “fun”, consider a 75% efficient storage system and see how many wind turbines and solar coverage is needed if they are shared equally. Remember to account for 10 billion using just less than an American average (because more efficiency will come into play) Your numbers above, and the overly optimistic “100% clean energy” groups have NOT yet done this math (it would scare off would be proponents). It comes to about 1% of the land for solar (at present efficiency) to power just HALF of a completely developed planetary civilization. (Only develeped countries can prevent overpopulation).

We will need autonomous machinery to make solar and wind very much cheaper than it is today. We need to support the development of closed cycle nuclear as well because it is intrinically less expensive.

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